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5:16pm on Tuesday, 13th October, 2015:

Original Sin


I've spent my game-playing time over the past couple of weeks playing Divinity: Original Sin, as it was recommended by several people when I asked for suggestions of Baldur's Gate-like RPGs to play. I was put off when it came out because it uses two central characters rather than one, and I didn't want to spoil the role-playing aspect; as it happened, this was a valid concern and I didn't really engage with either of the central characters.

It's a big game with a lot of content. I enjoyed the earlier Divinity games from Larian, but they had flaws of a kind also present in this one. It's quite often the case, for example, that a puzzle is badly-specified so that you have no idea what is being asked, let alone how to answer it. Sometimes you know what the answer is, but can't answer it because it has to be done a particular way. For example, in Original Sin you have to collect "starstones", which come in two forms: bloodstones and inert stones (that is, spent bloodstones). To get to the endgame, you have to have a certain number of these (although it never tells you what the number is). OK, but what it doesn't tell you is that it only counts inert stones, not bloodstones. You need to use the bloodstones (they do some healy stuff) to make them count. That's not enough either, though, because using bloodstones triggers events back at base: you have to use the bloodstone, go back to base, watch the cutscene or whatever, then leave the base and use the next bloodstone. If you use all the bloodstones at once, as I did, you'll end up going to the base, leaving, not being able to get to the endgame, then going back to the base, dealing with the next event, leaving, trying to get to the endgame, and so on until it lets you in. That's if you're lucky. If you're unlucky, you'll go off looking for more starstones and not finding any because you already have them all. This "I know I've got all the pieces I need but how the blazes do I use them?!" issue crops up again and again in this game.

I don't usually look up puzzle answers for RPGs, because that's part of the fun. For Original Sin, though, with some I did — they either had to be handled by trial-and-error or they were so poorly explained that I had to look up what it was I was expected to do.

Quests in Divinity games don't scale with character level, which is how I like it. However, this does sometimes mean you do quests out of order for the narrative. I regularly fought my way past very tough monsters to reach someone who wanted me to go off and kill those very tough monsters. I also found quest items relating to quests I had already done, which was confusing as I didn't know they weren't for new quests. I carried a smelly scarf around for 80% of the game, having picked it up when I completed the very quest it was a part of...

Party size in the game is four, which, because I had two main characters I couldn't drop, meant I could recruit only two more. I only came across three potential recruits anyway, although there was a system through which I could have hired more (that I didn't use as I didn't have the money when I came across it). I eventually wound up with one major character as a mage/healer, another as a tank, with an archer/thief and a melee DPS in support. The tank wasn't very effective, as the melee DPS could tank perfectly well. If I played again, I'd probably go with a second melee DPS or maybe another mage (they're overpowered and can summon melee DPS allies such as elementals).

Combat was quite interesting at times, which is one of the things I like about this style of game. Once I figured that I could surround enemies in oil and then set fire to it and then to them without beginning a fight, it got a lot easier. As I figured that out very early on, I suspect that combat may have been less challenging for me than intended...

Crafting is sophisticated, but what you can craft isn't really all that useful. For weapons and armour, it's better than most of the random drops you get because you can choose many of the pluses to add to them. However, you can't choose all of them, and they don't all stack, so when you get an item with a good combination of stats it's usually better to keep that than make your own. There are some buffs from cooking foodstuffs, but they're too short-lived to be useful and usually come with a debuff, too. I'm sure some people like this aspect of the game, though; I didn't really use it myself, though. Potions and scrolls weren't all that useful to craft either, because you get so many from drops you don't need them.

The story for the game wasn't great, despite attempts to make it seem epic. Reborn souls of guardians of blah blah blah. The main enemy wasn't all that impressive and the final boss had only appeared in cutscenes before. It took so long to roll out that by the time I got to the end, I didn't really care — I just wanted it all to be over.

Now all this may sound as if I didn't really like the game, but I did; I'll doubtless be replaying it again a few years from now. It just dragged on rather longer than I'd wish and had some rough edges that are probably due more to its size and sandboxiness than flat out bad design.

I still prefer to play one character in my role-playing games, though.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).