Divinity Original Sin Review: A Transcendent Journey

July 9th, 2014 -

I’ve played my share of isometric RPGs over the years, be it on PC or console. Of course, some are much better than others, and some adhere to gameplay elements that I prefer over their competitors. To be sure, what I think of when I think cRPG is along the lines of Diablo, Baldur’s Gate, and Planescape: Torment (Septerra Core is a gem, but that is much closer to a console title in gameplay). When I first saw Divinity: Original Sin, I had preconceived notions of what to expect from it. I figured it’d be an aRPG to compete with the likes of Diablo and Torchlight. I felt like an idiot when I got into my first battle, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

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As with many RPGs, the game starts out with a clear mission that becomes marginalized by other events that end up stealing your attention. If you’re unsure of what I mean, for the sake of accessibility, look at Final Fantasy VII. It begins with you helping AVALANCHE to make some money, and it’s only because a childhood friend asked you to do it. During one of the missions, you meet a girl, fall for her, and get caught up in her mess of a life, which gives you a purpose. From there you come to meet Sephiroth (again), who you later learn is threatening to destroy the planet. You must then save the planet and everyone that lives on it; if not for the goodness in your heart, then as a dying wish for your beloved lady that passed on thanks to ol’ Sephy. Being that Original Sin is new, I won’t go into the details, but you can imagine.

The game starts you off with character creation as most games do these days. However, opposed to just a single character, you are making two. This threw me at first, as I thought maybe if I wanted a female I’d choose the character on the right, but then I saw I could change the sex of each character; turns out you control two characters in the game, or if you’d prefer, you can play co-op with a friend. As I love playing a ranger or rogue, I went with a rogue (though the shadowblade was tempting). Opposite him I had a witch, because why not? I figured magic and shadows would be a good choice. So off I went, my two characters in tow, wandering a beach searching for Source (because, you know, we’re Source Hunters). I was rudely interrupted by a battle while I was seashell collecting, and much to my surprise my characters got into a tactical stance. Really? Are we doing turn-based combat in this? Yes, yes we are.

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When I say turn-based combat, I don’t mean you have an active time battle gauge. Rather, think Grandia in that icons representing the characters show up at the top of the screen and show the order of battle. When it’s your turn, you are given a certain amount of action points to use. Think of action points as your stamina and magic combined – they are used to move about the battlefield, attack, and use whatever ability you so desire. Want to turn invisible, sneak up behind the enemy and stab him but don’t have the ability points to do all of that in one go? No problem, just end your turn and save your action points for your next turn. Want to combine your characters’ attacks to make something devastating? Go for it – make that rain spell into hail, make that poison cloud into a paralyzing veil of electricity – the game lets you experiment with its elements and will often surprise you.

The first dungeon you explore serves as a tutorial for what to expect in the future. Do you have a spellcaster of sorts? Cool, it shows you how to use spells to dispel fire hazards, poison clouds, etc. Maybe you don’t have any magic users though, what then? Well, just use an arrow with said element that you need. But what if you don’t have either of those? Screw it, use your surroundings. Caves have well placed candles from who knows where, so just pick that up and use it as your fire. See that barrel over there with a water drop on the side? Full of water and useful for extinguishing fire. I thought I broke the game by destroying a chest that had something I needed, but I just used an alternate method of getting around the obstacle. Don’t have a key? Use a lock pick. Is the chest in crap shape? Bust it open. The game is fairly diverse in how you approach it, as the major limiter is your mind.

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When you make it to the town, you may be overwhelmed by its size. There is lots to do within it, and you’ll most likely even level up before doing another battle if you explore enough. Looting, helping sailors, finding new party members and more are available while exploring this town for the next portion of story progression. Speaking of which, if you like games to hold your hand, this one is not for you. It’s not a bad thing, as it feels more open because of it, but I can see how it may be off-putting to people that like having a series of dots for them to connect. And that’s sad, as the game offers a lot of side quests that you would never stumble upon if you didn’t take the time to explore, or talk to that animal (oh right, you can have a skill to talk to animals – highly suggested).

In addition to the lack of hand holding in regards to story, fighting feels like you went from a tricycle to a unicycle on a tightrope at the circus in a matter of an hour. You are going to die, but that’s fine. Quicksaves exist for a reason, so use them liberally. Dying in a battle doesn’t mean you are doomed every time you face that group of enemies – much like in D&D, it’s a matter of how you roll the dice. Maybe your attack missed the first time, but it hit the second. Maybe the enemy doesn’t use a particular attack on you the second or third time, or maybe you decide to use a different strategy altogether. There are so many possibilities in each battle that it’s only natural that you die while playing the game – if you didn’t, the game wouldn’t be proving to be much of a challenge, and where’s the fun in that?

Another interesting element of controlling a duo (or if you’re playing co-op) opposed to a single character is the dialogue trees. Early on in the game you may come across a thief who is eyeing some food from a market stand. You are given the option to persuade him otherwise, or just allow him to continue on. Regardless of what you choose, you are then given a list of responses from the other character’s point of view. So if you’re playing by solo, you literally have an argument with yourself, and if you end with opposing views, you will lose to yourself. A mini-game of Rock, Paper, Scissors starts and whoever wins that wins the argument. You can skip it and just have it decide who won, but what’s the fun in that? Especially if you’re fighting with the choice against a friend. Another facet that I found neat was being able to break up your team. When looking at their profile pictures, they are chained together. You can break that chain and move them individually, or just leave them somewhere as a distraction as the other does something like go on a rampage of theft. A seemingly miniscule gameplay element that can change the way you play the game entirely.

Larian Studios did a wonderful job with Divinity: Original Sin. This is definitely the best entry in the Divinity series, and it’s partially due to their supporters as it was made possible with Kickstarter. In the same way that people say Shovel Knight is a love letter to platformers of the past, this is the embodiment of games people loved on PC in the 90s, such as Ultima. But as Shovel Knight is more than just a love letter, so is this. It takes what was great about those games and makes something new; a game that people who miss that era can enjoy, but also something a newcomer would be able to sink hours into after coming home from school or work. With the range of classes and lack of limitations on the gameplay, there is much more incentive to replay the game with new character builds. And I didn’t even mention that the game also comes with the level editor tools to make the game. If that doesn’t excite you, I’m not sure what will. At $40 this game is a steal. And if you are in the market for making one of those ridiculous simulator games that everyone is trademarking nowadays, perhaps it would interest you to know that Cow Simulator was made using the level editor included… just saying. If there is an RPG you should be playing this year, it’s Divinity: Original Sin.

BUY

Pros

  • Ridiculously Deep Combat
  • Beautiful Set Pieces and Character/Creature Design
  • Open World and Non-Linear
  • Hours of Fun

Cons

  • Difficulty may be TOO Much for Some
  • Occasional Puzzles Broken/Too Easy

Divinity: Original Sin was created and published by Larian Studios and is available on Steam for $40. The game released on Steam (officially, not Early Acess) June 30, 2014, and was funded on Kickstarter April 26, 2013.

 

Here at FFoP we use a rating method that you may be unfamiliar with, so allow us to clarify. When we review a game, we see what sort of BRA fits. Buy, Rent, or Acquire is the rating we give out – we’ve boiled it down for simplicity. A Buy is worth the full retail value; a Rent is something you may want to try before you buy, or grab at a discount; an Acquire is something you can play, but we’d suggest borrowing it from someone, grabbing it in a game bundle, or some other means. If you want further clarification, please feel free to get in touch.

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