Divinity: Original Sin II — The Campaign
[Sorry for the lack of images; I’m not good at remembering to take pictures]
After my initial foray into the GM tools that shipped with Divinity: Original Sin II, I went over to the other side of the fence and fired up the official campaign. This mode is, of course, the bread and butter of the product and I feel its necessary to experience in order to get a handle on the strengths and weaknesses of the GM mode at the very least. Not to say that the campaign isn’t worth the price alone — it is, most certainly!
Being of “advanced age”, I started my game on Explorer mode which is basically the “look, I’m here for the story, not get pissed over combat because I remember the original DOS and the plot was frustrating enough that I don’t need to worry about stupid dying over and over” mode. As I’ve said in the past, I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m not into games for the challenge, especially long-form games with intricate stories and a whole lot of convoluted side quests that require me to be everywhere I can’t get to.
At first, I went into eye-roll mode: you start off on a ship, and there’s been a murder. Jesu, not another DOS game with a murder to solve! Turns out that this one kind of wraps itself up by throwing in a Kraken attack which leaves you washed up on a beach.
Back up — why are you on a ship? The pre-story is a bit vague, IMO. There’s a kind of magic called “Source”, practiced by — wait for it — Sourcerers. Regardless of the application of Source, it has a nasty side effect of summoning evil creatures called Voidwoken which are terrorizing the kingdom. The Divine Order was formed to fight these Voidwoken, but they figured that the best way to do this was to stop Sourcerers from using their abilities. So these practitioners (which includes you no matter which class you pick) are rounded up, fitted with a Source nullifying collar, and are shipped off to a prison island called Fort Joy where they are supposedly “cleansed” of their Source infection. There’s some kind of subplot regarding the leader of the Order having recently died and his son taking over, and he’s on the island as well overseeing things or something, but it’s all very vague at the outset. I’m not sure if there’s some kind of Divinity lore at play here or if it’s one of those “100 years before/after the events in DOS I” kind of situations designers use as a hand wave to divorce what’s going on here from what’s happened previously.
Making your way through the fringes of the island and eventually into Fort Joy itself, you re-meet some NPCs that you originally met on the ship. Several of these are available to take as party members, with a cool twist: although they have their own classes, they give you the option to have them take on different roles that you might need in your party. The NPCs are an interesting lot; they have some of the most unique and defined personalities I have seen in an RPG. I took the undead guy who is looking for a flesh-mask to wear so he can move about the world without drawing attention to himself, the ex-King of a lizard people kingdom who is trying to find a way back to his domain so he can retake what is rightfully his, and an assassin who has a very high profile target to kill within Fort Joy. Along the way, I met a woman who channels spirits and an overly ambitious dwarf who could also join my party, should I tire of my current companions.
As far as I can tell, DOSII follows the same gameplay mechanics as DOS. You have a max of four party members, all of which you can control. Clicking on a portrait on the left side of the UI makes that character active, which plays into how you interact with other NPCs, which is both a mechanic and a potential pitfall. Luckily I’ve found that you can simply switch to another character and restart the interaction as if you weren’t friends with the other guy. Back when you made/chose your character, you could add tags in addition to your standard background class selection. These tags help open conversation options with NPCs. For example, my Soldier background sometimes offers me [Soldier] conversation choices, and depending on who I am talking to, could help or hinder my progress. Supposedly some of the “hero” premade characters have even more options based on their tags, but we’ll see if we get far enough to warrant another playthrough.
Normally the party moves as a clot, but I found that in combat things get a little different. The line of sight is important, so only those party members who have been seen by the enemy are actively engaged in the turn-based combat. Everyone else is still fully selectable from the left portrait list, and they can move about as if they weren’t in combat — until they’re seen by the enemy, at which point they’re fitted into the action queue. This is super important, as a fast mover or proper application of a teleport spell can move an unseen party member to a more strategic position without having to worry about spending AP to get there. At first, this confused me because when the first party member is seen and combat mode activates, it only focuses on party members in combat; those who are not participating just…stand around until you actively select them and move them into the combat zone.
