It seems like there’s no escape from Fort Joy. The maesters that patrol the ruins of this once proud outpost seem to turn a blind eye to the cutthroat antics of the scoundrels trapped within. An ocean stands between you and civilization while ferocious beasts lie in wait around the coastline of this island, ready to pounce at any given moment. Your only hope is to forge an unlikely alliance with whoever doesn’t want to drive a shiv into your guts, and work together in search of freedom. What dangers lie beyond the battlements, you do not know, but it’s bound to be better than being cooped up for the rest of your life, right?
The Divine is dead and magic has been outlawed. Behind this act of persecution is an over-zealous group of maesters headed up by fanatical bishop, hellbent in locking up every magic user he can get his hands on and purging them off their capabilities. However, a demonic force known as the Voidwoken has emerged now that the protectors of the realm are on the ropes, threatening to drag the world kicking and screaming into darkness.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the eagerly awaited sequel to the Kickstarter funded role-playing epic released in 2014. Still in the pre-alpha stage, this version of the game offers just a taste of the sprawling fantasy realm that’s still to come when the complete edition arrives in 2017. But to call this a taster is an understatement, as there’s plenty here to satisfy even the hungriest role-playing game appetite.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll be required to choose one of four playable characters, each with their own backstory and moral compass that help shape the narrative. A nihilistic lizard, a troubled sorceress, a lone human warrior and an elf with a grudge are all up for grabs, giving you just a glimpse of the weird and wonderful characters this world has to offer. Each can be customised to a variety of classes that give their stats a boost in their chosen field early on. Rangers give you better marksmanship with projectile weapons, while battlemages allow you to combine attack force with magical elements. There are twelve classes in total available, so depending on your preferred of gameplay, there’s plenty of variety to be had each and every time you start the game.
Alternatively, you can use the character creation tool to mould your very own hero. A refined version of what was on offer in the first game, this gives you the chance to create a character in your very own image. Cosmetic options at the moment are a tad limited, but with a variety of races, tones, facial features and body types available, it’s pretty easy to create an avatar that loosely resembles your ideal self. As with the pre-made characters, you can also choose a class, with the additional option of fleshing out specific traits and abilities a little further so that you can approach the game in a manner that suits you.
And fear not if you think you’ll miss out on some important plot points by not picking one of the pre-made characters either, as each one will become available as companions fairly on in the story. Your party can hold up to four members, so you can recruit and play with any one of these characters provided you have the conversation skills to win their interest. Switching between them is as simple as clicking on a portrait, and with each one bringing different dialogue options to the table when interacting with NPCs, there’s plenty of reasons to keep a balanced rotation amongst the members of your new unlikely supergroup.
Inspired by Forgotten Realms sagas such as Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, the game plays out from a top-down isometric perspective. Built upon the same engine that gave us the Enhanced Edition of the original game, Original Sin 2 is boast a throwback to classic role-playing and a step forward for the genre. The point-and-click mechanics make navigation relatively simple, which makes exploring this high fantasy setting all the more enjoyable. While this particular version does contain some teething problems, they’re easily forgivable – a highly impressive feat for a game that still has a long way to go before a full release.
Exploring every corner of the available environment is a near impossible task, but one that is necessary as you hunt down quest specific items or essential equipment upgrades. On the one hand, it makes for entertaining gameplay as you flesh out the mythology or find a rare item underneath an unturned stone. Hidden caves may reveal hidden gems while taking the wrong turn on a fork road could lead you straight into the jaws of a fire-breathing dragon. On the other hand, however, seemingly endless exploration can seem like a chore, particularly when there’s very little to guide you except for a few clues pencilled into your journal or the occasional marker on your HUD’s radar. Some may enjoy exhausting every avenue or dialogue option but for others, without at least a little extra guidance, escaping Fort Joy and unravelling the mysteries that lie beyond her walls can be a difficult and daunting task.
Dialogue and action go hand-in-hand in Divinity: Original Sin 2. Each character will present a number of dialogue options that reflect their personality, so making sure you select the right ambassador for each interaction can prove to be crucial in avoiding unnecessary conflict. A variety of dialogue options can either calm or aggravate the NPCs, leaving it up to you how you want to proceed. Some situations can be solved with a silver tongue rather than a sharp edge of a sword, usually offering up cleaner resolutions in the process.. Themes of race and class warfare are very much present in this fantasy realm so discrimination and snobbery as much your enemy as the mythical beasts and fiery hell demons that are looking to cut you to shreds.
Of course, more than often your hand is forced and combat becomes the only option. When battle commences, gameplay switches to a turn-based format. With up to six action points at your disposal, you’ll have to move, attack, use items and position yourself for the next turn before the next character, whether they be friend or foe, can make their move. It’s relatively straight forward on the surface, but digging a little deeper allows you to take advantage of environmental attributes, elemental buffs and special moves in order to gain the upper hand. The addition of physical and magical armour add a certain amount of strategy to proceedings, but even the most casual RPG player can get to grips with the system, even if they simply choose to fire everything they’ve got at the enemy.
You can save yourself a certain amount of grief by kitting out your party with all of the necessary bells and whistles before entering the fray. The HUD and menus give you plenty of room to apply a plethora of special moves and replenishment items to each member of your party in preparation for whatever the game throws at you. Passing items between characters and making use of the various crafting options all come down to the click of a few buttons. But even this high level of detail can’t protect you from the understandable cracks that are very visible in this early version of the game.
For a start, we’re only treated to the opening act and while it’s size alone is impressive, there are plenty of threads left dangling, leaving you hungry for more. And while the missing dialogue options and omitted functionality is a given for a game this early in the development phase, there are flaws both in and out of battle that will make or break this game for most. Some enemies are ridiculously overpowered for an opening chapter, with some draining your characters health in the blink of an eye. Combine that with the sporadic AI of your companions and you could be in for a world of hurt. When trying to carefully navigate my team through burning grass (which I created during battle), my allies would carelessly wander right into the flames without cue. Frustrating to say the least, those of a less patient disposition may switch off when such nuisances occur.
On the whole, a game of such grandiose scale isn’t going to come without some growing pains. If you can look beyond the uncooperative gameplay mechanics and the seemingly random difficulty, there’s plenty to uncover in Divinity: Original Sin 2. For a version of a game that seemingly only gives us a glimpse of what’s to come, it offers incredible levels of depth as far as both the mythos and the gameplay are concerned, setting the stage for what is sure to go down as a role-playing classic, when the full package drops in 2017.
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