Divinity: Original Sin 2 – An RPG actually for Roleplayers

The latest PC RPG in the Divinity series by Larian Studios was released a few weeks ago. It’s a true RPG in the classic style, with a top-down view, turn-based tactical combat, and plenty of dialogue and story to sink your teeth into. We’ve had quite a few RPGs of this classic style appear in recent years. Original Sin 2 doesn’t just aim to bring back that classic experience though, it really takes things to the next level, with excellent modern graphics, full (and hilarious) voice acting, and a bunch of slick modern updates to the formula in terms of combat, UI, and design. The game was in Steam’s Early Access before this full release for just a year and has been successfully launched with a high level of polish, showing all the other Early Access developers how it’s done.

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I’m just going to jump straight in and tell you the what the best thing about this game is, as alluded to by the title; the roleplaying potential, and the story. These days it feels like most RPGs are missing what their purpose should be. Especially with the lines becoming increasingly blurred between genres, which isn’t a bad thing, but there are so many games with ‘RPG elements’ which seems to just mean that there’s a bunch of stats, loot, and grindy leveling. If that’s the average impression of what identifies an RPG, then something is terribly wrong here. What I’m getting at here is that Original Sin 2 seems to actually aim to realise the true purpose of an RPG, which is quite simply, Roleplaying!

The best place to start with displaying the great roleplay potential this game provides is to look at character creation. There are classes but these only really serve as starting points, meaning that you can mix up various skills and abilities as you wish, even straight from the character creation screen if you so desire. On top of that freedom is the more story relevant selection, such as the races. In the previous game you were human only, but here you can also be Dwarf, Elf, or Lizard, plus an undead skeletal version of each. In order to flesh out your character’s… character you can select a couple of tags which define your broad background, including being a soldier, and outlaw, a noble, a scholar, etc. That is mostly it, which although sounds rather simple, is really enough to start with, as most of the detail comes through playing, and whatever you want your character to be. Although I adored Dragon Age: Origins where you could choose and play through some of your character’s origin story, it really doesn’t leave much up to you, and you simply have to take what you’re given. OS2 leaves it all up to you, and gives you opportunities to put forth a character that you come up with in your own head, just like a tabletop RPG, through their actions and in conversation. The dialogue in the game is fantastic, and no two NPCs are the same, with some of them perhaps taking an interest in you in various ways, and maybe asking you what your story is, what your goals in life are, and your opinions on various topics. It’s in these ways that a character that is really your own can come about.

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Even if after seeing the options for a custom character you still want to be given something that already has some flesh in its bones, there is a selection of premade characters. Unlike other games with premade options, these characters are completely unique and have their own backstories tied into the game world and main plot, their own voice acting, and even their own unique options in quests and dialogue that a custom character won’t be able to see, adding some great variety and replay value. These characters are not only optional playable characters, but are also the other party members that you can recruit near the start of the game. As party members you can get most of what you would out of them if you chose to play as one, as you can take control of them and use them in dialogue. You can also follow their personal quest, but taken more from the perspective of your main character, which changes things up slightly. Another way in which these characters a quite unique is that they affect each other in fairly significant ways, meaning that your party composition may even have some conflict when two members’ personal goals clash with each other. The way you can interact with your party in dialogue, and their personal quests, feels very reminiscent of BioWare RPGs, but this game takes it even further by having them affect each other, or being able to play as one yourself and approach things in a different way.

A big part of what makes this game so great in both story and roleplay is the NPCs and dialogue. The main thing you will notice first, and be constantly delighted by, is the voice acting. I remember the voice acting being excellent in the previous game, and I was pleased to see that it is back and in greater force. The game has a current of humour and strangeness going through it at its core, which by no means detracts from some very serious and sometimes emotional subject matter. The icing on the cake of this tone is the voice acting, which is incredibly emotive and hilarious at the same time. I’m sure you’ve heard some great voice acting before, but in other games it is usually saved for major characters. NPCs usually would just have a few generic responses as they walk about making the world look busy. This is not the case here, every single living (and some dead) being in this game has a unique voice and something different to say, and so far I haven’t met anyone who simply says a greeting and nothing else. When I say every being, I mean every, as there is a certain talent you can give your character which allows you to talk to animals, and it’s one of the highlights of the game for me. Just talking to the rats or dogs wandering around the place can be entertaining and certainly very useful as they sometimes drop useful hints while they talk to you with the strange understanding of the world that you would think animals have. It can even get a little emotional, as I almost did when trying to encourage a bear cub who’s mother just died to be confident and learn to fend for itself.

