Around this time last year, I said that the newly released and Kickstarted, Shadowrun, had raised the bar for games that came from the crowdfunding website. Now, as I type this, I’m saying it again about Divinity: Original Sin from Larian Studios.
In a world corrupted by a thing called ‘Source’, it’s up to brave warriors called Source Hunters to seek out the corruption and bring an end to whoever uses it. The story begins with you investigating the murder of a councillor (who is actually a running gag through other Divinity games) and begins to spiral off into this grand adventure of the undead, murder mystery and magic.
Original Sin is a role playing game to it’s absolute core. It oozes text, conversation, and demands your complete attention. Though, instead of having you just roleplay one character, you must alternate between two Source Hunters in your party and it delivers some excellent character building moments between the two when they have a conversation; mostly because you’re building them entirely.
The two characters you start off with are essentially blank sheets, other than the fact they’re out to hunt for Sourcers, and as you progress, they start to develop into however you want them to. For instance, I rolled a wizard and a knight, who sometimes get into quarrels over certain matters, but got along quite well otherwise. Complimenting each other, backing the other up in an argument with a shady recruitment guy, that sort of thing. But, they both became very different in their personality traits. The wizard was caring, stoic and understanding, while the knight became a little egotistical and intimidating.
When a game makes conversation, mounds of text and lore entertaining to read, that’s storytelling in a video game at it’s absolute best. Voice acting be damned, this game had me gripped as I worked desperately to convince an adopted Orc, Victoria, to hand over her medallion as proof that she’d been slain to a senile elf.
If you do wind up at an impasse in negotiations, a rock, paper, scissors game will pop up and if you win, you win the argument. It’s oddly out of place, what with the whole organic feeling to the progression of conversation and story, but I guess relying on personality points alone is even worse.
That’s the thing with Divinity: Original Sin, is that outside of combat, the game tries its best to avoid RPG tropes when it comes to characters. Sure, you earn points to a particular attitude and trait, but you can still get by charming and intimidating (albeit poorly) without ever really touching them. Conversation isn’t static, even if it’s multiple choice and mostly in text. As you choose, it flows just right. It can abruptly end if you piss them off in the wrong way or evolve into a fight. It’s bizarre to say it’s magical to watch, because a lot of older RPGs have accomplished this in the past, but in the age of Mass Effect and such, it’s weird to think that this does a better job at a main staple of most RPGs than massive titles.
A big thing in Divinity is that the game has no closing point and you’ll always be able to solve a quest or puzzle regardless of the situation. You might not get as big of a reward from it or the truth might be muddled up, but if a character dies or a thing hasn’t been found, you won’t have to worry. The game just continues with a new branch. Original Sin is so thought out and so carefully planned, that the chaos that you can cause within the game to try and bring it to its knees, is already figured out to the absolute maximum.
The best instance of this, was the fact I couldn’t lockpick or find a key to a door with chest inside the room behind it. This lead to me bashing the door in, destroying the chest and looting the room, all while sneaking in an inconspicuous massive rock.
Original Sin introduced sneaking to me, but it became useless by the time I started getting really into the game, because all my characters were built in such a way that brute forcing my way through the game is a far better way to deal with things.
Combat, however, is as typical as you can get to some degree. It’s entirely turn based and utilises action points for this classic feel. What separates it from other RPGs is its focus on the elements. Setting a fire will cause the ground to set alight, burning all those who come into contact with it and if you’re like me, you’ll create an oil spill to further the range. It’s things like this that make what is rather stereotypical combat, so much fun to be involved with.
But combat is brutal in Original Sin. It’s entirely up to you to not screw up, or face reloading a previous save. If you happen to cast a spell that electrifies water the enemy is standing in, it could potentially backfire and shock a party member too. Characters will die multiple times and if you don’t happen to possess a resurrection scroll, you have to leave their corpse or ashes there to relax and not gain experience until you can revive them. This includes your main party characters (though if both were to die and you’re left with just a secondary character in the party, you’ll be booted to a prompt to load up, because these characters can’t interact with the story).
Though, the reason combat feels brutal to me, is that each encounter is spaced out. Sure, there’s moments in the game where fights will occur more frequently, but it hits harder, because these times aren’t very often. Exploring the world leads to a lot of wandering beautiful landscapes and vastly different areas, with fights to punctuate just certain bits. A simple fight against a few skeleton warriors can lead to the demise of a couple characters and having to change up how you play entirely.
A negative side of it being so invested in being an RPG, is that other than a quick tutorial to start, the game expects you to understand it regardless. If you’ve ever played a game that’s similar to this, then heck, you’re going to feel right at home. But understanding how the levelling works and the other smaller systems aren’t a difficult task if you’ve ever played a video game, but for those not familiar with the genre, might feel a little overwhelmed.
Managing the inventory could be better though, as there’s this liberal amount of things you can carry. You pick up whatever and there’s no sorting button or way to make other characters pick things up without switching to them directly. If a character has a skill that lets them speak to animals, the game doesn’t automatically assume that someone in the party can do so and renders that conversation line useless till you switch back.
Crafting and cooking is a massive thing in Divinity: Original Sin. Books are strewn about the land and reading them will unlock the recipes. It’s incredibly deep with the amount of things you can craft, but doing so is rather simple in all fairness. The only downside is that actually understanding how to do all these things is another task entirely and it doesn’t make it easy. Throwing a cooking pot on a campfire can lead you to cooking good meals that benefit the party, but you can only cook a particular set of meals. You need to constantly hunt down apparatus to achieve the crafting and by the time you have, you might not even be the right level to do so, leading me to steal, rather than do it myself.
Everyone is also a shopkeeper in some regard. Striking up conversation with characters will allow you to browse what they have and trade or buy items from them. It’s a neat system, but everything has this ridiculous price tag on it and necessary items – like healing ones – can leave you skint in mere moments unless you’ve been picking up everything.
The music, oh my. It’s this mishmash of everything from the fantasy genre. If you imagine a bard, playing his tunes on a lute and those classic soundtracks from games that fit into the genre, then you’ve got it. It’s sheer joy to stroll through town and just soak it all in.
Divinity: Original Sin is a game that revels in the medium and being what it is. There’s nothing held back in trying to accomplish what Larian wanted to do. Sure, there’s a few niggles here and there, but Original Sin is something built on a budget that accomplishes exactly what most games with ten times the amount of cash behind it, could only dream of. Plus, once the modding scene gets their grubby mitts on the game, it’ll be the thing that keeps giving.
It’s a game where I can speak to a dog and fight off a rogue zombie with a mop, do I need to say anything else?