The genre of computer roleplaying games (CRPGs) is fairly unpopular and has not seen a lot of attention in recent years. While many classics such as Diablo, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, and Planescape: Torment are seen as incredibly important titles there not much demand for these types of games anymore. As the medium of gaming as progressed, the slow, methodical, and classic style of RPGs has become niche as it was replaced by action-adventures. These types of games are inspired heavily by tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, with heavy emphasis on character building, numerous progression options, dialogue, and stats. This tradition has been upheld by Divinity: Original Sin 2, which is a deep, creative, and addicting CRPG. As a disclaimer, Larian Studios recently announced that they are going to release an enhanced version of the game the fixes some of the things that I am going to write about, so some of this review may be obsolete in a few months from now.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the newest entry in the longstanding Divinity series, but don’t fret, even as a story heavy RPG this game is not is not dependent on its predecessors. Even though I have not played any of the previous games, I completely understood and was drawn in by the story of Divinity: Original Sin 2. The central theme of the game is focused on an otherworldly magic called source. Few individuals can tap into this source and it allows them to cast powerful spells and abilities. By accessing source however, it allows monsters from the void to travel to the world and attack bystanders. The player is one of the few who can tap into source and is persecuted for it. You join up with companions who are in a similar situation and attempt to uncover the mystery of source and the void.
The gameplay of Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an isometric turn-based RPG. The player can control their own avatar and up to 3 companions throughout the world. As a CRPG, the game has a very heavy emphasis on dialogue options and different paths. In the starting area alone, there are 7 or 8 different methods of progression to move forward. It is immensely satisfying to hunt down all the numerous paths and branches and make choices that reflect on your character’s personality. Of course, many paths and options are locked behind stat-checks, clever responses, and special abilities, so you have to find the path that suits you. Like its pen-and-paper predecessors, Divinity: Original Sin 2 lets you create and build your own character from the ground up. Even if you mess up and make a bad choice, the game lets you redo your stats so there is no need to worry about min/maxing. Aside from character building and decision making, Divinity: Original Sin 2 supplements its gameplay with turn-based and strategic combat.
While the combat is usually not the focus of a CRPG, Divinity: Original Sin 2 does a fantastic job at making it addicting and gratifying in its own right. There are plenty of different classes, skills, builds, items, and strategies to play around with. The interesting thing about Divinity: Original Sin 2 is how many of the abilities interact with each other. You can use rain to put out fire which creates steam which you can strike with electricity to create a static storm. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Tons of different elemental abilities and status effects interact in unique manners to allow for some dynamic and creative strategies. Even more intriguing was the decision to allow players to partake in “cheese” strategies to effectively break the game. “Cheese” strategies include things like teleporting enemies into pits before the fight even starts, or littering the battlefield with explosive barrels preemptively, or having one of your characters leave combat to buy potions while the rest are locked in a turn-based affair, and much more. These creative solutions break the game and almost feel like cheating, but the developers intentionally left these things in the game to allow for player freedom and ingenuity, and I quite like that.
With the combat that Divinity: Original Sin 2 offers, there are a slew of issues that can plague any instance of combat. The first being that the game is fairly confusing and daunting at first glance. With dozens of different stats, abilities, skills, items, environmental effects, status effects, and combat nuances there is a lot to soak in. Realistically, it does not take too long to understand the basics, but I can see how many people may be dissuaded by the depth of the game. The next issue is balance, as with any game, some abilities and classes are better than others. However, some abilities are so wildly powerful that I wonder how they are even on the same plane of existence as many of the weaker skills. What really busts the combat are the crowd control effects, things like stuns, knockdowns, taunts, slows, etc. These abilities generally deal solid levels of damage while also incapacitating the enemy. Sure, they have cooldowns, but with 4 characters and each with a dozen different ability slots you can easily chain crowd control together in a way that never lets the enemy perform an action. The only downside of these skills is that they require you to break the armor of the opponent before you can crowd control them. Battles become a race to destroy the opponents armor and indefinitely stun-lock them before they can do the same to you. As such the difficulty can be a little binary, you either break their armor before they break yours and the battle is a breeze or vice versa and the battle is nigh impossible.
