A year ago, I was writing about Divinity Original Sin, and how the game surprised me with its rich storyline and great writing. I was already waiting for the second installment of the game, having backed it on Kickstarter in 2015, and even though the game came out later than I expected, it was definitely worth the wait.
Being a backer meant that I had access to the in-development version of the game, but even though I couldn’t wait for to play, in the end I didn’t spend much time with this version. I wanted to taste the finished product instead of guessing how it was going to look like.
The first thing that draws attention after loading the game is the music. I loved the previous game’s soundtrack, with its eerily mesmerizing tunes, so my first impression of Divinity: Original Sin 2’s soundtrack was… a slight disappointment. The music sounded nice, but more “mainstream”, more “typical fantasy”. I thought I wouldn’t be able to fall in love with it.
Oh how wrong I was!
After spending nearly 90 hours in-game listening to it, I discovered the richness of the melodic lines and how the several themes are weaved into different melodies, corresponding with one another and creating a very consistent and beautiful soundtrack. It also perfectly serves its role. It is a background for battles, dramatic reveals, and cozy recuperation, enhancing the game locations and events. But at the same time it isn’t dull or forgettable—quite to the contrary.
In the end, I appreciate the soundtrack in Divinity: Original Sin 2 more than its predecessor’s, and I’m happy that when I was choosing my pledge on Kickstarter, I picked the one with the soundtrack. Now I get to listen to this beautiful music while I’m writing my review. And on my personal favorites list, it jumped way ahead of any other soundtrack, Morrowind, Skyrim, and Shadowrun included.
I liked how the first game looked, but I’m also not a person to choose my games based on their graphic engine. I can play pixel or ASCII-based games if they’re engaging enough. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate pretty things and, well, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is simply stunning. The graphics are beautiful. Rich and full of small details, with enchanting color palettes, they are miniature works of art. They are also very distinct, depending on location, so there’s more and more to discover as the game progresses.
My only cringe was the design of the Hall of Echoes, an otherwordly place. Its mood and colors were perfect, but the looks were clearly based off the Giant’s Causeway. Don’t get me wrong, I love that place (after all, I visited it three times and would go again if I could!), but I’ve seen these uneven, six-sided rocks in many other games already, so it feels repetitive. I simply expected more from such an original and beautiful game.
Sadly, there is no easy way to capture screenshots from the game (a shame really—I hope the developer will do something about it), so I can’t share any. Instead, have a look at this trailer.
I was delighted to see that what made the game so great not only remained intact, but also saw some improvements. This way I didn’t have any problems choosing my skills or getting into the game. Along the way, a few surprised awaited me, like the ability to freely re-specialize all the characters which once or twice turned out to be very helpful, and would definitely prevent players new to the game from being stuck with wrong progression choices.
The tactical battle remained mostly the same, with several improvements. The character attributes and action points systems changed which helped to balance the magical and fighting classes in battle. Back in the first game, the mages seemed to have a distinct advantage while in Divinity: Original Sin 2 the warriors and archers can be as powerful.
Gameplay: a pinch of salt
To add a pinch of salt to my praises, I was irked by minor things. The action bar filled itself in, and it seemed there wasn’t any way to rearrange it. Only much later in the game I discovered it could be done only while the skill screen was open which wasn’t very intuitive.
I also wasn’t impressed with the new surface, the necrofire. Stronger than regular fire, it couldn’t be easily extinguished. And since majority of the enemies would cause it to appear one way or the other, it took some of the fun of playing around with the surfaces away, confining my characters to stand in the flames and burn… Sure, there were some ways to get rid of it, but they weren’t as easily accessible as common the necrofire was.
My last complaint would be about the final battle. It was normal that during the difficult battles some characters (or even the main characters) would fall, but there was always a chance to resurrect them before proceeding with the story. That wasn’t a case. If a certain enemy got killed while the main character was dead,, the battle would end instantly, proceeding to the ending without giving the player a chance to resurrect their main character. Maybe it was realistic but highly annoying as it closed some of the final choices. It also made me reply that battle about twenty times to make sure I didn’t kill off the specific enemy when my main character was dead.
But I’m going on about the gameplay, and what about the story? Let’s be honest, the story and the wordbuilding in Divinity: Original Sin 2 makes its predecessor look like some half-made cliche attempt, and if you recall my review, the story back then was already good and (what’s important) well-written.
