Divine Altercation: The Combat of Divinity: Original Sin II

I've been pretty enamoured by Larian's latest, 2017's Divinity: Original Sin II, and especially with its combat system for the sheer breadth of options and forms its encounters have taken. I figured I'd write something that focused on that aspect, hopefully conveying just how elaborate it is.

Getting Started

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An innocuous subheader, but also a surprisingly difficult one to broach: where, indeed, does one start with Divinity: Original Sin II? It may be one of the most impressively complex - in terms of versatility more so than difficulty, though it for sure has its share of the latter - combat engines I've seen in a while, expanding on the environment-focal combat of the previous game with some significant tweaks to how damage is doled out and resisted.

In brief, DOS2 is a tactical turn-based RPG of the type where positioning and situational awareness is key. Many of the game's skills - the catch-all term for abilities that include both the martial and the magical, all of which run on cooldowns and "action points" than finite supplies of mana - have specific areas of effect, meaning it is often required to maneuver units into positions where these abilities will have the maximum desired effect. Due to the fact that everything runs on cooldowns, there's no restrictions to using your strongest abilities out of the gate: in fact, it's often beneficial to do so as battles frequently need to be resolved quickly before the player side is overwhelmed by superior numbers. Using those big damage skills to even the playing field instanter is not only encouraged but vital.

I could go so much more in-depth on specific skills and combat abilities and builds, but I'll reserve that for when I discuss my four-person party. I'm also sure that whatever mastery I have over the game some 50 hours in is greatly eclipsed by the many informational sources on the game out there, so enamoured has it become over the past two years by a majority of the CRPG-inclined. Instead, for the sake of clarity, I'll discuss how the combat rules function in the broadest strokes:

  1. There are two types of damage: Physical and Magical. Likewise, there are two types of defense: Physical and Magical. The former is derived from weapons, the latter from armor. Gear suitable for mages, for instance, have high magical armor and magical attack bonuses as they're generally expected to stand at the back swapping fireballs with enemy spellcasters.
  2. Not only do these two armor values prevent direct HP damage for as long as they're around, but they also protect a character from status effects. Once one type of armor value is gone, you become vulnerable to both direct damage and status effects related to that type of damage (an example of a physical status effect would be getting knocked down by a charge attack or poisoned by a rogue skill, while a magical one might include getting frozen solid or silenced). It is paramount to keep at least a little of both armor types in effect, if only to prevent some truly debilitating conditions.
  3. Stats include Finesse, Strength, and Intelligence - the three damage dealing stats, for rogues/rangers, fighters, and mages respectively - and also Wits (helps you find secrets and gives you a critical chance boost), Constitution (increases HP and the types of shields you can use), and Memory (the number of skills you can memorize at the same time).
  4. As in Dark Souls, characters begin as rough archetypes that can then be further customized in any way the player chooses. A fighter type might start with a few Warfare skills (martial skills intended for melee) but you could give them a few points into fields like Hydrosophy (water-based magic school, good for healing), Necromancy (good for weakening opponents), or Geomancer (earth-based magic school that has skills that can re-apply physical armor) to improve their durability. Or you could go the all-out offensive route with skill schools like Scoundrel or Huntsman, which have skills that allow casters to get around the battlefield faster and apply multiple damage types and status effects. A lot of the game's combat abilities - the collective term for separate skillsets like Warfare, Necromancy, Scoundrel, etc. - are synergistic in this fashion, though it's deleterious to spread yourself too thin.
  5. Last, I want to talk about how the game handles turn order. The game determines everyone's relative speed ahead of time, but then applies a certain level of equilibrium by ensuring that each side alternates: if an enemy unit is faster than anyone in your party, then that unit goes first, followed by your fastest character, followed by their second fastest character, and so on. If a side has excess members, they'll all take their turn one after the other at the end of the round. This approach means rarely being in a situation where a faster enemy force can roll right over you, but likewise won't always let two or more of your characters quickly band together to take down the biggest threat before they've had time to act. It's an equitable system that creates this back-and-forth strategic rhythm, where you're often adjusting your previous plan of action on the fly to respond to the enemy's latest move, that's not too dissimilar to chess: you have to be both proactive and reactive to get through these fights in one piece, working towards the long-term strats without neglecting short-term issues and allowing them to escalate.

