Divinity: Original Sin II Review
When Divinity: Original Sin launched in 2014, it quickly became Larian's fastest selling and highest rated game in its long-running but understated Divinity series. With unique and detailed writing, a deep and engaging battle system, and tons of content, we eventually awarded it as our 2014 Overall Game of the Year. Since then, other isometric computer-style RPGs have arrived such as Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenara, though arguably none could reach the combined level of quality and charm of Original Sin's surprise success. With the game's sequel, Larian gets their own chance to unseat Original Sin, and they could not have succeeded more thoroughly. In a year packed with landmark RPGs, Divinity: Original Sin II is one that demands to be recognized as one of the best games in the entire genre.
Original Sin II manages to improve upon the (few) weaknesses of the original title while still managing to also play to the series' strengths. The gameplay has been tweaked to be more fluid and deliberate while the writing has been promoted to some of the best I've ever played. Compared to the original game, players will spend less time in menus and more time talking to rats, flexing their muscle, stealing from merchants, surviving surprise ambushes, initiating surprise ambushes, teleporting character out of their bar seats, picking locks, uncovering ancient temples, and engaging in quests of all shapes and sizes. The list might be shorter if it had listed what was not possible to do.
The gameplay and combat improvements are the most critical aspect of Original Sin II over the original. This is still an exemplary showcase of turn-based combat and the engagement that it requires of the player in order to be successful in the game, but the changes made allow for even further player input when it comes to deciding exactly how to build their parties and undertake battle encounters.
Divinity: Original Sin II introduces an Armor mechanic to both players and enemies, and it acts similar to how one might expect: most units HP bars will be augmented with both a physical armor amount and a magic armor amount. Physical armor will block debilitating statuses such as being knocked down or crippled while magic armor prevents magical ailments like burning and being stunned by electricity. This opens up a whole slew of new mechanics that fit the combat system like a glove. Some abilities will pierce armor or steal it, others will allow you to regenerate armor passively or in burst amounts. The number of potential ways to tackle any battle is incredibly numerous.
Different enemies will have different levels of armor such as a mage unit having a high magic armor level but not a whole lot preventing them from being knocked down. While every unit's underlying HP is still the key mechanic that must be targeted to win any encounter, the armor mechanic means that just rolling off the highest power abilities from the get-go isn't going to win many fights. This added wrinkle to Divinity's turn-based combat better rewards careful planning in the form of having a well-outfitted team and composition also rewards the execution of your team abilities in combat to efficiently defeat the challenges thrown at the player.
Divinity's turn-based combat is about preparation and observation. Instead of having to awkwardly predict and work around potential pathing issues of characters in the field or having to guess exactly when a bunch of queued up skills is going to actually initiate relative to the enemy, Divinity allows for a highly deliberate level of control. Knowing exactly when an enemy is going to act and his current status, position, and HP relative to your team will allow you to have all of the information needed at any given time before making any action. While preference between this system and those more akin to Real-Time or Real Time with Pause will depend on personal preference, Original Sin II's turn-based system is definitely going to set a high bar for future games in the genre.
The story of Divinity: Original Sin II is also a step up from the original. Larian has toned down the level of quirky whimsicality and the game feels a lot more grounded as a result. While Original Sin introduces some silly concepts such as teleporting into an occupied bathroom early on, Original Sin II has a lot more immediately serious storylines about betrayal, death, and demons. However, this studio does still have a plunger dart in its logo: expect some characteristic Larian wackiness regardless. It just doesn't dominate the narrative at times like the original game did. You'll still have quests to rescue burning pigs and find a cure for people transformed into cows, but they are written in a way where it manages to avoid feeling incongruent next to fighting off voidwoken monstrosities or wrestling inner demons. It's quite a remarkable balancing act that's done exceptionally well.
