Giant Bomb Review

69 Comments

Divinity: Original Sin Review

4

They may not make games like this anymore, but maybe they should. Larian's latest CRPG is a deeply satisfying turn-based adventure that rewards players with patience.

Where'd the summer go? Mine disappeared into the lengthy turn-based vortex that is Divinity: Original Sin. After roughly 70 hours of casting fireballs and swinging axes with my friends Roland and Susannah, I've saved the world (for now). It's intimidating to play games you aren't familiar with. I know JRPGs, not CRPGs. The rules are scary and weird, but you have to start somewhere. Original Sin marks the third installment in the mainline Divinity franchise, and serves as a welcoming gateway into a genre only recently making a comeback.

(For reference, CRPG refers to computer role-playing games in the lineage of Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and others.)

I really enjoyed this game, despite the presence of a quest line involving giant spiders.

Divinity's world is one of god, men, orcs, magic--typical fantasy stuff. Players are asked to build two characters from scratch--male, female, doesn't matter--who become the leads, Source hunters looking to solve a murder. Source is a dangerously powerful form of magic long since banned for its corrupting nature. That's why you're Source hunters. Anyone found messing with Source is to be eliminated with extreme prejudice. Of course, it wouldn't be a video game if the world didn't come to an end at some point, so it doesn't take very long for Divinity to rope its characters into a near-certain apocalypse.

In the first hour, Divinity lays out its gameplay beats. Players click a customized party of warriors, thieves, and mages across a beautiful but violent world, seamlessly shifting between exploration, conversation, and combat. Though Divinity does a serviceable job of explaining its high-level concepts, it does not hold your hand and make sure you're ready to play. Divinity throws you into the deep end. Some players will love that; it's not common these days. Those lovers are, most likely, already fans of the genre. It's not uncommon to hear reports of players investing hours into Divinity, realizing they've built their characters wrong, and starting from scratch. It's easy to goof stat upgrades, and you only level every few hours. Those stories almost scared me off from even trying the game, so I kept a guide from Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton open on my iPad for the first dozen hours. It quickly became my personal bible, a cherished friend. It might not have been the purest experience, but it helped me get my feet wet, and I eventually moved forward with confidence, and crafted my own experience.

Though Divinity has a story, this game's all about combat. I've played turn-based games before, but few offer the seemingly limitless strategic freedom found in any single combat encounter. It doesn't take long to grasp the familiar mechanics. Characters have a set number of action points that regenerate each turn, and any movement, spell, or attack requires spending those points. Players and enemies swap turns, and it's always clear who's next, since it's listed at the top of the screen. What makes Divinity unique is a discrete focus on base elements. In Divinity's world, that's earth, air, fire, and water. Each of these elements play off and interact with one another, and learning those dynamics is critical to longterm success. If you dump oil on the ground, you can light it on fire, which can light enemies on fire, and burn them for several rounds. If you cause a rainstorm, that generates puddles on the map, which are susceptible to lightning strikes, and those are suddenly stun traps. The list goes on, and options expand as more party members join the group. Most battles conclude with your surroundings looking like a scorched wasteland, the ground littered with tasty loot.

My crew consisted of Roland, a ranger focused on distance attacks with elementally-tinted arrows; Susannah, a mage with earth and fire spells; Jahan, a mage with air and water spells; and Madora, a walking tank carrying an axe. We were a wrecking crew by the end. Ahead of combat, Susannah would sprinkle the ground with oil. Then, Roland would fire a charm arrow at the most powerful enemy, temporarily turning our greatest enemy into a terrifying ally. Not long after, Susannah would drop a massive boulder from the heavens, one that both ignited the oil and poisoned anyone nearby. Before anyone could recover, Jahan had summoned an ice elemental to begin freezing those still standing. Finally, Madora would lumber forward and take out anyone stupid enough to stick around. After this destructive blow-by-blow, the enemies would get a chance to fight. Chance. I'm getting teary eyed thinking about it. That's just my strategy, though. There are countless others, as characters don't have to fit into established archetypes, party members can learn every type of magic (I never even touched witchcraft!), and battles will often begin with enemies specifically designed to force you in a different direction.

