Divinity II: Ego Draconis enters a genre laden with high-quality titles, including Game of the Year winner Dragon Age: Origins. If a gamer plays Divinity II with this in mind, he may find it difficult to not look for fault, erring towards nitpicking. However, when a game’s AI is absolute garbage, certain abilities don’t work like they’re supposed to, and bugs crash the game, trap the hero, or simply just make you turn your head to the side blinking repeatedly – subjectivity is no longer a concern. Unfortunately, despite its charm, humor, and beautiful world, Divinity II suffers from all of these pitfalls.
I hate to do it, but this review must open with a comment about the bugs and glitchiness. Sure, a quality assurance team isn’t perfect and a few things are liable to slip through the cracks. Fine. And maybe once in a while a game will crash when your character uncontrollably rubs up against a wall that you somehow immersed half your body inside. However, these things constantly happen. An entire sidequest lacked dialogue, making a dungeon unplayable. I fell through floors into the infinitely deep, pitch-black realm fit only for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and watched as enemy after enemy continued running into a wall while I pegged him with arrows from behind. This is the super-ultra-deluxe abridged version of the bug list. Suffice to say, I saved repeatedly not just because of challenging gameplay, but also due to how terrified I was of getting trapped in the ground or my game crashing.
The game is challenging at times, but horribly easy in most parts. Of course, the ease makes itself known when you find yourself casting a spell that should deal very little damage, only to have it instantly kill bosses five levels ahead of you. I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I’m almost positive this shouldn’t be happening. The AI can also be absolutely brain dead, as alluded to earlier. However, the game can also be brutally unfair, especially in the beginning. Arrows are impossible to dodge and some spells go through walls and rocks, no matter how thick they are. That’s fine, but it’s inconsistent with how your arrows and magic work. I must say, though, that combat was fun and addictive. When I wasn’t abusing overpowered spells, I found the battles satisfyingly challenging and the options of my arsenal vast.
Customization runs deep in Divinity II. As far as fighting goes, you could play the game three or four times through and still have an entirely different experience. The menus are intuitive and exploring what you have available to you is simple. This is important, because the game’s littered with interesting sidequest tools and equipment enhancers. Honestly, you may find this overwhelming at first, since much of these items aren’t explained until you find the required blacksmith, alchemist, etc. on the overworld, or until you obtain your Battle Tower.
The Battle Tower comes late – about halfway into your adventure. This is your headquarters. Players decide who to employ here in a rather cruel, but satisfying fashion. However, the potential for an interesting base worth exploring is sacrificed in exchange for convenience and utility, such as the ease of warping and upgrading equipment. Indeed, the only interactivity gamers will find here is the typical mercantile banter. I found this disappointing, particularly because deciding who to put on staff was a long and involved process. Admittedly, some folks will opt for this no-nonsense relationship, but flair and sentimentality are lost.
Traversing the world is a joy. Adventurers will find that running, jumping, and flying their way through canyons, open fields, and small forests proves engaging. The sense of exploration is strong, as sometimes the simplest nook or cranny can yield interesting results. This isn’t to say that neat things can be found everywhere, but the balance is well done; the folks at Larian Studios certainly found the perfect balance of secrets and red herrings. If Tolkien-style exploration rubs you the wrong way, you can always use conveniently placed gates spread out just enough to not be troublesome, yet constant enough to prevent the game from feeling like a chore when you just want to get to a damn cave. I mean, really, it’s a cave, not a palace, but those are easy to get to, as well.
So, whether you want to get to that dank cave or greet a demi-god in a legendary temple, you can be sure to find some interesting dialogue. Like most Western RPGs these days, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure dialogue steps into the spotlight. Does Divinity II execute it well? Eh, it’s okay, but other games in the market have mastered the skill much better. Like most games that fumble the ball in this regard, Divinity II offers the illusion of choice. Sure, options 1, 2, and 3 yield interesting responses, but nothing really changes; you still gotta find someone who speaks goblin for the lonely storyteller. I get the sense that more work could have been put into the game. Is it really that hard to create a few branches in the storyline, or at least a side story beyond merely not accepting a quest after you offend someone?