Meet the Team

Divinity: Original Sin 2 has six "Origin" characters: pre-made PCs with backstories, character-specific questlines, and dialogue tailored to their personalities. While they have default classes, any of them can be turned into anything you might need as soon as you recruit them. You'll also eventually acquire the means of respec-ing any party member an infinite number of times. The game isn't looking to pigeonhole you into specific character classes, which I'm thankful for because it can take a while to acclimatize to the game's systems.

Sabine

Sabine's my OC (that is, Original Character, not Origin Character), since I wanted at least one, and she's also the party's archer. I haven't hybridized her, either: most of her abilities are pure Huntsman (the combat skilltree for physical ranged attacks) with just one Warfare ability (Phoenix Dive, which works like a teleport).

Archers are obscenely powerful units in DOS2, but the downside is that they're very vulnerable until you can find them somewhere remote and high up to start sniping fools. The height difference is important: Huntsman, which allows you to equip stronger ranged abilities the more you level it up, also gives you a passive damage boost for shooting from a higher position. I've been boosting her Finesse and Wits for the most part, as both carry useful combat bonuses. Even though Sabine doesn't have many Warfare abilities, I've levelled up her Warfare quite a bit due to the flat physical damage boost it offers: 5% per level. (Ranged, a weapon-based skilltree, also offers a 5% damage boost and a 1% critical chance boost per level.)

When you take the damage from a regular arrow, apply the height bonus, and then apply the high critical chance from Wits, and then apply the bonus damage from Finesse (the main damage stat for rogues and rangers), and then apply the damage boost from Warfare and Ranged, and then apply any damage increase specific to the archer skills you might be using, you have a more than minuscule chance of one-shotting enemies. Of course, enemy archers have a similar advantage over you.

I decided to make the main character a ranged type to keep her out of harm's way, in case DOS2 was like Baldur's Gate or Persona 4 in that the death of the leader also meant an immediate game over. Ironically, Sabine is regularly my most imperilled member: not only does she have the weakest armor scores, collectively speaking, but enemies instinctively know this and all aim for her first. If she can pop off her Tactical Retreat - a life-saving skill that lets you teleport to a nearby location, preferably high up and away from enemy melee units - before getting overwhelmed, that's usually a good start.

Ifan ben-Medz

Ifan's cool. He's sort of like an alternative universe version of Aragorn: a human warrior raised by elves who eventually became a fiercely independent tracker. His questline involves his history marching with the Divine Order - the theocratic faction that are your primary antagonists for much of the game - and his more recent past as a Lone Wolf assassin. Despite all this baggage, he's chill and easy to get on with.

Ifan begins as a ranger himself, as his questline involves being given a crossbow for an assassination (which I promptly handed over to Sabine) and an innate Source skill (Source is a finite magic supply that powers high-level abilities and has a lot of story-significance) that summons a wolf familiar to keep enemies at bay. However, I didn't need another ranged unit so he became my melee tank instead.

For the most part, I've been focusing on Ifan's Warfare ability, which has all the best close-range melee skills and provides that aforementioned hefty physical damage boost. I've also branched him out into Geomancer and Polymorph: the former is a magic school that includes a mix of physical defense skills and offense skills suited for knocking people on their asses, while Polymorph has some strong physical abilities for the discerning fighter to employ. He's gone all in on the Strength stat (with a few points in Constitution and Wits, the former for HP and shield usage and the latter for critical hit chance) and physical armor. He uses a sword and shield combo because shields provide a huge amount of extra protection: necessary for tanks, though it does reduce his overall damage output. My general strategy is to let Ifan knock enemies down and weather their blows while the other three do most of the damage.

