A game in which literally every animal is Bambi.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 on PC
I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment I began to fall in love with Divinity: Original Sin 2. Perhaps it was when I found out that the Pet Pal talent could let me talk to animals, and the dogs I found in the dungeon started going nuts with excitement when I showed them a red ball. Or maybe it was when I learned that I could teleport my enemies into a pit of poison and fire over and over again. Maybe it was when I unintentionally got my custom elf character, Edea, to hit on the rugged wayfarer Ifan by asking if he got lonely while traveling, and the game’s snarky narrator informed me that Ifan looked away, with an uncharacteristic blush on his face.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the gift that keeps on giving. Its maps are massive with a multitude of side quests and NPCs to discover. Players are never given any sort of direction on how they can tackle the main quests, and the game wants you to figure it out on your own, but that’s only because there are so many ways to handle different situations. The world is your oyster.
Going into Divinity, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel about the game. After all, I’m not exactly familiar with CRPGs and the amount of freedom and role-playing immersion that would come with it. I did dabble a little in the first game, but it never really grabbed my attention. I was also unaware of how challenging the game’s combat could get. Battles in Divinity: Original Sin 2 play out as tactical turn-based affairs in a similar vein to XCOM. Turn order is determined by a character’s initiative stat, and the moves you can make are decided by the number of action points you currently have. On Classic difficulty, the AI would make use of the environments to get the best of my party. Poison flasks would be thrown at my feet, infecting my characters. Before I could react, the enemy wizard would rain down fire on me, and everything would be engulfed in flames.
It wasn’t long before I became well-acquainted with the Quick Save button.
Battles went on like this for a good while during my early hours with the game. I’d brute force my way through the fights, and my party would always barely make it out alive, getting by through the skin of their teeth. I’d heal up with a minor restoration spell after that, and we’d be on our way. This ‘strategy,’ if you could call it that, worked for the most part. It wasn’t until I reached an encounter near the end of the game’s first act that I realized that something had to change.
The fight pit my ragtag band of Sourcerers against a group of knightly magisters. It seemed like a fairly straightforward fight, so I had Edea and the Red Prince take up the front lines, with my wayfarer and rogue hanging back to provide support. Divinity really does punish carelessness and a lack of preparation, it seems, as I hadn’t noticed the rangers and mages taking aim at me from up top, causing my party to take extra damage from high ground attacks. I loaded my save and restarted the fight, this time getting Ifan and Sebille to approach from the flank, so that they’d have the high ground.
After surviving a fire attack from up top, things went a little more smoothly. That is, until a large purple Void worm emerged from the ground and proceeded to stomp everyone in sight. The game suggested that I work together with the magisters to take down the malicious worm, but I had other plans. Instead of battling the common enemy, I opted to let the magisters take the brunt of the damage, while I hung back to take potshots at them. With Edea and the Red Prince isolating the magisters one by one, along with Ifan raining arrows from the top and Sebille backstabbing unsuspecting enemies, the fight went by without too much trouble.
That wasn’t the only way to handle the fight. I later learned that I could’ve recruited two allies to come into the fight with me to make things easier. There were also other flanking points I could’ve used to my advantage before the fight started. Much like the rest of the game’s quests, Divinity: Original Sin 2 pretty much leaves everything up to the player when it comes to combat and character interactions.
Combat is ridiculously varied, and that’s only bolstered by the fact that you can choose a character’s class when you recruit them. You can even respec your entire party when you reach the second act, allowing you to craft a full party of tanky knights if you wish. As the story unfolds, you soon learn that your characters are beings known as Godwoken, and they just might have the power to prevent the world from being consumed by malicious monsters called the Void. At the same time, our heroes are also wielders of Source magic, which is seen by the rest of the world as a dangerous force that needs to be contained. This results in an ongoing conflict between Sourcerers and the magisters.
