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DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN Review: The Art of Save-Scumming

The RPG genre delivers a diverse array of gameplay elements, providing everything from turn-based battlefields to first-person action-based mechanics, and with themes and settings ranging from the deepest depths of space to those lofty realms of high fantasy. However, with so many varying RPGs cluttering up the Steam page these days, a certain “return to roots” is necessary every once in a while.

In steps Larian Studios, developers behind the popular isometric, turn-based, RPG franchise Divinity with their latest installment to this venerable series thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaignDivinity: Original Sin. On the whole front, the game serves as an interesting modern take on gameplay that calls back to those Halcyon Days of the RPG that tends to straddle the line between controller-smashing randomness and ultra-engrossing strategy.

Story: Not Much, But Just Enough

So who are you in this world of Divinity: Original Sin? Well, that answers a rather simple one to produce as it is almost given at the outset of your journey.

You play the role as a duo of ‘Source Hunters’ tasked with investigating the recent murder of one Councillor Jake at the hands of a powerful font of energy known simply as ‘the Source’ in the port town of Cyseal. A place that has also, coincidentally, come under attack from a legion of undead and a horde of orcs.

Source: EuroGamer.net

Source: EuroGamer.net

It struck me as the sort of typical ‘good vs. evil’ tale where you play as the stalwart hero battling the odds against a seemingly insurmountable force dedicated to some evil endeavor. It doesn’t do much to mix up the usual fantasy RPG narrative but there’s a certain light-hearted air as you travel the lands of Rivellon.

As a game that features such compelling names such as The-Ghoul-That-Guards-The-Lighthouse with an accompanying quest called ‘Scaredy Pact’, the game itself seems fully aware that the plot has both been done before and to a greater degree.

It’s a game where dialogue checks aren’t determined by some arbitrary amount of skill points devoted to the art of speechcraft but rather a simple game of rock, paper, scissors. I kid you not, you can literally determine the fate of important plot developments through a simple game of chance (a game that, much to my chagrin, apparently suck at despite the fact that I had sunk so many points into buffing my characters’ charisma).

Furthermore, Divinity: Original Sin puts a lot of effort into giving their characters a unique and engaging personality. After about an hour or so of gameplay I managed to find my first two party members – a mute rogue and a ranger who was raised in the wilderness by bears – each with their own unique motives and back-stories to them.

Even the main protagonists themselves, the two player-created avatars that typically don’t have much characterization other than that ‘they were destined for greatness’ have a surprising amount of depth added to them via dialogue between the two and their interactions the people and places around them.

Your choices in dialogue will shape who your character is and their attitudes towards the world around them. As of writing this, my choices have made my knight a stalwart and compassionate fellow with a pension for forgiveness whilst my witch became a crass and bold lass who was very prone to kleptomania.

It’s an interesting take on the typical narrative aspects of fantasy RPG formula, one that has so far enticed and engaged this hapless individual with nary any experience in the genre of turn-based strategy into exploring the far-reaching corners of this game world to discover every tidbit of info he could to glean a wider picture to the conflict.

Overall, the story’s alright. It does it’s part to engage the player just enough so that the gameplay can hook its meaty claws into you and even then the story doesn’t cease being an interesting little thing to lose yourself in.

Gameplay: The Princely Crown of Bullsh*t

Now I know that sounds like a bit of a harsh title to give the game right before we jump into the meat of what makes Divinity: Original Sin a true squad-based, turn-based, action-fantasy RPG but hear me out for a second.

Much like Firaxis’ popular XCOM: Enemy Unknown, this game has a rather nasty habit of keeping enemies just right outside of your line of sight. You could enter into a confrontation with only a zombie boar in view only to have 5 of his buddies, 4 skeleton archers, and an elite undead necromancer ‘conveniently’ saunter from somewhere just outside of your field of vision.

Furthermore, the game has a rather nasty habit of hiding traps all over the map and I, being the more strength-minded individual with a firm belief in ‘might makes right’ opted for fighters and knights over the more traditional warrior, mage, and rogue outfit, very quickly realized that a party with nary any perception to speak of  will very quickly fall prey to the slurry of mines, tripwires, and pressure plates that dot the dungeons of this world.

Together, these problems shouldn’t concern the veteran RPG fan, in fact these randomized elements are typically considered the hallmark of the genre. However, for a loser schlub like myself who has neither planned nor expected for this event and with nary a shred of experience in thinking on his feet, I will very quickly found myself mastering the art of save-scumming throughout this title.

 

Source: PCGamer.com

Source: PCGamer.com

“Save often to spare your blood pressure.” Mocks the game at a loading screen as I cry into my keyboard and mentally prepare myself to face the massive skeleton mech ONCE AGAIN because I made the brilliant strategical decision to step on an insta-death trigger plate that was apparently lying in wait in the next room over. Suffice to say that I nearly uninstalled this game out of spite to run back to Skyrim, arms open and ready to comfort my tear-stained face.