Just as elemental interactions can stun and burn bad guys, you can accidentally do the same thing to yourself.

The experience is, in many ways, one of your own making. Who do you want to be? That extends beyond the combat, and into the role-playing, as well. The game doesn't have a morality meter, and doesn't judge. Players have little money at the start, but an early gold hoarding tactic involves stealing paintings in the first major city, Cyseal. If you're not caught, no one seems to notice an art thief has invaded, and vendors buy the paintings happily. After nabbing a few, the characters have a conversation about their actions, briefly reflecting on their newfound hobby. The two banter back-and-forth about whether stealing the art is immoral, but it ultimately has little impact on...anything. +1 personality bubbles sprinkle above them, but that's to reflect the tenor of the discussion, and grant a minor buff. Heck, at any time, you can (try to) kill just about any character in the game.

It often feels Larian has imposed structure on a sandbox to give players something to do, but doesn't care if you bend or break the rules. This philosophy is everywhere. Let's say you're having trouble with a particular boss. Before most major encounters, there's a conversation. This dialogue is only between the party member who initiated the conversation, and you can move other characters around while the dialogue tree is active. Get where I'm going with this? It's entirely possible to attack and kill a boss while it's talking to someone else. That always felt a step too far, but I love that it's an option. It's also possible to attack enemies before an encounter begins, which I took advantage of all the time. Sorry, goblins, about that sudden meteor shower! During a particularly rough sequence, I quarantined a set of enemies by crafting a wall of chairs. (Chairs, for whatever reason, are invincible in Divinity.) Some might call these exploits, and it's possible they're patched out, but Divinity is okay with you screwing around. Towards the end, there's a door that requires an item to open. You could go on a few more quests and find them...or spend 30 minutes bashing down the door. Your call!

You can have up to four party members, but there are perks for travelling with fewer.

You don't have an option to skip the game's lengthy narration, though. An NPC here, some hero chatter there. Generally, the writing is pretty good; it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it's funny. I'm a big book reader in my spare time, so I don't have a problem with Divinity dumping the equivalent of a novel on me. Unfortunately, the verbosity isn't backed up with characters and plotting worth the hours of attention devoted to it. Somewhere around the halfway mark, I was clicking through the conversations, waiting for the game to automatically populate my quest log with information on where to head next. Yet another generic end-of-the-world storyline can work when told using interesting participants, but that's not the case here. It's nothing new. The main characters are never given any significant development, serving as blank slates until a few endgame revelations that come too late. We learn more about the optional side characters who can join your party, but even those twists don't even happen until dozens of hours in. Divinity gives players broad discretion over how to play, which includes personality interpretation. This means we're left with an experience left to define itself on gameplay alone.

If we're talking about the combat, Divinity's got that covered. Unfortunately, it's the other parts of the game that got on my nerves as time went on. The first time Divinity asked me to zoom the camera in to scan the area for a tiny, pixel-sized button to unlock a door, I let it pass. When it became the fifth or sixth time, I started consulting online guides without much remorse. This focus on obscurity is prevalent throughout Divinity, and extends far beyond hunting for buttons and switches. On one hand, Divinity avoids guiding players to a solution with huge, pulsing arrows. On the other hand, it often doesn't provide you with nearly enough relevant information to reasonably determine where to go or what to do next. Both characters and quest logs are incredibly vague, and I grew tired of trying to decipher their riddles. It doesn't help some quests can easily become glitched and unsolvable. If you can't tell the difference between a bug and poor writing, there's something wrong. When it became clear this issue was not one or two quests but a prevalent issue throughout the whole game, I started regularly referencing walkthroughs to keep the story moving forward. I didn't fall in love with Divinity's world, characters, or lore. I wanted more of its relentlessly punishing combat, and this approach gave me that.

Playing Divinity to its lengthy (if predictable and stretched out) conclusion is a journey unto itself, an exhausting odyssey. The game asks much of players but rewards with them genuine, earned satisfaction. Even now, I could recite whole battles to you, days after the game's credits rolled. During one thrilling moment, I was literally biting my nails while a turn progressed. As victory became reality from the final blow, I tore off my headphones and screamed into the night. There are few games like Divinity in 2014, but it absolutely deserves to be here.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
71 Comments
  • 71 results
  • 1
  • 2
Edited by James_Hayward

4/5 was pretty much what I thought of it also. The shortcomings were minor, but definitely noticeable... and increasingly so as the game wore on.

