eXcursions

Monday eXcursion: Divinity – Original Sin 2

DOS2title

No one has as many friends as the man with many cheeses!

In the summer of 2014 a little role-playing game titled Divinity: Original Sin was released. It was an amazing RPG and easily my favorite game that year. (It also gave me the quote above, which still makes me chuckle… Seriously, I’ll never forget the cheese vendor.) Anyway, Divinity was a big old wallop of an old-school RPG. It didn’t give a damn about your feelings; it made you work for every inch of story you uncovered, and it was colorful, complex, incorrigible, and so different from other recent RPGs. Oh, and it had two-player cooperative play, how cool is that?

Fast forward three years, and another successful Kickstarter, and Divinity: Original Sin II is now here with me. Yep, just me. I hug it and kiss it and… Yep, it’s even more amazing than the first and quite possibly my favorite PC game from 2017.

And this time? Four-player co-op!

You now have two options: if you already own Divinity: Original Sin II, stop reading and go play it. You already know how awesome it is. Or, if you do not own it, throw some of your money at Larian Studios, install this gem, and get started!

End of eXcursion, where’s my money Nate? [Editor: Heh, right.]

Really? The greatest warriors in Rivellon can’t cross a rope?

Well, maybe later, but character creation certainly doesn’t bequeath the strength of a Conan or a Karsa right out of the gate; however, you will have a wealth of options for creating exactly the toon you want. You can choose any of the five pre-scripted characters, each with his or her own backstory and skills, or you can go your own way and create a custom toon.

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Fiddling with undead elf options.

There are five different races including corpse-eating elves, aristocratic lizards, and even an undead version of any of the other four options. The undead are the coolest because – thanks to a lack of that icky flesh – they can pick locks with their own finger bones. After choosing your race, you can choose from over a dozen classes like wizard, shadowblade, fighter, cleric, and metamorph. Each class – in some way – falls into the accepted trinity of tank, healer, or damage dealer. I initially worked my way through the starter area with an elven ranger but began a new game as an undead metamorph. It’s a very adaptive class keen on battlefield control and my undead dwarven metamorph kicks lots of arse.

After you choose your race and class you get to change your appearance, including skin color, hair type and more. It’s nothing you’ve not seen in other RPGs. Some of the options are limited, but you can still come up with a visually unique character. Finally, you’ll get into the nitty gritty of selecting and adjusting your attributes, abilities, skills, talents and origin tags. It’s a lot to take in. Indeed, it’s a robust system that requires some study if you want to tweak your early stats until you have them just perfect… Or you can choose to go with the class presets and jump right in. I would suggest the presets if you’re unfamiliar with the series, but it’s easy enough to course correct with a stat reset later on if you want to go hog wild.

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Choose thouest instrument!

Last, you choose a musical instrument from the four available options of Bansuri, Tambura, Oud and Cello. Your chosen instrument is emphasized during the music throughout the game. Then you name your guy or gal, choose a difficulty, and click Start. There are several difficulties, ranging from the carebear “Explorer” mode – for those who just want to experience the story and exploration without any of the sting – on up to “Honour” mode, an ironman mode that deletes your file when your party is wiped. Good luck with the latter! And, of course, the full campaign is also available for two to four players. Also good luck with this as real humans bring true mischief, mwahahaha…

If only the popular girls from the Source Academy could see how edgy and dangerous you’ve become…

I begin my dwarven undead “life” as a prisoner on a ship out to sea. You will too! Out to sea, that is… And a prisoner. Maybe not dwarven or undead. I am a Source wielder (Source is magick in Divinity’s strange universe) but the glowing collar about my neck nullifies my abilities. Rather painfully, when I have a go of it, lightning and pain and all that.

DOS23

Getting my bearings.

A glimpse at my journal tells me that the world has gone a bit mad. Lucian the Divine is dead, his sacrifice in vain. The Voidwoken are rampant, drawn to Source magic, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Lucian’s son, Alexander – unable to wield magic like his father could – made the decision to ship all Source wielders off to the remote corners of Rivellon, away from the regular folk. So here I am, prisoner on the stormy seas heading for Fort Joy. What could go wrong?

The story begins with an extended prologue, call it a tutorial if you will. It walks you through the basics of the game mechanics, introduces you to possible future companions, has an event or two, gives you a weapon or two (like Twig with a String or My First Bow), lets you dabble in some combat and ultimately dashes you upon the rocks. Yep, you guessed it – shipwrecked! From the shore you’ll make your way to Fort Joy and into the maw of Chapter One and beyond.

