From the forges of Kickstarter rises an RPG that embraces player choice. Undoubtedly Larian Studios finest work to date, Divinity: Original Sin is a throwback to the PC RPGs of old, albeit with a modern coat of paint. Larian’s latest title can stand proudly alongside the likes of Baldur’s Gate or the original Fallout.
For my review of Divinity: Original Sin, I’m just going to relay the events that occurred within the first five hours of booting it up. One of the neat aspects of Original Sin is that you can play with strangers or friends in a two player co-op mode which you can switch into at any time. I grabbed a colleague of mine and we hopped into the world of Rivellon. We both created our own Source Hunters, intrepid individuals tasked with tracking down and destroying the corrupting power known as Source. After character creation, we were sent by the order of Source Hunters to the coastal town of Cyseal to investigate a high-profile murder suspected of involving Source. Unfortunately the coastal town happened to be under attack by orcs, so after a beautiful animated cutscene we were dropped off on the shoreline a short distance from Cyseal. On our way to conduct our investigation, we learn that Divinity: Original Sin has some of the most entertaining sneaking animations ever devised.
As we neared the coastal city, we encountered two drunk guards who mistook us for orcs. Luckily we convinced them that we were too human to be orcs and that was that… or it would have if one of us had thought to ask them if we could cross their bridge. For our transgression onto the sacred planks of their bridge, we were thrust into unwilling combat which ended with two dead guards on the beach. Later we would backtrack to that location and discover that one of the guards that came to relieve them of duty was freaking out over their murder. Whoops! We, being cool and collected Source Hunters, proceeded into Cyseal as nonchalantly as possible. While there, we died repeatedly trying to steal supplies from the town guard. It turns out that while it is entirely possible to steal everything in sight or kill everyone in the game, it really isn’t advisable to do so. After learning our lesson the hard way, I discovered that my character could talk with animals, a skill which I proceeded to use to get my fortune told by a prescient cow. While I was chatting up the local fauna, my companion ran off to explore the city proper.
From what he told me a few minutes later, he had discovered a talking skull that he then proceeded to irritate until it called the town guard and had him arrested. Luckily, there was a demon in the prison to whom he traded a point of constitution to teleport him out of jail. It was around this time that we discovered a gravestone that dared us to dig up the remains that were buried below. We happily obliged and in repayment we were incinerated in a blast of fire. Reloading, we continued our exploration, vaguely remembering that we had come to solve a murder. We ran about town, eagerly exploring any nooks and crannies we encountered. While my friend was on the other side of Cyseal chatting up a wizard who enjoyed being a cat, my Source Hunter barged into the local physician’s clinic where he helped the young assistant try to heal one of two sick men. Upon resolving the moral conundrum posed by limited healing supplies, my companion and I were whisked away to THE FREAKING END OF TIME. While we were there, I kid you not, we met a time traveling imp historian named Zixzax. This was such a bizarre and unexpected turn of events that the two of us laughed for a good three or four minutes.
Is this starting to sound insane yet?
Clearly, Original Sin’s greatest strength lies in the freedom it affords to players. Every mission and scenario can be solved multiple ways or bypassed entirely. During one quest where I was supposed to infiltrate an evil cult and had to solve their initiation puzzles, I got frustrated and just killed all of the evil cultists and took the amulet I needed to progress in the story from their leader’s corpse. On one sidequest to break a character out of prison, rather than go to the trouble of finding the key to the cell, I simply teleported said character out with magic. Original Sin rewards a player’s creativity. Pretty much any solution you can think of has the potential to work and it rarely feels unfair when a plan fails (i.e. failing to pickpocket a McGuffin off of a goblin shaman because your skill was too low and starting a nearly hopeless fight in the middle of a goblin war camp). While the aforementioned freedom is definitely the main draw of Divinity, it is a double-edged sword. The unwillingness to restrict or funnel players leads to multiple instances of directionless wandering. There were several times when I felt lost because I either missed a line of dialogue or the game was being coy about where to go. You won’t always feel the burden of a lack of direction, but when you do you’ll feel completely stumped.
Luckily, the narrative of Divinity: Original Sin isn’t anything over which you should get excited. The murder the Source Hunters come to investigate ends up being a more complex mystery than they could have guessed and that larger affair escalates until the stakes really can’t get any higher. This isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It is a competently executed tale of swords and sorcery (or as Original Sin puts it “sourcery”). Basically, the entire undertaking feels like it would be right at home as a pre-made Dungeons and Dragons adventure.