Posted by Chaser324

Not the sort of game I expected to ever get a review on a Post-Snider era Giant Bomb.

Moderator
Posted by Fobwashed

I'm fairly deep in gaming and have never heard the term CRPG before. To google!

Online
Posted by Rayeth

I'm happy Patrick decided to finally review this game. Its a total blast, and hope more people play it.

Online
Posted by Ichi_

Great review Patrick, its a great time for crpg's with this and pillars coming out soon, hopefully that will be just as good.

Players are asked to build two characters from scratch--one male, one female

You can have two females or two males as the main characters as well.

Posted by patrickklepek

@ichi_ said:

Great review Patrick, its a great time for crpg's with this and pillars coming out soon, hopefully that will be just as good.

Players are asked to build two characters from scratch--one male, one female

You can have two females or two males as the main characters as well.

Woops, thought I'd nixed that in edits. Thanks for the heads up!

Edited by Rayeth

I'm fairly deep in gaming and have never heard the term CRPG before. To google!

They aren't really made anymore, is why. The term is mostly used to distinguish them from JRPGs back when those were the big things all the console players were hanging their hats on. Generally, they are focused on exploration, numbers based RPG combat, and letting players have lots of freedom to decide their character's direction. Its pretty easy to follow the path from the old-school CRPGs (like Baldur's Gate and the old Elder Scolls games) to stuff like Skyrim today (thought obviously, Skyrim is more mainstream focused and wouldn't really qualify as a CRPG).

Online
Edited by fisk0

If Dan and Patrick end up in the same city some time, I'd like to see them take on some of the CRPG classics like Arcanum (which I think is the most similar game to Original Sin), Ultima 6-7 (maybe 4, but despite it's amazing morality system, it's kinda aged), Planescape: Torment and Wizardry 8.

I still kinda think Patrick should see the Spanish action-RPG Severance: Blade of Darkness, because it's incredibly Souls-like. Not particularly deep as RPG's go, but it's pretty much got Dark Souls' exact combat system.

(and the mod community have made that 13 year old game look goddamn amazing these days)

Posted by The_Vein

Throwing those teleport stones through windows and over walls to get to places I shouldn't be was one of the most surprisingly fun things I've done in a game in a long time.

Posted by fisk0

I'm fairly deep in gaming and have never heard the term CRPG before. To google!

It just means Computer Role Playing Game, since particularly back in the 80's and 90's, there was a pretty big difference between computer and console games, specifically in the RPG genre. Retronauts talked a bit about it in their recent UK Gaming and Planescape: Torment episodes.

Edited by wonderva

@patrickklepek, do you plan on playing and reviewing Pillars of Eternity? As someone who has never played CRPGs, just by judging from the quick look's, Pillars looks easier to get into. Would love to see you compare the two.

Posted by patrickklepek

@wonderva said:

@patrickklepek, do you plan on playing and reviewing Pillars of Eternity? As someone who has never played CRPGs, just by judging from the quick look's, Pillars looks easier to get into. Would love to see you compare the two.

Possibly? These games take so long to play, and the only reason this one got a review was because the summer was pretty light, so I ended up spending most of the last month plucking through it.

Posted by Fobwashed

The bits about the story sorta falling to the wayside is a bummer. RPGs need to have both a strong story and fun combat for me to really want to invest the time and this one sounds like it has combat locked down and a skip able story. Unfortunate... Great review though Patrick!

Online
Edited by TheHT

@fisk0 said:

If Dan and Patrick end up in the same city some time, I'd like to see them take on some of the CRPG classics like Arcanum (which I think is the most similar game to Original Sin), Ultima 6-7 (maybe 4, but despite it's amazing morality system, it's kinda aged), Planescape: Torment and Wizardry 8.

I still kinda think Patrick should see the Spanish action-RPG Severance: Blade of Darkness, because it's incredibly Souls-like. Not particularly deep as RPG's go, but it's pretty much got Dark Souls' exact combat system.

