In June of 2014 Larian Studios released Divinity: Original Sin for PC after a successful Kickstarter campaign and a relatively short early access development cycle that promised “…an old-school cRPG with new ideas and modern execution”.
What backers and purchasers received surprisingly lived up to that simultaneously vague yet boastful mission statement. Divinity: Original Sin was a game that offered fans of the old Blackisle and Bioware titles a modern presentation of some of their favorite ideas while focusing on cooperative questing and that most elusive of design bullet points: emergent game play.
“Though I don’t think Enhanced Edition can compete with the likes of The Phantom Pain, The Witcher 3 or the newly released Fallout 4, it’s still one of my favorite releases this year”
Flash forward to November of 2015 and everything that Larian has learned in Original Sin’s last year of patching, balancing, and fan feedback has been distilled and packaged in to a multi-platform release called Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition. Had this package been released during last year’s relatively weak lineup I have no doubt it would have been a much stronger game of the year contender, and though I don’t think Enhanced Edition can compete with the likes of The Phantom Pain, The Witcher 3 or the newly released Fallout 4, it’s still one of my favorite releases this year.
Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition is one hell of a looker. By no means a technical marvel but it’s running on an in-house engine that allows for beautiful water and lighting effects, good physics and particle interactions, and great textures and geometry that, while admittedly plastic looking, offer a bright, inviting, and detailed world when combined with its brilliant art direction. This is not the bleak, desaturated, dire world that Tolkienian fantasy has bestowed upon a generation of creators. It finds its kinship in the likes of Piers Athony’s Xanth series or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
You and your partner (both of whom are user-created) are source hunters sent from your academy to the city of Cyseal in Rivelon to investigate the murder of a local Councillor that smacks of tainted magic. In the course of your investigation you come across a mysterious rock that connects you and your partner to an ancient prophecy, the unraveling of Rivelon, and the end of time itself. Also, Zixzax is there. God bless Zixzax.
The story does have a gravity to it, but the overall tone is one of wonder and joy. These are adventurers having fun in a world that refuses to take itself too seriously. Every dialogue contains a joke or two and every villain is of the scenery-chewing variety. The writing is nearly unprecedented in its form and at times it has a poetry to it that is so competent and well crafted that it’s genuinely surprising to see in a video game. Unfortunately it becomes a bit masturbatory and at times it feels like Jan Van Dosselaer and Sarah Baylus will keep a character talking just to prove that they can. Literally more than half your time in Rivelon will be spent looking at dialogue trees that are so verbose it begins to numb the brain. This isn’t helped by the fact that every voice actor has been directed to speak so slowly you’ll wonder if everyone in Rivelon is perpetually on the verge of a massive stroke. And these are talented actors here, you can hear it in their delivery; it’s just, goddamn, speed it up, guys! I shouldn’t be able to read three times faster than you speak! After the first hour or two I found myself turning off voices entirely to speed up my play time by skimming or reading for comprehension as I saw fit.
Of particular note in Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition is the fact that all dialogue is now fully voiced including the interactions between you and your partner. This was one of Original Sin’s best features and it’s every bit as good in Enhanced Edition. Since both of your primary characters are user-generated you are given the option to either have their interactions with you run by a preset, AI personality when not directly under your control or to always be run manually by a player. This allows you to role-play your characters against each other, giving them unique personalities through their dialogue choices that will sometimes conflict. In the case of critical decisions this will usually prompt a rock, paper, scissors mini game that will allow the winner to steer the story their way.
This is especially fun in the context of Enhanced Edition’s improved co-op mode that now includes the long-lost split-screen feature forgotten by this generation’s developers. When you and your buddy pick radically different personalities and pit them against each other a simple game of roshambo suddenly becomes an intense and hilarious battle of wills that is one of the game’s best experiences. In fact, the most substantial new improvement in the Enhanced Edition package (besides the improved story and extra voice work) seems to centre around Divinity as a cooperative experience which is an interesting and appealing choice for this genre.
With the update comes gamepad support on PC and a completely overhauled UI and inventory system to utilise it. This could have been a disaster as Original Sin is an incredibly complex cRPG with a design that originally centred around the precision you get from a mouse/keyboard setup. Thankfully the developers at Larian have clearly sunk a lot of work in to not only making the new control scheme work but actually making it so comfortable that I actually prefer it. Sure, without hotkeys to quickly navigate inventory panes and no dragging and dropping, menu navigation takes a lot more time and can be confusing in the early going, but I find the interface so clean and intuitive, with all the inputs laid out for you, that I – as a gamepad-centric gamer -won’t be going back. They just got it right.
Combat in Original Sin – Enhanced Edition is every bit as unforgiving as it was in the original and I found myself retreating to the new “explorer” difficulty in order to get by. Your party is frequently outnumbered and if you aren’t managing crowds, buffing, and debuffing properly you simply don’t stand a chance especially in the early game where skill books are expensive and your combat options are limited. There are ample ways to turn the tide of battle in your favor as elements interact with each other allowing you to exploit a poison zombie’s weakness to fire which makes him explode in a fireball that will take out his buddies, or cast a lightning bolt on a puddle of water that will paralyse anyone stupid enough to stand in it. If you’re a tactical expert and you love trying and retrying battles in order to find just the right way to approach a particular encounter and maximise your advantage, this will be your Xanadu. I personally find classic difficulty and above to be a bit unbalanced and unapproachable for a filthy casual like me, especially when combined with the obtuse, veiled nature of many of Original Sin’s systems – even if the most fun you can have comes from finding ways to break them.
Almost everything you can see in the world is interactive. From brooms and shovels, to barrels and chests, to seashells on the beach, everything can be picked up, moved around, interacted with, combined, or totally destroyed. Almost any door can be kicked in if you have the strength for it and traps can be outwitted just by throwing a vase at it. This makes for a tremendous degree of player freedom as a task as simple as getting into a room to collect a bit of evidence can come down to finding a key or talking someone in to opening it, or using some lockpicks to jimmy it open, or kicking the damn thing down, or maybe even just teleporting one of your characters in and out. Larian has done a great job of simply giving you a task and then stepping back and allowing you to use whatever tools are at your disposal to solve it as you see fit. Often that just means robbing people absolutely blind, but remember: It’s not robbery if no one’s around to see you steal.
Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition really is a tremendous effort from a relatively obscure design studio that dares to aspire to the heights of Baldur’s Gate or Fallout and actually makes good on its own promises. If you’re a fan of sweeping, narrative driven, tactically minded RPGs and you don’t mind slogging through a bit of text, this is a strong recommendation. If you have a friend to play with who feels the same way, it’s an absolute must buy.
Divinity: Original Sin – Enhanced Edition is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the PC version. Buy now from Amazon