Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Divinity: Original Sin Early Access Alpha Preview
Larian Studios have previously stated their dislike for publishers and list their presence as one of the reasons that the earlier Divinity games didn’t come out quite as planned. As a result, they have embarked on a mission to self-publish, starting with Divinity: Dragon Commander and now with Divinity: Original Sin after a particularly successful Kickstarter campaign. Currently the alpha is available on Steam Early Access, where they’re suggesting that you only purchase if you’re interested in supporting the developers with a buggy build, including roughly 20-25% of the finished product.
Divinity: Original Sin is very reminiscent of Divine Divinity, as it focuses heavily on exploring a large world filled with weird and wonderful encounters and side quests with a main storyline that doesn’t restrict the experience. It doesn’t quite match up in terms of quantity of random events and everything is a little more structured, but the spirit of magic is very much still there, whether it be trickster demons out to get you or chests that run away from you screaming. Clearly a big emphasis has been put on personality and charm, and you’ll find yourself with a big grin on your face whether you like it or not. That being said, there is a lot of text to get through and if you’re not a fan of reading you’ll probably find the lack of voice acting off-putting. The puzzles are also a little more in-depth than the majority of other RPGs, involving lots of riddles and thinking outside of the box.If you recall the awkwardness of the combat in Beyond Divinity, you might be slightly skeptical of another game involving two main characters. However, garnering plenty of controversy among fans, Larian opted for a turn-based tactical battle system this time around, fixing most of the problems from the previous game. Here’s hoping that along with Banner Saga and Blackguards we’re seeing the heralding of a new era for turn-based strategy! The combat is designed to be extremely interactive – ice will melt into water which can be electrocuted, while acid and fire will mix to create gaseous clouds of poison. As you can have up to two extra companions and can teach any character pretty much any skill, there are many opportunities for combos (and, inevitably, friendly fire) that often result in a barren wasteland of death at the battle site. While this is cool, it does mean that you have to be mindful not to create an ice rink on an area that you’ll need to run through often. As an additional warning to those looking for fast-paced ARPG-style combat: you will not find it here. It can take a while to sit through animations and enemy turns, and a frontal assault will generally end badly. It’s all about strategy and synergy.
Another particularly interesting addition to Divinity: Original Sin is the way that you can develop your characters’ personality traits. As you adventure, your heroes will be given many opportunities to voice their opinion or make choices regarding their immediate situation. Your responses will be rewarded with traits depending on what you pick, such as pragmatic, romantic, heartless or compassionate. These traits not only directly affect your in-game skills but allegedly will determine the compatibility and relationship of your characters over the course of the story. This can be frustrating if you’re conflicted between the story and how you want to improve your skills, but that’s the meaning of consequence, isn’t it? Additionally, this means that in single player you have to pick dialogue for both of the main characters and argue with yourself. While this is focused mainly on trying to upgrade certain skills for each hero, it takes on a more competitive air in co-op. While both players can pick different outcomes in an event, the one that is actually chosen depends on how many points are put into different social skills. To add even more complexity to the system you have to pick the most relevant social skill in each situation, knowing when best to use reason, charm or intimidation to get your way.
Larian have also included some of their traditional “quirks” in Divinity: Original Sin. You have to save the game like crazy as monster levels vary and you can quite easily wander into a place that’s a little too tough for you (assuming that this is intended and isn’t just a perk of the alpha). Not to mention lots of surprises from hidden explosives, environmental dangers and sometimes things that literally just kill you. You can also lock yourself out of certain content by getting caught stealing one too many times, as NPCs have a tendency to become hostile and attack you on sight. On the other hand, you are totally free to simply hack down all of those pesky NPCs and go about your day! Often you can complete quests and solve mysteries even after accidentally slaughtering some of the locals, as Larian are aiming to give the player as much freedom as possible by creating many different paths to each solution.
The cherry on the cake lies in the advanced editor that will be included – the same one that the developers use to build the world. While they are quoting a modest 50 hours of gameplay for the final release, the plan is to avidly support modders and encourage the maintenance of a solid community.
While everything is looking very promising so far, the alpha is extremely buggy. A lot of content isn’t implemented yet, there are various balancing issues and simple game-breaking bugs that will force you to restart every so often. Most importantly, save files will not be compatible with updated versions, meaning you will have to repeat a lot of the game later if you want to play it now. In its current early state it’s really only an attractive investment for die-hard fans.