(and the mod community have made that 13 year old game look goddamn amazing these days)

I remember playing the shit outta the Blade of Darkness demo. I hadn't played anything like it, and very well didn't afterward for some time.

Posted by Fallen189

I like this review. How do you feel about how the game suffers from that awful RPG trope, in that so many bosses are immune to things like knockdown/blinds etc? I'm struggling through the immaculate stuff and taht element of the game is really bugging me. The combat has gotten to a point 40 hours in where I'm struggling to fight bosses because they resist everything, which seems kinda contrary to the rest of what the game is trying to do

Edited by Sin4profit

i'm at 106 hours in and have been using walkthroughs lately, feeling like i should drop the difficulty down. Though, i really like the game i may have made the mistake of deviating the expected path, accumulating quests i'm not ready to take, and forgetting everything about the quests that progress the story.

It reminds me of how good these games are but also how far we've come with designing a more communicative, more guided, experience. I think this game could do a good job of tying in it's guides with the fiction, having more intelligent characters capable of showing quest markers or something along those lines. As is, i'm at a fatiguing point and just want it to be over with.

Posted by Gyrfal

Patrick "Deeply" Klepek up in it!

Posted by TheStandardToaster

You should really give Dragon Age Origins a shot. It has the old school crpg mechanics mixed with great characters and an interesting story.

Edited by Tennmuerti

I am a huge old school CRPG fan, heck BG2, Planescape:T, Arcanum and Fallout 2 are in my top 10 of all time greats.

But I have seriously been struggling to finish Original Sin. Lately it's icon has been just collecting virtual dust on my desktop. It's just as the game went on my will to play it was sapped slowly but surely. Traditional CRPGs should have 2 things going for them, interesting story and engaging mechanics that keep ramping things up. And while OS makes a great first impression with the first town and dumps a boatload of cool mechanics and toys to play with in the first area, one quickly realizes like Patrick has pointed out that the story is barely bearable and once I have figured out it's systems and had a good party setup going everything past level 10-11 ceased being remotely challenging even boss fights, skill progression tapered out, loot was just increasing the same numbers ... and that kind of left me with nothing to look forward to as I kept playing :(

A anyway good review, quite spot on despite any inexperience with the genre.

Posted by AMyggen

@wonderva said:

@patrickklepek, do you plan on playing and reviewing Pillars of Eternity? As someone who has never played CRPGs, just by judging from the quick look's, Pillars looks easier to get into. Would love to see you compare the two.

Possibly? These games take so long to play, and the only reason this one got a review was because the summer was pretty light, so I ended up spending most of the last month plucking through it.

Baldur's Gate 2, man. A Premium feature of you playing some of the best CRPGs of all time, like BG2, would be amazing.

Edited by colocho225

Great game, and great review @patrickklepek. Minor error though:

On the other hand hand,

Really enjoying it so far, about 30 hours in.

Posted by JCHenderson

I don't' think I have ever read a review that is so eerily similar to what I have experienced with the game myself. Its a great game but now towards the end all I want to do is get to the next battle and couldn't care less about what the story is.

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

Man, this game looks so good, but so incredibly daunting.

Edited by DevourerOfTime

Am I weird that whenever I see "CRPG" I think "Card RPG"? Something like Baten Kaitos or Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories?

Great review Patrick. It almost sounds like Divinity is to Western RPG like Etrian Odyssey is to Japanese RPG's: An old school series with some brutal difficulty, high customization, low storytelling focus (well, if you skip all of Divinity's text like you were doing at the end), very little tutorial and handholding, and complete obliviousness to a lot of modern conventions.

Maybe I'll try it out some day.

Posted by tekmojo

I need to finish this game, I need to finish this game, I need to...

Posted by Xeirus

Man, this game looks so good, but so incredibly daunting.

I'll just say, I'm not a fan of the DND or massive/epic RPGs like this, but this game is seriously fucking amazing.

Even better if you have someone to play through it with you, it really is as good as everyone says. I'm shocked I like it so much.

Posted by Mr_Creeper

Real glad to see a review go up even though the game came out over a month ago. Something about review that hit day one that makes them feel rushed and not thorough enough to me.

