Back in 2014, a quirky little game from Larian Studios called Divinity: Original Sin was released. It was one of that year’s most pleasant surprises and one of the early Kickstarter successes. What was so refreshing about Original Sin was that it didn’t go for obvious nostalgia, but sought to take the genre in new and exciting directions.
For example, it didn’t take itself very seriously, one of the first conversations you had in that game was with a talking shellfish and the whole game had a distinct indie and scruffy feel to it. But most of all, it overhauled and created a new style of combat for RPGs that was infinitely enjoyable and replayable, though ultimately a bit prone to exploitation. It was a true gem in so many ways and I was really excited when a sequel got greenlit. Now that the sequel is finally here in its definitive form,offering a slew of bug fixes and optimizations in gameplay as well as a brand-new difficulty setting for those who became overwhelmed by the difficult combat in the first release. It is also the first time the game is available on consoles and I am very pleased to say that the port is excellent in every possible way.
Although it is a sequel, Divinity: Original Sin 2 has very few ties to the first game. Taking place many centuries after the events of the first game all of the characters are long gone and a lot of the world has changed. One of these changes is that apparently during these centuries the world also grew up and started taking itself a bit more seriously. While the first game started hitting you with its goofiness and silly antics almost from the first frame, Original Sin 2 is a bit more buttoned up and starts out as a far more generic fantasy world. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of silly, Python-esque humor and situations to be had, but Larian seems to have turned down the knob a smidge since last time.
The beginning of the game finds you on a boat on your way to an island prison for Sourcerers, powerful mages who can use source magic, and your first order of business is to find a way to escape your predicament before you get ‘cured’ of your source ability. A lot of the game is centered around why people fear you so much and why trans-dimensional beings called the Voidwoken breaks into the realm when Source is used. The personal stakes are higher, and things are far more serious than how the first game started out.
Like most RPGs, Original Sin 2 starts with you creating your own character. What is unique in this case is that you also have the option of choosing one of several premade ‘Origin’ characters that have their own storylines, personalities, and voices, as well as some unique quirks of their own. Already at the character creation screen, you get a taste on how Larian Studios has put their own spin on classical fantasy archetypes. For instance, elves are old, wise and bursting with knowledge, but not because they sit around studying and discussing things for thousands of years. No, they are cannibals that gain memories and knowledge by eating the flesh of sentient beings.
It is also one of the only RPGs I can think of that lets you play as an undead character, of any race, you get to choose freely from skeletal lizardmen, dwarves, humans or elves who each bring some of their own traits to the table. Being undead also comes with a different set of ordeals: You can’t go around showing your bones to people since they’ll freak out and attack you, and you can’t get healed through normal means since you aren’t really alive. To avoid a second death, you put a bucket (or a helmet if you’re a bore) on your head and you drink poison to heal your wounds. As a general rule, I never choose the prefab characters in RPGs since making my own character will teach me a bit about how the RPG mechanics work. So, it is a testament to how well Larian presents their cast of characters that I skipped making my own and picked one from their roster instead. The other Origin characters can later be recruited into your party if you like and I would say that they all have interesting stories that are well worth exploring throughout the game.
The star of the first Original Sin was undoubtedly its deep, tactical combat and it is nice to see it make a comeback, just as hard, for the second game. During combat encounters, the game takes on an almost XCOM-like quality in how it operates. Unlike other games, such as Pillars of Eternity or Baldur’s Gate that rely on a pause mechanic, Original Sin 2 is completely turn-based. Each character has a limited number of action points for their turn, with the option to save some AP for subsequent turns. It pretty much works in the same way as the first Original Sin did and the name of the game is to play different elements, and the environment against each other.
Poison is highly flammable so throw a poison dart at an enemy and then hurl a fireball at it for some spectacular results. If you are being pelted by ranged units, you can make a fire and then put it out with water to create obscuring smoke that you later electrify when enemies charge through it. To play around with these elements, you not only have magic spells but also grenades, special arrows or even things in the environment like water and oil barrels. It is very fun and lends itself to a lot of experimentation, making sure that encounters are always exciting and challenging.
The only negative thing about the combat is that it tends to rely on you replaying the encounter: you will almost always fail the first attempt or you end up spending too many potion or resurrection scrolls that continuing is difficult even after a victory. So, if you get frustrated by battles that can easily spin out of control and don’t enjoy being punished for your mistakes, you might want to opt for the new ‘Story Mode’ that makes the combat much less cumbersome.
Personally, I get really strong XCOM and RTS vibes in the sense that I sometimes reload or restart an encounter because I want to solve it a bit better than I did on my first try. Much like in XCOM, I start thinking about how I could have solved the battle in a better way; moving a barrel just so or making sure I have a special potion or spell before I trigger the encounter. It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy XCOM or other strategy games, you will most likely enjoy the combat in Original Sin 2. Much like the first game though, the difficulty is very front loaded — once you get your hands on some good gear and skills, the battles tend to become a lot easier to manage.
Though Original Sin 2 might be a bit more buttoned up compared to the first game’s goofy attitude to everything, there are still plenty of shenanigans to be had and the quest design and dialogue is truly great. While I never really paid attention to the story of the first game (something about a cosmic void, evil things and an ancient cult) I found myself being genuinely interested in Original Sin 2’s characters and their storylines and it is pretty impressive that all of the main characters are interesting and bring something unique to the table. What’s more, Original Sin does something I have nagged RPGs to do for a long time: to give your party members some real agency and interaction with each other. During the game, they will interrupt each other and sometimes their goals are in direct opposition so conflicts are bound to occur. For instance, your lizardman prince wants to talk to a character that your elf wants to murder and it is up to you to pick a side or try to compromise.
The quests also take great advantage of the abilities of your characters. For example, if you need to figure out where a key or quest item is, you could use the pet pal skill to talk to the rats in the dungeon for clues or let your elf nibble on a severed head to see what you can learn from that. Other times, creative use of teleportation spells or other magic items can save you a lot of time getting around or bag you some secret items.
For me, the biggest surprise with playing Original Sin 2 is how well the game plays on a console with a controller. Being an old PC guy, I was more than a little skeptical to the idea of these types of games coming over to the PlayStation and Xbox platforms. But aside from being a bit fiddly with inventory management (a constant problem in these types of RPGs, even on PC), I didn’t really have any problems with how the game plays at all. Mouse and keyboard will still be my preferred way of playing these types of games, but at no point during my over 100 hours of play time, did I feel like I was struggling with the way Original Sin 2 controls or behaves on a console.
The game’s visuals gorgeous and some of the effects are beautiful but the thing that stands out the most is the way everything is presented. Little things like having a narrator voice internal dialogues and descriptions goes a long way towards establishing a tone and making the world feel alive. This is especially important while playing on a big TV as some details will be harder to pick up and if you had to read all that text by yourself it would probably become tedious pretty quickly. The whole thing works so well that I frankly doubt I will be able to go back to a more classical RPG that would require me to read large chunks of text by myself again.
Original Sin 2 is a fantastic game that plays great on consoles and should be considered among the heaviest titles in the genre. The first game might have had a bit more indie charm that is lost this time around but other than that Larian Studios delivers a deep, varied and infinitely fun RPG experience that will keep you busy for many, many hours.
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The sequel to Divinity: Original Sin delivers a great tactical top-down RPG experience that plays phenomenally on a console.
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