Divinity: Original Sin preview
Larian Studios aren’t only unleashing ‘Dragons with jetpacks‘; alongside their RPG-RTS infusion, the indie studio behind the Divinity saga also have an isometric RPG up their sleeve, to the tune of Divinity: Original Sin.
Divinity: Original Sin
Divinity: Original Sinis an exciting project for a few major reasons: firstly, the game is shipping with the exact same tools Larian used to make it. Secondly, Original Sin has been unleashed on Kickstarter under a very stringent philosophy: don’t make promises you can’t keep. When I talked to Swen Vinke, CEO of Larian, he said:
“There’s been an enormous debate about Kickstarter in our office, because we are afraid we’d damage Original Sin. We are in love with Original Sin. We think it’s the best thing we have ever made. And we know that if we can have that second funding to increase density, our players are going to fall completely in love with this. So how to do it? By asking them to now buy it so we have that money to invest into the game.”
Divinity: Origin Sin has been launched on Kickstarter when the foundations for a promising title have already been laid. What I saw of Original Sin in London was crude albeit promising. Producer David Walgrave – a microphone wielding metal singer – fully admitted that in its current state, Original Sin wasn’t fit for press demo. Whilst I understood his worries, the primary game mechanics, tonality, and dynamic were certainly apparent. So what is Original Sin?
It’s clear that Larian are having a love affair with Ultima
“The typical thing you find in RPG’s is that they start off high, and then they drop – usually around the middle of the game. That’s what we’re trying to prevent happening with this one,” said Swen, talking about the state of RPG’s. The team seem to be approaching this isometric, turn based RPG from the perspective that enormity and mechanical fidelity are two of the most important things. The visual style – slightly cartoony – seems to allow the developer to stay within budget, whilst broadening the scale and depth of the game world. Likewise, what the game might “lack” in voice acting it makes up for in the amount of dialogue, and the amount of NPC’s.
“There are more NPC’s in the first area of Original Sin than in the whole of Divinity II. That’s over 300 NPC’s in the first area alone. So if you really want to add visuals and high quality voice then you will spend a truck load of money.”
Under the independent ethos of creative freedom, Larian Studios seem to be creating something akin to classic 90′s RPG’s, where depth of story, and player freedom, with rewarding and in depth combat are the key to success. Heading into the game, which I played with another journalist, I didn’t quite know what to expect? Is this in the vein of Diablo 3? Torchlight 2? Is it derivative of Titan Quest? When I asked Walgrave just how far back we’re looking at inspiration, he chuckled and indicated the pre-Ultima years.
Original Sin features two player coop for the entire campaign. This can be played alone, but the way in which the skills work complement playing with a friend. For instance, many of the characters skills and spells have a damaging area of effect. This affects everything around the player. If you freeze a target, everything around him is also frozen – including the floor. Get too close, and your friend might freeze you, too. If that happens – it did to us, many times – you can use a fire spell and defrost your friend or foe, at a cost of health. Turn based combat isn’t for everyone, but Original Sin is so tricky that it quickly became apparent how mothered we are by modern RPG’s. I almost died the first time I tried to kill anything, merely because I stood too close to an enemy when I fired a fire-bolt at him. Why did I think that’d be a good idea?
Combat is genuinely tactical, and spells and skills complement each-other nicely. There’s also line of sight, meaning if an enemy is at an odd angle – too low or too high – or if something is between you and he, then projectiles won’t make contact. This features the standard attack points and move points you’ll find in most turn based combat games, with certain skills and powers using more attack points than others.
In terms of roles, there aren’t any set ones. I was assured by Walgrave that players could spec up entirely as they see fit. Your specification points do determine your ability to wear certain armors, or wield certain weapons – but both characters, in any “class”, use magic.
“Optimal use of skills, spells, equipment, weapons, item combinations, and even the environment is required to overcome the various challenges the game will set before you. Spend your action points wisely, because this is a game rewards thinking things through.
The combat system features classic turn-based gameplay rules such as action points, initiative, alertness, flanking, backstabbing, attacks of opportunity and bonuses for efficiently working together as a party.”
Combat even has an element of predicting where your enemies will move, for instance some enemies will be attracted to certain things in the game world, such as gold. Applying points in perception and intelligence helps to elucidate your foe’s tactics, but generally using a bit of tactical thinking is the best way forward. Combat starts independently; that is to say, if you step too close to an enemy then your character will engage in combat. Your friend, however, will continue doing what he is doing. In Original Sin you and your friend can stay together and split up as much as you like. The world is open and free-roaming, with turn based combat mechanics employed only when you are in rage of an enemy.
