Following its long Early Access phase, Divinity: Original Sin 2 finally launched in September, 2017. And through the last quarter of that year, the game became a phenomenon to observe, follow, and take part in. It easily passed the 1 million copy barrier within two months, awarded Game of the Year and other titles on multiple magazines and sites, and getting perfect reviews from both critics and players. Making it a huge success on all levels.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 | An RPG In Design
Not only fans of the classic/tabletop RPGs been satisfied with the +80 hours it takes to finish one playthrough, but the game created a huge whirlpool that drew gamers of all kinds, ages, and preferences. Myself being one of those guys who prefer modern RPGs, with action-oriented combat, long cut-scenes, great characters models, and huge attention to facial animations and lip syncing.
Nonetheless, I have been sinking hundreds of hours into the game, starting one playthrough after the other; learning my way around every corner of the game, trying new builds and combination, and increasing the difficulty with each session. A devotion I’ve not tasted for so long, I’ve almost forgotten.
So, what makes this game so special? How does it appeal to gamers of different mindsets? And what other RPGs (Classic and otherwise) can learn from Divinity: Original Sin 2?
Together, let’s go through these distinctive core virtues that made the Original Sin 2 earn its very special place in hearts and minds of everyone who has played it.
Virtue No. 1: Less is More
Do you remember how many CRPGs Obsidian Entertainment have introduced to the world recently? Maybe you recall how much their advertisements stressed out the millions of words included in their conversation? How long could you scroll and scroll in the conversation window, immersing in the deep lore, backstory, and detailed description of every single thing or character?
Well, Divinity: Original Sin 2 did none of this, plain and simple. Instead, the conversation window had no mentionable scrolling, the dialogue was shorter and to the point. A moderate length like a real life conversation instead of a medieval poetic book. The characters felt like normal people instead of long lost heroes worth lengthy novels written on them, and it has worked out!
Divinity: Original Sin 2 took this approach of “less is more.” Its characters did have their own tales, but instead of having them incessantly tell their entire backstories around every corner, it lets them develop and grow while they journeyed alongside you. And also, Original Sin 2 focused on its visuals and environment to aid in its storytelling and save you lots of text; sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. And why would you talk about the tree when you feel much more immersed seeing, hearing, talking and being with it?
It’s a different approach from the classic RPGs older gamers grew up with, as it is a more modern approach that appeals to the current generation of gamers. Whom, are willing to spend hundreds of hours “playing” a game, but are less inclined to be reading all their way throughout. And as much as they like their choices to matter, they want their time spent to matter as well, and Divinity Original Sin 2 nails this. Allowing you to go for more than 90 hours of gameplay in a single playthrough, and one that keeps giving you new stuff such as more characters, both old and new, more roads to explore, more battles to fight, and overall more fun to be had.
Rather than focusing solely on story, the title can focus on its other aspects as well, and reward players with a perfect final product that can appeal to classic and modern gamers alike. That’s how less conversation means more content and more fun overall with a very lively game. A virtue we all appreciate.
Virtue No. 2: Fantasy Doesn’t Mean Weird
In my opinion, this is the most important virtue RPGs should consider when introducing us to more and more games of the genre. Original Sin 2 shows this virtue in every aspect, starting from the Origin characters you play as; with everyone having a simple yet deep background story that includes their motivation and goals, and personal fears which they will need to face to overcome. The art direction has the fantasy drawn within a frame that makes the game feel consistent, flexible, but doesn’t limit the creativity. While its story sets some standards that it doesn’t break after five minutes for the sake of plot twists.
To elaborate on the virtue of being coherent, take the character Sebille for example, she’s an escapee slave who seeks revenge on her former master. A vicious killer who has no mercy, and a lone ranger burdened with heavy sins of the past, who embrace herself, not giving much thoughts towards her victims. When first you meet her, she demonstrate her ways, and if you successfully pass the encounter, and thus recruit her, you might think of her as one of these fantasy RPGs stereotypes.
