As readers of the site probably know, I’m very particular about my Role Playing Games. For one, I have trouble connecting with titles that force you into creating a party instead of venturing out solo (one notable exception to this rule was Obsidian’s excellent Pillars of Eternity). Another sticking point for me tends to be art direction — I gravitate away from cartoonish depictions in my (oh so serious) fantasy worlds. Finally, I tend to be finnicky about progress. I like to customize my character and begin as some form of underdog; this allows me to learn, loot, find, and buy things along the way that enable me to unlock my full potential. These personal tastes contributed to my inability to fully embrace the original Divinity: Original Sin, which by all accounts seems to be an excellent title, garnering a good amount critical praise when it was released in 2014. What makes the game so beloved is its ability to incarnate a classic, turn-based isometric high-fantasy RPG while expanding the genre in some ground-breaking ways. Never before had co-op adventuring (both local and online) been designed in such a creative and intuitive way, and Larian Studios’ usage of objects and the environment felt filled with possibilities. All of this to say that Divinity: Original Sin was a difficult game to follow for the independent Belgian developers.
Well I’m delighted to say that Divinity: Original Sin II, Larian’s much-awaited sequel, has both expanded and refined the first game in the series — and the results are breath taking. The graphics have met me halfway, taking on a slightly more somber and realistic tone, and the game — currently in Early Access on Steam — now allows the player to adventure alone if they so choose. From character creation to one’s interactions with the world and its denizens: Divinity: Original Sin II has a depth that unfolds with natural elegance, inspiring curiosity rather than confusion, and compelling the player to explore every vibrant corner of its sprawling universe. The writing is playful, dark and personal; it takes advantage of the interactive medium rather than aping—like many other games do—successful fantasy novels, television series and films. This is accomplished in myriad ways, including the innovative ‘tagging’ system that uses key identifiers to mold the way you can dialogue with NPCs—and the way they react to your character—based on your appearance and backstory.
“I met a crab called Septa the Ineffable”
There also seems to be a great balance between scripted ‘set-pieces’ and emergent events (the line between them is not always apparent), which speaks mountains to Larian’s dedication to choice and consequence (i.e. the player’s ability to genuinely affect their own fate and that of the world they inhabit). Finally, the combat feels strategic and grants players a lot of freedom to approach it from different angles. I felt less ‘thrown into’ its systems than I did with Divinity: Original Sin and my primary character began his journey with only rags and a rudimentary weapon. Very satisfying indeed. Structural changes aside, Divinity: Original Sin II has a real knack for the small details. The character creation screen, for example, allows changes you make to your appearance to modify your character’s portrait directly, despite it resembling a static illustration. Nice touch.
In my few hours with Divinity: Original Sin II I met a crab called Septa the Ineffable, callously stood by as a person was executed (nay, gibbed!), stared at the ocean waves for extended periods of time, and emerged victorious from a battle organized by an underground fight cult. I befriended a pretentious blue-blooded lizard, lied to several people for my own benefit, and was dismembered by a gang of alligators. As I type these few words about my adventure so far, I’m aware that they might not mean much to you as a reader (you had to be there, etc.) But if there’s one thing I want to communicate about my experience with the game, it’s the lingering and powerful desire I felt to return to the colorful, masterfully-crafted world of Rivellon—not just explore its story and geography, but also the unique and mesmerizing game designed to house them.
Release day (sometime in 2017) feels like a long way off.