Combat still retains the same strategic elements that made DOS such an enjoyable clusterfuck. You know when there’s a potential for combat coming up because there’ll be strategically placed barrels of oil, water, poison goo, or some other exploitable resource in the area. Some party members come with their own tricks, like how Fane the undead guy can throw a ball of oil into an area that he or someone else can light on fire. Not only does it ignite, but it slows anyone who walks through it. Needless to say, it’s not all fun and games; several times I’ve set my own party on fire. Thankfully we’re on an island that’s bordered on all sides by ocean.
A few quick takes, because I’m not writing the manual for the game here.
- Questing continues to be obtuse. You’ll get a “purpose”, but absolutely no guidance in the journal on how to get started unless that info was specifically provided to you by the NPC who gave you the quest. For example, I met someone who can apparently remove the Source-killing collars we wear, but…nothing that tells me how to exploit this (yet).
- The first perk I took was “Pet Pal” which allows you to talk to animals. This is a massive boon. I spoke with a cat who mysteriously took to me and followed me as soon as I entered Fort Joy, but he had nothing to say and was later killed randomly by a fort guard (I hope I didn’t just dead-end a quest there). Then again, I spoke with a dog who said I was his new best friend, and he dug up an ornate key for me to have.
- Crafting is weird. Each class of recipe is found in a book, which is an item you pick up and cart around. Any crafting station can apparently craft anything, so I stopped off at a campfire and created an “ax” by tying a sharp rock to a stick. I suppose later I’ll be able to craft actual weapons, not just Flintstones cosplay weapons.
- The camera is a little off-putting. The environments are gorgeous, but sometimes they get in the way of moving around and seeing stuff. Since the camera apparently “floats” along the ground, scrolling the viewport into a chasm will see the camera “fall down”, making recon kind of difficult in many cases. It’s just something that takes getting used to.
- Conversations are absolutely essential. In a cave at the back of Fort Joy, I ran into an obnoxious kid who wanted to play hide and seek. I was going to blow him off but figured I’d be able to find him as I go about other business. In the end, he liked me so much he introduced me to his “friend” — an undead soldier in a hidden cavern who gave me a kick-ass spear and a quest to free his soul.
- I like the shopping system. You make your offer of stuff you want to sell and are given a value. You can then choose items from the merchant to “barter” an equal value, or add gold from your side (to buy) or their side (to sell) in order to balance the scale. This makes carting around useless but valuable items worthwhile. Inventory doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue, as each character has their own, as well as a backpack that you can use to get somewhat organized, although you can become overburdened to the point where you can’t move.
I played for…maybe 5 or 6 hours last night, which for me, these days, is a long time. Sometimes it was in order to overcome frustration, but other times it was simply because I knew there was something going on and I had to find it. DOCII pulls off a difficult RPG trick: it doesn’t overwhelm you with stuff to do and shrug when you ask for guidance on how or why you should do it, nor does it rely on combat as the solution to every puzzle or conflict. When I ran into the fort’s “crime boss” I was prepared to fight, but instead he was amicable and gave me work to do despite that fact that I’d seen his brutal handiwork and heard about what kind of an asshole he was from many people around the fort. He’s not a sympathetic character, but he is made human and not just a horrible speed-bump to kill by way of solving everyone’s problem. That is the mark of an excellent system.
I’m hoping, then, that I can make headway in DOCII, unlike in DOC‘s frustrating murder-mystery. Right now I’m kind of stuck in the fort with this damned collar on, so it’s not looking promising, but I know that there’s a whole lot of things to do in my quest journal, and several people that I need to work with and for who are important to various storylines, one of which I hope will help me progress beyond the artificial “wall of mechanics” that are keeping me locked in the fort.