Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a Turn-Based Strategic/Tactical Role-Playing Game from Larian Studios and I am not using the word tactical lightly here.
Type: Single-player, Multiplayer
Genre: Adventure, RPG, Strategy
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
Release Date: 14 Sep, 2017
Divinity: Original Sin 2 has to be one of the most involved tactical RPGs I have played in a long time (possibly since the previous Divinity: Original Sin). Starting with your first choice in the character builder to every other choice you make can lead to a different outcome. Doing or not doing something, no matter how innocent, can have drastic repercussions later on. Your race or which Origin character you are the people in your party will impact how others respond to you. Even things that might not seem to be related at all could actually be significantly related in some way! Let’s get down to the basics, shall we?
Impressions of the Game
First off, let’s talk about character creation or how I spent my first 8 hours playing the game. There are a lot of customization options here. The most obvious is your character’s race. Race impacts what racially exclusive bonus abilities you get. For example, the lizard looking characters can dig up things without a shovel, the undead can use their own fingers as lock picks and elves can eat corpse pieces to gain new abilities. Once you manage to narrow down which racial abilities you want, you need to figure out the kind of character you want to be. There is a decently large pool of prefabricated character designs to choose from as well as the ability to fully tailor the character to your own specifications. This isn’t just a minor tweak to a pre-existing character type, no; this is building the character to the exact specifications you want starting out. Mix and match anything with anything else and give it a try, see how you like it.
Once you have figured out what race you want to be and all the skills, abilities, and stats for your new self, you need to tailor your appearance. There are a lot of options to choose from to make your character look like almost anything you want it to look like. There is another option though, rather than using a completely custom character, you also have the option of choosing an Origin character. These Origin characters can still be customized quite heavily but have a few aspects about them locked such as their name and voice. They are a little different than their generic brethren as they have the added bonus of having additional dialogue options and quests to partake in so the trade-off between pure customization and an Origin character is something else you need to weigh heavily on. All Origin characters will still appear in the game and can be recruited so you won’t completely miss out on them if you opt not to take one from the start.
Once you actually start the game, you will be given an on-the-fly tutorial that will pop up to explain things the first time you encounter something new. You can begin investigating the starting area for quests and things to loot. Talking to every NPC you see in these sorts of games is always wise as well. NPCs even include animals if you happen to have the Pet Pal perk that allows you to talk to them. That might sound a little silly, but those fuzzy little friends sometimes have something worthwhile to say or even offer you a quest or item, so being able to do your best Doctor Dolittle impression is probably in your best interests if you want to get the most out of the game. If you are a bit curious, feed a hungry elf character a nice hunk of disembodied meat and you might gain some insight or skill from it. Being a pack-rat is also rewarded in this game as you will sometimes learn new recipes just by picking up an item. Books and other written material are also scattered around and may teach you recipes or give some quest insight. So, basically, what I am saying is that Divinity: Original Sin 2 will keep you busy and no matter how hard you try, odds are you will still miss something. Luckily there are usually multiple ways to get through the quests available or you can just ignore some of the quests you have because there are so many to choose from as it is.
Let’s talk about questing a bit. As mentioned previously, quests can be advanced through many different means. Talking to someone, reading a book, visiting the correct location or various other things can lead to quest progression. Talking to someone is where you need to get creative or use your character’s characteristics to get you through the dialogue. Depending on how you talk to someone will impact how they respond to you. If you anger them, they may very well attack you, if you persuade them with your words they might help you out or at least let you leave with your skin intact. If you have points spent on Persuasion or certain other attributes that suit the dialogue, you might be able to get an edge in the conversation as well. For example, having points in Strength might let you intimidate the NPC, having points in Wit might help you outwit the NPC, and so forth. Having an Origin character or other appropriate tags associated with your character will also increase your response options. You could technically save scum and try all the various options until you get what you want, but this game is much more interesting if you just live with your decisions as you go. Sure, maybe if you picked a different option you wouldn’t currently be on fire and standing in a pool of your own gushing blood. You can still try to win the battle which you and your team are presently outnumbered and surrounded in, but you opted to insult that NPC rather than be friendly so deal with your brashness!
