Crowdfunding as it relates to the world of video games has been a rather interesting ride. Initially, the idea that we as players could give our money to a smaller studio with some pluck and determination under the promise of a new and innovative idea, track the progress along with the developers, then reap the rewards of helping out the little guy sounded perfect. There were also studios that didn’t promise drastic changes and never before seen, industry-changing ideas. Some merely threw out the idea that if you, as a player, liked a very specific type of game, and they, as developers, also craved a similar, genre-focused experience and had the capacity to make exactly that…but required some funding.
Not everything has to be a mind-blowing, hyper-ambitious project that defies conventions and re-writes the script. No Man’s Sky comes to mind as a perfect example. They promised something that most players and industry experts thought was nearly impossible to pull off. And it turns out, it was. While No Man’s Sky was an example of the latter, Divinity: Original Sin was an example of the former. A game made with clear love for the genre that delivered exactly what was promised. Make a really, really good CRPG. The first game was a huge success, and proved that crowdfunding can work and when it does, the results are spectacular. Thanks to this success, the team at Larian Studios made enough cheddar to fund a sequel, which garnered fabulous reviews when it released for the PC last September, has at long last found its way to the living room, releasing on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this week.
And yes, like the first game, Larian Studios has done an excellent job of translating the somewhat complicated control system and gameplay mechanics to function easily and smoothly on a controller. Also, the console edition is the “Definitive Edition”, which includes a bevy (a big bevy) of changes and improvements to the game, including everything from new dialogue options, more characters, visual and audio overhauls, enemy AI, enemy encounters, story, user interface, improved inventory and journals system, and new difficulty mode called “story” that is meant for players who want to simply enjoy the narrative and plot of the game without getting smashed over and over again during combat. Suffice to say, if you missed the boat on Divinity 2 last year, or are simply a console-only player, there is now zero excuse to continue missing out on one of the best games of 2017 and a high-water mark for the CRPG genre.
Some of the most lauded features that made the original Divinity such a hit return in fine form, including the brilliantly addictive and incredible tactical turn-based combat, rich and fantastic voice performances (over a million lines of spoken dialogue), an incredibly dense world filled to the brim with quests, secrets, items, and of course, whacky and hilarious NPCs. Divinity 2 manages to tread that fine line between serious and satire, flipping from Tolkien and Sanderson-esque epic fantasy Terry Pratchet and Douglas Adams genre-riffing satire and comedy. For every epic battle with the world hanging in the balance, there’s a hunt for a face-ripping machine or—in the expanded definitive edition—an armoured squirrel knight who wants to recruit the player.
One of the major aspects that places Divinity 2 on such a high pedestal amongst similar games is the incredibly detailed and well thought out a variety of options available to the player. Outside of the combat, which in and of itself provides a deeply layered and enormously tactical gameplay experience, the interactions between player characters and NPCs, along with the myriad branches of dialogue and actually relevant player choice, ensure that no two playthroughs will be exactly the same. On the contrary, there is simply so much to do and so many different ways to do it that I don’t think it would be possible to do the exact same run without a guide. The clearest example is the fact that my girlfriend and I engaged in concurrent playthroughs, and by the time we had begun to explore Fort Joy—at the very beginning of the game following the tutorial—our paths had diverged so much that one would think we had planned it that way. When Larian said that they were putting a lot of weight and work into player choice, they followed through on their promise and then some. It’s hard to overstate just how much content and divergent paths the developers put into this game, it’s simply astonishing that they manage to somehow tie it all together into a cohesive package while allowing such freedom of choice.
Now that the game has been out for a year already on PC, the story and combat have already been praised and discussed to death. The battles are fantastic, the improvements to an already robust and strategic combat system (blessing and cursing elements, for example, drops a whole new layer on top of the elemental interactions that made the first game such a blast) have taken what the first game did and polished the hell out of it, and the story is just something that needs to be experienced and is almost hard to discuss because the aforementioned heavy focus on player choice makes each adventure unique. What’s really important to this review is how the game fares on the console.
Pretty damn well, it turns out. CRPGs were and still are designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind. Selecting characters, moving them around the map, scrolling through lists of spells and skills and navigating inventory are simply mechanics that function better when certain tools are used. Having said that, Larian did a fine job of breaking down all these systems into something that can be easily directed with a console controller. Holding down the triggers opens radial menus that will allow you to select and control a character, as well as rotate through things like character menus, skill lists, the journal, and inventories. It feels very intuitive and is more or less the best possible way to mesh a PC game for use on consoles.
One of the best “why haven’t more people done this” change for console players is how to search through the world to loot bodies/investigate items. Simply holding down the A button on Xbox will create a circle around the player character that highlights all the items within that circle and opens up an easy to use menu that the player can scroll through to interact with each individual item. This is a mechanic I cannot live without now that I’ve used it, and really hope it catches on with other isometric RPGs on consoles. The only control feature I found tedious and annoying was constantly hitting the Y button and then the d-pad to scroll through the hot bar. There really was no other way to do it within the limits of a console and this is clearly the simplest and easiest method, but it was still a minor pain in the butt. Such are the limitations of the hardware though and this can’t really be held against the game.
Visually the game maintains its gorgeous, colourful world filled with awesome spell effects and a surprising attention to detail. While not blasting along at 60FPS (the Xbox version runs at a decent 30) I never encountered much slow down or stuttering, even with multiple characters on screen slinging spells with particle and lighting effects all over the place. The lighting effects and vibrant colours really add to the atmosphere of the game, and makes both the environments and spell effects pop. The only downside visually is that, with the insane amount of detail and information on screen, texture loading and pop in was a frequent issue. Loading times aren’t amazing either, but for the most part once you’re actually playing the game you won’t run into many sections that require loading. Of course, if you’re like me and want every battle to run be perfect, you will be re-loading often enough that it does become noticeable. The music is fairly standard Western RPG fare, but the sound effects and random world noises are very immersive and add yet another layer of detail to a game already overflowing. The voice acting, as mentioned before, is actually super solid, which is surprisingly rare in vast, open-world RPGs like this that have traditionally preferred walls of text to showcase the dialogue. It’s great to see so much effort put into an aspect of the game that really, considering the genre, didn’t require it.
If you like CRPGs, or RPGS, or games packed to the brim with content, excellent combat mechanics, and well-written characters, chances are you’ve had this game on your radar since you finished the original. It’s simply the best of its kind available on the market, and even if these kinds of games aren’t really your thing I would still highly recommend it. If you are a fan of this genre, and still haven’t played it, you’re truly missing out on what might be the best CRPG of all time and easily one of the best games of 2017, now with a shiny, polished, updated “Definitive Version” for your PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Go out and get it.