Choice is often an illusion in today’s role-playing games. It’s amazing to think how games disguise that illusion, making us believe our actions are limitless…even as we know deep down they’re not. There are very few games that push these boundaries and really let you play how you want to play. Providing so much choice is difficult as is – how could you crush the average gamer with it? How do you build a compelling narrative experience, keeping in mind every single occurrence that could unfold?
Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t just an in-depth, epic and expansive triumph on the boundless potential of choice though. It’s a computer role-playing game in the same vein as Baldur’s Gate 2, Pillars of Eternity and the old-school Fallout games. The nature of its combat is tactical and nuanced like XCOM, both new and old, and Wasteland 2, forcing you think about your decisions while pushing for synergy among your allies. It’s a grand adventure where you bond with a memorable cast of amazing characters.
"Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t just one of the best role-playing games in years (or since the first game, conveniently enough) – it’s one of the finest RPGs of all time. That’s even with some bugs and quality of life issues."
It’s an old-school RPG backed by a charming narrator but not one that douses you in exposition, instead creating a compelling plot that unfolds slowly but surely. For its genre, it’s also incredibly beautiful, each environment brimming with details that add on to the overall experience while making the world feel alive. Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t just one of the best role-playing games in years (or since the first game, conveniently enough) – it’s one of the finest RPGs of all time. That’s even with some bugs and quality of life issues.
A thousand years after the first game, Source has been outlawed. Thanks to the Voidwoken causing all manner of havoc, the Divine has passed a decree that makes all Sourcerers criminals. You begin your journey en route to Fort Joy, Source magic sealed and dealing with gruff Magisters and strange travelers. You can converse with pretty much everyone but I chose to steal something off of Finn, the unfortunate murder victim, before the Magisters could spot me thanks to some sneaking. This is only the beginning of the various hijinks you’ll embark on in Divinity: Original Sin 2.
From there, you meet the cast – Lohse is a mage of sorts that indulges in singing but has a darker persona threatening to burst out. Sebille is an Elven assassin with names tattooed on both arms, a strange scar on her left cheek and a desire for revenge. Beast seems like your typical Dwarven pirate (or at least as typical as they could be). Ifan is an old, weary-looking soldier who used to serve in the royal army and is now a mercenary for hire. The Red Prince is a Lizardman seemingly pampered beyond belief and willing to make you his slave but seemingly fallen from grace and hunted by assassins.
Then there’s Fane. He’s undead and is as concerned about what happened to his people as he is about finding a new face. You’ll quickly learn to love Fane. Actually, you’ll find something to love about each companion, backed as they are by compelling voice acting, tout script writing and believable traits. Fane exudes a mix of condescension and yet, solitude when talking about his people. Sebille is violent but hurting, caught on the path to vengeance even if it costs her (and if anyone can pull off the line “tic-tac-terminate”, it’s her). Ifan has many ghosts, both among his ilk and the Voidwoken, but still comes across as friendly. It’s a real testament to Larian’s characterization that everyone feels special.
"To be fair to Divinity: Original Sin 2, none of this choice would matter if there was no impact or repercussions to your decisions."
Of course, you don’t need to have them as companions. You can assume the role of Lohse or Fane or Beast or even Sebille if you’d so like, taking their origin story as your own. Divinity: Original Sin 2 boasts a robust character creator for those who want some more flexibility though, ranging from the race, class, attributes, aspiration tags and much more. I went with an Elven Witch who’s scholarly and mystic, specializing in pyrokinesis and geomancy while able to consume corpses to access memories.
However, the variety of the builds here is incredible, allowing you to become a polymorph Ranger that can fly to greater heights and gain bonus damage while firing upon enemies. You can become a Battlemage, mixing strength with powerful magic for frontline fighting. You can choose to regain vitality from standing in blood pools, go Lone Wolf and gain monumental bonuses from playing solo or with one additional party member, or just roll on the battlefield with an undead Lizardman, murdering everyone who dares attack you. It’s liberating, to say the least.
To be fair to Divinity: Original Sin 2, none of this choice would matter if there was no impact or repercussions to your decisions. Upon arriving, you’re faced with numerous choices like who to recruit, whether to pursue their missions or not, setting an Elf convicted of thieving free while wandering the ruins of Fort Joy, searching for ways to escape and much more. The plot starts out slow but eventually you’re drawn into a magical conflict with Sourcerers seemingly at the centre of everything. A new Divine must ascend to bring peace to the land and halt the Voidwoken but in the meantime, you’re searching for your own purpose. If that means murdering dozens of Magisters, running into the same psychotic Sourcerer from before and aligning with resistance fighters, then so be it.