My beloved crew. Sabine's out in front, which is a tactical error I frequently pay for, and the back row consists of Fane (who has to stay covered to avoid terrifying the masses), Lohse (whose blood goth ensemble is *working for her*), and Ifan. Looking good in those solid gold pauldrons, Ifan buddy.
My beloved crew. Sabine's out in front, which is a tactical error I frequently pay for, and the back row consists of Fane (who has to stay covered to avoid terrifying the masses), Lohse (whose blood goth ensemble is *working for her*), and Ifan. Looking good in those solid gold pauldrons, Ifan buddy.

Lohse

It feels a lot of these Infinity Engine-inspired games have at least one "tortured naif" character: a cheery ingenue with some tragic backstory to uncover or an equally tragic fate to avert. Imoen was that for Baldur's Gate, Aerie for Baldur's Gate 2, Xoti for Pillars 2, etc.. Once a musical performer with a knack for drawing wayward souls into her head, a beneficial arrangement that often led to new ideas for songs, Lohse's been possessed by a demon of unknown power, drawing from her innate strength and kicking out any other residents. Her story arc largely involves figuring out how to remove it.

Lohse's intended to be a rogue type, but I turned her into my primary mage. Because my party is built for physical damage - it's inefficient to split magical and physical damage, since that means three separate HP bars you have to empty - her focus is in necromancy. Necromancers have a lot of physical attack skills and a few useful survival skills and because Lohse's inclined to get targeted as often as Sabine she uses a one-handed wand and a shield instead of a two-handed staff for the extra defense. I've also given her a few points in Warfare (which affects all physical damage, including those from spells) and in Hydrosophy for its heals/buffs.

Fane

I love Fane. He's this game's Jaavik (from Mass Effect 3): an ancient being brought back to consciousness in a world he no longer recognizes but is nonetheless quick to insult with withering putdowns every chance he gets. He also has this fun moral insouciance, suggesting that his civilization may not have been all that enlightened after all, but he is at least loyal enough to you and your cause to not go around kicking puppies or making life too difficult for us. He's also undead: that means special rules regarding healing and which status effects work.

Fane's usually a mage, but I already had one of those and Fane's unique immunities as an undead meant he was perfect to round out a trio of tanks (you really need to protect yourself in this game, given how hard most enemies hit). I turned him into something approaching a cleric/mage hybrid with a strong physical armor focus, letting him take the charge along with Ifan. Most of his points have been split between Necromancy (the aforementioned focus on physical damage and buffs) and Hydrosophy (heals, though he can't heal himself with those skills). He also has points in Warfare (as it affects Necromancy damage too) and I've given him the reliable one-handed weapon and shield combo, similar to Lohse and Ifan.

Common Strategy

Currently I have a few standby strats, non-scripted macros if you will, to use when each battle starts. Sabine always Tactical Retreats either to high ground or away from the major enemy melee hitters, or preferably both, while Lohse uses Raining Blood to create an advantageous environment for her and Fane's necromancy - their Elemental Affinity talent (talents being the game's equivalent to the D&D perk system) reduces the cost of all spells of a skill school if you're standing in its element, which in necromancy's case is blood. Lohse can then toss out ranged magic skills like Infect, Shackles of Pain, and/or Mosquito Swarm. Likewise, Fane can toss out a similar set of necromancy skills, but I'll often use his The Pawn talent (which allows you to take an AP of movement at zero cost) to get close and use Decaying Touch on an enemy Lohse or Sabine have already softened up - the decay status, which causes healing magic to harm instead of help, then allows Fane to then weaponize his Hydrosophy healing skills like Restoration or Healing Ritual to deadly effect. Ifan, for his part, uses his The Pawn talent to maneuver to where he can best do damage to physical armor and then cause a knockdown effect: the more enemies caught by knockdown, thus skipping their next turn, the better. He has skills like Earthquake, Battering Ram, and Battle Stomp which all have a knockdown effect, and Polymorph skills Tentacle Lash (atrophy, useful against humanoid enemies who wield weapons as it prevents their usage) and Medusa Head (petrifies nearby enemies without physical armor, removing them from the fight for a while) for further debilitation.