But spend some time with her and getting to know her better, appreciating her help and providing yours, you start seeing that glimpse of hesitation, the small doubt and stutter, the signs of something new she’s experiencing. Friendship, and potentially love, are things she starts learning about, and it gets her to change over time, if you influence her that way.
That character can be very much a real person, she’s more like someone than a plot device. Not a super flashy and colorful character, but an Elf, an Outlaw, and an unlikely Scholar who was taught about the darkest secrets of the world from eating the flesh of people she – and others – have killed. She’s not the only Elf, nor the only flesh eating culprit, and if a certain being hadn’t chosen her, she could’ve been anyone or no one at all.
Such a story like Sebille’s, and all other companions in fact – feels natural, rather than forced. It’s suitable and fulfilling enough, with no excessive explanations or descriptions like other classic RPGs do, and no flattening the character like some modern RPGs do. The game’s art compliments that as well, especially its special art for races like the Elves.
This race has been portrayed over a thousand time before, in both typical and different fashion, we loved some more than others, and hated some, but Divinity’s Elves will always feel unique and consistent with the lore and settings of this game. As does the environment, which gives you a fantasy feel, while not being weird for the sake of being weird.
This makes Divinity: Original Sin 2 original, natural, and fun without restriction!
Virtue No. 3: A Rich, Interactive, & Realistic Environment
You wake up one morning, feeling hungry and lonely, so you called out your friends, and went hunting together in the forest. While exploring the great greens and browns of trees, smelling the fragrance of wet wood in the air, and listening to the sounds of gentle streams playing as music to your ears. You knew it would be a nice day, but when you suddenly hear an unusual sound, you stop, turn, and jokingly tell your friends about the possibility of being ambushed by Undead Dwarves within these woods. They laughed and told you that they instead would make a good breakfast.
Sadly, you were not ambushed by Undead, but rather deadly Cultists. A full party complete with Sorcerers, Fighters, Archers, and Rogues. They get the first turn over you, and begin by bringing down the shields of your Tank, and freeze your Ranger before she can do anything. Bad start of a day, yes?
But there you are, still alive, and so is your Elementalist whom they’ve disregarded as fragile, and when his turn came, they didn’t see what was coming, as water rises their own spells have been turned against them, working as a good conductor for electricity, which shocks and stuns them. You then surround your party with fire, to avoid contact with this nasty water, and work to unfreeze your Ranger, who uses the same electrified liquid to summon her own electric-based pets and totems.
Things are starting to look good, but the enemy has their own tricks as well, and know that they can use your own tactics against you in their turn. This fire you started exploded when they threw in flammable materials such as oil, doing far more damage. And the master of these Cultists has some nasty scroll that curses this fire, turning it into Necrofire that you can’t remove. And the last present they leave you is casting more water over the Necrofire, then some cloud billows… And thus… The battle is over…
Wait, did you think that was a good thing?
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. You can only be so sure once you’ve tried the effect in-game, and it’s fun finding these things out, if you are on the right side of the battle.
So… This is one of the countless scenarios that can happen in battle, or outside of battle. You can create blessed water to heal you instead of harming your enemies, or you can freeze it and have melee enemies slip and get knocked down. Or you could turn it into oil to slow them, and use surfaces to reduce the Action Points required for certain spells, or fuel the arrows of your archers…
The possibilities are limitless, and this highly interactive environment is the very distinctive feature Divinity: Original Sin 2 has. It’s dynamic with its surfaces, clouds, and means to remove or twist these effects. Every single form of surface-type can be exploited and be used in many ways, creating one of the most deep and entertaining tactical games ever made.
Now when I play other games and see a fire spell, I start to think I should receive less damage because my character is wet, and that I can dose it with blood, and I should have an electric spell on one my team to stun them when their magic shield is down… I keep only dreaming and hoping for a moment, before waking up to reality of all other games lacking such environment.
Don’t you think it would be better if more games started implementing this soon?
