Divinity: Original Sin – a throwback to D&D classics

30 Sep

For the past several weeks I’ve been playing Divinity: Orginal Sin, a turn based, action RPG from Larian Studios available on Steam and GoG for PC. It’s an amazing game, harking back to the hay-days of Icewind Dale, Balder’s Gate, and Neverwinter Nights. It is what Dragon Age wished it could be.

High praise for a game that was partially funded through Kickstarter, right? It’s well earned. The developers raised one million dollars to create their game and I am disappointed I missed out on throwing them some cash. Every penny looks well spent and an update to the game was available soon after launch which added more than just a few minor bug fixes. Dye bottles, new companions, and crafting recipes tell me the developers aren’t done fleshing out the amazing world they’ve created.

Normally, this is where I would tell you all about the story line and how amazing it is. Trust me, the story is FANTASTIC, however there’s just so much of it I’m not sure where to start! Originally I meant to finish the game before I wrote this review to offer the best view of the storyline and plot progression. After 60 hours tossed happily at Divinity, I’m fairly confident that I am nowhere near its end, but it’s past the time to share. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about the story except that there are many ways to learn what’s really going on in Cyseal, the little merchant port under siege by undead, orcs, and cultists, and who the two protagonists really are. Suffice to say it’s a traditional fantasy game with goblins and evil Sourcerers, gods and demi-gods, dragons and heroes and faeries.

The world in Divinity is vast with many different landscapes to explore. Players can teleport all over the various maps using way points which also make it easy to return to areas with puzzles that required a higher level to overcome. Enemies, treasure and secrets always lie just beyond sight as you explore and there are plenty of ways to dispatch them. Thanks to an intricate and open ended leveling system, players can be any combination of classes they like. Customization can begin before the game even starts, so if the standard cleric healer bores you, give him a few skills in back-stabby goodness or pyrokinesis. My cleric/archer was fantastic for dealing ranged damage while healing my warrior as he kept all the bad guys at bay, but there are plenty of other combinations to keep anyone happy.

Did I forget to mention you begin Divinity with two player characters? Well, you do and the entire game is based around them saving the Universe. This is where the optional co-operative multiplayer comes into play and, while I haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy this aspect of Divinity, it can only make the game more entertaining.

Since combat is based on a party of four, starting with two characters makes dispatching bad guys easier until you can fill out those other two spots. In typical D&D based RPG style, combat is taken in turns with the PC or NPC with the highest initiative going first. Damage is dealt based on attributes, skills, and quality of weapons, then negated based on skills and quality of armor.

A multitude of abilities and items make crowd control easy and with the difficulty of crowd control is a must. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to take care of those extra baddies running around: knock down, frozen, petrified, and charmed are just the beginning of the many status’ characters can inflict and be afflicted by. When players take into account ranged combat, melee combat, flanking, and damage over time abilities, combat gets even more complicated. Since you’re dealing in turns, it’s never overwhelming and you have plenty of time to decide how to take out the dozen goblins in your way. Sometimes, when you are up against ten mobs to your team of four, it can be a bit tedious waiting for your turn to come around again.

What about the story, though? If you want to kill the poor troll guarding a bridge in front of his son, but your opponent wants to pay the Troll Toll there has to be a system to hash out your differences. In Divinity, you’re in luck! Instead of arguing for a few minutes and wasting time, the two of you can break out the old roshambo and decide if slaughter is on the menu, or if you’ll toss a father some coin. In single player the protagonists can fight about decisions as well if you’re not skilled enough to beat the computer at rock-paper-scissors and the system is also used to win (or lose) arguments with NPCs.)

In any D&D based game, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the loot! Similar to Diablo, loot is random and tossed all over the ground after the slaughter of innocent towns folk – I mean goblins. Different qualities are designated by color (thanks World of Warcraft) and must be identified before worn. Unlike Diablo, items, potions and food can also be obtained and upgraded through a robust crafting system that requires an extensive guide to slog through. The crafting bits are my favorite so far, letting me upgrade all my weapons and armor with my high crafting skill level.

The only part of Divinity’s leveling system that I don’t like is the abilities. The skill points earned through leveling are sparse and when placed in combat skills only designate how many abilities of that type skill your character can have in his skill book. At one skill point, only three abilities can be learned AND used by your character. That means you’re stuck with those three abilities until you find another skill book and then you have to forget a skill to pick up a new one, a la Pokemon unless you place precious skill points into the combat skill. Skillbooks aren’t difficult to find (thankfully) as they’re dropped as loot or purchased from merchants, but finding the exact skill you want to use can be tricky. This has another downside if you want to reassign your skill points. Ask to reassign your points and say goodbye to all the abilities you’ve learned. Pray you can find the books you’ve lost from your local supplier or in the Homestead. My cleric/archer has lost her best ability thanks to a few miss placed skillpoints and a lack of  merchant stock.

Admittedly there are a few other shortcomings. The graphics are not top of the line, but the game play, smooth combat, and extensive story line more than make up for it. The music isn’t as immersive as many games these days either, but the voice acting is quite engaging. I would have liked to see more voice acted moments and cut scenes, but after encountering only one bug in the entire game I’m not complaining about where Larian Studios allocated their budget.

If you haven’t bought Divinity yet (What were you thinking?!) go do so now, but don’t expect an easy challenge. Areas are gated by level and the combat can be overwhelming when the party is outnumbered. The creative thinking the game forces its players to engage in is a refreshing change from today’s traditional games. For instance, the players are given a pyramid and told to find a second one. It’s easy enough to find in Cyseal’s mayor’s home behind a locked door that can’t be picked. It took me ages to realize I could use the pyramid in my inventory to teleport to the one in the locked room. Unfortunately, I then couldn’t figure out how to get out of the room again with the pyramid in my inventory! I won’t give away the secret, but once I conquered this puzzle it opened up plenty of hidden spaces I couldn’t access before.

All in all I give Divinity: Original Sin five screaming cats out of five. With old school game play revamped and improved upon, plus hours and hours of game play still left to go, I am in love with this game. Just bought the DLC to give myself something else to do when I’m finished and I’m eyeing Divinity: Dragon Commander as my next tactical RPG of choice.

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