Divinity: Original Sin Preview

Eschalon: Book II

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

Combat, Dialogue and Exploration

As I mentioned earlier, Larian decided to use a turn-based combat system rather than a Diablo-inspired one like their previous titles, which might have caused some trepidation due to their inexperience with this kind of mechanics. For now, I can say much of this skepticism is unwarranted: Larian's action-points-based implementation of turn-based combat is intuitive and plays well, and the developer appears to be aware of some of the most common failings of other turn-based titles.

Fights generally involve small groups of enemies and don't take long for the standards of turn-based combat, abilities seem to have very clear and distinct effects, and the UI presents the vast majority of the relevant information upfront in a clear way. Furthermore, most of the encounters take place in locations that include at least a few interactive elements, often oil or explosive barrels (which do exactly what you'd expect them to), but also pools of water (which can evaporate or be frozen), electrified floors and poisonous traps.

Battlefields can also be influenced dramatically by the use of magic, as there are plenty of spells that give you and your enemies the chance to create or remove long-lasting effects on the terrain. The mechanics for these occurrences are extremely easy to grasp and master, which is one of the biggest strengths of the title's combat system: water can be used to quell flames, fire to turn slippery ice into a pool of water and then make it evaporate, and so on and so forth. It all works remarkably well in practice, and might even convince a few to try the game despite their dislike of turn-based combat.

I had a few problems with pathfinding and the area of effect UI indicators, but hopefully this is stuff Larian will be able to iron out by the time of release. One thing that worries me more, however, is that the developers might rely entirely on exploding barrels and similar elements as a crutch, rather than focusing on encounter and monster design. The combat was also pretty easy throughout the alpha, but that's a minor worry given the title hasn't yet received the kind of balance work that comes later in development.

Another activity that will likely consume a good chunk of the time spent playing Divinity: Original Sin is dialogue. As far as dialogue with NPCs is concerned, aside from the fact that you can barter with most of them, we're dealing with fairly run of the mill dialogue trees with no particularly exotic features. In those moments where you'll find yourself having to make a choice, however, both characters will get the chance to choose, and should they disagree, both will choose what dialogue skill to use to convince the other, simulating the kind of arguing that happens at a pen and paper RPG table.

It's an interesting system, though inevitably one that lends itself more to co-op than single-player. I personally don't know how Larian will be implementing it in the final build, whether they'll decide to use an AI and whether it will be limited to dialogue or will take full control of the other character, but right now you simply make the choices for both characters. It's not quite optimal, but there's a measure of entertainment in being able to check all the lines Larian has prepared for those situations. And, of course, there's actually nothing wrong in the fact that the best experience with the title is potentially to be found in co-op, given there are so few RPGs that do it, let alone do it right.

Another aspect of gameplay that is dear to the heart of many RPG players is exploration, and the excerpt of Original Sin's world I had the pleasure to check showed nothing to worry about on this front. All locations seem to have a purpose and a distinct look, there's a wealth of secrets and incidental detail, and the game rewards finding those secrets (whether they take the form of loot, waypoint teleporters or locations) by awarding the characters experience points, actively encouraging players to take the role of full-fledged explorers. Most excitingly, there's an enormous amount of potential contained in the title's mechanics and the world interactivity: aside from the combat interactivity I mentioned earlier, which also applies out of combat, you can pretty much move and take everything that isn't nailed down to the ground (though the owners won't necessarily be happy about it), in a way that is reminiscent to the later Ultima titles. This opens new avenues for exploration (moving a carpet to find a trapdoor was an example Larian used before, I seem to remember) that don't seem to have been thoroughly explored (forgive the pun) by Larian yet. I suppose we'll have to wait for the full title to see if Larian makes clever use of these mechanics. 

Final Thoughts

Assuming Larian Studios manages to keep the quality this high for the full title, irons out the balance kinks, and is able to polish up the title for release, they might just publish one of the most interesting role-playing titles of 2014 and the last 10 years. There's still a lot that's not been implemented at this point, like day-night cycles and NPC schedules, and I'm eager to see how all the disparate elements that have been promised will inform the final title. True, there's no guarantee the title will hold up to the promise it's showing right now, but I'm willing to give Larian the benefit of doubt, and I'm excited to get my hands on Divinity: Original Sin again at release.