The Divinity series has been around for a long time. Larian Studios’ debut, Divine Divinity, was released in 2002 and over the past 16 years they have refined and polished their take on the traditional cRPG style. Having been funded through Kickstarter in near record time by fans of the first Original Sin, this sequel has grown substantially over the course of a lengthy spell in Early Access on PC, from fan feedback post-release on PC last year, and the efforts of Larian to create the Definitive Edition for console and as a free update on PC.
Whilst clearly eagerly awaited by fans of its predecessor, the setting and gameplay do not require prior knowledge, with the story taking place 1200 years after Original Sin. This was particularly fortunate for me, as I hadn’t found the time to finish the first game despite having it installed on my PS4 for months. This review, therefore, comes from the perspective of a newcomer to the world of Rivellon – our original PC review can be found here.
All the best RPGs have complex and detailed character creation options and Original Sin II is no exception. The usual character races and classes are available with no restrictions. This means that you can freely have a dwarf fighter or an elven thief without the traditional stats penalties from Dungeons and Dragons based games.
Perhaps the most interesting and novel racial modifier here is Undead, which can be applied to any race. This provides benefits such as the ability to pick locks with bony fingers, but means that healing potions and spells will damage you instead of healing, with poison being the way to heal. The flexibility of the character system is offset, however, by the well crafted backstories to the six pre-made characters. Playing as one of these allows you to have four sets of individual quests to pursue throughout the game, adding more potential XP and narrative threads to pull on.
Even once you have chosen your character you are not restricted to a linear progression. There are lots of different skill paths to follow, and the welcome ability to respec your character later in the game means that you can adapt and adjust once you have more of a feel for the combat. And adjust you will have to, as the scale and complexity of the battle system takes some getting used to.
While the series’ combat has clearly been heavily inspired by the likes of Baldur’s Gate, the far more sophisticated environmental and status effects add an almost incalculable degree of strategy to confrontations. When you add to this the fiendishly difficult AI and often overwhelming numbers of enemies, you get an experience where the combat is an integral part of the game rather than a distraction from the narrative.
Thankfully there are a range of scalable difficulties, so it is possible to make the encounters as challenging as you wish. After struggling for the first few hours – with a few clumsy deaths – I dialled the difficulty down a to Explorer in the interest of seeing more of the game, but battles were still often far from walkovers. Given the immense scale of the game, I chose progress over attrition, and could have turned the difficulty down further to the new Story difficulty, which adds new resurrection and flee skills and give you more flexibility. The difficulty can be adjusted mid-game to suit your tastes.
The length of the game is frankly absurd. After 15 hours I was informed by an important NPC that my adventure was only just beginning, and it’s true; the game’s story can easily last 80-100 hours with many offshoots and storylines that you can easily miss. The Definitive Edition has made additions and tweaks to many parts of the game, but in particular the third act to help better lead into the climactic battle with the final boss, something which many felt lacked impact in the original release.
While this is hugely impressive, there is an argument for that being too much game for the average player to deal with, and I’ll be interested to see how the trophy percentages for later parts of the game stack up in months to come. There is certainly enough scope and variety in the game world to successfully maintain player interest for the more patient and determined though. I know that I will be chipping away at the story for a long time to come and look forward to seeing the end sometime around Christmas.
One of the most impressive things about Original Sin 2 is how well realised and deep the world of Rivellon is. The vast difference in setting time between this game and its predecessor means that there is scope for building on established lore as well as creating wholly new fictional histories. The preset character I chose, Fane, is a perfect example of this. Fane is an undead scholar who is one of the last remaining Ancients, a race that has existed for thousands of years. His unique perspective on the brief lives of humans and other races adds extra dialogue options and a peculiarly detached approach to suffering and conflict. Added to that in my team are a haughty royal lizard, a psychotic elf, and a human possessed by some unknown force.
These are not conventional characters, but are all perfectly suited to Rivellon’s mysterious and dangerous landscape. The writing is generally of a high standard with a refreshing mix of genre pomposity and lighter moments of comedy. NPCs likewise range from standard gruff dwarfs to sadistic torturers, with all manner of types in between. The sheer number of characters in some of the more populated areas is overwhelming, a feeling that is not always helped by a somewhat unclear map and journal system.
Given the sheer scope and density of Original Sin 2, it is perhaps not surprising that there is potential for lots of emergent experiences alongside the more scripted ones. The latter is perhaps best exemplified by the return of the Pet Pal ability, which allows you to talk to animals. While this sometimes only adds flavour text, you never know when interrogating a rat will help you solve a riddle or find a hidden route.
As for emergent moments, so many battles hinged on effective use of the environment and unexpected chains of magical effects. Less welcome, however, were the unintended fights brought about by accidentally picking up items that belonged to other people. While these items are always clearly marked in red, it is all too easy to mistakenly interact with them when using the controller and trying to talk to NPCs who insist on wandering about.
While the game’s vast scale could be intimidating, you can share that with others in a comprehensive multiplayer mode. While I was unable to check this out on console for this review, its support local split-screen and online for four players, and has drawn plaudits already on PC. The only missing multiplayer feature on console is the GM mode that let players create and host their own campaigns.
Divinity Original Sin II: Definitive Edition is almost certainly the finest RPG experience on the current generation of consoles. The sheer range and depth of the combat coupled with the interesting and well written dialogue and story produces a vast and rewarding experience that continually surprises and delights. Ironically, the only real negative aspect is that the sheer size of the game is overwhelming and many will not see it through to the end.
For genre fans or those prepared to work through the complexity of the game’s opening, this is one of the best games you could hope to play. Not since the heady teenage days (and late nights) I spent playing Baldur’s Gate back in the mid 90s has an RPG world so captivated me.
Version tested: PS4
Also available on Xbox One and PC