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Platform: PC Publisher: CDV
Genre: RPG Developer: Larian Studios
Format: CD-ROM Released: 10/02

Review
11/23/02
Brian Cavner
Brian Cavner

Go ahead, scoff at the name, "Divine Divinity". Take your time. I did the same thing when I first picked up this title. But once I actually began to play, I quickly renounced my shameful ways. For behind the seemingly foolish title lies a game full of everything that one could hope for in an RPG: an epic storyline and compelling gameplay all wrapped into a beautiful world full of rich sights and sounds and teeming with life. Such is the world of Divine Divinity; a game aptly named for the heavenly experience that will soon come to you.

An old storybook, but with a fresh voice

How deep is the story or Divine Divinity? Deep enough that, included with the game is a 27-page short story outlining the history of the world of Rivellon (the world in which the game takes place) so that the player can have a better understanding of their surroundings before they even set out for their adventures. This level of dedication to storyline is indicative of what you can expect to find throughout the entire game.

The story details the exploits of the so-called, "Divine One", a person with humble beginnings who is destined to accomplish great things. This young man (or woman) begins in a small village and eventually works his (or her) way up to the big city, all the while learning more about himself and his past until his final confrontation with the hordes of evil and eventually the lord of darkness himself in order to save the world. If this sounds a little clich? that's because it is. Those who are familiar with the typical storyline found in many RPGs are likely to find few surprises here. It is unfortunate that it seems so difficult to break from this same, simple shell. What the bulk of the story comes down to, then, is how the story is told. Divine Divinity has a very eloquent method o storytelling, and despite its clich?path, the story comes out feeling fresh and new. While it would have been great to see at least some variation from the generic, I still felt compelled by the story that was told which is really all that matters.

While the main story itself takes roughly only 20 or so hours to play, the quest system to be found adds several dozen more. While quests are, of course, completely optional, there is really no reason to avoid any of the available quests. Not only are the rewards great, but the actual content of each quest itself makes them so much fun that it is impossible to justify skipping them. Quests include tasks such as destroying supply trains, solving murders, poisoning a town's water supply, and even washing dishes. Not to be found are the simple 'fetch quests' that require one merely to run from point A to point B. Instead, quests are involving and highly interesting. A sense of true accomplishment can be felt after each one, and even if the quests were offered sans the rewards, they would still be great things to partake in due to the sheer fun factor.

Also great in questing is the addition of a sort of reputation system. Solving all sorts of quests will grant rewards of experience and/or equipment, but will also include some reputation points which result in better relations (and thus better prices) with merchants and an overall higher degree of respect. Though some low-level quests may not offer worthwhile experience to a high-level adventurer, the reputation points alone may be worth the expedition.

The story itself is disappointingly clich?and linear, especially when compared to the more dynamic PC RPGs that have appeared as of late. However, the method of execution for Divine Divinity is what makes it stand out. Quests are fun and involving, and I found myself constantly drawn to play in order to unravel more of my history and discover more about what my future held. Despite a questing system that strives to make the game appear non-linear, your path is for the most part completely predetermined.

A twist on a great thing

Characters

In character creation, you are given the choice of six different characters from three classes, and each containing both genders. The three classes are the physically strong warrior, the magically inclined mage, and the thieving jack-of-all-trades survivor. Each character comes with its very own, distinct look and certain characteristics that influence his or her growth.

But instead of limiting you to one preset path of skill progression, Divine Divinity allows you to assimilate large chucks of other classes into your own should you so desire. This allows you to construct a powerful hybrid that effectively combines skills from different areas in order to build abilities that fits your play style the best.

If you prefer to reserve the allocation of your skill points for more vital abilities in your own class, you will be pleased to discover that certain skills can also be obtained via certain quests. For instance, in the first area of the game you discover two wounded soldiers, but are given only one healing gem to use. If you can discover a method to heal both soldiers, you will receive a healing spell that is not only obtained earlier than normally possible, but that also remains incredibly useful for players who do not have the skill points to spend for such an ability.

What does distinguish classes from one another is the number of health and mana that are gained from each point in their respective attributes (constitution and intelligence respectively). Warriors receive increased numbers of health points while suffering in mana. Alternatively, mages sacrifice health points in favor of increased supplies of mana. Survivors fall in a happy medium between the two. Other attributes, such as strength and agility, also have unique effects on a character's abilities depending on their class. In addition, certain weapons, armors, and magical artifacts are only useable by characters who can achieve high scores in certain categories. Thus, even though each class can take abilities of the others, it is difficult for a mage to become an effective front line fighter just as it is impossible to expect a warrior to survive if trying to focus solely on the magical arts. Each class grows strongest to what the character is best geared toward, but still has the ability to be flexible and embrace even skills that run contradictory to what is usually considered normal for the class.