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As for what all this great voice work is conveying, it is also excellent. In terms of roleplaying, it really makes a difference depending on what type of character you are playing. People will react to you in different ways, and you will have vastly different options depending on who and what you are. Other RPGs that give you a lot of freedom in what sort of character you want to be, such as the Elder Scrolls Series, may have this in some cases, but for the most part the NPCs and the world at large will treat you the same regardless of who you are and your background. An ideal egalitarian society like that we should all strive to live in, but it doesn’t make for a particularly engaging fantasy RPG world. In OS2 there is an abundance of NPCs, both major and minor, who will treat you differently based on race, appearance, your actions, and sometimes even your gender. And there are always opportunities for you to respond to people in plenty of ways just by default, but you also get race and background specific dialogue options on top of that. Even the narration, which is also fully and excellently voiced, will adapt its descriptions based on various details. For example, I’m playing as an undead character, and throughout the game all sorts of descriptions that refer to the character and its body have been changed to reflect the fact that he is just a skeleton, and I’m sure it even changes outcomes sometimes. There was one moment where I assume a character has a blade to my throat, but the description referred to it grinding against one of my vertebrae, and I was able to continue talking without the discomfort of a knife to the windpipe, as I had none.

Outside of dialogue, the NPCs are also quite sophisticated. Each of them can be traded with, doing away with just having a few designated vendors for trading. This is done with a solid bartering system where you need not just use money but can also trade any item for another. The NPC will be give you a deal based on their opinion of you that may be influenced by previous dialogue, or by giving them a generous deal in the past that will mean they are more willing to do the same in return. All NPCs can also be pickpocketed and burgled, and they won’t just sit there in their empty house with empty pockets doing nothing, but they will notice when something is missing after a varying amount of time and start looking around for it, or for a potential thief. They may ask you if you saw anything, or they may go straight to accusing you, and challenge you, and you may have to persuade of mislead them to get them off your tail. If you fail, some may go get help, ask the guards to apprehend you, or may get hostile right away. There’s a lot of variation and depth in the details.

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Finally I will just mention the story, without spoilers. The game does a very good job of introducing the story for new players, while also having plenty of important plot elements that are linked to other games in the series, which should be a good balance that pleases everyone. The intro and first main area do a very good job of easing you into the main plot line, while also giving you freedom within a certain space to explore, learn some details of the world and the game, and develop your characters own starting motivations, and personality. This all really ties into what I said about the potential for coming up with your own character, as much of your early character development hinges on the opening and first act, and it is thankfully very well done for such a purpose. The story continues to be very engaging and high stakes, and it can be experience in a lot of ways, with plenty of major decisions to be made, but also the possibility of experiencing it slightly differently based on your party members, and if you choose to follow through their own take on events and their personal goals. from where I’m sitting it looks like there will be a lot of replayability and depth in that aspect, and in terms of the story as a whole. Not to mention the various small side quests and little stories that can range from whole plots encompassing a large area you are exploring, to small stories that take a few minutes to explore, making the world feel alive and full of detail.

I haven’t even mentioned the combat yet, and it’s probably for the best that I don’t. There are plenty of games with great tactical turn-based combat out there, and this one is a contender for one of the best, but I really wanted to focus on the true roleplaying and excellent story elements that are sadly all too rare in games. This game really shows the potential the videogames have to be more than just all about the combat, but have a huge amount of depth in other areas that are far too overlooked.

I should really wrap up there, before I go on for another several paragraphs, I need to get back to playing it! It is just worth mentioning that if all this doesn’t sound like a truly great roleplaying experience, and you are a fan of tabletop roleplay, then this game has you covered, because there is an expensive game master mode where you can create your own adventures for up to four other players. This appears to work very well because the main game itself have seamless 4 player co-op as it is, which allows everybody to react in both the roleplay and the combat. It looks very complicated and extensive from the GM side of things, but it seems that sky is the limit with the possibilities there, especially with there being steam workshop mod support to add new assets and options ad infinitum. I hope to give that a go if I get the time to set an adventure up and can get a group together, I’ll be sure to write about the experience. Until then, go and play this game!

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