Divinity: Original Sin 2 - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team play through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.
In all of the years I’ve spent gaming, the only genre I’ve never been able to get into are cRPGs. I’ve played RPGs and I’ve played PC exclusives, but the idea of spending tens of hours in an overhead camera is something that has always been off-putting to me. However, with the COVID-19 outbreak, I unexpectedly found myself with a few weeks off. I figured that the best way for me to kill two weeks was with a new RPG, so I went to the Steam Store and picked the first top-selling game that wasn’t already in my library. That game is Divinity: Original Sin 2.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 released in 2017 to critical acclaim. It markets itself as a return to form for the cRPG genre, and more importantly, the video game equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons. With a cursor replacing my friend’s fat fingers and a CPU replacing my skinny toes, I jumped into Divinity: Original Sin 2 without expectations.
I’m less than five hours into Divinity: Original Sin 2, but so far I really like the game. Unlike with the few other cRPGs I’ve played, it seems welcoming to morons like me. There are quest markers, skills aren’t confusingly named and the quests themselves just make sense. The lack of all three of these things is what’s put me off games like Wasteland 2 and I really hope that it continues to be as straightforward as it is now.
Outside of the simplicity of everything I’ve played so far, the other thing that’s making me enjoy the game is the writing. It reminds me a lot of Fallout: New Vegas. There’s enough humour to make the boring bits entertaining, but it never undermines the seriousness of what is going on. This is something that I haven’t seen many games pull off, and I’m really curious to see if this continues as the story goes on.
The main thing that I’m not enjoying right now, however, is the combat. It may be because I haven’t played a turn-based game since XCOM 2, but it seems like I’m losing almost every fight I’m in. I’ve had to turn the difficulty down to the lowest setting to get past the first bit of the game, which hurts me on an emotional level. It’s technically my job to play video games, so I would’ve thought I’d be better at them. I hope that this is all part of the learning process instead of the game being unfair, but I’m sure I’ll figure that out as I play more.
I’m a bit further into the game now, and not much has changed about my overall thoughts on anything. However, I’ve really come to appreciate a lot of the little things in the game and can see why people like it so much.
Respecs don’t cost anything, I can pick up items with “telekinesis” instead of manually picking them up, there’s a pre-installed mod that allows autorun and I can talk to pets. None of these things are game-making on their own, but when combined, they’ve helped me enjoy the minute-to-minute gameplay. They’re things that would’ve been added in by mods anyway, so having them in the base game means the developers know what they’re doing and that they care about their players. If the developers care, that means the game is probably going to be good, so I’m excited to see where everything goes from here.
On a less minor and more obligatory note, the graphics in Divinity: Original Sin 2 are really nice. They’re not groundbreaking or anything, but like the other minor things, they help the overall package. The game looks just good enough to keep me from looking at my phone every few minutes, which is always a good thing.
I’m halfway done with Divinity: Original Sin 2 and I’m starting to become a lot more conflicted about the game than I was before. Although most of what I said before is still true, the gameplay and the story have started to become downright unenjoyable.
The story isn’t bad (at least not yet), but it has become cliche. There’s an evil faction that attacks you on sight, an even more evil faction that is written to be the underdog and you’re the hero who’s going to save the universe. Everything is still written well, but there’s only so much writing can do to help a boring plot. I assume that the story will get better as I get closer to the final act, however.
All hope is lost for the gameplay though. Over half of the fights that I’ve played through in the past few hours have been, for lack of a better word, bad. They mostly consist of enemies that outnumber you 3:1, respawn and who stunlock my party with AOE spells. This has resulted in a solid two minutes between each one of my turns in these fights, and more often than not, me losing fights because my party was stunlocked from attacks that cluttered my screen to the point where I couldn’t target the enemy I needed to . I’ve permanently lowered the difficulty down now to get past these fights, and if it keeps up like this, I may break a cardinal rule of game journalism and not finish the game.
I’ve reached the final act of Divinity: Original Sin 2 and I have really mixed feelings about that. The story’s remembered what it’s good at - humour and character development - and there’s been more puzzles instead of fighting. The final area of the game is also designed to promote exploration, which is something that I love.
I’ve also been having a ton of fun respeccing my character. I started my campaign as a necromancer, then became a tank, then an archer and now I’m playing as an Airbender. Because of this, I’ve been enjoying optional combat a lot more.
However, the main story’s combat sequences still have the same issues as before. I just finished up a fight with a Kraken that took me over two hours to complete. He was only able to be damaged by ranged weapons and his attacks stunlocked my party in one hit. Those attacks also made for such a visually cluttered battleground that I often couldn’t see enemy which part of the Kraken I wanted to target. It’s the most frustrating fight I’ve had in a game in a long time, which when combined with similar fights previously, have made me detest the main questline.
On a much lighter note, one of my favourite features of the game is that all of the lines of dialogue are voice acted. Like with the writing, the voice acting reminds me a lot of Fallout: New Vegas. This is strangely what’s pushing me to complete the game when the combat makes me want to give up.
I just finished up the main storyline, and although there’s still a few more quests for me to finish up, I’m calling the game quits. Unfortunately, the final act of the game didn’t fix any of the issues I’ve been having with the game since the start. The gameplay remained frustrating and the story continued to be cliche.
Nothing got worse in the final part of the game, though. The writing of the last few encounters of the game was phenomenal, there were a ton of small gameplay quirks that made me smile and the graphics kept me glued to my screen in between battles. I also respecced my character and had a lot of fun with the fights in between boss battles, but sadly those fights were too rare to make me want to continue playing the game past the last boss.
As someone who’s unfamiliar with the cRPG genre, Divinity: Original Sin 2 has been an experience that I’m not sure I’ll ever seek out again. Although the game has solid writing and gameplay variety, the trite story and frustrating boss battles made it hard to enjoy. After the first few hours, I was playing the game solely to write this piece, which makes it hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t either very bored or very desperate for another game to play during quarantine.
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