Divinity: Original Sin Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Larian Studios
Developer:Larian Studios
Release Date:2014-06-30
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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The two main characters can also have one companion each, meaning that your party can consist of up to four characters.  Oddly, there are only two official companions available in the game -- a two-handed melee fighter and a wizard specializing in air and water magic -- but there are also a variety of hirelings that you can purchase instead.  For some reason the official companions only add a handful of conversations and a single quest each to the game, and so they're not especially different than the hirelings, who don't add anything.  I found the companions to be disappointing.  They're so lightweight I sort of wonder why Larian bothered with them at all.

Overall, I found the character system to be functional but not very exciting.  There just aren't a lot of places where it makes sense to put points for characters, especially when you discover that the emphasis of the game is way more on combat than anything else.  As an example, if you're playing a rogue, you don't need to put any points into disarming traps (you can shoot them to destroy them), or lockpicking (you can bash open doors and chests), or pickpocketing (there isn't anything good to steal, and money isn't an issue after the first few hours).  You also don't need to put points into crafting skills (you can just find equipment with crafting bonuses on them) or personality skills (you get way more experience for fighting than talking).  So it's just a matter of picking out the offensive and defensive skills appropriate to the character, with maybe a few points spent elsewhere.  Ho hum.

Gameplay

Original Sin is played using an isometric view.  You move a single character using the mouse (and only the mouse), and the other characters in your party follow behind.  If you don't want your characters following each other, then you can "break" the chains connecting their portraits in the interface.  This is sometimes necessary for puzzles where you need characters standing in particular places, or you want them walking along a very particular path.  For me, a "don't follow" button would have had the same effect and been easier to manage.  There is also a hotkey bar for each character, and you can rotate it up to ten times for extra spells and equipment, but there isn't any way to show two or more bars at once.

When your party gets close enough to a hostile creature, the game switches from real-time exploring to turn-based combat, where the initiative of each character is used to determine their order in the round.  Characters get a certain number of action points to use, and unlike games like King's Bounty or XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you can do more than just move and attack during your turn.  Each action costs a certain number of points, and you can perform as many of these actions as you have the points for.  You can also delay your turn until the end of the current round, or you can end your turn without spending all of your points, which carries the points over (up to a maximum number determined by your constitution) to your next turn.

The combat in Original Sin is interesting and also frustrating.  This is due to elemental effects, which combine together in numerous ways.  As an example, if you call down a rain storm to make everybody wet, and hit your enemies with a chain lightning spell, then you have a chance to stun them for multiple turns, which is great.  The problem is that if your party is close enough to the enemies, or if your party is standing in a puddle of water connected to the enemies, then they might get stunned as well, which is annoying.  You can also combine fire and water together to form steam (which reduces visibility), fire and poison together to cause an explosion (damaging everybody nearby), or fire and water and electricity together to form an electrical storm (which again stuns everybody).  It takes a while to work these things out and also figure out what you can do to damage your enemies without damaging yourself, and so there is a learning curve to the game.

Along with the combat, there are also lots of books to read, NPCs to talk to, and quests to complete.  The writing for these things is pretty good, and there are some amusing sequences here and there, like when you help a tomcat to woo his lady love, or return a talking oyster to the sea (or keep it so you can sell it later).  However, while the local writing is just fine, the global writing, which is what should be drawing you through the game, is a little lacking. Original Sin took me exactly 100 hours to complete (according to Steam), but the main plotline is simple, and it was clear how things were going to turn out there well before the 50-hour mark.  Without any twists or turns or unknowns to keep things interesting, and without much storywise to urge you forward, Original Sin felt a little long and slow to me, especially at the start, where the combat is so difficult, and you're so unprepared for it, that it requires a lot of saving and loading and looking around for more favorable encounters in order to survive.  I probably would have liked Original Sin better if it had been closer to a 50 hour game.

Helping matters a little is the fact that there are several puzzles to solve, plus numerous sequences where you have to find buttons or stand on pressure plates or figure out how to avoid lava so you can continue.  And the puzzles aren't simple retreads of Towers of Hanoi like you see in other games (I'm looking at you, Bioware); they're thought-provoking and sometimes maddening, and you might actually need to seek help to in order to complete them.  I like it when games have challenging puzzles, and when you're rewarded for exploring carefully, and Larian has always been good about these things.