We’re really enjoying Divinity: Original Sin. I haven’t played the PC original but the game seems to have been lovingly ported to the PS4 and works well on console. This is an RPG that has been built with co-op in mind, and on first impressions is absolutely perfect for couples like us who like to play RPGs together. Each player controls their own character, and can also control one follower each, with a max party size of four. The top-down display allows each player to move freely across the map, and if you move too far away the game seamlessly moves into a split-screen display that allows each player to go off and do their own exploring. It’s a nice, relaxed system and seems to work very well.
Loading up the game, your first choice is character customization. There are a number of character classes available, largely conforming to familiar tropes (rogue, cleric, fighter) but with a couple of more unusual choices as well (shadowblade, battlemage). It strikes the right balance between flexibility and not requiring you to make too many choices too soon–Pillars of Eternity, I’m looking at you. Similarly, you can change the look of your character but don’t have to worry too much about silders and such, allowing you to get the look and feel of the character the way you want without having to spend all day over it.
The game drops you into the world map straight away and you can start adventuring. There is a short intro that sets up the story and then you’re off to discover what awaits. The game looks gorgeous on PS4, what it lacks in detail being made up for in colour and an appealing, rounded aesthetic and sound design which reminds me of the old Fable games and Trine series. It’s a more whimsical and, dare I say, child-like take on the fantasy RPG aesthetic than what you see in games like Dragon Age or Pillars. That said, the subject matter is still quite dark with a heavy emphasis on violence, necromancy and moral and physical corruption. It’s a good mix and it feels like the game carves out its own, distinctive personality.
Combat is turn-based, which was a welcome surprise as I expected a real-time hack and slash system. Early fights are a pleasantly lightweight affair, introducing you to the mechanics of combat, but even on normal (‘Classic’) difficulty the fights soon become quite challenging and you will fail often until you start to get a grip on the mechanics of combat. Not everything is explained up front. For example, every action in combat requires Action Points. If you find a high-level weapon, you may be tempted to equip it immediately because of its stats, as we did. However, if you are under-levelled in relation to your gear you will be penalised by your attacks costing more Action Points, which can mean you will be unable to attack in battle. We lost a couple of fights before figuring that out. Not a big problem, and we probably should have noticed it sooner, but just an example of the way the game has some unfamiliar mechanics you have to get to grips with.
Figuring this stuff out is fun, though, and the level of frustration is fairly low. Combat is satisfying and enjoyable, and indeed we were crying out for more of it in the early stages. You quite soon make it to a large settlement where you have to start unravelling the murder which brought you to your destination in the first place. Investigating the mystery is quite interesting, and oddly enough reminded me of playing Shadowrun back on the SNES where there is no alternative but to run around talking to everyone and hoping to glean a few more scraps of information to move forward. I don’t mean for that to sound negative, as it does actually feel like you are investigating a real mystery, resisting the urge to pin the blame on obvious suspects once you feel you’re scraping the surface of a much larger conspiracy.
In the course of the murder investigation you will soon be exposed to more important goings-on, and at this point we did wish that the game would give us a bit more combat and a bit less exposition and dialogue. This is an extremely dialogue-heavy game, with every line being fully voiced and almost every NPC having unique dialogue and in many cases their own quests as well. It does create a sense of a well-populated and vibrant world, but you can get a bit bogged down. Combat is very level-dependent, meaning if you are underlevelled you will almost certainly die, a lot. Levelling up in the early stages involves completing a lot of non-combat quests, which you can miss, meaning that once the game starts throwing fights at you again you may well find you can’t carry on. It’s not a big problem, as it encourages you to go back and complete quests you may have missed or skipped, but it does mean the game’s pacing is not quite what it could be.
That said, so far we haven’t really cared about the difficulties. The game is very addictive, at least in co-op, and we have found ourselves enjoying some very long sessions on the sofa over the holidays with this game. Recently I’ve forced myself to play through some relative stinkers in my PS3 collection (like FFX-2 and Alien: Isolation), and so it’s a refreshing change to be playing a game I’m excited to get back to. Hopefully that feeling will persist and our progress will become a bit smoother once we accustom ourselves to the rhythm of questing, levelling up and kicking undead ass.