Larian owe a huge debt to the community which Kickstarted Divinity Original Sin and its sequel, the review of which you read now. Their repayment of some of those arrears has been a complete dedication to their craft. When DOS2 launched on PC last year it was hailed as one of the best RPGs of all time. But, Larian were not satisfied.
As with the prequel, for the following year and a bit, they poured everything into hundreds upon hundreds of changes, tweaks and even some complete re-writes of parts of the game they were not happy with. Released as a free update for owners of the original; here on the Xbox One, we have The Definitive Edition. I never did get around to playing (or even buying for that matter!) on the PC so this will not be a review of the numerous array of changes to be found in DOS2. Rather, I’ll approach it as most of you will – a completely new title.
That said, this is of course a sequel. Set centuries after its earlier namesake, the shadow of Braccus Rex, the original’s chief antagonist remains a constant. Characters speak either with great reverence or fear at the mention of his name and much of the architecture present on Fort Joy Island, DOS2’s opening area, is geared toward his worship. My point is, if you haven’t played the prequel, you’ll get along here just fine. If you have, there is plenty of fan service and tidbits of information to be uncovered.
The moment to moment gameplay hasn’t changed all that much since the original. The action still plays out in the form of a turn based battle system with the elements interacting with each other in deeply satisfying ways. I mean literal elements. Expect to be on fire a lot in DOS2. Just as you can use your team of up to four party members to work together for explosive results, so can your foes.
Regularly, an enemy archer would send a poison arrow my way, right before their mage followed up with a fireball. A huge explosion would engulf us and suddenly my whole party would not only be poisoned, but also burning. Each of these chip away at your armour, magical or physical, before starting to whittle down your health and need to be dealt with urgently – certainly on the higher difficulties.
Fire is the obvious one, but certainly not the only interesting way you can use the environment to your advantage. As on-screen characters take damage, they do of course bleed. Well, blood may be thicker than water, but you can still run an electrical current through it. There’s a certain sadistic satisfaction to be taken in electrifying an enemy’s own blood to use against them. The battle system is full of amazing ideas and interactions like this.
DOS2 has plenty going for it in the looks department too. Bear in mind that I’m running on the Xbox One X, but for a tactical RPG the colour and detail is just stunning. Zoom right in after the death of a Gheist, one of the early game’s most horrific looking opponents, and you’ll find snakes squirming around in their blood. I don’t have a PC to test it to any great detail but anedotally, I’m yet to find evidence of any drops in frame rates, even with multiple characters visible and noticeably even when the most bombastic explosions fill the screen. A little look around on the forums finds that most players are finding the same, even running on base hardware.
Of course, an RPG like this would be nothing without its characters. Larian wisely let the player choose how they would like to experience the game, choice being the name of the aforementioned. There are 6 origin characters to pick from. These are pre-made personas that each have their own back story, dialog options and quests. For me, a man of no imagination, choosing an origin character was the only way to see the game. But Larian appreciate that many people want to project their own idea of how their main character should look and act and speak so if you want to play with a completely custom character, that’s totally fine and supported in game too.
However, you play, the dialog is beautifully written with vocal performances among the best I’ve ever heard in a game. The characters, the quests, the arguments, the choices you make are all so reminiscent of Bioware in their heyday. To state such brings a pang of sadness when you look at where they are now. But Larian have forged their own path and more than picked up the mantle in this genre.
The quests themselves are another standout point to be noted. You pick up bits of information or items that only become useful to you hours later and even quests and locations that appeared to be completely standalone link to other quest lines and characters completely organically. Exploration is your greatest friend here. Search every last nook or cranny of an area and solutions to problems just pour from every orifice. Your opening mission to escape from Fort Joy has half a dozen solutions just by itself.
But, purely in terms of square metres walked, it isn’t actually that big. Maps are just packed so densely with unexpected conversations, secrets, stories and most importantly, loot. Some other developers, who shall remain nameless here, would do well to learn from this approach. There is almost no filler content whatsoever and I’m yet to find a single fetch quest. In an RPG of any scale, that’s absolutely astonishing.
I fairly certain I exhausted all the content Larian had to show me on Fort Joy island and I was still there with more than 20 hours on the clock. Conservative estimates put completion of the game at 60 hours plus but honestly, I can’t see that I will be anywhere near the end game at that point.
So, surely there must be something I can pick on that I didn’t like? Well, if you’re not a fan of either turn-based combat or slower paced RPGs, DOS2 isn’t going to change your mind. Hiking from one corner of the map (albeit with a fairly flexible fast travel sytem built-in) never felt like a chore to me, but I can see how it could annoy some players.
Also, targets (friend and foe) can be quite hard to select in combat when there are a lot of effects on screen. It’s never more than an irritant because there is no reliance in speed of picking out your quarry in deciding the outcome of a turn, but even with silouhette outlines, it could still be much improved.