Review: Divinity: Original Sin 2

Yet another game of the year contender arrives!

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Review: Divinity: Original Sin 2
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
Available At: Steam

WILDGOOSE: I took your advice, Wilks. When I levelled up I took the Pet Pal talent. You said it would let me speak to animals and I’d reveal a bunch of new quests I couldn’t otherwise access. I knew I’d regret this choice as soon as I met the baby bear. I’d just met its mother moments earlier, you see, and I knew I’d have to tell its child what had happened. Tears welled in the baby bear’s eyes. It sobbed. I didn’t kill the mother - it was those cruel Magisters, and I made them pay, believe me - but I had now made a baby bear cry. And it’s all your fault.

WILKS: I couldn’t be the only miserable one. For every crying bear though, there’s a very good dog, an overly officious fire slug, a crab that thinks he’s the greatest sourcerer (the whole kludging of source into words does grate a bit) in the land or a rat that wants you to come back and visit often so you can tell it the stories of your adventures and it can co-opt them as its own stories. It’s these little moments that make Original Sin 2 for me. The overall plot is a bit naff but the moment to moment events and the characters you interact or travel with make it constantly engrossing and often very funny.

WILDGOOSE: Agreed on the overall plot. It’s not bad by any means, but its collection of chosen one tropes rarely bothers to raise itself above serviceable. Where it does excel is in the many secondary quests that weave in and out of the main through-line, threading together over the course of the game a pretty nifty tapestry of world-building. The quality of the writing plays a huge role here, fleshing out each of the six NPCs who can comprise your party in unexpected and memorable ways. They each have a detailed backstory and a life beyond their role as a tank, thief or mage in combat. When you begin the game you can even choose to play as one of these NPCs instead of customising your own character. I did the latter and feel that maybe I missed out. You went the other way, yeah?

WILKS: Yep, I chose to start as one of the “Origin” characters. While these six characters aren’t defined in terms of class and skill - you can choose any character class or create your own through the simple but quite robust character creation - they are defined in terms of race and personality. These six characters have more conversational tags than fully created characters, meaning you have more choices when it comes to possible conversational responses. They also have their own personal quests. I chose to play Lohse, a popular singer and entertainer who also happens to be inhabited by some form of demonic entity that doesn’t like to be spied upon. I made her a slightly modified Ranger. The other Origins can be invited to your party as companions. I’m running with the haughty noble Red Prince, a lizard that dreams of regaining his empire, Sebille, an elven ex-slave hunting her former master, and Ifan Ben-Mezd, a former soldier turned mercenary hunting the some of his former commanders. They butt into conversations quite often and get me into fights I would have preferred to avoid.

WILDGOOSE: They occasionally have conversations with NPCs that you’re not privy to as well. So, for example, when you go to chat with a particular trader, Ifan will step in and say, “Let me handle this” and have the conversation out of earshot. All you hear are whatever murmured voices the narrator chooses to describe and whatever Ifan deigns to tell you afterward. It’s an intriguing design choice, especially because it can leave you unsure of whether you can even trust your own party members. But it does work well to reinforce the fact these characters have pre-existing relationships in the world. I’m not sure why you’d be unhappy with them getting you into fights, though.

The combat system is the best part of the game.

WILKS: It is, but sometimes diplomacy works too. I have a fairly traditional party makeup, with a Ranger (Lohse), Rogue (Sebille), Cleric (Ifan) and Fighter (Red Prince) but given how any character can learn magic and that spells in Divinity don’t necessarily function how they would in other fantasy settings, every fight can be a real thrill. The environmental/elemental interactions that made combat in the original Original Sin so much fun make a welcome return but have been enhanced in multiple fun ways. Pools of blood are both a resource for anyone with a point in Necromancy but can also be frozen or shocked to zap multiple enemies standing in blood or to create hazards on the battlefield.

WILDGOOSE: I never played the original, uh, Original Sin so discovering the myriad tricks of elemental warfare has been a constant joy. Dousing an enemy in water lowers its resistance to electricity attacks. Freezing that water turns it into a slippery trap that can leave anyone sprawled on the floor. I fought a mage who created a wall of fire to block me from reaching her. Except she overlooked that we were fighting on a beach and I could send my melee fighters through the fire, let them take a quick dip in the water to douse the flames, and then carry on the fight. My favourite part of combat, however, is telekinesis. I found these gloves of teleportation early on, and despite looting plenty of gloves with better base stats, I’ve never wanted to take them off. Picking up enemies and dropping them in oil slicks so Lohse (my mage) can set them ablaze is only surpassed by being able to teleport Sebille (my rogue) behind an enemy so she can use her backstab ability. I’m sure I could have chosen my words more carefully at times and avoided plenty of fights along the way. And that’s how I usually prefer to role-play - I’m the talker, the diplomat, the guy who puts all his points into intelligence and charisma. Not here. Original Sin 2’s combat is so good I was provoking everyone I met, insulting them, threatening them, laughing at them until blades were drawn. 

WILKS: Once you find the teleportation gloves it’s impossible to want to wear anything else. Have you tried moving someone to the edge of a precipice and using a spell to push them off? Dropping enemies on traps is pretty neat as well. I think what makes the combat system, and most systems in OS2 for that matter, so good is the fact that the game is designed to promote experimentation in the player rather than simply sticking to some basic attacks. With some careful planning and a few well placed teleports you can pit enemies against each other and wait to mop-up the leftovers or you can avoid confrontations entirely. Spells and attacks interact with each other in a similar manner, and players have been working out powerful synergised attacks on a daily basis. Rather than a sandbox game, Divinity Original Sin II is more of a toolbox game. Players are given a bunch of toys to play with and it’s up to them to find out what works.

WILDGOOSE: That’s something some players are going to struggle with, I think, the degree to which you’re expected to experiment and discover what works for you. You’re left to fend for yourself in many ways. Sure, there’s a journal that logs quests and a map that highlights key NPCs and locations, but there’s no option to say “I’m doing this quest, tell me where to go now!” and have the UI lay down a breadcrumb trail to follow. You’ve got to work it out yourself. It's teh same with the crafting system; sure, there are recipes to find, but the rest of the time you’re randomly combining ingredients until that eureka moment strikes. I love this sort of stuff, but I do appreciate - despite that double-digit score at the bottom of the page - it’s not for everyone.

WILKS: You’re right about that. Original Sin II is not a game for people who do not want to invest an absurd amount of time delving into the minutia of a fantasy world to discover its secrets and how it can be manipulated. If, however, you’re a fan of old-school roleplaying but aren’t afraid of modern innovation, this could easily be your new obsession. As an added bonus, all the tools the devs used to make the game are included in a simplified form so players can create their own adventures or even play through adventures live, with one person acting as the GM and others playing characters. After I finally finish with the lengthy campaign, I’m going to be looking through the Steam Workshop for some homebrew modules to play. 

10 10
Verdict
Old-school charm with modern mechanics makes for one of the best RPG experiences in ages.
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