It is clearly inspired by old school RPGs, actively avoiding holding the player’s hand. In fact, with the exception of loading screen tips, the game leaves it to the player to learn how the world works. Instead of directing the player, it offers them freedom and a set of tools. The result is a game that rewards ingenuity and creativity.
One of the most interesting and unique options available is the ability to play co-operatively. The host gives complete control of some of their characters to another person. There is no automatic division of loot and both players do not need to be present for conversation, moving between zones or combat. They don’t even have to agree on choices. When this occurs a rock-paper-scissors conversation game takes place, where the winner’s character successfully persuades the loser’s. Co-operative play genuinely feels like playing an RPG with two main characters.
The main characters are two “Source Hunters,” warriors trained to root out “Sourcerors” (see: Evil Wizards). The player will customize their Source Hunters at the beginning, choosing from a variety of archetypes. While this choice will determine the character’s starting stats and abilities, the game is classless. As characters gain levels, players are free to develop them in any direction they choose. It is possible to recruit up to two additional companions as the game goes on. You will be able to fully control how these characters develop as well. While it does require a greater amount of micromanagement, it also allows the player to create characters that truly complement each other. Players are free to create their own approaches and test their own ideas. Not all of these will be successful, but the player learns from failure.
This is especially true of the game’s combat.
Fights are turn-based, with each combatant’s actions limited by their pool of Action Points. Characters can also save unused Action Points for use in the following turn. This creates an engaging balance between aggressive and conservative tactics. Defense is a particularly important consideration given the death mechanics. If a teammate dies, they stay dead until a Resurrection Scroll is used on them. These scrolls are neither common nor cheap. This creates an underlying tension in each fight, as every death has a significant impact. This is amplified by the variety of enemies and their tactics. Every enemy has their own equipment and abilities. One skeleton archer may have explosive arrows, while another may have a healing spell. This makes each fight unique and forces the player to be flexible and ready to adapt.
The elemental magic system adds another dimension of depth to every fight. Water conducts electricity but so does blood. After a few rounds of melee combat there is usually fair amount on the ground. This makes slinging lightning spells into melee hazardous for friends and foes. There are many examples of these combinations throughout the game. Some, the player learns through experimentation. Others, they will learn when an enemy uses them to devastating effect. Whether it’s setting fire to oil slicks or washing away pools of poison, being prepared to counter or exploit these elemental combinations is critical to success.
The gameplay is deep, challenging and satisfying but it is not without its shortcomings. The lack of direction can be frustrating if the player cannot figure out how to advance. This can lead to feeling stuck and relying on trial and error. While the game’s steep learning curve plateaus after gaining a few levels, new players will find themselves loading fairly frequently as they adjust. The story is entertaining and complex but it does not try to draw the player in. The player is presented with circumstances and goals but is largely detached from them until they reach the next key plot event. All of these are extensions of the free and open system that defines the game. They are clearly not oversights; they are drawbacks inherent to the type of game that Larian Studios wanted to create.
Divinity: Original Sin is a type of game that is rarely seen now. It is an RPG that offers players real freedom and consequences. It is consistently challenging and demands that a player learn and grow if they want to progress. This makes every success that much more satisfying. It is a return to the gameplay style of classic RPGs like Fallout and Planescape: Torment. It gives the player a deep, rich world and drives them to chart their own path through it.
Title: Divinity: Original Sin
Developer: Larian Studios
Release Date: June 30th, 2014
Platforms Available: PC
Platform Reviewed: PC
Game provided for review