A “Developer's Cut” is kind of nice in that I can skip the mechanics part and concentrate on what makes a game good (or bad). I recommend reading the reviews of the previous installments on this site for more details. If nothing else, those guys are better writers.
It is not clear why a “Developer's Cut” of a game would be better than just the original game. Developers are somewhat like actors in that a good one can make the difference between a bad and a good product, and sometimes a particularly talented (or lucky) one can develop a personal following. Yet, for some reason, there has been no “The Shining: The Jack Nicholson Cut” or “Waterworld: Kevin Costner Edition”. That's because actors, like developers, are not generally “big picture” people. Their skill is depth – to take one part of a whole and work it to perfection, not to assemble pieces into a greater work.
Before I get further into a discussion of the Divinity II part of this game, I should mention that it came packaged with “Divine Divinity” (DD), the first installment of this series. DD is from 2002 and looks the part. That is not bad – the view is generally pretty clear and crisp, if a bit overhead-y and small. It was generally regarded as a mixture of “Neverwinter Nights”, “Baldur's Gate”, and “Diablo”. These were pretty good games. If you miss that sort of retro-style RPG action, DD would be a good pickup. It didn't get enough publicity when it launched which led to disappointing sales so odds are good it would be new to most readers.
The real meat, however, is the “Divinity II” (D2) part. The D2 property went through a few iterations before this release: there was the original, “Divinity II: Ego Draconis” (D2), then “Divinity II: Flames of Vengeance” (D2:FV), and finally “Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga” (D2:DK). Each remixed and built upon the previous. Critical reviews generally rose with each iteration, but never really got that high. There were always bigger, flashier games (“Dragon Age: Origins”, anybody?) with more budget and better visuals and more story. D2 was the little game that couldn't get no respect.
I'm here to tell you that nothing much has changed with the release of “Divinity II: Developer's Cut” (D2:DC). The game is a little more polished, the graphics are a little better, there is a little more gameplay, all the sorts of things one might expect when you give a software team more time to work on something. Still, you can't polish granite and expect a diamond to show up.
And granite is a good analogy to D2:DC. It's a solid RPG. The graphics are solid, the performance is solid, the skills are solid, the character classes are solid, the conversation trees are solid. You name it and it's probably pretty solid. The only flaw I could find was that, despite solid voice acting and solid dialogue (a solid translation from Belgish, or whatever they speak in Belgium), the written dialogue was in American English, while the spoken dialogue was in British English. Why do the British think “lieutenant” is pronounced “left-tenant”?
But the solid-ness of D2:DC is what gives it away as a “Developer's Cut” and not an “Artistic Work” or a “Visionary Achievement” or even an “Original Game”. Say what you like about Peter Molyneaux and his ability to over-promise and under-deliver, but people will be talking about Fable (with all its flaws) long after D2:DC will have been forgotten. This is a well-crafted game but not a very imaginative one.
D2:DC wants to be cool. You get to play as a dragon and fly around, and you can be a necromancer and build a follower from dead body parts. There are some neat mechanics in here but using them just did nothing for me. The same is true for the graphics. One can tell when a vista or cutscene is supposed to be impressive. The game almost pauses so you can stand there and say “This is so cool”. But they also did nothing for me. They are solid technical accomplishments but there is a certain je ne sais quoi missing that I can't put a finger on.
When I played “Dragon Age:Origins” I would sometimes just run around the world looking at things. The first time I looked up and saw the moon I knew I needed to see more of this world. I jumped off several high places just to see what would happen (a reload is what happens, but the fall is fun). There are big vistas and scenic routes in D2:DC, to, but they just didn't capture my imagination that way. Perhaps other gamers will find more to like.
There is a bunch of other stuff thrown in with the game for those interested in the world of the game and how it was made. There are tester's walkthroughs, concept art, a developer's journal and other items that are usually kept behind the curtain of a game development studio.
My personal favorite, however, is the “Developer's Mode”. Turn it on and you have access to tool that allows you to do things like add arbitrary skill levels and experience points, equip any item in the game, teleport to any location, and all sorts of other things. Basically, the sort of thing that cheats allow one to do in other games. It is so cool. There are two types of RPG'ers – ones who don't cheat, and ones who do. I love to cheat. Every game should have cheats. I don't care if they turn off achievements when used. An RPG has two points – action and story. If I can't get to the end of the story because of some stupid twitchy trick I can't get it is the game that's a failure, not me. It would be like buying a book and finding out that you won't get the last 50 pages until you win an MMA bout. Finally, a game that's with me on this one.
In summary, “Divinity II: Developer's Cut”. If you have already played the previous installments the only reason to buy it would be for the additional, making-of style materials. If you haven't played it and are looking for an RPG fix until the really good Christmas games come out, this will do.
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