Virtue No. 4: Playing As Your Companions
This one is as simple as it sounds, with no catch at all. You boot up the game, go to character creation, and choose one of the six Origin characters. The other characters become your companions, and potentially friends, foes, or even love interests.
It can’t get more complex than this and it gives the game an immense value to replayability. Especially when you are helping your companions in their personal quests, and catch glimpses of how wonderful their story is. And then you realize that moment where you need to replay the game with them as your main next.
Oh, and you get much more satisfaction with your first character as a companion for your second one! You get to see things from different perspectives, and enjoy being with the character, after you enjoyed being in their shoes.
The fluidity of playing as your companions is a satisfying high, and is a virtue this game has introduced to the industry. Add in the deep customization of characters and companions to the mix, and you get countless reasons to replay the game.
Virtue No. 5: The Narrator
A very powerful storytelling device that no one cares about anymore.. Until Divinity: Original Sin 2 brought it back, with perfection. Giving us a smooth talker, who has an entertaining voice and sense of humor, but with consideration to the player. The narrator of this game added a vibrant level of intensity into every scene. His voice is associated with none of the protagonists, characters, nor NPCs in the vast world of DOS2, so most of the times he felt like genuine narrator. His lines flowed naturally and he added depth to the storytelling.
A good yet simple solution for many of the issues a story can encounter in open world games. A decent narrator can draw a cut-scene with his voice, without having any visual cut-scenes at all. The limitations of game engines as well as the time and effort required to do plausible romance scenes push developers to either prolong the development time, or apply restrictions to the romance. It has happened with both first and last Dragon Age games, where the Inquisition team had originally limited the romance of certain companion to their exact race, not because of lore or character, but because of technical restrictions.
They could only unlock them for all races when the Inquisition’s launch date was delayed for a full year, which gave them the chance to work on it more. And not to mention, there was also this awkward intimate scenes from Dragon Age: Origins, do you remember them? No? Good, you wouldn’t want to anyway.
The point is: It’s not necessarily the best solution to replace cutscenes with a narrator, but Divinity: Original Sin 2 proves it to be a valid component games can consider, as a good fade-to-black device for instance. A Narrator who speaks to the player, instead of speaking about him/her, is a great addition in games for the industry. So it couldn’t feel anymore natural. Even without using any visuals, it delivers fine.
Modern games should consider using narrator here and there. More in these situations:
- Connecting plots in moments that characters can’t say anything.
- To explain game lore, without forcing the characters to ask other characters hundreds of questions that serve only to educate the player, not tell a story/plot.
- During cut-scenes, while characters are supposed to be doing things instead of talking, and fighting instead of chatting.
- At long walks, and long loading screens. True, Divinity: Original Sin 2 didn’t use its narrator in these cases, but it can be overall improvement.
Virtue No. 6: Your Voice Matters
Action-RPGs already established voice acting in most games for years, even the Codex of games like Mass Effect have fully voiced pages. But classic and tactical-RPGs have been struggling to make a tenth of their in-game dialogue having voice.
The reasons are obvious, voice acting is expensive, and it is time-consuming, which requires another whole studio complete with the equipment, the personnel, and the actors to do all the voice recording, directing, and such. And these kinds of RPGs tend to have rich stories with great lengths of text. So it’s easy to write a million word, but harder still to give a voice to them.
But this one here, is a quality Divinity: Original Sin 2 surpassed everybody with, setting a new standard. Because less is more, and the greatest speech in history were short and eloquent, DOS2 could afford to focus on the conversations, and complement it with a narrator on top of it. That, and the great actors who poured their love and passion into every line their characters spoke, it made full voice acting possible for the first time in the genre. And it is exceptional, great with innovation, something to behold and learn from.
And while other franchises strive to re-kindle the light of classic RPGs out there, having walls and walls upon walls of text without any word spoken will be harder to forgive from now on. Come on, more voice brings life to good characters and story, making them greater. You can’t deny that!
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