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Larian Studios released Divinity: Original Sin in the summer of 2014. I was a little bit iffy about the title when I reviewed it back then. I pretty much did everything wrong during my first playthrough, making the game more frustrating than fun, but then I liked it much better when I played it again while writing our walkthrough for it. Now Larian is preparing to release Divinity: Original Sin II. They opened it up to Steam's Early Access about a week ago, and they were kind enough to give us a copy. This preview is based on the 20+ hours I spent playing the first part of the game.
The first thing you do in a new game of Original Sin II is create your character. Unlike Original Sin, where you created two characters and each one had a follower, giving you four characters total, in Original Sin II you create only one character, and then you add up to three companions as you play the game. Your creation can either be an "origin" character (who has a fixed name, race, gender and background), or you can make a character from scratch. Characters start out at level 1, so there isn't any importing of characters from Original Sin. You have to start over.
Each character is defined by a race (Elf, Human, Lizard or Dwarf), a gender (Male or Female), and a class (including Cleric, Witch, Knight and Rogue), which work about how you'd expect. Characters also get to choose a musical instrument, which apparently changes the orchestral themes you hear as you play the game. I have no idea how subtle / meaningful this might be, but it's a fascinating option. I chose Cello.
Character development works about the same in Original Sin II as it did in Original Sin. Each time you gain a level, you receive points to spend on attributes (Strength, Finesse, Intelligence, Constitution, Memory and Wits), abilities (including Dual-Wielding, Warfare, and Persuasion), and / or talents (including Glass Cannon, Hothead, and Pet Pal). The attributes, abilities and talents look similar to what was available in Original Sin, but they've been reworked, so you have to pay attention to what they do now versus what they did before.
For example, previously the more points you put into the Scoundrel ability, the more Scoundrel skills you unlocked, and the better those skills worked, and so the ability was only useful for Scoundrel characters. But now you only need one point in the Scoundrel ability to unlock Scoundrel skills, and otherwise the ability just affects your combat multiplier and your movement speed. Similarly, there's a Necromancer ability, but its prime bonus is that it allows you to leech health based on the amount of damage you do. As a result, way more abilities are relevant for each character, and so you have way more options for character development, which is great.
Another change is that Larian dumped traits (where you had to choose between polar opposites like Bold versus Cautious) and instead added Tags. Tags don't look like they have a major impact on gameplay. They just give you extra dialogue options. For example, I played an origin character named Sebille, and she started out with the tags Sebille, Rogue, Scholar, Elf, and Female. So at various times while talking to people, certain responses were labeled with one of her tags, and they gave different directions for the conversation to go. This is nice as it adds role-playing and re-playability elements to the game, but unfortunately for me, Sebille was a little more aggressive than I liked (she seems to have a lot in common with Arya Stark, including a list of names of people she wants to kill), and so I almost never used her unique Sebille responses. Hopefully when Larian creates a manual for the game, they'll give more complete descriptions of the origin characters, so it'll be easier to figure out which one best fits your playing style.
Gameplay in Original Sin II doesn't look like it's going to deviate much from the template created by Original Sin, which is just fine since Original Sin wasn't broken or anything. So just like before, you spend your time talking to people, exploring locations, and participating in turn-based combat. I'll discuss each of these topics in order.
The conversations in the game are well-written, and because of Tags, you're usually given lots of possible options when responding to people. Interestingly, Original Sin II doesn't use any voice acting at all, and it looks like this will allow the conversations to branch -- sometimes subtly and sometimes meaningfully -- much more than you usually see. I'd rather have interesting, branching conversations than generic dialogue that goes the same way no matter what you say, so this is a plus for me, but I can see where it might not be a popular choice.
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