Obviously, these strategies might change slightly depending on what I'm facing. The opening salvo is usually less interesting than what follows, as I scrabble together improvised strategies on consecutive rounds with whatever skills I have that aren't currently on cooldown. I depend on that first round to eliminate or mitigate most of the major threats, if possible, but some battles can be a little bottom-heavy instead: dropping in the hard enemies as reinforcements a round or so later, or starting most of the enemy force some distance away. The general strategy also doesn't take into account the stage environment - whether or not there's somewhere high up for Sabine to go, or any hazards already in play - which I might find a way to take advantage of instead.

To give you some idea of the variety on offer, I've presented a few fights that occur in The Blackpits region of Reaper's Coast: the rural seaside setting for the game's expansive second act. Each region of Reaper's Coast has a specific level to its encounters and treasures, and at level 13 The Blackpits are somewhere in the middle of this act's 9-16 range. I've tried to avoid spoilers wherever possible, including enemy character names. I've done a play-by-play of the first battle, and a round-up of the subsequent ones - no need to drown you all with battle stats.

The Battles of The Blackpits

Battle 1 - Vs. Magisters

Set-Up: Magisters of the Divine Order are executing a family of civilian Sourcerer sympathizers, murdering the children first. We quickly attack to prevent further brutality.

Enemies

  • Magister Inquisitor (MI) - Mage, Hydrosophy major and Pyro/Aero/Geo minor. Less Physical Armor (PhysArm) than the other fighters.
  • Magister Executioner (ME) - Fighter. High PhysArm, low Magical Armor (MagArm).
  • Lizard Silent Watcher (LSW) - Fighter (Silent Watchers are essentially zombies - dissidents that the Magisters turned into mindless obedient footsoldiers by draining their Source. Given the game's political themes, most Silent Watchers tend to be non-human.)
  • Elf Silent Watcher (ESW) - Archer. Same tactics as Sabine.
  • Magister Brute (MB) - Fighter. Uses two-handed weapons, making him a damaging foe, but he also starts some distance away.

First Round

  1. MI: Casts Armour of Frost (boosts LSW's magic armor) and uses Hail Strike to our clump of units (moderate damage to everyone's MagArm).¹
  2. Lohse: Blood Rain, Mosquito Swarm (on MI, removing his PhysArm and hitting him with the Bleeding status), Decaying Touch (on ESW, cutting through his PhysArm and hitting him with decay).
  3. ESW: Tactical Retreats and hits Lohse with a Barrage, eliminating her PhysArm.
  4. Ifan: Uses Bouncing Shield on ME which also hits MI. Uses Battering Ram to knock down MI.
  5. ME: Gets close to Lohse, Sabine, and Fane and hits them with Whirlwind.
  6. Sabine: Tactical Retreats to same perch as ESW, hits ESW with First Aid (he has decay status, so this hurts him) and finishes him off with Sky Shot. Uses the extra AP² to hit MI with Ballistic Shot.
  7. MB: Moves closer, since he started at a distance.
  8. Fane: Cures Lohse with Restoration (she took a beating from that ESW Barrage), hits ME with Infect (causing Diseased), and then hits LSW with Mosquito Swarm.
  9. LSW: Hits Fane and Lohse with Battering Ram, which knocks Lohse down.
Gotta Love The Clump. Very first attack of the battle halves everyone's magic armor bar because we have to walk around close together all buddy-buddy like.
Gotta Love The Clump. Very first attack of the battle halves everyone's magic armor bar because we have to walk around close together all buddy-buddy like.

Second Round

Overview - About even stevens for right now. We've taken down their archer and have ours in an advantageous position for the fight. Lohse's lost her Physical Armor and is presently knocked down, but so is their Inquisitor. The Brute has joined the fight, but the Executioner's on the way out. The Lizard Silent Watcher is of less concern, since they go last in the order. Both Lohse and Fane are standing on their preferred element, which'll make them more effective. I've been spreading the damage around as no-one really stands out as a major threat yet, but divide and conquer is usually a smarter plan.