The character creator allows for a number of different backgrounds, beginning powers, and visual tweaks. The abilities you take in character creation only matter for the first few hours, until you begin to find new abilities and level your appropriate skills. One of my Source Hunters began as a lady raised by wolves and was only proficient with earth magic; she ended the game as a crossbow sharpshooter who could also summon earth elementals. The flexibility of leveling is important, because it is almost a guarantee that you’ll have to branch into skill sets outside of your beginning pool of abilities. I started the game with a character who knew Geomancy and another that was well versed in Pyrokinetics. Later we recruited an expert Hydrosophist (water mage) who dabbled in some Aerotheurgy (air magic) along with a lady who could wield a nasty battleaxe via her Man-at-Arms proficiency. That left Scoundrel, Witchcraft, and Expert Marksman skills untaken. Then there are all of the skills that affect things outside of what abilities you can use in combat. There are skills for each weapon type, four different defensive skills, as well as social, crafting, and thievery skills.
Beyond the general freedom of Divinity, the turn-based combat system is what will keep your interest throughout your adventures in Rivellon. Most of the moves are what you would expect: lighting, fireballs, freezing pillars, poisoned darts, etc. However, the way these abilities interact with the environment is what makes combat feel truly unique. Sure, you can summon a pool of oil to slow a group of enemies, but you can also hit the oil with a fire spell and engulf your enemies in flames and blinding smoke. If you create a poisoned cloud around a group of enemies, fire will cause it to explode. Ice spells can create slippery ice slicks that trip up opponents. Clouds of mist, pools of water, or even copious amounts of blood can be electrified to stun careless foes. While a lot of fun to play around with, using these secondary effects to your advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The terrain effects reveal one of the major weaknesses of Divinity: Original Sin. Unlike other recent tactical, turn-based games *cough* XCOM *cough*, the camera is fixed to a few certain angles. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it can sometimes make it hard to see where the terrain effects are located behind smoke or gas clouds. This can lead you to make fatal error like sending one of your Source Hunters or their allies over an ice slick, rendering them prone for two or three rounds of battle. While this wasn’t a constant issue, it was still a big enough problem that I had to reload several times throughout my playthrough.
There is also another reason why players should be wary of the camera: Hidden objects. Imagine that you are trying to finish a quest and have reached a dead end. You were pretty sure you went in the right direction, but you end up backtracking and trying to find where you went wrong. You do this for over an hour. Eventually, you discover that you had missed a tiny button that was concealed on a portion of wall that was barely visible from the best angle afforded to you by the camera. This happened to me multiple times. You can chalk it up to the design attempting to be more retro, but I just found it incredibly irritating.
As for the co-op, it is very much serviceable and it is really fun to experience an adventure like this with a friend by your side. I wouldn’t recommend playing with random strangers, simply because of the absurd level of trolling that unknown players are capable of within your world. For example, important conversations periodically take place between the two Source Hunters, conversations that alter the course of Divinity’s events. The Source Hunters must decide on a course of action, either by naturally agreeing or by arguing. Arguments are settled by a digital game of rock, paper, scissors. Some of the decisions result in the killing off of important characters or how you’ll tackle the next segment of a quest. It is fine to disagree with a friend, but a stranger mucking around in your game world just isn’t as much fun.
One final note is that while most of the technical bugs have been fixed with patches by now, there are still a few lingering issues. The one I encountered that all but crippled my game was during the final boss fight. Overall, Original Sin looks great. It is bright and colorful or drab and moody when it needs to be. My computer had no problems running it at max settings until the final boss. For some reason, there are tons of particle effects that are being blown around by some sort of world-shattering wind and it caused the fight to slow to a crawl. I was barely able to successfully give orders. Even dropping the settings to their lowest point didn’t help. I eventually got through the fight, but it was quite a slog. Just beware that there are a few issues that could cause crashes or severe slowdown.
Overall, Divinity: Original Sin is a fantastic, wonderful, silly, funny, ridiculous adventure that goes on for a very, very, very long time. Just keep in mind that the camera is a fickle creature and that you should save after you succeed in doing pretty much anything. Other than that, don’t expect the story to reinvent the wheel. Grab a buddy who will stay by your side for the long haul and save the world in whatever way seems best.
Divinity: Original Sin was reviewed on PC and is now available.