Unfortunately four out of four players were unable to make our regularly scheduled RPG session this week, and therefore I bring to you instead a first impressions review!
In Spring of 2013, Larian Studios went to Kickstarter in order to help fund their next video game, Divinity: Original Sin. A cRPG which was designed to be played co-op, the game raised just shy of $950,000 by the time the kickstarter ended. Releasing in 2014, I watched some videos of gameplay and then bought the game on January 1st of 2015. The next three weeks saw me spending as much free time as I had (and…to be honest, some that I didn’t have) playing and finally beating this game. It was amazing, it was fun, and I immediately set about playing through the game for a second time. By the time I was finished, I had sunk approximately 180 hours into playing Divinity: Original Sin, and it was well worth the price.
Imagine my surprise and glee when I discovered in the summer of 2015 that Larian Studios were coming back to Kickstarter, to give me a bigger and better game– Divinity: Original Sin 2! Raising just over $2,000,000 in funds, meeting all stretch goals, the game was originally estimated to deliver to backers in December of 2016; it released into early access in September of that year and the developers determined that it was best for the game to continue in development for a time yet, until they could properly finish the game and put the polish on it that they believed their backers deserved. And thus it was that the game was in early access testing for approximately one year, until September 14th, almost a month ago, it released in its entirety to the public at large.
During this early access stage, D:OS2’s first act was available for people to play. This ended up being about twenty hours of gameplay, which I eagerly sank myself into. There were many easily visible changes from the first game– the number of action points available during combat, the new Tag system which determines how NPC’s will react to you, and this time around the game supports up to four players in co-op! Even though there were differences, there was also plenty of similarities to the first game– returning is the turn-based combat, the environmental interactions, and of course we cannot forget the Pet Pal talent, allowing us to talk to all of the animals found in the world!
This first impressions review is not about the early access of the game however– it was impressive, the developers ran several different iterations of how character stats and various other things worked in the game, and listened to community feedback to help guide decisions, yet we are talking today about my experiences thus far with the full game, in as much as I’ve played it.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is set in the world of Rivellon, a number of years (exactly how many I have yet to determine) down the road from its precursor. The Divine is dead; the man personifying the seven gods of the realm and as far as I can tell the holy leader of the world was slain in the war against the Black Ring, the leader of which was the Divine’s adopted son. Sourcery (a play on words– so much fun), the all-powerful magic which can be cast by those born with the talent known as Sourcerers, has begun to exhibit strange effects– when powerful magics are used, strange and deadly creatures called Voidwoken are attracted to the area, and begin attacking those found there.
In response, the Bishop Alexander, the Divine’s son by blood, has assumed a leadership role in the Divine Order, now commanding the Magisters in the rounding-up and internment of Sourcerers across all of Rivellon in order to keep the rest of the people safe. The game begins as you (and any friends playing along with you) awake in the belly of a ship headed for Fort Joy (spoiler alert: not many people in this fort are actually happy), a remote island where the Magisters are keeping the Sourcerers. Obviously, not all of these Sourcerers want to be herded to an island just for being themselves, and once there many more would wish to escape, and so during the journey to the island each is fitted with their own Source Collar, which suppresses the most powerful Source abilities a person possesses (yet not, interestingly enough, the common spells with which you spend the majority of your first twelve hours and six levels fighting with…game logic for you I suppose!).
Yet once again, I’m getting ahead of myself, because…character creation! Unlike the last game, where you were one of a pair of heroic human Source Hunters tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a town councilman, in D:OS2 you get your choice of multiple races! Instead of just being human, you could also be an Elf, Dwarf, Lizard, or if you’re feeling really bored with the standard options you could become an Undead version of any of the aforementioned races! Each race has a unique skill and talent which can give you a small edge in one area or another, along with special racial talents– in combat, Dwarves can attempt to petrify a nearby target, while Elves can learn memories by eating a dead being’s flesh, and the Undead are able to pick locks with their bony fingers! In addition to some other race-specific rules, you are given tags based upon your gender and race which tell the NPC’s in the world how to react to you– and even sometimes gives you extra dialogue options. For instance, a few hours into the game you might make your way inside a cave to find a Lizard merchant– when he speaks with most people he is brusque and comes off as rather annoyed, yet if a fellow Lizard party member were to speak with him, his attitude changes drastically!
After choosing your race and appearance, you get the option to choose your class preset. Ranging from the fantasy standards of Wizard, Rogue, Ranger, and Fighter, the game offers different takes on these and other roles– a Shadowblade who uses his dangerous daggers coupled with sneaky magical tricks to assault his foes; the Battle Mage who is skilled with both blade and Sourcery; the Knight, wielding large two-handed weapons and forgoing the shield; even the Metamorph, whose particular school of magic allows him to alter the shapes of himself or his enemies in weird and numerous ways. These presets can be even further customized, if you know what you’re doing (as I do!), to give you access to as many as three different skill trees (out of seven schools of magic, plus warfare, huntsman, and scoundrel trees) right out of character creation!
