Old-School is Back in Session
While the fantasy RPG genre has moved into a design mindset of action focused combat and compelling, though linear, storylines, many old-school fans of tabletop adventures and isometric classics like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights are feeling left out in the cold. Developer Larian Studios rekindles the glory days of turn-based tactics and meaningful NPC interactions. Divinity: Original Sin succeeds in providing players with several avenues to tackle each encounter, both in and outside of combat, without telegraphing every step of the quest. What it lacks in technical prowess it makes up for in gameplay, putting complete control in the hands of the player from start to finish.
Whether embarking on a solo adventure or joining with a friend in cooperative play, your adventure begins with two main characters, called Source Hunters. You can increase your party total to four by enlisting up to two henchmen, but all can only be controlled by two human players, though there are user-created mods now available that allow other players to control these companions, enabling you to create a party of four players total. There are several classes to choose from, though these archetypes, such as Ranger, Wizard, and Rogue, provide more of a baseline of attributes, combat skills, spells, and passive traits, as well as your starting gear. You’ll soon find that the class system is an open feature, as you train skill and learn spells throughout the campaign by purchasing skill books from vendors or finding them in the wild, allowing you to tailor your character along the way.
Though having only two player controlled protagonists seems like an underwhelming amount in a traditional party makeup, it does allow for a more copacetic relationship, or one filled with opposing opinions depending on the dialogue choices you make. Your responses also influence which way you lean on several personality spectrums, such as pragmatic vs. romantic, which in turn affects secondary skills such as crafting, bartering, and leadership. Interactions with the townsfolk are as rife with opportunities and consequences as exploring the wilderness. Casting a rain spell to douse a burning ship will have the dozens in attendance singing your praises, though that reputation boost could easily vanish or even turn violent should you persistently try to snatch items that don’t belong to you, or invade houses with locked doors.
Keeping a virtuous stature is the best source of acquiring quests. Quelling orcish aggression, dealing with an undead horde, and uncovering what evil Sourcery is behind all the misfortune is just a sampling of the adventures that await. Handling your characters is a trial in patience, as the interface is clunky and slow. You’ll spend plenty of time sorting through all the loot, where even the simplest things like clam shells and skulls can be used as buffs and in crafting. Working the heavy camera and sifting through character screens and journals is not an endeavor that rushing adventurers will enjoy. However, Divinity: Original Sin was never designed to be a sprint, but rather a marathon. Discovering the value of even the most mundane items, tweaking your skills and equipment to maximize efficiency, and studying your individual characters to understand who is the better leader, spokesperson, barterer, even who has better luck in finding greater treasures in the randomized chests, will give you a significant advantage throughout your journey.
You will need to harness every advantage you can find, as the monster encounters quickly become a challenging affair that requires keen tactics to emerge unscathed. Though combat is turn-based, the action remains in real-time until you are spotted by the enemy. This grants you the element of surprise, where you can attempt to sneak past, stealthily approach for a first strike, or take advantage of the environment such as casting a lightning spell on a pool of water underneath the feet of your foes, or launching a fire arrow at a combustible barrel. Once in combat, your options are just as varied. Actions Points are required to perform everything from drinking a potion, casting a spell, swinging a sword, moving to flank an enemy, and countless other feats. Leftover points are carried over to your next turn, requiring even more thought to your actions. So do you charge forward to perform an Action Point exhausting sweep attack to quickly empty enemies of their vitality, or let them advance while you buff and build a reserve of Action Points? Though little is a guaranteed success in combat, and many skills require competence in one of six attribute scores to increase the percentage. Everything is a roll of die, clearly indicated in the combat log, which is as it should be in a game rooted firmly in the tabletop formula.
After completing the main storyline, which could easily soak up dozens of hours, Divinity: Original Sin also comes packed with an extensive module editor. The standalone programming tool features a nicely organized file system and fairly straightforward code to work with. You can either rework quests already in the game, or create entirely new modules from scratch, manipulating the environment, adding items and monsters, tweaking or creating new spells, and even adding in custom made designs. Like being meticulous during the campaign, dedicating enough time to your own creations will yield some striking adventures, which can then be uploaded for the entire community to play, and for up to four players.
Multiplayer is simple and accessible. Players can drop-in and out of a campaign at your discretion, even if you’re in the middle of a dungeon. You choose which characters your new ally controls, and it quickly becomes a true cooperative experience, with your friend having complete jurisdiction over his or her newly given Source Hunter, as well as any henchmen you may have. So choose your partner well. The game was initially released with a global chat function, with the intent to allow players to seek help from the community to solve puzzles, offer information themselves, or simply engage in pleasant conversation. However, this feature has since been suspended after a post-launch bombardment of trolling and negative remarks. Larian Studios may eventually bring this social function back when they have the resources to properly moderate it.
The technical side of Divinity: Original Sin is where it shows its weakness. Character models are light on details, as are the environments, with much of the world feeling sterile due to minimal animations. It’s less a matter of the visuals being poor in quality, but rather feeling archaic enough that it pulls you out of the immersion that the liberating gameplay attempts to draw you in with. I am also completely baffled as to why the developers felt that when entering sneak mode the character is shown completely engulfed in a boulder or a shrubbery, or why persuasion conflicts with NPCs and between the main characters themselves are resolved with a round of rock, paper, scissors. These hammy design choices feel out of place in an otherwise brooding backdrop.
There are some interesting musical arrangements in the game, though everything runs on the same cycle, with one song having no bearing on the complete change of instrumentation and rhythm of the one before it. Combat brings forth more adrenaline fueled compositions, and the ambient noises of the world are pleasant enough that turning the music off completely is an acceptable option for those yearning for an audibly authentic adventure.
Divinity: Original Sin is an homage to a RPG style that as long since faded, with the genre now flooded with overblown storylines and photorealistic cinematics. Yet there is still a strong audience that has been clinging to the hope that a quality turn-based fantasy would reappear. Larian Studios has delivered on our wishes by providing a world ripe for discovery, and gameplay that gives as much freedom and roleplaying options as we could ever hope for.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
Character models and environments are lacking in details, and subtle animations don’t breathe much life into the world. Spells effect and combat skills do pack a visual punch. 3.4 Control
The camera is clunky and the controls are heavy, but for completionists and customization enthusiasts, there are plenty of things to click on. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Some of the music fits nicely, but the unharmonious playlist seems like a jumble of music styles. The pleasant ambient sounds are much more authentic. 4.7 Play Value
With a vast degree of latitude with choices, you could easily play the story a second time and have a completely different experience. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best