Reviewed on: PS4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Already a hugely popular RPG on the PC, Divinity: Original Sin II has been hailed by many as one of the best RPGs of all time. That’s very high praise in a genre so saturated with classics, but after only a few hours with the game, it won’t be long before you understand what all the fuss is about.
Taking the form of a retro-style forced-top-down RPG akin to the likes of all time classics like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, Original Sin II is a tactical combat RPG that features some of the best turn-based combat and role playing elements I’ve seen in a long time. If you thought Pillars of Eternity was good, you should, without a doubt, give this a shot.
The story takes place in the world of Rivellon, a land previously watched over the the Divine, a being who received power from the gods to hold back the dangers from the Void, a dimension inhabited by deadly creatures. In the world, all beings are in possession of an energy called Source. Certain people, known as Sourcerers are able to use this energy for magic, an ability that’s currently not viewed as entirely wholesome by the Divine Order, who track down and imprison such magic users. Guess what? You’re one of these magic users, and you’re on the next boat to prison…
As I mentioned, the game is a top-down affair, but is presented in full 3D, with a camera you can rotated and zoom. You have full control over your party in real time when exploring and can interact with the world in a rather unparalleled manner. Practically every item you see can be picked up and manipulated in some way.
Starting out you can pick from one of the pre-created characters, whom each have their own back story, or you can create your own custom hero. When in the game, you can play through the entire adventure as a lone adventurer, or you can enlist the help of up to three companions. When in a group, you can split up and control each character individually.
When in combat, the game switches to a turn-based combat system similar to the likes of XCOM or classics such as Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics. There’s no grid here, and movement is much more fluid, and turns utilise action points, with everything you do taking up points. Moving, attacking, using items, healing, and so on, all use AP, and when exhausted, that character’s turn is over, and the next in the turn queue gets to take a turn.
This combat system is very deep, and very tactical. It’s certainly a major highlight of the game, and few games I’ve played in this genre have had such flexible options open to you. For example, although you have the usual attacks, magic spells and other abilities you’d expect, you can also make extensive use of the environment. You can fire at barrels of oil to make them explode and set the area on fire, damaging enemies with the blast and then burning them after, or you can throw oil at foes (or break open oil barrels) to make them move slowly. Couple this oil with fire, and you’ll do even more damage.
Are your enemies stood in a pool of water? Throw and lightning bolt at them and electrify the water doing constant aggravated damage. Even pools of blood from fallen enemies can be electrified, and if you’re on fire, a quick rain spell with soon put things out.
This is just a few examples of the options open to you, but the list goes on. Elevated positions give you a high ground advantage, and you do more damage, whilst coming under fire from below has the opposite affect, and not only are you more open to damage, but your attacks are weaker.
It a complex and impressively flexible system, and almost every aspect of battle, from characters, hazards, and the lay of the land all play a part, and you have to consider everything and play it very tactically if you’re going to win.
When not in combat, the world presented here is engaging, filled as it is with all sorts of characters, most of which are voiced very well, with solid dialogue, and a great narrator who delivers RPG novel-style commentary on your adventures. The stories of your comrades are all absorbing, and it pays to listen to them and pay attention to their needs. The story is great, and the writing overall is very solid. Almost every NPC has something to say, and interacting with them can yield great results above and beyond lore dumps or vendors to trade with. For example, and early encounter sees you take on a band of criminals, stacking the odd against you. If you took time out to talk to all of the members of this gang before things got ugly, you may have managed to befriend one of them who would, when the fight starts, decide to turn on their former allies to help you out instead.
Now, all of this is made possible thanks to a stellar effort by Larian Studios in porting the PC original to console. This is not an easy task, as taking a full mouse and keyboard control scheme and cramming it onto a standard game pad has to be a nightmare, but with Original Sin II, the devs have pulled out all the stops and managed to create a control system that works very well. Sure, it’s not perfect, and keyboard and mouse is always going to be the way Original Sin II was meant to be played, but I had no real problems playing the game with the controller, other than an occasional difficulty selecting the right object to pick up or character to talk to (especially when they’re walking around), but the menu systems and radial selections are great, and really don’t hinder gameplay.
As combat is turn based, there’s also no need to rush, so taking your time to plan out your moves and execute actions still works on the slower game pad control method, and when exploring the world, it’s all plain sailing. This also translates to the UI, which is clean, and does the job perfectly. The radial menus make it easy to access your inventory, character and equip screens, etc, and switching characters is also easy.
Original Sin II’s strengths are many and varied, including all of the above, and it’s all wrapped up in a complex and deep RPG system, which is one of the reasons why so many have called it one of the best RPGs ever. Even ignoring the brilliant tactical combat and great story, the RPG elements here are deep and well implemented, with now expected additions like crafting, and a flexible character levelling system that doesn’t lock any heroes into one class. The class you pick at the start of the game doesn’t lock you out of other skills, and you can change things up as much as you like, and the dialogue system makes use of various skills to grant you responses to various events you may or may not be able to pull off depending on your stats.
Along with the single-player story, the game also has an online element with its PvP arena battles, PvE co-op, and also includes split screen, covering all bases, and making it even more impressive. Online performance is a little iffy though, and I encountered some connection issues and hiccups, but hopefully this will improve over time. The turn-based strategy takes on a whole new lease of life when going up against other people, though, one that will no doubt give players a very long playtime.