I used to love RPG gaming. Fighting unrealistic odds with nothing more than cold steel and some fantasy magic on your side to save the world from impending doom. I last played a decent RPG when I still had a console from the dark side. That game was Champions of Norrath, based on the Baldur’s Gate universe, and it was excellent. For me, nothing has come close to it for sheer playability and unforgiving punishment for any player mistakes. I approached Divinity: Original Sin with some trepidation as I desperately wanted to find a title worthy in my estimation of sneaking into the castle of my memories and stealing the RPG crown from Champions.
Cranking open the lid on Divinity came with a certain amount of worry that was compounded initially by the opening campaign cinematic. There’s no full animation here which was evident from the ship’s mate disappearing up the stairs in stages. This worried me greatly as I thought I’d be in line for a disappointing experience. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried at all and here’s why.
Starting out as a party of two Source Hunters, Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition drops you into the marvels of the world of Rivellon. Within it, the town of Cyseal is besieged by the undead on one side and a marauding horde or Orcs on the other. Something is afoot and the murder of a town councillor has caused you and your companion to be summoned to solve the crime. At least, that’s the initial story. The scope of the task ahead of your team is gargantuan and only gets more and more complicated.
The story itself is extremely well crafted even if it is a little on the random side. You can keep up with your progress with the mission logs in the Selection wheel. This, along with your Inventory, Equipment, Attributes and Crafting options can all be accessed at the press of the right trigger. This takes some getting used to at first as each character can be individually controlled as well. Each member of your party has their own inventory and personal skill set. These are able to be upgraded by a traditional levelling system and in some cases by reading scrolls and casting spells.
As with other RPG titles, you can bolster your item count by searching areas and pilfering goods from under the noses of the citizens of Cyseal. This can cause the citizens to challenge you however, so be wary of turning your felonious arts on anything that might take your fancy. Usually when this is about to happen, you get the opportunity to back out of a fight with a dialogue screen. Be careful with these though. I made a slip of the controller and ended up in a fight with the Mortician and mercilessly slaughtered him only to find out that I needed to have a conversation with him in order to progress on a quest at a later time. Each action has the possibility of a consequence so think before you pilfer in the open.
There is an option to disguise yourself in Sneak Mode. In this mode your character usually dons a full barrel or becomes a bush in order to avoid being spotted as they go about their light-fingered duty. This is only available if you are not in line of sight of any non-playing character, so some element of luck or skill is required. With this you can literally rob folk blind and this can cause your fellow Hunter to comment on how low you’ve sunk.
Indeed, the dialogue even between you and your fellow partner can be fractious. There’s an element of agreement required in the game to progress or to even add further members to your party. It’s not a simple case of inviting members to join you. Your other half may object and if you disagree, a game of virtual rock, paper, scissors ensues to decide the victor. You can skip this to make the outcome as random as flipping a coin. The interaction between main characters has been well thought out and each citizen has been immortalised in digital speech goodness.
Not all conversations will leave you richer in the knowledge department though. Some are simply baffling and serve little purpose in the game as a campaign. There are others who make it obvious what will happen if you perform certain actions too. There’s a mourner in the cemetery who is grave-side and gets aggressive if you dig up their loved-one’s grave, but will help you out in fights should the need arise and you haven’t already slaughtered her in glorious gory technicolour of course.
The graphics are very detailed and very well drawn and animated. The trees sway beautifully in the breeze and the water effects for the sea and rivers look great, even when close up. You can pan and zoom the viewing camera around your selected Hunter and solid objects aren’t a problem for viewing as they melt away in a circle around you as you focus, leaving a clear radius around your character. This is especially useful when searching areas for treasure and weapons after a particularly arduous battle. Beware though, just because you can see through the obstacle, it doesn’t mean you can fire arrows or toss grenades through it during combat.
The combat is probably the only major difference game-wise to Champions of Norrath. Instead of a free-flowing melee system of hacking attacks, the battle is joined in a turn-based system of attack and counter attack. Here you can choose your next move carefully, be it full on frontal assault, ranged weapon attack or beating a hasty retreat. Each attack or move option uses Action Points. This is very much like the system I remember from games such as Laser Squad. My only real gripe is that often, you simply don’t get enough action points for the warrior to perform melee combat. This leaves him terribly exposed to ranged attack, so plate him up to the eyeballs in the armoury as soon as you can.
The equipment options in the game are vast. There is a Quartermaster in the town of Cyseal and you can buy and sell goods from pretty much any citizen you talk to. This is always achieved with the same button on the controller. In fact, the beauty of that control system makes the game as easy to play as some of the button mashing RPGs that allow you hack away at your foes freestyle. Hitting Y will always open trade if you’re in dialogue with someone and allow you view the finer details of each item if you’re not. A press on the X button allows you to select actions for items and to pick and assign slots in the quick inventory at the bottom of the screen.
The game-play area as you look at it is also fairly clutter-free which allows you to prepare yourself for the tasks that lie ahead. There’s a mini-map in the top right, a representation of each of your group on the left and your quick inventory at the bottom, leaving the majority of the screen free to be filled full of the gorgeous locations.
There’s a lot to do in Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition. You won’t run out of quests quickly and there’s always a hidden area or two to explore to get you side-tracked. There are traps to disarm and locked chests and doors to try to get into as you try to solve the initial mystery put in front of you. The combat system becomes more intuitive as you get to know it and it’s easy to pick up. You’re encouraged to get more and more tactical with it as the game progresses as you soon realise that full-on attack isn’t always the best way to defeat an enemy. The character interaction has been well thought out and well executed as the intriguing story unravels in front of you. The only things that let it down for me are the initial skimp on Action Points, the amount of two-ing and fro-ing, and the ability to wreck your investigation by killing a key character. This can be rectified by using one of the regular auto-save points to reverse your actions though. There’s replay value in the game too. It’s not all about one quest and the option of having friends join online or as a split-screen multi-player makes Divinity: Original Sin a definite must-have title for RPG fans everywhere. In fact, I’d go as far to say that Divinity may have even stolen that crown from right under Champion’s very nose, and it didn’t even notice the barrel in the room.
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