Classic role-playing games traditionally put you in the role of a hero destined to save a fantasy kingdom by slaying monsters, acquiring treasures and powerful weapons, and improving your strength by gaining experience levels. 2002's Divine Divinity was very much a traditional role-playing game in this sense, since the isometric action role-playing game presented an epic quest with a suitably epic story and even a correspondingly epic zombie named Jake. Developer Larian Studios is now putting the finishing touches on the sequel, Beyond Divinity, which promises even more epic role-playing in a strange new world. Unfortunately, the game was recently delayed slightly; fortunately, this was to include all-new English voice-over. We recently had a chance to see an updated version of the game in action.
In Beyond Divinity, you'll play as the hero of the original game, but chained to an evil apparition, known as a death knight. The two of you begin the game imprisoned in a dungeon, but you'll eventually escape into a bizarre new world bordered by a village of mischievous imps built in and around a forest of gigantic mushrooms. These creatures aren't the most forthcoming beings you'll meet (if you're not careful, a certain imp may paint the death knight's black armor pink--making him the butt of several jokes), but like other nonhostile characters in the game, they will provide you with numerous quests and tasks. At this village, and in other civilized areas, you can also find "trainer" characters who can teach you new skills and then allow you to place skill points into them to develop your character.
We watched our characters leave the relative safety of the imp village to explore a forest inhabited by giant spiders. Fortunately, our party was equipped with bedrolls, which let us rest anywhere, and with ample food stocks, which can replenish health and also provide minor ability bonuses (eating carrots will augment your characters' eyesight, for instance). Unfortunately, the arachnid inhabitants of the forest weren't as impressed with our supplies, and they attacked us in swarms. This battle gave us a chance to see Beyond Divinity's enhanced combat and skill system in action. You can customize your own melee attacks and magic spells by specifying certain classes and basic elements of your attacks. For instance, you can choose to cast a fire-based spell of a specific power level, then choose to have it take a "cloud" form (or a "ray" form or a "ring" form), and then drop an incendiary cloud on your enemies. You can also mix and match different types of magic within a single spell; the same holds true of the game's various melee attacks, which let you perform spectacular and complex swings of your sword. The game will have more than 300 customizable skills in all, and thanks to its new difficulty settings, which include "action," "tactical," and "hardcore," you'll find plenty of opportunities to put your skills to the test.
The game will be divided into five "acts." The different acts will pose varied challenges that will require you to travel to distant lands and to eventually learn the secret of "rift running"--travel across different planes of existence. To do so, you'll have to not only master tactical combat (the game will let you pause battles at any time to plan your next move), but also learn skills, like stealth. In Act Three, for instance, you may be required to sneak past guards who have a limited field of vision, or you may be required to raise a certain sum of gold to continue, like in the opening sequences of BioWare's classic RPG Baldur's Gate II. In other cases, you'll have to use your wits to solve complex puzzles, such as a lever puzzle that opens a series of gates (which you'll need to traverse with one of your characters while the other remains behind to use the levers) or a teleporter puzzle that requires you to move certain characters in and out of an area. When you reach the fifth and final act, you'll gain access to a "pocket dimension" that lets you travel to different battle arenas filled with monsters. Larian Studios' fans clamored for the ability to continue playing even after they had completed the main game, so you can visit these areas as often as you like to rack up even more experience levels, skills, and treasure.
Beyond Divinity is very far along, and, if it can deliver what it promises, the game will offer even more in-depth role-playing and more addictive hack-and-slash gameplay than Divine Divinity. The game is scheduled for release later this month.