Divinity: Original Sin 2 Review

By Kevin Tavore, 1 month ago
My party is made up of hearty adventurers: an elf who was formerly enslaved, a washed out mercenary, a royal prince who's also a lizard and a dwarven pirate who might also have some claim to a throne. We're a rugged group to be sure, but our talents have been precisely mapped to ensure we're ready to crush any oncoming foes with devastating force and arrows. The dungeon we're currently exploring is an ancient cave guarded by some kind of jester skeleton who has no problem making fun of me. As we enter an open room, three copies of the skeleton spawn and we do battle. It's tough, but we manage to use our tactics to wipe the floor with him and his copies in the end. As a reward, an ornate chest spawns in the middle. We're a greedy group and quickly make our way to it and throw it open only to have it explode in our faces, nearly killing the elf. "Poor idiot," the skeleton says as he appears beside me, "rewards appear out of nowhere?" I'll admit to being a bit offended. "So that's how this is going to go," I think. And so it did. This is Divinity: Original Sin 2.

Press Kit

Divinity is a tactical RPG in the same vein as classic "cRPGs," which are the RPGs you might have played on your computer if you grew up in the nineties. It's all about playing the game you want to play, with the subgenre being clearly inspired by pen and paper campaigns. The team at Larian Studios have managed to capture this feeling perfectly: Divinity: Original Sin 2 is synonymous with choice and that's what makes it such a wonderful and special game. That, and its brutal difficulty of course (if you play it as intended).

Western games like Mass Effect and The Witcher 3 are well known for their expansive stories where choice plays a central role. They wouldn't be so well known if Divinity were better known. Every single quest can have vastly different outcomes, usually multiple different outcomes. You can be tasked to save a prisoner and do so by sneaking her out, massacring everyone, or talking with the guards and killing her for them, and probably four or five other methods I didn't see. If you imagine the overblown promises from an E3 interview for a AAA RPG, that's Divinity — but it actually succeeds. Your companions can die to an alligator in the world. You can kill many major story NPCs. The game not only allows this, but it expects you to do so. No playthrough between players will ever be alike.

E3

Of course, all that story choice wouldn't matter much if there wasn't enough content to last the playthrough. Divinity has the quality in spades, but it also manages to have quantity. There is a ridiculous amount of quests to discover around the world considering how many ways there are to complete them. These quests will take many, many hours for a completionist and they're all worthwhile, offering good loot as rewards at times and often valuable experience that you'll need to level up and tackle the later story missions. Whether you're walking through a town or across the countryside, the world is full of quests small and large. Sometimes it's as easy as helping two cows who were polymorphed to become human again. Other times you're thrown into a long tale of espionage, betrayal and whatever other kinds of chaos your presence can cause. This variety is further enhanced thanks to a huge range of tones the quests can take, from serious to outrageous to sad to being purely a joke. They say variety is the spice of life, but perhaps it would be better to say variety is the spice of Divinity. Or Divinity is the spice of life. Yes, that's it.

The game isn't only about helping (or hurting) townspeople, though. There's also a main storyline tucked in there. The first Original Sin game was lauded for its gameplay and minute-by-minute questing, but many found the main storyline to be lackluster. Larian clearly took that criticism to heart and crafted a story for Original Sin 2 that's many times more interesting and serious than its predecessor. The result is a story that's still somewhat standard fantasy stuff — you're someone special who might be able to become a god and save the world from the Void — but it's more than serviceable thanks to the lore of the game's world backing it up.

Press Kit

Any dedicated pen and paper gamer would be quick to tell you that storytelling is important, but combat needs to dazzle as well. The first game showed that Larian had the chops to create something special, and in this sequel they've continued further down that path. Like the story, the combat is filled with choice. It's a turn-based game and each combat encounter is carefully designed from enemy placements to landmarks on the field for you to take advantage of. You can make use of bottlenecks, lines of sight and high ground to decimate your foes, or at least try to survive if they do the same to you. You can also use elements together in logical ways. For instance, you can douse a fire underneath your party's feet by casting a rain spell, or a raining blood spell, or an ice spell, but you'll create a heavy amount of steam and smoke by doing so which obscures your vision and hides you from the enemy. Thinking of how each action will affect the battlefield is key, and making the right choice is of paramount importance.

