Developer Larian Studios is no stranger to the isometric RPG. They’ve been building the rich world of Divine Divinity since 2009, though I’d excuse it if you hadn’t played the now eight games in the series. Before that scares you off, however, this review is from the perspective of someone who has only dabbled a bit in the series. After quite a few hours with the game, I’m starting to wonder what I might have missed….
The first thing to know about Divinity: Original Sin 2 is that you should immediately discard your preconceived notions. While some games cast elves as the purest of souls, Sin makes them into aggressive cannibals capable of eating the flesh of the dead to experience their memories. Similarly, an assassin is not a rogue, and rogues aren’t assassins…except when they are – skill selection is just one small, but important part, of your class. In truth, each class feels more like they might in an action/RPG, possessing powers like fire breathing, receiving healing for standing in pools of blood, granted bonuses for fighting solo, shield bouncing, backstabbing, blinding radiance, and the ability to speak with pets. It transcends this further by allowing a great deal of mix and match, not just within your character, but within your party. That’s because, in Divinity: Original Sin 2, and so much more than in its contemporaries, choice matters.
There’s no going back…
In most RPGs and action/adventure games, you can use ‘save scumming’ (going back to a previous save to change a decision when you don’t like the results) to tweak the storyline until you have the perfect outcome. This is, without a doubt, completely and entirely impossible in Divinity: Original Sin 2.
In one segment, Sebille (a blood-thirsty elven caster) had a custom dialogue option to call out a lizard NPC just for the clan to which he belonged. Slaying that lizard NPC ended a plot thread that I’d only started a few moments earlier, but opened another one entirely. What if I had followed the original plan? Where would it have lead? I ended up resolving the initial quest in another way, but having backed up to see how it might have played out, it took directions I never expected. There are so many moments like this that it would be maddeningly impossible to try to experience them all in a single playthrough. I found that it is better to simply play and make decisions consistent with the RPG elements embodied by my chosen protagonist and let the chips fall where they may.
The second major thing to know about Divinity: Original Sin 2 is that you can create your own characters, tweaking them in a staggering amount of ways. That said, if it’s your first brush with this universe, you should probably pick one of the the Origin
Divinity: Original Sin 2 will take you roughly 100 hours to complete for your first playthrough.characters. Origin characters are steeped in the history and lore of the world, each with a fully-baked origin story (as you might expect), and often come with some prejudices. Yes, the world of Divinity is astonishingly racist, but surprisingly it’s one of the game’s strengths.
I mentioned that you should pick Origin characters for your protagonist. While it opens up combat and conversation options, it will also create strife for your team. Unlike games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age where party members will rarely leave over things you do, here your party will chime in frequently with their own feelings on a situation, and given enough conflict will permanently leave your party. Similarly, they will clash ideologically with other party members, turning to you to make decisions as the leader. Conflict is natural, and letting it occur naturally reinforces the gravity of the decisions made in the world, making it feel more alive than many RPGs.
As I mentioned before, the classes and races in Divinity are not the traditional fantasy archetypes. Combined with well-written racial tensions, these class and race differences manifest themselves in ways beyond just the occasional dialogue choice. Undead characters can use their dexterous finger bones as lockpicks, and can walk through otherwise-lethal Deathfog as they have no lungs. They also aren’t affected by bleeding attacks as they have no blood. Lizards can breathe fire, which will clear up poison and other hazards on the ground. They can also dig without the need for a shovel. Dwarves can petrify a target by touching them. Humans are a bit more plain, but still can rally their party with an inspiring Encourage skill.
Every race hates a different race, but having a mixed party of differing classes and races is a great experience as the variables will keep you making decisions on the fly, ensuring you stay on your toes. Larian Studios managed to pull all of these variables into the environment and storyline without exposing the understructure – you simply cannot see the strings in the background, which is a massive accomplishment given how complex and expansive the storyline of Sins 2 really is.
Beyond racial traits, there are ten classes in Original Sin 2. While there are crossover opportunities based on player choice, these archetypes grant specific advantages. For instance, a Pyrokinetic has boosted fire damage, as you might expect, whereas an Aerotheurge increases damage to magic armor via their lighting and air magic. Summoners can manifest creatures into being to fight on their behalf, and a Polymorph can transform themselves into different forms. The campaign lets you make adjustments to how the Origin characters play (you can ask them to fight from rage, use spells, or attack from the shadows, as examples) within these classes, and you can obviously create a character in any one of them to suit your play style.