Quests come in a few different forms. There is the main quest which will take you through the game itself but outside of that there are tons of side quests to go on. Origin characters all have a unique quest chain for you to pursue. Random items and NPCs will give you quests as well. There are so many potential quests you will likely feel a bit overwhelmed trying to complete them all, but nothing actually says you have to! I played the game in a deliberately absent-minded way, progressing quests only if they happened to be where I wanted to go or if I stumbled upon them as I went. I actually found it much more fun that way than actively trying to think about where each of the quests is sending me. Here is another element of the game that is interesting. If, for example, you encounter a key NPC without being on a quest to find them, the game proceeds as if nothing is out of the ordinary. You may never know there was a quest you should have done with that NPC rather than pick-pocketing or brutally slaughtering them for whatever item they may have. The dialogue you have with them might not even hint at the possibility of a quest. I liked that, otherwise I would constantly feel like I needed to backtrack to find the quest. Sometimes there are quests that you don’t even know are quests! For example, you find a severed body part. If you have an elf in your party, the part probably looked delicious and they may have taken it and ate it, or perhaps you may not even have gone to the bother of picking it up. Later you find an NPC who will trade you a key item you wanted for that very body part. Handing it over avoids a massive fight and leaves the NPC alive in case they are needed in the future (once dead they are dead forever, just like in real life, NPCs do not respawn). If you are particularly sneaky, you could give him the item he wanted, then when he turns his back, steal it back from him, but I’m sure you are way too honest to do that, right? If you didn’t have the body part, pretty much every conversation route I tried leads to a confrontation and ultimately that NPC being dead for the rest of the game. So to summarize, there are a lot of quests to do and a lot of interactions in the game that can occur depending on what characteristic tags, class, race, character, items you do or do not possess. This basically means that no matter how many times you replay this game, odds are you will discover something new. The game is high on replay ability for that very reason.
Moving on! Combat in this game is probably one the most complex elements the game has to offer. In most games you have the option to beat on an enemy with a weapon or cast a spell on/at them and that is about it. That is not the case in Divinity: Original Sin 2, it’s not even close to being the case! In Divinity: Original Sin 2 there are a lot of elements to watch out for in battle because not only can you capitalize on them and turn a one-sided battle to your favor, likewise, the enemy can do the same too. Chaining combos is nothing new to the average gamer; however, we are not exactly talking about some quick time event or button spam here. Spell combos allow you to tactically manipulate the battlefield. For example, you see an enemy standing in oil? Set the oil on fire! Accidentally set your own party members on fire too? Put it out with rain! See an enemy standing in the steam that rose from the rain hitting the fire? Electrify it! Are the enemies closing in on you? Freeze the water left behind by the rain! There are a lot of combos available depending on your team’s skill composition. The thing is, as I mentioned, the enemy is also able to use these elements against you as well. The AI is rather clever in this game, especially if you are playing on any difficulty other than Explorer (easiest mode). The AI will not consider your feelings or pride; it will do its best to rip you to shreds. Combat is turn-based, with the turn order displayed at the top of the screen. Each time one of your characters is up they are given a few action points to spend however you want. Moving costs progressively more action points the further they move, actions each have a corresponding action point cost as well. Having a clear line of sight is important because you can also hit your allies with your spells/abilities or have an object obstruct your shot. Having the high ground gives you an advantage in battle just as being in the low ground gives you a disadvantage. You might move into the perfect position to attack your enemy just to find yourself standing in something the enemy can turn against you. I know during some battles unintended effects occur, such as when my undead hero, Fane, casts contaminate in order to create a toxic surface for the enemy that in turn heals the undead, however, it ignited almost instantly due to the fact some of the poisonous goo touched a fire source (might even have been a candle or torch, still not sure what did it there was no obvious fire previously!) Undead don’t take kindly to fire, so I ended up having to put it out with rain after taking burning damage when my magic armor wore off instead of the nice healing I was expecting. Overall combat in this game is quite smooth and works well. You are able to avoid combat by attempting to flee, however, you will gain experience and loot if you stick around for it!
