Divinity: Original Sin 2 – The genre has its new Divine – Review

Gare – Thursday, February 1, 2018 2:53 PM
Share on

As someone who had never quite gotten around to playing Larian Studios’s 2014 Divinity: Original Sin, I went into the sequel unsure of what to expect. I was, of course, familiar with Larian Studios to an extent and had enjoyed their work in the past – specifically, Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga – so deep down, I sort of knew that Original Sin 2 would at least be a satisfying enough fantasy romp, if nothing else. Now, what I actually didn’t expect was for the game to exceed all my expectations within its first hour, only to go on and become – a good 150 more hours later – one of my all-time favorites and an awe-inspiring gem of its genre: the kind of RPG that other RPGs dream of being. Divinity: Original Sin 2 did something I thought was nigh-impossible: it made me genuinely feel like I was back in the 90s, playing Baldur’s Gate for the first time.

To be Godwoken

The adventure takes place in the land of Rivellon, a world experiencing an era of turmoil as horrific monsters known as the Voidwoken threaten the peace. And the reason for their invasion? You, apparently. Not specifically you, but what you are – a so-called Sourcerer, able to wield the mystical power of the Source, a power that ends up attracting Voidwoken like honey would a starving bear. As a result, the order of the Magisters deem it their duty to hunt down Sourcerers and lock them up for their own good and the good of the realm – now, as you would expect, the issue isn’t exactly as clear-cut and easy as that. While there are clearly bad people doing bad things, the world is fraught with moral ambiguity: you’ll be met with varying shades of gray instead of the blacks and whites that so often dominate the fantasy genre.

Larian Studios have put a tremendous amount of care into fleshing this world out, and the thorough, eagle-eyed player will soon realize that there is far more to things than one may initially think after a cursory glance – hidden notes, journals, bits of dialogue and various other aspects help breathe life into Rivellon in ways that kept me engaged and interested in the affairs of this land and its people throughout my lengthy playthrough. The overarching storyline, though very much rooted in the usual “save the world” concept, is not without its twists and turns, either. Some reveals will catch you off-guard, while others might force you to completely re-evaluate everything you thought you knew. The game’s lovingly-crafted locales complement the plot perfectly: they are varied and packed with interesting encounters, resulting in a journey with hardly any dry spells – there’s always something to do, always a new mystery to untangle or a quirky situation to handle. The above is all backed by a powerful soundtrack that never fails to sound epic, uplifting, or wistful, depending on the need.

I’ve got places to go, lizards to kill, empires to reclaim

Your companions, too, are a varied bunch with varied interests, though I wouldn’t want to reveal too much of their personal backstories for fear of spoiling them. Still, Larian Studios managed to create a main cast where each member feels unique and interesting in their own way, all with a very specific agenda in mind. My personal favorite was probably The Red Prince, a lizard of noble birth whose quest to reclaim his empire culminates in something that may very well shape the entire future landscape of the world, and whose ironclad determination is only eclipsed by the air of superiority he constantly projects. I was also quite fond of Sebille, the elf assassin on a quest of vengeance to murder her former slave master and seize her freedom, as well as Lohse, the spunky female bard, whose companion quest is one you wouldn’t want to miss out on, as it probably contains one of the most cripplingly haunting moments in the entire game. At times, having such a group of colorful individuals might even lead to conflict, and you may find yourself in a situation where one party member wants to talk to an NPC, while the other is positively dying to slit said NPC’s throat for personal reasons. It can lead to some intriguing situations, and reinforces the idea that each character, your companions included, clicks neatly into place on the board that is Rivellon: your band of unlikely heroes aren’t simply neutral, unassuming player avatars that everyone will treat the same way. The one primary complaint I have is that your companions, despite their fascinating personalities, have fairly little presence as members of the party aside from their own personal quests. They occasionally chip in after certain story moments, and you can, from time to time, discuss various aspects of your adventure with them, but it didn’t quite feel enough.

