What's more divine than divinity? Larian Studios' Divine Divinity, of course. This isometric role-playing game from German developer Larian Studios has been in development for a number of years, and it will finally be released in 2002--in fact, it's already available in Germany. Divine Divinity will attempt to combine the traditional role-playing elements of Baldur's Gate with fast-paced hack-and-slash gameplay, so players who wish to follow the story and perform quests can do so, while players who want to spend most of their time killing skeletons can do so as well.
Divine Divinity will take place in a land of high fantasy, so you can expect to meet soldiers wearing chain mail and brandishing swords, mighty wizards, and kindly healers in your travels. You can also expect to be pursued by a mysterious group of powerful sorcerers known as the Black Ring, who want nothing more than to find you and kill you. That's because, as the game's opening movie reveals, your character has been infused with one-third of a holy spirit imprisoned by these evil wizards, and in order to see their plans for world domination through, they'll need to hunt down each of these three fragments and destroy them (and any living vessels that happen to be harboring them).
Fortunately, Divine Divinity will give you ample opportunity to rise to the challenge. The game will let you play as male or female versions of three basic characters: warrior, wizard, and survivalist. Warriors tend to focus on fighting enemies with weapons, and they can learn secondary abilities such as repairing damaged weapons, incapacitating enemies with stunning blows, or even infusing their weapons with magical powers. Wizards, as you might guess, tend to use magic spells to attack their enemies and defend themselves, and they may learn additional abilities like specializing in a specific type of magic or learning alchemy, which involves collecting herbs and brewing potions. Survivalists are the thieves of Divine Divinity. They use their superior agility to sneak past enemies, ambush opponents with backstabbing attacks, and get into secure areas by picking locks. Yet according Larian Studios, Divine Divinity will actually be a "classless, skill-based game," because although you'll choose a basic starting character type, you'll be able to learn and develop any skill in the game. If you wish, you can be a warrior who's good at picking locks, or a wizard who's especially handy with a sword.
Hacking and slashing can play a significant role in Divine Divinity if you wish it. The game will have a huge set of skills to learn, and the more experience you have, the more skills you can learn and improve. The game's fighting system takes place in real time--hand-to-hand combat can be started automatically by clicking on an enemy once, though you may need to throw multiple spells at that angry skeleton archer before it drops. Divine Divinity's fights are generally fast-paced, and as long as you keep your eye on your character's life meter, you'll have a good idea of whether your character is strong enough to survive, though the game will let you pause it at any time to get your bearings or figure out what to do next. If you need to, you can quickly down a healing potion to replenish your health, a magic potion to replenish your spell points, or a stamina potion to replenish your character's endurance so he or she can flee.
This Is Not a Clone
As Larian Studios assured us, Divine Divinity will not be a clone of Diablo II, despite the many superficial similarities between the German company's game and Blizzard North's extremely popular action RPG. The overhead isometric perspective is similar, the detailed prerendered 2D graphics are similar, the health, magic, and endurance meters are similar, the way in which slain monsters drop gold and items on the ground is similar, the game's paper-doll inventory system is similar, and the way in which weapons and armor deteriorate over time and must be repaired is similar. Still, the company insists that Divine Divinity will distinguish itself from Diablo in a number of ways.
As we've seen, Divine Divinity has a much more involving set of quests that go beyond "kill this monster and/or bring back this item." In order to accomplish the game's hundreds of different quests, many of which are completely optional, you'll need to speak with lots of other characters, whose opinion of you depends on your actions and how you speak to them. The game will also have a great deal of full audio speech for most of the game's important characters--the spoken dialogue does a good job of highlighting the text dialogue that will appear onscreen, much like in Baldur's Gate II--though unlike the Baldur's Gate games, Divine Divinity will deliver all its characters' dialogues in full speech, rather than just a short snippet.
The way you treat the game's characters will affect your standing with them--characters you've insulted might become slightly annoyed with you, while characters you've stolen from repeatedly might shut themselves in their houses, lock the door, and refuse to have anything to do with you. Being rude to characters won't be a good idea in Divine Divinity, especially when those characters happen to be carrying helpful goods or important items. The game will have a simple barter system, similar to the one used in Black Isle Studios' classic RPG Fallout, in which you'll be able to trade your gold and items for items of roughly equal worth--but if you've made some characters angry, they'll demand higher prices in trades and may refuse to trade with you at all. Fortunately, the most important characters in Divine Divinity will still be willing to speak with you if you've made them angry, so you won't have to worry about reloading your last saved game because you chose the "wrong" dialogue option.
The fact that you'll want to watch your character's behavior isn't a coincidence. According to the developers, Divine Divinity have some of the same kind of difficult moral dilemmas as in Origin Systems' classic game Ultima VII--a game about a character who was literally a living embodiment of human virtue. Like Ultima VII, Divine Divinity may present you with some tough choices. For instance, you'll meet two wounded soldiers in the care of a group of healers, and only one of them can survive. You may be called upon to make a tough decision--one that will actually have consequences later on in the game.
Riddle Me This
The later games in the classic Ultima series, from which Divine Divinity draws inspiration, also distinguished themselves with interesting puzzles. Divine Divinity will also have puzzles, the simplest of which will involve moving items to clear paths. For instance, you can click and drag a pile of nondescript boxes if you have a sneaking suspicion that there might be a trapdoor leading to a dungeon beneath them. You can also make clever use of your character's skills and magic spells. For example, you'll be able to learn a spell that will let you see through buildings, as well as a telekinesis spell that will let you pick up an object that's far away from you--so you can steal an important item from unfriendly characters from the outside their houses without them even noticing.
Though you'll travel all around the world and run into some very surprising plot twists over the course of the game, traveling in Divine Divinity won't be difficult. Like in Diablo II, you can choose to walk or run (though you can't run indefinitely, since your character will run out of stamina). However, you'll also have access to a two-way teleporter stone that must be dropped on the ground before it's used. When you first recover it, you'll only have one of the stones, so you'll have to find out where the second one is (and where it leads to) as part of a quest, but once you do, you'll be able to use it to travel quickly to different parts of the land.
Fortunately, Divine Divinity will have several interface features that should let you get around fairly easily, and it will also let you keep track of the details of your character's progress. Right off the bat, as you might expect from a hack-and-slash game of this sort, you'll be able to press the ALT key to highlight any items your enemies have dropped. You'll also be able to pull up an onscreen mini map that you can use to keep track of your progress. But Divine Divinity will also have a diary menu with several other options, including a larger map of the entire world, which will give you the handy option of adding your own custom markers to the map with whatever brief text note you'd like, such as "locked door here," or "bring back quest item here." The diary will also have a journal of all the quests you've been assigned, as well as a "trophy room" menu that shows how many monsters you've managed to defeat--and by the end of the game, your trophy list will most likely be extremely long.
Judging by the other games that have been released already, you could say that 2002 has been the year of the epic role-playing game. And if Divine Divinity's great variety of character skills, items, magic spells, and quests is any indication, then Larian Studios' upcoming game is all set to follow suit. We'll be able to explore the world of Divine Divinity when the game is released in the US this fall.