Besides ability points, which are divided into combat abilities (skills with weapons, skills with magic and physical combat, and a few defensive abilities) and civil abilities (persuasion, bartering, sneaking, thievery, loremaster, and such), there are Talents to choose from. Each race will start with a unique talent, such as the Ingenious talent specific to Humans that give them a bonus to initiative and critical chance, or the Dwarven Guile talent that gives Dwarves a free point into Sneaking. As well as this talent, you will also get to choose one more, which will further customize your character. These talents vary wildly in what they can do; one lets you heal whenever you stand in a pool of blood, one increases the reach of spells and scrolls that you cast, one lets you avoid taking attacks of opportunity when running past enemies, and yet another allows you to speak to any animal found in Rivellon, often giving you new and important information, or sometimes even completely new quests!
Once your talent has been selected, you are in the final stages– only a few steps left! Now you have the opportunity to select two ‘tags’ to represent your character’s background. These tags will not only dictate some of the conversation options that you will have while talking with NPC’s, but will also help determine how the NPC’s react towards you. You will always have a tag for your gender and for your race, and during creation you get to choose from a short list including Mystic, Scholar, Barbarian, Jester, and a few others. With your two tags selected, you have arrived at the last step– choosing your character’s instrument. During important scenes and other times, the instrument you select will lead the music playing in the background, giving a nice touch to the environment and atmosphere around you!
Creating your own character from scratch, choosing race, gender, class, talents, and all the like, is an enormous amount of fun. However, you have another option as well, one which I highly recommend. D:OS2 has shipped with six fully realized Origin Story Characters, people with a background and past that will constantly crop up during gameplay, and each with a personal quest to resolve during the course of the game. These characters’ races, genders, and starting tags are set in stone, yet you’re able to customize their appearance to a degree, as well as determine what class presets to use. For my first playthrough of the full release, I decided to start my journey as the Elven woman Sebielle, who after recently escaping her life as an enslaved assassin, wishes to seek revenge upon her previous Lizard Master, and to that end journeyed to Fort Joy to find a Lizard who would have answers to her questions. Thus far I have taken several steps towards achieving my goal, and haven’t even gotten off this blasted island yet!
Those Origin Story characters that you decide not to play as are later found in the world, available for recruitment into your party should you wish them to join you! Even if *you* don’t want to play as Sebielle, you can find her on the shores outside Fort Joy, planning her next move and plotting to kill the Lizard who enslaved her– and she will happily join forces with you (as long as you’re not a Lizard who offends her…then she may well stick a needle through your heart and kill you without getting the chance to defend yourself, as one Early Access run taught me!). When recruiting these companions into your party, you get to choose what kind of class preset they come to you with– another amazing improvement over the previous game, where the named companions would always join your party with the same set of skills and stats learned, no matter if you would rather have a Battlemage instead of a choice of the Knight or the Ranger. When taken as a whole, you are then given a party that can be as small as one (a hard, but apparently not impossible task) or as large as four, composed of whatever classes you care to choose!
My fascination with the customizability of your adventuring party aside, the gameplay remains as interesting and tactical as ever, if not moreso. The archers of Divinity: Original Sin were fun to play as, able to send their bolts ricocheting into multiple foes, or to fire special arrows that could blaze, freeze, or even knock down enemies! D:OS2 expands upon this system, adding the tactical advantage of high ground to the mix, allowing ranged attacks in the form of arrows or even projectile spells to deal more damage when hitting foes below where they are standing. This opens up a new tactical level where sending your archer to a high point to rain down death from above is an excellent tactic, instead of just putting them somewhere where there aren’t a lot of obstacles in the way of lines of sight.
The magical and mundane skills that your characters can learn have also received a tweak in the number which can be learned at any given time. As in the first game, you will learn new skills by finding or purchasing skill books which give you access to a specific ability– sometimes with requirements such as being a certain level, but always needing at least one ability point to be spent in that particular school of magic or expertise. In the original game, the first ability point spent in the Pyromancer tree would allow you to memorize three ‘novice’-level pyromancy spells, such as Haste, Burning Hands, or Flare. The next level would allow you to memorize an additional ‘novice’ skill, but also allow you to learn an ‘adept’-level skill. Eventually, if you dedicated enough ability points to the Pyromancer skill, you would be able to memorize and cast a grand total of two of the ‘Master’ spells, the highest and most deadly form of fire magic which included such spells as Meteor Strike and Infectious Flame. While this is amazing magic, it did result in a trade-off– there were a total of four of these great Master-level Pyromancer skills, but I could only know two of them at a time! If I wanted to learn a different skill, I would have to forget the old one, resulting in the need to buy another pricey skill book if I ever wished to relearn it again!
