In July, 2003, a friend gave me the gift of a new game for my new gaming PC. On seeing the box, I was skeptical. I was staring at some kind of generic, angelic-looking blonde fantasy woman, and emblazoned across the top was possibly one of the worst titles I've ever seen for a game: Divine Divinity.
The friend said, "Trust me. I think you'll really like it." He was right about a ton of other games, so I gave it a go.
I pulled something like a dozen all-nighters over the rest of that summer, and nearly all of them were to play Divine Divinity. I finished the game in a couple of weeks, and then I started all over again.
Something about it was exactly the right combination of mechanics and humor to click with me. The sprawling world and its map system immediately appealed to my sense of exploration, and the game repaid my willingness to look in every barrel and every cranny with all manner of items and quests. The mad clicking combat was straight out of the Diablo series, but went with a classless leveling system in which I could take on any combination of skills I wanted.
The writing was more mixed, but still held my attention. Dialogue wavered between clever and enigmatic, occasionally taking jogs over to the land of incredibly hackneyed cliche. Even if I hadn't known that Larian was a European studio, I would have been able to tell that English was not the game's first language from the occasionally iffy translation choices.
Nothing about Divine Divinity was, in itself, unique, and yet its combination of elements hit the sweet spot for me. Ten years after that game's release, I still eagerly recommend it to friends and acquaintances (a recommendation made easier by its appearing on GOG.com).
Yes, I was a Larian fan.
But then came Beyond Divinity. I wanted to love it. I wanted so very, very badly to love it. I wanted to keep rooting for this little European studio. I wanted my $50 to have been well spent. I wanted to root for Rhianna Pratchett, who did some of the writing. I wanted it to be great.
Everything about that game felt wrong. Sure, it looked like the first game that I loved so well, but it didn't feel like it. Movement and combat were clunky. The mechanic uniting two player characters and forcing me to take them through the world together didn't always work effectively. The characters themselves, rather than being my own creation as in the first game, were scripted and unlikeable. And it felt like there were bugs—big, game-stopping ones—everywhere.
I don't know if I ever even finished the game. I think I might not have.
With a Steam sale in 2010, I decided to give Rivellon another go. The third entry in the franchise, Divinity II: Ego Draconis, was going for a reasonable price and I hoped I would find it to be enough like the first game to fall in love with it all over again.
The perspective changed; Divinity II found itself a 3D world and slung a camera over the player character's shoulder. The magic and dragons factors were amped up a bit but the core feeling was there, and once again I began to relish the sense of exploration wrapped in a click-to-kill slice-and-dice romp.
I didn't love the dragon flight segments, but that was mostly because I was terrible at them. Other players seemed to have less trouble and so I thought maybe that was just me. I preferred my character ground-based but adding a Z-axis to fly around did open up the possibilities for exploration, and so I grudgingly accepted it.
I loved something like 80% of that game, even with two game-breaking bugs that had me sending my save files to Larian's community manager for manual fixing.
People who think the Mass Effect 3 ending ended up damaging the whole game should probably stay well away from the Divinity series. They fall down at the 90% mark and shamble stiffly to unsatisfying conclusions. Even the Flames of Vengeance expansion to Divinity II didn't actually help; the new content, while mostly great, had its own, terrible, nearly unplayable ending. You spend 30 hours upgrading your hero's armor and gear, only to have to finish the game in dragon mode... with an escort mission.
So given Larian's track record, I worry. I want to love Divinity: Original Sin. They're bringing back the top-down view that I like. They're keeping class-free leveling and customization, and the world, with more items in it than ever, promises to be just as excellent for an explorer as ever.
But I worry about going back to a pair of pre-defined characters. I worry about a switch to full party-based, turn-based combat. And I worry that I'll spend the next six months wanting so very badly to love the game when it launches in spring 2013, only to be disappointed again.
Perhaps the true magic of Divine Divinity was its simplicity, or maybe it was the time and place in which I first played it. Either way, both of those are long gone. The feature list for the new title is extensive as compared to its oldest sibling, and I wouldn't want the summer of 2003 back even if I could get it.
Can Original Sin make me feel like I'm discovering a whole world all over again? I certainly hope so. And I plan to find out. Just maybe with my fingers crossed for luck, this time.