Divinity: Original Sin II
Developer: Larian Studios
Release Date: 14 September, 2017
By Chris Picone, 08 November 2017
I backed Divinity: Original Sin (D:OS) 2 on Kickstarter back in August, 2016. I’d never played any of the Divinity series before – or any game by Larian, a Belgian developer that I’d never heard of – but it looked cool, I was hungry for a decent RPG, and the price was right, so why not? My pledge came with the enhanced edition of the original D:OS, which quickly became one of my favourite CRPGs of all time, and I had been waiting anxiously for the release of the sequel since. The original D:OS is another isometric RPG inspired by the likes of Baldur’s Gate et al., but it’s no clone. In many ways, D:OS broke new ground, forever changing the face of and possibilities offered by CRPGS, and D:OS 2 has gone on to expand the system by adding in new elements, skills, and tactical components. Like its predecessor, D:OS2 is an epic 100+ hour game. D:OS2 takes place some time after the original. There is a power in the world known as Source, but it is corrupted, and its use attracts creatures known as the Voidwoken, so a faction known as the Magisters have taken it upon themselves to eradicate any Source users. The gods have fallen, but the world is not without hope. It is believed that one of the much-maligned Source users will eventually rise in power to become one of the Godwoken, and may even become strong enough to challenge the gods themselves, and who will use that power to stop the Void. Naturally, that’s where you come in.
Each of the six main “Origins” characters have their own background and story to explore. These aren’t your typical value-added slap-on side stories, however, and for that reason I don’t want to tell you too much about them, as I wouldn’t want to ruin any of the surprises. It will suffice to say that the heroes are genuinely interesting: Beast, a dwarf whose failed rebellion drove him to the high seas and a life as a pirate; The Red Prince, a red-skinned lizardman who was exiled from the Empire for consorting with demons; Ifan, the assassin who once released the deathfog, annihilating an entire tribe of elves; Sebille, an elven femme fatale who practices cannibalism; Lohse, a former songstress fighting against a powerful demon for control of her own mind; and Fane, an undead scholar who must weigh the ability to save his race against the destruction of humanity.
You begin the game as a Source user – you may create your own from scratch if you like, although I would recommend taking one of the Origins characters – who has been captured by the Magisters, bound with a collar that prevents you from using your Source, and locked away on a ship bound for a prison island. Your first task is to remove the collar and escape. Your second task is to learn how to manipulate Source and develop your powers as you strive for godhood. After that – it’s up to you. But things are not as they seem. In fact, one of your earliest allies is a half-demon, so it can be difficult to tell if you’re ever doing the right thing or if you’re simply being manipulated. The Magisters aren’t your only enemy, and though you may not agree with their methods, you may come to agree with their reasons and forge an uneasy alliance in the name of the greater good. Only one thing is certain: You will commit atrocities in your quest for power.
D:OS2 is a beautiful game. There are no real cinematic sequences: Videos are handled with moving images of stills, book-trailer style, and dialogue is accompanied by portraits rather than talking heads. However, the character illustrations are gorgeous, and intricate spell and elemental effects do a great job of complementing the game’s real prize, the scenery and environments, which are absolutely stunning. As with most CRPGs these days, you visit a lot of diverse and interesting environments; towns, cliffs, mountains, valleys, swamps, graveyards, crypts, forests, and even a living ship. The view is top-down, but can be panned and zoomed to great effect.
D:OS2 has taken a theatre-inspired approach to their music in that several of the main theme tracks are recycled throughout the game but adapted to the environment in which you find yourself. For example, it’s played in the traditional epic orchestral-style while moving about the adventure map, a relaxed version when in town or safe places, shanty-style when in the tavern, sea-shanty-style when on the boat, and a few combat tracks. Larian made an odd decision here: At the start of the game you are able to choose an instrument to start the game with. Larian has a quirky habit of not explaining any of the game’s features so you could be forgiven for thinking that the instrument might have some use in the game, as I did. However, your choice in instrument actually alters the instrumental selection for the game’s backing music, a fact you probably will never work out on your own unless you happened to start a new game with a different instrument. I guess this is good because it means the music will be slightly different for each play through but it seems like it must be at the expense of having additional variety during any individual game, although there are plenty of opportunities to swap instruments. More impressively, the game is totally, completely, voice acted. Every single line, no matter whether that line is coming from a main character, an enemy, a shopkeeper or main NPC, or one of the “nobody” filler characters you find populating the towns and villages. Even the animals have voice acting. Every last chicken, rat, cow, and squirrel. The quality of both the music and the voice acting is top notch.
