Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4,
Reviewed On: PC
Review copy provided free of charge by the publisher.
Divinity: Original Sin was something of a surprise hit, the RPG managing to once again prove triple-A developers wrong by crafting a game on a budget that went on to sell extremely well. It just goes to show that if you don’t try to please everyone, gear your product toward a certain market and be sensible with your budget you can create something amazing that turns a profit. Now Larian are back with a sequel, and man is it all kinds of awesome. Best RPG since The Witcher 3? Best RPG since The Witcher 3.
What probably sticks out most about Original Sin 2 is how it somehow manages to juggle serious story beats with utter lunacy. This is a strange, strange game at times, one where it is possible to play as an undead elf who gains the memories of the deceased by eating their severed body parts, get talked down to by a crab who also happens to be a powerful magic-user, find a fire slug that was once actually a princess that got transformed, help a dog find its lost love, turn a puddle into ice so that the enemy slips and falls on their ass, and transform people into chickens before teleporting them into a fire. And all of this is in the first part of the world. Some of the game’s best moments stem from the Pet Pal perk that lets you chat to animals, which is exactly why I somehow ended up agreeing to marry one of my party off to that slug princess. Amidst all of this strangeness, though, Larian builds a compelling world that still manages to tell a rock-solid story where the drama never gets undermined by the humour.
A good chunk of this initial madness stems from the character creation system. You can opt to play as one of the Origin characters who come with a specific background but can otherwise be fully customized, or you can merrily create your own character by choosing from a number of races, including undead variants who have to hide their disturbing visage from the general populace lest they find themselves being ran away from a lot. A variety of tags affect how the various NPCS you meet along the way will react to your presence, altering dialogue and potentially revealing entirely different ways of moving forward. I’d generally recommend playing as a modified Origin character, though, just because their personal backstories have been woven throughout the world which helps get you a touch more invested. With that, you won’t get to discover quite as much of your own character’s backstory in the process. Ah well, just more reason to replace the whole thing, eh?
Even if you go fully custom all the other Origin companions will be recruitable, although it’s possible to go lone-wolf with a perk that even supports this. Your chums can include the noble and somewhat annoyingly arrogant Red Prince who is seeking to reclaim his throne; Sabhille the rather violent elf: Lohse, a lovely red-headed woman who just so happens to be sharing her mind with a mysterious and potentially dangerous force, and then there’s Thane, the undead immortal who want help making a tool to rip faces off so he can wear them as a disguise. It’s a motley collection of people, and while I’ve seen many people stating that they didn’t like most of them I believe that’s a very deliberate choice by Larian; this isn’t a group of friends, but rather very different people brought together by the whims of fate, and in that regard I found them all to be quite intriguing.
While you do have to choose your starting set of abilities you don’t get locked into any specific class as you’re free to invest points wherever you like and can learn any skill provided you meet the prerequisites. Your companions are the same, able to become whatever you want them to be. When you first meet them a dialogue choice lets you choose their initial role in the group which means the newest member can always slot in nicely. This choice determines their initial skills and point allocations, but after that you can mould them as you see fit. Levelling, however, is quite a slow process so if you do opt to start moving toward a different build you could sacrifice immediate effectiveness to do so.
With the basics of your character sorted you head out into the world, although first you have to be inconveniently held prisoner at Fort Joy where they don’t even serve a decent cup of tea. If you’re anything like me this initial foray into the world of Divinity II can be a confusing time as the logbook quickly fills with a jumble of quests, many of which are fairly vague when it comes to what you might need to do to progress. Your first goal is to simply get out of Fort Joy and I wound up spending some eight hours in this location alone, partially because I was trying to do as much as possible and partially because I got a little stuck looking for a way out of the fort.
Fort Joy, which surprisingly is actually a bleak and bloody horrible place, is the game’s first main location and serves as a nice introduction to the quests and the many ways in which you can progress. Your goal is simple enough: get off the damn island. How you do that, though, varies wildly as you discover different groups with their own plans or debate the merits of just murdering all of the guards before waltzing out the front door. Here you might also discover that Larian is perfectly okay with you killing any NPC you encounter if you so desire, and that they’ve seemingly thought of everything as there’s always another way to finish up a quest despite the corpses you may have left behind. Maybe you’ll just have to chat to a ghost or animal instead, or munch someone’s limb.
But this freedom feeds back into my earlier criticism that quests can sometimes leave you scratching your head. With so many options available Larian don’t want to point you too much in any single direction, which is completely understandable, but that can also leave you wandering around like a lost sheep, idly poking at things until something happens. Even the NPC hints can be rather vague. For some people this may be annoying, for others it will be a joy to be left to their own devices.
