Divin­ity: Orig­i­nal Sin

PC

EDGE - - GAMES -

What you’re told at the be­gin­ning of a quest is all you get; it’s up to you to fig­ure out the di­rec­tions you’re given

Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper Lar­ian Stu­dios For­mat PC Re­lease Out now

Divin­ity: Orig­i­nal Sin is the di­rect de­scen­dant of the orig­i­nal CRPGs and the pen-and-pa­per games that in­spired them. It’s the prod­uct of nos­tal­gia in a mea­sur­able sense, as ev­i­denced by the thou­sands of Kick­starter back­ers who made it hap­pen. As you might ex­pect, it’s a game that dou­bles down on the strengths of its genre – but that’s not the key to its ap­peal. Divin­ity de­serves no­tice be­cause it cel­e­brates ideas that fell out of favour as the RPG ma­tured. This is a game about lat­eral think­ing and pro­vid­ing the player with op­tions. It’s about con­sis­tently im­ple­mented game sys­tems that en­cour­age cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing over fol­low­ing way­points, and mem­o­rable dia­logue op­tions that al­low the game to func­tion as an ad­ven­ture game as well as a com­bat-led RPG.

Dia­logue is, in fact, where Divin­ity’s most prom­i­nent in­no­va­tions are found. The game stars two pro­tag­o­nists rather than one, and in sin­gle­player you have equal con­trol over both. You choose their ap­pear­ance, names, gen­der and class as you would in any other RPG, but you’re not re­quired to cre­ate du­pli­cates – or even friends. Ev­ery de­ci­sion in the game is made col­lec­tively, and you’re en­cour­aged to role­play these in­ter­ac­tions and cre­ate dis­agree­ments from time to time. These in­ter­ac­tions are used to es­tab­lish the per­son­al­ity of each pro­tag­o­nist as well as their relationship with each other, and this has a knock-on ef­fect in terms of stats and the pro­gres­sion of the plot. The sys­tem also has clear ben­e­fits in co-op, where it al­lows both play­ers to par­tic­i­pate equally as lead char­ac­ters in the cam­paign.

Those first two heroes es­tab­lish the ba­sis of your party, and it’s your party that de­fines the way you’ll progress. This isn’t just about com­bat – al­though that’s part of it – but how you over­come all of the ob­sta­cles placed in front of you. Divin­ity: Orig­i­nal Sin has an old-school open-hand­ed­ness when it comes to quest ob­jec­tives, and if it seems like your char­ac­ters’ abil­i­ties should al­low them to solve prob­lems in un­ortho­dox ways then the game will, more of­ten than not, al­low you to make good on that. A for­bid­ding burn­ing ruin pa­trolled by flam­ing skele­tons can be made more hospitable by a mage spe­cial­is­ing in water magic. An early mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion is made eas­ier if you have a few crim­i­nal pro­cliv­i­ties of your own, and at least one char­ac­ter who can crack locks and con­firm a sus­pect’s guilt or in­no­cence with a bit of ag­gres­sive es­pi­onage.

You are pro­vided with al­most no di­rect guid­ance. What you’re told at the be­gin­ning of a quest is all you get, and it’s up to you to fig­ure out the di­rec­tions you’re given. This can lead to frus­tra­tion, par­tic­u­larly when in­struc­tions aren’t quite clear enough. Early on you’re directed to ex­plore a beach to the north-west that is in­ac­ces­si­ble if you head in that di­rec­tion; in­stead, you need to reach a cave far­ther north. It’s pos­si­ble to in­tuit this if you pick up the right sid­e­quests and pay at­ten­tion to ev­ery­thing you’re told, but miss one or two de­tails and you’re li­able to lose a cou­ple of hours bat­tling in the wrong di­rec­tion.

Much de­pends on how you re­spond to feel­ing a lit­tle lost, a lit­tle out of your depth. That sense of pre­cip­i­tous com­plex­ity is one of Divin­ity’s chief draws, and it is of totemic significance to the genre ad­vo­cates who sup­ported the game’s devel­op­ment via crowd­fund­ing. Com­plex­ity is ar­guably in­evitable when the player is af­forded this much mean­ing­ful free­dom, but there’s nonethe­less a sense of in­el­e­gance that comes when game sys­tems pile on top of each other.

An­other ex­am­ple: ev­ery char­ac­ter in your party has their own in­ven­tory and their own re­serve of gold. You might loot a mag­i­cal suit of ar­mour and give it to your war­rior, only to find that your war­rior can’t af­ford to have it iden­ti­fied by a mer­chant back in town. This means swap­ping the item to your rogue’s in­ven­tory so that they can pay the fee, or trans­fer­ring gold from your rogue to your war­rior in­stead. Ei­ther way you’re likely to spend twice as many clicks per­form­ing ba­sic tasks as you need to. Ex­trap­o­late this think­ing across the game as a whole and it’s not sur­pris­ing that you’ll spend up­wards of 20 hours run­ning around the game’s first town. But this school of de­sign has prac­ti­cal and tonal ben­e­fits too, play­ing to Divin­ity’s par­tic­u­lar sense of re­al­ism and the no­tion that you’re free to nav­i­gate the game in your own way.

This is a dif­fi­cult game, with a turn-based com­bat sys­tem that pun­ishes mis­takes hard. Trial and er­ror is the rule, and suc­cess of­ten means un­learn­ing some­thing that you’ve been trained to do by other games. Con­serv­ing re­sources like spell scrolls and spe­cial ar­rows is an easy way to lose key bat­tles. Stand­ing around in a water is a good way to get elec­tro­cuted. Fight­ing in the open against a com­ple­ment of archers is a ter­ri­ble idea when you could be bar­ri­cad­ing your­self in a farm­house. Adapt your think­ing and this is an ex­cel­lent strat­egy game in its own right, where each vic­tory is built us­ing tools that you cre­ate your­self. Divin­ity is very good at pro­vid­ing you with a sense of own­er­ship over your ap­proach to the game.

You’ll likely feel a stronger at­tach­ment to your party than any of the char­ac­ters you meet or the broader plot they play a part in, how­ever. Divin­ity is a colour­fully writ­ten and of­ten funny game, but one that doesn’t de­vi­ate much from the fan­tasy rule­book, an area where a more sub­stan­tial break from the past would have been wel­come. The draw of new chal­lenges is enough to keep you mov­ing, but it’s ul­ti­mately a set­ting that you’ll like rather than love. It’s this that holds Divin­ity back from join­ing Bal­dur’s Gate or Tor­ment at the genre’s peak, but the fact that it war­rants that com­par­i­son at all is a tes­ta­ment to Lar­ian’s achieve­ment.

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