Divinity: Original Sin is a title that seems to speak to a certain kind of player. The gameplay requires experience, and to get the most out of it means having the patience of a stone and the wits of a chess master. It’s not a combination for the faint of heart, or a casual run through, but for those willing to brave the journey, Original Sin does contain some bliss.
Despite the dauntless success of a few iconic titles and classic franchises, there is no formula for an RPG’s guaranteed success. A poor play engine can be rescued by a rock solid narrative, and a squishy story can be redeemed by an exciting combat system. Make one component exceptional or find balance with both, and the people you want to reach tend to sniff you out. If you’re lucky, they’ll even lift you into the light of acknowledged success. But nothing is for certain. There are plenty of great games, role-playing style and otherwise, filling the bargain bins and corners of peoples closets around the world.
Going from top to bottom, Divinity: Original Sin doesn’t really have a “story” as much as it does a series of set-ups. After an opening prologue detailing why the world in is in its current state, you take control of your characters, a pair of Source Hunters, whose duty is to locate and destroy artifacts and individuals that utilize illegal magic. When a government official is murdered in a far-away town and his death is suspected to involve the use of this element known as Source, your characters are sent to investigate the situation and bring the culprits to justice.
However, almost as soon as they arrive your heroes find they have not only come to the scene of a demonic crime, but have sortied against a festering nest of deadly circumstances. From walking dead plaguing the lands, orc raids wreaking havoc on the shoreline, and even the potential collapse of the entire universe, there is a lot of wrong for our champions to put right and the powers that be want them to hop to it.
However despite all of this, the feel of Original Sin stays relatively light. Yeah, there are sad and faintly graphic things that happen, like fields of corpses to trudge through and grieving wives you can console, but all in all the structure of the game isn’t one that will really invest you emotionally. The assortment of dialogue choices, character interaction and fourth wall breaks always lets you know you’re just playing a game, and unlike many modern RPG’s it’s unlikely this one will get you to drop a tear or jump in your seat. This is a game that is meant to played more than felt, and I think that’s a refreshing approach in a genre which has most consistently challenged the partition between videogames and film. You can still talk or interact with almost any character, even including the animals that walk and scurry across the field (one of my favorite parts), the town areas are lively, and although it’s limited many of the characters you’ll chat with have personality. Not every interaction will be memorable, but there will be NPC’s you’ll find pleasant and others you’ll want to put a sword through. While perhaps not as refined as other RPG’s, there is a lot of character and style scattered all throughout Original Sin, as long as you’re the type of player willing to find it.
This brings us to Divinity: Original Sin’s gameplay, which is both its crowning jewel and lead-lined burden. Having played RPG’s for decades, I am both familiar and a fan of some of the various ways turn-based combat can be approached, and Original Sin has one of my favorites. Character actions in combat are partitioned by not only their position in a stat-determined queue, but also the accumulation and usage of action points. Depending on how you build your character, the fastest party member may be the least capable when they get their turn, or a slow moving tank can crush their foes with a volley of versatile abilities. Players can manipulate their characters stock of action points by having them wait instead of making a move, or performing inexpensive actions that will buff them over time. The incorporation of these elements doesn’t break any kind ground in RPGs either seperatly or cumilatively, but Larian has created an extremely meticulous and rich assortment of them in this title. Once you figure out how everything works and start getting your combinations right, you’ll truly feel like a hero besting your foes on every level.
Your tactics and strategy will be met with a cunning and relentless AI, capable of making any encounter a challenging battle, and a variety of changing map conditions that can instantly shift the tide of combat. Putting out a fire user’s flame with a rain spell may momentarily neutralize them as a threat, but that’s only until they cast the lightning spell you didn’t know they had and now your entire party is soaked in superconductive water. This potentially endless assortment of conditions and circumstances certainly make Original Sin an exciting game to play, but it also creates a dense volume of knowledge a player needs to know to engage it effectively. This is an education the game is not exactly excited to share with you.
Divinity: Original Sin is not a game that most players are going to be able to just pick up and enjoy. The amount of information a player needs to actively know can be daunting, and unless you sit down to actually read the manual (and I mean really read it,) most of your lessons are going to come in the form trial and error; a very expensive process in both in-game resources and real life time. The economy of the game doesn’t really support amassing large volumes of resurrection scrolls or health potions, and without prior knowledge (or game experience) it isn’t likely your starting party will be particularly self-sufficient and it will take a few levels to mold them into a functional group.
Many skills such as crafting and otherwise will require items to employ them, and these are tools you neither start with nor are readily available from merchants. You can barter with just about any character you can speak with, so you may come across one of these potentially vital items that way, but the outcomes are just about as random as enemy item drops or looting the containers that litter the map. In this system, going without something you need for five hours can quickly change into having an abundance of them in fifteen minutes, which can lead to some extremely frustrating situations.
