Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition is the second modernized cRPG to hit the Xbox One this month, following Wasteland 2: Director's Cut. Unlike Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin is a high fantasy affair, complete with magic wielding wizards, steel plated knights and varied mythical beasts.
Partially funded on Kickstarter, Divinity: Original Sin serves as a prequel to 2002's Divine Divinity, a game that won high praise for combining hack and slash combat with typical cRPG features. Larian Studios promised backers a more traditional old school cRPG for Original Sin, complete with strategic, turn-based combat and modernized features for a contemporary era.
Wasteland 2: Director's Cut served as my introduction to the modern wave of cRPGs, and it made me realize just how much is missing from some of the larger titles in the genre. It's with some enthusiasm that I dived into Divinity: Original Sin, hoping to see more of that classic depth leap from Windows to Xbox One.
Expansive, vibrant and charming
Setting and Story
Divinity: Original Sin takes place in Rivellon, featuring two customizable protagonists and a whole host of optional companions to make up a squad of four. The two main protagonists are "Source Hunters", charged with the eradication of practitioners of forbidden Source magic. The start of the game sees the two hunters investigating a murder, where Source magic is thought to be involved. A routine investigation escalates into a cosmic conspiracy that threatens the very universe, and it's up to you to stop it.
The premise sounds quite dramatic, but Divinity: Original Sin is a game steeped in light-hearted good humor. As you might expect from a game with cRPG aspirations, Divinity: Original Sin allows you to speak, barter, trade, persuade, mug and attack every NPC in the game - but beware the consequences. Like Skyrim, if you're caught breaking the law too often, you could wind up in a dungeon, with only rats to provide company (and good company they will provide if you take the animal-speech skill).
Beyond actions, the sheer amount of NPC dialogue choices creates a storm of reactions that often have unforeseen consequences. The unpredictability of Divinity: Original Sin's story interactions elevates it above the rank and file of modern RPGs, including those with huge budgets. I for one hope some of these forgotten cRPG sensibilities become popular again as a result.
Divinity: Original Sin is utterly daunting in its scope, sporting well over 60 hours of raw gameplay and even more for completionists. The vibrant, 3D isometric world is inviting at first, but those who are unfamiliar with the genre may find themselves confounded by the thin tutorials and absent explanations for some of the game's finer nuances. The first city alone has a dizzying amount of side quests, and in true cRPG fashion, you're not given waypoints or quest markers. As I progressed, I found the quest layout to be a tad confusing. Objectives that progress the story may rely on triggers from quests that seem unimportant to begin with, forcing you to back-track as you hit dead-ends. You'll find yourself hunched over quest notes and conversation logs for long periods of time, tracking down objectives using the information you've gleaned from the game's abundant, often verbose dialogue.
Divinity: Original Sin launched on Xbox One with its Enhanced Edition, which brings a wealth of improvements to the game over its initial PC launch, including graphics tweaks, full voice acting for NPCs, controller support and coveted co-operative play, both online and offline via split-screen. All of these updates shipped free to PC users, who enjoy more intuitive keyboard and mouse controls. The game has translated well to console, though , bringing dynamic lighting, crisp and detailed environments at a solid 30 frames per second - which never falters, even when it comes to the game's dynamic co-op split-screen views.
Visually, Divinity's greatest strength lies in its art direction. While the game does sport some serious, dramatic plot lines, you're never a few feet away from a quirky character or comedic side-quest. Divinity: Original Sin isn't Game of Thrones' shadowy fantasy brooding, instead, it opts for a Warcraft-like color pallet complete with an exaggerated, comic book art style, gunning for synergy with the game's fun writing and infectious musical treatment. There are prettier RPGs out there, but I'm not sure how well it'd handle split-screen co-op were it aiming for The Witcher 3's grim realism.
My comparison to Warcraft ends with the art style. There are a few pop-culture references, but they tend to serve as fun secrets. Everything is told within the context of Rivellon, making the game as immersive as it is light-hearted. Original Sin's writers seem to have enjoyed a field day when it comes to the game's dialogue. Questions that require a yes or no answer can often see NPCs launch into long-winded, but endearing tirades before giving you what you need to proceed. Almost every NPC has a story to tell or goods to barter for; never once did I feel an NPC was used as an animated prop to create the illusion of population. Divinity: Original Sin's world feels as alive as they come, with content density easily comparable to the Fallouts and Elder Scrolls of the world.
Strategic, liberating, rewarding
As mentioned, Divinity: Original Sin features classic turn-based combat. If you're acquainted with the likes of Fallout 1 and 2, XCOM and the more recent Wasteland 2: Director's Cut, you'll find familiarity in Original Sin's combat. Although, I feel that Divinity's combat goes a little further to give itself a unique identity.
Like other games fond of Dungeon's and Dragons, Divinity: Original Sin bleeds statistics. You'll position your characters and make them use abilities with Action Points, and the amount of distance you can cover per point (and indeed, the amount of points) are all determined by your stats.
The game offers no tips when it comes to character creation and progression. As such, it'll be really easy for newcomers to hit pitfalls early on, wasting stat, skill and talent points that would be best saved for later. This is the first game I've played in a long time that's forced me to the internet to learn its systems. Some may welcome the lack of hand-holding, but I expect the lack of explanations will simply serve to waste a lot of people's time unnecessarily.
