So conflicted over Divinity: Original Sin

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.

Divinity: Original Sin – the bad stuff

2014-07-02_00002Yesterday’s post about Divinity: Original Sin was pretty upbeat, but I do have some issues with the game that I wanted to drag out into the light today. Mostly it all boils down to pacing: gameplay can kind of drag at times. Keep in mind we’re still talking from a very early-game point of view (4 hours in).

Last night I played for about 2 hours. I had left my party on the beach where the game starts, after having gone through the tutorial dungeon and spending a bit of time making friends with a clam. It was time to head into town. On the way there I got into a quick fight with some bad guys (being vague for spoiler reasons) and that was the sum total of my combat for that 2 hour session. The rest of the night was talking, opening containers and wandering around.

I bitched a lot about containers when I was talking about Bioshock Infinity and I have the same complaint here. There are endless barrels, vases and crates to open in Cyceal (the first town…hoping I have the name right). Some will have health potions, a handful of gold or even some gear, but most are empty. You can move them too, and sometimes you have to re-arrange a pile of crates to open them all.

The overall pacing of an RPG means opening all these crates is less annoying than it was in Bioshock Infinity, but it does slow things down. Of course you CAN just ignore them, if you want to risk walking past a crate that contains something amazing. (Disclaimer: So far I have NOT found anything amazing in a crate.)

Next let’s talk about NPCs. D:OS is old school in that quests are not called out. You won’t find an NPC with a ! over his head. Instead you have to talk to people to reveal quests. But there are a LOT of people in this town, and most of them do not have quests. In fact most of them have basically the same ‘conversation tree’ (though certain answers vary). I found that talking to everyone (and at the start of the game you’re investigating a murder and part of the quest solution is “talk to townspeople”) really started to get boring and slow me down. I think it would be fine if some of the NPCs were not ‘interactive.’ When you have 3 guards standing around, let two of them just be the strong and silent type and let the third be the chatterbox. Don’t make me run through the same conversation 3 times just to find the 1 question that has a different answer on each guard (and which winds up being more ‘flavor’ than important).

Of course as anyone who plays RPGs knows, coming into a new town is always a little tedious since you know there’ll be many NPCs to sort through. I’m sure once I get out into the wilds this issue will fade away. If I ever get out into the wilds.

Last up is bartering. First let me show you the a typical bartering screenshot (click for full-sized):


On the left is my inventory and on the right is the NPC’s. In order to sell something to him, I’d drag it from my inventory into the center left pane of the window. Then I’d drag what I want from him into the center right pane. If I wanted gold I’d drag the gold (and often have to split the stack) but I could also trade potions for those pliers he has, for example. On either side of the balance icon is a figure that shows the value of what you’re offering. When you’ve set everything up you click the checkbox and see if the NPC agrees with your deal. You can try to offer things of less value than what he wants, if you like. There are bartering skills and reputation factors that make it easier (or harder) to get a good deal.

It’s a neat system but sometimes you just want to sell your junk and clear up some inventory space, right? There’s no fast way to do that. In my post yesterday commentor The Guilty Party called out issues with the inventory system and after last night I get it. You’ll notice Aethgar has 385 gold, and Cedric the NPC has 7. I can’t get more than 7 from him; he doesn’t have it. But what if he had a magic sword that was worth 500 gold?

Well I could drag my 385 gold in and then try to make up the balance with items, but wait.. Scarlett, the other member of my party, has gold too. But I can’t access it from this window. See the arrows on either side of Aethgar’s name? They’ll switch over to Scarlett but when you do that, any pending trades get zeroed out. So I could barter with Cedric using Aethgar’s inventory, or using Scarlett’s inventory, but I couldn’t combine the two to make a good deal.

What I’d have to do is exit the transaction, move items between my characters until one of them had everything needed for success, then restart the transaction. It’s a major pain in the rear-end that would be made much less painful by letting you access all your characters’ inventories without canceling the in-progress barter. And for that matter, as Guilty Party said, why not just have a common pool of gold. I do get why inventories are separate (carry weight and encumbrance is per character) but for the sake of bartering let us combine our inventories to make a deal.

So these are the issues that are dragging the game down a little. I still have a lot of the town to explore so I fear tonight, too, will be all about talking to NPCs, opening crates, and simply dreaming about the glory of combat.

Divinity: Original Sin session one

2014-07-01_00002At long last I finally had time to play Divinity: Original Sin ‘for real’ and I’m glad I waited for the game to be finished since I’m already kind of attached to my characters.

I didn’t actually play a whole lot since I spent a lot of time creating my characters. Scarlett (the game provided that name) is a cleric that I tweaked a little bit, and Aethgar is a ranger, just as the game had him set up. Part of the ranger ‘bundle’ are basic skills for crafting so he’ll be my handyman, plus he has high perception so he can (in theory) spot traps and hidden doors and such.

I only got through the little tutorial dungeon before midnight rolled around but I sure enjoyed myself. I love how you can interact with the environment. For instance if there’s a poison cloud blocking your way, hitting it with some kind of flame spell or flaming arrow will ignite it, causing an explosion but then dissipating. If there’s fire, water will put it out but that’ll create a cloud of steam, and (according to a tool tip) an electrical bolt into that steam cloud will electrify the whole thing.

