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I was looking forward to playing Beyond Divinity, and one thing I can say about it is that it's a long game. The box art is interesting and the screenshots look great. The novella included by game author Rhianna Pratchett is entertaining and serves to whet the appetite for the game to come.
Beyond Divinity is one of those action/RPG hybrids. A genre that has been popularized by Diablo and Diablo 2 (arguably the best of the genre), and the interestingly named Divine Divinity. Some of the features include real time 3D characters, a party combat system, and a (next generation character development system.) This is in addition to over 140 monster and NPC classes and over 300 equipment classes. The dialog is well written and appropriately tongue-in-cheek and the voice acting is over-the-top in a cheesy high fantasy style. The music is top notch. The levels are pretty huge and the fighting fast and furious. These are all good things, so what's the problem, right?
Well. now that you mention it. The game is a little buggy out of the box and suffers from some minor stability, awkward interface, and game balance issues. There is also no way to set the difficulty on-the-fly. Most of these have been fixed in the patch, so I would recommend downloading and installing that before play. Other than that, the game is hard. Really hard. So hard that you'll want to save now and save often. Dying is pretty easy in the game, considering all of the traps and myriad of powerful enemies that you'll face throughout the game. The learning curve isn't too steep, as the gameplay is fairly basic. The storyline is pretty basic. The premise is the same as the movie The Defiant Ones: Two characters who hate each other are forced to work together. The player's character is a soldier for light and goodness, but has been bound to a Death Knight, a servant of darkness and chaos. They may not like each other, as evidenced by some of the Death Knight's dialog throughout the game, but they have to work together to escape and to free themselves from each other.
The character creation tools are fairly standard; you can pick the face from a predetermined set, hair color, sex and name. A unique aspect of the character creation is that the player can select a child's body, which gives an interesting visual when decked out in full armor and carrying a huge weapon. There are three different skill trees to chose from, magic user, warrior, and survivalist (thief). The player can define these skill sets for both the hero and the Death Knight. One of the most original features is the skill creation tool. As a character gains level, they can spend skill points in either improving an already existing skill or in creating an entirely new one. The potential for customization is almost unlimited. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty why don't we.
The gameplay is a mixed bag of both good and not so good. The basic interface is clean, if uninspired. One of the quirks of the game is the ability to use only two of your skills at any one time, since there are no quick slots. Your primary and secondary skills are keyed to your two mouse buttons, and movement is a simple point and click system. The interactivity with objects is second to none, which is both a strength and a weakness of the game as you'll find yourself searching through every container in the game looking for the one item necessary to complete a quest. The PC can interact with objects in interesting ways, such as throwing objects across the room, or using inventory items on world objects for certain results. If you have a bottle in your inventory, try placing it over a beer keg, and you suddenly have a full bottle of beer which you can either drink or sell to a merchant. As mentioned earlier, the world is huge, and the levels are very large. Unfortunately, the game is not as deep as it could have been. The NPCs and monsters are predetermined as to whether you can attack them or not, so the majority of roleplay decisions are made through dialog choices. Although some of the dialog is funny, I found that it didn't really have that big of an effect on gameplay, and that if you made a (wrong) choice that you could go back and correct it by selecting another of the multiple choice options. Character interaction is limited to those NPCs and merchants that the game has predetermined as talking characters. There is a sub quest system in place, but it's pretty conventional. An NPC will ask you to do something, or fetch something. You do it. The NPC will reward you for it.
The skill system is also a mixed bag. As mentioned, the potential for customization is unlimited. The players start with one skill tree, but can unlock other ones with either books or by purchasing them from NPCs, for example pick pocket level 6. The character does not instantly learn the skill, however. He must still spend skill points to actually advance. The skills are also shared between the hero, the Death Knight, and any summoned creatures. The player only need unlock it once, and then it becomes available to everyone in the party. This is an interesting concept that sounds better than it actually plays out, unfortunately.
The combat system is also a familiar click and point affair. If you click on an enemy, you'll attack him. While the computer controlled group characters will automatically attack an enemy, the player controlled character will just stand around while the enemies beat on the character until you decide to engage them. And the computer controlled party AI isn't particularly smart, often charging into melee with overwhelming enemies when they may have safer weapons available for use. While most of the game is played by the hero and the Death Knight, there is an interesting variation of party creation. Instead of recruiting NPCs, the hero can summon temporary party members, in the form of Summoning Dolls. The Summoning Dolls are a mixed bag. They are basically a summoned creature to fight on your side, and each of the four acts offers their unique doll. They work well in combat most of the time, but are limited to the immediate area where they were summoned This could lead to problems since some of the monsters will run from combat and lure the party into a larger group of monsters. So far, so good, but sometimes the monsters run out of the summoning area, leaving the hero and Death Knight surrounded by a bunch of enemy and without that extra bit of fire support that the summoned creature provides.
Camera controls are a fairly basic pan and zoom system. There is no camera rotation which is pretty standard for the ? isometric view in this type of game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but does tend to limit interactivity to those objects that can be seen, and has the effect of making the world seem a bit flat. There is also no way to lock the camera on the party, forcing the player to constantly pan in order to keep the party in view. One thing that I noticed was that sometimes the camera followed the party when they moved, and sometimes it didn't, seemingly at random.
One of the things that could have made Beyond Divinity shine, and add a great deal of replayability since there is no multiplayer is the inclusion of Battlefields. These randomly created dungeons could have gameplay significantly; unfortunately, there were some problems with them. They become extremely repetitive, and, in the original release, sometimes they were created without any monsters. It's a bit difficult to solve a merchant quest to kill a particular monster when it was never generated.
The graphics are serviceable, if uninspired. The lighting is appropriately murky, though not dynamic. The 3D characters move about on a prerendered background and tend to look a bit flat at higher zoom out levels. The engine is a modification of the divinity engine from the first game, and shows that it is 2002's technology. In today's world of whiz-bang visuals, this game tends to fall behind the pack. Still, you can see everything of importance, and in a hack-and-slash game that's the main concern.
The music is where this gamer really shines. There are some great classically inspired choral and instrumental pieces played in the heat of combat, and some really creepy mood music, played in minor chords, during the dungeon crawls. And with a game so large, you'll get to listen to the music a lot. There is one bizarre thing that happens with the music. It tends to stop for no particular reason, leaving the hero and the Death Knight crawling along without a soundtrack. This definitely isn't a bad thing, but it is noticeable. Another thing about the music is that there isn't enough of it. After awhile you begin to hear the repetition and can almost feel when the music is going to queue up. A small complaint in an otherwise excellent score.
So what can we say about Beyond Divinity? It's a good, solid action/RPG game with lots of bells and whistles. It's not a bad game, but neither does it have that something that makes it a great game. If combat-focused hybrids of this sort are your bag, then you could certainly do a lot worse than spending your $50 for Beyond Divinity.