In addition, each class is also given a unique feat that they can perform. Warriors have the ability to initiate a powerful whirlwind attack that is incredibly useful when surrounded by multiple enemies. The mage can conjure a spell allowing him or her to switch places with another character (friend or foe) within visual range. This allows the mage to escape a potentially dangerous situation and grants him or her the ability to flee quickly if the tide of battle turns for the worse. The survivor is endowed with the ability to sneak which can be used to grant a surprise attack on a particularly difficult enemy or to slip into a place that he or she usually would not be allowed. Creative and effective use of these abilities is crucial to your success and you must weigh their advantages as well as their disadvantages when deciding your class to play.

The World

The most stunning thing to be found in the world of Divine Divinity is the simple fact that almost everything can be manipulated in some way. This allows for a depth to certain quests that could not normally be achieved. For example, a key to enter a storehouse might be hidden under a pile of pillows, or perhaps a trapdoor will be concealed underneath a crate.

In addition, one has the ability to think outside the traditional 'healing potions' and their kind and use objects in varying ways. For example, one may find a basket of carrots lying in an abandoned field and decide to use them for a quick recovery of health. Or maybe you would like to stick an empty jar in a beehive in order to collect honey for a quick treat during a romp through the crypts. If you find lost in a forest in a condition dangerously close to dieing only to discover that you have no potions on hand, perhaps you could butcher a nearby rabbit in order to provide some necessary sustenance.

For those wishing to dabble in alchemy, you can also use various mushrooms or herbs to mix in empty flasks to create a number of potions and even poisons that can be used to strike opponents ill or to coat your sword to produce an even more terrifying weapon.

Anything that moves (and almost everything else that doesn't) could be used or manipulated in some way to your advantage. This adds a wonderful depth of realism and allows the player to be able to think in unconventional ways and improvise when no better solution is available.

Combat

Many have deemed (and incorrectly so) Divine Divinity to be nothing more than a simple Diablo clone. And while such a statement may be true for several other games that can be found on the PC, you will find that the same cannot apply here. Combat is point-and-click, but in a very different style than traditionally found. Instead of turning battles into a clickfest, you need only click on an enemy once and your character will continue to hack until your opponent has fallen. And for the more deft monsters that jump around and evade your cursor, you need only depress the control key and click in the direction of your foe and your character will attack the closest potential enemy in the specified direction.

Instead of making battles rely on quick reflexes and a muscular index finger, Divine Divinity requires careful planning and clever execution of special abilities in order to emerge victorious in difficult battles. This is quite a welcome relief to one such as I who have grown tired of the typical action-RPGs that have emerged as of late.

Teleporters

A unique addition to Divine Divinity, the teleportation pyramids bring a welcome relief to adventurers who tire of constant trips back to town only to have to retread the same path over and over again back to the dungeon. They work like this: you leave one pyramid in a place of interest, such as near a bed or by a merchant and carry the other pyramid with you. When you feel the need to return to town either for a quick night's sleep or to sell the treasure that has been accumulating in your inventory, simply drop the other pyramid and activate it. You will instantly be transported to the spot where you had left your other pyramid. There, you are free to go about your business until you decide you need to return. Then, simply reactivate the pyramid to reappear back where you left the other, pick it up, and continue on your way without the long journey all the way back. While some may consider this a cheap and easy-to-abuse addition, I consider it a gift to be able to circumvent one of the most irritating aspects of many games.

Reality never looked so good

Emerging among an array of 3D games comes the 2D Divine Divinity. While some may see this as a disadvantage, I find the graphical style to be one of its greatest assets. The graphics are beautifully done and have a stunning degree of detail put into every character, object, and piece of scenery. In addition, such features as real-time reflecting water pools add a level of graphical prowess often unattainable by even the 3D behemoths. Divine Divinity also features realistic wildlife, and a scampering rabbit or wandering animal is not a rarity to find. Even with all this, the game remains smooth and stable with no apparent slowdown even when pushed to resolutions as high as 1024x768.

Character models are also influenced by the particular equipment worn by the characters. Unfortunately, the variety of appearances does not approach the degree found in other modern contenders. Characters, as well as other NPCs and wildlife, also animate quite well and have a fluid look that makes them appear very alive.

Detail and meticulous attention to even the smallest aspect of realism also allows for rich and vivid locations that look and feel as one might suspect they would given a real encounter in Rivellon. Taverns bustle with patrons perched upon stools and seated against a bar complete with a variety of mugs and glasses filled from bottles of varying sizes with an array of different drinks. Dining tables are adorned with silverware and plates with surrounding walls coated in adornments of various tapestries and other prizes of battle. And, as previously mentioned, these objects do not just sit about statically, they can be interacted with and manipulated to make your surroundings come even more alive.

