The Contemporary Comforts of Divinity: Original Sin

Kevin VanOrd journeys to Rivellon for a look at Divinity: Original Sin.

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“They just don’t make games like that anymore.” When you first see Divinity: Original Sin, that could very well be your reaction, but you’d be wrong to assume that developer Larian’s upcoming isometric role-playing game is stuck in the past. It certainly might remind you of RPGs of old, such as The Temple of Elemental Evil and, of course, Divine Divinity, the game that originated the series. But based on my time with Original Sin, there’s a poignant cooperative element of choice and consequence in Original Sin that makes it more than just a retread.

Nevertheless, you’ll recognize many of the game’s tropes. The build I played began, as so many RPGs do, on a beach, complete with the shipwrecks that usually appear there. Your first battle is with orcs, and one of your first conversations is with town guards, as is so common in role-playing games. I asked Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke about finding the right balance between the old and the new, and as it turns out, the studio didn't approach Original Sin with that kind of thinking.

Says Vincke, "I don't think we thought about it like modern versus traditional, but more in a sense of… if this is a Divinity game with the possibility of cooperative multiplayer and turn-based combat, what would make sense? How can we get the co-op to be fun, what turn-based combat system would be cool, but also, what are the must-have features from our own previous games and other RPGs that have to be in there? And how can we make sure that those must-have features work well in turn-based and in multiplayer?"

At first, I worried that familiarity would breed contempt, but when I started digging deeper, I found both small touches and broad strokes that made me eager to see more of the game in action. Before you and your partner reach your primary destination--the town of Cyseal--you might stumble upon a talking shellfish who longs to leave behind a life of being held to peoples’ filthy ears and return to the refreshing waters of the sea. He also demands you call him Ishmael, which should inspire a smirk from players that enjoy a good “Moby Dick” reference. Elsewhere, you can pilfer building materials from a craftsman’s bench helpfully labeled as “Nine-Inch Nails.” Original Sin certainly has a sense of humor about itself.

Those nails aren’t just industrial rock jokes, but crafting items too. Original Sin’s crafting system isn’t overly complex, but it is remarkably logical. To combine items, you just open the inventory screen and drag one object to another’s slot; if the items can be united, the slot is filled with a new gizmo. For instance, those nails can be combined with a wooden board to create… a board with nails, handy for swatting pesky bandits with. The system is so intuitive and responsive that I experimented with all sorts of combinations, both sensible and nonsensical. Sadly, you can’t combine a fish with a shovel--and if you could, I am not sure what kind of object might result from such an unnatural pairing.

Your own character isn’t alone on the journey, but joined by another adventurer controlled by either another player, or the AI. Playing with a friend isn’t anything new in role-playing games like Original Sin, but co-op decision-making introduces an exciting way to give your buddy a bit of grief. For instance, when you encounter a pair of sloshed guards, you can either agree to go see Cyseal’s resident wizard peacefully, or insist that you don’t answer to intoxicated hirelings. But you don’t make the decision alone; instead, your co-op partner participates in the process. If you agree, all is well, and you either stroll towards the village, or you engage the guards in battle. If you disagree, the game chooses which character wins the argument, and you deal with the consequences. (If you play on your own, you make the dialogue choices for both characters.) Either way, stats like “compassion” and “contempt” are affected, which in turn will affect how non-player characters deal with you down the road.

On another occasion, an exchange with a proud soldier standing guard at a warehouse door took a turn for the worse, and pitted me against a number of guards I was wholly unprepared to handle. Depending on who you’re playing with, I could definitely imagine occasions in which your co-op partner’s decisions might affect events in unwanted ways, so I asked Vincke to give me more details on just how cooperative adventures are handled.

"We don't really see the co-op as something you'll do with strangers," says Vincke. "It's more an experience you'll do with a friend or partner, and because of that, it's going to be an invitation-only event initially. Perhaps there'll be some demand for allowing strangers into your game, but that remains to be seen. However, it is drop-in/drop-out, so whenever you invite somebody, he can take over and reconfigure the party member he takes over. And then when he leaves, you can either reconfigure to the way you preferred the character to be, or leave it as is. The one thing you'll have to live with are the choices that were made in the story."