Simply, the second game is more epic, more exciting, more surprising, and everything more. I loved the writing in the first Divinity, but the sequel had simply left me floored. The witty characters are deliciously sarcastic, the descriptions are beautiful and engaging, and the moments of reveal in the story made me go “OMG!” more than once. It’s something that few books managed to achieve lately.
The story is more complex. We’re still in Rivellon, but things have changed. The Source is causing problems as usual, but the Sourceress are now handled differently. They’re cut from the Source with magical collars and shipped of to a remote island where they can wait to be “cured”. As you can imagine, things aren’t exactly as they seem to be in that prison colony. I can’t say more without revealing the plots and secrets that are so much fun to discover.
There’s also much more lore in the game, and the scope seems bigger. It’s not only humans, orcs, and the undead anymore. The world is also thriving with elves (who eat flesh to preserve the memories of their dead), lizards (who are descendants of dragons), and dwarves. Different factions have different agendas, of course. On top of that, within each faction there are people with very different opinions on their leaders’ goals. Altogether, it creates a very rich and complex world that seems to be living on its own regardless of what our protagonists are doing.
The choices players make in the game are not always simple, and sometimes being good is more difficult than following the evil path. The character’s companions have all their own agendas, and at times they disagree on what should be done… and how to proceed about it. It helped the immersion and provided a lot of satisfaction.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 also seems more open than the first installment. There are multiple paths to achieve goals, and the party can roam the maps more freely. Sadly, the chapter-like structure of the game ruins the impression of the total freedom. As soon as you leave one map, you’re unable to return to it. The pop-up window warns the player about it, but it’s still annoying when you realize afterward that you should have done something in the previous place. Also, in one case, there is no warning. So if you took the “wrong” turn, you might have to leave a certain place without having explored everything. It’s somewhat annoying since you need all the experience you can get. With limited battles and quests there’s no way to grind levels, so skipping anything means a disadvantage at the end.
As much as I understand the need for a chapter structure in such a storyline-heavy game, I still would consider it one of the game’s few flaws.
I left the best one for the last. Every bookworm knows that even the best story won’t be as engaging if the characters aren’t good. As you can guess, Divinity: Original Sin 2 delivers them without a fail.
First of all, the players can either make their own character, or choose him or her from the ones already available (thus getting their storyline). At the same time, they can customize the “pre-mades” freely. I found it a great compromise between having a main character deeply tied into the world and NPC’s and giving the players freedom in creating the story and its protagonist.
Everyone else can be still recruited in-game, and there can be up to 4 characters in the party. In Divinity: Original Sin 2 it makes no sense to be alone. It’s not even for the tactical benefits of the battle, but for the rich personalities of our companions, the interesting interaction, and their storylines which players get to follow.
But what’s most important, it’s hard not to love all of them. They are smart, appealing, but also chased by their own demons. They aren’t just helpers or the movie extras. You end up caring for them and going out of your way to accommodate their goals and desires. Believe me, it’s very rewarding when they recognize your effort.
Is Divinity: Original Sin 2 worth it?
As I mentioned above, I spent nearly 90 hours in game (though some of it was reloading lost battles and so on), and after I reached the end, my first reaction was: I WANT MORE! It’s not that I didn’t find the game satisfying; quite to the contrary. It was so good that I didn’t want to part way with it.
If you’re a gaming writer and for some reason you don’t have this game yet, you have to get it. Writing is at the best books’ level, and the story provides so much inspiration (along with a serious writer envy!). And if you’re not a gamer, maybe you should reconsider?
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is worth every moment with it. Even if the final battle was a bit annoying, the ending was appropriately epic (which is not always the case, including some big games), and as soon as I finished the game, I was ready to start it over again. I knew I missed only a few things, but I didn’t get to make friends with two characters yet. I want to learn their stories from their perspective.
But in truth, just like with a good book I want to immerse myself in that rich world again. Which I’ll likely do as soon as I make my deadlines.
- Story: Supreme*
- Immersion: Supreme
- Inspiration: Supreme
- Relaxation factor: Very High
- Procrastination risk: Very High
(I know the highest rating was supposed to be “very high”, but it just didn’t seem enough.)
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.