Divinity: Original Sin II is the sequel to Larian Studio’s 2014 RPG hit. Having been funded by an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign and reaching its initial goal in a matter of hours, the game has now emerged from Steam Early Access for a full release. Much like its predecessor, Original Sin II is a classic-style RPG featuring an isometric viewpoint, turn-based combat, and party quests. Can it deliver on the hype surrounding its development and build on the original game? Let’s take a look.
The story takes place several centuries after the events of Divinity: Original Sin, meaning the setting will feel familiar to returning players, and the plot will also be accessible to those new to the series. At the start of the game, the world of Rivellon is in chaos as dark creatures known as Voidwoken stalk the land attracted to the magic of the Source. The Divine Order has ordered all Sourcerers to be rounded up, bound by Source Collars, and transported to the inaptly named Fort Joy to be ‘cured.’ You play one of these Sourcerers looking for a way to escape your fate while facing dangers on all sides.
The game offers options to create your own character from a standard fantasy RPG selection of human, elf, dwarf, undead, and reptilian. However, it is strongly recommended to start your first playthrough with an origin character. There are six to choose from, and each comes with a full backstory and unique quests. Whichever character you choose, you will meet the others in the game and have the option to add them to your party.
One immediate difference from other RPGs that stands out is the lack of a class system. You choose the race of your character and certain talents, but there are no pre-determined roles, such as warrior or mage. You have the chance to develop your character’s skills, combat style, and magic as you progress through the game. Your choice of origin character also has a noticeable effect on the game. NPCs will react to you in different ways, and dialogue choices will be unique depending on whom you play as. When forming a party, you can rotate the lead character to influence the game. Some NPCs will be more forthcoming with someone of their own race, for example, or will strongly mistrust your elf or lizard. Opening dialogue with a different member of your group can produce more favourable results.
One standout feature of the characters and the quests is the voice acting. Every line of dialogue has been recorded for over 1,000 in-game characters – quite a staggering amount! And the quality is superb as well. Of the origin characters, Fane and the Red Prince are exceptionally well done, and they have some of the best lines as well. The script is well-written and fits the genre perfectly. This all adds to the depth of the game world and the level of immersion and is all the more surprising when you consider that Larian Studios originally said the game would not be voiced.
As is typical in fantasy RPGs, the gameplay is quest-driven. There are quests related to the over-arching conflict in Rivellon and uncovering the truth about the Divine Order and the Voidwoken, and there are personal quests for characters in your party. At times, these quests may come into conflict with each other, and you will have to choose your path carefully. If you antagonise a member of your party (by killing someone they wanted kept alive, for example), their attitude towards you will change, and they may leave your group altogether. Dialogue choices also affect relationships between party members, as well as actions. In fact, the same applies to NPCs as well. Annoy a trader and they will charge you higher prices for their wares, but get on the good side of a guard and you might have an easier time getting past that gate.
There are also multiple choices when approaching a quest. You can do exactly what is asked, or you may have the option to lie, cheat, or use brute force to get to your objective. This allows for a great deal of freedom in how you play, especially in the early stages of the game. You do have to be careful, however, about closing off certain paths through the game for good, which may affect your options later on.
At times, quests can be laborious. There are many ‘favour’ quests in which you help out a minor character by fetching something or delivering a message for them. However, these are usually not crucial to the game, and the ‘kill x number of beasts’ and ‘collect x number of items’ styles of missions are thankfully avoided. The quest log can seem overwhelming at times as missions pile up. However, there are also several points where different quests overlap. This helps keep the pace of the game going and brings up the tough decisions mentioned earlier as you choose between or try to balance competing demands.
The combat is turn-based and heavily features spells and area of effect attacks. Fire spells are especially prominent, so much so that I kept Lohse in my party almost permanently. Although other origin characters had more compelling stories, her rain spells offered the perfect counter to the fire spells of enemies. A fantastic feature of the combat is the role the immediate environment plays in each encounter. Unlike the ‘zoom in’ style of JRPGs, the battles in Divinity: Original Sin II take place right where you are, so you can try to get your archer up a tower, or you can set fire to an oil barrel near your enemies. You can also turn water to ice or use an electric spell to shock your opponents. As blood is spilled, necromancers can use it to regain health (if that sounds grim, wait until you find out how elves make use of dismembered body parts!) This all adds an extra layer of immersion to combat.
As you complete quests and win fights, your party will level-up, allowing you to enhance their combat skills, spells, and mental traits. You will also gain items, which can be used for crafting or trading for other materials. Items can also be found in chests or simply lying around. You also have the option to steal at times. This can land you some valuable pieces, but it will negatively impact your relationships with others in the game and may lead to unwanted battles. The trading system is also much more in-depth than other RPGs as you don’t have to rely on vendors to empty your inventory of junk. You can trade with several different NPCs offering to exchange items or asking for gold. Good relationships and strong bartering skills will help you get a good deal in these cases.
Despite the old school isometric viewpoint, the game is visually stunning. The level of detail in the game world adds to the immersive effect, and each setting has a unique look and feel. I particularly like the way visual obstructions like walls and treetops fade out as the camera tracks your character, avoiding the jerky zoom ins and outs that often plague games. The camera can be easily rotated and zoomed when exploring and in combat for different viewpoints. This can be a little frustrating as I missed some passages and cave entrances early in the game due to my vantage point. However, I soon got used to the idea of moving the camera around to take everything in.
The only feature I found lacking in the visuals of the game were animations during dialogue set pieces. Often, the narrator describes an interaction between two characters, but all that is seen onscreen is them standing there. Cutscenes would break the immersion at these points, but a few animated movements and gestures would add to the realism of the encounter.
This is a game of great depth. Despite an intensive week of play for this review, it is clear that the story has plenty more to offer. The set-up with the different origin characters and choices of dialogue and action also means this is a game with high replay potential. There are also further options beyond the standard single-player. Multiplayer games can also be created either locally or online, with up to four players controlling a member of the party each. This adds an extra element to the gameplay, especially when it comes to combat. Speaking of which, there is also an arena mode for players who want to have a quick fight rather than an extended story playthrough.
One other key feature of Divinity: Original Sin II is the Game Master mode. With this, in true table-top gaming style, you can create your own game world and story. The level of customisation is impressive with a plethora of options to choose from and edit. You can use pre-set maps or create your own world from scratch, adjusting every detail and even scripting your own dialogues and quests. As Game Master, you can control NPCs as your guests play through your creations, either helping them or challenging them as you see fit. With Steam Workshop supported, this promises to be a feature that expands the replay value significantly.
No doubt about it, this is a fantastic game. The established lore of the series has been built on to create a detailed, immersive world with a dynamic combat system and the possibility to approach the game in many different ways. This is all underpinned by fabulous voice acting, appealing characters, and, most importantly of all, a well-written and engaging story with plenty of replay value. Larian Studios have set an example on how to crowdfund a game and how to make the most of Early Access. With Divinity: Original Sin II, they have set a potentially genre-defining example of how to make an RPG.
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
Release Date: 14th September 2017