With the help of over a million dollars in crowdfunding, Larian Studios has released a prequel to the Divine Divinity series. The brand new tale will be familiar to Divinity veterans, while laying the foundation for new players. Divinity: Original Sin stars two Source Hunters on their quest to prevent the end of time. The game supports co-op, splitting the party of four characters between two players. Divinity: Original Sin also boasts extensive modding support through Steam Workshop, allowing modders to create their own epic campaigns.
Divinity: Original Sin serves as a prequel to the Divine Divinity series. The game focuses around the two source hunters, known as Roderick and Scarlett by default. Initially, the duo is summoned to Cyseal to investigate the murder of a local councillor, after the mystical energy known as source is suspected. Their adventure soon turns to a much larger goal, after a magical misfire leads them to the end of time. A maelstrom draws nearer, threatening to end the infinity of time itself. Our two source hunters have been placed in the unique position of not existing in the threads of time, allowing them the chance to steer the world away from its impending doom.
Though the overall plot is a little archetypical at time, Divinity: Original Sin’s writing is solid. The story is strong and the world feels alive. The game is littered with extra side quests and NPCs that seem to have lives beyond serving some sort of quest requirement for the players. NPCs tend to be a pretty chatty bunch, with extensive conversation options. The weakest link seems to be the random conversations the two source hunters have. Often times, the conversations feel corny and forced. This most likely stems from the fact these conversations are supposed to define each source hunter’s personality stats.
Divinity: Original Sin is an isometric RPG. Players will have full control of character creation for their two source hunters. Though the game provides a few standard “classes” to start off with, these are completely optional. Divinity: Original Sin opts for a classless system, where all abilities and talents can be purchased as long as the stat or skill requirements are fulfilled. Skills are broken down into eight skill categories. Ability points spent in these categories raises the number of skills that can be learned from books, which are purchased from NPCs. The classless system works well, though I find tracking down books can be an expensive pain and the system is not really newbie friendly. The requirements for skill advancement are not clearly spelled out. I spent a few levels trying to figure out when I could advance my character skills. On the other hand, requirements are very clear for talents.
Combat is turn based, with each turn equaling a short amount of real time outside of combat. The game transfers seamlessly between real-time exploration and combat. Once the player makes the first strike or is spotted by the enemy, the game automatically rolls for initiative and combat begins. Divinity: Original Sin forgoes traditional grid or hexagon shaped battle maps for a more freeform method. Distances are measured in meters as characters can move around freely, more closely mirroring table top miniature combat systems. I believe Larian Studios struck the right balance with their method, as it feels more natural. There is room for improvements, though. Certain area of effect spells do not always alert the player that they may be risking friendly fire. I have lost track of how many lightning spells have resulted in accidentally stunning my own party members. Some sort of warning during the preview phase would be appreciated.
An important part of combat is the environmental effect system. A wet character will take more damage from air based abilities like lightning bolts and hacking away at a zombie can spray poisonous guts everywhere. Careful use of the environmental effects can create choke points to help control the flow of combat, which allows the free roaming movement in combat to shine.
It is important to note that combat is not scaled to the player’s level. Instead, enemies will remain at a certain level. If a quest is too difficult, players will have to return at a later time. Unfortunately, finding out the quest may be just slightly out the player’s reach may happen in the middle of a battle where the enemy simply overwhelms the party. The quick save function will probably be the player’s best friend, as Divinity: Original Sin is rather merciless due to its lack of scaling and hints on level range.
The sneaking system is very good. Initiating sneak will break the character away from its group and hide the player under an object, Metal Gear Solid style. The screen will darken and the enemies’ line of sight are shown as bright cones. Success works on a mix of stealth checks and player skill.
Larian Studio turns mundane charisma checks into a battle of wits. When the two source hunters disagree on a matter (such as in co-op play) or butt heads with a NPC, a game of rock, paper, scissors must be played. Every win will add a number of points based on the character’s charisma skill in certain types of social interactions, with results favouring the overall winner. It is a neat way to give players with low charisma scores a chance to feel accomplished when overcoming a duel of wits.
Divinity: Original Sin supports two player co-op. The second player can drop in and out using a variety of connection methods. Because the game is DRM-free, connection options outside of Steamworks are available. A full blown game browser and direct connections are all supported, a welcomed rarity in the days of EA’s Battlelog and Steam invites. The incoming player is assigned control of certain characters by the host. The idea is the each co-op partner controls a source hunter, and the remaining two characters should be divvied up accordingly. Personally, I found not being able to send a scaled version of my own character into other people’s game a tad disappointing, as I lacked the same emotional attachments to my friend’s characters. On the other hand, I can see how bringing in a scaled version of my own source hunter could throw the group composition.
The controls are excellent for the most part. The game is controlled with the mouse, with keyboard being used for hotkeyed spells and moving the camera around. I found clicking and holding the mouse to move characters was usable, but not the best method of controlling character movements. Characters moved faster and smarter with single clicks directing characters as clicking and holding the mouse would result in the characters walking to their destination, instead of a full blown run.
Divinity: Original Sin does a great job of moving the isometric RPG genre into the modern age. The game boasts all the bells and whistles of modern graphics. The world is colourful and detailed. My only complaint is when the graphics are maxed out, the game uses bloom effects a little too liberally.
The UI does not break away too far from tradition. The basic ability hotbar is available at the bottom of the screen, a minimap on the top right, and character portraits on the top left. The character screens are well organized and remind me of classic pen and paper RPG character sheets. My only complaint is that shuffling characters around in the correct battle formation can be a little tricky. The positions cycle based on who is the active character. I would much rather see a battle position that is based on pre-set positioning.
Divinity: Original Sin boasts solid sound effects and an good cast of voice actors. For the most part, the acting is spot on, though there are some misses, mostly related to over acting. Strangely enough, once the Pet Pal talent is learned, I discovered the animals tend to sound more like a terrible B movie after thought. It is almost as if the voice actor was provided no direction when in the sound booth. Luckily the animal interactions only account for a small portion of the game’s conversations.
The real shining star is the soundtrack. The music is vivid, emotional, and, at times, breaks out from the traditional fantasy epic soundtrack. Those who purchase the Digital Collector’s edition are in for a real treat, as a copy of the soundtrack is included in the game’s files in its uncompressed glory. Composer Kirill Pokrovsky may not have the name recognition like Nobuo Uematsu or Jesper Kyd, but he has created a smashing soundtrack that deserves to share shelf space with these men.
Divinity: Original Sin is the game fans of older RPGs like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate have been waiting for. The game contains an extensive campaign that will easily provide several weekends of solid gaming. The developers have provided the public with extremely in-depth mod tool that allow modders to create complex campaigns of their own, further extending Divinity: Original Sin’s lifespan. The game boasts solid traditional RPG mechanics and a few innovative ideas. The game could use a few tweaks to make the game a little more newbie friendly. The graphics, sound effects, and voice acting are solid and the soundtrack is easily a contender for game soundtrack of the year. Divinity: Original Sin is highly recommended for gamers and a must buy for RPG fans.
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