Remember the drunken guard encounter from before? It’s a fine introduction to Original Sin’s turn-based combat, which is a definite change from Divine Divinity’s Diablo-esque action combat. Once a player (or, usually, both players) is engaged, each combatant gets a certain number of action points to spend during the turn. You might move, or attack, or both during your turn, depending on your available action points, but it’s more fun to get some of your special powers involved. The two members of my party were an archer named Scarlett and a warrior called Roderick, each of whom had a number of magical powers at their disposal. Roderick had a penchant for fire, so I made liberal use of fireballs, or at least, I did until my mana depleted. Scarlett preferred ice along with a few archery skills, such as a poisoned arrow. As is typical for my druidic ways, I favored Scarlett’s elemental summon, who joined the party as an additional temporary henchman and did a nice amount of water damage per turn.

What I enjoyed most about the combat, however, was that you can perform cleverer tactics than just pounding on goblins and guards with steel and magic until they fall over dead. Instead, you can use the environment to your advantage, and at no time was this put to better use than in the final battle of the demo. At first I faced a number of skeletal archers who plodded towards me, eager to put an arrow between my character's eyes. Fortunately, I was able to turn the ground under them to ice, causing them to slip and fall, and buying me extra time to chop them into submission. Ultimately, I faced a giant elemental called an infernal twin, but was fortunate enough for a wall to shield me from its fiery blasts. Elsewhere, I put an end to a foe by zapping the water he was standing in with a bolt of electricity. Barrels of oil, puddles of poison goo--these elements and more encourage you to find creative ways of dealing with your foes.

I spent a lot of time on my own, just wandering Cyseal and its nearby environs, though the pre-alpha build I was playing had limited content and a number of placeholder art assets. (Not to mention, sadly, a lack of audio; Divine Divinity’s soundtrack was lovely, and I can’t wait to hear how music might bring life to Original Sin.) But I was able to get a feel for the world, which has come a long way since Divine Divinity’s now-dated artistic beauty. I explored the docks, where the rippling aquamarine waters made for a soothing view. The eerie church cemetery where I met that menacing infernal twin, on the other hand, made for an ominous investigation. And as I roamed, I encountered characters that needed my help to solve a murder and find a missing staff of great power. What I didn’t have, however, was a sense of character or purpose. And so I asked Vincke: What does this world stand for? Will I care about its people and their plights?

"Well, now that the companion stretch goal was met on Kickstarter, I'm pretty sure there'll be companions to whom you get attached," Vencke says. "We'll certainly aim to craft them that way. Don't forget that you were playing a pre-alpha build and actually, you didn't encounter any main quest yet. Companions will have their opinion about pretty much everything, have their own story arcs in which you'll have a large influence and their own quests. And I actually believe that the cooperative dialog mechanic which we have will make your bonding with them even stronger, because we'll craft the dialogue such that when it's decision time, you won't necessarily have the same opinions as another player, provided you play in multiplayer."

It’s hard to say just how well Divinity: Original Sin will capture the essence of Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity, the games that directly spawned it. (From a gameplay perspective, Original Sin shares little in common with the troubled Divinity II.) Larian’s fans certainly have faith, however: Larian’s Kickstarter campaign for the game has now closed, earning more than twice the amount of its original goal, and all stretch goals were met. Thus, your companions will have their own backstories and personalities, the music will be fully orchestrated, and there will be more character-defining talents than originally planned. I am cautiously hopeful that Divinity: Original Sin might be, in its own way, just as divine as the game that spawned the series.

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Discussion

80 comments
TBear7130
TBear7130

Looks good, but I hope they don't expect full price, since they are just updating old game models.

TileToad
TileToad

Definitely on my shortlist of games to buy!

jknight5422
jknight5422

I've played a lot of RPGs and I don't recall any of them starting on a beach.  I'm guessing that is a joke. lol.

ROMSES
ROMSES

It's like Gorky 17( battle system)really liked this game and now  its Divinity world and I'm sure It will be awesome)

Dalkanium
Dalkanium

This reminds of Spellforce and Dungeon Siege :D

CloudXentar
CloudXentar

Looks pretty good. I just hope that I'll be able to run this game on my PC. ^^'

This, Project Eternity and Torment are my most wanted games.

Skalponesis
Skalponesis

How can arrow or sword slash spill so much blood? 

sr_arthur3
sr_arthur3

I personally loved Dragon Knight Saga, it was one of my favorite RPG's.

nikolokolus
nikolokolus

Don't forget, if you want in on the kickstarter goodies, you can still pledge (a sort of pre-order, but not quite) by going to Larian's Divinity: Original Sin website and get in on the action until May 10th.