One aspect of the game that helps sell the narrative completely is the sheer volume of voice-acting. Pretty much everything is voice acted: town chatter, salesmen, minor and major questlines, even the narration. Similar text-heavy games such as Torment: Tides of Numenera can sometimes feel like a bit of a chore having to read a copious amount of dialogue and create every characters' voice in your mind's eye....ear. Having a unique voice for every character adds a layer of complexity to the game's numerous quests and various storylines. Instead of just having to assign names to mannequins in various locations who want you to do random quests, you have that aural association with each as well.
For instance, in one of the towns cities, I came across a dwarven girl who was begging for money because she dropped a coin pouch. You can either offer to look for the pouch or just offer her the money she needed. Later you find her in a drug den having not needed the gold for a payment at all, with a notable shift in tone and demeanor. Just a minor example of how everything is elevated, even the most minor of characters, by voice acting. The quality is superb as well. Because the game still holds a degree of whimsy, nothing comes across as overacted or poorly delivered.
The last aspect of the improved narrative direction is the inclusion of "Origin" characters. While completely custom characters can still be created from a blank slate similar to the original game, there is the added option of playing as a character of a pre-written history with their own unique traits and storylines that they'll undertake during the game. These characters can still be customized in terms of class and appearance, but will just have a specific set of interactions unique to them. Even if you create a custom character, you can still undertake these questlines by having these characters with you in your four-man party. It's a unique, well-crafted system that I'm not sure I've seen anywhere else.
Lastly, the soundtrack manages to stand up to the high task of living up to the original Original Sin (okay, I had to do that once). Kirill Pokrovsky was the longtime composer of the Divinity series, and he sadly passed away in 2015. Original Sin II enlisted the talents of Borislav (Bobby) Slavov, who had previously worked on games in the Crysis series, so this was a bit of a different take for him. However, he manages to hold onto the same tonality as the original title. With tracks ranging from upbeat battle themes and grandiose fantasy epics, Bobby managed to do justice for the series. While most of the themes are appropriate yet passive enough to not dominate the experience when questing or exploring, first hearing the track Rivellon after the culmination of the game's first Act was a moment that could have surpassed any moment in the first title.
One omission from Original Sin II that might be disappointing to some is a modified crafting system and interface. While the game still allows players to craft skillbooks (including new cross-talent abilities), there are no longer crafting or blacksmith levels like in the original title. Instead, any recipe can be made by combining the proper equipment. While this might come across as a disappointment to those that heavily invested into learning how to utilize the crafting mechanic in the first game to create powerful combinations of armor and weapons, it does prevent the game from being trivialized through those methods as well. Additionally, gathering the proper ingredients and equipment to craft powerful spells and potions will still take dedicated investment and time to learn the mechanics and recipes; it just no longer requires a stat-dump on top of that investment.
One minor shortcoming in Original Sin II is a small lack of polish at launch. It is a nitpick but still something that can detract from enjoyment from time to time. For example, quests can get stuck in the quest log due to completing tasks in a certain unexpected order, such as finishing a certain storylin but then receiving a hint about that quest that is no longer needed, but the game will think you haven't acted on the quest since receiving that hint. Also sometimes the party will unexpectedly not follow the lead character even though the terrain doesn't prevent any movement and the party icons are all linked together. A couple bugs such as a character no longer being able to speak after somehow getting stuck in a dialogue-state or memory leaks that make loading saves in specific areas take extra time. These are all things that will assuredly be addressed in patches, but they currently act as minor scuffs on an otherwise incredible experience.
Divinity: Original Sin II has such a wide scope and is such a dense, feature-rich game that it's easy to lose track of time and get completely immersed in its writing, characters, and raw inventiveness. There's a never-ending draw to see one more quest to completion, to try out one new ability or tactic in one more encounter, or to explore just one more location. Divinity: Original Sin II will relentlessly test your own creativity, demand your attention, prove your abilities, force you to question your own decisions, and overall keep giving reasons to continue playing and never lets go.