Posted by SPF3000

Would love to see Patrick or any of the crew play Wasteland 2. I guess it's almost done?

Online
Posted by Wizzleteats

I'd really like to play this yet I can't due to the fact that the key remapping is bugged. I bought it more than two months ago and tried to remap the control keys to the number-pad but the game doesn't recognize them as separate from the regular number keys on the main part of the keyboard and interprets inputs from the num-pad as hot-bar selections. It's very frustrating and gets physically uncomfortable after a while to have to constantly twist my back and reach across the keyboard to access the WASD keys. I know a lot of lefties and people with disabilities affecting their left arms have been asking for a fix but the developers don't seem interested in fixing the problem.

Edited by SWD

Maybe I am just a bit nerd for this style of game, but OS left me cold. Compared to the greats of this genre it is just so lacking, even compared to recent new games like Shadowrun (not a perfect game by far). It just feels...anemic? The NPCs/quests are bland, and the main characters have no character, though I suppose that is the point with the whole build your own traits system, and the combat is a slog after a while. The traits system I really did not like, perhaps in multiplayer it is better, but having stats tied to what I say felt annoying. The curse immunity vs. +chance to hit on AoO was the worst. By being vindictive you lose out on the best trait and gain a terrible one. I would have preferred that these decisions feed into some tree that you can pick yourself, let each tree have flavour for the trait, but not force you into one stat that might be worthless.

Still, the fine details in the game were great, I just did not care for it too much. Good review though Pat, interesting to read a different opinion.

Posted by SharkMan

Am I weird that whenever I see "CRPG" I think "Card RPG"? Something like Baten Kaitos or Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories?

nope, whenever i see it i think "Classic RPG."

Edited by teekomeeko

I started playing Divinity and was super-confused in combat. The game explains nothing at all almost. Then, coincidentally, I went back and started listening to the Penny Arcade D&D podcasts, and so much of the basics were explained there (like what in God's name an "attack of opportunity" is) that I came back to Divinity with a hardcore passion and have been addicted to it and those podcasts ever since.

Now I want to find a local group that welcomes a newbie and play some D&D. Folks, I've gone down the rabbit hole, and it's pretty awesome down here.

EDIT: I have also started looking up mods for Neverwinter Nights 2. I'm deep in this, I tell ya.

Posted by slyspider

I got a to the second town and had to stop playing for a month and a half, now I don't know if I can get back in or if I have to restart my 20 hours

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan
@xeirus said:

@themanwithnoplan said:

Man, this game looks so good, but so incredibly daunting.

I'll just say, I'm not a fan of the DND or massive/epic RPGs like this, but this game is seriously fucking amazing.

Even better if you have someone to play through it with you, it really is as good as everyone says. I'm shocked I like it so much.

Yeah, I'm really looking forward to trying it out. I just need to carve out some time to give this game the full attention it deserves.

Posted by 014

I am greatly enjoying the game right now at 27 hours in. I've been playing with a couple friends and have two different campaigns going, one with two players and the other with three. It may be my GOTY. We'll see. It is quite refreshing.

Posted by steveurkel

I haven't read this review yet but I've seen your twitter comments and varying comments about how initially or somewhat in the middle you weren't having a ton of fun with the game (probably since you found guides more enjoyable JOIN THE CLUB!). There was a lot of obscure things that I never would have done and I have been playing RPGs since the late 80s early 90s and have finished all of the infinite engine games. I even played the dark sun games and the really bad knock offs of wizardry and such in that genre that were nearly impossible to play due to being so overly difficult.

That said I am currently ~35-40 hours into the game and at the phantom forest and am SCARED to continue the game because I know it is going to end. I am really serious about this. I do not want this game to end and I know as soon as I load it ...

The best strategy I have found in this game is TAKE ADVANTAGE of the fact that you can initiate combat before you are engaged by enemies. What I do is usually haste and oath of desecration my fire mage and launch "small fireball" (its not that small!) into a group of dudes. This puts them on fire, and usually pretty low since that spell is devastating on many enemies. Sometimes you can poison them before combat as well. Combat begins and then I come in with my Ranger (my main character besides the fire mage) and literally Ricochet once and then it is just clean up time or everything is dead.

