Indie Spotlight: Divinity – Original Sin

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The Indie Spotlight is charged up and ready to shine again. This time the spotlight is landing squarely on Divinity: Original Sin otherwise known as one fantastic game. Divinity: Original Sin is another Kickstarter success blasting past its original goal and reaching over one million dollars in contributions once Paypal is mixed in. The game talked to all the NPCs, quested its way though the Steam Early Access World, battled bugs and problems along the way and ultimately defeated the end boss by releasing itself into the unsuspecting world. There is a lot we have to cover in this Indie Spotlight so I will have to cut short this introduction and jump right in to the game.

Divinity: Original Sin is the latest entry in the Divinity series by Larian Studios. If you have not played any of the Divinity Series and are afraid to pick up on it randomly, it’s quite okay to start with Divinity: Original Sin as it is actually a prequel to the first game, Divine Divinity. In a nutshell Divinity: Original Sin is a Role Playing Game with an isometric camera perspective. You can have up to four characters in play at any given moment and up to four more summoned units to aid you in battle. The total number of units you may take into battle all depends on your character builds.

Character builds I have to honestly say is the part of any game that I both love and hate immensely.  When I am new to a game I almost feel overwhelmed by the decisions I have to make. In the past I have spent hours painstakingly customizing my character then restarting because I didn’t like the end result. Generally character customization in these sorts of games revolves around having to choose at the very start of the game which one weapon type you want to focus on (ex. One-handed Swords or Two-handed Swords, Axes, etc.) or armor type (Leather, Cloth, Heavy, Chain, etc) or which of the umpteen stats and abilities to spend the limited points you have. By the time that I have painstakingly made my character in a way that I actually like, I generally have given myself a headache and no longer feel like playing the game. Divinity: Original Sin still has this customization ability but it is far more streamlined. Divinity: Original Sin consolidates these down to key Abilities, Attributes and Talents. For example, you can specialize in two-handed weapons, meaning regardless of whether it is a sword, an axe or anything else, you can use your abilities with it. It can still be quite overwhelming trying to decide what to do. To make it a little easier there are a bunch of premade characters you can use to play but I still prefer to tailor my character for myself. The curve ball here is that you actually have to make your player twice. Divinity: Original Sin actually has two main characters! Your best bet is to have as few redundancies as possible but you are really free to make your character however you want.

After an hour of reviewing each Ability I came down to making an Expert Marksman Scoundrel (Thief with a Bow) that has a spider for a familiar (Summon) and a Pyrokinetic Witch that dabbles in Geomancy. I then set off boldly into the world to investigate a murder in the city of Cyseal. My combination worked quite well for me until I learned a valuable lesson. While Arrows may phase through your other characters, magic does not. My Pyro Witch nearly burned to death when I cast flare at close range. Note to self: Don’t do that again. After going through the tutorial dungeon (it’s optional but I highly recommend doing it), I arrived at my destination. The first thing I encountered in the city was a burning ship with people desperately trying to extinguish the flames. Here is where Divinity: Original Sin’s Quest system kicks in and separates itself from MMORPGs and other RPGs in general. There was no golden exclamation mark over any NPC head and there was no real indication that it was a quest other than the journal entry notification. There is nothing holding your hand or telling you what to do. It’s entirely up to you to decide what to do to solve any of the problems you may encounter. You can ignore things completely if you want to take a cavalier attitude. For example if you do nothing to save the ship, it will burn down and sink. Do you care? Should you care? It’s all up to the kind of Hero you want to be. When you are talking to people you often get to choose between several alternative responses.

Each of your characters can have their own personality and opinion or they can be a team player and just choose the same answer in support of their comrades. These choices affect your attitude balance. Each attitude has a left and right variation to it and depending on how far to one side or the other you are affects what bonuses you get. This actually is an exceptionally fun aspect of the game as you can make your main two characters have whatever kind of personality you like. Do you want one to be compassionate and kind while the other is a heartless thug? Kind of a Yin and Yang relationship? This will often lead to a debate which will be handled in a very civilized manner: a Rock/Paper/Scissors competition to determine who is right in the situation. Whichever character you had selected will be the side you are fighting for even if you are the one to have orchestrated the debate in the first place. Once the competition is over the losing side concedes to the winner’s opinion and the actions are taken out accordingly. If you want to make the competition a little easier you can raise your Charisma score as that gives you an edge in the competition. A way to avoid the competition of course is to have your party members agree with each other as this resolves the conflict before it starts most of the time. Often after an event or competition occurs in the game, gold exclamation marks appear over your character’s heads indicating they want to discuss a matter. This can be seen as team building exercise that lets the characters get to know each other better.

