July of 2014 has now come and gone, and were it not for a couple of standout games, it wouldn’t have made much of a mark on video game history. Nonetheless, we’re grateful for the returns of beloved games like The Last of Us, which landed on the PlayStation 4 with improved lighting, a speedier frame rate, and the excellent Left Behind adventure that had previously been available as a downloadable add-on for the PlayStation 3 version. We’re also glad to have spent more time again with the residents of Oddworld in the New ‘n’ Tasty remix, a remake that was far more than just a high-definition upgrade.
Dark Souls II, King’s Bounty, and Child of Light all returned to the stage and commanded the spotlight in one way or another, but when it comes to games with lasting presence, it was The Walking Dead that most amazed us, finding new ways to move and shock us. In Clementine’s world, tensions rise and hope wanes, and we continue to be invested in her fate just as we look forward to both the season’s conclusion and next year’s episodic continuation. Telltale’s brutal entry was not our choice for July’s Game of the Month, however. Instead, that honor goes to a brand-new game set in an underappreciated universe.
We speak, of course, about Divinity: Original Sin. It would be easy to point to the way Original Sin recaptures the glory days of role-playing games as the source of its excellence; after all you play it from a top-down perspective and engage with enemies using a party of four adventurers, each of whom performs skills and spells associated with a class or magical specialty. Presuming that Original Sin is great because it’s like the great games of old is to do the game a disservice, though. It is great because it’s fresh and new, delivering one surprise after another and demanding that you make good use of every tool, every spell, and every weapon.
The combat system is one way in which Original Sin proves its uniqueness. Here, the elements interact and erupt, fire turning oil into a pool of blazing treacle, and lightning causing every puddle of water into an electrical hazard. Each element is hazardous, but combined elements are downright deadly, both to you and the colorful array of creatures and cultists you face. Every battle requires that you proceed with caution, though you could say that about all of Divinity: Original Sin. Each choice you make, even seemingly minor ones, could result in unforeseen consequences. And it’s the natural, systemic way in which those consequences play out that make Original Sin stand out among other RPGs that also boast multiple paths and moral quandaries.
Divinity: Original Sin provides a world of wonder and a fair challenge, using the trappings of the classics we adore to tell a brand new tale, and to introduce brand-new tactical considerations. It is sometimes funny and sometimes grim, sometimes tense and sometimes easygoing, but Original Sin is always special, and the runaway winner of July’s Game of the Month award.