One thing KVO didn't mention is that there's also going to be a fully featured toolset included with the shipped game.  It reminded me a lot of the Neverwinter Nights 1/2 mod tools, which could be really fantastic for the longevity of the game.


schesak
schesak

I am looking forward to this game more than any other in development game out there.   I'm thinking of putting myself in stasis until release day so that I don't go crazy being bored to tears between then and now.  Outside of kickstarter, no one is making much in the way of games which interest me these days.

miser_cz
miser_cz

Proud to back this up! Along with Wasteland 2, Project Eternity and Torment.

PacoTaco
PacoTaco

Divinity II - Dragon Knight Saga was a little gem that flew under most people's radars.  But not mine.

Seems like these guys really get what RPG gamers want, I have high hopes for this one.  Gotta support the smaller studios!

Marcelloz
Marcelloz

Love the return of the turn-based RPG's where tactics are a bigger part of gameplay than that perfect build or click-skill. Go Larian!

Shelledfade1
Shelledfade1

the first 20 seconds I almost fell asleep. I cannot stand turn-based games.

Voqar
Voqar

Looks better and better all the time.  I'm all for more, more, more old school style games, especially anything turn based.  I'm beyond sick of corporate FPS and RTS repetitive crap, and especially sick of console/app phone dumbed down garbage.  The kickstarter thing is interesting and it'll be interesting to see if these games end up as good as they seem up front (ie, do publishers hold back devs or can these devs manage to fail to deliver all by themselves ;)

electroban
electroban

Great another tapped on CO-OP game, yeah fun fun.  zzZZzZZzz

BFKZ
BFKZ

i thought i had a new baldur's gate on my hands...oh well.

wexorian
wexorian

Can't say no To Turn based RPG"S :))))

Lambchopzin
Lambchopzin

I am so psyched over this whole resurgence of CRPGs. If even one of these kickstarted CRPGs is as good as Baldur's Gate, Planescape, etc, I will be ecstatic.

Shinteikun
Shinteikun

I only wish you can have more characters in your group, it would be nice for the game to be a shining force, baldurs gate and fallout (1&2) combo!

jinseinoseikou
jinseinoseikou

The game will be a lot different when it's 1 million kickstarter get's integrated into the current build. With how much it's completed already I can only imagine how amazing it will be at the final release. 

I'd think Kevin will probably go over it again at that point.

Azghouls
Azghouls

To those who was part of the kickstarter campaign...baaaaa.

Man it was the best campaign to be part of.

kozzy1234
kozzy1234

Cannot wait for this, Divine Divinity is one of my favorite rpgs ever.

nate1222
nate1222

I own, and love, Divine Divinity and Divinity II Developer's Cut (GOG, DRM-free). I am also baring in mind that D2DC has alotta fixes over Ego Draconis. If you took issue with Ego Draconis, I suggest Developer's Cut.

Katrinya
Katrinya

I thought Divinity 2 was great, and couldn't understand why it got such dismal reviews.  But then, Mr. VanOrd is a difficult man to please.

Tovarah
Tovarah

@TBear7130 Please correct me if I have what you mean wrong, but are you implying that Divinity: Original Sin is a remake of the older Divinity games? If so then you are completely wrong. Divinity: Original Sin is a prequel to the first three games and a follow up to Divinity: Dragon Commander (a RTS game being released in July). This would make it as much of a update to old game models as Deus Ex Human Revolution is to Deus Ex. 

I believe that Larian will charge fairly for the work that they have done for one of the best games that I have seen in recent times.

Tovarah
Tovarah

@TileToad Larian are still accepting PayPal bacers until Monday. You can still get the game a little cheaper and help them with their development.

Tovarah
Tovarah

@CloudXentar If I remember correctly this game should be able to run on most PCs from what Larian said before.

Noorida
Noorida

@sr_arthur3 i loved it too. it had that "something" which i wanted. it had flaws, but it was very engaging. 

schesak
schesak

@Shelledfade1 Good for you.  Almost every game put out in the last decade has been made for you then.  This one is for people that are NOT you for a change.   Deal with not being the center of the universe.

pug987
pug987

@electroban I don't like CO-OP and multiplayer in my RPGs normally but in this case I don't mind. I'm gonna play it single player but those extra layers put in for the CO-OP gameplay will make for a unique single player experience. When did you ever get to roleplay two PCs and have them disagree with eachother before?

Tovarah
Tovarah

@electroban Honestly, you need to look into games before commenting in such a manner. Yes it's a co-op game, but I doubt that its the type of co-op game that you THINK it is. Have a look at the pre-alpha footage from the other people also invited to play Divinity: Original Sin.

