Divinity: Original Sin 2 Review – Strategic Sinning For The Refined CRPG’er

It seems hard to believe that at one time, gamers like me were ridiculed for liking turn-based RPGs and were told that they “wouldn’t sell.” Thankfully, a tsunami of such games hit the community during the past five years and the notion that slow and ponderous CRPGs were the kiss of death has now been put to rest. Larian’s part in this oldschool comeuppance came in the form of 2015’s Divinity: Original Sin, a prequel to the original Divinity game that not only sought to straighten out the game’s sometimes confusing lore, but also abandoned the action RPG combat the series was known for in favor of a classical turn-based system. Like the aforementioned games, it was a game that paid off splendidly. Battles were deep and full of possibilities, while still maintaining a level of simplicity that prevented newer players from becoming too overwhelmed. So here we are, playing a sequel that is very much the same as the one before it, yet facing a very different reaction from the CRPG-playing crowd at large.

Divinity: Original Sin II
Publisher: Larian Studios
Developer: Larian Studios
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: September 14th, 2017
Players: Single Player or Multi-Player
Price: $59.99

Before getting into any dissection of Divinity: Original Sin 2’s gameplay features, I feel that a discussion concerning its difficulty is in order. While the core gameplay mechanics remain unchanged, Larian has shaken things up a tad by adding a few wrinkles within the combat system that caught quite a few players by surprise. You can see how surprised they are by browsing the Steam forums for the game or watching Jim Sterling’s channel, where angry purchasers who could not even pass the first few fights square off against agitators screaming “git gud” in response. Though this seems par for the course in today’s gaming community, it shocked me that a game known for being “hardcore” would have its challenging style of play questioned.

Yes, initially, Divinity: Origin Sin 2 does feel significantly tougher than its predecessor. Yes, many of the tricks you used in the previous game no longer work as expected. Yes, you will probably die due to AI that is far more suicidal than even Temple of Elemental Evil’s CO8 mod version. This will cause some people to grow upset, and that’s understandable.

The problem is that the perception that the game is more difficult is an incorrect one. Rather, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is just ~different~, and therefore requires ~different~ tactics to successfully conquer it.

Tired of enemies being hyper-suicidal and igniting flames on top of you? Teleport them in front of their friends and make them explode in your enemies face. Angry that status ailments won’t work unless armor has been peeled away first? Then use AP-increasing skills that forfeit your next turn and unload a volley of high accuracy attacks on them first to open them up. No matter what problem you’re having with combat, there’s at least one way to counter it that a good FAQ or a few YouTube videos will be happy to show you. Unfortunately, it seems, few players have the patience to seek those answers out.

A lot of this “new difficulty” comes in the way armor and resistance is handled. Rather than enemies having one simple life bar that descends upon taking damage, all characters have two extra bars above their health, one representing physical armor and the other representing magical protection. At first, I didn’t like this system, but once I learned to exploit it, I wished the previous game had a mod that would enable it there as well.

Every attack and skill in the game targets one of these bars, and only upon depleting one of them will the debuff or status ailment the skill inflicts take hold. While this does mean that you can’t open a fight and immediately freeze every monster on the field with one spell, it also means that once their magical protection is depleted, that same status ailment will never fail to fire. Consider it more like a trade-off, since it forces both you and the computer to make smarter decisions about how you open combat and prevents anyone from “cheesing” their way to a quick victory.

As if that controversial change isn’t enough, you’ll quickly notice that just about every facet of gameplay has become much more complex and open to creative exploit. The skills themselves are perhaps the best example of this, since there are several times more abilities in the sequel than what we were given in the previous game. Sure, you still have the core categories like Witchcraft (Necromancy), Pyromancy, Warfare and such, but now you have cross-skill hybrid abilities that require competency in multiple disciplines to use, further padding out the inventories of skillbook merchants than what we already knew they would be.

Unlike the previous game where some disciplines were relatively worthless at high levels (Geomancer especially), Divinity: Original Sin 2 makes sure to populate every skill line with plenty of great abilities that can complement any build. Just ask the clever players that paired Polymorph’s “chicken claw” spell with the Scoundrel’s “rupture tendons”. That particular combo was so ridiculously overpowered that Larian had to issue a patch to dial it back.

Unfair skill nerfing aside, you’ll not find a more strategic and pleasingly “crunchy” combat than what you’ll get here in Larian’s latest. From the improved stat allocation system that gives you more points per level up, to the better break down of ability categories that cut down on the original game’s reliance on min-max’ing, everything about the second Original Sin is significantly better than the first.

Believe it or not, the game isn’t all about combat. Surprisingly, there’s actually some room left for conversation-based RPG’ing this time around. That isn’t to say the first Original Sin didn’t let you play around with the destiny of NPCs or give you a little bit of non-linearity. It did. Just in a rather minuscule amount that some folks – particularly the “choice and consequence” crowd – found to be lackluster.