  1. MI: Gets up.
  2. Lohse: Gets up.
  3. ME: Uses Blitz Attack on Lohse and Fane. Not too much damage.
  4. Ifan: Tentacle Lash on MI and then knocks him and ME down with a Battle Stomp.
  5. MB: Shows up to All-In³ Fane and chase it a second attack, causing massive damage. Fane will be killed by LSW if Sabine cannot kill her first. Unfortunately, LSW has more than 1000 HP with her Vitality and PhysArm combined.
  6. Sabine: Hits LSW with Barrage, doing a total of 600 damage⁴, and then hits her with a regular attack for 400 (crit). She drops like a rock. Since she has an extra attack, she takes out MI as well.
  7. Fane: Uses Bone Cage to recover lost PhysArm. The battlefield is lousy with bodies at this point, so he gains over 400 PhysArm (his original amount was 360). Finishes turn with Decaying Touch on MB to cut through some of his PhysArm.
Someone left an oil barrel on this platform. Fortunately, no-one decides to ignite it while Sabine is there. You can see most of the enemy melee characters grouped around Fane and Lohse in the center there.
Someone left an oil barrel on this platform. Fortunately, no-one decides to ignite it while Sabine is there. You can see most of the enemy melee characters grouped around Fane and Lohse in the center there.

Third Round

Overview - The enemies have now lost most of their fighting force, but the few that are left - the Executioner and Brute - are smacking seven bells out of poor Fane, who was built as a tanky Cleric but has his limits. Lohse's been taking a beating also, though Sabine - usually the first of my party to fall, given her unusually weighted offense to defense ratio - was able to find a spot of relative security. Ifan had zero trouble with the Inquisitor, but as predicted all the heavies marched right past him to attack the less defended members of my entourage. Still, this battle's all but wrapped up now.

  1. ME: Gets up.
  2. Lohse: Infect on MB followed by Bone Cage, also gaining way more PhysArm than she started with.
  3. MB: Another All-In on Fane. Doesn't quite eliminate the Bone Cage boost.
  4. Ifan: Bouncing Shield on ME and MB. Finishes off ME with Reactive Armor.
  5. Sabine: Hits MB twice with normal shots while everything's on cooldown. Around 800 damage total.
  6. Fane: Boosts armor with Shields Up just in case and takes swing at MB.
Gotta say, the in-game combat log really helped a lot when jotting this battle down.
Gotta say, the in-game combat log really helped a lot when jotting this battle down.

Fourth Round

Overview - Well, at this point there's just the one severely injured goon, so we just hack him apart. Not much to write about here.

In most regards this is a fairly typical battle against Magisters. Though each fight has certain environmental and positional aspects to liven it up, this one's more about the role-playing just prior to the fight than the fight itself: there is an innocent family getting murdered by the Magisters for daring to defend a Sourcerer, a young man named Gwydian who we're here to find, and accidentally killing one of their Order's members before he could find the Sourcerer's hideout. Vacillating too long or failing Persuasion checks means another family member dies, and the Magisters - in their cartoonish villainy - started with the youngest and are working their way up. The youngest child, a boy, is dead when you get there, and it'd be easy for the preteen daughter and teenage son to quickly follow depending on how you play the situation. You could even be as cold as ice and quietly let the Magisters leave, as soon as you've convinced them enough blood has been shed (or sit back and watch them ice the whole family without interfering, if you prefer).

The family's woes don't end there either. When the fighting begins, they all sit with their arms tied just behind the Inquisitor and Executioner. Any sufficiently large AoE attack that might include both those two enemies is also more than likely to hit a family member. I used Ifan's charge because most of his AoE skills can determine friend from foe (as do most AoE skills in the game, it should be said). The big trouble was tanking my way through the Executioner and Brute's heavy attacks with whomever they decide to lock onto (Fane, in this case), and the DPS-focused Elf and Lizard Silent Watchers don't help either. A five-on-four battle are normal odds too: when both sides are +even, the game's alternating back and forth system for turn order works better.

Footnotes:

¹ Unless you anticipate battles and specifically fan out your party members into advantageous positions before triggering the combat prompt (usually getting spotted), you'll start every battle in the same clumped up formation you walk around in.

² Sabine (and Lohse) have the "Executioner" talent, which regenerates 2AP once per round if an enemy is killed by their attack. It can't be stacked with "The Pawn" (one free AP of movement), so Executioner's better for those who don't have to move around as much. In Sabine's case, she has two skills that teleport her, so she rarely needs to walk.

