All kidding aside, this is truly how the European RPG is seen amongst the genre's hobbyists. While the mainstream gamers who grew up playing Morrowind or Oblivion prefer streamlined simplicity and extremely forgiving user interfaces that do all the work for them, European RPG enthusiasts would rather have obtuse quest descriptions and overly challenging combat. This small group of core gamers look at features like Oblivion's compass based quest marker system with the same level of disgust a member of Al Qaeda would show to a Christmas Pageant.
Divinity 2 is a perfect example of this. Like most European designed RPGs, it is rough-edged and lacking the kind of polish you'd see in a Bioware, Blizzard, or Bethesda title. Unlike those company's games, a European RPG like Divinity 2 gives you features no longer seen in modern titles such as supremely challenging combat and the lack of any "Hand-holding" during your questing. No compass markers, no journal hints, and very little in the way of help...that is what you'll get with this, or any other true-to-form European RPG.
The first Divinity game, along with Germany's own Gothic series, helped usher in the European RPG renaissance of the early 2000's and quickly became one of my favorite games of all time. Combining the addictive gameplay of Diablo, the landmass of Morrowind, the non linearity of Baldur's Gate and the world interaction and NPC schedules of Ultima 7, Divine Divinity was a one of a kind game that got nearly everything right. Though its spin-off Beyond Divinity strayed from that formula by becoming nothing more than a boring slog through a repetitive series of dungeons, I still had high hopes for the long-awaited sequel that just landed into my lap two weeks ago. What started as a small screenshot at the bottom of a preview article in a 2005 issue of Pc Gamer magazine had become a small DVD box sitting on my desk.
I knew the wait would be worth it, and I wasn't the least bit disappointed.
First of all, I should make mention of the fact that my first complete trip through the game was done on the xbox version. With my PC out of commission temporarily, I couldn't wait a week for my replacement video card to arrive so I bought the console version. While it was fun, that version of Divinity 2 was plagued by game save corruption, lock-ups, black screens, a poor frame rate, washed out textures and very choppy animation. Regardless, I still enjoyed the game immensely and was so addicted to it that the constant console freezes I experienced didn't in any way deter me from fully completing it. You can imagine then how much I enjoyed the game when I installed the PC version a few days later and saw that none of those glitches had made it across to my preferred platform.
Divinity 2's story picks up not too long after the events of the previous game in the series, Beyond Divinity. Damian, having tricked one of his adopted father's paladins into helping him escape his imprisonment in "Nemesis" (This game's version of Hell) has begun to move his dark army into the lands of Rivellon in an attempt to not only fulfill his destiny as the avatar of the Lord of Chaos, but to claim vengeance against the people who murdered his lover, Ygerna. Though unlike other bad guys in most stories, Damian has elected to keep his ever increasing military power a secret and his lack of interference with the world he wishes to conquer has conveniently lulled his enemies into adopting a false sense of security.
You start the game as a newly created member of the Dragon slayers, a group sworn to exterminate the last of the Dragons that once roamed the land of Rivellon before their purging nearly wiped them out. Damian, having long ago tricked the good people of Rivellon into believing the Dragons were evil and had betrayed the Divine and his Paladins, has been able to manipulate the Dragon slayers into ignoring him and instead chasing after the politically neutral Dragons. The ironic part is that the Dragon Slayers don't realize that it is the Dragons themselves who alone possess the power to defeat Damian, and that he is their one and only true foe.
The story is actually quite deep, and much to my surprise there were a couple of huge plot twists that even went so far as to cause serious (Or perhaps I should say angry) discussions on the web boards. The ending, in particular, has been the catalyst for many heated arguments amongst Divinity 2's fans. This is an unexpected thing in a European RPG, since they usually abandon involved plot lines in favor of a few extra large helpings of difficult combat.
...and combat is what you're going to get.
Like the other Divinity games, Ego Draconis has a very simple, easy to understand combat system that looks shallow on the surface but is actually as challenging as it is addictive. While you have the standard portfolio of action RPG moves and abilities, you don't get the luxury of being able to out level or dominate your enemies the way you do other RPGs. The designers purposely crafted the game in such a way that you never really outclass your enemy and you rarely find an area where you are significantly higher level than those you fight. This does lead to some frustrating moments where you simply can't figure out how to move on, but like the Gothic series it is a hurdle that can eventually be leapt over through clever skill and spell use as well as the proper equipment.
Drastic fluctuations in the difficulty level aside, Divinity 2's combat is every bit as satisfying as Diablo...if you're into spastic left mouse button clicking and action heavy sword & spell slinging that is. Diehards who demand slower paced combat might find themselves turned off by the game's high level of combat speed. To compensate for this, Larian put in a very clever and extremely helpful pause feature that can even be set to automatically go off when you reach a certain percentage of lost health. This addition to gameplay went unnoticed by me for the first few hours of gameplay, but upon finding it I soon grew to rely on it far more than I thought I ever would. Being able to quickly swap weapons or select items not on your quick bar at the exact moment in battle where you need them sounds like something I shouldn't be praising, but seeing such a feature in a 3rd person action RPG is unheard of.
Further adding some depth to the combat would be the class-less skill system given to the player upon their ascension to Dragon slayer. While this is nothing new to the RPG genre, I can't say that Divinity 2 disappointed me in this regard either. Talented role players who are accustomed to "speccing" characters and discovering exploits in games will find a lot to love in Divinity 2's open-ended skill system. With each skill having a maximum level that few people will ever reach even with a single minded devotion to one particular skill set, Divinity 2 had me erasing and resetting my character more times than I can count before I finally came upon a build that worked. Though many find that practice outdated and bothersome, I actually enjoyed re-rolling my hero over a dozen times and considered it to be the first sign that I was playing a proper RPG.
