Review: Divinity Original Sin

Release Date: July 8, 2014
Genre: RPG
Platform: PC
Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: Larian Studios
ESRB T for Teen
MSRP: $39.99

Every once in a while, it happens: a somewhat disappointing Early Access game blossoms into a first rate release. Such is the case with Divinity: Original Sin, which began as a Kickstarter-funded product, and then a Steam Early Access game, and now has seen a final, full release. I wasn’t terribly impressed by the game in its beta state but coming back to it several months later, my opinion couldn’t be more different. Original Sin is a very strong game.

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Divinity: Original Sin is an isometric, turn-based fantasy RPG that distinguishes itself by its quirky sense of humor, unique character interactions, and outstanding combat system. While the game’s overarching main story line is a bit vapid–investigate the misuse of a magical power called “Source”–it is surrounded by dozens of hours of side quests, varied environments, fascinating and well-voiced characters, and a pervasive sense that there is something interesting to do at every moment.

Not unlike many action-RPGs, players fight monsters, collect loot, craft weapons, develop and level their avatar’s skills, magic abilities, and weapon proficiencies. Where Divinity: Original Sin begins to diverge from the expected is the game’s balance between serious high fantasy and humor and the care taken to make the characters a little more fully realized. Help facilitate the marriage of two cats? Sure, why not. (The ability to communicate with animals is one of the skills a character can level in the game)

 Review: Divinity Original Sin

The player controls the development of a pair of heroes, a mage and a fighter. Their interactions and relationship–as well as their constantly evolving skills in magic and combat–form the core of the gameplay. The heroes challenge each other, jostle for a leadership role, support each other, and generally make a believable team. Sometimes they come to a moral crossroads and must play a literal round of rock-paper-scissors to decide the outcome. It’s clear that multiple playthroughs, while certainly hitting many of the same high points, will at least in small ways play out differently each time. To some extent, players are funneled through the main quest but there is a lot of freedom in the order in which areas are explored.

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Original Sin suffers from “open world syndrome,” where the primary story can lose its central status and dramatic pacing becomes the player’s responsibility. By default the two characters are linked and travel together, but they can be unlinked and positioned separately for combat or to solve one of the game’s simple environmental puzzles. Party leadership can be switched freely and optimal facing for combat can be selected from several options. Controlling your two main characters (others will join your party ad hoc) is facilitated by an interface that could use a little more clarity and streamlining but gets the job done. Spell scrolls, armor, weapons, and trash are all jumbled together in the inventory, and while it’s easy to drag-and-drop items between your two main characters, it’s a bit of a hassle to comb through everything to equip it to the hotbar.

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There is quite a lot of well-voiced and witty dialogue to enjoy. One pair of NPC guards were spotted conversing about the attributes of another character. When you come back a few moments later, the guards are still talking and their insults and remarks had gotten snarkier. Divinity: Original Sin is that rare action RPG in which you start to develop real affection for the characters. Visually, Original Sin makes a great first impression, set in a colorful world with a lot of style and obvious influences and variety. By default the camera is pulled out pretty far, and once you zoom in the lack of detail in the environment and characters becomes more apparent, occasionally forcing you to hunt pixels to find loot and important objects. The orchestral musical score is high-fantasy and high-quality, while the ambient environmental sounds are scene-stealers.

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Divinity: Original Sin is not an easy game. It assumes familiarity with the RPG genre and banks on players’ ability to read text and sleuth out their next move. This isn’t an isometric, turn-based version of Dark Souls, but it does get challenging pretty fast. Followers of the Divinity franchise will attest to the games’ technical quirks and failings, which are far less pronounced this time around and that, coupled with outstanding visuals and copious hours of well-designed story and gameplay, mean that Original Sin could steal many of your summer hours.

Review based on a purchased copy of the final game.

About Mark Steighner

When not playing the role of composer, director, conductor, playwright, and educator, Mark Steighner slips into his secret identity as a video games journalist and games enthusiast. Mark spent a number of years reviewing games for gamershell.com and contributing to the now-defunct “Eat My Bomb” gamershell podcast. Mark lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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