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A day at the acid spa.

Possibly the first thing you’ll notice, even locked away in the bowels of a prisoner ship, is that Original Sin II is gorgeous. Now, don’t get me wrong, the prequel was and is still a looker, but the sequel is all that and a bag of chips. Rendered in in isometric 3D, everything is colorful, detailed, and full of movement. From the lightning flashing through the ship portholes to the white hot arc of electricity across power lines, from your own delightfully animated character to every NPC in the game, your eyes are treated to sumptuous visuals. More importantly, nearly everything in the game is searchable, movable, blow-uppable, you name it! It’s a rich and interactive world and easy on the eyes. Also, you’re not locked to any set angle, you’re free to adjust the camera to most any position.

DOS25

Admiring the cliffside view.

It also sounds amazing. Usually RPGs will throw a smattering of voiced lines at you during the more interesting bits and leave you to read the rest of the time. Not Original Sin II. Every single NPC has voiced dialogue and, as RPGs go, the voice work is largely without peer. I’ve yet to come across a voice that dropped me from my immersion in the world of Divinity. They are varied, convincing and often hilarious. Even the descriptive portions are voiced by a talented, subtly snarky narrator.

Also, the soundtrack, composed by Borislav Slavov, is fully orchestrated by the Hungarian Studio Orchestra and makes for an outstanding listen in or out of the game. Thematically, it’s feels a lot like a colorful – sometimes dark – stroll through a medieval fantasy world with a bard in every tavern and the lilting of a flute on every breeze. Even bagpipes! It ranges from quaint and personal to haunting or bombastic – it’s excellent and fits Original Sin II perfectly.

Makin’ bacon.

So, we have the making of a great RPG: good character creation, the beginning of a decent story, a big beautiful world to explore, and lots of voices for all the quirky denizens of that world. But what makes Original Sin II so damned good? What elements elevate it to one of the best PC games of 2017? That is, which secret ingredient keeps you coming back to the cheese vendor?

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Finding myself newly shipwrecked.

The first difference that struck me was difficulty. The original game, way back in 2014, was tough and unapologetic, for sure. It didn’t hold my hand back then and, even though Original Sin II tries to be a bit more helpful, it really doesn’t hold your hand much either. Eventually, not at all. The series was molded as a spiritual successor to Ultima VII and it shows. You’ll be on your own with only your wits and your trusty journal to guide you. This can feel freeing but it can also be frustrating when certain fights or sections of the game require you to reload… A lot. Quicksave (F5) for the win!

But it’s not an unfairly tough game. You’ll quickly learn not to start a fight with a group of guards who are two levels higher than your own party. You might have to lose your party to a wipe or two before you figure it out, but you’ll figure it out and carry that respect for fights into the world with you. If you decide later on to go ahead and pick a similar fight well, that’s on you. Or maybe you accidentally lit the oil under your party’s feet with a fire spell and killed everyone but your mage? Oops, that’s life in Rivellon, be smarter next time! Often just exploring the environments can require attention, patience, and meticulous use of your abilities to survive.

DOS27

Heyo!

Second, Original Sin II is quirky and fun. Sure, there are consequential moments – and the underlying narrative and character side quests are often dramatic – but Original Sin II doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s like there’s a touch of Monty Python in every situation or conversation, often dabbling with the absurd, and the game is richer and slightly surreal because of it. It’s something you don’t often find in other RPGs. Sure, there might be humor in other recent and similar RPGs, but it generally doesn’t permeate the very fabric of the game like it does in Original Sin II.

DOS28

Yum!

Interestingly, the third reason for Original Sin II’s greatness grows organically from the loins of the first two reasons. It has all the ugly unfairness of the increased difficulty and the unpredictable laughs of its own quirky nature. It’s also the single most important reason I love Original Sin II: the world is the closest a CRPG has ever come to pulling off a tabletop atmosphere.

This might require some explaining. If you’ve ever played a pen and paper roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons you know what I mean. If not, just know that playing one is an open, exciting imaginative experience drawn broadly by a person known as the game master (or Dungeon Master in D&D) but ultimately driven by the players themselves. And players are crazy! Truly, you don’t know how mad your friends are until you’ve played some tabletop with them. They’ll come up with all sorts of ways to frustrate and entertain the game master and, often, one another. (Also, you should find a local group and start playing. Pen and paper roleplaying games are amazing and new players are always welcome. /end generic advertisement)

Anyway, that is to say, the world of Original Sin II is not only huge in its sense of scale, and the density of what’s offered on every screen, but it’s also massive in your ability to interact with the world. Literally, most anything is possible. For instance, that annoying NPC in town that gets on your nerves every time you walk by him? You know, the vendor with the stupid voice? Well, go stealthy and pick his pockets. (But only once per NPC!) But that’s not enough? Kill him and take his wares, everyone loves the murder hobo in the party right? Well, those guards might not, but you can kill them too, or slink off to safer climes with your new stuff.

