Divinity: Original Sin Review
There was a time when RPGs were less user friendly than they are these days, but in recent years there have been a small number of developers who, looking back wistfully, have sought to recapture that old-school brand of brutality. Divinity: Original Sin is one such game, but it is as full of frustrating failings as it is successes. Those brave enough to give it a try should be forewarned that a potentially enjoyable experience will be marred by glitches, unwieldy interfaces, and a whole host of other problems which most modern gamers simply won’t tolerate.
There is one such problem which should be noted immediately, as it prevented us from completing the game. This game-breaking bug left our party of characters permanently afflicted with the “stunned” status effect, and could not be resolved. Furthermore, attempts to contact Larian Studios – through multiple channels – was met only with silence. This particular glitch certainly doesn’t affect everyone, but a quick trawl through the forums reveals people afflicted with many others we never encountered. If you’re still in a forgiving mood, read on.
The world of Divinity: Original Sin will feel familiar to anyone who has played RPGs before; on your journeys, you will encounter the usual collection of orcs, witches, wizards, giant spiders and other monsters which have been trotted out in a thousand games or more. The plot revolves around the concept of “sourcery”, which is an entirely different thing to “sorcery” and which is both evil and outlawed. A murder is committed and sourcery seems to have been involved; as a result, two source hunters – the main heroes of the piece – are dispatched to investigate.
As with the world it inhabits, the story of Divinity: Original Sin doesn’t hold a great deal of originality. For fans of the RPG genre, the twists and turns it throws at you will fail to surprise, while the concepts underpinning it seem simply like a greatest hits collection from the fantasy genre. The two lead characters are entirely customised by the player, however, and therefore come across as rather shallow. They have the option to engage in conversations with other party members, and the responses you select for them will affect their personality traits – but the options tend to be overly simplistic and don’t add much depth. This leaves the story feeling rather hollow, although it does a reasonable job of moving the game along and has a certain charm that traditionalists will particularly appreciate.
The game plays largely in real time and from a top-down perspective; you manoeuvre your party around the map using the mouse and interact with objects and people by clicking on them. Before you even get to the battle system, this provides a whole host of things to do. Stealing, bartering, and collecting all the various paraphernalia on offer will take up a good amount of time, and if there’s one thing the game isn’t short on, it’s content. Away from the main story there are dozens of quests to complete and a rich world to be explored.
Battles are entered when you approach enemies on the map, and are a turn-based affair. There is a surprising amount of depth to be found here, with numerous different ways to customise your characters and their weapons and abilities. Area effects, in particular, provide a lot of fun. A poison attack will leave behind a toxic puddle which can then be set on fire for an extra explosion, while pools of water and blood can be hit with lightning to electrocute those standing in them. In addition to the extra damage dealt, these attacks will then add status effects such as “burning” or “stunned”. The fights can sometimes be brutally difficult and things can turn against you very quickly indeed, but this will suit those looking for a slice of old-school action.
While the graphical quality of the game might not be of the highest order – particularly when you try zooming in closer – the game’s art style goes some distance towards compensating for this. Divinity: Original Sin has an old-fashioned fantasy appeal to it, and sometimes seems almost more like a tabletop game than a video game. The world is presented through a bright and varied colour palette, so that while it is never beautiful, it is at least never boring. The music, meanwhile, is positively wonderful, and is easily one of the best things that the game offers.
In addition to the single-player experience that comprises most of the game, Divinity: Original Sin also offers two player co-operative gameplay. This is a neat feature which extends its playability and depth. While no unique features are made available by having a second player take control of a character, having someone else along makes it a much less insular experience. It also makes the dialogue choices, which are often bland, considerably more interesting, as the opinions of each character are decided by a different person. It might not be the best co-op you’ll ever see, but it’s an extra bit of content which improves the game’s content.
Unfortunately, much of the good work Divinity: Original Sin does is obscured behind clunky interfaces and other annoyances. Often it is simple things that will leave you frustrated. For example, each character has a separate inventory, thereby forcing you to manually swap items between them. The inventory menu, along with every other menu, is too small and difficult to use; even figuring out how to set skills to the hotbar was a challenge. Ultimately, the interface is simply too clunky and will waste a good deal of your precious time.
The list of little things that will drive you mad is endless, and even the game’s most positive aspects are affected. Upon entering battle, your characters will organise themselves into formation; unfortunately, they will often end up standing behind trees or barrels or whatever else happens to be lying around. It wastes a turn to move them so that they can actually attack, and with a game already as difficult as this one, it quickly becomes frustrating. Furthermore, sometimes objects get in the way without you realising, so that a character will hurl a fireball at something two feet in front of them and blow themselves up. Even selecting a target can be difficult as enemies bob around or stand too close to each other, meaning that battles can quickly turn into a comedy of errors.
Out of battle, there are even more problems. Towns can quickly become a nightmare, as the roofs of houses obstruct your view and make navigation difficult. The fact that characters can slip over on water, blood, or ice might seem realistic, but it becomes a teeth-gnashing annoyance when your band of heroes, who have fought off trolls and orcs and a plague of the undead, are repeatedly bested by a small puddle. Persuasion events quickly turn into a farce when you realise they are decided by a game of “rock, paper, scissors” rather than a sensible system.
Worst of all, however, is that while the game brings back many welcome RPG staples, it also resurrects things which would have been better left in the past. Quest objectives are frequently vague, and there are no markers to guide you. Divinity: Original Sin is clearly eager to avoid hand-holding, but the result is often hours spent wandering aimlessly in search of the next story event. Having to think your way around a situation is all very well, but when you waste twenty minutes because you can’t just ask for directions, the wisdom of clear quest markers becomes obvious. Furthermore, the game is extremely light on tutorials. Anyone who manages to correctly customise their characters’ skills without in-depth knowledge of the game first must count themselves extremely fortunate; for the rest of us, a complete restart will likely be required after several hours.
It feels like there’s a very good game inside Divinity: Original Sin, but it’s hidden away behind a thousand glitches and gameplay problems. At its core there lies an enjoyable experience, and those brave enough to reach it will likely sing its praises. If you’re willing to battle through obscure systems, poorly designed menus, gameplay issues, a legion of bugs and glitches, and poor support from Larian Studios, you just might find something worth playing. For most, however, it will be a different story. Video games are a form of entertainment, but unfortunately, as the problems mount and mount, this one veers more towards frustration than entertainment. Ultimately, it’s difficult to recommend any game which provides more negative moments than positive ones, and that is precisely the kind of game you’ll find in Divinity: Original Sin.