It never rains but it pours. You wait ages for a bunch of great Kickstarter titles and they all turn up at the same time. Typical. Unlike fellow RPG Wasteland 2 however Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin is not available on Steam Early Access, only to backers who’d paid for the privilege. It’s also most notably not a Beta like Wasteland 2 (which means complete and playable but with just a load of bugs to finish off) it’s an Alpha (so playable from beginning to end but with a load of missing features and an absolute crap-ton of bugs). Which I found funny, because I actually ran into a lot less issues than I did initially with Wasteland 2.
So far there have been four games in the Divinity series - Divine Divinity, Beyond Divinity, Divinity II (which was the third game, confusingly) and this year’s strategic spin-off Dragon Commander. I’ve played all the RPGs and all three utterly failed to grab me. I didn’t feel involved in the world, the slow-burn openings were off-putting, and I constantly felt like there were better RPGs I could be playing. I honestly didn’t expect better from Divinity: Original Sin, but within moments of starting just the alpha (which doesn’t start at the beginning) I was hooked. How did Larian accomplish this miracle? Let me tell you...
“Got some lemon?”
Acting as a prequel to the series, the current build of Divinity: Original Sin opens with a male and female team of Source Hunters investigating a murder in the city of Cyseal, which may have links to the forbidden magic called The Source that these guys, um, Hunt. Apart from the central mystery involving the murder to solve, there’s also an orc invasion underway, constant unexplained attacks from the undead, and a time-travelling imp called Zixzax telling you that your fate is being rewritten. Original Sin hits the ground running and I was quickly pulled in – nothing I hate more than an RPG that doesn’t bother to try to catch your attention (I’m looking at you and your sewer Oblivion), so even by story alone I already want to play more.
I don’t know if it counts as an innovation but it certainly becomes one, which is the small revelation in that last paragraph that you’re playing as two characters rather than one. “Big deal” scoffs Wasteland 2 with its group of four customisable characters right from the start, but even in there it doesn’t go as far as Larian does. Scarlett and Roderick (the default names) are both genuine full player characters. Aside from being fully customisable, including the various baffling stats you can choose from, both come into their own with Larian’s biggest innovation: the dialogue system.
Roderick, Scarlett, and an Air Elemental versus some zombies and what appears to be Skeletor. Messy
While initially not too different from the Baldur’s Gate-style choose-your-own-response that most RPGs incorporate there are a number of crucial differences in Original Sin. The first is that depending on how Roderick or Scarlett responds they gain points in various fields, like how in Mass Effect a bad or good answer can get you Renegade or Paragon points except with a much wider range including the likes of Courage, Leadership and Charm. These attributes are only levelled up with actions, and they influence a number of factors including different dialogue options and how likely you are to win an argument. Which is the second point – you can choose dialogue options for both Roderick and Scarlett, and even have them argue with each other with you deciding both sides to fit what you want their personalities to be like. If they argue on a course of action the aforementioned attributes come into play. For example if Scarlett had a lot of points in ‘Intimidate’ she could threaten Roderick to choose the quest-affecting dialogue choice she wanted, and would probably win. All of which is under your control! It’s an immensely cool system, even if it does really mean you’re talking to yourself.
Combat is turn-based, occasionally brutal, and has its own subtle tricks up its sleeve. It uses Action Points for both movement and actions, you take a turn until your AP is used up, an enemy does the same, you know how Turn-Based Combat works. The first little innovation, which probably isn’t unique to Original Sin but I certainly haven’t seen it before, is merely the neat ability to hold over unused AP until your next turn. Far more exciting however are the magic spells you can use. At first they seem standard – Fireball, Ice Blast, Summon Elemental, Storm, those kinds of things – but it’s what they can do to the world that’s so cool. If you’re fighting around water for example and throw a Fireball in you’ll evaporate it, or you can use an Ice Blast to freeze it and watch enemies slip comedically about. The Storm spell proved useful out of battle too, as the citizens of Cyseal flocked to put out a ship on fire in the harbour and Roderick just pointed at it and summoned rain. I didn’t get any reward for that, not even XP, but everyone in the harbour area thought I was a hero. I’m sure other spells will prove to have plenty of interesting side-effects and uses come Original Sin’s final release.
Side quests are handled rather like an Elder Scrolls game (good), in that they’re a mixture of someone running up to you and asking for help, random events that you can choose to involve yourself with (like the aforementioned ship on fire), and just picked up by talking to people. A simple walk around Cyseal talking to residents got me several missions to check out (only a few of which I finished for reasons I’ll get into) alongside the main quest of the murder investigation. The most amusing were joining the snobbish adventuring group the Fabulous Five, to which unfortunately my Roderick successfully argued that they were up to something and so stopped us joining, and the strange time-watcher imp Zixzax asking me to help heal an event that’s missing from history. He’s roundly entertaining, in fact there’s a great host of characters in Original Sin and some excellent writing already.
This is the time-meddling imp Zixzax. He’s awesome
I’m already impressed by the game, but I have to note some things Larian need to improve on before release. This is pre-Alpha code I’m basing this on remember so this is just for the developer’s to-do list rather than a criticism. Graphically it’s still a little bit drab for example, and there are barely any sounds apart from a few pieces of music. The much-vaunted and cool idea that you can move everything in the world just by clicking and dragging currently only extends to a few pointless crates, so while a nice feature it needs a point. Apart from these and the general bugs the main issue is wayfinding, since it’s very hard to find your way around the world right now. The map resets if you exit the game, quest areas aren’t marked, and locations aren’t obvious – I was told to meet someone in the King Crab Inn but there was no obvious exterior, signpost or map-related way to identify it so I just had to wander around the rather large city of Cyseal trying doors until I found it. Consequently completing quests was a lot more difficult and so I didn’t bother finishing many. Fix these before release Larian and you’ll have an interesting and fun RPG on your hands even before any extra stuff gets added.
The best RPGs or fantasy stories grab you immediately with situations, scenarios, actions, characters and dialogue that straight away get you involved and interested in this new world and what’s going on. While I can’t say the previous Divinity games did that for me Divinity: Original Sin already has even in its pre-alpha state. I have every confidence that Larian will sort out any remaining problems, and if they can keep the pace up with a great story and ever-more-interesting locations and quests this could be a serious challenger for best PC RPG in 2014. Assuming it makes 2014, of course. We’ll be watching this one closely.
Most Anticipated Feature/Element:Seeing how much fun I can have arguing with myself. In the game, I mean.