"Summons, stomps, polymorphs, elements, sneaking, archery – if you’re so inclined, create a build that’s all about crushing your enemies with heavy barrels using telekinesis. The choices are all yours."
Enough can’t be said about the sheer detail that Larian has put into the world of Divinity: Original Sin 2. Fort Joy is all crumbling bricks and beautiful beaches but the interior keeps are detailed, lush with candles, torture devices and paintings of prominent figures. The marshes vary between dense forestation and murky, poison-filled swamps where the occasional rat may warn you about Voidwoken. Or you may just come across pigs on fire but not dying as they detonate every explosive barrel around. Character models, spells, attacks and animations are all meticulously crafted and look great.
As if there wasn’t enough to fawn over already, Borislav Slavov’s musical score is simply phenomenal. Everything, from the lilting tones of Fort Joy and the riffs of a tense battle to the subtle yet delightful percussion, Divinity: Original Sin 2‘s soundtrack is a joy to listen to.
You can’t mention an RPG without talking about the battle system. Thankfully, Divinity: Original Sin 2‘s combat is remarkably robust. The tactical pace is dictated by AP which affects the actions you can take, be it moving or attacking. Choosing to end turns can allow for conservation of AP, thus allowing for more mayhem in the next turn but certain classes like the Elf can use abilities like Flesh Sacrifice to add more AP to their current turn (along with other benefits and detriments). Combat is another area where the game’s system of choices shines.
Create puddles of oil and light them ablaze or contaminate water bodies with poison. Get behind an enemy with one attack and then back-stab before teleporting to another enemy’s rear and crippling them. Turn your arrows into blood arrows. Or fire arrows. Or whatever element you feel like torturing your foes with. Make it rain blood or create a storm of electrical steam. Summons, stomps, polymorphs, elements, sneaking, archery – if you’re so inclined, create a build that’s all about crushing your enemies with heavy barrels using telekinesis. The choices are all yours.
"While the complexity of Divinity: Original Sin 2 may not appeal to everyone (though the game is still incredibly welcoming with its tutorials and lowest difficulty), it’s an excellent game that stands out, both in a year full of them and in an industry teeming with memorable experiences."
While I can see hardcore players from the first game taking umbrage with how magic armour and physical armour must be chipped away for CC effects and magic to be really effective, it adds another tactical layer to battles for me. You can’t just attack willy-nilly any more, instead keeping in mind the enemy’s armour before deciding which attacks to use. Of course, the diminishing returns of magical armour versus physical armour can be an issue, as is the effectiveness in speccing towards and augmenting physical damage with magic as opposed to being a pure caster that doesn’t summon. But if you’re intuitive enough, there are all kinds of strategies that will work out for you. It’s about the kind of group and synergy you decide to build.
For all its awesomeness, Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t perfect. There were the odd few bugs at launch like the Journal failing to update and quick saves becoming corrupted (both which were fixed just a few days after launch). Path finding can sometimes be an issue as your team members fail to follow you up and down ladders. Certain spells don’t tell you exactly what they’re capable of in terms of status effects or how your level and attributes can affect them. The inventory has a decent amount of sorting options but having a search bar and the ability to select several items at once would have been great. And don’t get me started on how often I wish my character would move, even if it’s just a little bit, faster while not in combat.
Still, these issues are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a triumph of Western RPG development. Everything, from the story-telling and plot development to the lore and world building, have been crafted incredibly well. Battles feel fun and exciting, even as you set the world on fire or backstab foes time and time again. The characters are some of the best I’ve encountered across my many, many years of playing games. While the complexity of Divinity: Original Sin 2 may not appeal to everyone (though its incredibly welcoming with its tutorials and lowest difficulty option), it’s an excellent game that stands out, both in a year full of them and in an industry teeming with memorable experiences.
This game was reviewed on PC.
An amazing range of choice and consequences that impacts every aspect of the gameplay. Excellent combat system that mixes absurdity with real group synergy. Gorgeous aesthetic and visuals as each scene bursts with details. Epic soundtrack and top-notch voice acting backed by great scripting.
The odd path-finding issue. A few quality of life improvements like detailed descriptions for spells and faster movement out of combat would have been great. Some bugs here and there.