I mentioned raising your Charisma in the previous paragraph so I think it is time to go in to a little more detail about the mechanics of the game. When you level you get points, you can assign these points to boost the Abilities/Talents/Attributes you originally chose or you can pick up additional ones. You really only need 1 point in anything to be able to start using it, adding more points to it just makes it more efficient for the most part. Since you have limited points to spend, I highly suggest you just focus on a few things rather than trying to level up everything. Your other character and the companions you take with you can help fill in the gaps so that it is possible, with careful planning and a little luck to have every Ability in the game maxed out. I say with a little luck because there is another way to raise an Ability or Attribute in the game without spending your precious points on them. The gear you find can add bonuses to you. This saves you a lot of points because the higher the Ability’s level gets, the more points it costs to raise it. Having a couple items (such as a pair of boots) that grant  1 Lock Picking each for example will save you 9 points that you can spend on other things. Now you might be thinking, “Yes that’s great that gear can augment my shortcomings, but how long will that pair of boots be good for. I don’t want to be wearing uselessly low level gear just to be able to save some points”. The answer is quite simple! You don’t have to always wear them; you can just carry them with you and put them on when needed. Sure it wastes a little bit of room in your inventory but it’s a small price to pay to recover some points for other things.

Now that we have the basics of the game out of the way, let’s get into more details. If you have ever played Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, the classic Fallouts or similar style games, you already know what to expect from Divinity: Original Sin. It’s basically going around from place to place talking to everyone you can, and putting together all the clues to solve the quests. If you hate reading and just want a lot of action, this might not be the game for you. If you like a game with an immersive story and lore that you crave to find out more about, a big beautiful world to travel over, throw in a healthy dose of humor and pop culture references, then Divinity: Original Sin is for you. Useful items are hidden everywhere. You simply have to look over, under and around since many objects are moveable and interactive. Books are a good way to learn more about the lore of the game and some of them even teach your new things such as recipes. You need to maintain a keen eye, and perhaps always have a finger hovering the ALT key to help you spot things your keen eyes missed.

To add excitement and suspense to the quests themselves, there is usually multiple ways to work your way to the completion of the event. Perhaps you murder your way into possessing the item you need or perhaps make an attempt to steal it. Maybe you will use your undeniable charm and linguistic skills to flirt the item away from a silly or gullible person. Maybe you will just threaten them or possibly you will do something else entirely. One thing I did for fun was to tell a man that a woman he wanted killed was dead and gave her locket as proof. I could have got the locket by killing her, or I could have charmed it away from her with my talent and good looks or reasoned with her that her life is more precious than her heirloom. However, how I acquired it myself is none of your business. A gentleman simply does not tell. The man did not take into consideration the many ways I could have obtained the locket from the lady. Once he was satisfied she was dead and rewarded me for my efforts, I waited until his back was turned and robbed him blind … I may have also rewarded his generosity by sticking my dagger in his back and then robbed him blind, but that is for the courts to decide. An alternative path for this quest would have been to gather evidence against him and simply have him arrested, but I think you have to admit, my way was much more interesting.

Finding items and obtaining treasure can also be an interesting challenge. Do you see a locked chest or door? Do you very badly want to see what is inside? Well even here there are multiple ways to do it. You can lock pick it to get in without damaging the chest or door. You can smash your way into it (which is hard on your weapons), or you can simply look around and see if you can find the key hiding someplace nearby. Whichever way you choose, the results are usually the same. You get to see what the lock was protecting. Technically, what you can do is save scum here as the items contained in chests are generated when you open them. If you have a lot of patience you can Quick Save, check what is in the chest, reload and try again until you get an epic item you can actually use. I don’t really recommend save scumming because it really breaks the immersion and can make you quite frustrated at the same time, but to each his own.

Another thing that is interesting in the game is magical interactions. Elements work with or against each other. Is there fire in your way? Water puts its out (naturally). Fire beats poison gas, etc. but it doesn’t stop there! If you are someone who is strategically minded you can actually have a lot of fun messing around with the various elements and the interactions between them. Let’s say there water on the map for example. If you were to cast an electrical spell in to water you will electrify it damaging everything the water touches. You have to be careful though as magic is indiscriminate as I learned earlier so you have to make sure none of your characters are actually touching the water source before electrifying it.

The crafting system is very similar. You pick up random junk scattered around that might seem useless and that probably won’t sell all that well, but perhaps you should give that junk a little more thought. Why not try taking two items in your inventory and see what happens when you attempt to combine them. You might end up with something that isn’t useless at all and may even be valuable! It’s quite well done and rather fun to mess around with. I made a Voodoo doll right off the bat because it was used as an example of the crafting system on the Divinity: Original Sin website. I went on to make other useful and interesting creations using my own great skill and imagination.

