Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition (Xbox One) Review

Divinity: Original Sin was successfully kickstarted and deliver about a year ago, then happily made its way to consoles last month.  I've played three other Divinity games, and although they are very different from each other, I've enjoyed them.  Original Sin is like a mix of Diablo and a turn-based RPG, and it even boasts co-op, so I can take my wife along for the ride.  In fact, we ended up playing co-op a whole lot, but I made sure to get a little single player in.

At first, you have to create not one, but two characters to play with.  There are a lot of skills, stats and perks and it can be really daunting if you want to try and make someone from scratch.  Thankfully the game does provide you with several bases from the three archetypes of fighter, mage and rogue.  From there it is much easier to change a few things and tailor them to your wants and needs.  Although I do think it is better in this game to read through the stuff, pick one of the classes and change just a few things before jumping in.  This is because there is a lot of stuff you will learn as you go, and it is easier to restart once you've learned a thing or three.

Starting over isn't really too bad, since there are so many different skills, talents and perks that there is always some combination to try out.  You do get enough points throughout your levels that you can experiment a little, but it is wisest to stick to the strengths of your character and their path.  A lot of the stuff is useful, even if only occasionally.  The variety of talents to choose from is pretty big.  There's one called Glass Cannon that gives you more AP per turn, but halves your health.  Risky, but can be great for a late game mage.  Another interesting one is called Lone Wolf.  Taking it increases your stats, but you cannot have a follower, limiting you to your first two characters.

When not in battle, you directly move your characters around the map.  Up to four party members can be linked together to move as a group, but you can also have them move separately, or in uneven groups.  It's pretty cool.  Even more so, you can have your party in different positions to start battles.  Leave your ranged characters back while your close combatants run in to start the fight.  Or, have a character that is immune to ground effects wade through some dangers for the whole group.  Sadly, you can't change the formation of your party to make them single file, at least not that I've found in the console version.  It's not the biggest deal, but it would help when trying to navigate a trap field.

 Battles take place wherever you are when you start the encounter.  Each turn you get a certain number of AP dictated by your stats that is used to move, attack and use skills/magic.  If you end your turn, you can keep your leftover AP up to your max, which is also dictated by your stats.  It is similar to systems used in other games in that regard.  The movement plane is not grid based, but fairly free form.  How much AP it takes to move is adjusted by your equipment and speed stat, and each skill and spell has a set range that you can target in.

Skills and magic also have a cooldown so you can't spam your best moves every turn, even if you have the AP.  Once you get a lot of them, you have plenty of things you can do on your turn, and it is nice to be able to use multiple skills and/or attack.  There is definite strategy in positioning yourself for maximum safety and to take advantage of your abilities.  You will need to get good at combat, because it can be very fluid and difficult.  Several attacks and effects will limit your mobility and AP gain, so being able to adapt will make you victorious in even dire situations.  You will need any advantage you can get when you are outnumbered or out-powered by your foes.

One big defining feature of the battles in Original Sin are the sheer amount of environmental effects and how your abilities interact.  If there is an oil barrel, you can explode it.  Ooze on the ground?  Ignite it!  Fire around?  Use rain to put it out and create steam.  Then freeze or electrocute the resulting puddle.  Steam and smoke will also obscure your vision, making distance attacks impossible.  It's pretty inventive, but also way too prevalent for me.  These things tend to work against me more than for me, no matter how careful I am.  It was always better to me to take care of them before the battle if possible, even though it's fun to teleport and enemy into them.  I do appreciate how it all works together, but it's a presence that's just too common for my liking.

Combat isn't the only thing you can do while going around the map.  There's also the possibility on going to the other side of the law and steal.  There are skills for pickpocketing and lock picking, both of which can net you some extra items and money, or maybe even help you solve a quest.  Honestly, lock picking isn't near as necessary as it is in other RPGs.  Pretty much all locked doors and chests have a corresponding key, and most can be broken down if you don't want to try and find it.  Pickpocketing has a few uses, but again doesn't seem worth doing.

Stealing and sneaking on the other hand, are very useful.  Sneaking helps you not be seen while entering places you aren't supposed to be, and it looks hilarious.  When you sneak, you cover yourself in some piece of scenery, like a big rock, bush or barrel, and usually look out of place.  Plus, when you walk, you scuttle your legs beneath the object like an old cartoon.  It's really awesome and I just love the animation itself, let alone how useful it is.  If someone sees you, then the sneaking fails and you pop out of your funny hiding place.  Stealing is a great way to earn money (in the game, not real life).  Taking items while no one is looking (or when distracted by your partner) nets you some good items to sell or use.