The best part about Divinity: Original Sin 2 is that any of your party members could potentially end up being the hero of your story. You could create a custom character like I did, or you could play as one of the origin characters provided in the game. Lohse is a charismatic mage whose body also plays host to a number of spirits, and she hears voices that constantly threaten to take complete control of her mind. Fane is an Undead wizard, and he walks around as a skeleton, which means that everyone who sees him naturally recoils in fear or tries to cut him down on sight. The world of Divinity is full of politics and racial dynamics – some people hate elves, some hate dwarves – and everyone hates the Undead.
Being Undead also drastically changes the way you can handle combat. Normal healing spells will damage Fane, but he’ll get healed by poison. While his human compatriots will die from going through the deadly (and aptly named) Deathfog, Fane can walk in it unscathed. He also has infinite lockpicks because his bony fingers can serve as a makeshift lockpick. Being an Undead is great, as long as you’re okay with the rest of the world hating you. And even then, you can shield yourself from that discrimination and prejudice if you find a helmet that changes your appearance to any other race in the game.
While it can be fun to build your own character from scratch, I found that the game became a lot more interesting whenever you took control of one of the origin characters instead. Party dynamics are also more engaging when you have a personal stake in your character’s story. For instance, when Ifan finally catches up with the Lone Wolves, a mercenary group he used to be a part of, he has a chance to negotiate with them for information. At the same time, we quickly find out that Sebille was sold into slavery by this very same mercenary group and she wants nothing more than to murder them. Should I let Ifan handle the Wolves, or do I give Sebille her long-awaited sweet revenge? What if Ifan gets mad at me for letting Sebille kill them? All this drama! What to do, what to do?
The side quests and minor NPCs have pep to spare as well. Every animal you can talk to comes packed with their own distinct personality, and they quickly proved to be some of the most interesting characters the game had to offer. Just as the game likes to throw surprises at you in the middle of battle, its story quests don’t hold back either. During my 15 hours spent on Fort Joy, which is just the game’s tutorial island by the way, I freed an injured dragon on the coast, and found a witch who seemed more than willing to start making out with one of my characters. Naturally, I relented.
“You hear a low hum, getting louder. Before you realize what’s happening, winged insects pour from her throat down yours. They ricochet around your mouth, a wet, buzzing mass, more by the second. Suddenly, all at once, they start stinging you from inside.”
Yeah. It’s that kind of game. The witch’s portrait was sinister and gnarly, and I should’ve known better, really. But still, curiosity got the better of me.
This kind of openness and unpredictability comes with a price, however. While Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a master at throwing curveballs and leaving players to figure things out themselves, this also means that a lot of things are frustratingly left unexplained. You’ve got a quest journal that gives you a cryptic summary of events that have transpired so far, but few hints or leads on how to proceed next. If you can’t remember that little crucial piece of information that one important NPC said that one time a few hours back, good luck trying to continue the quest without looking up the answers online. The game doesn’t restrict where you can go, which also means that you can wander aimlessly into an area that’s way too high-leveled for you, with no means of exit aside from a quick reload.
As Divinity: Original Sin 2’s story continues to develop, its middle acts occasionally falter a little, its pacing thrown off by how easy it is for you to lose track of the main goal and wander off the beaten path. These are minor, ultimately forgivable, blemishes on the face of an otherwise masterfully crafted RPG, though. And it did little to diminish the amount of enjoyment and role-playing immersion I got out of it.
I suppose the moment I truly started to fall in love with Divinity was when I discovered a dog hanging around the body of its dead owner. With the Pet Pal talent, I spoke to it and the game gave me the choice between telling the dog its owner was never waking up, or gently reassuring it that they would awake soon before walking away. I didn’t have the heart to tell the truth, but I didn’t like the idea of the dog waiting around for something that would never happen either. I told the dog the truth, it got upset and accused me of being the accursed Sourcerer who killed its owner, and I failed the persuasion check to calm it down. I ended up having to kill the dog.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is raw and savage, and it’s easily one of the best RPGs we’ve played this year.
Score: 5/5 – Exemplary
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