With that little personal tirade out-of-the-way, let’s move into the better aspects of Divinity: Original Sin.

As far as RPGs go, Divinity: Original Sin felt like a fantasy mix of such classics of the genre like Interplay’s iconic Fallout and ever-popular Baldur’s Gate. It’s got those typical turn-based RPG combat mechanics wherein you can outmaneuver your enemies by the superior mark of your wit (or, in my case, sit around flicking boogers at them whilst they casually stun-lock my squad in a flurry of debuffs and freeze spells).

It takes a clever mind to wrestle the evil of this world and that sort of clever thinking goes beyond just simple troop maneuvers or skill sets. ‘Use the environment to your advantage’ was one of the precious skills that I learned early on. Oil spills or poison vats dot the broken lands of Rivellon just waiting to be set ablaze (either accidentally or intentionally) by your skilled pyromancer and for sorcerers of the ‘electric’ persuasion you have convenient puddles which can stun both friend and foe alike if given the right amount of power.

It’s a game that encourages their players to think creatively about the hoards of enemies that lay before them. Perhaps you’ll start with a Steamcloud Arrow to blind the lot with a shot of electromancer lightning for a good stun-lock. Or, if your me, you’ll rush in in a flurry of steel and fire setting each and every poor sod before you ablaze in righteous fury.

In terms of the typical RPG, the game doesn’t really do much in terms of innovation. It’s still got your EXP based leveling system with skills and abilities and a loot table with tones of sick gear for the errant adventurer looking for a bit of gold to line their pockets.

It’s got an organic feel about it with many of the quests and aforementioned skills unlocked via dialogue and exploration respectively, which is nice because it offers that invaluable incentive to get lost in this wide, wide world.

Whatever the case, Divinity: Original Sin caters to a wide variety of play styles, so whether you be the clever tactical mastermind that goes for a more balanced and even-toned team or the brain-dead thickie that goes for the more generic big-men-who-hit-hard-and-wear-a-lot-of-armor tactic the game has something for everyone.

Visuals: Colorful Fantasy Aesthetic

With a visual style reminiscent of the Fable franchise, the colorful and vibrant world of Divinity: Original Sin fits well with the game’s light-hearted narrative.

Even when plunging the depths of an ancient and vile undead mine or deep into the territory of an enemy goblin tribe, the game stays consistent with its cartoony World of Warcraft-esque art style which I can admire. After all, if you’re crafting a carefree fantasy RPG game with a heavy emphasis on strategic thinking, the game’s artistic direction is something of a major factor in determining how ‘carefree’ said title is.

In that regards, Divinity: Original Sin does a pretty good job at crafting this fantastical realm of might and magic.

There really isn’t much else to say about the aesthetic, only that the game features a lot of unique settings and environments from beach-head war zones to long-forgotten crypts housing the ancient remains of kings.

Source: EuroGamer.net

Source: EuroGamer.net

It’s the opposite of something like the Gothic-inspired stylings of the Diablo franchise that has been rather commonplace among the titles of triple-A developers, which is not to say that those methods of development are wrong. Every game is unique in the way it presents itself and the way Larian Studios presented their latest installment into the Divinity franchise just works for them.

All in all, the environments are pretty to look at and serve as a pretty good backdrop to your goblin slaughtering massacre spree. So wade through the entrails of your foes as your tactical genius thwarts yet another evil ploy.

Story: 4/5

  • Typical tale of ‘Good vs. Evil’.
  • Colorful cast of characters with engaging back-stories.
  • Very light-hearted tone to the narrative.
  • Heavy emphasis on exploration.
  • ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, SHOOT. Looks like all the orphans die…

Gameplay: 4.5/5

  • Save often, spare yourself the torment.
  • Hope you like walkin’ on insta-death.
  • Promotes party balance.
  • Supports a wide variety of play-styles and strategies.
  • Very ‘back-to-roots’ sequel.

Visuals: 4/5

  • Colorful and vibrant.
  • Very World of Warcraft-ian feel to it.
  • Unique level designs that you can paint with the blood of your enemies.

Overall: 4/5

As someone who was never really into the whole concept of squad-centric, turn-based, strategy RPG games and the Divinity series in general. I found this installment in Larian Studio’s franchise to be a rather fun and engaging experience. I found the world of Rivellon to be an interesting experience and a warming introduction to the genre despite the fact that there were many moments throughout the game where I would have gladly uninstalled it out of spite.

For the most part, it’s fun to explore the expansive world that Divinity: Original Sin has to offer and though it might not do much in terms of grandiose innovation, it uses those hallmarks of the RPG genre to create a wholly unique game that had me twiddling away my precious weekend hours trying to level up my squad.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

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Categories: Video Game Reviews

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