I learned the hard way that there is friendly fire in the game. I hit a boss with a electric bolt and stunned him, but also stunned both my characters as well. The boss’s minions wiped us. My first wipe!

There’re some classic dungeon-crawling puzzle bits too. Y’know, place a rock on this pressure plate to open that door. Tip! All those broken crates and urns can be used to weigh down pressure plates.

Here’s a shot of my Ranger’s character sheet, just to give you an idea of the kinds of things the game is tracking (click for full size). These are not ALL his stats and skills, mind you. There’s a ton of stuff I still have to learn:


Anyway it’s well after 12 and work in the morning so I’ll cut this short. Quite pleased so far, but this is definitely ‘the honeymoon period.’ We’ll see how I feel after putting in a bunch of hours.

Divinity: Original Sin launches

Way back in January I posted a quick look at the alpha of Divinity: Original Sin, and then I put it on the shelf. I’d intended to check in on it from time to time but liked the game enough that I wanted to experience it ‘for the first time’ when it was finished. Selfish of me? Absolutely.

But the day is here! Divinity: Original Sin launches today.

Did I mention it comes with an adventure editor? And that it is co-op? Could this be the replacement for the original Neverwinter Nights so many of us have been waiting for? Possibly, though we’ll have to see how the turn-base combat works for that.

Anyway here’s a quick trailer for the toolkit. Looks pretty powerful to me.

On Steam, you can find the editor by going to Library => Tools, and it’s called “The Divinity Engine.”

Here’s a “Getting started” piece from the Steam community.

A quick look at the Divinity: Original Sin alpha

Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin is billed as an epic RPG with tactical turn-based combat, support for co-op play, a classless character system and rich crafting. That’s the vision anyway, and the game has gone from a successful Kickstarter campaign that was funded just last April to arriving on Steam as an Early Access title.

In the PC gaming world, alpha is the new beta (I’m not really sure what that means but it sounded catchy) and that’s where Divinity: Original Sin is in its development cycle: alpha. It’s not balanced or bug free, and it certainly isn’t all there (they say the first 15 hours are available) but there’s enough to get a feel for what they’re aiming at.

Tonight I had a chance to jump in and noodle around a bit. Mostly I wanted to see what combat was like and just get a feel for how the game works.

You start your adventure with a pair of characters and can pick a “class.” Didn’t I say it was a classless system? It is, but a starting character has a package of skills and abilities that puts them into what we think of as a class (Warrior, Mage, Ranger). As characters level they can become whatever they like. You can play alone, switching between characters and running them all in combat, or you can play with a friend. I was playing solo.

You see the world from an isometric viewpoint using “click to move” to order the character you’re controlling around. It feels like a real time game until you enter combat. Then everything stops and becomes turn-based. I recorded part of an early combat encounter:

The guys with green circles around their feet I’m not controlling. The orcs with the red circles are the bad guys and the two with the blue circles are my party. You can see the skills listed across the bottom in a hot bar, and above that, when a playable character is active, you can see a series of small circles that represent Action Points. You seem to be able to attack only twice per turn (as far as I could tell) and moving uses Action Points depending on how far you travel. At the top of the screen is the turn order for all combatants. Now you know about as much about combat as I do!

2014-01-21_00004After this fight finished I wandered around the village, talking to people and finding quests. For now at least, you have to look for quests. There’s no “!” over a quest giver’s head. It’s the kind of game where you need to be willing to spend time talking to NPCs and figuring out what’s going on. If you’re playing co-op, your partner can get involved too, and in fact you can use skills (Intimidate, Charm, Reason) on your partner’s character, which should lead to some fun interactions.

2014-01-21_00005When you get a quest, it goes into your Journal in a fairly vague way. In the alpha one of the first things you need to do is meet up with a mage in the second floor of the barracks. Easy enough to do, once you find the barracks. There’s a map but none of the buildings are labeled. I finally had to resort to reading street signs. (I was thinking about looking for a pad of graph paper to make a map on!) It’s not clear yet if this is the game being deliberately old school or if things like labels and quest helpers aren’t in the game yet. I kind of like it the way it is now, personally.

I was also happy to encounter, very early on, a task that couldn’t be solved via violence. Instead it was more like a puzzle. No spoilers though!

When a character levels up you get points to add to attributes (Strength, Dexterity, etc) as well as points for skills (crossbows, fire magic, lockpicking) and there don’t seem to be any limits on who can take what. It’ll be interesting to build different characters and see if specialists are always better than generalists.

Early on in the alpha a third character joined my party; I’m not sure what maximum party size is. Time will tell.

And that’s about all I have for now. I only played for about an hour tonight. I’m going to try to walk the fine line of keeping up with how the alpha is shaping up, without burning myself out on the content in this section of the game. So look forward to more posts about Divinity: Original Sin as it moves through alpha, beta and finally into launch.



Disclosure: Access to the alpha was provided to me by Larian Studios.