Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a Kick in the Teeth, in a Good Way
I am not a patient man. At least not when it comes to video games. I’ve enjoyed plenty of games that I’ve left unfinished because of a boss stonewalling, poor platforming or just bad and repetitive story beats. Dark Souls II, Sekiro, Resident Evil 6, Blasphemous and all three remastered Crash Bandicoot games are just a few I’ve left by the wayside. They join numerous RPGs like XCOM 2 or Divinity: Original Sin that I consider to be either too frustratingly difficult or not compelling enough to continue with. But Divinity: Original Sin 2 is different and I’m not entirely sure why.
It’s certainly not the story. Set in the world of Rivellon centuries after the first game players assume control of one of six characters known as ‘Godwoken’: Ifan Ben-Mezd, a human mercenary; Sebille, an escaped Elven slave-assassin; Beast, a Dwarf pirate-rebel; the Red Prince, a banished lizard noble; Fane, the last surviving member of a skeletal race known as Eternals or Lohse, a human bard open to possession. You can also create your own character but that shuts off the Origin Character stories. Either way the game begins with you on a ship bound for the prison colony of Fort Joy. Possessed of a dormant power called Source you must break your chains, escape the island and become an all-powerful being known as the Divine to push back the darkness of the Void.
It’s fairly rote by High Fantasy standards but points for including lizard people and a well-defined magic system that feels separate from the elemental one used by the games’ regular, non-Sourcerer characters. One thing potential Divinity players should know is that these game, particularly the Original Sin off-shoots, are hard. Not just in terms of combat but in exploration and storytelling terms as well. Your party will almost always be outnumbered by varied enemies with just as many deadly attacks as your party members have. Exploring can lead you to great reward but also to instant deaths as a hidden failed perception check will see your high level wizard fall victim to a spike trap or a surprise Voidwoken ambush. Sometimes just deciding on how you want the story to advance is pretty damn difficult. No one said becoming a God would be easy but no one said it would be this Goddamn hard either.
Small mistakes and poor positioning don’t mean instant death like they would in Dark Souls but they mean death all the same. The slow, worse kind. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a tactical turn-based RPG meaning that you often have to live with your choices for an agonising couple of minutes once the enemy starts making their moves. A lot of Divinity: Original Sin 2’s combat involves magic and nearly all the magic excepting Source is element based. Creating pools of oil, gas clouds or hurling rocks are governed by Earth. Igniting the air itself comes under Fire. Water can be a saving grace against flames or a shocking conclusion if combined with a blast of electricity which falls under Air. Necromancy and Summoning magic bring forth demons, totems and zombies as well as draining the very life from characters. Even if a fight starts in the lushest meadow you can guarantee it will be a scorched wasteland full of electrified pools of water and poisonous gas clouds by the end of it. Even if you win half the battle can sometimes be maneuvering your way out of the battlefield.
In a game that has all manner of giant bugs, undead necromancers and fascist magicians out for your blood knowing how to move around them is extremely important. Avoiding bottlenecked areas, becoming grouped together or spread too thin are just the basics if you want to make it past turn two. Making these kinds of tactical decisions is the meat of Divinity: Original Sin 2’s combat. Figuring out the ways in which your chosen party of four works strongest together and then doubling down on those strengths is a very satisfying experience. Having a pure strength warrior charge straight with back-up from the giant spider skeleton your mage summoned while two archers pincushion the stronger enemies from afar is a very workable strategy but only if you can move them in tandem with each other and in response to the enemy. Otherwise start digging four graves.
The joy of getting kicked in the teeth over and over again by Larian Studio’s 2017 RPG lies in never really knowing how it’s going to happen and the fact it will never happen the same way twice. A Persuasion check can leave you waist deep in gold or neck deep in shit. A conversation with the wrong person might see a whole town rain fire on you. Allies can become enemies in the blink of an eye. A misguided attempt to burn away a dangerous oil patch could set off the mines you failed to spot. Divinity: Original Sin 2 will kill me in a thousand different ways and I’ll still say thank you and load up the latest save.
Most games will hold your hand in some way, shape or form. Others will drop you straight into the deep end. Divinity: Original Sin 2 leans much more towards the latter sometimes literally as your chosen or created character is nearly drowned in a shipwreck in the first 15 minutes. Even in quests the game will rarely tell you what to do next beyond a vague hint and a marker on your map. Some games will lock quests behind high-level enemies or straight-up forbid you from even attempting these missions. Divinity: Original Sin 2 will say “Go ahead” and then laugh as the Source Master you sought transforms into an interdimensional praying mantis. That’s the joy of Divinity: Original Sin 2 if you can stomach it. You have the freedom to do anything the game offers you provided you’re well-prepared or just plain stupid or roleplaying an undead Elf suffering from suicidal ideation. It’s a harsh, high fantasy world out there we’re all just living in it.