Fri. Mar 24th, 2023
Divinity: Original Sin is a strange mix of old-fashioned and new RPG design

Last year, the developers behind the Divinity RPG series went to crowdfunding sites with promises of a real old school role-playing game. They described a project along the lines of Ultimate, Baldur’s GateAnd Never winter nights, the 2D isometric camera epics that defined a golden age of digital swords and wizardry on the PC. The Divinity series began in that vein, with the ten-year-old original acting as a fantasy of sorts precipitation, but it has since evolved into a 3D action RPG franchise that lagged behind that of Dragon Age. Still, there were plenty of Kickstarter backers who felt a return to older-era RPG design was just the trick for Larian Studios.

Were they right? Not exactly. That’s not because Divinity: Original Sin stinks – far from it – but because calling the game an “old-school RPG” isn’t quite right. The mammoth adventure is best described as “multi-school” – both systems and story based, both 90s and modern, quoting all your quest favorites and adding its own interpretations.

The world of Divinity: Original Sin is as detailed as later Ultimate games, but with a combat system that has much more tactical complexity. original sin‘s hand-drawn aesthetic is very similar to Baldur’s Gate and the Infinity Engine games, but those games certainly didn’t have a thousand different items to pick up to craft, let alone dozens of skills, attributes, and perks to improve. Meanwhile, newer games like Dragon Age: Origin featured some detailed character development, but they didn’t have long battles full of complicated, turn-based tactical combat or the creation of multiple, different party members.

There’s a lot to like about this game: its size, its scope, its presentation, its fresh take on co-op quests, and its ability to accomplish many ambitious goals without stumbling. (I also like the talking cats that give out quests.) But determine if you fall into it Divinity: Original Sin will probably come down to how you feel about the way it hand picks its older and newer era elements.

Divinity: Original Sin opens by dropping two personalized characters into a traditional fantasy world besieged by evil ‘Sourcerors’. There is also a possibly related Void that is swallowing the universe and targeting your world, and only your characters can stop it.

Creating and controlling two heroic main characters instead of one daring hero or a large cast of one-dimensional RPG archetypes is a welcome twist on familiar RPG tropes. You largely define these characters and their abilities by the conversational and moral choices they make throughout the game, which are sometimes at odds with each other. For example, if one of your characters makes a materialistic argument instead of a spiritual one during dialogue, that character gets a bonus to their item identification skill.

While two players can connect online to play Divinity in co-op, they largely operate as a merged pair. I still preferred playing the game solo to get the very different experience of role-playing as two completely different heroes at the same time.

Combat is turn-based and uses action points for movement, attacks, and powerful abilities. You can save action points for later if you end a turn early, so throughout the game you’re faced with a choice of whether to launch a normal attack now or wait to unleash a more powerful attack later.

Confusing quests

Once your heroes reach the town of Cyseal, they’ll receive a barrel of quests, which is when one of the game’s most stubborn, old-fashioned qualities comes to the fore. Instead of holding your hand and bombarding you with “go here” arrows to complete your missions, Divinity runs the opposite direction – maybe a little too far.

I didn’t mind occasionally getting lost on a quest, but I often struggled to understand the order in which to tackle those quests. At one point I was told that the next step in the main quest was to find a secret hidden lab, with no hint of where that might be. I spent the next few hours thinking I’d missed something obvious before learning that the search containing that information actually came from elsewhere.

The game’s main progression mechanic didn’t exist in old RPGs and is still relatively rare in the genre today. Unlocking new parts of the game is slow and heavily regulated via difficulty. In other words, Divinity adopts the “Metroidvania” vision of progression, where the world initially appears open but each part must be unlocked in a certain order. But where Supermetroid or Castlevania do this through items, such as double jumping boots that allow you to reach previously unattainable heights,Divinity does this through its leveling and experience system.

Enemies don’t randomly appear or respawn, meaning there’s only so much ‘experience’ to be found in the entire game. Since higher level enemies are extremely difficult to defeat, progression becomes a matter of coming up with the right ways to move. In this respect, it is most similar to the modern one King bonus or Dark Souls series.

Unfortunately, Divinity: Original Sin does not make this system clear to macro or micro level players. Normal RPG behavior suggests that if players receive a quest – without a giant skull icon or other high-level warning – they should be able to complete that quest immediately. Instead, I spent hours trying to win fights that were slightly above my level only to realize that this was not yet normal or even expected.

It wasn’t until I found out that the game was much more about choosing the right level enemies to fight rather than solving quests, Divinity starting to make sense. However, that didn’t happen until I’d already put about 20 hours into the game, long after almost every other genre had ended its game and laid to rest.

Still, Divinity kept hitting my RPG sweet spots enough to keep the momentum going: long, story-filled conversations with mages who turn into cats for no real reason; a varied soundtrack with consistent quality; charming detail on all its beaches and buildings; and perhaps best of all, that dreamy tactical combat. I especially loved exploiting the environment in combat while enemies did the same. For example, you can use telekinesis to drop a barrel of oil at ranged enemies and then fire a flaming dart to blow them up.

Divinity can sometimes be too complete for its own good. Combining a modern single-character crafting system (quite similar to massively multiplayer RPGs) with a party-based inventory is a recipe for confusion. The inventory management itself is a pain, although a patch just released offers some major improvements, without adding the dozens or even hundreds of crafting items the game offers. I found it much easier to just ignore the vast majority of the crafting components and stick with the rest of the game’s robust systems.

Usually, when dealing with epic RPGs like Skyrim or dragon ageis it easy and accurate to talk about how their ambitions are somewhat thwarted by interlocking systems that don’t quite work, but how the entire game compensates for the weakness of certain individual parts. Divinity: Original Sin is the surprising reverse of this: it has dozens of components, each of which seems to work on its own. It’s when these systems combine that the game struggles a bit, especially in terms of the quest and progression systems.

Still, that’s a small price to pay for a game that manages to combine the best of ’90s RPGs with the best of today and even takes its own steps forward. Divinity: Original Sin is a worthy embodiment of the past, present and future of video game RPGs.

The good:

  • Complicated tactical combat
  • Deep character development
  • Create two characters and have them discuss
  • Play how you want to play

The bad:

  • Craft and stock management

The Ugly:

  • Wait, how long have I been playing without making any progress?

Pronunciation: Buy it when you have time.

By akfire1

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