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Divinity: Original Sin Review - Seeing the Sights of Cyseal


Divinity: Original Sin is the newest release from Larian Studios, known pretty much exclusively for their other Divinity titles. Original Sin is a turn based rpg that exists today because of a very successful Kickstarter campaign which describes the game as “an old-school cRPG with new ideas & modern execution” and having finally finished I can attest that this is indeed accurate.

Playing through Original Sin has been a trial my friends. This game released on the 30th of June and I have played it pretty exclusively since; clocking in around 60 hours to get through the campaign and the side stories along the way. This 60 hours has been full of many mixed feelings, back and forth throughout my playthrough. Let's start with the basics.

In Original Sin you control two main characters of your own creation; a male and female from an order of Source Hunters. “Source” is a powerful type of magic that has existed for centuries but is tainted by darkness and often used for nefarious purposes, which is why your characters hunt down those who wield it. You begin the game by arriving by ship at a place known as Cyseal, where a murder has recently taken place and source may have been involved. What begins as a murder mystery eventually evolves into a much larger and deadlier adventure that will send you not just across the land of Cyseal but other realms as well.

You can actually play through Original Sin with a friend controlling one of your two main characters if you like thanks to the built in co-op. If you have a friend who would be willing to accompany you on a 60 hour long journey then this may be the best way to go as you can work together to solve puzzles and get through combat. Your two main characters can also converse with each other and even argue with one another when the time comes to make decisions. You can have up to a party of four characters total but there are currently only two companions who have personalities and stories for you to uncover. I believe Larian is in the process of making more to add in at a later date.

You are free to move around pretty much as openly as you please right from the start. I suppose technically it could be called an open world game as you can go off in any direction, but the level differences in this game don't play around and if you go somewhere you're not meant to go yet you'll know. Your first two or three levels will pretty much entirely be spent in the first town of the game helping people out, exploring, and trying to solve the murder. When I say “two or three levels” you may think that's likely not much time really, but this game handles leveling in a rather slow manner. As I mentioned before I spent about 60 hours on this game and when I finished the story I was only level 20. This brings one of my first issues to the table: the progression.

The growth and empowering of your characters is done in two ways: leveling and skill books. Leveling at its core is how you'd imagine from a crpg; you gain experience, gain a level, and distribute points. Unfortunately, as leveling is a relatively slow process in this game, you can pretty easily feel like you're not really getting stronger. This is made even more annoying (in my opinion at least) by the fact that the points you receive upon leveling aren't consistent.

There are three different types of points you can earn by leveling: attribute points, ability points, and talent points. Attribute points are exactly as you'd expect, going into the primary attributes of Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Constitution, Speed, and Precision. Ability points are used to increase various secondary statistics and your ability to use skills. These points can do anything from increasing your damage with one handed weapons, to increasing your ability to use water magic, to simply increasing your crafting or ability to argue. Finally, talent points allow you to gain very specific passive abilities of a wide variety. You'll only ever gain one talent point at a time and talents range from letting your character carry more weight, to healing them when they stand in blood, to letting them talk to animals (actually one of the most important talents in the game, believe it or not.) Here's the thing though: you never know which points you're going to get upon leveling. I don't think its random, I would assume that the game is set to give you specific points at specific levels, but one level you'll get an attribute point and a few ability points and another you may only gain ability points.

Moving away from the progression system, let's talk about the most intricate part of the game: the combat. As mentioned before, combat in Original Sin is turn based and it is very deep. Your movements and actions are restricted by a system called action points. Everything your characters do costs action points while in combat. Your stats will determine your starting AP and how many you restore each turn. You'll not just be using your weapons and magic to take out enemies, you'll have to manipulate the environment as well.

Allow me to give you an example! You enter combat with your warrior and mage against a few undead. Your mage drops oil onto the enemies, slowing them down. Your mage can then set fire to said oil, not only burning the enemies but the ground as well. Don't want your melee characters walking into the fire? Cast a rain spell to get rid of the fire both on the ground and on characters. If your enemies are standing in a puddle created by the rain then you can now use an electric spell to electrify the water, stunning those standing in it. The list of environmental effects and their combos goes on.