Puzzles are something I always enjoyed and this game does have its share of puzzles mixed in. From things as simple as finding the hidden objects to solving proper puzzles, you will find yourself challenged as you progress. The crafting system kind of fits here too so I will talk about it a bit. The random items you find will be a mix of junk items to unique and rare items. You might be tempted to just ignore the junk or unload it to a vendor for a few coins, but some of it might actually come in useful to you. You are able to craft a wide variety of things. Recipes will help you figure out how to make what you want. By combining two or more items you can take junk items and turn them into something that is slightly less junky! How many of you as a kid used to use random objects you found and pretend they are something else? Like, say by taking a long branch and placing a shell on the end of it in order to make yourself a really nifty improvised staff to play with. The same holds true in this game, taking common or not-so-common items and combining them will help you create almost anything from potions to gear and other tools. Crafting is an excellent source of income, especially early in the game as the item you make is usually worth much more than the individual values of the sum of its parts.
Skills are something we should talk about as well. Skills are gained through skill books primarily. Each time you learn a new skill you can assign it to memory slots in order to use it. If it isn’t assigned to a memory slot, you can’t use it in battle. You also cannot use any spells from a skill school you don’t have at least one point spent in. Skills can also be loaned to you freely by the weapon you equip. Such as equipping a staff lets you gain a ranged attack skill for it. This is one way that you can bypass the restriction of not being able to use say a pyrokinetic fire spell with a pure geomancy build as you can use a fire staff to have a fire based attack. Attributes and Abilities are similar to Skills, as they too let you customize your character how you want them. Abilities enhance either your combat prowess or your civil abilities whereas Attributes are your basic stats common to the genre. With the number of potential places for you to stick your points in you will need to plan ahead for how you want each of your characters to work. Should you make a mistake, you will eventually get the ability to redistribute the points your character has already used so all is not lost if you are unhappy with how you developed your character.
Before moving on, let’s talk about a few interesting abilities that are not combat based just to give you an idea of what we are talking about when we talk about Civil abilities or otherwise non-combat ones. For example, you will occasionally find items that have some unidentified attributes on them. If you have someone in your party with the Loremaster ability and have a magnifying glass, that person can identify the item on the spot and so you can start reaping the benefits of it right away, otherwise, you will have to wait until you can take it to a merchant to do it for you. The Bartering ability helps you sell items for more than they are worth and lets you pay less for items the NPCs are selling. Telekinesis lets you move objects with your mind so that you may access otherwise inaccessible items. So, if you wanted to, you could probably make a very persuasive thief who could likely sneak, steal, and talk their way out of most of the combat the game thrusts upon you. Why that might be important is that the game will actually let you cut out major chunks of the story simply because you killed or allowed a key NPC to be killed before you did their quests. The game doesn’t appear to be breakable in that regard as there are always other ways to solve things, but it’s something to keep in mind the next time someone’s shiny object catches your eye.
A rather nifty feature that is included is multiplayer. It’s available in both offline split-screen and online. If you are playing a local offline match, both players need to use a controller as the game would not allow one person to use the keyboard while the other used a controller [or at least that is how it was for me]. Much like other online co-operative games, if you are playing online you either need to host a game or join a game in order to play with someone else. In either case, though, the host is the only one who has any progress done on their campaign once all is said and done, not the person who joined in. There are a few interesting elements when playing with someone else. Much like in real life, the finders’ keepers rule is the law of the land! Gold and items are not distributed automatically, the one who picked it up gets to decide if they want to share it with the other or keep it all for themselves. Additionally, disputes in the game may occur if each player disagrees on what the proper course of action is for completing a quest. I have to say the game is definitely more immersive when you are playing it with someone else rather than just on your own, but the game is equally fun either way.
