It’s certainly been a year. Leaving aside everything else happening globally, whether it’s the latest scandal or “political” development (quotes fully intended), it’s been a year for video games. It all started innocently enough – January was chock-full of amazing games. Then February followed suit. So did March…well, leaving aside Ghost Recon Wildlands, which was a fantastic guilty pleasure, and Mass Effect Andromeda, which had the misfortune of being worse than Wildlands. The hits just wouldn’t stop coming, the hype building higher and higher for games we didn’t think would be so amazing. To echo the cliche, 2018 looks like it’ll be even better.
For role-playing games though, it’s been a fantastic year. Persona 5, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Pyre, Cosmic Star Heroine, Battle Chasers: Nightwar…even existing titles like Grim Dawn received the Ashes of Malmouth expansion. Path of Exile went above and beyond the gifts of free to play with The Fall of Oriath expansion. Despite some missteps, Warframe’s Plains of Eidolon offered a pretty fun change of pace. Tactical RPG fans had their fill with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. Casual hack and slash players could even invest in titles like Cat Quest if they so desired. Action RPG fans interested in a more action adventure style of gameplay had Nier: Automata, Nioh (along with its numerous excellent DLC) and Horizon: Zero Dawn. We’d throw Destiny 2 in somewhere but it was disappointing and fairly stripped of its RPG elements. Sorry, Luke.
"What was this game that suddenly averaged 90+ on Metacritic and which was the second highest rated title behind Zelda for a time?"
However, my personal favourite RPG of 2017 is one that actually came into existence last year. It’s Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin 2. After a successful Kickstarter in 2015 which hit its funding goal in less than 12 hours, Divinity: Original Sin 2 entered Steam Early Access in 2016. So while everyone was freaking out about No Man’s Sky and how disappointing it was, the futuristic setting of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare or even how underrated Titanfall 2 was, Divinity: Original Sin 2 was in the process of being polished. This is hilarious given the bugs that emerged in the first act and which made up the majority of Early Access content but I digress.
I purchased the Early Access version but held back from really trying it. Having known the first game was amazing (despite my limited play time with the same), I didn’t want to jump into this even greater experience and have to stop mid-way. Post-E3 2017, Larian Studios would announce that Divinity: Original Sin 2 was coming in September. A few weeks later, we finally had a solid release date – September 14th.
Having played way too much Destiny, the month was auspicious for different reasons. Destiny 2 was coming. The hype trains were blaring and hardcore fans were foaming at the mouth. Then you had this game, which launched a few days after the Leviathan raid went live. Everything changed after that.
Reviews started rolling in. Divinity: Original Sin 2 was praised to the high heavens by nearly every publication (heck, the one publication that rated it lower than the average still gave it 7 out of 10). Word of mouth quickly spread because this was a year that had classics like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, Persona 5 and what have you. What was this game that suddenly averaged 90+ on Metacritic and which was the second highest rated title behind Zelda for a time?
"I won’t spoil the parts with the dogs but suffice to say that even more content opens up when you have the ability to talk to animals."
Meanwhile, I began the process of making my first character. It was an Elf mage that favoured Pyromancy with a bit of Geomancy thrown in. She had the intriguing talent of eating corpses and gaining their past memories. This also led to the possibility of gaining different abilities. At some point, I even gave her the ability to heal by simply standing in pools of blood. From that point on, I began to dabble into the world of Rivellon, a world where the Divine was dead and I had to ascend to Divinity. Why? Well, because of some troublesome creatures called the Voidwoken who are attracted to Source (which is different from magic) and whom the previous Divine failed to halt.
The set-up sounds kind of cliche when you think about it. You were wrongfully imprisoned for your gift and have to deal with an authoritarian organization called Magisters that want to extract it from you. Eventually you’ll make your escape, you think. Then you’ll embark on an epic quest to “save” the world. How many times have we seen this story told? However, you’re not immediately set free. Instead, you meet your would-be companions.
You meet Lohse, an intriguing jester who loves singing but also serves as a host for some troublesome spirits. Her current spirit is something fairly nasty and she wants to cast it out. Then there’s the Red Prince, a former heir to the Lizard kingdom throne who’s the target of assassins. He’s pompous, arrogant and only interested in getting his throne back. Ifan Ben-Mezd seems like the most level-headed of this motley group of companions, which is certainly saying something since he’s a mercenary for hire that wants to kill Alexander, the Divine-in-waiting. Sebille is an assassin who managed to escape her horrendous master and is now seeking revenge, bearing the mark of a slave on her cheek and a list of names that’s literally an arm long. I mean she tattoos the names of people she’s going to kill on her arm.