Another interesting aspect is that, potentially, everyone is an enemy. In towns and cities you can choose to attack, for instance, the landlords cat, which will cause the landlord to come and attack you. If you don’t like the way an NPC speaks to you, you can kill that NPC. Needless to say, the towns guards will come after you, though. This might leave the game open for griefing, so it’s probably best to play it with a friend. This, too, is reflected in the way in which you interact with NPC’s in conversation. Conversation in Original Sin consists of a back and forth between the two main protagonists, and the item or person you’re talking to. You discuss the options during conversation, with variable outcomes depending on what you say. Your friend can agree, or disagree, and something that could have ended peacefully might just end in bloodshed.
The Divinity world
Divinity: Original Sin
Divinity: Original Sinis a massive game. I wandered around on my own for quite some time, and found that going north, south, east and west yielded interesting results. The world is thick and full, and there’s always something to do. We’re not talking about one town and then an open field filled with enemy mobs, this is more about creating a tangible, realistic fantasy world where enemies will be encountered along paths between settlements, or in caves and caverns, where NPC’s, bandits, magical creatures and all sorts of other foe’s live with each-other to varying degrees of success. There is no “go here to do this” or “run around this big open field to get loot” cookie-cutter dynamic here, and everything you do ties itself in nicely with other tasks.
If you don’t trust your friends ability to fight for you, you can rent some NPC help from one of the inn’s. This works similarly to the way in which the original Guild Wars works. Pay them, and they’ll fight for you. You get to control the NPC, even in the open world, by clicking on his avatar. The NPC’s have different skills which amount to different classes, but the game is still generally classless.
Indeed, the world is thick, and full – there’s hustle and bustle, and plenty to see. The Kickstarter appeal was created to add polish and thickness to the world, so it’s clear that Larian are trying to create a consistent gaming experience – where you won’t find 5 hours of barren wasteland in between great looking towns.
“The world is very free and open, and rewards exploration. There are many things to do (or to ignore or reject), and you are invited to go look for them by exploring, reading books, and talking to people. There are many ways to complete the game. There is a beginning, a middle and an end, like every good story should have, but how you fill it up in between is entirely up to you!”
As for the story, there isn’t a huge amount of information available. The pre-alpha we tried didn’t focus on story at all, but the title does take place in Divinty‘s Rivellon. I think Larian have left the story deliberately open with a view to allowing players to create their own story experiences. What is set in stone is that the two leads are off to learn a forbidden magic called The Source, but how you go about doing that is so non-linear that each experience will differ greatly.
I did get the impression that the depth of the conversation mechanic, combat, and scale of the NPC count meant that Original Sin is a very carefully constructed RPG experience that seeks to offer the most substantial RPG gameplay possible. Whilst I’m not an enormous fan of this art-style, the game world was lush, thick, and full. It was vibrant, and even inthe caverns and caves, the red glow of the lighting kept an appealing warmth to the overall aesthetic. Everything is very pretty, even the horror elements. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the game looks whimsical, but Original Sin certainly adheres to a constructed style.
There’s also an incredibly interesting mechanic which allows the combination of seemingly trivial items into powerful ones. Although I didn’t get to toy with this too much, you can pick up something harmless, and turn it into a powerful weapon. There’s a good example of this over on their Kickstarter page, but I can’t really talk about my experience with it – other than wearing a bucket on my head – since I didn’t get to try it.
Larian are also shipping every copy of Divinity: Original Sin with the exact tools they used to make the game. This is the game engine used for all their Divinity titles, allowing players with very little to no coding experience to create mods for the game. Talking to Swen about this, I wondered if it was possible to re-create the Divinity II style in Divinity: Original Sin. He said that, with some effort, that’s of course possible. The possibilities are actually endless, considering the engine is split between three different game genres: isometric RPG’s, third person action combat RPG’s, and an RTS. That’s three genre’s under one engine, and you’re given the tools used to create all three of those games in the price. I’m not a big modder, but that’s quite an incredible opportunity for those who are.
It’s audacious because many publishers see modding as a detriment to DLC sales. Larian, as we know, aren’t into throwing out DLC, so this isn’t a concern for them.
Larian will be the first to admit that we didn’t really get the time we needed to fully experience Divinity: Original Sin. I did get a good impression of the depth, scale, and combat mechanics, though. What I saw was a deeply impassioned team who, it seems, are building a game as a response to a dry spell in RPG’s within the last few years. Divinity: Original Sin clearly isn’t being built as merely a good Divinity game, it’s being built as a good RPG in its own right. It’s not a spin-off, and it’s not the bare necessities. The scale and richness of Original Sin‘s game-world was a breath of fresh air, and whilst the combat handed my ass to me literally on the first fight, it’s because I sucked – not because the game was unfair or unbalanced. I need to get better at Original Sin. It doesn’t seem to be pandering to anyone, and that doesn’t mean it’s stubborn and arrogant, it means that Larian knows what makes a good RPG, and they know there’s a demographic for that. Prepare to be reintroduced to RPG’s.