Elemental extravaganza

While Divinity: Original Sin 2 is already a more than satisfying adventure from a narrative standpoint, it’s the gameplay mechanics where Larian Studios’s epic truly shines. Simply put, Original Sin 2 is almost like an elaborate puzzle box waiting to be solved. Whether it’s a heated turn-based battle or a quest that requires a bit of ingenuity, the game rarely ever shies away from giving its players full control over how they wish to solve a specific problem. Let’s first take a look at the combat system. As mentioned above, D:OS2 operates with turn-based battles, but takes things to a whole new level by allowing you to manipulate your environment in order to turn the tide. Areas can be set on fire, water and blood puddles can be electrified, and frozen surfaces have a chance to make a character slip and fall. Bless a water surface to turn it into blessed water that heals you. People and objects can both be teleported across the map for hilarious results. A chest is out of reach? Not a problem: teleport it closer to yourself. Or teleport yourself to the chest. Whichever works. There’s fire everywhere? Well, you have a spell that can cause rainfalls. Or if you’d prefer to do it the traditional way, find a barrel of water and get to work. Ran out of lockpicks to open a door with? If you have an undead character around, they can use their bony fingers as makeshift lockpicks. The list could go on and on. The amount of freedom Larian Studios give you is mind-boggling, and Original Sin 2 manages to strike just the right balance: it gives you tools to play around with, but the system never feels overwhelming or needlessly complex, nor is it bogged down by too many rules and numbers.

Original Sin 2 was consciously designed to make you want to experiment, to be flexible, to try and bend the rules a little – it essentially invites you to be a cunning tactician. As for the default difficulty, named Classic Mode, it felt just right: decently challenging in a way that prevents you from falling asleep at the wheel, but not so punishing that it becomes overly frustrating. Admittedly, there were a handful few encounters where I had to temporarily switch down to the significantly easier Explorer Mode, but this only really occurred in the early hours of the campaign, before I had the opportunity to properly gear up and learn a few valuable skills.

Let’s get physical

The game’s armor system is one that needs to be mentioned as well, because it plays a key role in how you’ll approach your battles in Original Sin 2. Other than having a classic HP gauge, most characters also possess physical armor (gray) and magic armor (blue): the latter can be eroded with spells and weapons dealing magic damage, while the former can only be affected by physical attacks or spells dealing physical damage, like Necromancy. Before you can even damage a character’s HP, you first need to completely deplete one of the two armor gauges they have, and while there are certain skills that ignore armor and do damage straight to one’s HP, the natural outcome of this system is that it forces you to evaluate how to assign roles to your characters and be conscious of which enemies to target in battle. Naturally, the bulky fighter with thousands of points in physical armor but only a paper-thin layer of magic armor will be the perfect target for mages, and so on. The system may appear a little frustrating at first, but in retrospect, I greatly enjoyed the extra layer of depth it brought to battles.

Thinking outside the box

Many of the game’s main and side quests also work in a way that expect the player to be thorough and observant instead of blindly following a quest tracker on the mini map. D:OS2 won’t highlight the note you have to read with bright colors, nor will it give you a huge arrow that points at the exact piece of furniture you need to move to discover a hidden switch. It’s all left up to you. There’s a murder to be solved? Well, first off, you can ask around. Or you can enable your Spirit Vision ability and question a nearby ghost. Or use your Pet Pal talent and talk to animals: though you can’t literally be the proverbial fly on the wall, you can very much interrogate said fly for some extra insight. Or use your elf character’s innate ability to cannibalize some of the victim’s flesh and thus gain access to their memories for clues – and yes, that’s just something elves can do in this world. Either way, the point I’m trying to make is that questing in Divinity never feels like ticking off checkboxes on a shopping list – you’re genuinely collecting information, looking for clues, and trying to put the pieces together. It’s the kind of experience I feel a lot of modern RPGs had forgotten in favor of overly helpful quest trackers and an insistence on coddling the player at every step.

A Song of Source and Fire

Divinity: Original Sin IIPlatform: PCGenre: RPGDeveloper: Larian StudiosPublisher: Larian StudiosRelease: 09/14/2017Without any sort of exaggeration, albeit with full awareness of how commonplace the word may seem these days, I can nonetheless declare that Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a true masterpiece of the CRPG genre, and an absolute breath of fresh air after various other titles that, in my eyes, tried to unsuccessfully ride the waves of nostalgia. Larian Studios gave us the kind of game that all other RPGs will be measured against in the coming years, one that satisfies both narratively and mechanically, with its every pore oozing creativity and an undying passion for video games. It delivers a colorful cast of characters and varied, memorable quests, a whole array of locations to explore, a turn-based battle system that facilitates experimentation, and an overarching storyline – rich in surprises and grand moments – that left me thoroughly satisfied. It is, in short, a genuine labor of love. Regardless of whether you’re an enthusiast of this genre or a newcomer looking for a solid entry point, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an RPG you simply need to play.

P.S. Looking to start your adventure in Original Sin 2 but need a few pointers? You’re in luck, because we compiled a list of beginner tips that you may find useful. Have a look over here.

Discussions

If you liked this article, follow us on our channels below and/or register!