Fane is Fane. You’ll learn to like Fane even if you shouldn’t. I could care less about Beast but I’ll certainly come back to him in a bit.
Sooner rather than later, an enormous Voidwoken destroys the boat you’re on. You wash up on the beaches of Fort Joy, make your way into the prison, watch a poor Magister executed for daring to help some prisoners escape and go about plotting your own little flight of fancy.
"It may not seem like all the above threads are interconnected but that’s simply on the surface level."
The crazy thing about Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t exactly how much it opens up but just how dense and alive the entire experience feels. When you enter Fort Joy, you can flirt with a woman named Butter who wants to meet you later. “Later” in this case refers to when you escape and make it to the outside. Butter works with Griff but if you happen to get into a tussle with the crooked cook, she’ll back you up. Oh, and if another party member tries flirting with her after you did, she flat out denies them. Did I also mention I met one of Griff’s thugs upon entering the prison and broke his leg? That earned me brownie points with the Elf being extorted, who then led me to Saheila, a blind Elf child who could see the future. Saheila then sent me to rescue her companion from Griff.
That’s just one example of things tying together so incredibly. There’s an arena with a cult dedicated to finding The One where I tested my mettle against some warriors. With a four member party composed of the previously mentioned companions, it was fairly easy win (at least in this playthrough). From there, I could relocate to the nasty woman who knew how to open the collars that suppressed Source since she also believed in the cult. Doing this would put all the Magisters on alert though and we’d have to fight our way out. Also, since I’m fairly under-trained, it’s not like my Source ability would inflict the maximum amount of harm to attackers.
Fort Joy also plays host to a undead named Lord Withermoore who was punished by Braccus Rex and now lives underneath Saheila’s cavern, impaled for all eternity. There’s a deeper section in the cave filled with poisonous frogs. I ran into a Magister caught trying save Sourcerers from the horrors of the island. Saving him granted access to his spies who would then task me with leaving the prison with a boy. There would also be an underground cavern full of undead enemies. Oh, and that’s not counting the crazed Magister outside who’s eating some poor victims but calms down upon reuniting with his daughter (which earned me the tag of “Hero”). I won’t spoil the parts with the dogs but suffice to say that even more content opens up when you have the ability to talk to animals.
Keep in mind that this isn’t everything you can do in Fort Joy. There’s a whole lot more waiting on the rest of the island. Then you venture out into the world of Reaper’s Coast, running into a chicken whose eggs have been stolen by Voidwoken and mutated into something horrible. A young child is stranded on the opposite end of a drawbridge while his mother prepares to fight some Voidwoken – you can choose to cross over and help her, eventually reuniting mother and son. There’s someone kidnapping Magisters for grisly purposes. In fact, one Magister discovers you’re Sourcerer and can somehow be persuaded into thinking you want to join them. This grants you a piece of paper that keeps other Magisters and their Source Hounds off your trail. Spirits roam the area and they may have vital clues. There’s also another arena located underground where you can continue your journey to become The One.
"You’ve probably heard all this before though. However, it still amazes me after all this time just how much there really is to Divinity: Original Sin 2."
It may not seem like all the above threads are interconnected but that’s simply on the surface level. The mother you save may know a certain Magister back in the town of Driftwood. You might be able to help a disgraced Elven Magister by providing a clue on the disappearances of his former comrades. You’ll probably find that exorcist for Lohse who was recommended by a prisoner in Fort Joy.
Perhaps the most significant part of it all is that you’re immersed in the lore of the world while simultaneously influencing change. It feels like you’re the centre of everything but not quite in the omnipotent sense (at least initially). Conflict, strife, love, war, Divine-hood, murder, rituals, rebellion and intrigue are all swirling around you. And yes, the Seven Gods are involved as well, which is just as well because their existence hinges on your success. But what if that success comes at a price? What if, as the gods keep saying, you had to fight your companions for a chance at Divinity? Would you take it? Would they possibly take it?
You’ve probably heard all this before though. It still amazes me after all this time just how much there really is to Divinity: Original Sin 2. This isn’t a game that offers an incredible experience with the freedom to do as you’d like, triggering unseen butterfly effects that echo throughout the entire game. This is a game that offer a memorable experience to almost every RPG fan. “Nuance” is the key word here. When playing Divinity: Original Sin 2, you can choose to be a compassionate Elf who’s race has suffered through countless tragedies. Or you can be Sebille, an assassin Elf who’s been through horrifying events, killing for her master and being kept in a box for most of her life. Sebille isn’t exactly the most compassionate of Elves, taking pleasure in the torture of her enemies and exclaiming joyously in the heat of battle.