Not so in D:OS2! This issue is side-stepped by multiple devices. Every time you level-up, you are now granted an ability point to spend in combat skills– and increasing any skill by one level only costs one point, instead of scaling upwards as was previously encountered. This makes the occasional skill’s requirement of having at least two points in Summoning in order to learn Rallying Call a much easier hurdle for the player. As long as the minimum number of points in a skill (most of the skills I’ve found thus far require only one point in the proper school of magic) is met, you can memorize any number of magical spells and martial skills. But wait, you say– that seems terribly unbalanced! What’s to stop me from learning *every* skill in the game?!? Another change was made to the stats of D:OS2. Strength, Finesse, and Intelligence govern the effectiveness of the three main archetypes of characters– warriors, rangers and rogues, and spell-casters. Constitution grants characters more hit points. Wits increases a character’s critical-hit chance and initiative in combat. The final stat…is Memory. For every point placed into Memory, you gain a new Memory slot. Every skill that you have memorized can be prepared to use in combat by placing it into an open memory slot. You begin the game with just three slots (and you only know three skills, so that sounds pretty fair), and as far as I can tell you will gain more slots every few levels. But the point here is that while you may have memorized all the spells, you can only use those you have prepared in your memory slots.
The skills prepared can easily be changed in and out as needed– as long as you’re not currently in combat of course. This lends a versatility to your characters– Sure, you know a ton of fire and water spells, but you don’t have to have every one of them prepared for combat. If you realize that you’ll soon be facing demons who are commonly resistant or flat-out immune to fire damage, you can choose ahead of time to sideline all of your fire-damaging spells in order to include more of those nifty ice spells! I am extremely happy with the way this system works, as it solves my issues of always wanting to have as many different spells available for any occasion, while not unbalancing the game enormously in my favor.
As a side note– Divinity: Original Sin released in 2014 as stated. In the fall of 2015, Larian Studios put out Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition, which was all around an enhanced version smoothing out quests, adding new enemy types and skills, and rebalancing the economy and how spells and skills worked. In the original Original Sin, if you put enough points into one spell school you would be able to learn *all* of those skills or spells, bar none. I enjoyed this a lot because it meant I had a huge variety of options in and out of combat, yet the developers clearly made the right choice in order to balance gameplay by finding a different system.
Combat remains turn-based, with each of your character’s spells and skills costing a certain number of action points (from one to three have been the costs I’ve seen thus far), and a movement conducted in a non-grid fashion by allowing you to spend an action point to move a distance dictated by your Finesse and other modifiers. Positioning and environmental interactions therefore remain major tactical decisions, as well as taking into account the weaknesses and resistances of the enemies– those skeletons you’re facing will heal if you hit them with poison damage, but using blunt weapons might deal extra damage! As well you have surface interactions– if an enemy is standing in a puddle of water, casting an electricity spell on the enemy could shock the entire pool for a few turns, giving a chance to damage or even stun friends and foes alike who walk through. Fire upon oil or poison on fire will create large damaging explosions, and putting out fire with water will raise up a smoke cloud that can block an archer’s view of their target!
I’ve spoken at length now on the various systems and mechanics of the game, but very very little on the gameplay and story thus far. Well, fact is, I’m only about twelve hours into the game on my own at the moment, and that’s just not far enough to give a grand review of the story or all of the gameplay. I can say that during early access, the first act that I was able to play took me twenty hours to complete the first time I played through it, and I was pretty thorough with it (though I later learned, ‘pretty thorough’ does not mean ‘100% complete’). Since then, I have seen a good bit of evidence of additional content and more fleshed-out quests, and I am expecting this first act (which, spoilers, ends with me finally getting off this Seven-forsaken island) to last me at least another twelve hours, if not more. My party at the moment includes a Human pop-star musician who is playing host to some sort of spirit, an undead member of a long-forgotten race attempting to figure out just what happened to his people, and a pirate Dwarf who…uh…well to be honest, I’m not really sure *what* it is he wants to do, but he seems to be a Dwarf on a mission, and okay with me tagging along with him. Together, we’ve faced down teleporting crocodillians, inmate crime bosses, been caught up in a religious fight club, and we were totally forced to fight this guy who wouldn’t tell me how to remove the scar my Lizard Master placed on me (we had no choice…honest! Really! It was the only way!). I’d say that thus far, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is off to a grand start, and I look forward to getting to finish the story soon!