Well what do we have we here?
Almost two years, and an additional Kickstarter campaign have passed since I’ve first seen Divinity: Original Sin in action. Even then, the crystal-clear vision of Belgian game developer Larian Studios shone through and was enough to get anyone pumped over the game they were working on. After what seemed like an impossibly long wait, the final result is a tantalizing role-playing game set in a high-fantasy world filled with magic, mystery and intrigue.
This world is called Rivellon and it is about to be made safer by two source-hunters charged with investigating the murder of councilman Jake, in the otherwise peaceful seaside town of Cyseal. Before long, you find reason to share the townsfolk suspicion that evil source magic – wielded only by malevolent sorcerers – is involved, making you the perfect candidates for the job. That does not mean it will be easy. Quite the contrary, it proves to be a tough case to crack – nothing is as it seems.
Nowadays pretty much any game that see you level up your character and spend attribute-points to improve it gets the label “RPG” slapped onto it. You’d almost forget what those three letters stand for. Divinity: Original Sin has not forgotten that Role Playing Games are about so much more than tweaking your character into uberness. Beneath all the numbers and skills are multiple layers affecting your character’s performance. Your interaction with the game-world and its inhabitants carries meaning and will either reaffirm or reshape your chosen alignment.
Of course Original Sin has the obvious RPG elements such as character stats and ‘abilities’ which are divided into categories such as weapons, magic, crafting and more nefarious skills like lockpicking, sneaking and pickpocketing. Things get a little more interesting with ‘talents’ which are not too dissimilar from the Perk system in the Fallout games. Every character starts with two talents of choice varying from relatively mundane tweaks to your character to neat abilities that are of little effect most the time but may give you an edge in certain situations. And then there are special traits that behave very much like a double-edged blade where, gaining you advantages in one aspect but give you a handicap in another.
And on top of all that, there are the traits that are essentially a description of your character. They are determined by the course of the conversations you have with your adventuring partner that usually deal with morality and all the grey areas that come with it. Your answers are a reflection of your character’s viewpoints, which are then etched onto your character’s rep sheet to show who you are. Mutually exclusive, you can have an either pragmatic or romantic view on a certain situation, applying a small bonus to one trait or another. Should you will respond in an opposite fashion later on, that advantage will effectively be negated. You can’t be too wishy-washy with regards to your moral compass if you want to make full use of the trait bonuses.
One is company, three is a party
In single player, you are in control of the conversations undertaken by both characters. In cooperative multiplayer, each player will take care of his own conversations. And unlike most cooperative games, it’s not just the person who initiates a conversation who gets to determine the course of it, essentially allowing you to start an argument with each other through the dialogue system. Of course, this can also be done in solo-gameplay – you’d just feel a little schizo as a result.
While the game starts off with two characters, it is possible to pick up two other companions on your adventures. In cooperative play each player gets to have their own companion to boss around and you are even able to wander off by yourself, leaving your fellow source hunter to play with his own companion. It’s a bit of an odd way of playing cooperative games, but you could, if you wanted to.
Out of your element
At first glance Divinity: Original Sin seems reminiscent of other RPGs that feature a lot of frantic hacking and slashing. It has turn-based-combat and you could certainly attempt to bluntly bash your way through, but the game is much richer than your average RPG in terms of ways to solve a conflict. Arguments with town folk can be settled by assaulting them with your might or magic, but you could for instance attempt to best them in a more peaceful game of rock-paper-scissors. If you’re a sore loser, you can always attempt to kill them when your rock ends up wrapped in their paper.
Melee combat is fairly straightforward, but magic is quite diverse. If there is water nearby, you can use lightning spells to electrify the surface and stun anyone standing in it. You can try to evaporate it with fire and create steam which inhibits visibility, rendering archers ineffective. Alternatively, you can freeze the water using a cold spell, making it all slippery causing enemies that are trying to close in slip and fall on the freshly created ice. Of course a more direct approach like bluntly throwing balls of lightning or frost into your enemy’s faces will also work. And you don’t need to be a mage per say to be able to do this, anyone able to wield a bow can fire off special arrows that are able to electrify, freeze or ignite their targets.
The icing on the Cysael pie
With all these possibilities, especially the more challenging encounters feel more like a game of versatile battle chess than a hack and slash fest like the bulk of the titles waving their RPG flag around and that alone makes this a game worth checking out. Yet it does not stop there. Original Sin also has a rather ingenious crafting system where you can grind bones to dust and used as an ingredient for various magics and cut open pillows to get feathers for quills. You get to create all sorts of nifty things from the items you find on your travels.
Though there is an awful lot of dialogue in the game, crucial parts have been fully voiced, turning a strut through the town of Cysael into a vibrant experience. Sailors are gossiping in the harbor, merchants are pandering their goods at the market, drill sergeants are yelling at legionnaires in training, birds chirp in the woods – there’s always something interesting worth listening to. And when you’re tired of that the musical score, delivered by Larian’s favoured bard Kirill Pokrovsky, is a welcome companion for wandering through Rivellon.
Long in the making, Divinity: Original Sin offers the beautifully deep intricacies of an old-school RPG that does not in any way feel old-fashioned. What a great and unique experience.
Fun, sexy, versatile with a triple-A polish.
It has an ending (although fortunately there is a toolkit available to creative players looking to add content).