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Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition Review

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Last summer developer Larian Studios premiered its crowd funded RPG that blended dungeon crawling, tactics, and traditional story-based adventures upon the PC gaming crowd.  While I admit that I like to play a majority of games on PC, I’m a couch gamer and the look and interface of this title alone – not to mention the 100+ hours it could take to complete it – had me leaving it be.  After receiving high praise and a bunch of rewards Divinity: Original Sin returns in this “Enhanced Edition” that brings the title to consoles and with controller support so that I had no reason to ignore it anymore.  I’m very glad I didn’t because Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition (D:OSEE) is a refreshing new take on the classic RPG formula that has me enchanted with how well thought out every facet of the game has been executed.

divinity_osee_char_selectDescribing the game can be a bit complicated as it looks like an isometric dungeon crawler (Diablo), has combat in the vein of tactics titles (XCOM), and yet delves into deep storytelling as the driving force (Skyrim).  In truth D:OSEE is all of these game types combined together, which is very easy to pitch and brutally difficult to accomplish.  Fortunately for this title it all comes together effortlessly and makes you feel as if this is the type of game Larian Studios has always made (for the record most Divinity titles are not like this).  Before you set out on your quest you will be greeted with the character select screen where you will dump nearly a half an hour reading about all the class types and trying to select your best combination of two.  There is co-op in the game, which will be discussed later, but if you have a friend locally or online they can create the second character while you go about making the first.  If you are alone, you will be tasked with making both characters.  Two important things to keep in mind is that the computer will randomly generate both characters so be sure and customize each one before setting out and the two characters created will remain solely owned by the first player.  After finding your ideal fit you set out into the world to experience the opening hours of the game traversing a training dungeon and then wandering around the opening town.  I liked this introduction because it starts you off with action – albeit simple action with low difficulty – and then allows you to get to know the more subtle social mechanics.  What you may not realize is this is all just opening fluff that you can do as little or as much as you like, but really isn’t the core game.  I personally spent 7 hours wandering town, completing side quests, until eventually running out of things to do (but I was almost at level 5) and being forced to go beyond the borders.  This is when D:OSEE takes a drastic spike in both difficulty and in gameplay, which will initially discourage you but transforms into one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.

divinity_osee_battleWhen you first leave town, especially if you spent an extended amount of time there, you will have all kinds of seemingly arbitrary items in your arsenal.  Most of them will have elemental effects (such as fire, water, poison, etc.) that you will want to play close attention to because the core of this game is dealing with the elements to combat your foes.  When I say it’s the game’s core, I mean that you will not be able to get very far in this title if you do not properly understand and employ the need for certain elements against certain enemies.  The same is true in towns when dealing with social challenges like stealing items, providing services, and even potentially talking to animals.  Finally the factor of weapon selection – probably one of the most key items in the early game – plays heavily so it’s important to focus on what your characters are best at fighting with and planning accordingly.  If this is all starting to sound overwhelming, that’s because it is.  Not only that, but you will die in this game a lot.  In fact I have to admit I was brutally frustrated trying to leave town because I could not get beyond the first area of enemies for what seemed like hours.  It turns out that my problem wasn’t my level, my character(s), or my location, simply my gear.  That’s because Divinity: Original Sin has always been an old school RPG from the days of Neverwinter Nights and other such titles that employ a heavy Dungeons & Dragons base.  It’s not the same as these games, mind you, but it will make you save often and get to learn and master the mechanics before you ever have a chance to succeed.  In addition this title also employs what I like to call the “meat wall” method of sending you in a certain direction by putting enemies in your way that are far too powerful if the game doesn’t want you there yet.  This was used in Dragon’s Dogma a couple of years back and was a point of contention for many players then as well, but I feel it’s a rather straightforward way to tell you “not yet.”  Games like this have to do this because there’s no structure to the campaign or side quests, everything is available right from the start.  If you power through the “four corners” structure of the initial quests, you will see the game open up to a world where you can literally go anywhere and do anything, but you have to walk before you can run.  It’s a tough lesson, but one that nets a wonderful reward as you enter the main open game proper that holds the true charm of this title.

