I allowed myself to buy one game in the Steam Winter Sale, which was Divinity: Original Sin.
Then, a few hours later, I bought the Skyrim Special Edition, because I saw everyone on Twitter talking about it which reminded me that I wanted to buy that too and, hey, what a coincidence, it was on sale.
But this post is about Divinity: Original Sin. It’s an isometric, turn-based strategy RPG which can trace its ancestry back to games like Baldur’s Gate (the earliest example of this kind that I can think).
I’ve played about 12 hours so far and the short version is: It’s very good, with caveats.
I absolutely love the turn-based combat in this game. I can’t think of any other game I’ve played where I felt like there were so many inventive, strategic options available during combat. It’s better than Dragon Age: Origins and X-COM (the two previous title-holders in my mind.) You can run away, you can duck behind obstacles to avoid ranged attacks, you can throw poison gas grenades, you can knock people down, stun them, set them on fire, freeze them, the list goes on and on. There’s a whole lot more depth than simply picking targets and swinging or shooting at them. So many times I’ve started a fight and thought, “Well I’m dead, I hope I have a recent save game,” and then as the fight goes on turn-by-turn I’m able to work out a way to stay alive and beat the bad guys.
That brings me to my first problem with the game: It is hard. I don’t mind challenging games, and even relish them when I feel like I’m being treated fairly as a gamer (see: the Dark Souls series). The issue with D:OS is that the outcome of fights depends a lot on random chance, which can be very frustrating. It feels very unfair at times, and it’s irritating. An entire fight could turn on whether you happen to get a critical hit or if a spell happens to fail at a pivotal moment. There is a whole lot of re-loading from your saved games. There is one early boss (SparkMaster 5000) where I saved my game after practically every turn during the fight, so I wouldn’t have to go back and start over again.
Not only is the combat hard, but the puzzles are fairly challenging too. Completing story quests is more than simply running from person to person and talking to them. You have to explore and find hidden things and bring them to the right people to trigger the right dialog options that will advance the story. It’s a bit frustrating at times because you feel like you have to be doing it right, but because you didn’t do some other little thing first, it didn’t trigger the NPCs in the way they need to be triggered. I have already visited a number of wikis to try to figure out why I couldn’t proceed on some quests (with mixed results–I wish there were more web sites that gave “little hints” instead of “full walkthroughs.”).
I mentioned saved games: This is a game that leans heavily on saved games for recovering from failure states. If you’re like me, you may have gotten used to games that save for you, and never let you get into a situation so bad that you can’t recover from it. This is not one of those games. Save often. Like, every turn, if need be. Personally I think this is a game design flaw, but I’m willing to admit it could just be my preference. Before server-side games existed, a lot of single-player games (maybe all of them?) were designed around loading and saving game progress.
Another important part of any RPG is the story that it tells. Divinity: Original Sin is “okay” in this regard so far. I find the characterizations a little bit too jokey for my tastes. This is definitely not intended to be a weighty epic fantasy world that you immerse yourself in, it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek wink-and-nod-to-the-audience kind of fantasy. The voice acting is very cartoonish and over-the-top and the accents range all over the map from standard British fantasy voices all the way to American and Texas or New Orleans accents. I personally find them very interesting to listen to, but they do not serve to immerse me in the story at all.
There is a bit of a “twist” fairly early on that takes the story in a completely different, unexpected direction. If you’ve played the game before, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It raises the stakes from a run-of-the-mill murder mystery into more of an end-of-the-world scenario. I didn’t care for it. I had settled into the story the way it had been going and found myself sufficiently invested in it to keep moving forward, but the new direction felt extremely random and distracting. Fortunately it turns out to be more of a background plot that I assume will come into play later in the game, if I ever get there.
But overall, I’d recommend it. All those people who said this was a fantastic game back in 2014 were not delusional.