Essentially, Original Sin's fantasy combat is a strategic alternative to Diablo 3's button-mashing. If you've ever played a fantasy RPG, you'll find the abilities to be fairly standard. Warriors can charge and cleave, rogue-type abilities allow you to sneak and backstab, and typical elemental magic joins the party too. When it comes to old-school fantasy role-playing, Divinity: Original Sin doesn't break the mould too extensively, save for a few essential, elevating features.
Besides its optional tutorial cave, Divinity: Original Sin doesn't do much to explain some of the game's finer combat nuances. However, as I studied the game's systems, I realised that Original Sin's diverse environments are deliberately crafted to enhance tactical play, while complimenting the game's vast arsenal of skills.
As I ventured from the first city, I found myself accosted by a band of roaming undead. I was easily overwhelmed by a combination of poison and heavy melee attacks. Barely scraping through with my life, having burned through my stock of potions and a treasured resurrection scroll, I decided to reload and take a more considered approach.
I'd noticed a barrel of water perched to the side of a chokepoint, cracking open the barrel spread water beneath the feet of my enemies, who were then promptly stunned by an electrical attack directed upon it. I was able to use the chokepoint to block the undead from advancing on my squishier party members, and ended up finishing the battle without losing a shred of health. Using environmental hazards in conjunction with elemental abilities are nothing new, in modern times fans of Bioshock and Dragon Age can attest. It's the extent to which they truly matter in Divinity: Original Sin that gives it a unique edge, allowing you to really exercise your inner strategist to devastating result. There's something intensely satisfying about teleporting your enemies into a burning oil slick.
Divinity is a game that pleads to be played patiently, particularly when you consider the vast amount of options available to overcome the game's obstacles. Door's locked? try lockpicking. Nobody with that skill? Smash, burn down, or simply blow up the door. Need a stealthier approach? Search the area for a hidden key, alternative route, or an unscrupulous NPC who might be persuaded, or even bribed, to let you in.
I mentioned there were a few ways Divinity elevated itself when it came to gameplay. One way is its old-school sense of freedom, another is its unforgiving and strategic combat. Original Sin's greatest unique selling point, for me, is its robust multiplayer experience. Typically, RPGs tend to sacrifice heavily to make multiplayer work. There's the massively multiplayer option, which tends to strip the game of depth in order to appease the widest market. Then there's the multiplayer action RPG, which favours quick-fix combat and loot addiction, ditching non-combat systems that would otherwise break up the pacing. Divinity: Original Sin makes no such compromise, allowing a second player to join in your full-blown cRPG adventure in split-screen local, or online co-op.
Larian Studios nailed co-operative play in Divinity: Original Sin so resoundingly well that I believe it could eventually become a staple feature for future squad-based RPGs. Original Sin's two protagonists can be assigned to separate players. When one player ventures too far from the other, the game seamlessly divides into split-screen, snapping back when you travel back into range. Each player can act independently of the other, trading, engaging in conversations, even battling should he or she choose. The real joy stems from the fact you can still play the game as you wish, taking moral dialogue choices your co-op partner may disagree with, or even working together to distract an NPC so the other can rifle through his pockets.
The only other RPG I'm aware of that attempts this level of non-combat co-operation is the MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, which allows different party members to roll out of 100 to win dialogue choices. Divinity: Original Sin goes far further. Both Source Hunters can engage in argumentative discussions, and if a conflict cannot be resolved with words, you'll have to play rock-paper-scissors to commit to a final decision. The dual-dialogue conflicts also yield personality traits, such as the opposing romantic and pragmatic perks, both of which carry fairly significant bonuses.
Divinity: Original Sin executes its key gameplay aspects competently, save for a few annoyances. Outside of combat, character run speed is unbearably slow, making traversal across the game's expansive areas a chore. The density of in-game objects sometimes begs for a mouse cursor. An ill-timed attempt to talk to a moving NPC often results in touching the wrong object - leading to an extrication with the local law enforcement. The old school faithfulness is generally a good thing, but in an age where search engines and game guides are prevalent, I'd prefer it if they'd just explain Divinity's more complex systems in-game, saving me the trouble of asking Cortana. The pathing A.I. of accompanying squad-mates is non-existent, causing them to aimlessly wander into traps and environmental hazards after combat unless you quickly micro-manage their movement. Accidental deaths like this can be frequent, forcing you to be liberal with the save button. Overall, the grievances are few, hardly diluting the vast offering Divinity: Original Sin brings to the table.
One of the best co-op experiences on Xbox One
Playing a full RPG in co-op feels refreshing and natural - an obvious progression for the genre. It's particularly true when you factor in Original Sin's replay potential, the branching dialogue and diverse quest outcomes give it real staying-power. Minor annoyances aside, Divinity: Original Sin is an immersive and rewarding game that heaps on challenge and depth in equal measure.
- Good balance of challenge and reward
- Deep systems with tons of gameplay options
- Vast amount of content
- Among the best co-op experiences for this generation
- Weak tutorials in-game
- Objectives can be very unclear
- Sports a collection of minor annoyances, such as slow movement speed and a quirky controller cursor
Divinity: Original Sin has already been a PC success story, sitting in the high 80s on MetaCritic. Larian Studios are hard at work building Divinity: Original Sin 2, featuring ambitious 4-player co-op with plots so divergent players can branch off and pursue different plots within the same multiplayer game - with the possibility of becoming enemies in the process.
In an age where even first person shooters have RPG systems, games like Divinity: Original Sin protest linearity and remind us what role playing games are supposed to be. I believe, with confidence, that Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition will put a smile on the faces of RPG fans everywhere.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!