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Divinity: Original Sin

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Larian Studios
Release Date: June 20, 2014

About Reggie Carolipio

You enter the vaulted stone chamber with walls that are painted in a mosaic of fantastic worlds. The floor is strewn with manuals, controllers, and quick start guides. An Atari 2600 - or is that an Apple? - lies on an altar in a corner of the room. As you make your way toward it, a blocky figure rendered in 16 colors bumps into you. Using a voice sample, it asks, "You didn't happen to bring a good game with you, did you?" Will you:

R)un away?
P)ush Reset?


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PC Review - 'Divinity: Original Sin'

by Reggie Carolipio on Dec. 30, 2014 @ 9:00 a.m. PST

Divinity: Original Sin is an action/RPG featuring cooperative multiplayer, a full adventure-building toolset, incredible freedom in character development and a ton of other features.

Ribbons of electricity lit the blood-soaked the ground, and a salivating beast grinned at my party in that fetid, flickering pool. My witch pounced. A spell tore open the creature's skin, and its blood trickled down its legs. My fighter smiled, brandished his butcher's cleaver, banged his shield, walked forward, and then realized too late that he stepped into that same blood, which stunned him. If there were a facepalm emote in the game, my wizard would have done it.

So goes another day in Rivellon with Larian Studios' RPG, Divinity: Original Sin. This is a prequel to the Divinity series, much like BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic, so it's accessible to both fans and relative newcomers.

Players are cast as "Source Hunters," whose job it is to seek out practitioners of Source — a tainted form of magic that has brought misery to Rivellon. What starts out as a simple murder quickly escalates into a sordid story of two sisters, blood sacrifice, a mysterious cult, and an ancient secret that threatens everyone. It's a world of high magic and a very slight sprinkling of quasi-science, where monsters still roam the countryside and players are likely to encounter talking rats.

The story behind Original Sin pits players against the typical world-shattering evil, but the journey dresses its high fantasy with lighthearted humor, polished voice-overs, and occasional banter between the two main characters. Most dialogue text is read the old-fashioned way: a snappily voiced "hello" and "farewell" sandwich the dialogue, and the exchanges are colorful enough to characterize Rivellon's inhabitants and its mythic backdrop. At key moments, simple, narrated cut scenes further expose deeper truths in the grand adventure. More serious players might not take to the humor as quickly as others, but it felt well balanced.

Character creation doesn't limit players to a male-female pair of heroes, so they're completely free to choose how their heroes look and sound, though customization options are limited to preset faces and models. After settling on their appearance and a name, the real customization takes place, with the assignment of points to core attributes (like Intelligence and Strength) and abilities to support their chosen class. They can also customize a fighter with a little Hydrosophy or Pyromancy magic and a dash of bartering for the merchants. There is no "auto assign" for points. Any mistakes are up to you, just like in the old days.

As a result, Original Sin can be a tough. Early combat introduces basic turn-based concepts, including the requisite softball fights tossed at the player, but afterward, it's sink or swim. Players are free to get into trouble by running into monsters far above their level, but following the main campaign tailors encounters in an almost granular, predictable manner. Depending on how you feel about this approach, it could appeal to players who want a continued challenge, but it won't appeal as much to power levelers who love maxing out their characters and smashing everything in their paths. As with Divinity II: Ego Draconis or Piranha Bytes' Gothic, there are no random encounters, so once an area is cleared, it stays empty.

This Spartan approach is further enforced at level-up. Two ability points are awarded at every level and can be spent learning new skills or improving others. Five is the maximum base level for any ability, and costs increase every time an improvement is made. Only one attribute point is awarded at every other level, and contributions max out when those hit a base level of 15. There's no undo until much later in the game, and even that comes with a price. Players expecting godlike characters who know everything in the game won't find that here. For my party, I had specialists complement each other and one generalist, but even then, my generalist was focused on magic and horrible at anything else. This encourages players to be as smart with their party as with their tactics.

Talents add special bonuses, such as immunity to weather effects or stun effects — as long as certain prerequisites are met. They're also much rarer. Players don't have to spend it all at once and can save them for when they really need them.

Being outnumbered, cornered, or surprised while clicking my party through the woods or a frozen waste was expected, and Original Sin's impressive menagerie will use whatever abilities they have at their disposal to bleed, freeze, knock down, stun, and otherwise wreck ill-prepared parties. Larian isn't joking when it urges players to save often. Not only can you save anywhere, but you can also save in the middle of combat or in mid-dialogue to try new choices. Some battles can easily take up to half an hour to get through on Normal difficulty, depending on your party mix. I fought one co-op battle the other night that nearly lasted an hour, as neither I nor the host wanted to give up. The save system is also incredibly generous. Five different auto-saves make it easier to backtrack when I forgot to manually save.

Equipment is level-based and occasionally restricted by things like attribute requirements. It's also possible to wield most weapons or use spells if you're not at the right level. The price is paid by penalties to action points.