That's because Original Sin 2 is tough as nails. It's the Dark Souls of strat-- nah, actually this is way harder. On the recommended difficulty, you can expect each fight to take 15-30 minutes at minimum if it's around your level. You'll need to constantly make strategic choices to defeat your foes while staying alive and your enemies will be absolutely ruthless, putting you to the test. On the recommended difficulties, death is permanent if you don't have a resurrection scroll. You can lose your companions or even your main character at the start of the game and simply never have them return if you can't scrounge up the high fee for a scroll of resurrection. This means death is truly scary, and you'll likely find yourself reloading to make better choices in combat — that's okay, the developers know we're all going to do it and they encourage it. Don't expect that second attempt after the reload to be any easier though. Luckily, there are multiple easier difficulties for players to try out if they want the experience minus the challenge.

Divinity's choice is what allows you to succeed in combat. You can create a party that's truly designed by you from the ground up. My party focused on dealing physical damage, so I rolled with a two-handed warrior, archer, backstabbing rogue and a summoning necromancer paladin tank. It worked. It could work for you, or you could change anything and everything to suit your playstyle. Nothing is ever locked in and you can choose to design your companions in literally any way you want, switching them from archer to healing spells to tank to fire mage — the choice is, as always, yours.

Divinity: Original Sin II Definitive Edition screen 5

Unfortunately, the experience is not entirely positive. The amount of content can be daunting, especially in Act II, to the point that it's hard to tell where to go to do what and what level you'll need to be to do it. You can figure this out with trial and error, and that's true to the game's design, but for me it didn't work. As well, and I say this very carefully as I am someone who appreciates a challenge in my games, the difficulty is cripplingly hard at times and while challenge is of great importance, I'm not sure the game benefits from having every single fight be a deep dive into complex strategy that requires multiple reloads. That said, these complaints come down to one central idea — they're too much of a good thing. And that could be a lot worse.

The achievements will be a monumental task to complete. There are quite a lot relating to completing various side quests in certain ways, sometimes to your detriment. There are rewards for completing weird or clever tasks. There are standard story achievements as well as choice-based achievements. Then there are the difficulty achievements, including beating the game on the highest difficulty with only one autosave. The game is co-op, so the achievements can be shared by generous players with the right saves, but absent that, you're in for a hell of a ride if you're going for the completion. Expect it to take easily north of 100 hours.

Check out our Best Xbox RPGs Available in 2017 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a game about choice in every aspect. It's an RPG where it truly is your story, with no two playthroughs being alike thanks to the vast number of ways to tackle any given situation. If you want to be the hero, you can, if you want to be the villain, you can do that too. But more often than not, you're going to be playing in the gray, making choices and living the outcomes — or reloading to get a better one, which is just as valid a way to play. The combat is likewise complimented by choice, from how you build your party to what actions you take against enemies that are incredibly challenging but also rewarding to square off against. Every enemy is a threat, but so are you. The world of Divinity is exceedingly vast, but it's full to the brim with meaningful content that you'll enjoy exploring through for dozens or even hundreds of hours. There are few RPGs I'd dare to call essential, but Divinity: Original Sin 2 stands out among all others as deserving of that accolade. It's undoubtedly one of the best tactical and role-playing experiences you'll ever have on any platform.
4.5 / 5
Positives
  • Huge depth of choices lead to a one-of-a-kind experience in every playthrough
  • Combat is highly tactical and full of choice
  • Difficulty is almost always at a perfect sweet spot that makes every encounter challenging and rewarding
  • The side quests have a nice variety of serious and jovial content
Negatives
  • Sometimes goes beyond difficult to outrageous
  • It can be hard to tell where you're meant to go since there's so much content, and that can lead to wasted time testing things out
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately forty-five hours questing through the world of Rivellon, fighting magisters, saving the needy and so much more, unlocking 18 out of 50 achievements for 255 Gamerscore using an Xbox One X. A download code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
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.