Divine Divinity may not have the most eloquent graphics, nor may it have the most realistic 3D animation. What it does have, however, is the careful attention to even minor details that helps to create an atmosphere of incredible believability. Given, too, the option to maneuver objects any way that you may see fit, you find yourself in a world close to mimicking that of your own.

Ambiance 101

The music of Divine Divinity is done quite well and really helps to make the world more immersive. Entering a tavern sounds a great deal different from the music that accompanies you during a trek through an open, empty field. While there may have been a few tunes that appeared a touch out of place, the overall audio experience was quite a pleasant one.

Sound effects, too, were fitting and well done, but seemed to get a bit repetitive at times. The game could have benefited greatly from a more diverse palette of the more commonly repeated sounds such as metal clashing, trolls groaning, or your character grunting. Aside from that, however, there are quite a few subtle, ambient sounds that really help to flesh out the atmosphere of their areas.

Voice acting is done fairly well, and there are certainly areas for improvement (like tone down the drama of a few of the character's voices). The flaws are not terribly distracting, however, and certainly do not detract from the overall gaming experience.

The general auditory experience of Divine Divinity is fairly positive with very few dark spots. While to many, music and sound are not weighed too heavily in looking at the overall quality of the game (unless, of course, it is especially poor), I find that creative use of both aspects in ways that improve the quality of play makes a game infinitely better. I am happy to say that I was pleased with this area of the game. Not only did much of the music make for an entertaining listen, but everything came together to create a full-feeling ambiance that gave Divine Divinity that extra boost in creating believable atmosphere.

You control me, baby

Never let it be said that Divine Divinity is among the horde of the so-called "Diablo Clones". Instead, what is found here is an even combination of the tried-and-true methods as well as a number of unique features, both feeling as if they have gone through a great deal of polishing. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a big fan of the often-used click-click-click method of combat. Divine Divinity's addition of the single click combat as well as the control+click method for targeting particularly wily hostiles shows the desire to deviate from what is commonly accepted as the norm when it comes to PC action-RPGs. I have to say that this, alone, makes the game a great improvement over the others in its class.

In addition, the interface makes the game much more comfortable and pleasing to play. Shortcuts for quick access to spells or healing supplies are available for the adventurers who have grown used to relying on them. Warriors will also be happy to note that weapons can be changed quickly and easily on the fly to minimize hunting through endless item menus. On top of all these conveniences is the life-saving pause button, a journal, an automapper, as well as various other amenities to help keep your inventory clean and neat.

For those like me who insist on an orderly inventory, Divine Divinity also keeps all of your items sorted by their use; weapons have their own menu, as does armor, potions, herbs, etc. In addition, the number of items that you can carry is unlimited; you need only monitor the weight.

Good control is vital to the fun factor of a game, I have found. When it is difficult and frustrating to play, the desire to return and continue is constantly diminished. When the scheme of the entire game is clean and easy, however, it makes playing a real treat. With control as smart as found in Divine Divinity, there is really no excuse to keep you from playing.

The bottom line

The rich atmosphere of Divine Divinity gives its players so much more than a world simply to explore. Instead, it gives a world in which to live full of fellow Rivellon, each with a unique life and personality. And when one grows tired of the life of adventuring to save the planet from eminent destruction, one can always make a diversion to take part in one of the many fun, and engaging quests each with instructions and rewards that extend far past the simple and basic delivery job for a small prize of gold.

When you tire of the games that present only one solution for each problem or that prevent you from sneaky tactics such as luring a merchant out of his storeroom with the guise that you are simply an adventurer who wishes to learn more about the herbs in the back of the shop, you will know where to turn. Divine Divinity creates a world of fantasy with a level of realism that will appeal to anyone deciding to go about saving the world using unconventional means.

Everyone plays games differently, and it is refreshing to come across a game that knows that. And while it is difficult to maintain a level of professionalism while saying such things as "Oh my God! Get this game!" I am afraid I will miss making my point if I do not. So, in closing: Oh my God! Get this game! Divine Divinity will undoubtedly be proudly shown on your shelves for a great length of time (even if its name is not).



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© 2002 CDV Software
Graphics: 93%
Sound: 96%
Gameplay: 97%
Control: 97%
Story: 94%
Overall: 96%

Click to Enlarge
Battles are fast-paced and exciting.

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: Almost everything can be manipulated to reveal secrets or to provide an extra boost.

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Areas are richly colored and seem to come to life.

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Dungeons designs are equally as beautiful.

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