Garod_T
Garod_T

@electroban Looks like someone commenting who hasn't looked at any of the video's any of the information anything at all.. typical .. complain complain complain. Please do me a favor and actually look into this before making comments like that.

onyhow
onyhow

@electroban Yeah because every other co-op game have game mechanic for you and your friend to disagree with others in-game right? And the ability for 2 of you to be separated halfway across the in-game world and still playable, huh?

Tovarah
Tovarah

@BFKZ Just because Divinity: Original Sin is turn based doesn't mean that it's bad. In fact it's likely going to benefit from it being turn based because you have a sense of strategy for each of your turns. Larian also has a good history for their Divinity franchise, and I trust that they know exactly what they are doing.

Garod_T
Garod_T

@Shinteikun Actually you're party can be up to 6 people in this campaign. You have 2 main characters each can have 2 henchmen and the main characters can summon 1 elemental each so that's total 6.

The engine they are using can support up to 6 players though, and sine it ships with an editor I wouldn't be surprised if the modding community will make games with up to 6 party members with drop-in drop-out multiplayer. Then depending on how many henchmen they allow... the only consideration is time since it's TB you don't want too many characters on screen or it will get a little long... but could be a fun mod to have it "army mode" for one large combat.. more like a turn based combat game where you simply have 2 large armies on a map engaged in combat.

Vojtass
Vojtass

@baolong01677133 Diablo isn't RPG. And no, it wouldn't be better.

poster012
poster012

@baolong01677133 Then play Diablo... or any of the other million hack 'n slash loot games, and leave turn-based to those whom enjoy it.

nikolokolus
nikolokolus

@Azghouls Haha.  The weresheep thing was pretty funny.  Glad to have met so many cool people during the month-long campaign.

poster012
poster012

@Azghouls I know. Larian is great with the community. I was rooting for them the whole time, and I even bumped up my pledge towards the end. I'm super-stoked that they made all of the stretch goals, and I can't wait to play it.

commanderxp90
commanderxp90

@Katrinya I never played first Divinity game. Should I have play it before the Divinity 2? :O

Poison-tooth
Poison-tooth

@Katrinya Divine Divinity and Divinity 2 are very different games. Back in the days, i was quite surprised and disappointed.

Eraldus
Eraldus

@Katrinya The controls were terrible, the story was short, hardly any side quests and unbalanced skills plus useless stats (Dexterity should've added hit rate, but it wouldn't).

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@Katrinya A 6.5 isn't dismal! My score was actually a little higher than the Metacritic average. (Also, the text explains why I felt about the game as I did... there's lots of it!

Tovarah
Tovarah

@commanderxp90 @Katrinya You don't HAVE to, but I highly recommend doing so. I first played Divinity 2: Dragon Knight Saga, and a few of the references went over my head until I played Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity after it. You don't need to play any of the previous games in the series for Divinity: Original Sin as it's a prequel to the last three games.

Sorciere_basic
Sorciere_basic

@Poison-tooth @Katrinya 

Agreed. To some extent I think Divinity 2 had to happen so that Larian could get some much needed experience developing full 3D games which up to that point they had not done.

Unlike many out there in the industry today, Larian has shown they can learn from their mistakes.

Garod_T
Garod_T

@Eraldus @Katrinya  I wonder if the game you and I played was the same one, there were lots and lots of side quests, the controls could have been better though. I don't know how what you call a short story, but I've racked up over 150h of gamep play on this....so that's at least 75h per run through since I've done it twice.

Garod_T
Garod_T

@Kevin-V @Katrinya I think you have to really make a distinction between Dragon Knight Saga and Ego Draconis, both are essentially Divinity 2 but Dragon Knight Saga also had a metascore of 8.2 So maybe it does make sense to revisit this through the eyes of DKS instead of just Ego Draconis. I personally loved DKS and have played it through multiple times and wrote a review for it. Personally I think it was a bit underrated but I can see where some of the complaints come in. It's a diamond in the rough still. 

pug987
pug987

@Garod_T @Kevin-V @Katrinya I agree with Garod_T. I didn't play the original release of Divinity 2 because of all the bad reviews but the re-release of the game along with its expansion as Dragon Knight Saga is for me one of the best RPGs of the last few years. The game was pure fun. Most people, including Larian, seem to think Divine Divinity is their best game. I thought it was good but for me Dragon Knight Saga definately tramples it.