There’s more! Don’t like your cooperative mate while playing online? Dye his poison red and laugh when he drinks it during the next combat. Want to talk to your four-legged friends? Pick up Pet Pal and have a chat and perhaps learn a secret or two. Boss got you down? Polymorph him with Chicken Claw then drop Rupture Tendons on him – he’ll take damage as he runs around as a chicken. Of course, not every option is without consequences. Your cooperative friend will certainly find a creative way to hit you with some vengeance, maybe right in the face if he or she is less creative.

DOS29

The campaign creator main UI.

And, to truly capture the tabletop experience on the small screen, Larian has offered the new Game Master Mode this time around. This is basically Dungeons & Dragons in the Divinity Original Sin II game engine. Up to four players can still play but a fifth player takes over the role of the game master or what would be the DM in D&D. This fifth player can create modules and campaigns replete with their own storylines, vignettes, characters and all. The game master can also change the game in real-time as the players take on the campaign, requesting dice rolls, spawning creatures and effects and more. I’ve only piddled with it but the potential seems insane.

Lastly, there’s also an Arena Mode for those who enjoy Player Versus Player (PvP) action, allowing you to fight other players online. I’ve not messed with it but I have seen players in forums posting in search of other players for teams and tournaments. The few times I checked there did seem to be a few games going.

Here lies Master Ragequin’s second apprentice. Killed by dying.

All of this is driven by a robust set of roleplaying mechanics. Sure, there’s lots of crazy out there, but it’s still a world limited by rules and physics. You can’t kick that crappy companion who poisoned you a hundred feet into the ocean, the world won’t let you But you can shock him while he’s standing in that beautiful surf down by the seaside and watch him arc, spark and dance before falling into the ocean. Good times!

A lot of this is most evident in the turn-based combat. Combat itself is fairly standard – you go and they go, and turn order is listed for easy reference along the top of the screen. The first side to fall loses. If you lose, it’s game over. Mostly, the combat operates much as before, but there are a few new wrinkles.

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Deathfog – not (usually) your friend.

This time around there are new types of armor to consider: physical and magical. Your health is a red bar which gives you an indication of how many hit points you have left. In the original Original Sin (see what I did there?) damage of any type would go straight to the red bar. Now you have two other bars to worry about: physical armor is a white bar and magical armor is a blue bar, both with respective point totals based on your currently equipped armor and stat bonuses.

Generally (unless there’s some sort of physical piercing effect) you have to chew through either the physical or the magical armor in order to deal damage to your target. The different armors also block certain disabling effects like knockdown or burning. The new armors add a wrinkle to the tactics and make for more interesting combat decisions.

There were height differences in Original Sin, but they were mostly inconsequential. In Original Sin II they make a much bigger difference. Characters on higher ground not only have increased sight but also increased range. The latter is delineated on the terrain by an extended green area beyond your normal range. In addition a difference in elevation between the attacker and the defender will also grant a damage bonus to the attacker.

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Up close and personal.

But the one of the biggests boosts to combat in Original Sin II comes from the added layers of interactivity and status effects woven into the system. I’ve mentioned this a couple times already but there are a lot of environmental interactions, like lighting oil with fire, shocking peoples whilst they stand in blood or even vaporizing a puddle of water with fire in order to create a cloud of steam that blocks enemy line-of-sight. Or your own LOS, if you’re not careful! Seriously, these interactions and effects don’t only harm the enemy, they can also help your opponent or even hinder your own guys. There are a ton of status effects and coming upon them (and learning how to create them) is half the fun. Overall, the combat is tense, challenging and complex.

A lot of the complexity of Original Sin II hasn’t been added without growing pains, however. Many bugs and interesting interactions found their way into the game. Larian have been patching like mad, particularly right after launch, and the game is much more solid nowadays. That said, I still get the the same error every time I start the game: “Connection to Larian support server failed.” I’ve looked up a solution but have not yet bothered to attempt it. Overall, it hasn’t affected my gameplay, but nevertheless the window error persists. Still, other than this easily ignored error, the game has been rock solid for me.