One of the best aspects of this title is the way it takes the handcuffs off of the player. Certainly, you can tackle the game in a very traditional way, approaching combat and interaction in a D&D-inspired stereotypical way. Sins can be an enjoyable experience that way, for sure, but you’d miss out on all the way Larian has provided to shake things up. This is best illustrated with an example, so let’s talk about an early fight with a tough guy named Griff.
There’s an insane amount of objects you can pick up, but figuring out how to combine them relies on experimentation or the occasional recovered recipe.
Griff is the local extortion artist in one of the first areas of the game. Through plot cycles I won’t reveal here, I ended up on Griff’s doorstep with some hard questions for him to answer. When he didn’t like my response, he and his gang decided that it was time to die. Using Telekinesis, I whipped the nearby explosive barrel into Griff and his minions and unleashed fire with The Red Prince. As Griff’s peons shrieked and smoldered, one of his mages ascended the nearby perch and covered his tracks by casting an ice spell at the base of the stairs. My mage, giving chase, slipped and busted her ass on the now slick surface, leaving her easy pickings for a nearby archer. Before that archer could strike (as you can see the order of attacks in the toolbar), my assassin used a skill to teleport behind the archer, cutting him down with a series of brutal backstab attacks. Griff, undaunted, hurled acid at my fighter’s feet to deter him from closing distance. Using a water barrel, I splashed the liquid over the acid, clearing the way. The environment, and the powers of each race and class, are every bit as powerful a weapon as a sword or spell. Speaking of spells, once you reach the point in the story where you can cast spells again, you can simply turn a foe into a chicken. Combat in Divinity: Original Sin 2 is as diverse and nuanced as the cast of characters, and occasionally just as goofy. You can play this game in a traditional CRPG way, but in that way, you’d be missing some of the magic.
Speaking of magic, you’ll spend an increasing amount of time knee deep in it. Your characters come pre-equipped with abilities, but after a certain point in the story you’ll unlock actual magic. The game braces you for this by introducing crafting elements early
Truthfully, it’d be easy to double the size of this review and not cover all of the incredibly well-baked mechanics, lore, and features present in Divinity: Original Sin 2.on and expanding them over time. There’s an insane amount of objects you can pick up, but figuring out how to combine them relies on experimentation or the occasional recovered recipe. Eventually you’ll take this to the next level, combining chemicals to make poisons, health elixirs, armor boosts, and more. You’ll also gain access to scroll crafting, allowing you to combine magic and mundane to make amazing outcomes.
As an example, you can construct a fireball scroll by combining Essence Fire, a sharp claw, and a piece of paper, if you have the Pyrotechnic class skill. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as setting a wooden structure on fire with your new fire-based spell, then using the teleport skill to shove an enemy into the flame face-first. Grenades, arrows, weapons, armor, tools, and runes crafting options abound, creating new and exciting ways to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves. Just know this – your enemies have the same opportunities,
Beyond magic, skills, and traits, it’s amazing just how important armor is to Original Sin 2. Whether physical or magical, your character’s armor level is tracked on a small meter above their hitpoints. Once armor is lost, each hit is bone-deep, often causing catastrophic damage. This makes crafting armor potions, repairing, and otherwise preserving armor critical to combat. In the beginning you are “armored” in threadbare cloth, but soon you’ll find yourself donning a bucket on your head just to try to put something in between your soft flesh and enemy steel.
Stealth is mostly a stat-based affair in any isometric RPG, but Sins takes it to the next level, combining stats and NPC line of sight. Enemies have a cone of direct vision, as well as a secondary lighter cone of peripheral vision, both of which directly impact your ability to capitalize on stealthy opportunities like pickpocketing and backstabbing wetwork.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 will take you roughly 100 hours to complete for your first playthrough. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also multiplayer support. When you think of it, however, imagine something less drop-in / drop-out, but more akin to a great tabletop gaming session. My recommendation is to keep a separate save so you can enjoy the single player at your leisure, but when you are ready for some online cooperative play, up to four players can jump in and, surprisingly, play separately. Counter intuitive as it sounds, up to four players can join a single session and then proceed to wander outside the confines of the host’s screen to their heart’s content. That’s precisely what makes it amazing.
