Larian takes a risk by making the expansion area a linear "hub" based world, but did it work?
As the Rolling Stone's once famously crooned, "You don't always get what you want, you get what you need".
While the expansion doesn't change the main game that we've all grown to love (other than to add better textures and lighting effects), the real change instead comes by way of the new expansion area that opens up after you free Ygerna from the Hall of Echoes. In this new area you are cut away from the rest of the world and forced into a small hub area that acts as your base for the entirety of the add-on's quest. Though there are several dozen missions to complete and a considerable number of NPCs to talk to it does feel very stifling when compared to the open world that the original game played host to. As you can imagine, this gave longtime players quite a shock when they made it to this new area and realized how claustrophobic the game had become.
It didn't help matters any that you are prevented from turning into your dragon form until the very end of the game...and even then, it's only for a couple minutes of on-rails target practice.
If you were to look at the official forums you'd see a lot of angry Divinity fans who are upset at these changes in the expansion and I wouldn't blame you for joining in on their rage. However, if you read what the developers are posting on those forums in response to fan outcry it begins to make sense. Apparently, they wanted to make an expansion that was more "Hub-based" which would therefore give it a tighter focus and allow them to spend more time on fleshing out the town and its inhabitants as well as stocking the new area with truckloads of new quest ideas that they couldn't fit into the original game. While it isn't what the game was known for, the "tighter focus" and over-abundance of cleverly written quests in the game's expansion actually ended up making it a better RPG with its inclusion. Though the slight non-linearity and open world aspect of Divinity 2 are two of its best features, the new expansion area has a much more old-school RPG feel that gives you more time to explore and interact with your surroundings than the hurried pace of the main game afforded you with.
The expansion starts off with your character being freed from their prison by the astral projection of a powerfully "mad" wizard named Berhlihn who presents you with a very tempting offer. He'll free you and allow you to get revenge on those who betrayed you as long as you unseal his body from its prison and allow him to live again. While Berhlihn is evil you have very little choice and take him up on this Faustian deal. Afterward, you find yourself in the middle of the town of Aleroth (which the game barely lets you explore in the pre-expansion main quest) and you're about five minutes from doomsday thanks to Damien's forces being a hair's length away from reaching the city. With Zandalor sacrificing himself to install a magical barrier between the invaders and the land below, you are given the unenviable task of working against time to find a way out of this seemingly inescapable predicament.
...and yet here you are forced to waste your time chasing around vegetables, making perfume and helping Anthony Bourdain impress a food critic.
Sadly, this is where the expansion begins to unravel. Though I can understand (and even accept) the need to create a tighter focus within a hub-based world, I'm really unable to come to terms with the mishandled story and the lack of any "rushed" feeling. Time and time again the NPCs remind you that you are mere minutes away from Zandalor's shield collapsing yet it's hard to believe when you've just spent the last 5 hours trying to find a talking pumpkin. This isn't made any easier to believe in when you spend twice as long trying to figure out where to go thanks to how poorly described the quests are in your journal. Some of them are so amateurishly logged that they are nothing more than a simple line of text that says "Go get this somewhere and come back". No hints, no informative asides added by the character and absolutely no clues as to where the target may be. It was so bad that after 20 hours of play I had only solved one quest and had three dozen of them left unsolved in my journal. I eventually caved in and ran a foreign website's message board through Google translate in a mostly successful effort to figure out how to finish them all.
Mostly successful, anyway...since the quest "Fire 'em up!" completely dumbfounded me since I had absolutely no idea where to start *or* end it...and it remained unsolved as the credits rolled.
I'm willing to accept that my age, the fact that I have so many games to play and therefore can't focus on any one game for an extended period of time and my natural disgust towards poorly written journal entries in RPGs makes me a bit unfairly biased when it comes to reviewing this aspect of the game...but I think we can all agree that the plot, which should cohesively glue all of these quests together, is the one thing whose quality should never be an issue.
