Divinity: Original Sin Review

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Posted July 29, 2014 by John Clark in Video Games

My friend and I are making good progress. Our party of four encounters a bridge covered in poisonous goo, with an enormous, angry-looking zombie troll patrolling it. Taking the lessons we’ve learned into account from the game so far, we quickly form and execute our plan: she, playing a pyromancer, is able to set the poison ablaze, triggering an explosion that damages the troll and sets fire to the bridge, harming our enemy as it approaches. I send my warrior forward, intercepting it with a powerful fist from the sky that triggers another explosive effect and more damage. In a few turns, the troll melts beneath our onslaught, and as we congratulate ourselves, our characters open a dialogue with each other.

“Another innocent slain,” says her character. “Is this really what we’re becoming?”

I stare at my options for a reply, variations of ‘he had it coming’ or ‘you’re right, we’ve gone too far’, but out loud over my mic, I simply ask, “…Wait. The troll wasn’t hostile?”

“…I don’t know,” she replies, just as confused. “I think maybe when we moused over him there was a dialogue option, but I don’t know how we could talk to him through all the poison.”

“And we can’t blow the poison away without hurting him and starting a fight,” I say.

“Right.”

Simultaneously, we both ask the same question.

“So…now what?”

This is Divinity: Original Sin, a new roleplaying game by Larian Studios that embraces the classic RPG ideals of total player freedom and meaningful choice, with all the opportunities and frustrations that they bring. The third game in the venerable Divinity series, Original Sin follows the adventures of a pair of Source Hunters, powerful adventurers hunting after a foul – wait for it – ‘Sourceror’. That pretty much sets the pace of the storyline, an unremarkable fantasy tale brightened and given flavor by cheesy, but often clever dialogue and scenarios. During their quest – which can be carried out as a single player controlling both protagonists or a pair of co-operative players each commanding one Source Hunter – , the Hunters will encounter forlorn wishing wells, hammy skeletal lords, and, with the highly advised Pet Pal trait, a hilarious assortment of animals with problems all their own.

 

The game's colorful and detailed.

The game’s colorful and detailed.

Whereas the plotline frequently veers into absurdity, Original Sin’s gameplay is dead serious; deep and often extremely challenging on higher difficulties, it doesn’t pull punches both in combat and out. Modeled after the classic RPGs of days past like Baldur’s Gate with a touch of XCOM or Final Fantasy Tactics thrown in, the game subscribes to the old-school philosophy of setting players loose and letting them, for the most part, have their way with the world. Every character you meet can be killed, every object that isn’t bolted down stolen, and most sections can be sequence-broken and tackled in any order. Waypoint markers are an infrequent occurence; skimming through dialogue might leave you incapable of completing a quest, as the journal often covers only the barest details of what’s happening.

For the most part, these classic sensibilities are well-tempered by modern convenience. The game’s maps are vast, but thankfully, portals through which the player can teleport freely between pop up fairly often, cutting down the amount of backtracking needed. It’s easy to accidentally stumble onto a battle far too high level for your party, but it’s usually just as easy to run away safely.

Speaking of battle, combat is by far Divinity’s strongest suit, and where it does the best job of carving out its own identity. Isometric and turn-based, fights are slow-paced and highly tactical, with every encounter taking upwards of ten to fifteen minutes on the hardest difficulty. Crowd control skills are important, but even more critical is taking advantage of the game’s in-depth elemental status system. All around the battlefield are various obstacles, ranging from explosive barrels to clouds of poisonous gas and more. In addition to these, many player abilities leave marks of their own that must be exploited to turn the tide of more difficult fights. Some are obvious, like using a rain spell to put out a patch of fire on the ground, while others, such as slashing an enemy to make them bleed and then electrocuting the blood that pools underneath to stun them, are often discovered by accident, only to become critical go-to strategies later. Thanks to this system, almost every fight feels unique, and seemingly impossible battles can be conquered with ease after discovering the right way to go about them.

The ability to move and stack any object in the environment can be too tempting to ignore.

The ability to move and stack any object in the environment can be too tempting to ignore.

 

Unfortunately, sometimes the depth of Original Sin is its own worst enemy. There’s a lot going on in combat, and the game’s colorful graphics aren’t quite enough to help give a clear look of what exactly is occurring at any given time. Aiming accurately at enemies is harder than it should be, and I quickly lost count of how often I’d trigger an elemental combo after making sure my party members were out of range, only for them to be killed by friendly fire. At times, many of the elemental fields are larger than they look, while others you’ll be certain that an enemy is in range and they’ll walk away without a scratch. In a game that can often be extremely challenging, this can be frustrating. Minor bugs exacerbate this; much like my example in the beginning of the review, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a hostile and peaceful monster due to a frequent glitch with the color of a target’s health bar, causing one to question the viability of planning an ambush.

These problems don’t subtract from how special Divinity is, though. For all its minor issues, it does something few RPGs are willing to these days: it demands the complete attention of its players, doesn’t shy away from punishing them when they don’t give it, and pays homage to the classics of the past while not being afraid to correct what it perceives as outdated qualities. For these reasons and more, it’s easy to recommend Larian’s latest effort.


About the Author

John Clark