Divinity: Original Sin II Preview

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Larian Studios
Release Date:2017-09-14
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Introduction

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.

Characters

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

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.


It's still too early to tell how fun or interesting the quests might be.  The quests have some weight to them -- nobody asks you to find their missing cloak in the forest or kill the rats in their basement -- but a lot of them are obscure.  I only completed about half of the quests I received, and I have no idea if I missed stuff, if the quests are still under construction, if they can't be finished until later in the game, or if something else is going on.  For example, at one point I met a woman trying to find her child, and somebody else claimed that her child is dead, but that's all I uncovered.  At another point, a black cat started following me, and I learned that its memory is muddled, but nothing else happened, and eventually a guard killed it.  I hate unresolved stuff like that.

I can see where Larian might not want to hold your hand and put quest markers all over the place so you don't even have to read the text to finish the game, but there's something to be said for a few road markers, too, so you at least have an idea about where you should be headed.  I spent a lot of time in the game confused, and even if this is largely just a matter of the existing content being a work in progress, I'm guessing that Original Sin II -- just like Original Sin before it -- is going to be a complex game that causes lots of threads to spring up asking how to do things.

For exploration, the main change in Original Sin II is that you can now move the camera however you want.  In Original Sin, the camera was always pointed north, and the world was built so you could see everything from that angle.  But now items and enemies can appear anywhere, and so you have to keep swiveling the view around so you don't miss anything.  Or so you miss as little as possible, I guess.

I sort of liked the original system better since it's easier to explore when you don't have to keep rotating the camera, but I can understand why Larian changed it.  They just love hiding stuff, and if they only have one fixed angle to work with, then that limits what they can do.  The problem is that now with the full 360-degree view, it's easy to miss things that aren't even intended to be secret.  For example, to reach one part of the island you have to ring a bell, but I obliviously walked past it multiple times while exploring, and I only found out about it by checking the game's forums.  So exploration is another area where it's tough to tell how fun it might be.  Does the game just need some extra polishing, or is Larian intending it to be a little bit on the difficult / unfriendly side?

And finally there's combat, which Larian seems to be pretty much leaving as is.  Combat takes place in turns, with each character getting a chance to do something once per round.  The order of combat is based on Initiative (which is connected to the Wits attribute), and characters are allowed to do whatever they want using the Action Points they have available.  In the part of the game I played, my characters always had 4 AP, and that was enough to attack twice, or move and attack, or just move.  You can also wait or skip your turn (saving your AP for your next turn) or try to flee from combat.

Combat in Original Sin II looks like it's going to be just as fun as it was in Original Sin.  A lot of the spells and skills are back from the first game, and it still pays off to use elemental attacks that complement each other.  For example, if you use the Rain spell to make an enemy wet and then hit it with a Lightning Bolt, then you have a good chance of stunning it so it misses a turn.  You can also cause explosions by mixing fire and poison, and more.  Of course, the trick is to have these effects hit your enemies and not your party, which takes some practice.

The one new thing in Original Sin II's combat engine is how armor works.  Characters now have physical and magical armor, which basically act as shields.  So, for example, if one of your characters has a physical armor of 100, then he can take 100 damage from mundane weapons before he starts losing any health.  This sounds simple, but it actually makes combat more interesting.  You have to decide what sort of armor you want your characters to wear (or if maybe they should have two sets), and you have to pay attention to the stats of your enemies so you damage their health as much as possible and don't waste attacks on their armor.

Better yet, Original Sin II doesn't look like it's going to have a lot of trash fights where you have to slog your way through a map.  The battles I saw were infrequent and tough, and I was often ambushed.  I also died more than a few times, at least early in the game.  Larian could probably make the start of the game a little friendlier with more of a tutorial / reminder of how their combat system works, but I'll take "too tough" over "too easy" any day of the week.  However, if your preference is for something more mild, Original Sin II offers two difficulties: "classic mode" (which is what I played) and "explorer mode" (which at least sounds like it'll be easier).

Conclusion

Overall, Divinity: Original Sin II gives every indication that it's going to be a fine game -- if for no other reason than because Larian is sticking to the formula that made Original Sin so successful.  I had some issues while playing the Early Access release, but they're the sorts of things that go away when rough edges get polished and when developers listen to feedback, two things that Larian has always been good at doing.  Plus, Original Sin II won't hit store shelves until sometime in 2017, which gives Larian plenty of time to get everything ironed out, and to produce another excellent game.