These may seem like small problems to venerated players who are always aching for a challenge, but I draw a line between a game that is difficult because of the situations it puts me in and one that punishes a general lack of resources or prior knowledge. Having the patience to facilitate your personal role-playing OCD is something all fans of the genre typically take credit for, but it’s not often or typical for a videogame to expect it. Even if I need to read the manual, which I don’t mind, it’s the kind of thing I expect to be included in the game somewhere, not just linked through the Internet. This isn’t “holding your player’s hand”, it’s equipping them to enjoy your experience, and I didn’t feel like this was something Divinity: Original Sin considered.
This game feels like it was made for people who have already played it, and it made even my favorite moments with it bittersweet. Having to speak to every NPC before I lucked upon a companion tucked away in some inn or townhouse doesn’t feel like immersion, it feels like a time sink. I was on my fourth restart (still with no manual) before I felt competent enough with how to build my character, embark on my adventure, and have as much fun with Original Sin as it had to offer. On one hand I liked it enough to keep trying to get everything just right, but on the other hand that’s not something I’d expect a typical person to go through. This was in addition to the game changing in various ways in response to the need for various patches, some of which were game breaking. I didn’t encounter the more nasty ones that lead to crash-to-desktops, but I did notice that at character creation when I first played the game the only option for AI (personality) was either None or Loyal, and now it has several interesting choices. This is great work by Larian to make sure they are giving the game ample support and responding to their fans needs, but when it comes to forming an opinion it’s like standing on shifting sand. A game that is constantly being patched, as good as those patches may be, is a game that just doesn’t feel “done”.
SEAN’S CO-OP REVIEW–
An RPG is a long endeavor. We’re talking triple digit numbers in terms of total playtime if you attempt to see and do everything. At some point the gameplay can become rote – you’ve swung your sword, cast a spell, equipped a new item, explored a perilous dungeon for the thousandth time. Even the narrative can become noise in the background with the exception of major beats. What tends to keep you sane is the liveliness of the characters who populate the world, who sprinkle you with colorful conversation throughout your journey. Even better is when a real person can join you via multiplayer and experience the adventure alongside you.
Original Sin’s cooperative mode is surprisingly well made and more than just a shoe-in as a bullet point feature. Since the game, even in single-player, is geared to be played in a party, having a friend jump in is seamless and easy. The other person basically takes over a member of your party (or you could take over theirs) who would otherwise be an AI controlled player. It’s important to note that the joining player cannot actually partake in the character creation process, and cannot import their own. It’s easy enough to have the person joining simply tell you what type of character they want, however, it would have been nice if they could join the game at the character creation screen.
The game becomes much more dynamic when you have human controlled party members doing things independently from you, as opposed to when you’re playing alone and the AI controlled party members simply follow you in a line and await your direction. Even the conversation branches, which normally when playing solo you would roleplay with yourself, become an interesting exchange of dialogue which reveals both you and your friend’s true play style. You might be reasonable and pragmatic, but your partner is hot-headed and aggressive, leading to conflicts of opinion which, if unresolvable, is left to luck in a game of rock, paper, scissors.
Another thing to consider is the additional ground you can cover with two people. Original Sin is known for its lack of hand holding which leads to a significant amount of time searching for whatever it is that will trigger the next story event. Having two people to scout is enormously helpful in that regard.
The most fun I had with the coop was strategizing during combat. Since the game is turn-based, you have the opportunity to actually map out a plan of attack together. While generally the combat does not require an encumbering amount of coordination, during tougher battles it was absolutely thrilling. This also enables you to truly specialize in a character type, playing to your character’s strengths while your partner plays to theirs.
Certainly it’s different strokes for different folks; Original Sin gives people who prefer to play an RPG alone the opportunity to do so without feeling as though they are missing out on an integral part of the experience. However, those who prefer to share their adventure are in for a massive treat. Original Sin is one of the best co-op games I’ve played in a long time and I highly recommend it to any fan of the RPG genre.
All in all, Larian has created a great foundation to build upon, and a solid game within that. However, it still feels unapproachable for gamers who don’t come to it already wanting to like it. The constant patching of disfavorable elements does make a good thing better, but also punishes players who may already be too far along to appreciate it. The co-op option is fun for people who have solid gaming chemistry and definitely adds to the experience, however the tactical precision the gameplay requires may not mesh with random pairings. Eventually Divinity: Original Sin might find it’s most blissful balance, but right now it really needs to be considered a work in progress.