Divinity: Original Sin Preview

30 Dec 2013
Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Larian Studios
Developer:Larian Studios
Release Date:2014-06-30
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Divinity: Original Sin is both a return to roots and, arguably, an attempt to explore new gameplay territories for Larian Studios. It's an ambitious title that attempts to recapture Divine Divinity's focus on world building and interactivity and, more surprisingly, attempts to perfect Beyond Divinity's co-op implementation, while adding a robust and intuitive turn-based combat system to the mix.

A mix enticing enough to convince 19,541 backers to give the title roughly $1 million of additional funding with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, but also a risky one, given plenty of developers have attempted similarly ambitious designs in the past only to flounder and produce less than desirable results. After spending some time with the title's alpha, however, I can say this seems like an unlikely prospect for Divinity: Original Sin. In fact, I'd venture as far as to suggest this might turn out to be Larian's best title yet.

For the sake of full disclosure, it's important to note that I backed Divinity: Original Sin durings its Kickstarter campaign, and as all backers I received a Steam key for the game's alpha build, which I based my preview on. The build doesn't include multiplayer which is why I couldn't comment on it at the time of this preview.

Quests and Story

The premise for Divinity: Original Sin is simple: two Source Hunters, the two player characters, are sent to investigate some mysterious occurrences in the town of Cyseal. A councilor has been murdered, and there is evidence that Source Magic (also known as Sourcery), the forbidden kind of magic their order is sworn to fight against, has been used. It might not sound terribly original, but Larian's humorous writing helps distinguish their world of Rivellon from dozens of more serious (and often more boring) fantasy settings.

During my time with the title I encountered all sorts of weird quests and vignettes, more often than not well-written and enjoyable. Their plots range from crazy (a love story between cats is probably my favorite, but there's also a quest involving viral marketing that is pretty entertaining), to more familiar fare (blood feuds, undead invasions, and crazy cults just to name a few), but throughout them all runs an undercurrent of ingenuity and self-aware humor that makes them at the very least amusing to play through.

Luckily, the design for these quests is good as well, and plenty of them feature multiple solutions that are implemented organically through the core gameplay systems, rather than with additional ad hoc mechanics. None of the quests I encountered were exceedingly complex, much less labyrinthine, and that arguably might be a negative for some. Larian seems to have preferred density and variety to branching complexity, and seem have filled the world with a bundle of enjoyable scenarios that are often connected together in subtle and surprising ways. I'm sure Larian is keeping a few surprises for the full title, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was indicative of their overall approach to quest design .

Just a quick example of what I mean when I talk about the organic implementation of the quests: arriving at the Cyseal harbor will put the player(s) face to face with a burning ship about to sink. Using a rain spell will quell the flames and earn you the gratitude of the ship's crew, but there's no indication you have to do so aside from common sense. Furthermore, in case you don't happen to own the spell or don't figure out what you have to do fast enough, the ship will actually sink. A lot of the quests still mostly involve dialogue and combat, but there were enough of these situations throughout the alpha to make me optimistic about the final title. In fact, the alpha version of Cyseal was one of the best quest hubs I've encountered in quite a while, and Larian's challenge will be to maintain that level of quality and ingenuity throughout the rest of the game.

Character Progression

Divinity: Original Sin employs a classless character progression system, which means that its characters are primarily defined by their attributes, skills and talents. Attributes determine the character's derived stats and affect a few of the skills. There are six of them in total: Strength (affects the kind of items you can lift, how much you can carry, and your melee skills), Dexterity (ranged weapons, Sneaking and Lockpicking), Intelligence (skill points, Willpower and Telekinesis), Constitution (resistances, health), Speed (action points and Pickpocketing) and Perception (sight and hearing, Treasure Hunting and sneaking). All these attributes go from 1 to 10, and can be raised as you level up throughout the game.

Skills follow three archetypes that roughly correspond to the classic Fighter, Mage and Ranger classes, though they can be mixed and matched.  The odd ones out are Social skills, which are used both to convince NPCs and when arguging with your co-op partner. Utility skills like Treasure Hunting, Lockpicking and Field Medic are divided between the three class archetypes, though I have to admit I didn't make much use of them in the alpha, and I'm sincerely hoping the final title will convince me to change my tune on them.

Finally, Talents are the equivalent of the now ubiquitous perks and feats of other systems, and right now are comprised of an odd assortment of numerical bonuses and new abilities. As of this build (and I should stress this is an alpha, so things are bound to change as development on the title progresses) I found most of them tepid and not enticing enough to make my choices really difficult, with only a few being really interesting because of their bizarre effects. An example of these interesting talents would be Pet Pal, which gives the character that selects it the ability to talk to animals. While it might sound like a simple easter egg, akin to Fallout: New Vegas' Wild Wasteland perk, it's actually genuinely useful and even opens up new quest solutions and questlines you'd otherwise not be aware of.

I should also mention that, right now, character abilities and spells are learned through skill books you can find or buy, rather than with the use of skills trees. Any character can learn any ability, but there are skill requirements for their actual usage. I don't know if this system will be maintained in the final release and whether it will be the primary system to learn new abilities, but I think the interplay with the game's economy, questing and looting has potential, and I wouldn't mind if it stayed as is in the final title.