Divinity: Original Sin Review

Funded with Kickstarter is more than a promise these days, with titles like The Banner Saga, Shadowrun Returns, and Broken Age now available for download at your local Steam client, it is safe to say the effects of the Kickstarter fever, which exploded years ago, are starting to be felt.  The latest Kickstarter game to hit the market, Divinity: Original Sin, took the scenic root of a crowd funded game, releasing in Steam Early Access and using the community to help cultivate a final product.  This road is one many independent games will travel down the next few years and it is safe to say it has both helped and hindered the final product.  While the game is satisfyingly ambitious in its massive amount of content, it has its rough spots where it is betrayed by mechanics which don’t quite fit the confines of the isometric strategy RPG.

In Divinity: Original Sin’s trailer, Larian Studios boasts the game contains the freedom of the pen-and-paper RPG.  This is a bold claim games have tried to make good on for some time, with varying results.  In fact, there seems to be resurgence in the genre, with Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity coming before the end of the year, Planescape: Torment getting a sequel, and Shadowrun Returns coming out last summer.  To fulfill this promise, Original Sin tries some interesting ideas, attempting to maintain the core of the series, but also adding some twists to the mechanics, not only for the Divinity series, but for the RPG genre in general.  Divinity allows players manipulate and interact with the majority of objects in the world and employs many tricky puzzles which will – more often than not – leave players stumped.  It is nice to see a fantasy RPG trying to do something a little more creative than the traditional format of “Welcome to this room, now kill everything.”

Divinity: Original Sin’s ambitions don’t end with the ability to move items, the game offers a litany of varying quests and large world to explore.  The game has four different settings, spanning from luscious forests to windy tundras, which contain a string quests for the main story and smattering of other thing to do on the side.  There are also secrets to find, dungeons to explore, and dozens of characters to talk to.  The starting zone is the most fleshed out, but the other areas still have a fair share to offer.  While adventuring through these worlds, you will have tons of loot to sort through and equip, crafting to master, and skills to upgrade.

The core of Divinity: Original Sin is gathering quests and completing them to earn experience and level up.  Thus, more often than not, you will be battling evil creatures found throughout the world.  Here’s where Original Sin gets tricky.  While there are multiple areas to explore, they only offer a couple different avenues and Larian usually funnels you in one direction as other sections of the map are populated with enemies beyond your level.  There were a couple of moments when I found myself significantly outmatched in certain areas, really struggling to progress.  Part of the culprit here is the number-based mechanics that Divinity employs.  Encounters are made up of turn-based combat which revolves around action points, and all to-hit or save rolls are at the mercy of hard numbers.  Numbers can be a cruel mistress and Original Sin has plenty of moments that leave you groaning as you miss three times in a row when you have an 80 percent chance to-hit.  With more difficult battles this makes you feel like your success is random and based on luck rather than tactics.

The other reason the game is a bit stifling in the beginning is because it doesn’t do a great job of balancing the skills that are offered.  Thus, spreading your character’s skills can be a damning choice.  Usually there is one stat which functions as the core of your character; for fighters it is strength, for mages it is intelligence, and the rest of the stats are largely superfluous.  The one stat which matters across the board is the speed of characters, which can supply you with additional action points.  Action points really become important in Original Sin as the game starts throwing copious amounts of enemies at you and it often pays to be as quick as you are powerful.  Learning how important action points are, how unimportant other aspects of the game can be is something that comes with time and spending attribute points or ability point unwisely can really set your progress back.  Because the game is designed with such steady progression in mind, if you are stuck in one spot, there usually isn’t a lot of places to explore in order grind out levels.

There are other parts of the game which are confusing.  The crafting isn’t all that useful, as I rarely came across ingredients for potions and recipes I had.  Sometimes the wording of quests is vague and can lead to you wandering around areas searching for the person to speak to or item to interact with.  Even when you are speaking with the right person it isn’t always clear how you are supposed to interact with them or what exact line of dialogue needs to be said in order to trigger moving forward in the quest.  Many of the puzzles also feel the same way.  There is one section where items weighing the exact right amount must be placed on a series of switches around the room.  While activating the switches was a fairly obvious step, I spent half an hour simply experimenting with different weights, trying to figure out the puzzle.  There are also stealth sections where you have to execute in near-perfect fashion with movement controls that are clunky.  In a game about interaction, exploration, and freedom, being stuck because you aren’t interacting with the environment in a very specific way feels like a contradiction.

The benefit to being released on Steam Early Access back in January, with a built-in fan-base thanks the Kickstarter campaign, is the community around Original Sin is positively thriving.  So if you’re stuck on a tricky spot, or need some guidance on how to progress through the game, the community has an answer to your question.  It serves as proof for how many people are running into trouble, but also serves to make sure players can navigate their way through the game’s vague design.

The story of Divinity: Original Sin is stereotypical fantasy fare.  You play as a Source Hunter, an order which battle Sourcery and the powerful magics which accompany it. While investigating a simple murder, you stumble upon a dark conspiracy that could spell the end of the world.  You battle orcs, goblins, trolls, the undead, and cultists as you save good guys and kill bad guys.  Divinity: Original Sin does some interesting things with dialogue as the game provides two different playable characters.  You can make these characters get along or argue with each other, as well as interact unqiuely with other characters.  While it is a interesting concept, it rarely feels like the idea pays dividends.  If your characters disagree on a situation, a game of rock, paper, scissors is used to determine how you proceed.  So having two characters with different morals means a lot of decisions will be made at random.

Conversations are jam-packed with lore, exposition, and flavor text, but skimming these talks isn’t advisable as embedded in the text-heavy dialogue is likely an important hint about your next objective.  The dialogue could use some  cuts, and the game’s play-time runs anywhere from 40 to 60 hours, making it feel a little on the long side as it doesn’t have enough variety in its content to really justify the lengthy playthrough.

Aesthetically, Divinity is hit-and-miss.  The settings of the game look beautiful, sporting a hybrid between the isometric look of such classics as Baldur’s Gate and the slightly exaggerated fantasy styling of Fable or World of Warcraft.  The flavor of the world pays homage to many other fantasy franchises, packed with references you will likely recognize.  The game is also scored with some interesting pieces of music which attempt to capture the game’s epic scope, but with over 40 hours of game to fill, these tracks quickly get redundant.  Aside for fragmented spoken dialogue popping in now and again, you probably won’t worry too much about being engaged in the aural ambience of Original Sin.  While the game looks and sounds interesting at first, it does little to keep you engaged as you trudge through the latter hours.

Divinity: Original Sin has a lot of good ideas and mechanics which serve a specific audience. For players who like to interact with everything, explore everywhere, and speak with everyone, you are going to find a crazy amount of content to indulge in.  Not all of the content is well-explained or interesting, but when the roadblocks of Original Sin rear their ugly head, you can usually find help from the vibrant community which has flocked to the Divinity’s hardcore RPG systems.  There are tricky puzzles, annoying difficulty spikes, and unexplained mechanics, but devout fans of fantasy RPGs will likely find something to love in Original Sin.

Josh Hinke is a part time centaur trainer in Hollywood, while going to school full time to be a professional Goomba. In between those two commitments I write about video games and cool things, like pirates and dragons and dragon pirates.