"I would sooner call this a first impressions rather than a preview. However, after spending several hours playing, I'm clearly conflicted."
Before I begin, I just need to point out one major factor of this preview. It's based entirely on a single player experience. However, as this game appears to be designed to accommodate a multiplayer mode within the same campaign, some compromises obviously had to be made. I tried not to focus on these aspects, however I felt this needed to be made clear before anything else is said. Now that we have that out of the way, let's give this highly anticipated title a look.
For over a decade, Belgian developer Larian Studios have been releasing games set in the Divinity universe. These games have taken many forms; be it the top down hack and slash Divine Divinity, third person action RPG Divinity II, or even an odd RTS/RPG hybrid called Dragon Commander. For better or worse, Divinity has been Larian's bread and butter, and has garnered the developer varying levels of success. However, it wasn't until 2014's Divinity: Original Sin that the studio hit their stride. Offering a fresh take on the much beloved and sorely missed top-down, turn-based CRPG genre that had started to experience a small revival at the time. Ultimately, Original Sin was a big hit with both critics and players alike. It's no wonder, then, that Larian took to Kickstarter once again to fund a sequel and, reportedly, hit their goal within just 12 hours.
This bring us here, to the Alpha release of Original Sin 2, currently available on Steam to anyone willing to part with some money.
At the time of this writing, the game is highly playable and seems very polished for something claiming to be an Alpha. It's hard to tell how much the final product will differ from what is on offer now, but I expect that there won't be too much change, at least on the surface.
As with most games in the genre, after selecting the difficulty, you are tasked with creating your avatar, though the game recommends picking one of the four pre-made "origin" characters for the first playthrough. Oddly enough, regardless of who you pick you'll end up stumbling upon and, if you wish, recruiting the other three characters within the first few minutes of the game (albeit with preset classes).
The campaign opens with a brief cinematic of a letter accompanied by a voice over. Apparently, a ship carrying a group of prisoners has been attacked and destroyed by some magical creatures. Not surprisingly, our character was one of the "passengers" and we start the game washed up on shore wearing nothing but some rags and a mysterious magical collar. Oddly enough, we're also already equipped with some basic weaponry. This is where my first issue comes in, the intro is lazy. So much so that even hidden object games would take one glance and shake their heads in disapproval. We are given little context for these events, and the whole scenario feels both incredibly generic and all too familiar.
At this point it might be worth giving some context of my own. I haven't played Original Sin, and it's been years since I touched a Divinity game in general. I'm playing from the perspective of someone completely new to the series, and as such, these complaints may be invalid to those that know the lore inside out. Regardless, it's always imperative to give some context as to what's going on, so I hope the game will expand on these events in some way by the time it's officially released.
Initially, I didn't notice these issues because I was enamored by the game's presentation. While Original Sin 2 won't be winning any awards for most polygons in a 2016 videogame, the presentation is colorful, bright and vibrant. It also runs incredibly well on my mid-range machine, that already had a few birthdays, without forcing me to make any compromises. That's rather impressive for a game that's probably still being optimized. Sound is competent, though fairly cookie-cutter for a fantasy title. It does what it sets out to do and not much more. As for voice acting...well, other than the previously mentioned intro, there really isn't any. This isn't a major issue, but rather something that modern gamers have gotten accustomed by now, or dare I say it, have been spoiled by.
Gameplay is the meat of Original Sin 2, and there's a lot to unpack here. The turn based battle system allows for an abundance of combinations and synergy. Ice attacks can freeze the ground that will then act as a slippery surface for any character that traverses it, the same ice will eventually melt and turn into water that can then be electrified. These are just some of the possible combinations, and the same mechanics can be used to deal with obstacles outside of battle. Original Sin 2 is very much a sandbox, and you can even carry clutter around that can then be used to construct cover during battle. On top of a fantastic battle system, all the other core CRPG elements are present. Crafting, questing, buying and selling, branching conversations, all the elements are there. So, it was all the more surprising that after only an hour into the game, I was bored.
This is where my initial gripe comes back. Not much happens, at least not initially. You're left wandering the vast opening area looking for something to do. You soon stumble into the prisoner camp, where you're left trying to find some means of escape. I spent hours wandering about without much purpose, completing minor quests and bumbling about trying to push the main story forward. Eventually the game just wore me down.
Given the seemingly robust size and scope of this game, as we've come to expect from the genre, I would sooner call this a first impressions rather than a preview. However, after spending several hours playing, I'm clearly conflicted. There's plenty of merit in what it has on offer, and in many ways, does exactly what I would look for in a CRPG. Yet, the current build just didn't resonate with me. Objectively, however, Original Sin 2 is a rich and well-crafted game that is sure to turn many heads, even at this point in its development.