Divinity Original Sin Review: The Best RPG Since Skyrim

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Divinity: Original Sin Larian Studios

The dead man’s dog sniffed the widow’s dirty panties and then told us she was not the murderer.

Yes, there’s a lot going on in that sentence. But it tells you almost everything you need to know about Divinity: Original Sin. It is an RPG in the grandest sense of the word. There are no simple problems. There are no obvious solutions. You will talk to a dead man’s dog because it is your best lead on a quest that is devoid of the overused checkpoint chases found in most modern RPGs. Divinity: Original Sin forces you to put on your big boy pants and figure it out. In short, it is an RPG for gamers who like a challenge.

For example, the dog-as-CSI story. It’s only one element of a major plotline in the first area of the game, but you’d never find it unless you A.) went looking through the graveyard and B.) had a party member with the ability to talk to animals. It’s a learnable skill, along the same lines as lockpicking, and I recommend picking it up early. In addition to the dog you can also converse with cats, rats, rabbits, etc. Rats in particular are useful because some of them have insight into how to solve puzzles found in dungeon areas.

Talking to rats? Is this game serious? Yes. Yes it is.

Of course, what good would an old school style RPG be without some classic turn-based combat? Divinity: Original Sin delivers plenty on that front. In fact, aside from XCOM and Fire Emblem: Awakening, I’d rank Divinity: Original Sin’s combat system as the best turn-based experience I’ve had in a very long time. And, much like the questing, the secret ingredient in the combat system is complexity.

Unlike many turn-based games that emphasize damage above all else, Divinity: Original Sin delivers a system that requires you to think about your opponent, your environment and your moveset with each and every turn. Fans of buffs will find a lot to like in Divinity: Original Sin. A warrior with an accuracy buff will see much higher percentages in the dice-roll probability that is the backbone of Divinity: Original Sin’s combat system. The same can be said for magic resistance, too. A special attack that keeps decimating you time and time again can often be countered by a spell or a potion you didn’t know you had. Summoning companions, such as undead warriors and elementals, is also given serious weight in combat. Always try to invoke another ally on the battlefield, if for no other reason than to turn it into a punching bag while spells and special attacks recharge.

The conventional relationships between magic types and elements are there, too, but are more sophisticated than simple surface reactions. Cast a chill spell on a foe and it might be more susceptible to water damage, but cast a rain spell first and get it soaking wet then suddenly your chill spell freezes it to the bone and removes it from the fight for several turns. Set fire to a puddle it becomes a steam cloud. Strike it with lightning to electrify it, but beware.

This relationship between the environment and your magics doesn’t differentiate between good guys and bad guys. If your warriors are standing in a puddle (water or blood, doesn’t matter) and you use a lightning spell on an enemy that shares the puddle space then everyone gets electrocuted. Poison clouds and fiery explosions also damage everything in their radius. In the beginning, these kinds of mistakes add to an already frustrating learning curve. But the beauty of Divinity: Original Sin’s combat system is that once you get it, you GET it. Suddenly those level 5 undead that have been pwning your level 3 characters aren’t quite as tough. Suddenly this game starts to feel accessible and even *GASP!* really, really fun.

Is Divinity: Original Sin for everyone? No, absolutely not. This isn’t a game designed with mass market appeal in mind. This is a game that tries, and succeeds, at being the ultimate RPG experience. It requires a patient gamer, someone who doesn’t mind taking a little abuse early on and won’t abandon the game forever because of a few frustrating missteps.

Because the game does very little in the way of hand-holding it’s easy to feel like you’ve done something wrong or out-of-order. I thought I had encountered a game breaking bug early on, only to realize that I was just an idiot and hadn’t searched a key location quite as carefully as I thought. Pro tip - Divinity: Original Sin loves to hide important things under vases and behind picture frames. When you need to search a place you better SEARCH. Not just open every container. Not just look for highlighted objects. If you’re lost, talk to some rats. They might know more than you’d think.

Beyond it’s rich, challenging combat system Divinity: Original Sin also gives players access to a world that is an RPG nerd’s wet dream. The game is appropriately text-heavy, with a seemingly endless amount of dialogue options available on most NPCs. There is some repetition among minor characters, but almost anyone with a name has a story to tell and, potentially, a clue to reveal. Divinity: Original Sin is about listening and thinking, sometimes to a fault.

I enjoyed having lots of NPCs to talk to, but with so many quests and stories tangled together it can be hard to keep track of who does what. An in-game journal updates quests periodically, but won’t keep track of everything. This becomes a bit grueling when encountering NPCs that want you to solve riddles or answer questions from books. The game affords you the freedom to sell many quest-related items so the answer you need might be in that book you sold, if only you can remember who you sold it to. Divinity: Original Sin does away with shopkeeper-only economics. Every character you encounter can be bartered with, so it’s easy to lose track of who bought what.

The surest way to hate Divinity: Original Sin is to try to “beat” it in the conventional sense. It’s a huge game, and it’s clear that there are many paths and possibilities. Once you shake the expectation that there is a “right” way to do anything you’ll start to have a lot more fun. Can’t solve someone’s riddle? Try killing them. Don’t have the key for a chest or locked door? Break it down.

The biggest drawback to Divinity: Original Sin comes from the complexity that makes it so rich and compelling. This is not a game to be played in spurts. Walk away for a few days or weeks (like I did) and you’ll find yourself completely and utterly lost on your return. Those little dialogue clues you’d swore to remember have slipped away, the areas of the map you meant to revisit are forgotten. In short, a break from Divinity: Original Sin means a return via the walkthrough, a defeatist strategy, but one that becomes necessary in the face of hours of rehashing.

However, given the choice between a game that’s too complex and a cookie-cutter RPG fetch quest-a-thon I’ll take the latter. I’ve put 30+ hours into the game and it’s obvious I still have a long way to go. Divinity: Original Sin is as good as RPGs get and serves as a stark reminder that, despite all the next-gen console hype, most of the innovation and risk taking in gaming happens on the PC these days. Take note Sony execs. Pay attention Microsoft suits. If you want to compete with the PC Master Race then give gamers what they want: a talking dog who knows his way around a pair of stolen panties. 

Obligatory Score: 8 out of 10

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