However, she does have a soft side that can manifest when she truly opens up and allows everyone, including herself, to see what she truly was and may still be. Or you can play an Undead Elf who would be attacked by anyone and everyone unless he/she masked their appearance. This isn’t factoring in the sheer number of classes you can take up or the options afforded by traits, attributes and talents, not to mention tags. From a story-telling perspective, there’s a ton of nuance to be had. I haven’t experienced the origins story for a character like Beast and only scratched the surface for Fane or Ifan, which means there is even more story-telling on offer.
"You can become a suicidal Pyromancer that abuses Living on the Edge and Death Wish to continuously ramp up damage while inflicting self-harm with fire spells."
If you’re the adventuring sort, then Divinity: Original Sin 2 offers a more casual-friendly Explorer mode. Even if enemies are three levels above you, it’s possible to hold your own and emerge victorious. You are rewarded with deep rich lore that’s inherent in the books you discover, the people you talk to and the relationships that are forged. Lohse isn’t a buxom jester who’s easy on the eyes – she’s genuinely concerned about the thing inside her that’s seemingly trying to take over.
As such, it takes a lot to get her down so when she requests to be killed should things go south, you can’t help but refuse. Even if that results in her attitude towards you being diminished. Rivellon as such is full of all sorts of interesting details for adventurers to encounter, from that couple sitting by the waterfall and admiring nature to the poor man stuck as a statue and suffering eternal burning. It’s a world you care about because it’s alive, even with its limitations and inanities like trading with that guy you’re about to kill.
If you’re a tactical strategy fan, then the clever use of positioning, how different surfaces react with different elements, setting traps and properly exploiting line of sight will appeal to you. There’s even a difficulty called Tactician which grants new abilities to enemies, thus providing a more challenging combat experience. Many players have already trivialized this thanks to their OP builds, mind you.
Speaking of which, is the loot grinding and build optimization of an RPG something that entices you? Do you want the freedom to create whatever character and ability set-up you feel like to stomp all over enemies? Divinity: Original Sin 2 offers that as well. You can become a suicidal Pyromancer that abuses Living on the Edge and Death Wish to continuously ramp up damage while inflicting self-harm with fire spells. You can turn into an Aero Mage that shocks enemies with lighting after calling down rain but can leverage high Intelligence and Aerothurge into physically damaging skills like Battle Stomp and Battering Ram for more knock-down potential.
"The sheer range of choice doesn’t crush players but enhances the chaotic fun they could have."
You can be a Ranger who utilizes the high ground damage bonus along with Enrage for guaranteed critical hits and Adrenaline for more Action Points to tear down groups of foes in a single turn. Or maybe you could summon a massive Incarnate and infuse him with all kinds of buffs to smack your foes around for you. Heck, if you really wanted to, you could fill a reinforced barrel with heavy objects and drop it on your enemies using Telekinesis. Or maybe you’d want to invest in skills to return 100 percent of the damage you receive back to your enemies.
The game responds in kind, letting you break as much of its combat – and other aspects – as possible while still remaining cohesive. It rewards you for coming up with over-powered combinations of skills and builds, dispenses fairly good loot with the potential for min-maxing your character further and even offers up higher difficulties if you want a real challenge. Why not go solo Honor mode, relying only on Lone Wolf and your knowledge of the world to carry you through?
If that’s not enough, there are mods which let you add more enemies, have six party members at once, enable Pet Pal as a default perk and whatnot. There are several ways to customize the game like having all skill books unlocked from the start and they’ll only further entice you to constantly replay it. Of course, Larian Studios decided to increase that pool of possible experiences with its co-op and Game Master modes.
While I personally haven’t tried Game Master and can’t attest to how effective it is at creating unlimited adventures for players to enjoy, co-operative play is simply a brand new experience. You discover things you missed the first time around. Syncing up your build with a friend, creating mischief that affects them, causing them to be drawn into battles because of one wrong decision you made – the fact that four players are supported means even more mayhem. However, it’s fun. The sheer range of choice doesn’t crush players but enhances the chaotic fun they could have. What a novel concept in this day and age of dumbed down experiences.
"It’s a hallmark of all games that are truly special, a world where you sort of know how the conversations will play out and how certain characters will react."