I would say the game plays like any other isometric RPG, but D:OS2 does a whole bunch of stuff that other CRPGs don’t do. The major groundbreaking feature is the incredible sense of freedom you have. Need to get from A to B but there are some enemies in the way? You know they’re there, so you could get the jump on them by sneaking up to high ground and launching a surprise attack – or simply sneak past them altogether. You could try to intimidate, persuade, or bargain with them – or you could try to join forces with a mutual enemy and attack them together. Or there might be a totally different solution – maybe you’ll find a hidden trapdoor that takes you to the same place while avoiding the confrontation altogether. I mentioned earlier that your first task will be to remove your collar and escape the prison: I tell you now that there are at least five ways to achieve that. There are even puzzles that you can skip entirely and still solve, if you can work out how to do it.
Not only can you interact with nearly everything in the game, but most objects and surfaces also interact with each other, and you are very much encouraged to experiment. Think that painting looks like it’s in an odd place? There might be a switch or a safe hidden behind it. Found a trap? Throw a vase at it to set it off prematurely. Elements combine to create new elements, and again you are encouraged to experiment. Water douses fire and creates smoke, which obscures vision. Water can be electrified, stunning any enemies who are touching it, or boiled with fire to create steam, which can then be blessed to create an effect like a cloud of holy water. Combat relies on your ability to combine these effects. If you burn your enemy, and then poison them, they will cop fire damage and become poisoned, as you might expect. But if you poison and then burn them, they will become poisoned, and then the poison will explode, dealing explosion as well as fire damage. Teamwork is encouraged. Group of enemies bunched together? Have your wizard use telekinesis to move a barrel of poison into their position, and then have your archer launch a fire arrow at it to make it explode. And of course there are the usual buffs and de-buffs. The game isn’t all just about magic and special effects, though. Warriors and rogues have a great array of special abilities that make them a force to be reckoned with. So, sneak your characters into place and take the higher ground. Utilise your strengths, exploit the enemy’s weaknesses, use the environment as a weapon, and get creative.
Fun Factor / Replayability
I found D:OS2 to be more combat-oriented than its predecessor – sure, there were usually alternate ways of completing any given quest, but more often than not the game encouraged you to engage it’s improved combat system. There were still puzzles and non-combat challenges, but many of them seemed underdeveloped or simply added in as an afterthought. The focus on combat made the story feel a bit shallow at first, but it eventually found its feet and took over as you started delving into the character’s Origin stories, after which the main story gained depth through greater understanding of the context. And, as with the original D:OS, I was overwhelmed by just how much control you have over the game. Not just the freedom to interact with everything and everyone in the game, but the fact that every decision you made seemed to matter, and almost always affected something in some significant way, either immediately or some time down the track. Dialogue isn’t just a tool for exposition in D:OS2, it’s a total game-changer.
If you liked the original D:OS, buy D:OS2. It is a bit more combat-focused than the original, but the story is incredible and no other RPG offers the kind of freedom that the D:OS series offers. If you haven’t played D:OS but you like CRPGs, I would urge you to give it a go, but with a couple of warnings. First, as I mentioned earlier, D:OS2 is a 100+ hour game. That’s a significant commitment if you’re only a casual gamer. Second, although D:OS2 is easier to get into than D:OS, the series has a much steeper learning curve than most CRPGs, and there is very little in the way of hand-holding. You have to place your own map markers and although there is a journal, it holds only clues that you still have to work out on your own. The game encourages experimentation, so much of the time you’re expected to just try things and see what happens, and then accept the results – good, bad, or otherwise. If you don’t like CRPGs, I’m not sure why you read this review.