Divinity 2's story, combat scheme and its large open world are all things to be proud of, but it's the addition of the Dragon Form your character can take that is meant to set it apart from every other "Western style" RPG on the market.
The Dragon Form, which was heavily hyped in trailers during the lead up to the game's release, is only attained about halfway through the game. Though this is unfortunate and has caused others to give up before reaching that seminal point in the story, I feel it makes the ability seem all that more important. It isn't something you stumble into blindly, it's a power you fight tooth and nail for. You spend the first half of the game scrambling as quick as you can to grab it, then see the entire theme of the game change in one blinding instant once you do. While it doesn't help those who are overly impatient, the wait Divinity 2 forces you to endure in order to earn your dragon form makes the scene where you claim it feel much more powerful and emotional.
The dragon controls much like that other dragon-based action RPG, Drakan. You launch fireballs, breath fire, and can soar through the air with relative ease. You are mostly unfettered by anything other than a few large anti-dragon zones, some of which can be turned off while adventuring on the ground nearby them. Other than flying around the fjords near your battle tower and enjoying the freedom that flight brings, the very best moments of the game are when you get to fight one the several floating armadas that Damian uses to attack Rivellon. In those moments you fly through a large open air field torching enemy ballistas, engaging in dogfights with enemy dragons and occasionally landing on platforms to lower shields or fight that particular fleet's commander. It's this constant aerial fighting and landing on enemy ground to disable their magical shields that was the most enjoyable aspect of the game. While it's unfortunate that you don't get to it until the game's mid point, it's definitely worth the wait. Especially considering that each of these battles you engage in with Damian's flying fortresses (Of which there are 3) take about an hour to complete. It's truly astounding how much detail went into this one aspect of the game, and I'd love to see Larian make a spin-off with nothing BUT these battles.
The Dragon form may get all the press, but one of the least mentioned and most under-appreciated is the summoned creature you are allowed to build.
The creature, which you assemble courtesy of a necromancer, is fashioned from spare monster parts that are found randomly around the world. These body parts each have their own stats and abilities and can be combined together to form a faithful companion that will mindlessly fight for you whenever you call it forth. Though its AI and speed leave something to be desired, it becomes a valuable asset late in the game when it gains access to the Fatality and Rush Attack abilities. Even without those skills, it's still unusually hardy and can take much more of a beating than you can, making it the perfect distraction when fighting large groups of enemies. While it may not be as important to the game as the Dragon Form, I found myself becoming obsessed with locating new parts and getting the most out of my creature. By the end of the game he had around twelve hundred hit points and usually lasted longer than I did during a fight. The only downside is that there is no way to heal him, so when he dies you must wait for the cool down period to end so that you can summon him again.
Besides the Dragon Form and the Necromancer's pet, you also get to command a small tower of followers who work for you. Much like the castle in the original two Suikoden RPGs for the Playstation, you are given your own base of operations and are told to do your best to upgrade it. By completing quests for each of the tower's commanders you gain several benefits that you wouldn't enjoy otherwise. Find a gem for your enchanter and the material cost of enchanting weapons decreases. Locate your arena master's sister and steal her magical blade to increase the maximum level your skills can be trained to. Steal a book from a powerful mage and give it to your necromancer so he can sell you better limbs for your creature. You can even give better weapons and armor to your "Runners" and have them scour the world for crafting ingredients while you complete quests. It's not an excessively deep system, but the battle tower is a great addition to what is already a very unique game.
Aesthetically, the game is shockingly sound for a European title. By that I mean that its graphics, while quite good, don't send your system to a crashing halt due to poorly coded and/or outdated engines.
This goes double for the soundtrack, which was crafted by Divinity series veteran and gifted Russian musician Kirill Pokrovsky. His drum beats, wispy tunes and eerie dungeon music combine to make Divinity 2's soundtrack something to remember. Even when compared to Inon Zur's masterful Dragon Age tracks, Divinity 2 stands tall.
What on the surface looks like a run of the mill European action RPG (Is there even such a thing??) is made unique through the inclusion of the summoned creature system, the Battle Tower, and the truly phenomenal and well thought out Dragon mode. Putting all of this together in one RPG without having the other aspects of the game suffer is truly a monumental feat and one that shouldn't go unnoticed. If they find the right audience, Larian could make quite a name for themselves creating sequels using this same formula. Though it lacks the kind of polish a big budget game receives, it still manages to deliver one of the most unique and enjoyable RPG experiences of the past five years. Along with this, Risen, and Dragon Age I'd have to say that the old school PC RPG is making one heck of a comeback. If ever there was a time to own a top of the line PC and a credit card with a high limit, that time is now.
Divinity will undoubtedly be overlooked thanks to Dragon Age still being the "RPG du jour", but your addiction to Bioware's latest masterpiece should in no way deter you from taking a couple weeks out of your life to play through it. Larian has managed to create an open world game that does more than just throw a ton of side quests and a few puzzles at you before calling it an RPG. They crafted a unique title that stands out in the crowd and harkens back to a time ten years ago when Europe revitalized the PC RPG sub-genre with titles like Arx Fatalis, Gothic, and Sacred.
Sure, most gamers aren't too keen on buying RPGs made east of the Atlantic Ocean, but to those who do prefer the rough-edged games you find there, Divinity is pure gold. If you love your RPGs hard, lacking a little polish, but filled to the brim with interesting things to do and places to see, you'd be punishing yourself for not picking up this game. Though it truly doesn't shine until the midway point when you gain access to your powers, I still found myself addicted to it the same way I was to both Dragon age and Risen.
Simply put, if you love RPGs the way I do, you'll love Divinity 2.