The one massive issue that I had with balance was the leveling system. Levels are massively impactful in this game and they take a long time to earn. A singular level increases your power exponentially, and this creates a plethora of problems. Battling enemies who are higher level than you is ridiculously difficult, and battling lower level enemies is incredibly easy. The slow gain of levels means that you can be level 9 with 99% experience, but you are still going to struggle against a level 10 enemy. And finding more experience is not easy, especially since it takes 2-4 hours to gain a single level. You can get roadblocked by higher level enemies and have to turn back and hunt down easier foes. This especially is frustrating when you are in the middle of a quest because you have to abandon your progress and come back later, and by that time you will have forgotten the details of what you were even doing. More frustrating still is how armor and gear scales just as quickly as the player. A level 10 common piece of armor is often better than a level 9 legendary piece of armor. Having your best equipment being made obsolete by common clothing in a single level is infuriating. Moreover, it means that you have to constantly keep track of all 10 pieces of armor on 4 separate characters to make sure that is always up to date. When you get a new breastplate for example, you have to check if its better than any one of the 4 that you currently are using. Constantly reequipping your characters is mind-numbingly boring and tedious, but it is absolutely necessary.
Despite its issues, Divinity: Original Sin 2 has flashes of brilliance and is easily one of the best modern CRPGs on the market. I could get over the balance issues and leveling system, hell they could be easily patched and rectified, but there is something much more detrimental to the game. The biggest issue that I encountered was just how the game got worse in nearly every aspect as I got further in. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a long game, but it wasn’t just fatigue or the desire to “be done” with the game that hampered my experience. The game is split into 4 distinct acts, each taking place in a new map. Act 1 was absolutely phenomenal, tons of side quests, a gripping main story, polished level design, and while it was fairly linear it still offered a ton of different branching paths. Act 2 was much larger, but to its own detriment. Too many directions to go with very little guidance, and the issue with the leveling system rears its ugly head. Much of the map is nearly impossible to tackle early on because you are not a high enough level. This means that you have to explore the entire area just scrounging for enemies that you can actually fight. Act 3 is a short and uninspired area that lacks any side content.
Finally, Act 4 is an utter disaster. Most of the fights feel like nonsense that require you to use “cheese” tactics or overpowered abilities to even stand a chance. There are very few options or paths of progression for many of the quests, some literally only have 1 possible option which is a far cry from Act 1’s branching decisions. It’s a shame because after such a long playthrough you want to enjoy the end and the resolution to all the major quests and plotlines, but many of the late game fights just feel like the developer is throwing the kitchen sink at the player. Worse still, the game’s performance drops drastically as the game slogs on. Glitches become commonplace, framerates begin to suffer, and load/save times skyrocket. I feel like Act 1 was meticulously designed, tightly crafted and tested extensively, Act 2 was still solid but not nearly as carefully planned, and Act 3 and 4 were just rushed.
Overall, Divinity: Original Sin 2 still may be one of the best CRPGs ever made, even if it is a dwindling genre this game manages to demonstrate why these types of games can be so fun. Divinity: Original Sin 2 showcases the best of the genre: branching paths, witty dialogue, fun character building, and creative solutions. And it also has the worst of the genre: rampant balance issues, frustrating inventory management, and broken enemy encounters. As a whole, I think the goods significantly outweigh the bad. Acts 1 and 2 make up the majority of the game, and the one good thing about Acts 3 and 4 being oversights is that they are fairly short. Moreover, the developers are working on an enhanced edition of the game said to fix much of the balance woes and completely rework Acts 3 and 4. If the game was Acts 1 and 2 alone, it would easily be a 9/10, but sadly it just falls apart too much in its final act. For these reasons, I give Divinity: Original Sin 2 an 8/10. I really hope the enhanced edition fixes the issues that I have with this game, as this game has tremendous potential. The first act alone is a masterpiece of RPGs and is worth experiencing but prepare to be let down later in the game.