Larian Studios Sat Down with Me to Tell What's New in Divinity: Original Sin 2

By Kevin Tavore, 5 months ago
Last month, I was lucky enough to get early access to Divinity: Original Sin 2 and I'll be honest, I had a pretty great time. The Game Preview version allows access to all of Act 1, and that meant I had lots of people to meet and quests to complete in any way I could imagine. The game is already out on PC, but consoles are getting the "Definitive Edition" and I was curious about what that meant, so when the Michael Douse, head of publishing for the game's developer Larian Studios reached out for an interview, I was glad to get a chance to see just what's changing.


For those unfamiliar with the series, what makes Divinity: Original Sin special?
It's the only substantial RPG with split-screen coop. When you're playing with family and friends, it's a very tactile experience. There's a lot of interaction. Very much like a board-game, you can really mess with each-other. Poison healing potions and feed them to your friends, or steal things from NPCs in the world and plant them in your friends' bags so they get arrested. That, and with over one million fully voiced words in the game's narrative, it's a very lengthy board-game with many different possibilities of branching narrative in a highly interactive world. In that respect, it's a very human game. In the way it's written, and in the way that it is played.
One of the hallmarks of the game is that you can play how you want. Obviously, you can't do literally anything, but it sometimes seems that way. What is your game development philosophy that allows so much choice?
Pen and paper RPGs. Or, in simpler terms, board-games. The idea that when you are presented with a situation, you should be creatively free to act and interact in that situation and there should be a result from that. If I head into a game, and there's a crab on the floor, I want to try and talk to that crab. If I do, the crab should talk back. If I have an ability modifier, then the interaction should be modified. If I have pet-pal, I can have a full-blown conversation with the crab. It's a rabbit-hole. Freedom to be creative in creative situations is one of the keys.
The game works very well in co-op. Do you design the game as a single player game first or a co-op game first?
It's really both. Playing alone is one kind of experience, and playing in split-screen is another kind. They both play perfectly well, and you're not missing any content, but the way in which you play dramatically changes. There's a lot more human interaction when playing in coop online or in split-screen. Conceptually, it was always designed to be a coop game. It took a long time to create an engine that allowed for this, and I'm not sure there's another one that can handle the types of things DOS does.
How has combat evolved from the first game?
In Divinity: Original Sin 2 we have A.I 2.0 which is a much more creatively intelligent AI compared to Original Sin 1. Combat in DOS really is a rabbit-hole and you can chain skills together in infinitely creative ways, but in DOS:2 the enemy can also do this. So when you think you're being smart (throwing heals onto an undead to kill him, for example) then you should remember that the AI is also capable of these things! This is really a very big difference between DOS 1 and 2, as well as the armour system in DOS 2 which gives enemies and players physical and magical armours before you hit their health.

The console version is a "definitive edition," much like the previous game's "enhanced edition." What types of changes did you make? What is your favorite change that you made?
Depending on whether you've played before, or not, there are changes that pertain to many different people. For example existing players will enjoy the re-balancing of the armour system, additional combat encounters, massive changes to Act 3 of the game (new narrative moments, changing story arc) and many other changes. If you're a newer, lighter RPG player you'll enjoy the new tutorial deck that teaches you the fundamentals more incrementally. There's also a Story Mode which makes combat a little easier, and resurrections less taxing. Everyone will enjoy the gamepad UI changes, party inventory system, and the new fully re-written journal which really concisely mile-stones your adventure. We're also using a new iteration of the physics engine, as well as some Nvidia technology, and the game is running much faster as a result. Beast's story has been overhauled, particularly in the later games, which will be interesting for anyone who played through as Beast for sure.