Remember that Elven Mage I made when I first started the game? I now have a two-handed Warfare version of Lohse that siphons health with points in Necromancy in a separate co-op save. I also have Sebille and Lohse as a duo Lone Wolf party with suicidal Pyromancer and Warfare-based Aero/Cold builds respectively in third save. Suffice to say, I want to create another character and embark on a solo playthrough with an Undead ranger, possibly murdering every single character I come across. I want to take another proper party but with OP builds and re-attempt an earnest playthrough. Maybe I could mix it up by choosing an origin character this time instead of a custom Elf. Or maybe I could just mod the game and turn it into something else entirely.
In a way, this kind of experience reminds me of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. That game facilitated the desire to go back and just “make another character” to see how things would play out. The world was very much finite, don’t get me wrong, and Divinity: Original Sin 2 probably has a lot more choice and long-standing impact from decisions. That being said, even if players did go back to playing the Stealth Archer, Skyrim offered something that everyone could latch on to. The combat enthusiasts, the adventurers, the loot grinders, the spelunkers, the lore collectors, you name it. The fact that it received so many mods and significant DLC to further extend the experiences it could provide is even better (and something which Original Sin 2 needs more of).
Personally, like Skyrim and numerous titles before, Divinity: Original Sin 2 offers something unique. It’s a hallmark of all games that are truly special, a world where you know how the conversations will play out and how certain characters will react. This is a world where you know what’s lurking around every corner and you’ve probably tried all kinds of positions for approaching those battles. However, this is a world that’s warm and welcoming despite so much bloodshed and violence. It’d be one thing to make it feel too real but for every act of violence or torture, there is the odd humming of Lohse as you try to speak to her.
There is that coyness you didn’t think could exist for someone like Ifan when you flirt with him. There may even be that one vault you didn’t discover or that one Lizard soldier you hadn’t smacked in the face out of disrespect and fought. It’s a world that keeps giving and even if you agree or disagree that the story runs out of steam somewhere in the third act, you still want to experience it again and again. Maybe that’s just the quality of the writing or the world-building. Perhaps it’s the music and graphics that draw you into Rivellon and never truly let you go, thus ensuring you visit again and again.
"Divinity: Original Sin 2, however, has a quality about it that sticks with you through multiple playthroughs."
Some time ago, I wrote about the great “triple A” myth, how that tagline is ultimately pointless since it only denotes how much money has been spent on developing a game. Saying that great triple A single player titles are dying, besides being a fallacy in and of itself, is doing a disservice to the superb titles that don’t have the highest budgets but still provide experiences that could surpass any Star Wars Battlefront 2 or Call of Duty: WW2.
At the time, I remember a random YouTube user commenting how many developers like Larian Studios would eventually go the same direction as “triple-A” studios because money was important. That comment stuck with me simply because of the number of top-notch developers like Bioware, Respawn Entertainment, Infinity Ward and Bungie that went full-on triple-A and have either lost their sheen or made us concerned for their future, especially when it comes to their precious IP.
It’s interesting to think that Larian Studios could one day venture down the same path. Isn’t bigger often times better? Shouldn’t it work to make Divinity: Original Sin 3 even more epic so it could, say, do for the series what The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt did for its franchise? It could also go the route of Bioware and turn the Mass Effect series into something huge before seeing Mass Effect: Andromeda collapse under the weight of its ambitions.
I’m not really sure, to be honest and it’s hard to predict such a future for any developer. Sometimes it works out and sometimes, it doesn’t.
"Even as the years go by and role-playing games become costlier to develop, Divinity: Original Sin 2 will reflect a special time in gaming where the experience truly was what you made it."
Of the many role-playing games released this year and in the years prior, my heart still goes back to Divinity: Original Sin 2. The overall concept of extensive choice and the consequences of your actions may not be new to the genre nor is the practice of creating powerful builds. Tactical RPGs aren’t very uncommon these days either and there are plenty of titles which provide a meaty single-player experience that you can eventually dust off and clear in a set period of time. Divinity: Original Sin 2, however, has a quality about it that sticks with you through multiple playthroughs.
It’s like when you go back to Dark Souls and feel immersed in that world again while setting up some absurd challenge for yourself. Part of that feeling is what most people argue about when they play Destiny 2 and find the mechanical gun play to be worth revisiting despite many other faults. I’ll say it again – Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t flawless. The third and fourth acts feel pretty incomplete compared to the prior two. It’s easy to over-level for later acts, thus turning combat into a cake-walk if you weren’t destroying everything already. There are also glitches and bugs which have yet to be fixed.
However, perhaps every one who has a favourite game knows that feeling – that no matter how many times they come back or how many characters they make, it’s like you’re home. Divinity: Original Sin 2 has that quality, warts and all, and even as the years go by and role-playing games become costlier to develop, it will reflect a special time in gaming where the experience truly was what you made it.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GamingBolt as an organization.