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.
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