From time to time I like to review games. I play a lot of games, and have worked a little bit in the industry as a writer and designer. If the cards come down in my favour I would even like to take a crack at designing my own games, from the ground up. With engines like Unity the technical side of game making seems to be getting easier and better organized.
Divinity: Original Sin caught my eye just before release. I had always given the Divinity games a pass before, but this one seemed different. The old-school isometric look and the clean, bright environments seemed inviting and the beta community was giving it impressive reviews on steam. So I took the plunge and gave it a try.
I was pleasantly surprised. As a whole Divinity combines the best of old-school games like Baldur’s Gate and Pool of Radiance with some more modern conceits, all without losing track of core gameplay, elegance, and fun. The game starts off with a simple plot hook and then drops the player into the world, allowing them to engage the story on their own terms. Unlike most modern games, the monsters have a static challenge level which acts as a simple throttle on where players can explore. If you are smart enough to find a way around those challenges however, the game does not slap your hand. This is refreshing. The cosmic overplot is reminiscent of older fantasies like Elric, the Riftwar Saga, or the Elminster novels, perhaps with a few elements borrowed from Dr Who.
Here are a the top 5 reasons why I would recommend it.
- Divinity: Original Sin rewards intelligent play. The game has quite a few puzzles and mysteries, from riddles to devious traps, but that is only scratching the surface. The game rewards smart play in almost every action you take. A favoured example is the rain spell. Initially I just ignored this spell… I mean why would I need to make it rain? Divinity: OS, however, has a complex layer of object interactions that clever players can really use to their advantages. Thus the simple rain spell can be used to make steam to act as cover, to soak creatures and make them more vulnerable to electricity, to remove poison or fire from the ground, to leave puddles of water that can then be turned in to ice, to weaken fire based creatures, and so on. All of these uses are fairly intuitive, and they all can be used to create impressive chain reaction combos that can reduce tough bosses to into easy victims, if you don’t mess them up and if you are smart enough to make use of them. Of course the enemies can turn these forces against you, so don’t fighting makes with lightning bolts while standing in water and make sure the terrain you are on isn’t going to create real problems when your foes interact with it. In combat and general exploration I found myself keeping an eye out for terrain features that I could exploit to my advantage or that might be used against me and I had great fun trying to make the most of them to gain an upper hand against difficult foes. The game also rewards preparation with many items that can give players different kinds of situational advantages, and it does so without forcing these down the player’s throat.
- Old-School with Modern Sensibilities: We put up with a lot of crap in the old RPGs. We have also learned a great deal since those days. Divinity: OS works the most important of those lessons in with more modern elements like randomized items, crafting, and physics objects. Opening chests in Divinity: OS is fin, because you never know what kind of sweet loot you might get. Being able to drag barrels and other objects around gives you more ways to solve problems and more ways to mess with your enemies in combat, while making you feel like you are a greater part of the world. The game also has extensive decision trees, so your actions on various quests have some impact on future play.
- Character Creation/Advancement: While the visual customization is simple and you cannot choose a race. You have a wide variety of skills, talents, and abilities with which to customize your two starting characters. The best part, however, is that the basic archetypes that they give you are actually fairly playable. Often with free-form systems the archetypes given are inferior, but these are actually good starting points. Advancing your character is also fairly enjoyable with quite a few interesting choices. The customization isn’t perfect but is a far cry better than most.
- A Sense of Impact: When you do things in Divinity: OS the game rewards you with satisfying, visceral effects and beefy bonuses. Knocking an opponent down with a charge is equally rewarding mechanically and in presentation. Most of the special actions have a chance to cause other effects as do a majority of magical weapons. This makes combat far more than an exchange of damage, especially when taken in conjunction with point 1. Divinity: OS goes out of its way to make the players actions stand out, which is a lot of fun.
- Epic: Epic games never really disappeared, I mean Path of Exile and Diablo III are still epic even though they both have dark, horrific tones. Divinity: OS is not afraid to put it all out there however. From the cosmic metaplot to the fantastic environments this is a game that is refreshingly honest about itself. It does not try to hide behind a veil of cynicism or drown everything in sepia tones and faux Grimdark. As you progress through the game (I’m only ~40 hours in) you gain a definite sense of progression of power, venturing into areas that were once daunting without fear. The game does not shy away from fantasy tropes that might be fun in an effort to seem original, but rather dives right and and plays with them. Quite nice really.
In the end I would rate the Game as a A, maybe an A+ to people who loved the old Baldur’s gate titles. It is not perfect, but is ambitious, fun, and deeply rewarding.