Divinity: Original Sin II - Early Access Impression

A Slightly Less Original Sin
by Zack Webster

Divinity: Original Sin II
Platform: PC
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
Release Date: 2017
"What's available now leaves a positive impression and despite the limited location and options, the game still feels a solid, if incomplete, experience."
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   Being one of the most pleasant surprises of 2014, a sequel to Divinity: Original Sin was going to be stuck trying to do one thing: prove that the first game wasn't a fluke. Balancing on a thin rope of refreshing, if uneven, turn-based combat, it would only take one misstep to fall into a janky mess. The first game managed this fairly well. What's more, given its original take on the formula, it was easier to forgive the few areas that didn't live up to the rest of the game. Its sequel, Divinity: Original Sin II, is currently in Early Access and offers an expectedly more refined experience, but some of the sillier elements of the game may have been lost in the process.

   The first of many notable improvements is the game's character creation. Instead of making a pair at the beginning of the game, players will instead be instructed to create just one, though the options are more robust. Humans are not the only game in town for this sequel, as players can now select from three other races as well: elf, dwarf, and lizard. Like the previous game, players can pick between premade builds or customize their own from avaliable starting abilities. Though initially daunting with its numerous lists of abilities, skills, and feats, finding a suitable base for a character isn't all that time consuming. Once finished, the game throws players right into the thick of it.

   Early Access covers the first act of the game, succinctly named "Fort Joy." When the game begins, the Bishop Alexandar has declared all Sourcerers, including the player, a menace to society and ordered their incarceration. Hence Fort Joy, a ghetto for Source users with seemingly no way out. Searching for an exit while navigating the differing personalities within the fort is the driving force of this section of the game. This includes forging alliances of convenience, sneaking around the fort's many guards, and surviving some of the more violent wildlife and people.

   When I first re-entered Divinity's world, much of it felt familiar. It didn't take long to once again become acclimated to the controls, which are fairly standard for an isometric RPG. Fort Joy is a coastal area, equal parts beach, forest, castle, and cave environments. Upon arrival, escape becomes the immediate course of action but not all denizens of Fort Joy are eager to leave and even fewer are willing to help, requiring the completion of arbitrary side quests for the colorful cast populating the encampment. These missions offer plenty of different avenues for success, from subterfuge, to brute force, to clever wordplay.

   The game has four available party members, one for each of the classic archetypes, to recruit to provide a full party, and between them all many of the outcomes can be resolved non-violently, though perhaps not without some moral qualms. Admittedly, the companions are not quite fully fleshed out, as the conversation options for more revealing dialogue currently contains placeholder text. They do still however participate in story-related conversations, which gives a brief example of the minor advancements made to the group conversations. Playing alone it was hard to see how different resolutions could be reached, though it's easy to imagine the multiplayer conversations to be a bit more enticing. The game carries the same general tone of its predecessor, though given the dour setting it feels a bit more muted. The humor of the first game fit for its adventurous tone. By comparison, the glorified ghetto of Fort Joy is a bit less joyful of a setting for the comedy to work.

   When it comes to combat, Original Sin II is still sublime, even with all the changes. Like the first game, characters are given an action bar made of orbs. On each of their turns, characters and will gain action points (AP) for which to move, use items and skills, and interact with the environment. There is no mana to be concerned with. Instead, positioning, cooldowns, and great battle flow — similar to that which made the first game so intuitive — dictate the pacing of the fights. This is also where Larian may have made the most changes to the formula. The most obvious is that the maximum number of AP has been reduced from twenty to six. All skills and abilities have been tweaked to accommodate this new restriction, with each skill generally costing a single point while basic attacks cost two points. There does not appear to be an immediate way to reduce the cooldowns of skills, making the proper usage of skills a more pressing tactical decision.

   This restructuring feels like an attempt to balance out the different ability schools. In the first Original Sin, mages had a tendency to overpower other characters with the breadth of their abilities and the straightforward method of reducing their abilities' downtime. In Original Sin II, the whole party feels a lot more integral to the combat and more careful planning has to be done to pull through some of the fights. The boss of the area in particular can be quite difficult to overcome. This gives the combat a superior feel to its predecessor, but it also feels like the game may have cost itself a little bit in terms variety of character builds. At this point if feels as though there is less experimentation but more polish.

   That being said, Divinity: Original Sin II looks to bring back the same open-ended experience the first game brought but in a more cohesive package. What's available now leaves a positive impression and despite the limited location and options, the game still feels a solid, if incomplete, experience. Even misgivings towards removal of some of the game's looser concepts can be attributed to only having access to the early game. While the game may not have that new car smell, it makes up for it by continuing to deliver a solid RPG experience.

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