³ All-In is a weapon skill most two-handed weapons have, and does major damage at the cost of more AP. It's partly what makes two-handed weapons so much more powerful than one-handers, though the downside is that you miss out on the incredibly useful shields.

⁴ I've avoided numbers for the most part, because that's getting too into the weeds. However, take it from me that the archer's damage numbers far exceed anything anyone else is doing. Most of these other skills are lucky to hit 300, including the Brute's All-In attacks.

Battle 2: Vs. Magister Arsonists

Set-Up: A few magisters are trying to flush out a Sourcerer by burning his house down while he sits in the cellar. The player can help them or the trapped Sourcerer, who turns out to be a regular dude with a cursed sword. I chose to take down the Magisters, since I'm already causing trouble for them out here.

In brief, this battle's about as straightforward as the first. The Magisters are clumped together in front of the house, making them more prone to AoE attacks, and I don't have to worry about collateral damage this time as the innocent bystander is still safely trapped in his basement. There is a patrolling guard that joins the fight though, and they're ranged so it helps if he's in hitting distance before you decide to start shit with the arsonists.

Battle 3: Vs. Magisters and the Voidlings

Set-Up: Gwydian, the Sourcerer apprentice we were tasked to find by a story-crucial NPC, is being interrogated by a White Magister (the higher ranked magisters of the Divine Order). With enough Persuasion checks we can distract the White Magister long enough to allow Gwydian to free himself, at which point the emancipated Sourcerer triggers the battle with a sneak attack.

His use of Source instantly summons Oil Voidlings from the nearby oil fields of the Blackpits (if you were wondering about the name), who quickly blorp their way over and overwhelm the two other Magister fighters on the lower scaffolding. The Voidlings come in three waves, the last of which features "Fire Voidlings" which ignite the oil to heal themselves and can move a lot faster.

This battle is absolute chaos, and a classic example of how an unpredictable DOS2 battle might turn from manageable to panic-inducing. It's bad enough that all the Oil and Fire Voidlings emerge in great numbers in every direction like the Siege of the Alamo, but there's oily fires everywhere that cannot be put out - the presence of Voidwoken turn the regular fires into cursed fires, or "necrofire", which cannot be doused by conventional means - and you have an NPC to protect. Gwydian has the unfortunate tendency to charge ahead, using a mix of dagger attacks and Aerotheurge (air magic) on any nearby opponents. He has decent health but won't last long running ahead of the group like that, not that anywhere's really safe in this literally accursed conflagration. Best bet is to toss most of the healing and armor-boosting skills his way and try to survive the throng of enemies and third-degree burns.

"I'll just hang out up here with the rest of the fire, then."

Battle 4: Vs. Armored Voidwoken

Set-Up: Entering the nearby Blackpits Caves, the team meets an injured Magister who is quickly butchered by a group of Armored Voidwoken. These armadillo-type enemies have high Physical and Magical armor, and there's a couple of Phosphorescent ones that will explode when they get close.

This battle really serves as an introduction to these durable foes. There's usually one of these for every Voidwoken type, and the game has a lot of them. For the record, Voidwoken are enemies touched by the Void - a nebulous force of chaos and evil that sits outside of our known space - and can either be transformed animals and people or just weird-ass beasts. The Armored Voidwoken put up a good fight, but aren't anything special.

Battle 5: Vs. Voidwoken Vs. Magisters

Set-Up: Near a dig site, we meet Magisters fighting off a pack of Voidwoken in an evenly-matched battle. The Magisters register as neutral to us, so we can either help them kill off the Voidwoken without incurring their wrath once they run out of enemies, or sit back and see who emerges as the victor.

Both sides have a mix of generic units: the Voidwoken include a couple of Vampiric Voidwoken, which are tough fighters that can heal themselves with life-draining passives, and a few more Armored Voidwoken. There is a named Magister but most of his companions are Silent Watchers.