How do you get the seemingly useless items to craft with? Well there you have another mechanic of the game. You can find stuff just laying around in boxes, chests, bodies, etc. and most of the time no one really cares. But if your pointer turns red it means someone owns that item and they probably wouldn’t like you to take it without asking. If you played the Elder Scrolls you likely are quite familiar with where this is going. Stealing everything that isn’t too heavy or nailed down and selling it for profit or crafting an item is a sure fire way to get all the best stuff. If you use the Scoundrel ability of sneak or some other invisibility option, you can steal things with impunity for the most part. Unlike in the Elder Scrolls, people also don’t seem to mind too much if you sell their own stuff back to them so it makes sales a lot easier. I can’t tell you how many times in Morrowind that I accidently sold someone something I had stolen from them earlier. Have fun explaining that one to the guards. They just won’t accept that it is all simply an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Battles in the game are turn based. Depending on your Speed Attribute and other factors, you have a certain number of action points per turn. Any unused action points are carried over to the next turn and are added to the pool that is generated for that turn. Moving costs action points as does using your weapons and abilities. The higher the level of your abilities the less action points it takes to use them. This is very handy as it means you can do more per turn. All things have a range element to them. Magic and Arrows can hit much further away objects than a sword but they still have a limited range. It’s all about strategy as you will see later on in the game as the fights become tougher and there are more elements in play. As mentioned earlier you might think your archers and casters are perfectly safe way up there at the back of the battle area, but suddenly everything changes. An oil barrel is hit with a flaming arrow, and suddenly that safe haven is explosively aflame. You quickly use water magic to put out the fire and to you heal up a bit. Suddenly a deadly electrically charged attack may hit the steam cloud and puddles of water electrifying the previously safe area so any area you are in may not be quite as secure as you think.

There are additional things you can do in battle too (or even when you are not in battle) that are rather fun.  Did you just break your weapon? Have no other weapons in your inventory to keep up the fight? Not a problem! Grab a nearby empty barrel and throw it at the enemy. Nothing nearby? That’s fine, grab one of those odd random heavy items you picked up thinking you can probably sell or craft it and throw that at the enemy. You can’t tell me that it wouldn’t hurt a lot getting hit on the noggin with a heavy cooking pot! This is just one of those nice little features that helps to propel Divinity: Original Sin into being such an epic game.

Last thing I want to cover is something I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try myself yet: Multiplayer. As mentioned earlier you start with two main characters. If you play a co-op game the second main character becomes the second player character. The new player can either join your game and use your character or you can start the game together and each make your own character. This is where the personality system I mentioned earlier would really start to shine. Rather than picking fights with yourself or always agreeing with yourself, you will actually have another person controlling their own character’s personality. Action like this would really make it feel like the characters are actually separate people living their own lives by their own rules. It would add unpredictability to the game as well which I think would really enhance the game play.

Here is what the Steam Store has to say about Divinity: Original Sin:

Quote from: Steam Store

About the Game

Gather your party and get ready for a new, back-to-the-roots RPG adventure! Discuss your decisions with companions; fight foes in turn-based combat; explore an open world and interact with everything and everyone you see. Join up with a friend to play online in co-op and make your own adventures with the powerful RPG toolkit.

In Divinity: Original Sin you take on the role of a young Source Hunter: your job is to rid the world of those who use the foulest of magics. When you embark on what should have been a routine murder investigation, you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a plot that will rattle the very fabric of time.

Divinity: Original Sin is a game that gives you a lot of freedom and plenty of gameplay mechanics to use or abuse. The game’s epic story may drive you toward your ultimate end-goal, but how you get there is entirely up to you.

Or up to you and a friend, because Divinity: Original Sin can be played completely cooperatively, and features both online and local drop-in/drop-out multiplayer. Great adventures become even greater when shared with a trusted comrade-in-arms!

Key Features

Become part of a reactive, living and vast open world. Explore many different environments, fight all kinds of fantastical creatures and discover tons of desirable items.
Experience gripping party- and turn-based combat. Manipulate the environment and use skill & spell combos to overcome your many foes: Use magic to make it rain on your enemies, then cast a lightning spell to fry them to a crisp. Experiment with different skill combinations to ruin the day for enemies and townspeople alike.

Play with a friend in co-op multiplayer. Make decisions together (or disagree entirely), as your interactions and relationship with your partner influence the game.
Unravel a deep and epic story, set in the early days of the Divinity universe. No prior experience with other Divinity games is necessary, however. The game takes place well before its predecessors, Divine Divinity and Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga, but will still feel familiar to fans.

Classless character creation lets you design the character of your choice. Endless item interaction and combinations take exploration and experimentation to another level of freedom.
Create your own adventures and share them online. With Original Sin comes the powerful toolset used by the game’s designers. Yours are endless new stories to make and share with other players!

In closing I just wanted to say that Divinity: Original Sin is probably one of the best RPGs I have played in quite some time. It’s really enjoyable that the game reacts to your actions and that some of them can have long reaching consequences. Killing someone off now means they will not be there in the future, this might do you out of a quest or an item or some other interaction which might have been to your benefit. Bribing people will make them like you more. Virtually all characters can sell you something or buy from you assuming they have money. You can also gift items to NPCs to make them like you more. It’s a game that I can see myself replaying over and over with different play styles just to find out how different the game would feel if X did or did not happen. The fact the items you find are randomly generated makes it so that no two game will ever be alike. If you really like the game you can also pick up the Source Hunter DLC which adds an opinionated pair of underwear as well the ability to paint items gold to make people willing to pay more for them. It also adds an Art Pack, Design Documents and the Sound Track. It’s available on Steam or if you prefer DRM-Free games, it’s also available on GOG.