Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition (2014)

I wanted to start this by writing how much I liked Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition, I really did. By this opening, you might have guessed that I didn't like it THAT much, but only a little. It didn't really rock my world nor make my socks roll or anything like that. I had to re-check Metacritic, as I wanted to see if the scores were really that high, and yes, they were:  whopping 94 from the professional critics and even very benevolent 8.2 from the players.

So, I'm wondering, what gets? Why I wasn't entirely awestruck by the game the same manner other people seemed to be? I mean, all the positive reviews even got me to throw a couple of bucks in Divinity: Original Sin 2 Kickstarter before I actually played this one. And on a hindsight that was a bit of a mistake, as now I'm afraid that Divinity 2 will be more the same like this one is.

I'd say the first 10 hours of Original Sin are great. That's when it's the best structured and in its most fluent as far how gameplay goes. The challenge of combat increased by every battle you do, the story seems to keep in check, albeit it's never a stellar plot, and the city of Cyseal works as a very nice little hub for the quests. And then you get to the another location and it all kind of explodes. The story turns more and more muddled and inane and loses its focus with far too many things being shoveled from left and right. It does regain some of that focus later on, but never really manages to turn out as satisfying as the first 10 hours or so were.

That first part of Divinity is really a stunning experience. The game world looks great, it has a solid soundtrack, writing seems appropriately tongue in cheek and overall it has a lot of things that made me smile, not less the combat, which is very well designed turn based system. Obviously, you have your direct attacks with swords, maces and other melee weapons. Then there's the bows and crossbows and other ranged weapons and of course magic, which is based on different elementals, like fire. You can use the surroundings to help you, like hiding behind a rock, so that the enemy archers won't hit you or if there are things like oil barrels, you can chuck a grenade on it in order to set ground, and your enemies, on fire. It's a solid combat system, that offers nice possibilities to be tactical.

Especially because of how well the combat system works, there's a lot to like about Divinity. It makes possible to enter a seemingly hard combat, where odds are against you, but if you play right and know how to use potions, spells and what not, the end result will end on your victory. Of course, as there's no enemy scaling, there are locations even on the first Cysael map, where you just can't go directly if you want to survive. In many ways, the system is rewarding though, as when you've equipped the best you can and haul potions and spell scrolls with you, it often feels like a true victory to win a battle you previously lost.

Sadly enough, this structure also harms the game, as when you come against enemies, which are clearly above you, there's no other choice but to start backtracking on other locations and see if there's enemies there you missed or additional quests you can fulfill for the experience. And as the maps can be relatively larger, this can at times be a tedious task. Luckily there's a portal system. which allows you to quickly jump between places, but that still leaves quite a bit of backtracking on any location.

And then there's the writing, which after Cyseal starts to wear out its welcome far too quickly. Everyone trying to be funny and clever and sarcastic grows so tiresome, that even while I was playing in small snippets, it did take me over a year to go through this after all, I just started to skip most of the dialogue in its entirety, as I just couldn't stand it anymore. What it really comes down to is, that there seems to be a lack of balance between funny and serious. Even when the writing is leaning towards serious, it has a tongue in cheek kind of a style, which just feels increasingly tiresome the further the game goes. It goes so far, that even the big plot point revelations, in the end, come out as bad jokes rather than something someone spent more than a minute to think about. It doesn't really help, that the voice actors are doing the best to ham up most of the lines as well.

The time counter in the game gave my completion time around 70 hours. For the kind of a game Divinity: Original Sin is, that is way too much. Personally, I think, for the kind of a writing Larian was going with this, somewhere around 20 hours would have been a sweet spot. That would have given time to build a solid story, that would carry over to the end. Now the problem is, that it's just far too stuffed and when the ball starts to roll downhill there's no stopping it. For me personally the first big plot line, investigation of a death of a local council member, was good enough, but then the plot starts to pile heaps of metaphysical and theological musings upon the narrative, that it just collapses under its own weight.

I do have hope towards Divinity 2 though, as RPG writing tour de force Chris Avellone of Planescape: Torment fame will have his fingers in that pie to some degree. Here's hoping Larian can come up with a decent story this time around to use on their already solid combat system.