Shortly after this fight you can talk to the Magister in charge. I accidentally caused him to trigger the fight, though: the Blackpits Caves are off-limits, so there was no way of bluffing past him. Unfortunately for him, they only had two units left at this point and it wasn't difficult to finish them off. Overall, this felt more like spectator sport than anything I had to intervene on.

I could help, but I took the trouble of making popcorn, so...
I could help, but I took the trouble of making popcorn, so...

Battle 6: Vs. White Magister and Mind Slaves

Set-Up: A White Magister is preparing to destroy a wall that is blocking the Ancients site we're here to plunder investigate for both a story quest and Fane's character quest. The fight is between the White Magister and a Magister Knight, plus a Silent Watcher archer, two "Weaponized Monks" (quadruped monsters created by the Magisters), and two Black Ring Reavers apparently hypnotized by the Magisters.

While a fairly normal fight, the mix of enemy types and the White Magister's mix of elemental skills makes it a little more unpredictable. As does all the oil barrels everywhere: the means with which the Magisters intend to break through the wall, but could just as easily use to break you instead.

Battle 7: Vs. A Magic Skeleton Lady and her Dogs

Set-Up: I'll skimp on the finer details of the antagonist here, since it's mildly spoilerish, but she and her pets are collectively the guardian of this ancient temple we came to plunder investigate. This fight is considerably tougher than anything else in the dungeon, necessitating what I like to call "thinking outside of the box" but what others may well call "cheesing it via methods the developers did not fully intend".

If you start in the classic clump formation, she'll hit you all with a combo of Rain and Winter Blast, which does a huge amount of damage and can even cause some one-hit kills. She then summons a bunch of wolves which can attack three times per turn (the normal limit is two attacks, or 4AP) and will quickly rip apart any survivors.

By spreading your team out ahead of time, she's less inclined to do her big AoE attack combos. However, she'll still summon two new wolves next to whomever's weakest and in range, and between their six attacks their target will usually go down fast. Especially if it's Sabine.

There are multiple ways to cheese this fight, I would later find out. Moving your strongest fighter right next to where she spawns, for example, and attacking her during her "I'm going to attack you now suckas" dialogue. Buffing everyone ahead of time, especially with water magic protection potions and scrolls, though you have to be fast as they wear off rapidly outside of battle. I blitzed with her my entire team in the first round, but still had to contend with the wolves afterwards which made things very touch and go for a while. I regret to say a couple of my companions died, though only temporarily as I had resurrection scrolls to spare after the battle was over (they aren't infinite though, so I've usually tried to be more careful). A very nasty boss I was almost certainly underlevelled for, but that's often the case in this game: it pays to save before every battle, or anything that looks like it might become a battle, just in case. If it seems hopeless, just come back later.

As with any fun group activity, it's the taking part that matters. Sorry, typo, I meant
As with any fun group activity, it's the taking part that matters. Sorry, typo, I meant "it's the taking all their loot afterwards that matters".

I could go on and on about how clever the combat is in this game and how carefully considered each of its many battle encounters are both in terms of what happens in the fight and what you can do immediately before, but I've really only scratched the surface myself of what is possible to pull off. I've settled on what works for the most part, but the game's unpredictability and theorycrafting potential is through the roof. I've struggled through half the combat scenarios in this game - I'd shudder to think how much ratiocination the next difficulty tier up would require - but it's always come down to learning my lessons at the school of hard knocks and improving my tactics for the next fight. That the game has an endless amount of patience when it comes to letting you respec or reconfigure your skills, or the number of consumables you can pluck out of your inventory for a needed edge, that I never felt like any battle was truly insurmountable. The open-world approach is also beneficial in this regard: if you're getting wrecked by enemies a level or two higher than you, it's probably because you missed a whole region full of current party level-equivalent encounters and side-quests elsewhere.

Suffice it to say, I'll probably have some glowing words for this game in the monthly round-up due out around this time next week. I think this game's been an incredible feat of encounter design, where no two battles are ever the same, and I'm enjoying most of the rest of it too (a few irritating glitches aside). It definitely makes me hopeful for what Larian intends to do with Baldur's Gate III when it releases (hopefully) some point next year.

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