"...Divinity: Original Sin 2 was over a hundred hours of pure RPG bliss."
Divinity: Original Sin 2 redefines strategic RPG gameplay and questing. While several developers and publishers have relied on using old mechanics, refining old mechanics, and even designing games to look pre-modern, Larian Studios serves as one company turning toward the future. Although the mechanics aren't exactly revolutionary, their implementation and novel approach to design should be an exemplar for current and future developers. Admittedly, the quandary surrounding quest design has been a stifling problem to solve — including for this reviewer — but Larian solves the problem deftly, without even appearing as if it's trying. I offer my gratitude to the patient RPGFan staff and readers who may be wondering what our take is on Divinity 2, as I have taken the "completionist route" to tackling this behemoth. Over one hundred game hours later, here it is.
Rarely does any title capture my undivided attention for even thirty hours, let alone over a hundred. To top it off, Divinity 2 is an experience that requires focus, attention, and strategy. The sorts of nuances introduced here in terms of storytelling, decision making, and combat would normally be exhausting, but Divinity 2 is simultaneously refreshing and engrossing. Rather than spending energy engaging in this adventure, I felt consistently re-energized. I had wondered if I should tackle this game quickly and get the review out as soon as possible, but the truth is that I couldn't do this world that injustice. I wanted to solidify connections I made, topple those pesky scarecrows that absolutely decimated me, or try for the third time to sneak into that encampment and get the macguffin I had earnestly sought.
Exploration is probably the most fun I had with this game. The different locales of Rivellon were absolutely littered with secrets, friends to meet, and beauty. At times, the gameplay could get bogged down by seemingly randomly difficult enemies along the intended path, so exploration sometimes devolved into either finding a key stash of loot to bulk up or finding the lowest level enemies to take out in order to level up. While that method of guiding players isn't preferable, it did add a strategic element to the game outside of combat — just artificially so.
That said, exploration oftentimes led to conceptually fascinating side quests. The writers truly worked their imaginations designing these questlines, as few devolved into finding item x to deliver to person y. Oftentimes, the protagonists came upon an item, monument, or person they knew nothing about and had to figure out what it was they had, or just carry it around until the right moment came up. Should I trust that person? Is it okay for me to pray at that altar?
Once exploration was near its end and some pesky side quests remained puzzles to be solved, I sometimes came to a crossroads: do I stubbornly try to solve this quest or move on and enjoy the next part of the game? This comes down to personal preference, but I knew that if I passed up on too many quests, I could never forgive myself. With this determination, I was able to eke out a couple side quests, but some I had to pass on lest I trade pleasure for irritation. Unfortunately, upon further inspection when I completed the game, I realized that some bugs have clearly hindered many players' experiences regarding some key quests.
You might be wondering, "What's the plot? What is going on?" I only include these details at this point in the review because I think the quest design truly comes first. Divinity 2's story is engaging and enjoys several twists and turns — some predictable, but that's forgivable. Without giving away too much, the game opens with your character on a ship bound for Fort Joy. Clearly, the protagonist is a prisoner and is under the care of soldiers called Magisters. What's more, the protagonist and others on the ship are known as Sourcerors, though their magical powers are locked by necklaces that contain this power. The travel doesn't quite go as expected, and our hero or heroes have to find freedom and answers to what is going on in the world of Rivellon.
Truly, the plot isn't the most inventive in terms of the overall idea and structure, but the way in which it's told brings it to life. As suggested earlier, part of this is thanks to the inventive quests, but also in the sheer quality of the writing. Almost every character feels fleshed out, unique in personality, or a combination of the two. Of course, not every nameless NPC is going to have something engrossing to share, but they help characterize the world through their simple bitterness, fear, or carefree lifestyle. Other seemingly innocuous travelers or inhabitants have a surprising amount of depth and may even offer gifts or engaging side quests. The primary cast, of course, gushes with personality and complex characteristics. Few allies, if any, can carry a banner of pure righteousness, except for you, the primary character, if you so choose; even then, choosing a truly magnanimous path can be extraordinarily difficult, as several decisions are clothed in nuance and grays — but these are the most dazzling grays you'll find in almost any modern RPG.
The voice acting is almost always incredible, including those NPCs who give one line and wander off. Remember: I took over a hundred game hours to complete this title and every single person has full voice acting. This is a rare feat and likely cost Larian Studios' budget dearly, but this serves not only to bring the excellent writing to life, but also engage players who might normally be terrified of the volume of writing. Similarly, the battle sounds and spells create an engaging combat experience. Unfortunately, while pleasant and initially impressive, the music quickly fades into the background as one progresses through the world of Rivellon. During key battles or events the music enhances these experiences, but it is largely forgettable.
