What do you get if you combine a carrot and a stick? Probably some kind of delicious weapon.
Before I had kids, I had all the time in the day/night cycle to stealthily wander through patterns of bees, harvesting honey to sell in town (12 hours later, when the shop opened) then splurge on swamp boots for everyone. Why not? These days, I couldn’t care less about poisoned feet. If I have a clear 20 minutes to play games alone (for fun) there are bigger fish to bake into a buff-providing pie. In Dragon Age, I was all about taking down the winged bosses on Nightmare. Then, The Witcher told me a great, branching story. I was content with that. Until now.
Which new RPG inspires me to spend my precious gaming moments rummaging in backpacks? Divinity: Original Sin 2, of course. Within are books to read, recipes to attempt, water balloons to craft from intestines and body parts to ingest. You can use a barrel and rope to craft “Poorman’s Best Torso,” for goodness sakes. I know I’m a dinosaur these days, but reconnecting with some of the mechanics modern computer RPGs have polished out, like eating, sleeping and even teleportation, has been thought provoking and affirming.
Designers often say they prefer to provide players with a carrot rather than a stick. So, it’s desirable to invite the player to engage with systems, but not to force them. Thanks to my companion, Laura, (who enjoys making interesting food for me) I can appreciate the extremely specific healing provided by a hot potato porridge, mid-battle. I suppose I could also eat it for breakfast (after sleeping), simply enjoying a “morning” boost to health, but I bought this game. Do I have to use my imagination, too?
Unscientifically, I made a Twitter
I needed every advantage against those teleporting crocodiles at Fort Joy
poll which asked, “Why should you put food into RPGs?” and 28% of 107 people answered, “to provide healing/ buffs,” as is largely the case in D: OS2. 32% answered “to flesh out the setting,” like the vitality boosting but evocative watermelons and strawberries in The Witcher, or the near-sexual descriptions of food given by Shema, the Katta, in the Quest for Glory series. Amazingly, 40% of people answered with what I grumpily put last, as my “dinosaur answer,” which was “because people get hungry.”
Could one consider Iolo yelling “More!” (as you plied him with unsatisfying eggs in Ultima VII) punishment? Not me. I enjoyed hunting deer (with 5 legs of venison apiece) between quests or on my way to the next town, just “because people get hungry.” Hunting revealed new places and taught me to fight, not to mention the whole bread baking shebang and its lesson in interactivity. I mean, U7 wasn’t “RimWorld-levelhunger-punishing” with ice sheets and cannibalism (although I do personally love that level of punishing). It was realistic and motivating. Wasn’t it?
I’m also reminded of the Dragon Age mod which added Baldur’s Gate 2 style fatigue, where characters would be penalised for not resting. In BG2, I was like, “Aerie’s tired again, whatever,” until I realised that stacking penalties to luck were making her miss every attack. In D: OS2, sleep is also “opt in” and you lie down on a bedroll to heal for free and get the Rested buff; +1 Strength, Intelligence and Finesse. I needed every advantage against those teleporting crocodiles outside of Fort Joy and a good “night” of sleep certainly helped, even if I had to imagine “night.”
Although I love D: OS2 to bits, my remaining question is about how systems that you can opt into interact with each other. If I have a bedroll, do I need night? If I have porridge, do I need to be hungry? If so, does that create (potentially) punishing busywork like hunting and buying a room at the inn? I totally get that many players have limited time, but really cool consequences could come of old systems being embraced more firmly.
When I killed those crocs and got the teleportation gloves in D: OS2, I wondered if they’d break the game. I still haven’t recovered from the shame of beating the last level of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 in a meagre couple of game-weeks with Dimension Door, after the beautiful struggle it took to get to that point. But, no. In D: OS2, I found a body to eat on an otherwise unreachable beach. And a ladder to teleport up to and drop to my companions. No-one told me they were there, but I’m noticing level design that supports the teleportation system everywhere.
Yes, I’m still in Fort Joy but, interestingly, I’m OK with that. If you’re a parent (or otherwise busy), you may find it difficult to finish massive RPGs. This is, after all, why I started writing for PC PowerPlay when I had my first child; to legitimise the time I spend equipping and unequipping boots. Divinity: Original Sin 2 reminded me that systems can be exciting, in and of themselves.