During a four player session, our voices synced over Skype, we tackled the introductory section. We knew there was a fight with Griff coming up that all of us had encountered in our single player adventures. This knowledge of who would come to Griff’s aid and where allowed us to “set the table” for this fight, placing barrels, surrounding Griff’s henchmen, and then positioning ourselves to unleash death upon them in a vicious coup de grace that downed his would-be assassins in record time.
With a game as dialog-focused as Original Sin 2, you might ask how that works in multiplayer. I’m glad you asked! Thanks to Source Magic, players will be able to watch and hear as one of the team interacts with an NPC, but they’ll be passive observers. This creates some interesting dynamics as what’s important to one character may not be as critical to another. My main character, Sebille, has a real problem with lizard folk. You can imagine how that can impact the storyline of The Red Prince – a displaced lizard member of royalty. This created plenty of “NOOOOO!” moments as my Chaotic Neutral-in-real-life friends made decisions that they know would cause my main character grief. It is in those moments that this felt like a pen and paper game come to life.
Aspiring writers, inquire within
I need to take a moment and talk about the Dungeon Master mode. For those of you who are into creating content there’s a huge lure to Divinity: Original Sin 2 beyond the myriad of reasons I’ve mentioned – the game pulls back the curtain to reveal the hidden magic behind the scenes. Not unlike a real pen and paper adventure, the Dungeon Master is in charge of building their world, creating scripted “vignettes”, and otherwise tweaking how the game operates to bring your narrative to life. I could explain it in depth, but Larian Studios has done a wonderful job showcasing exactly how to create something amazing from scratch.
As you can see in the demo, every aspect of the engine is exposed. What’s amazing is that the team has cracked it even further open, building in full support for the Steam Workshop as well. At the time of writing, there are nearly 500 mods, most of which are actually useful, to tweak the game in multiplayer or singleplayer. Expanding the party size, upgrading the run speed, new classes, and even fully-baked storylines are available for download. You can import your own artwork, sound, levels, creatures, and just about anything else your imagination can drum up into the game, and then share the fruits of your labor with your friends. For what seemed like a crazy Kickstarter stretch goal, the team has delivered something amazingly full-featured. For those who need to scratch the creative itch, Divinity: Original Sin 2 will do so in just about any way you’d like.
Here, hold my claw.
My only complaints, and both are fairly minor, is that this game doesn’t hold your hand in any way, and that extends to the storyline. This can be a little frustrating for people who aren’t used to traditional CRPGs who are used to having their journal spell out precisely who to talk to, and exactly where to go, and for those who might not already be invested in the Divinity universe. Some story elements are not as straightforward, and some racism or bias appear without warning or explanation. As an example, the first time I encountered a lizard with Sebille, she was immediately hostile and I had no idea why until much later in the game. While I personally enjoy the challenge of figuring things out for myself, it could be a barrier for those who might not have grown up keeping a notepad nearby for deeper RPGs.
It wouldn’t be fair to gloss over the incredible work Larian Studios has put into the voice work for Divinity Original Sin 2. Utilizing over 80 actors, the team recorded over 74,000 lines of dialogue and over a million words to bring this rich world to life. This incredible undertaking, and the fantastic performances therein, raise the already-incredible writing to an entirely new level. I felt more emotional investment in my characters and the rich story felt even deeper thanks to their hard work.
Truthfully, it’d be easy to double the size of this review and not cover all of the incredibly well-baked mechanics, lore, and features present in Divinity: Original Sin 2. Two years in Early Access has created a game that has been carefully curated, diligently debugged, and lovingly crafted. It’s well-balanced, lets the player tackle situations in any way they can think of, and all while offering a staggering amount of fully-voiced dialogue and quest-completing choices that actually matter.
Divinity: Original Sin 2
No game has captured the nuance of pen-and-paper RPG quite like Divinity: Original Sin 2. Every moment is filled with meaningful choice with real consequences, and every character has a story to tell. In an RPG landscape where dialogue options are dumbed down, and quests have become package delivery to a specific map coordinate, Divinity: Original Sin 2 stands out as one of the best RPGs I’ve played in a decade...maybe even longer than that.