Quests have unique motivations for the most part. While the game offers the traditional bounty missions and fetch quests, some missions have unique motivations. This is in part due to the sense of humor, ensuring that the game doesn’t always take itself too seriously – a quality any good RPG uses from time to time. Honestly, the jokes come off as rather adult at times, and I found myself cracking a smile or two. This only lasts a short while, though. As the game gets more serious, so do the people with whom you interact. This makes sense, but why not offer a few light-hearted sidequests? They worked well initially, so why not keep it up? I only bring this up, because it seems as if the developers got bored and tired halfway through the game, making it feel less imaginative shortly after you earn the Battle Tower. In fact, the game becomes less about an immersive world and storyline, and more about long, grindtastic sidequests.
The progression of the central plot is vague. While someone well-grounded in literary critique might have a minor coronary with the lack of traditional structure, many RPG enthusiasts will welcome the lack of certainty. I found myself continuously guessing where I was in terms of the story: Am I still in the prologue? Am I halfway through? Is this the final dungeon? Of course, trade-offs are made here. Not much is learned about the main antagonist, aside from the occasional book you find lying around. Certain intricate characters lack depth, while inconsequential allies offer a wealth of backstory, and the player’s focus can be lost. At times, I found myself more interested in the tribulations of commonfolk rather than the impending doom promised by a rising power. You may think this is the traditional treasure trove of sidequests that appear just before the final bout with the boss, but this goes way beyond that. From start to finish, the game seems to purposefully distract you from your true aim, and the central plot suffers for it. If you were to remove all sidequests from the game, you would find a typical, uninspired fantasy tale. So, basically, the game is more about the little things in the world around you, and less about saving the world.
Fortunately, the world around you is pleasant to look at, so saving it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Seriously, though, despite all of its shortcomings, at least the game isn’t an eyesore. Whether gamers scavenge around a forgotten tomb or kick rabbits under the summer sun, the game flows smoothly, and feels as if the developers focused on graphics. However, while the initial presentation is amazing, the same pattern of weeds and flowers dull the mind, and a lack of detail dilutes the experience after entering the fifth abandoned mineshaft. Or was that a storage area? Nevertheless, the geography of the overworld is memorable and a map isn’t necessary after enough traveling back and forth.
When encountering new NPCs, gamers may find that they had met this person before. Like, twenty times before. For some reason, the same six or seven models are used throughout the game, and I can’t figure out why. Sure, reusing a model a few times is acceptable, but with such a huge populace, the lack of variety is curious. Did they think gamers wouldn’t notice? This becomes apparent almost immediately, and while it is kind of nitpicking, it speaks about the work put into the game.
The music is pleasant, but not memorable. As for sound effects, gamers will find the appropriate clanging and slashing of blades remains through-and-through. Fortunately, skilled voice talents enhance the charming dialogue in the game’s entirety. Few of the voices are inappropriate, and even the more over-the-top acting proves amusing. So, I applaud the voice actors not only for a convincing performance overall, but for taking on so many NPCs. Yeah, that’s another thing – not only are the models regurgitated, but so are the voices. Again, kind of nitpicking, but it’s painfully obvious that you’ve heard a certain voice before, and it feels as if you’re speaking to the same NPC, just in red armor instead of rags this time. Immersion, what?
I suppose most of my gripes lie in he Bugs section, but moving the lead around is simple and intuitive; no different than most third-person perspective PC games today. However, the method of picking objects up can be frustrating at first. A small circle in front of your character allows you to target items and pick them up, and while this sounds simple enough, either the circle is too sensitive, or the items have strange hit-boxes. Occasionally, you’ll find a box or pot that you want to bust open, and you’ll look right at it, swing, and… nothing. Swing again, nothing. This seems especially arduous for melee weaponry, since using a bow works almost flawlessly. Aside from the meticulous task of hoarding useless fruits and meats like an obsessive-compulsive shut-in, battling works as it should: look at something and smack it with a hammer. Just try not to jump into too many walls, or you might have to reload a save.
I tried to speak positively about Divinity II: Ego Draconis, pointing out most of its strengths. However, I cannot let the inadequacies go unnoticed. The game feels broken at times and often gives the impression that the developers were rushed, or stopped caring halfway through. There also seems to be a lot of heart put into the game, but during several instances, the development feels blatantly careless. Rather than search for reasons for its faults, I will simply say that I cannot recommend this game to anyone except the most diehard Gamebryo fans. For the bugs alone I cannot recommend it, but the cons are just as plentiful as the pros. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t enjoy the game, but I would have definitely preferred spending my time on another title. With so many better games of a similar flavor available, you should probably save your cash on this one.