Of course there is a robust crafting system that allows you to turn a lot of the junk lying around into useful items.  Not only can you find recipes, but experimenting will help you learn lots of new combinations.  There are lots of food dishes to make that give health and a temporary stat boost, and pieces of equipment to make.  The equipment you make isn't that great, but can make you a few gold when you sell them.  If you put enough points into it, you can also create skill books to teach your characters new spells instead of buying them.  There's also several modifications you can do to your pieces of equipment to add a new ability, which unlike making your own, is very useful.

Being a more modern RPG, Divinity: Original Sin also has a fairly robust dialogue system.  Many conversations have lots of line options to learn more about certain things, and of course many choices that affect how the whole dialogue goes.  If they are close enough, your two created characters will both join in, and you can give them separate opinions, which is really awesome.  You can choose them yourself, have the second player do it, or even set an AI to do it.  As an added bonus, certain responses will shift your personality toward one of two sides, and each one will give you some extra stat or skill points in certain things.  For example, being more heartless in your responses will give you extra backstabbing damage.  It's really cool to see extra stat and skill bonuses just for dialogue responses.  Although, it can be hard to tailor your answers for specific stats unless you know the result ahead of time.

However, there is one part of the dialogue system that I really dislike.  I've mentioned that you and your partner can disagree on certain things.  So what happens when you do?  Well, you get to play a rock-paper-scissors mini-game that represents your argument, of course.  There tend to be three options in conversations, one each for Reason, Intimidate and Charm.  Each round of RPS you win will give you some points (based on the corresponding skill) toward winning.  If you get 10 points, you win the argument.  For dealing with a co-op person it's not terrible.  When dealing with the AI, it's just awful.  Have you ever tried to win something like RPS with a computer?  They pretty much decide if you are winning or not.  It's not always so random, since they know what you choose.  It makes me really miss just having a random die roll in the background to pass the stat check.  That is at least over quicker if I need to reload.

So, how is the co-op?  Well, it works surprisingly well.  Each player can control one of the created characters, and you have two more possible members to recruit, and can split them however you want between the two of you.  Thankfully you aren't tethered to each other either.  As long as you are on the same loaded area, you can travel however far you want from each other, and even fight separately if you want.  This was very helpful to me, as my wife would take chunks of time to craft stuff, so I would use that time to do other things.  All experience is evenly shared too, so if one person is in town and the other is off fighting, nobody is missing experience.  If one player is in a conversation with an NPC, the other player can listen in if they are close enough, or just run off and do their own thing.  Be sure to use the d-pad to force splitscreen, otherwise it can almost be as headache inducing as the LEGO games when you are running around each other.  Even if it is forced, battles take place on a joined screen if both people are participating.  You will only control the characters that you were assigned.

Original Sin has a pretty steep difficulty.  Nothing scales to your level, and enemies don't respawn, so in many ways you don't have a lot of freedom.  You can take on enemies a level higher, but it is a more difficult proposition.  Sadly, even on the easiest setting you can still lose.  Battles can go bad fast, mostly thanks to the environmental stuff everywhere.  You have to either make it work to your advantage, or try an neutralize it beforehand.  Take full advantage of the quick save slots you set to avoid wasting much time when you lose a fight.  I honestly don't think I would ever try the game on the hardest setting, given how quickly a battle can turn against you.  There is an ironman option for the masochists out there, though.

The main story takes a long time to do, especially if you try and clear out as much as you can so you are properly leveled.  It took my wife and I well over 50 hours to go through all we did, but she did spend a lot of time crafting items.  There are a lot of side quests and such to do, and they tie in pretty well to your core objectives that there is no real reason not to do them.  Most of the game's replayability is trying out different character types/builds and team configurations rather than missing something.  Still, with so many character options, it's a good reason to replay the game.

Overall, I think Divinity: Original Sin is worthy of the praise it has received and should receive.  It is a really good RPG and does a lot of interesting things that I haven't experienced in games before.  I'd say the sheer amount of character customization, interesting battles, wonderfully done co-op and fluidity of the quests are easily the high points of the game.  There were a few small things I found annoying though, like the difficulty, the ever present environmental effects and the disagreement rock-paper-scissors mini-game.  If you are a fan of RPGs, you should definitely check out Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition, and even more so if you can bring a friend with you.

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