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Another impressive addition is that this title supports co-op play both online and on the couch without a hitch.  I played a very short period of time with someone online, but managed to get in a few hours of couch co-op and it was fantastic.  It’s handled much like other recent co-op titles in that you both occupy the same screen until you split apart enough to justify splitting the screen.  Unlike other games, there’s no limit to where you and your partner can go (or separate).  We tested this quite a bit with me wandering all the way over to the first main dungeon while my partner remained in town and both of use were able to perform all functions without issue.  Not only that, there were no load times involved in any of it, even entering and leaving a dungeon, which means the game’s initial load brings up the whole world.  Even utilizing the fast travel portals in the world was without load times or freezing and completely possible in co-op.  If you have a friend that lives by your or a roommate that would love to dungeon crawl with you, this is the game to get because it wants you to play with two people and doesn’t care how you go about getting that done.  There are some mild setbacks, most notably the fact that only one profile holds the characters so especially if playing online you need to know that the second player won’t keep the character.  Achievements/trophies, on the other hand, do unlock for both players in tandem regardless of the situation.

divinity_osee_townDivinity: Original Sin is an RPG unlike most others that I have experienced, but not without a handful of setbacks.  The aforementioned difficulty spike will be discouraging for many and I foresee stubborn players not wanting to consult a guide – which you totally should in the early game – and giving up on this game just as it starts to get really great.  Quests and locations are also dragged back to the 90s style with fog of war, limited icons for everything, and your progress in quests updated as notes in a logbook that doesn’t really make it clear whether you’ve completed them or not.  There was a random cat I spoke with in the tavern that I couldn’t seem to progress his side quest for only to have it move forward naturally about ten hours later when I had completely a seemingly unrelated main quest.  You will not be able to meticulously complete this game part by part, much like Skyrim you just wander around and fill the gaps when they become available.  This is also true for random encounters where you are tasked to do something you may not be able to do yet.  That can result in you fighting an enemy and assuming you win the true reward for that quest is gone.  Had you saved before the encounter, you can simply reload and avoid it until later. You should probably just take the consequence as part of your version of the playthrough and move forward, but some completionists won’t be able to do this and that may be a point of contention.  Certain encounters will have you stuck for a while, especially while you are figuring out your build or trying to accomplish the pseudo-puzzle of what elements to use on a boss.  This also brings up the fact that much like other RPGs, you are expected to rely far too heavily on ranged weapons and magic as a party majority, which meant I was unable to tank my way through most situations.  I don’t personally connect with mages so I found it disheartening to “waste” my cleaver rogue’s backstabs and shadow bleeds because a fire staff was far more effective.  Also the pacing is slow as I’ll get out, but more because of you working with gear and cautiously moving forward than the game proper.  If you can identify and embrace these rules the benefit of the minute-by-minute gameplay is worth the sacrifice.

divinity_osee_battle2I knew many people saw something special in Divinity: Original Sin, but I had no idea how good it was going to be.  The tactical combat merged with the dungeon-crawler aesthetic and storytelling that rivals Bethesda’s best had me hooked from the moment I started.  I will admit nearing defeat as I set out on those early combat-heavy missions but eventually I could see the design of the game and was rewarded handsomely.  Not only that, but given that this title is a huge RPG that could take you tens of hours – if not more than 100 – and it works perfectly as a game you slowly chip away at over weeks or months.  Bringing it to consoles and supporting controllers in the Enhanced Edition is not only a welcome addition, but the controls were kept simple and straightforward, avoiding the problem with too many inputs that titles like The Witcher suffer.  You will be able to step away from Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition for some time and return without so much as a refresher, which is only further backed by the slow-paced turn-based combat.  I know there’s a lot of competition on the horizon this holiday season, but if you let it take hold of you, Divinity: Original Sin could be that addictive mass scale adventure that rivals most RPGs and Dungeons & Dragons campaigns you’ve ever played.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

A review copy was provided by the publisher on the Xbox One.  Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition is available on Steam (Windows) for $39.99 or upgraded for free to owners of the original version.  It is available both at retail and digitally on Xbox One and Playstation 4 for $59.99.  Enhanced Edition makes a ton of updates, corrections, and mild changes but the most notable is the integration of controller support, seamless co-op, and apparently the ability to play cross platform, which wasn’t tested.  Due to the open nature of the game, there appears to be no concrete way to determine average time to completion, just play and enjoy.

 
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