Veterans from games such as Black Isle's Fallout or even Troika's Arcanum are going to find a number of similarities with Original Sin's turn-based gameplay. Everything is determined by a character's pool of action points, the total of which is largely determined by a character's Speed stat. Different actions use up a certain number of action points, which regenerate a certain amount every turn and can be helped by any extra points saved up from the last round. Burn them all, or save up for that power skill that might turn the tide of the battle.

Environmental dangers, such as oil-slicked surfaces (either from what was already there or from a well-placed spell), add even more options. Players can freeze surfaces, erect ice walls, set floors on fire so the smoke blocks your party from view, or smash them with telekinetically thrown barrels. They can even swap equipment (with enough action points), change ability icons on the toolbar, and then cast a spell afterward in combat. This versatility gives players an impressive degree of control over the battlefield without sacrificing the challenge. Early on, one of my favorite tactics was to saturate an area around enemies with oil and then set it on fire, giving my party just enough breathing room while burning my foes. Explosive barrels nearby? If your character is strong enough, he or she can carry it around and set it up as a fiery surprise. Just be careful not to get caught in the same blast.

One of the reasons for Larian's Kickstarter for Original Sin was to add more content, and it's curious to imagine what the game would've been like otherwise. Rivellon is brimming with numerous side-quests, dungeons, and tactical combat. If you want to do everything, this drives the gameplay hours past 100. Kirill Pokrovsky's orchestral score adds plenty of atmospheric touches to Rivellon's storybook appearance, from its forests to the deepest, fire-filled dungeons. Taking full advantage of that detail are some of the puzzles and a cosmic number of hidden traps – Larian apparently has a thing for mines. Though not every puzzle is equal, they certainly added to Rivellon's character.

Players also have a Homestead — added via the Kickstarter — that serves as a home base and a convenient place to send loot once they unlock enough rooms. It also serves as an integral part of the story, slowly revealing more secrets about the main characters and the world as players travel back and forth.

Interface-wise, the game comes with a convenient toolbar on the bottom, and a character sheet lays out everything from bonuses to stats and what they have in their pockets. The inventory isn't the best, especially when you begin accruing more stuff on your journey. It can be organized using the tabs on the side, but not every item falls into intuitive categories.

Co-op is limited to two players and the host's current level. There is no character import, though it's likely to keep everything equal by blocking overpowered characters or experience-lagged ones. Players take the role of one of the two heroes in the game to which they're connecting. If there are enough followers, they can also take control of one. Although they might miss the character they had crafted in solo play, Original Sin adds a number of clever ideas to soothe the separation anxiety.

Key dialogue between both heroes invites a degree of role-playing by directly involving the players. Choices can either support or lead up to another contest of rock, paper and scissors to determine the outcome of the characters' disagreement, but more importantly, it also provides an opportunity for players to craft personalities and share that experience with others. The player hopping into your game might choose to play your partner as an egotistical wagon of woe in contrast to your goody two-shoes treatment in deciding how forgiving they might be with NPCs.

Both players are also free to go into Rivellon at their discretion. There's nothing forcing either player to follow the other, beyond being waypointed back to the Homestead. If one needs to head off to the store on their own to sell a few things, he or she is free to do so. Players can also decide how to spend those hard-earned skill and attribute points, hopefully being as responsible with the host's characters as with their own. Fortunately, the host can save the game just as in single-player and undo a guest's mischief with a simple restore.

My experience with the co-op part of the game was as much fun as the single-player, though there's no telling which hero I'd hop into. If you're used to playing a mage character in your own campaign, jumping into a similar character in someone else's game isn't a guarantee that their toolbar will be set up like yours, or that you'll wield a sword and shield instead of a bow and arrow. Hopefully, the host is something of an understanding sort.

An editor is also downloadable from Steam for the game, and it's based on the same one used by the devs, but it's pretty rough — something that Larian has freely admitted. CRPG vets who remember Neverwinter Nights' toolset or have had relatively recent experience with Bethesda's editors will find something of an uphill battle. My first attempted tutorial level crashed the editor every time I tried to re-open it. A handful of gamers have managed to put together a number of mods, and Larian promises that the tools will get better.

What Original Sin does well also glosses over a number of minor quibbles about what it doesn't do so well. Aside from what I've already covered, there are a few other nitpicks, ranging from the slow "running" speed of your characters to waiting for each and every enemy in large-scale battles to cycle their moves. To Larian's credit, it's been hard at work on patches. It's also incredibly stable. It crashed only once and corrupted one of my saves, though thanks to the save system, I didn't lose a lot of progress. Original Sin's technical side seemed bulletproof.

Divinity: Original Sin's propensity for the old isn't a simple case of wistful nostalgia. It's a conscious decision on Larian's part to resurrect tried-and-true threads that run deep into the bones of the CRPG genre. It's a culmination of those efforts and an unapologetic celebration of battle-tested concepts backed by solid co-op. Most of all, it comes together as a grand adventure that hearkens back to sleepless nights buoyed by the roll of a die and a pad of grid paper shared between fellow dungeon crawlers.

Score: 9.1/10

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