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The sexiest of inventory shots.

A child may technically be alive, but… So is a potato, if you understand me.

Original Sin II is an amazing RPG. It’s alive in every sense. I loved the fantastic visuals and the varied soundtrack. Characters come alive on your screen through nuanced art, animation and voices. The UI has been tightened up with many quality of life improvements. The story is solid and keeps you interested while the world works its wiles on you.

It’s also a long game offering around 50 hours for those who speed through the main story, or 120+ hours for those who like to poke around in every nook and cranny. There are also different party compositions and game paths offering replayability beyond the first. I’ve barely made it beyond Fort Joy because I keep starting over; I’m on my third play now. Original Sin II thrives on this dynamic gameplay. For instance, an innocent game of hide and seek with a kid in a cave might lead you to a wonderful new area. Or maybe you’ll never find it, or find it in another manner. Maybe you’ll trade someone’s leg for a face ripper – who knows!? Your wits will matter and when you figure something out you’ll most assuredly feel that amazing gaming glow we gamers love so much. And you can do all of this while playing with three other friends.

Divinity Original Sin II is, quite simply, a damned fine potato.

TL;DR: Simply put, Divinity: Original Sin II is a damned fine potato. Sure, I said that already, but this is the TL;DR. You might have missed it. Anyway, back to brevity… this game is an outstanding RPG. It’s big, beautiful, funny, lovely on the ears, mischievous, lengthy (50-120 hours), often mean but not unfair, asks that you both observe and think but will likely mock you for both, but eventually it just wants a big chuckling hug. Go buy it!

You might like the game if:

  • You loved Divinity: Original Sin
  • Witty, well-written dialogue appeals to you
  • You don’t mind sinking 100+ hours into an intricate world
  • You dig quirky
  • Picking locks with your finger bones and healing with poison makes you happy

You might NOT like the game if:

  • You like a game to hold your hand
  • You like a game to play nice
  • You’re allergic to fantasy that attempts to be outside the norm
  • You don’t have the time to learn big, complex RPG systems
  • You’re not a man (or woman) of many cheeses

Chris reviewed Divinity: Original Sin II on a gifted copy and has played 20+ hours on an Intel Core i7-4790 CPU (3.60GHz), 12GB RAM, nVidia 4GB GTX 745.

13 replies »

  1. I still haven’t tried out the first one. It is my dream that one day my wife and I can play it together. She is not much of a gamer, but did play through Arcanum (three times), Fable (twice) and Oblivion (once) so I know she secretly likes big RPGs. We’ll probably have to wait until the kids are a bit older though. Right now they noth demand fairly constant attention.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally understand. Our daughter started college last fall, and she’s about 6 hours away. The wife and I have gotten back to playing a few things together, which has been nice. Unfortunately, she’s mostly addicted to silly Suburbia 2 on Facebook, so she usually defaults to that but that also gives me more time for 4x :-).

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      • We play a lot of board games at night after the girls (4 and 2) go to bed, but it will be nice once they are able to entertain themselves and we don’t have to choose between playing a game together or enjoying some glorious sleep.

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  2. I love this game. I mean, I liked the first one but the beginning in the city wasn’t just my cup of tea. DOS2 is just.. perfect. It’s the perfect strategy RPG. Every battle is freaking challenging and it feels like X-Com 2 with an added RPG element. I haven’t played such an awesome game in years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One of my favs by far. Combat was excellent. Wish more games would take note of that aspect.
    I had some minor gripes about it. Quest logs were buggy and sometimes zero help.

    Quest: You should check that out!
    Me: Check what out?
    Quest: Not telling you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh, good question. I would say yes, if you want to return to this type of game go for it. I doubt even players totally new to the RPG genre would have problems learning the system with some trial and error. If you’ve played RPGs in the past, even 8+ years ago, I’d say you’d be fine.

      That said, there are quite a few others that have come out in the last few years that you might find interesting depending on your tastes, including:

      Pillars of Eternity – Plays like an updated Baldur’s Gate and feels a lot like those old Infinity Engine games. Outstanding all around from the amazing folks at Obsidian Games.

      Tyranny – Also from Obsidian, using the Pillars engine, but an entirely different take on the genre. It’s a much shorter game, with lots of replay value, and you get to play from the side of the “bad guys.”

      Wasteland 2 – Post apocalyptic RPG with excellent turn-based combat, lots of role-playing, and lots of depth.

      Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall and Hong Kong – Cyberpunk RPGs set in the Shadowrun universe. Great characters and stories and very stylish. Turn-based combat as well.

      There’s also updated, “enhanced” versions of Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment if you’re just feeling nostalgic.

      Anyway, sorry for being long-winded – there’s a ton RPG goodness out there if you’re looking to get your feet wet again, and I’ve only mentioned a few of the recent bests. That said, jumping into Divinity: Original Sin 2 would be great too, lol.

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  4. I have to disagree with certain points of the review.
    Dialogues aren’t great at all. They are theatrical beyond any measure. Not to Bioware degree, but definitely far from live-like or authentic. VO only makes it worse.
    The humour in the game is just plain horrible. I struggle to find words to describe what is wrong with this part of writing. It’s not smart, not authentic (once again) and absolutely not funny. And considering what portion of the game is “humorous”, it gives the writing and narrative overall a bad smell.
    Due to the above, I was unable to empathize with the characters. That might very well be my own thing, but I stand by it.
    Can’t say much on the story, as apparently I wasn’t interested enough to remember any significant part of it. Oh well, that means I can say one thing! Boring, that is.
    The combat is a colourful mess. Didn’t know it was possible with a turn-based title. But, to give the devs justice, they did everything to make this mess understandable. I still think that they shouldn’t have made this a mess in the first place.
    What else.
    Well, the graphics are nice.
    All in all, things I hoped they’ll fix in the sequel, have been emphasized instead. A shame, really. In my eyes, they pretty much killed what could have been an RPG of the decade.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I disagree with almost everything you said – except about the graphics being nice, lol.

    That said, I am interested in hearing what you are looking for when you’re looking for “authentic” dialogue and VO in a fantasy RPG. I thought both were great and fit the world perfectly. That might be the problem, though, is you’re not digging the world and it’s slightly different take on the genre? Also, subjectively, what do you look for in a fantasy RPG that Divinity Original Sin 2 isn’t offering? Something like Planescape? Pillars of Eternity? Tyranny? I thought the writing was great, and funny, and fit the word perfectly.

    And what exactly makes the combat a “colorful mess”? What would you say is wrong with it?

    Personally, I think it’s certainly a contender for best RPG of the decade (lots to choose from, though) – but I’m interested to hear more from you. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Regarding dialogues. Well, something more akin to real-life dialogues between actual living people woud be nice. I know, fantasy is meant to be unrealistic and theatrical, but I just don’t dig it.
      I also must say that this is a scourge of many games, movies, books and other media, not just CRPG.
      Fallout II was nice in that aspect, though it’s not a fantasy game in the strict sense. Witcher III and Game of Thrones RPG both were pretty good, partially becauce they cited their respective sources extensively. Can’t think of any other example at the moment. There certainly were some other games.
      What I wanted from D:OS 2 is something I can relate to! As of any other character-based-story-driven games, movies, etc. But all that theatricism just breaks it for me.
      Planescape is quite inconsistent with this. One moment it gives you a shakespearean play, and the other – a perfectly believable situation. I do remember enjoying Planescape: Torment back in the days. Never got my hands on Tides of Numenera (and not planning to), can’t say anything about it. Pillars of Eternity is too Infinity Engine-esque to my liking, never really enjoyed such combat mechanics.
      Speaking of combat, it’s definitely one of the strongest aspects of D:OS series. But in the second game, there are too much colours, splashes, sprites and special effects that are subjectively percepted as irrelevant to whatever is going on in the battlefield for me to enjoy it. Well, that was a complicated sentence. Anyways, this is what “a colourful mess” is.
      Also I don’t see how D:OS 2 is a different take on the genre. It suffers from a lot of the same issues most of the other fantasy CRPGs have. Aforementioned Witcher III might be considered a different take, not a typical high (on weed, presumably) fantasy european RPG with unfunny humour instead of, well, almost everything. They might’ve perfected the combat system of earlier Fallout titles, but that only stands for the first Divinity: Original Sin.

      The bottom line is, if people in a work of fiction don’t (re)act naturally to whatever circumstances they ended up in, it is a badly written work of fiction. And by reacting naturally I mean reacting as if they were actual living people with actual human psychology. And D:OS 2 characters certainly don’t.

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  6. You’re both right.

    The dialogue is a bit mad, but entirely fitting for the world.

    The combat can get a bit crazy and hard to read, especially in big fights, and dare I say it tedious, but that’s an excess of fun systems, too much champagne if you will.

    Like

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