Even when I was just lost and struggling to find a way forward, though, I was always enjoying myself. A lot like the Elder Scrolls games much of the fun doesn’t come from the main story but rather the myriad of little things you stumble upon. While at its core Original Sin 2 may be a fairly serious game Larian inject an almost Discworld style sense of humour into proceedings, not so much poking fun at games but more at people in general, blithely accepting the insanity of their own world and using it. Getting stuck or lost typically just means more opportunities to explore and interact with the strange characters and situations that the developers have slotted in. It’s such a pleasure to play a game where quests and places of interest aren’t marked on my map so that I can do some proper exploration.
Your reason for being stuck in Fort Joy is that you’re a Sourcerer, a person capable of using Source magic, something which the Magister’s are determined is awakening a powerful force. In order to contain the problem the Magister’s lock up the Source users before then putting them through a process which removes the ability to tap into Source magic, though it comes at a hefty price. Your job is to figure out what’s going on. It sounds so simple on paper.
With the game’s story taking place some 1000 years after the events of the first Original Sin there’s absolutely no need to have played Larian’s previous title, although there are some references to it and naturally those who played through the first game will feel more at home from the start.
As for your group of companions, many of them have agendas that will conflict with your own or that of the other members of the party. At times they’ll even ask to speak to an NPC, and while sometimes you can predict the possible results there are times you can’t. Blood-thirsty elf Sebhille, for example, asked to speak to an NPC before brutally murdering him in a fit of vengeance, killing the very person The Red Prince needed to speak to as well in order to fulfil his own personal quest. The rest of my group were none too happy with her actions, and this can be important because if their distrust goes deep enough they’ll simply leave, although admittedly I never found this to be much of a concern in my own playthrough. With that said, I didn’t act like a complete dick. The point, though, is that Larian often place you in the middle of tough choices where you can’t please everyone.
What it all adds up to is an RPG that actually feels like it wants you to do the role-playing part. It’s always tempting to explore every nook and cranny, but in a way it’s better to just go for a more natural approach and take what comes your way. Likewise, the game is at its best when you roll with the punches, despite how tempting it is to reload a save to get the desired outcome. Don’t. Go with it. Accept your choices and your experience will be all the better for it, especially if you let yourself
Even though it’s possible to get through a massive amount of situations via alternate methods combat does still play a large role in the game. It’s a turn-based affair with your companions and you being granted action points to use on movement, attacks and special abilities, with unused points being kept for the next turn so that you can stock up. There is a solid layer of tactics to consider, such as using the environment to your advantage in order to set fire to enemies, electrify them through puddles of water or blocking line of sight, to juggling your many abilities and taking advantage of height.
The only part of combat I didn’t like was the changes to physical and magical armour. Basically, armor will grant physical or magical protection, or potentially both, and to deal damage to a character one of those armours must first be broken down, so in otherwords for a mage to deal damage they must first use their magic to whittle down the enemy’s magical protection. Now, this does bring some added depth in the sense that you need to target foe’s with the right type of attacks and likewise you need to decide what sort of armour your own characters will be wearing. The downside, though, is that some abilities don’t feel as useful, such as the crowd-controlling attacks because by the time you’ve whittled down the armour it’s generally more effective to go with other things that decimate health quicker.
Through combat you’ll also come to discover that Divinity 2 places a lot of emphasis on creating synergy between your four chosen companions. Every character can learn new skills via reading books, but correctly choosing those skills can make a huge difference in the long run, as does deciding who is going to be standing on the frontlines. Fail to build your party and you may suffer at the hands of Larian’s one true weakness; difficulty. There are four different settings to pick from, but the jumps between them can make finding the right setting for you tricky, and there are quite a few difficulty spikes to deal with along the way, too.
If the sizable singleplayer campaign wasn’t enough content Larian opted to throw in a co-operative mode to boot which they’ve previously referred to as “competitive co-op.” Given the game’s love of providing freedom this mode can be utter mayhem as your pan decides to throw a rock at the person you’re currently trying to recruit leading to a savage fight and a dead companion. There is a narrative reason for this competitive layer to the co-op, but I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say you’re perfectly free to co-operate fully with each other, but having the option to cause some carnage is very much appreciated.
As if that wasn’t enough there is also a game master mode where you can design and save your own campaigns. Larian did mess up with teaching you how to use it, but once you finally get the hang of everything you can populate the world with NPCs, create notes only you can see, write dialogue sequences and perform “dice” rolls to see if characters succeed when doing certain things.
Alright, so far so praiseworthy, but there are some issues I need to mention, first and foremost being the numerous crashes I experienced with no discernible explanation for their cause. There were a few glitches, too, such as a couple of characters suddenly becoming invisible
Although it does have flaws Divinity 2 is a strong contender for the game of the year. It’s a sprawling adventure full of wonderful moments waiting to be discovered, the strong writing of Larian keeping you hooked from start to finish. It’s amazing how Larian have managed to put in so many ways to complete quests, their desire to give the player freedom permeating every part of the game. This might just be the very best RPG since The Witcher 3. No. No. Scratch that. It is the best RPG since The Witcher 3.