Divinity: Original Sin was sent to Steam from on high by Larian Studios surrounded by a heavenly aura and a choir of angels. Its release was met with critical acclaim and blurbs like “[the] best new RPG in years.” It’s the polished, beautiful isometric RPG that people have been waiting for since Baldur’s Gate. But what’s so great about it?
I’m not saying it’s lightning-bolt’ing the hell out of people, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
Divinity: Original Sin is great for a lot of reasons. It’s unabashedly difficult, it looks beautiful, it offers a degree of customization that you don’t normally see, it’s well-written, and it has some fun mechanics for you to play with. Not everything is perfect, and at times the game seems downright obstinate in its unwillingness to guide you, but it manages to take the classic RPG formula and add a few of its own variables.
The game has a simple enough plotline: You’re Source hunters, and there’s been a mysterious murder. You set sail to investigate, just in case there are any dastardly wizards to get rid of. The distinction between “good” and “bad” magic is heavily blurred. You’re surrounded by magic at all times, but certain schools (like Witchcraft) are condemned even though you’re allowed to use it without any repercussions. One of your companions, a paranoid old knight, hates pretty much all magic, leaving you to constantly defend your use of it and its beneficial properties, while at the same time conceding that maybe sometimes it’s used for evil stuff, too. It’s a constant “This is fine, but this isn’t” that sometimes seems like you’re totally just making it up as you go.
You set one measly village of people on fire and suddenly you’re the bad guy.
The game is adamant about setting you free in the world and letting you figure things out after that. It’s very refreshing among a sea of games that highlight checkpoints and zoom in on objectives, but sometimes it can be a bit of a bummer. There’s no indication (the quintessential “!”) of who wants you to do something for them and who just wants to sell you a selection of fine cheeses. It’s mostly easy to tell when someone wants you to do something, but sometimes it isn’t: Sometimes an innocuous side comment is just enough to leave you unsure and send you running back and forth across the town looking for new dialogue options. I have to frequently look up what to do next, because some of the quests get very convoluted very quickly and also because I’m not that smart.
I’m not entirely sure this is what that guard captain meant by needing more bodies.
But it’s fun! The game is fun to play with a friend, but bring someone who’s patient and likes to read. There is a lot of story going on in this game, and since there are no markers to point you in the right direction, if you skip a bit of dialogue you can end up totally lost. The lack of information can sometimes be frustrating when you’re trying to build a character, too. I’ve put 41 hours into this game so far, and I’ve only barely cleared the first act of the game. Sometimes you play for a couple hours only to realize that maybe healing yourself with poison isn’t as great as you thought it would be. Sometimes a patch comes out that nerfs an ability you’ve been using, and suddenly you can’t cheat your way through fights with Leech anymore. But you have the option of playing a wizard with 10 strength and only Man-at-Arms skills, and if that’s what you want to do, you do it!
This guy exclusively summons spiders to destroy his enemies for all I know.
The turn-based combat is difficult, and even a difference of one or two levels between you and your enemies can be your undoing. It gets harder depending on how you’ve built your character. You get attribute and skill points through leveling up, and you spend action points for skills depending on how high each of your relevant abilities or skills are (high geomancer and intelligence means less points to drop a boulder on someone’s head). The skills are randomly generated to buy from merchants depending on your level. If you try to spread yourself too thin, you end up without enough action points to use everything effectively. It’s a balancing act between keeping all your bases covered with your party and min/maxing your specialty. If you run into a group of skeletons on fire, it doesn’t matter how many points you’ve pumped into your Intelligence if all you’ve got are fireballs.
On top of that, the “go find it yourself” nature of the quests can lead to grinding your way through maps of enemies so that you’re strong enough to move the story along. Sometimes I would know where I needed to go next, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive the wave of enemies that I had to kill to get there. But the game is all about exploration, and eventually I would find an entire questline that I had totally overlooked. Sometimes it was by talking to people and exploring the map, sometimes I would accidentally stumble over it while murdering skeletons.
The game isn’t without its bugs, but the developers are always working on new patches to fix them, and none of them were game-breaking for me. I wouldn’t complain if they fixed the loading times, though. Sometimes taking entire minutes to load an area I’ve already been to can quickly become tiresome.
I get it, you’re awesome at art, gimme the city already.
Overall, Divinity: Original Sin is a beautiful game that I would wholeheartedly recommend to any fan of RPGs, especially of the isometric variety. It’s a lot of reading, and sometimes a little bit of guessing, but it’s well worth the investment. Sometimes you’ll feel stuck. Sometimes you’ll wonder if it would have killed the designers to make a couple NPCs glow a little bit. But if you love trying new things, you’re going to love this game.