This review was written using a digital copy of the game for PlayStation 4 provided to me by the wonderful folks over at Broken Joysticks. If you liked what you saw here, be sure to give them a look! I write there as well.
There was a long time where I was an avid Dungeons and Dragons player – up until around the time Edition 3.5 came about – and there was a string of video games and novels that I followed as a result: the Forgotten Realms. These were games and novels that tied directly into the lore and the world that Dungeons and Dragons were apparently supposed to take place in. Black Isle Studios created some of the best Forgotten Realms games ever, starting with titles like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. When I was first pointed towards Divinity, it looked like it had the same feel and, honestly, as a result, I had a little apprehension: while those games are incredibly deep and full of life, they also brought back memories of frustration and how much time was drained into those games. However, most of that time was spent completely immersed in the worlds presented by the games and that made the choice pretty easy… it was time to give Divinity a shot and, well, here we are…
Well, true to my first assumption, this game seems to draw a lot of inspiration from games like Baldur’s Gate but also from dungeon crawlers like Diablo and its ilk. There’s a lot of old-school feel here but one of the greatest things about this game is the fact that they’ve somehow managed to squeeze in more attention to detail than the games they seemed to draw inspiration from, especially in combat: the possibilities for combat aren’t limited to a wrong or right way, for the most part, but there are enough interesting twists and turns that could happen at any moment at random that could turn the tide of battle for you or against you in an instant. This keeps combat fresh and interesting for those who like a little variety from games like these.
Think of a game like this like a true role-playing sandbox: you’re dropped in the middle of a situation and how you progress in the story and in the game depends entirely on your ability to problem solve and think critically. This enables you complete freedom over how the game is played as you can take any action you choose in any situation to accomplish your goals, while not all of them are exactly advisable. For example, your first major story-related goal is to solve the murder of a local politician and you’re involved due to the fact that it could tie into the main quest somehow: your only clues to go on are the facts that everyone seems to suspect the widow because she’s well known for being terribly unfaithful to her late husband and the fact that Sourcery, a very specific type of magic in the game’s world, was involved in the murder. How you resolve this and use it to help your main quest is entirely up to you.
This game also knows its core audience well, too: everything from the presentation to the music to the way the game only lightly holds your hand in the beginning reeks of the developers respecting their audience while trying to make it somewhat friendly for newcomers, which is definitely a good sign. It’s been a very long time for me since I played a game like this so the slight learning curve, while steep, is appreciated.
It certainly helps that the game is beautiful from top to bottom, as well: everything looks magnificent and runs extremely well from spell effects to environmental stuff and lighting; the music is composed fairly typically for the genre, sound effects are done quite well, and the voice acting is very competent. It’s very easy to get lost in the world and just going around and experiencing the environment around you. The scripting and pacing of the story is a little bit on the lengthy side but everything’s tied together fairly well and the writing is competent and fairly humorous when needed.
One of the best things about this game – its sense of complete freedom and catering to its core audience – may also be its biggest weakness. As someone who hasn’t played this kind of game a lot I found myself missing subtle hints, missing portions of the core gameplay and the structure it was built around. One of the things that probably bothered me the most was how you gained abilities: there wasn’t a very clear hierarchy or set of demands to gain an ability. In order to do something I wanted, I had to do an abnormal amount of reading to find out what ability I needed to do it, much less find out what was required to get it and whether or not I had to stockpile ability points in order to get it. It’s quite a hassle and that was one of the larger problems I had with the game as a whole, as this is indicative of a lot of things: it’s made clear, for example, that all NPCs are, essentially, merchants, and are willing to trade with you. However, beyond a singular prompt, you are left to find out on your own exactly how to do that. Without any clear idea beyond that how to engage in trade, it becomes kind of a hassle.