Let’s talk about the game in a more general sense. The epic story is driven primarily through narration and branching dialog chains with the various NPCs around the world. The replies you choose can impact how the NPC will respond to you both in terms of their answer and their disposition towards you. If an NPC isn’t thinking too highly of you they might not be willing to sell you the items you are after, you can, however, gift them gold/items in order to improve your reputation with them so as to persuade them to sell you what you are after. I rather enjoyed that element to the NPCs that, much like in real life, a bribe in the right place can really help you get ahead in business. The isometric view of the game works well most of the time as you explore around the area looking for people to talk to and things that are not nailed down. An issue that arises when in this view though is that you may miss the very thing you are looking for simply because the way the camera was facing was not conducive to you finding it. You are able to freely rotate the camera’s view though so you can always turn the camera when you want to investigate something a little more closely. When you enter combat, a tactical overhead view option is also available to make it easier for you to see the area around you. This way it is easier to watch for hazards that might otherwise ruin your cunning plans in combat such as an enemy coming up from behind you or a source of fire when you are about to cast an oil/poison zone around your target.
Graphically, even if you are not running it maxed out, the game still looks great for the genre it is in. The individual character models are highly defined when viewing them close up which helps make them look unique and interesting. The subtle nuances and details that go into the environment around you really aids in enhancing the game’s enjoyment value as well. You can certainly tell a lot of work went into making Divinity: Original Sin 2. It surpasses the already impressive Divinity: Original Sin as well. The sounds and music in the game help make it more atmospheric and really helps keep you interested. Most of the characters are either pretty much fully voice acted, such as the Origin characters, or have a narrator speak for or about them. The narrator adds immensely to the game with the way the inflections and tone of his voice truly help convey a sense of what is going on. Each character’s personality is reflected in their voice, with the Red Prince sounding suitably hoity and NPC Kniles the Flenser sounds suitably mad. The controls in the game work quite well with a mouse and keyboard. I attempted the game with a gamepad but far preferred the mouse and keyboard as it felt more natural with the complexity of the user inputs available. The default keybinds seemed to well laid out so I didn’t find a need to attempt to rebind them. All in all it is a pretty solid game.
If you twist my arm to find something worth criticizing, besides how unforgiving the game can be, it has to be that the quest journal and inventory systems are not exactly intuitive. It’s a little confusing at times to figure out exactly what you are doing or need to do or even where you are going when it comes to the quest journal. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it forces you to pay attention to things the NPCs tell you as well the realistic need for you to actually find something without a trail of breadcrumbs leading the way. As for the inventory system, the inventory of all party characters is shared any time the inventory screen is open, however, this can lead to a bit of confusion at times. If you were to use the option that lets you give the Red Prince a pair of boots Fane found, and then right click and equip them, Beast might end up being the one who is wearing them. The reason for this is because whichever character is currently selected as the party leader, is the one accessing the inventory, so if you use the equip command it equips to that person, not to the person you gave the item to. Once you wrap your head around that, it actually makes complete sense, but it was a bit confusing when I first encountered it. The only other thing, and I don’t care so much about it as it really is just a nit-pick, is that I have never liked durability systems in games. It does make sense to have the system in place, as in theory, you could just bash in any locked door or chest with your weapons until it yields rather than lock picking it or finding the key. Plus, there is the realism of the fact that gear takes damage over time from wear and tear and general use so having to maintain your gear makes sense in that regard. Luckily, it isn’t hard to repair items either at a merchant or with a tool on your own, but since I tend to change gear frequently all the durability system really seems to do is reduce the value of the items I am selling to the merchant due to them being in used condition rather than new… which again is a layer of realism the game has.
So, should you consider picking up Divinity: Original Sin 2? If you played the original, then you certainly should pick up its successor as it is, in my opinion, improved in almost every respect. If you are a fan of a Strategic or Tactical CRPGs then you should definitely check out Divinity: Original Sin 2. It’s playable and understandable without the first game, but you really ought to check out the first game as well. I’m going to have to say it is one of the best of the genre I have ever played and unless you are looking for a cakewalk, this game is one I would highly suggest checking out. If you happen to have a friend you can either play with locally or online, this game will be even better for you simply because it makes the game a little more competitive as you both work your way through the game together. I also like the fact that even though you are the star of the game and on a grand quest to save the world from evil, no one sees you as anything other than just another face in the crowd. You are not automatically heralded as the hero of the world, but just another chump to either be taken advantage of or simply ignored as they go about their day. All in all, I have to say, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of the best the genre has to offer.