Unfortunately, in this expansion's case it is.
Without spoiling too much, the plot in the game has several holes in it that are never explained away or properly dealt with. Especially concerning Bellegar and his odd turn-around in the end where he goes from "Guy who desperately wants to kill you" to "Guy who smiles in the end credits and is called a hero". They even bungle the introduction of Rhode and completely miss what would have been one of the best confrontations in the story...and the one I was most looking forward to. Though I enjoyed the "happy" ending of the game's expansion, I felt that the mishandling of Rhode's reappearance and the odd way Bellegar goes from sinner to saint in less than a second was amateurish storytelling to say the least.
Though this was all hard to swallow, the worst part was the fact that your dragon powers are a no-show for the entire game. At least, until the final two minutes where you are forced into a very frustrating and poorly described on-rails battle to get to the last bosses lair.
A quick glance at the official forums will reveal how hotly debated this final mission is. Some can do it easily and without incident while others, like myself, had to restart it a few dozen times just to barely squeak by at the end. A lot of this has to do with how poorly explained the special "power" you get to aid you is. This fireball is said to be powerful, yet when I hit the button that was said to activate it the power did nothing. Apparently, you cannot map it to the mouse buttons or it won't activate properly and the only way to truly make any use of it is to keep it mapped to the keyboard. Even once I figured this out, it was still difficult getting past the final leg of the dragon flight mission thanks to the fact that the zeppelin I was suppose to escort was made of highly flammable rice paper and dried wood. OR so it seemed, anyway.
I found it amusing that the run-up to the last boss lair was so hard yet the final fight itself was incredibly easy. Perhaps I was simply overpowered (Level 43? 15 points in 9 different skill disciplines? over 70 defense in all categories?) but when you compare it to the keyboard-smashing difficulty of the original game's final battle it feels cheap by comparison.
By now you'd probably expect me to give the game a horribly low score and tell you not to buy it, but that wouldn't be fair. Though the expansion area is nothing more than an "experiment" by Larian to see how well a hub-based quest system would work in their open world game, you have to realize that the main game itself is still one of the very best action RPGs on the market right now. Throw in the improved textures and you'd have to really hate the original game in order to find a reason not to re-buy it again. Even with the expansion quest being a bit weak and having a muddled story it's still, when you look at the whole package anyway, an incredible ARPG that is worth every penny.
Flames of Vengeance does have its good moments, though they seem buried underneath the game's shortcomings. Like the cameo appearance from a certain undead husband from the first game (Divine Divinity) and his resurrected pals or the funny way they handled the infamous swindler "willy". The writing is so silly sometimes it makes you laugh hard enough to forget the negative aspects of the game and instead focus on how entertaining the product is as a whole. Granted, a lot of gamers seem unwilling or unable to do that, but it shouldn't deter true fans of the original from purchasing this combination expansion pack.
Though I gave the original Ego Draconis a 9 on this site (http://www.gamespot.com/pc/rpg/divinity2egodraconis/player_review.html?id=701126&tag=player-reviews%3Bcontinue%3B10) I am instead choosing to base the score of this review solely on the expansion area itself and the remastered graphics added to the original quest. Factoring in the remastering caused me to bump up the score a bit from what I would have given this had I simply judged it by the expansion area alone. That being said, I still stand behind my belief that Divinity 2 is the most fun an Action RPG fan can have outside of re-installing Diablo 2. It's a fun light-hearted game that is deceptively challenging and probably a bit too silly for it's own good.
Whether you can stand the hackneyed plotline in the later part of the game or the poorly designed expansion quests are up to you. Still, you won't find a better way to hack-n-slash your way through an RPG unless you go back several years...and that's why I like Divinity 2 so much. It's old school in a way that few games allow themselves to be, and this tends to rub most gamers the wrong way.
If anything, it's worth the 39.99 just for the remastered graphics and "Happy" ending alone.