When it appeared in 2002, Divine Divinity surprised many role-playing fans with its strong combination of Diablo-like hack-and-slash gameplay and its deep, open-ended role-playing elements. Despite its name, Beyond Divinity is not the direct sequel to Divine Divinity, but it does represent a brand-new adventure in the same role-playing world. Belgian developer Larian Studios is adding an impressive list of new features, enhancements, and improvements to build on what it created with Divine Divinity.
In Beyond Divinity, your character finds himself (or herself) in a metaphysical version of an otherwise familiar "two people who don't like each other get chained together" storyline. You play as a character that has been soul-forged to an evil death knight by a powerful demon. While you're not physically chained together, your fates are intertwined, which means that if one of you dies, both of you die. So you and the death knight have to work together to find the only witch powerful enough to untangle your souls.
Like Divine Divinity, Beyond Divinity bears more than a passing resemblance to Blizzard's successful action RPG Diablo. Your characters run around, kill enemies, smash barrels, and pick up lots of loot. But like the original game, there's also a very strong element of traditional role-playing, reminiscent of BioWare's classic RPG Baldur's Gate. This means that you can have plenty of conversations with other characters, and there are many side quests and adventures you can pursue. There will also be plenty of puzzle-solving, and you'll also be faced with having to make important decisions early on. For instance, you'll be given the choice of sparing the life of an evil minion or killing him. What you decide will have different rewards and consequences in the game, since there's a new reputation system that keeps track of your actions. Furthermore, the new game will generate random quests and maps on the fly, which means that certain maps and quests will never play the same twice.
The game will feature an enhanced version of the Divine Divinity graphics engine, which includes a few major improvements. The biggest improvement is that characters and creatures are now rendered in real-time 3D. The good news is that the "paper doll" inventory system remains intact, so you can outfit your characters with any number of combinations of arms and armor; your character's appearance will change accordingly. The environments remain sprite-based, but they still offer a lot of detail and variety. Additionally, you can still interact with most items. The dialogue will also be fully spoken, which should lend some atmosphere and personality to the role-playing experience.
The combat system includes some heavy hack-and-slash elements, like Diablo did, though you won't have to constantly hammer your mouse button to execute sword swings. However, if you don't have fast reflexes, you can pause the game to issue commands. This lets you strategize as well as drink healing potions and change equipment. Your character will have generally two different kinds of attack--primary and secondary--and you can map special attacks to your mouse buttons. So if you want to execute a whirlwind attack, all you have to do is click the right mouse button. But since you're soul-forged with the death knight, you have to be careful that neither one of you dies, or you'll fail in your mission to free yourself. This is unlike most role-playing games, in which the survivors of various battles can later use magical means to revive fallen comrades.
Beyond Divinity will offer even more options than its predecessor's already impressive skill system. In the original game, you could create virtually any kind of character because there weren't any real restrictions like those found in conventional role-playing games. That meant you could create a wizard character with thief skills or a warrior character who could cast wizard spells. In Beyond Divinity, there's a highly detailed skill system that lets you improve your proficiency in weapons and spellcasting. For example, if you choose to invest in your swordfighting skill, you can choose between single-handed and double-handed weapons, and in each of these categories you can improve crushing, slashing, and piercing. And in each of these categories, you can improve accuracy, damage, weapon durability, critical hits, and deathblow percentages. So it will be quite possible to have a swordfighting character that specializes in slashing attacks, while another swordfighting character could specialize in stabbing attacks.
The character creation system has also been expanded, so you can choose gender, build type (skinny, muscular, or fat), hairstyle, and more. And in an interesting twist, you can instead choose to play as a child character. You can still choose between three main class types: warrior, ranger, and survivalist (the latter is basically a thieflike character, though with the skill system it will be easy to create unique variants of each class).
It also appears that the strong sense of humor that permeated Divine Divinity has carried over in to Beyond Divinity. The death knight, for instance, offers plenty of surprisingly colorful commentary, and other characters will have a lot of fun at the death knight's expense. The developers at Larian certainly look like they're prepared to take what they started with in Divine Divinity and are ready to bring it up a notch. Beyond Divinity will ship sometime in the spring.