Divinity: Original Sin II is a very good game. I’m not convinced that it’s one of the greatest RPGs of all time, as many have suggested, but it delivers on an ambitious goal remarkably well: to create an open-ended but narratively rich role-playing experience, where there’s myriad paths before you yet each feels like it could be its own standalone game.
The game begins with you—as either a character of your own creation, or one of a handful of pre-made ones with their own established backstories—trapped inside a ship, with a strange collar around your neck. You’re a “Sourcerer”: a being able to wield powerful Source magic and, as a result, is a sort of magnet for monstrous “Voidwoken” creatures.
Sourcerers are feared and maligned in the world of Rivellon as a result, and the ruling Divine Order makes a habit of capturing Sourcerers in an effort to “cure” them of their powers—thus the Source-muting collar around your neck. In truth, the Divine Order has far more sinister plans, and so it is that you and a bunch of other Sourcerers find yourselves trapped on a ship, destined for the ironically-named island prison, Fort Joy.
From there, things inevitably spiral out of control, as gods get involved and you’re revealed to be a chosen one—the “Godwoken”. As is often the case for computer RPGs, Divinity: Original Sin II takes you on a twisting, turning journey through a fantasy world where good and evil are far from set in stone, and nobody is quite what it seems.
How you get there, though, is perhaps the far more interesting part. After an initial ship-board tutorial level, Divinity: Original Sin II leaves you stranded on the shores of Fort Joy, and from there it’s largely up to you how you make your way through the game. The major plot points remain the same, but the range of options for getting from one to the next is extensive—before you even get to the layers that party composition.
Here’s an example. Sooner or later, you have to escape from the Fort Joy prison encampment in order to advance the main story (though you could spend more than a few hours completing all the quests within the camp, if you’re so inclined). That requires first breaking into the fort proper, and then safely getting out the other side—with some half-dozen means of achieving each goal.
You might gain a key to the fort as a reward for helping a sympathetic Divine Order Magister find her father, and then fight your way out through the fort’s dungeons. You might sneak in with the help of the very useful Teleportation Gloves, and then sneak out again (or fight your way out) by way of the fort’s docks. Help a certain someone in the prison camp, and they’ll clue you in on a secret passageway into the fort; from there, you might let yourself out by lowering and crossing a drawbridge—something easier said than done.
Such choices are available every step of the way through Divinity: Original Sin II. On top of that, there are plenty of sidequests, many of which may or may not be available based on your previous decisions, or may change in some way. On top of that, there are the complexities of the different characters who can (optionally) join your party, and how they get along with you and with one another. You could play the game 100 different times and see things play out 100 different ways, even when the main plot beats remain the same.
The trade-off is that the sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get lost in the detail without any clear way forward. To go back to that Fort Joy example, I spent hours bumbling around, just trying to keep track of who was who and what was what, and figure out how I could achieve the vague main quest goal of escaping the camp.
With that comes a detrimental impact on pacing for the main narrative. Individually, each questline is magnificently told: the characters, even minor NPCs, are full of personality and history; the plentiful dialogue is superbly written; the storylines are captivating and never feel like busywork. But when you spend so much time wading through all of that, distracted from the main plot, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on—especially as things get more complicated later on—and for what should be the most powerful moments to lose their weight. Narrative pacing is always tricky in an open game like this, and in placing so much stock in player freedom, Divinity: Original Sin II‘s storytelling suffers.
While you can often talk your way out of a bad situation, combat is sometimes inevitable; fortunately, Divinity: Original Sin II‘s battle system shines. Rather than the pause-based real-time combat typical of isometric RPGs, Divinity takes a turn-based tactical approach. Allies and enemies take turns trading blows, and when it’s someone’s turn, they can freely move around to find more advantageous positioning. You only have a limited number of action points each turn, though, and you’ll have to think wisely about how you use them.
It’s a classic tactical RPG formula, and Original Sin II doesn’t do much to mess with it. Rather, it takes that familiar setup and pulls as much depth out of it as possible, with a wide array of different actions, abilities, and tactical options. As with the quests, the sheer range of options available to you can be overwhelming, and even with a revamped tutorial for the Definitive Edition, figuring out the nuances of the battle system can take some work. But once you’ve got it down and everything falls into place, it works beautifully.
At the same time, people who are less interested in the combat side of things can enjoy playing Story Mode, where the difficulty is drastically reduced. The battle system remains the same, with all the same depth and complexity, but with far less punishment for mistakes. On Classic difficulty or higher, any encounter can be potentially deadly if you’re careless, but Story Mode’s more forgiving difficulty means you can just relax with the game, without needing to worry too much about tactical thinking. Given how unapproachable a lot of computer RPGs can be, it’s a nice touch.
Divinity: Orginal Sin II – Definitive Edition brings with it a hefty dose of improvements to the original game that came out last year—most significantly, a port to consoles, and the controller-based control scheme that comes with that. Despite the original game being designed purely for mouse and keyboard, playing on gamepad is surprisingly intuitive, aided by a revamped UI that makes a lot of things context sensitive.
The Definitive Edition also reportedly makes a lot of technical improvements, expands on the narrative quite dramatically, and rebalances the game for a smoother difficulty curve. Having not played the original, I can’t really comment, but I will say that Divinity: Original Sin II looks fantastic on PlayStation 4, and I never had any particular issues with difficulty spikes or the like.
Divinity: Original Sin II is very squarely aimed at fans of old isometric RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and the original Divine Divinity. It won’t convert anyone, but nor is it trying to; it just wants to deliver a pristine, open-ended, classic computer RPG experience, and in that it succeeds wonderfully.