Inside a cave where some elves gather, a human boy named Mody runs up to you, asking you to play hide and seek. You, being Lohse, the singer celebrated across the land, accept the challenge, partially to avoid tarnishing your friendly image. During the game, he goes invisible, but Lohse doesn’t have too much trouble finding him. Mody then decides to introduce Lohse to his best friend: a skeleton who’s been petrified by a magic spear for years. Now it’s up to you to free this skeleton’s body and soul.
That’s just a small taste of what Divinity: Original Sin 2 has to offer.
Divinity: Original Sin was an incredible computer RPG when it released in 2014, and the Enhanced Edition a year later only made it that much better. That game cemented itself as a powerhouse in the recent movement to revive the old-school CRPG genre. The top-down view and rigid yet flexible combat system brought the feeling of playing a tabletop game like Dungeons and Dragons to life, and the writing was clever to boot. Amid the serious, world-ending tones of the story, the writers at Larian Studios were never afraid to pepper in some pop culture references or cheeky witticisms.
And after spending more than twenty hours with the sequel, I can say it goes above and beyond any expectations the first game may have set for it. Divinity: Original Sin 2 retains the essence of the first game but makes meaningful changes to the presentation, interface and combat, transforming the sequel into something greater. Fights are as punishing as ever, the dialogue is still playful, and the loot system is somewhat more streamlined for convenience. If there's anything you should know right now, it's that fans of the first game will find themselves enjoying the sequel just as much, if not more so. Those looking for a robust CRPG that rewards creativity, Divinity: Original Sin 2 should be a welcome addition to your library.
The game greets you with a character creation screen that has options with overwhelming implications on how you’ll play the rest of the game. Which of the four races are you? Is your character undead? Which of the fourteen class presets do you start with? Is your character one of the six pre-made origin characters with rich back stories and personal quests, or a completely custom creation? The choices you make feel like they will affect every aspect of the game.
Your character’s gender, race, and origin all factor into the tag system that Larian has built, and you can choose other tags to apply to your character, such as Scholar, Jester, or Outlaw. More tags are earned based on your actions in the story, but having to decide some of them so early in the game helps you understand your character’s place in the world. You’re not just a male elf necromancer; you’re a male elf necromancer who likes to study the world around you, but you’ve done things outside of the law to learn some forbidden supernatural secrets.
If you decide to play as any of the origin characters, you may still change how they look, their stats, their abilities, and so on. Gender, race, and tags are locked in, however. The other five origin characters (or all six, if you decide to create your own character) can be found in the game world and recruited as party members. Each of them have their own personal goals that they try to accomplish as they accompany you through Rivellon. More often than not, they’ll drag you and the rest of the party into whatever antics they get into. I find myself fairly invested in the progression of these quests. Much like in the first game, these quests aren’t often a one-and-done affair, as completing one task for a party member often gives you a new goal on the horizon. Conversations with these origin characters are generally entertaining and informative, and it’s easy to want to root for these characters’ successes. As condescending as the Red Prince can be, there’s a part of me that wants to help him reclaim his throne after he was exiled. While Sebille can be dark and violent, it’s easy to sympathize with her history of being used as an assassin against her will.
The primary way you learn about these characters and the world around you is through the dialogue system. Knowing how to talk in this game is equally as important as knowing how to fight. A good persuasion check can save you from a really bad fight. Talking to the right people can lead you to new loot that you might not find otherwise, like the magic spear that petrified Mody’s skeleton friend. The dialogue system also feels more immersive than the first game’s, which had choices with specific sentences your character could say. In the sequel, each dialogue option instead features a description of how your character reacts to what the other person has said or done. This sets the stage for players to put themselves in their character’s shoes rather than being told what their character says.
When you’re not exploring the world and talking to NPCs, you’re more often than not going to be fighting the many enemies that inhabit Rivellon. From evil demons to oppressive magisters, Divinity: Original Sin 2 has no shortage of creatures for you to sling fireballs at. The turn-based combat is robust, allowing you to set up all kinds of over-the-top combos with your team. Each turn, a unit starts with a certain amount of Action Points, and every action requires some AP. Run out of AP and that unit’s turn is over, although you can also prematurely end a unit’s turn to carry AP over to the next round. The AP system makes each turn feel like a puzzle game with innumerable solutions; it’s a joy to see what each of your party members can do and figure out the best course of action they can take. Do you pull the long con and have your archer take the high ground to rain down more damage at longer ranges? Or do you keep him on the ground to launch some elemental arrows right now to set up your wizard’s next turn? The combat is incredibly flexible and allows for all kinds of strategies.
The bread and butter of the combat is the multitude of spells and skills the game offers. There are ten major schools, each with their own long list of skills. Like the first game, some schools synergize very well with each other. For example, you can use a Geomancer spell like Fossil Strike to create a puddle of oil under the feet of two enemies, then ignite it using Ignition from the Pyrokinetic school, causing the enemies to take fire damage over time. A character with points in the Summoning school can then use Conjure Incarnate to summon a fire elemental from the pool of fire. Each and every fight is a testing ground for the cause-and-effect style gameplay that the skill system has laid out, and I often find myself wondering if these two spells can interact with each other or how that spell would affect an enemy with certain status conditions.
To be clear, however, the game isn’t easy. Assuming you don’t play on the easiest difficulty, you’ll likely suffer your first death within the first ten fights, and party wipes aren’t uncommon. As you understand the game better, you might find yourself wanting to respec your characters, and that’s OK. It’s a game with a steep learning curve, but once it all clicks, the game will feel more fair and manageable. You’ll learn from the mistakes you’ll make, and mistakes will likely be plentiful while learning the game. But if you stick with it, the addictive combat will win you over.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a game that doesn’t care that you’re the player character, which probably contributes to the steep learning curve. The game world doesn’t make many exceptions for you, and it’s a game that forces you to live with the consequences of your actions. If you cross a faction, they’ll more than likely attack you on sight. If you pickpocket an NPC, they’ll notice that they’re missing something and ask to search your pockets. If you murder an NPC, even without witnesses, people might stumble upon the crime scene and ask questions. The game makes you accountable for your actions, making each moment more important than you might think.
The game has the framework to support all kinds of replayability after the lengthy story mode. For one, you can play the story again with completely new builds, and Larian opened the game up to modding on day one. Aside from the story mode, Divinity: Original Sin 2 also has a game master mode, which is meant to simulate classic tabletop gaming. One player can create a story that everyone else can play. The GM can control the NPCs, creating an interesting interactive experience. With modding and game master mode open from day one, the game will likely have a long life and won’t gather dust any time soon.
The game also allows for up to four-player multiplayer, so you can journey through Rivellon together with up to three other friends. You can each create your own characters and move around the world freely. In my experience, it can be almost too easy to get lost with other people playing the game. Players can split up and start all kinds of quests simultaneously, and if any one person runs into a fight, they either have to fend for themselves or wait until everyone else runs over to join. Playing with friends can feel disjointed with all kinds of interruptions, which could possibly be alleviated with the options to teleport your character to other players and back. Playing with friends can be a trying experience, but at the same time, there’s something novel and exciting about being able to play a CRPG with your friends as your other party members.
Larian Studios has created something really special in Divinity: Original Sin 2. It takes an addictive gameplay loop to make the twentieth hour of gameplay feel just as interesting as the fifth, and with well written, troubled yet driven characters at the helm of the experience, this game stands tall as a juggernaut of the CRPG genre.