Of course, those are merely annoyances that probably could be avoided if I’d just made a point of paying more attention to the game and remembered that games like these required an incredible amount of focus and strategy, even in its most innocuous points, which is another sore point for me. This game can be incredibly immersive but I find myself completely drained after a single play session, which can’t go on for too long or I’ll become so frustrated with the game that I won’t be able to come back after a while. This game can get overwhelming at times and, sometimes, completely unfair in its challenge and its direction; I’ve spent hours looking for an area to gain experience to prepare for a coming fight and find myself wandering through areas and going through trial and error and a mass of quick saves and reloads just to find that the area I needed to be leveling in was directly under your nose all along and you wouldn’t have ever found out unless you’re one of those types that inspects everything that isn’t nailed down. And, when you finally get there, you can find that while the enemies aren’t as completely outclassing you as you expected, each battle can change quickly to a challenge to a completely unfair landslide in a matter of seconds and the effects of battle exist outside of battle so you can think you’re in the clear but still die due to not acting quickly enough… and if you missed a save, that’s it for you. You’ve got to backtrack.
I’ll be completely honest: this game, at times, was extremely hard to get back into. There are times where you think you are properly prepared and the game just pulls out the carpet from underneath you to deliver you death and oftentimes that’s the game’s way of “I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, sometimes.” However, I can somewhat tolerate unfair difficulty if it’s done by design and this game is constructed in such a way that you’ll be against the odds no matter what situation you’re in.
However, the ugliest part of this game is a sign of just lazy design that could have been easily resolved in the Enhanced Edition and simply wasn’t: how easy it is to basically break the game and completely halt story progression. For example, there is a quest item you can simply destroy and it is responsible for an event trigger down the line and the only way you can trigger that event and progress in the story is by having that quest item and using it properly so, if you manage to destroy it – why you would is beyond me but that’s not the issue here – your game simply has ground to a halt, you’ll never complete the main story quest and you’ll be left wondering why that is; your only respite is to reload an older save, before you destroyed that item – but you wouldn’t know it was because of the item or what it’s preventing you from – or, more likely, you just end up starting from the beginning, losing everything you just went through, to see if it was just some kind of glitch. I wish this were a singular occurrence but in my play through of the game I experienced at least three and I know there’s more – I’m also not the only one who’s been stuck in this.
Another of my larger complaints against this game is the fact that the town layouts, waypoints, and general level design is just a terrible attempt at seeming realistic. I’ve gotten crossed up many, many times, and the larger map is not that helpful. I’ve actually found the minimap to be more useful than the larger map and that’s a damn shame. The waypoints and markers are far and few between and in order to make your own you have to fill out a prompt in order to lay it. It’s just crazy.
First and foremost is a rather interesting update to the game that actually might fit well with some gamers playing this one on consoles: local co-op. I’ve found that this works very well with people wanting to cover more ground and get more done in a shorter amount of time and don’t want to worry about server lag. Another great addition is the ability – among others – to dual wield weapons, which comes in handy especially with magic users who, now, have the ability to use and also dual wield wands, opening up a lot of capability during combat. I can’t vouch for the changes to voice overs as I did not play the original PC version of the game but apparently there is a lot of newly voiced dialogue in this game and it’s all done in a consistent way that I couldn’t tell them apart. Beyond that, honestly, it comes down to tweaks to the core gameplay and battle system that I wouldn’t able to speak about because I don’t really have a basis for comparison but it would seem they were highly touted by fans of the original, so there’s that.
Honestly, this game has a lot of good going for it but the unforgiving and sometimes downright unfair difficulty, steep learning curve, and more-than-acceptable game-breaking moments will turn anything less than serious fan off of this game, very possibly. If it means anything at all, like I mentioned before, I used to love these kinds of games and this game just put a mean streak in me while playing it. Its story is well written, the game just looks beautiful, and the combat is immersive and incredibly strategic but the shame lies in all the things it does to counter what good it brings to the table.
If you’re on the fence about buying this game, my recommendation to you is to polish up on this style of game and see what kind of punishment you’re willing to take in the name of a great story and some sincerely intense strategic combat. There’s a lot of awesome stuff here to take in if you’re the patient and extremely tolerant type.