My favourite change might be hot-seat PVP arena mode which is really being fleshed out compared to launch. New arenas, characters, and secrets to come.
Have you taken advantage of the Xbox One X somehow? Did that additional platform offer any challenges you didn't encounter when porting the first game?
For sure. I personally felt very strongly about this, because I own an Xbox One X and would probably not buy a game myself that wasn't X enhanced. It isn't pretty seeing 900p games on a 65 inch 4K TV. Why work so hard on a game if it looks bad when you load it up? I wouldn't feel comfortable with people buying DOS2 on consoles unless we really harnessed the power of the Xbox One X and matched their setup. So we did, and it turned out great. It's funny because a lot of the people on our team claim to not see the difference between HDR and SDR, but when we looked at DOS2 it was a real eye-opening. The spells are so rich, and the world looks so three-dimensional on a good TV. I'm not sure it was more challenging, though we had to do a little reading on HDR implementation. For example, the way that UI is rendered means you have to make a lot of tweaks. This slows things down, but it's worth it.
If you could only use one companion for the game, who would it be?
Fane. Shadow-blade Fane is my favourite. He's such a versatile fella, and he's hilariously written. He's so done with the world. Also, if you keep the cat alive in Fort Joy, and you're playing a rogue or melee class, you can really chain a lot of cool skills. Fane is undead, so he can play dead in combat (he's a skeleton, so nobody is any the wiser). He can also pick locks with his boney fingers. He's a jack-of-all-trades. One caveat is that you need to always cover your head, or people start freaking out and attacking him. Nobody wants that friend.

Cross play is becoming more popular between Xbox and PC. Have you had any thoughts about allowing Xbox users to play with their friends on Steam or Switch if it ever comes to that system?
Was it Todd Howard [Ed. note: The lead developer for Fallout 4 and Fallout 76] that recently said "you can do anything, you just can't do everything" - that's a really wise quote. Everything is technically possible, the difficulty is finding the time. Every time you add something it breaks something, and there are always priorities. I'm a "let's do everything!" guy much to the dismay of my colleagues, but then I get attacked by programmers so I'm learning when and which fights are the ones to shoot for. So I have this list of 'fights' I'm gearing up for, and it's getting really long. I'd like to see cross-play, I'd like to see other things too, but it's my own personal secret list. One thing though, this isn't really a matter of 'allowing Xbox users', it has to be built, programmed, submitted and functional. It's not as simple as 'allowing' it like there's an on switch. I wish!
Did you have any features you had hoped would make it into the game that just didn't work out? Do you think we might see them in future titles?
We're a studio that is always iterating on and improving our pipeline, so now and again you see (or you don't notice) improvements to systems, techniques, etc that are sort-of trials for future games. It's no secret that we're going to continue making games, so every time you spot something it might be a sign that there's something around the corner. But then again, it might not.

Both Original Sin games were originally started on Kickstarter. Have you been happy with that experience and do you plan to continue it or take the more traditional publisher-funded route?
Kickstarter is fantastic in ways many people don't realise. Much further than the money itself, it's such a motivating factor. My office in Dublin is covered in portraits of our Kickstarter backers. One of the rewards was to have a portrait done by our artists. We printed them all out and put them on the wall. Every time I get back from an E3, or have a difficult conversation with a retail guy, I look at those posters and remember there's a bunch of people out there who genuinely care about what we're doing. This can be a tough job sometimes, but you just need to look at a couple fans. Even if it's just two, you sort of feel like it's important to keep going. They're relying on you. So Kickstarter brings your community closer, and as they're part of the journey from A - Z, they really have affinity for the game and the studio. When we go to PAX, sometimes I get hugs. And I hug back, because they're happy you've come to say hi, and you're happy they're there for the hand-shake. It's very nice. Ultimately, it reminds me that the final judge is the player, and that's good because I relate mostly to the player.

As for the future, this would never be a decision I take alone, so we discuss from time-to-time how we'd proceed moving forward. I would like to know, however, what do you - reader - think Larian should do? Kickstarter?
For my money, I'd say Kickstarter seems to be working. Don't mess with a good thing and all. Divinity: Original Sin 2 will launch fully for consoles on August 31st. You can jump in early through the Game Preview program if you want a taste of what's to come.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.