Players will spend much time in combat, and developers have a few ways of keeping this experience fresh throughout the game. Some depend heavily on style and presentation, and while the environments in Divinity 2 create some fascinating landscapes to battle upon with hurdles and tools to assist, the music doesn't improve the experience. The key to the engaging combat in Divinity 2 is character builds and the use of Action Points. Characters aren't locked into a specific build or strategy, but each character has predetermined skills, attributes, and talents that suggest a path. These paths can blend with other paths so that each character is uniquely built, and one person's Red Prince might be quite different from another — neither is likely to be a main-line spell caster, but they may each dabble in a magical talent or two of the player's choice. Skills are typically taught through tomes once a character gains enough of a certain trait to learn from that book, while others are granted through items.
Stats are simple, yet keep the game engaging. Where many high fantasy titles use complex calculations and simulated dice rolling, Divinity relies on simple armor, magic armor, and health. Damage with skills is determined by weapons and one of the basic stats, such as Strength or Finesse, but the general idea here is that more is better. Armor class, complex evasion stats, and speed are either nonexistent or basic calculation. What's most important in combat is how one uses each character's unique skillset efficiently with the Action Points granted. Distance traveled, power of skill, and points saved from last turn determine how much can be done during each character's turn.
Even though each battle &madsh; nearly every single battle — was an absolute joy from beginning to hundred-plus-hour end, some issues had come up during my experience. Among these were several odd NPC behaviors, as some allies and enemies I had no control over would shoot arrows into walls, throw bombs and hit themselves, or walk back and forth until all Action Points were exhausted. In some battles, NPCs would cry out for help...endlessly. The repetition and whininess of the voices caused me to turn my volume all the way down. Some of the most egregious errors included enemies accidentally hitting townspeople, causing the entire village to turn on me, not the enemy. I also endured some sort of memory leak in which battles would grind to a screeching halt on enemy turns, sometimes with each action taking several minutes. At times, actions would not take my click, and instead of activating a healing spell, I launched an attack at an ally, causing a battle that took over half an hour to result in failure; what could have been a glorious, rewarding victory ended in regret and frustration.
On the topic of controls, I had great difficulty throughout Divinity 2 clicking on items, environments, and characters. Sometimes the hit boxes for the models appeared tiny, as most of the body or furniture did not highlight, and when objects are layered on one another this created minor irritation. Occasionally, trying to click on walking creatures would prove difficult, resulting in involuntary and imprecise movements that hurt my stealth game. Rest assured, while annoying, the controls did not significantly hamper my experience, though the hindrance is worth noting.
When I compare Divinity 2 to a title like Pillars of Eternity, both games scratch different itches. Where Divinity 2 is beautiful, colorful, and littered with secrets, Pillars offers a sense of gritty isolation, open landscapes, and truly evil enemies. Divinity 2's appearance was almost playful in nature, with few enemies, no matter how demonic or otherworldly, ever really intimidating. In this way, Divinity 2's world feels less "real," in that the sheer density of things to do in such close quarters with one another is unrealistic. Fun, but unrealistic. Another differing aspect of these titles is that Divinity 2's plot — while omnipresent throughout the game — never feels truly significant, whereas in Pillars, the importance of the adventure is constantly felt. That's the nebulous, enigmatic quality these games bring, though: of course, the threats introduced here in Divinity 2 are intellectually critical to the fate of Rivellon, but that's not really the feeling I got. Perhaps it's a combination of the presentation, writing, and overall style of Divinity 2.
One commonality I have to comment on, and this is almost too tangential to share, but I had a hard time connecting with my companions, which is a common attribute I think Western RPGs and CRPGs suffer from. For reasons I won't discuss here, JRPGs tend to pull at the heart in ways WRPGs never seem capable of. What's interpreted as gritty realism for a more mature audience somehow lacks depth of emotion. Western RPGs are excellent at exciting the mind and imagination, but the bond I feel with my allies in JRPGs is somehow never matched in games like Divinity 2 or Pillars. Unfortunately, this is probably the worst quality of Divinity 2, and even if that wasn't a goal or intent of Larian, the fact is that emotional experiences make games richer, at least for this reviewer, and I suspect many others. If a developer could somehow create that level of engagement while simultaneously offering a deep experience like in Divinity 2, a legend might actually be born.
Yes, so, Divinity: Original Sin 2 was over a hundred hours of pure RPG bliss. Memorable from start to finish, I'm somehow unaware of where the time went. My Steam account could have reported half the time I actually spent, and I wouldn't have questioned it for one second. Odd how people gauge the quality of something based on length of time committed and felt. Divinity 2 won't be a title I soon forget, if ever. While I am most certainly done with the experience for now, I have no question that the community has already begun working on some fantastic mods and campaigns. I smell spiritual successors in the near future. Regardless of what the future holds, the present is good, because I've experienced Larian Studios' epic, and I'm all the better for it.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.