You will be forced to use everything at your disposal to get through many of the combat encounters in Original Sin and you may likely need to abuse quicksave files. If you go into a fight and get destroyed you can then load a previous save and try again, but this time with knowledge of the lay of the land and what enemies to target first. My personal favorite ways to get the drop on a group of enemies is to either hurl an exploding fireball in before the encounter even starts to get enemies burning, or to immediately use a teleportation spell on the most important enemy and give him an express trip to the area right next to my two handed warrior.

I very much enjoy the combat system in place in Original Sin, but it also has its share of strange design choices. The game has its share of both buffs and debuffs for both your characters and npc's alike to make use of, BUT while you can hover over buffs and debuffs that your characters have to see precisely what effect they have, as far as I could tell there was no way to see what exactly the buffs that enemies have are giving them. Another strange part of the combat is strange because it's never really explained (having nothing explained to you is something you'll have to get used to playing this game) and that is the way your hit chance works.

Early on hit worked in a pretty straight forward fashion, as spells can't really miss and my two melee characters had an 85-100% chance to hit anything their level or lower. After a certain point however things started to change. Nearing the end of the game there were plenty of encounters where I would have anywhere from a 50-75% to hit enemies that I was of equal level with. In fact, in one particular encounter I battled about six enemies, all of whom were a level lower than my party, and only had about a 70% chance or so to hit any of them. According to the tooltips from hovering over primary attributes; strength increases your chance to hit with strength based weapons, and dexterity for dexterity based weapons. With both of my melee characters being strength fighters they naturally had plenty of strength but it didn't seem to fix the hit problem.

It is entirely possible that this system is currently bugged, as there are an unfortunately noticeable number of bugs and spelling mistakes in the game. These range from simple things that don't get in the way of anything to larger bugs such as one I encountered where a door I had to get through to continue the story was open on my screen but the game refused to let me walk through it. I also had a very strange experience where I noticed an object in my inventory that I didn't recognize and it didn't have a tooltip. Upon trying to drop the item onto the ground my game crashed. I still have no idea what that item is but it is still there in my bags. To be fair to Larian however they have been pretty on the ball about rolling out bug fixes since release and I would be surprised if many (or any) of the bigger bugs stick around for long.

My final bit of mixed feelings comes from the game's dedication to its lack of hand holding. Early on I was very much grateful for it as I loved running around solving the murder mystery and other puzzles without much in the way of hints. It's a great feeling to solve an intricate puzzle without having a big glowing arrow pointing at the answer. As time passed though the game's idea of puzzles twisted away from “Solve the mystery!” and more towards “Spot the very tiny buttons hidden on the walls!” The most frustrating portion of the entire game for me took place in one such “puzzle” where I was stuck teleporting through an endlessly revolving set of rooms with no real puzzle in sight.

I have never had to post on the steam discussion boards asking for help in the entirety of my time gaming on Steam but I certainly had to this time. Thanks to the help of the fine people on those boards I discovered that only characters with enough points put into their “Perception” stat, used for finding hidden traps and secrets in the environment, could spot a single tiny button in one of the rooms. If there is a more down to earth way of getting through that puzzle then I couldn't find anyone who knew of it. I hope I don't need to explain just how poor of a design decision it is to have a puzzle that is vital to the main storyline that requires you to have a certain amount of points in a specific stat to be able to progress.

On a more positive note I did actually very much enjoy the story of the game, which I unfortunately can't really share much of without spoiling but needless to say you'll be fighting for the fate of the world and not just solving a murder the entire game. The music is also excellent and has a fantastic range. Visually it's a very appealing game as well and, while I didn't tryout the co-op, playing alone I ran into no problems running the game.

Now, I've had quite a lot to say about Original Sin, both good and bad, but I don't want you to come away from this thinking that I didn't enjoy my romp through the world of Rivellon. Overall I actually think that this is a very solid game and most of the problems I mentioned only show up enough to remind you that they're there but don't stick around. The intricate combat is a blast to use and the world is vibrant and full of life, both hostile and friendly. It's available on the Steam store for $40 and you'll certainly get your money's worth in terms of content. The game even features an easy difficulty if you're not sure you're capable of handling the challenge, as well as a hard difficulty for those who aren't challenged enough.

If you're into crpg's I'd certainly advise you to look into it. Divinity: Original Sin isn't without its fair share of rough edges, but you're not likely to play another game like it, and for the most part I mean that in a good way.
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About Fenriffone of us since 8:53 PM on 12.21.2012

Name's Josh. I'm 27, play pretty much any kind of game, and have since I was old enough to hold a controller.