This game gives you so many options. I would like to play over as a rogue and cleric but the cleric would probably fall behind just making a straight up damage character like a warlock or fire mage. It seems to really favor damage in this game. I can't stand the crafting system - one of the worst things I've dealt with about the game. My inventory is completely a mess on all characters and certain containers in end of time are where I keep all my stuff. Gosh talking about it I really should go back and play some haha...

Posted by LawGamer

I'll admit to having a love/hate relationship with this game. I kind of feel like I'm in a catch-22 situation whenever I play it. For as much as I love the fact that the systems in the game can be completely broken in creative ways, it isn't a game that you can really play in small chunks. The more you play however, the more the little annoyances start to detract from your enjoyment.

The inventory management, for example, is not handled very well; the idea that I can't access my entire party's inventory at a merchant when they're all standing right there is a constant frustration. As is the lack of a "quick craft" option to use on crafting formulas I've already discovered.

Ultimately, I'm glad that this game exists, and I want to see more games like it in the future, but I also want just a little bit more modern sensibility in some of design. I get the depressing feeling that this is one of those games that I might never finish, despite how much I enjoy a lot of it. I'll play it for a time, break up with it for awhile, and then come back and find myself starting from scratch because of how much I've forgotten.

Posted by indieslaw

I'm not totally understanding the idea of lineage between Baldur's Gate and this game. Am I missing something from this, or strongly misremembering BG/BG2?

Posted by Jimbo

Pretty much spot on.

Posted by fisk0

I'm not totally understanding the idea of lineage between Baldur's Gate and this game. Am I missing something from this, or strongly misremembering BG/BG2?

Nope, this is more in line with Arcanum (a Steampunk RPG using the Fallout 1/2 engine), and a bit like the later Ultima games, rather than the Infinity Engine games.

Posted by jagehtso

So will you at some point attempt to go back and tackle Baldur's Gate 2?

You honestly don't need to beat the first game to enjoy the second, so if you're just interested to see what many people would call the best CRPG of all time you can jump right in.

Posted by Ravelle

I'm fairly deep in gaming and have never heard the term CRPG before. To google!

We call role playing games RPG's and D&D and other pen and paper RPG's on computer CRPG's. Computer RPG's. It's a bit silly.

Posted by dagas

It sounds way too old school for me. I loved Dragon Age but I never managed to get into Baldur's Gate or any other CRPG back then. I grew up with JRPG's not pen and paper RPG's. The lack of waypoints sounds like something that would annoy the hell out of me. I remember being lost for hours and hours in Morrowind, it was not until Oblivion adding waypoints that I started loving the Elder Scrolls games. I perfectly understand why some people want to not have waypoints but I just get lost and bored if I don't know where to go.

I might give it a chance on a steam sale at some point.

Posted by caska

@dagas: The game does have quick travel points if that's what you mean by waypoints? They're pretty generously scattered around each map and can be used at pretty much any time during the game. The maps aren't large enough for you to truly get lost in either so you don't have to worry about that. It's also not really that old school. I mean it's old school in the sense that they essentially just drop you in a world and tell you to go and essentially figure stuff out as you go.

I've tried a few times to play Baldur's Gate and Planescape and things like that but I could never really play them past a few hours. This game however, I think, is completely different! It's way more fun and the combat is more along the lines of Fire Emblem, FF Tactics, XCOM:EU and those kind of games (but less constrained and more about environmental manipulation)

I'd seriously consider it if I were you!

Edited by Downloaded
Edited by eloj

I take issue with the idea that CRPG refers to some specific style of game. It's just a clarification that it's on a computer as opposed to pen and paper, and stems from a time when that distinction was much more relevant (1980s)

In my mind you could call Final Fantasy a CRPG, but JRPG is more specific, and since those games did not rise directly out of P&P based rule-systems the computer part is implied.

A purist may object that JRPG should only be interpreted as an origin (as in there were CRPGS in the western style out of Japan too), but that idea is probably even more of a lost cause than getting people to not freak out about the C in CRPG.

Posted by ectoplasma

Nothing about the terrible inventory :>? But yeah, the part with the tiny buttons annoyed me the most.

  • 71 results
  • 1
  • 2