This time around, the game gives plenty of opportunities to find alternative solutions to quests and even lets you engage in a wee bit of faction play while you’re at it. Though it’s not explicitly stated, if you anger enough people of any one faction, you may find yourself instantly entering into combat with them whenever you happen upon other members of their group. This can be especially troubling in town, which I learned the hard way after running afoul of Lucien’s divine order one too many times.

Quests also have a way of leading into other quests later on, provided you kept certain NPCs alive or didn’t anger them to the point where your presence disgusts them. You may even find yourself gaining entirely new abilities through helping one person over the other. Such as the lizard woman cultist that is attacking Crusaders and makes a plea for your assistance. Helping the knights stop her infernal summoning ritual seems the right thing to do – especially since she’s in league with the assassin that twice tried to kill you. However, if you do help her, and you solved a quest involving a friend of hers earlier in the game, you end up trading one of your character’s most important latent abilities for an extra source point.

Which brings us to the “source”. Players of the previous game will remember that source magic was considered heretical and went against everything that was godly and just. That feeling among the people hasn’t changed, and this is why your character is shackled and shipped off to a prison island. While it seems like that would just be a clever little setup for the story, it’s actually quite a bit more. Source, in the form it takes in the sequel, is a separate class of abilities all on its own.

These abilities exist within each of the games skill categories (Pyro, Geo, Hydro, etc), but unlike the skills they sit next to, they require “source points” to cast. What’s clever is that these points are not gained by leveling, but rather through the choices you make and the NPCs you find throughout the game. As you will find out, gaining these points comes at great cost to you or others, which adds credibility to the game’s idea that “source” magic is a wholly unnatural ability.

All of this ties in rather nicely to make a plot line that vastly outshines the original while also having many small link backs to previous games in the series as well. I was pleasantly surprised to see much more of an emphasis placed on the narrative this time, since after replaying the first Original Sin when the enhanced edition came out, I found myself a bit disappointed at how vanilla the overall story was.

So the combat, leveling, skill systems, and plot line are all top notch…but what about the technical aspect of the game? Does it look well? Perform well? Having just bought a new computer this past summer, I can say that after maxing out Divinity: Original Sin 2 on my widescreen TV, it looks absolutely stunning. A crisp pallet of colors, a stable frame rate all throughout, and some of the best (except for those odd helmets) textured armors I’ve ever seen in an RPG all make Larian’s sequel the most impressive game I’ve seen this year. Visual-wise, at least.

The sound is a bit of a mixed bag, to be honest. The music never really clicked with me. Some of the tunes, such as the one that seems to play in every dungeon tileset, were suitably creepy and enjoyable…but most felt so bland and uninspired. Maybe I’m being too harsh on the new composer who replaced the late Kirill Pokrovsky, but even the re-imagined versions of the first game’s tunes just didn’t work for me. This isn’t to say they were horrible, which they most certainly aren’t, but they lacked the same aural impact the other Divinity games had.

One tiny little niggle that bothered me, besides the soundtrack that is, would be the world size and the way you traverse it.

The first game had four different maps that you conquered in order and each area had points of interest spread out upon them, all separated by several dozen fights. It was simple, yes, but it also made the world feel larger than it was and created a feeling of progression that made you want to continue and also kept things fresh by changing up the scenery at regular intervals.

This game, in truth, only has two such maps.

Sure, there are smaller areas in-between those two core “maps”, but in essence, the entire game world is tied up in one big map and a “starter” area. Further confusing things is that instead of having entirely separate maps that have different ecologies, this one main map contains all of those types of land in one screen. So the “volcanic” area and “jungle” area and “beach” area and “ruin” area are all scrunched together in one semi-large map that tries to be an entire game by itself.

It seems silly, but that bothered me quite a bit. Especially since they crammed so many quests into such a small area and made it confusing to navigate. Maybe it was just me, but I felt it made the game shorter and less interesting to walk around in. There was none of that mystery you felt wondering what was beyond the border of your current environment since, well, there was no border to speak of.

When it’s all said and done, however, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is much more enjoyable than its predecessor and will please any and all fans of the first game, as well as anyone who simply wants a strategic CRPG that rewards cleverness and patience.

While I wish the world was larger and the game didn’t forever lock off (Keep that in mind before you leave the island) all of the recruitable NPCs I didn’t take with me after the intro area, those are small gripes in what is a mostly gripe-free RPG. I cannot recommend the game enough and hope that Larian sticks with this formula for any and all of their future titles.

Divinity: Original Sin II was reviewed on PC using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 9.5

The Good:

  • Some of the best combat you’ll find in a CRPG
  • Gorgeous high-end visuals
  • Fair amount of quest choice/non-linearity
  • Class/skill combos make for high replayability
  • Engaging story

The Bad:

  • Smallish world
  • Soundtrack is a step back from previous games
Carl Batchelor

About

Carl is both a JRPG fan and a CRPG'er who especially loves European PC games. Even with more than three decades of gaming under his belt, he feels the best of the hobby is yet to come.