It’s funny how a little change in perspective can totally alter one’s enjoyment of a title, and not always for the better. With Divinity II: Ego Draconis, Larian Studios decided to take their Diablo-esque Divinity series and move the players a little closer to the action, bringing us down to an over-the-shoulder third-person take on the action RPG. And for some reason, this new outlook made me feel something was lacking in this latest outing to the world of Rivellon. Perhaps I expected a deeper RPG experience to accompany this closer viewpoint, perhaps I’ve been spoiled by recent third-person titles. Regardless, I feel that the Divinity series has taken a slight downward turn in this latest installment.
Divinity II starts off in familiar territory—and with little initial character generation. Players simply choose a few cosmetic options for their character, a valiant Dragon Slayer, and hit the tutorial. Played in an over-the-shoulder perspective, characters traverse the world in typical action-RPG fashion: talking to the locals, undertaking a few quests, and offing and looting scads of monsters. Soon enough during the initial tutorial missions, players choose from one of three focuses, Warrior, Mage, or Ranger. These choices actually have very little impact on the game, strangely enough, but the familiar tropes are there all the same.
Soon enough (without giving away too much plot), players are cursed (or blessed) to become a Dragon Knight, humans that have the ability to actually transform into the mighty winged beasts themselves. Of course, this binding to a “hated” Dragon should cause no end of grief for a Dragon Slayer, one dedicated to the eradication of the hated scourges of the sky, but Our Hero seems to take it all in stride. In fact, there was a great deal of emotional detachment from the character and plot itself.
And it’s here that I have my biggest problems with Divinity II. The game couldn’t decide exactly what sort of RPG it wanted to be, and in straddling too many options it fell flat. It could have gone with its roots and focused more on the grinding, carrot-and-stick hack-and-slash combat fest, and done well. It’s predecessors, Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity mostly took this tactic, throwing in some meatier-than-normal RPG elements to the traditional action-RPG fare. However, Divinity II’s combat didn’t seem quite so furious, and the loot elements just didn’t have the “just one more drop” appeal that drives me on. Divinity II could also have driven much deeper into the Role Playing aspect, giving us more than the usual hunt and collect quests from generic fantasy denizens. The world and its people just didn’t come alive, even though everything was accompanied by some surprisingly good voice work and music. Finally, Divinity II could have opted for a much more action-y title, turning its new look to good use. But it fell short here, too, since I found the controls to be a bit too clunky and simple to really give me the feeling of being totally in control of a fearsome warrior.
That being said, the game wasn’t really bad, either. Players had a decent skill progression to work through, choosing from Magic, Melee, or Ranged-centric options. Initial character choice means very little, as players are free to choose from any skill their current level will allow, regardless of previous skills selections. This does lead to plenty of character customization options, allowing players to create their battle-mage, or ranger-wizard, or summoner-tank as they see fit.
In addition, there were some truly innovative moments in Divinity II. One of my favorites is the “Mind Reading” skill, which basically lets players get additional information out of the NPCs for a price. Reading an NPC’s mind can open up new quest options, lower merchants’ prices, and even directly reward players with skills, stat points, and experience. Or it could simply be a waste of time. Making things more interesting, each use of the skill puts the players in experience debt, and level progression won’t continue until that experience is earned back in full. So, while there is a temptation to read everyone’s thoughts, that has to be carefully balanced by how much advancement one is willing to risk in the process.Another neat addition to the game is the ability of character, eventually, to actually become a fearsome dragon and take to the skies. While this takes place a little too far into the story for my tastes, it’s still a fun change of pace. And even after one realizes that the Dragon form is just a slightly different adventuring game with a Z-axis, it makes for a nice diversion. Of course, much of the game is spent getting to this point, and to finding, freeing, and maintaining a “Battle Tower” as a center base of operations. Here players can set up with their very own town’s worth of shops, such as enchanters and alchemists.
The difficulty in Divinity II is a bit uneven, at times crushing in the early game, and a bit of a cakewalk as the late-game approaches. Players can easily stumble across areas that are way too overpowered if they’re not careful, and many, many re-loads become par for the course. The monsters don’t actually scale with the players, but the damage does seem to scale with relative levels. There seems to be a huge damage output penalty against foes just a few levels higher than the character, and conversely a huge damage bonus against lower-leveled enemies. I found this to be a bit strange, actually, and not at all to my liking. In the same way, experience awards are tweaked according to relative levels, with lower-level enemies falling like wheat and netting almost no experience gain.
The game looks decent enough, although there’s nothing spectacular happening here. As I mentioned before, the voice acting was quite good, and the dialogue fairly strong. There were some strange hiccups throughout the game, although I didn’t come across anything I’d actually call a bug. The most jarring occurrence happened time and time again. I played primarily as a ranged character, and so I frequently found myself in a running (well, a running-away) battle with many enemies. For whatever reason, once enemies get a certain distance from their starting positions, they freeze and then begin healing rapidly. After that, they’ll either “teleport” back to their starting positions, or simply take off at some sort of turbo speed to reset themselves. I realize this was just a way to keep the critters from wandering too far, but I was initially confused and soon frustrated and bemused once I crossed these invisible barriers. I would have much rather had a smoother indication that I wasn’t being chased anymore.
For all the negatives I’ve been giving, there is a decent amount of fun here, certainly for fans of the series. While I won’t recommend Divinity II to everyone, I also won’t actively campaign against those wishing to take a look at this action-RPG. There were just so many ways Divinity II could have been better, and because of those many missed opportunities I came away disappointed.