I’m about 13 hours into Divinity: Original Sin and still can’t decide how I feel about it.
I know how I feel about sub-parts of it. I am over-the-moon in love with the combat system. D:OS uses a classic ‘action point’ based tactical turn-based system that dates back to the original Xcom or perhaps earlier. Each character gets X action points each turn that he or she can use moving, hitting, drinking potions, or whatever. “Left over” action points roll over to the next turn. Positioning matters and characters have what wargamers used to (and maybe still) call “zones of control” around them. A unit moving out of a ZoC takes a free hit from the unit they’re moving away from. Larian has taken this tactical yumminess and amped it up by giving the player all kinds of tools to use. A mage can teleport an explosive barrel into a group of enemies and then an archer can hit it with an arrow to explode it, doing damage to a group of foes and starting fires burning. At that point another character can cast “Rain” to put the fire out, leaving a cloud of steam. From there yet another character can hit the steam with an electric based attack, turning the whole steam cloud into a ball of lightning and doing even MORE damage.
This kind of stuff doesn’t get old, even when you mis-judge things and zap your own party. D:OS has some of the best combat I’ve enjoyed in ages. There’s all kinds of nuance. Gear has a level and a character can equip a weapon of a higher level but it’ll cost more Action Points to hit with it. Archers use more AP to shoot distant targets (it takes them longer to aim, you see). And so on. Lots to explore and lots to love about the combat.
If only there were more of it. Divinity: Original Sin is a rich RPG with a lot of questing, and much of that questing seems to not be combat based. You spend a lot of time walking back and forth across town talking to people, searching for hidden switches, picking pockets, collecting items and solving puzzles. This stuff is all very well done but it can make D:OS feel like an adventure game. There’s nothing wrong with that, UNLESS you’re someone who isn’t fond of adventure games. Who doesn’t love adventure games? This guy right here!
So for me I’ve spent probably 10 hours doing stuff I didn’t love (running back and forth across the starting town talking to NPCs) and 3 hours having the time of my life enjoying the combat.
What makes this all more frustrating is that there are limited opportunities for combat early on. Until you’ve gained a few levels by doing non-combat focused quests, most everything outside the city will mop the floor with you. 13 hours in my party consists of 3 level 4 characters and one still level 3 and things are finally starting to feel manageable in terms of finding good fights.
Another thing I love about Divinity: Original Sin is the character building. You pick a ‘class’ at the start of the game, but really it’s more of a build than a class. Any character can learn anything through the use of the skill points you earn when you level up. So your up-front warrior with his sword and shield could, if we wanted, put a point into Pyromancy and then he could learn a few fire-based spells. Of course you have to balance that with stats…as a warrior he’s probably been putting points into Strength & Constitution and spell damage is based on Intelligence. Plus knowing Pyromancy doesn’t actually give him spells; it opens up the opportunity for him to learn some spells from spell books, which aren’t cheap and early on, gold is hard to come by if you’re playing as “good.” So it’s a deep system that just invites you to create lots of characters and grind some levels and gather gear and skills to see how these characters develop.
Except there’s no grinding here. Mobs don’t respawn and there are no random encounters. This means that combat is always going to be tense, knife-edge affair because the developers know about what level you’re going to be at any spot in the narrative. That’s the good side of not having infinite experience in the game.
But if you want to just have fun swapping out party members and leveling up a bunch of them, you’re going to end up in a world of hurt later on as you run out of encounters you can handle. So even though the Hall of Heroes has a seemingly endless selection of Companions you can hire, smart money is on just making friends via the narrative and sticking with them. And that’s the bad side of a finite number of enemies to fight. (And it’s worth pointing out the quests give you your lion’s share of experience anyway, at least at early levels.)
Of course you could just start a new game, but then you have all these hours of running around talking to NPCs to repeat.
These conflicting feelings (loving the combat and leveling but feeling frustrated I couldn’t enjoy more of each) led me to spend the weekend booting up Divinity, playing for 30 minutes and shutting it down again. Then I’d look at my gaming collection for something else to play, and wind up booting Divinity up again and playing for another half-hour before repeating the process. The exception was when I got into combat, at which point the game would grab me by the throat and drag me in, to the point where Angela would have to ask me a question two or three times before I’d hear her.
The saving grace, of course, is The Divinity Engine — the toolkit that comes with the game. I’m not sure exactly how this works but I’m hoping it’ll be like Skyrim where clever people can create mods that add content to the main campaign, giving us more combat options and the ability to grow lots of hirelings into fierce heroes.