Colin Le Sueur

Colin Le Sueur

colin@colinlesueur.com
Colin Le Sueur

Divinity: Original Sin (Review)

For me, Divinity: Original Sin came out of nowhere. I’d first noticed it during the summer Steam sale but didn’t pay much attention, mainly due to the generic title. After hearing some strong word of mouth from various sources, I thought I’d take a closer look. I was playing through Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition at the time so my interest was piqued even more when I realised Divinity was touted as a return to classic PC RPGs.

Developed and published by Larian Studios, Divinity: Original Sin is a turn-based RPG with single-player and coop gameplay. With a particular emphasis on character development and role-playing, you choose two primary characters at the start of a new game. The game defaults to two randomly generated characters, a man and a woman, but you’ve got detailed character customisation options to make these two your own.

There are a number of classes to choose from; much like the classes in Dark Souls these mainly dictate starting skills and gear. You’ve got the freedom later in the game to customise upgrade paths and even re-spec, though I haven’t reached this option yet in my playthrough.

Having two main characters enables the most interesting element in Divinity: Original Sin: both characters have separate personalities and will occasionally disagree over your choices. You can switch between both characters at will, designating one primary and one secondary. Your primary character will lead the party and start most dialogue trees. The secondary character can respond and will sometimes offer an alternate option or behaviour.

If both characters don’t agree on the decision, you’ll move into a rock/paper/scissors mini-game, with each character taking a side in the argument. Whoever wins the mini-game wins the argument and the group goes with their choice. This mini-game also applies when trying to convince an NPC to do something they don’t want to do. The outcome is influenced by your character attributes like reason and charm. This adds a clever extra layer of roleplaying and allows you to play two characters with totally different personalities.

Character and story plays a big part in Divinity. Your choices help to shape your characters and progress the story. This is both a strength and a weakness of the game, as some story options are blocked to you if your characters don’t have certain skills or abilities. For instance, one core quest requires one of your characters to have some thieving skills. If you don’t have the skills, you can’t complete the quest. I would’ve preferred to see multiple ways to proceed rather than being locked into one solution. Of course, I might’ve missed something along the way but that leads into my next point.

Divinity: Original Sin doesn’t hold your hand. There aren’t quest markers or clearly signposted progression paths. I found this both refreshing and frustrating. While it’s a nice break from many mainstream RPGs that make things a bit too easy, a couple times I’ve found myself backtracking and repeatedly speaking to multiple NPCs on the off chance I missed a dialogue option. As for exploring, while you can technically go all over the map you’ll quickly run into groups of high level enemies that’ll destroy your little party. Trial and error plays a big part and this is built into the game, with autosaves common before a dangerous area.

Combat in Divinity is a lot of fun. Rather than using a Baldur’s Gate style pause system, the developers opted for turn-based combat similar to the recent X-Com: Enemy Unknown. You draw from a pool of action points to move, use items, and attack (whether physical or magical). Character abilities have cooldown periods and you need to balance the various actions across your party. The concept of balance is key in Divinity: Original Sin, especially in considering magic and the elements.

Ice is weak against fire. Lightning will elecrify water. You can affect the environment to burn away hazards or create deadly poison clouds. If you’re not careful you’ll end up healing an enemy with your attacks. The depth of the combat system is increased exponentially through this element interaction. You really need to use strategy in every fight; I ran into several situations where I couldn’t do any damage because all my attacks were fire-based and I was fighting fire elementals. I also found that having a magic user is practically essential; you’ll be at a serious disadvantage if you’ve only got melee characters due to the heavy magic use.

Generally Divinity is nicely polished. The graphics are crisp and the music is amazing. There are a few UI issues, however, especially when managing inventories between two characters and manuvering around the map. The developers are still active after the official release and there’s an update every week or so. Modding support is included and it’s still early days but there’s a lot of potential here.

I’ve got a few criticisms, but these are generally minor. The upgrade system isn’t very clear or intuitive. I put several points into Telekinesis before I realised it was used primarily for ranged loot collection. Speaking of loot, sometimes less is more but Divinity employs the Diablo approach of more is more. Eventually I just started trading everything away. Your characters have separate inventories as well, so bear that in mind if you’re trying to complete a quest with a specific item; I had a situation where I needed to move the item from my secondary character to my primary in order to finish the quest.

Divinity does a lot of things right. I love the focus on character and roleplaying, the quirky humour dispersed throughout (like the talking clam and gravestones), and the deep combat system. This is a game that will only improve over time, with UI fixes and mods allowing for new quests. If you can look past the generic title and minor quibbles, Divinity: Original Sin is a worthy successor to classic RPGs and a must play for any fan of the genre.

Colin Le Sueur
Friday, July 25th, 2014
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