I’m fighting a losing battle. Again. One of the last steps between me and freedom from a magical prison island, a weird flesh-obsessed magister named Kniles the Flenser, has me woefully outgunned. Divinity: Original Sin 2's combat ruthlessly punishes the unprepared, and I basically went into the game blind.
After 15 hours of play, I realize that I’m probably gonna have to restart, so I can build a better main character and a more cohesive party.
Warning: slight Divinity: Original Sin 2 spoilers ahead.
It’s at this point in the battle that Kniles, a man who carries himself with a gentle grace that belies his limb-flaying menace, slips on a patch of ice produced by one of his lackeys and lands on his ass with a loud thud. I laugh out loud, but then I get to thinking. I may not be able to beat Kniles, who handily outranks all other (K)Niles, including the one from Frasier, on a power chart. But I can embarrass the crap out of him.
I have my enchanter, Lohse, start conjuring up rainstorms. Then I take advantage of the freshly-damp terrain with her blizzard ability, damaging clustered enemies and turning patches of nearby ground to ice. Just for funsies, I also have my geomancer, an eight-foot-tall lizard man named The Red Prince, toss a few puddles of poison into the mix. The end result? Kniles and two of his servants keep tripping over themselves, right into bubbly morasses of green goop. I manage to slay a servant, so now they’re also doing their slapstick comedy routine on top of a corpse. It’s a shitshow of the highest order. I can’t stop laughing.
As this unfolds, I know that my strategy isn’t reliable or sustainable, since enemies don’t slip on ice all that often, and that my doom is still inevitable due to my party’s general squishiness and glaring lack of a dedicated healer. Kniles has beaten me multiple times by this point, and I’ve basically had to cheese my way through other battles, making it out by the skin of my teeth.
It’s a big bummer, because I love my main character’s class in concept. He’s a metamorph, which basically means he can turn his limbs into animal parts. Is an enemy or object far away? Tentacle whip it! Wanna close the distance? Sprout bull horns and charge. And while Original Sin 2 lets you branch out of your start class, leveling up is a slow process, and I’m hitting a wall. While turning my valiant last stand into an episode of The Three Face-Mutilating Stooges, though, I have another realization: I don’t mind that I’m likely headed for a full do-over. In fact, I’m kind of excited.
Something you should know about me: I hate repeating myself. It’s a massive pet peeve. I get pissed off if I have to repeat more than a few seconds of a game, let alone 15 hours. So far, though, Divinity: Original Sin 2 has shown itself to be a game so brimming with creative combat options, multiple paths through missions (up to and including cheesing them with abilities like teleportation), and surprises in general that I don’t think I will be repeating myself all that much. Mainly, I’m just looking forward to testing the limits.
For example, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even need to fight Kniles. I counted four or five potential ways to solve the main story problem of getting off the magical prison island that forms the game’s first major area, which ran the gamut from slaughtering everybody to sneaking to elaborate teleportation schemes. But taking down Kniles was, for me, a matter more important than life or death; it was a matter of role-play.
One of Original Sin 2's big new features is the addition of pre-fabricated characters with elaborate backstories and special dialogue options born of a “tag” system that gives you traits like “scholar,” “mystic,” and “undead.” The last one has been especially pertinent to my playthrough thus far, because I decided to pick Fane, an undead human who basically just woke up from a centuries-long nap, as my character.
Fane was written by Planescape Torment’s Chris Avellone, which means he comes with all manner of fun twists like the fact that everybody hates him. In Divinity’s world, everybody’s racist against everybody else, but all the races equally despise the undead, forcing them to hide their faces when they’re out in public. They do this not by wearing masks, but by stealing living people’s faces.
During the game’s intro, Fane’s face-swiping gizmo got busted, so I needed to procure a new one. Kniles was my main lead, given that he’s a maniacal flesh “scientist.” Honestly, though, it wasn’t even all that pressing of a matter. Most of the time, people didn’t notice what I was as long as I kept a baggy hood over my head. The aforementioned tag system, though, does a nice job of facilitating role-playing—really letting you embody a character’s personality in dialogues—so by this point I was very into doing things The Way Fane Would Do Them. Fane, in my game, isn’t truly evil. He just doesn’t fully understand why human/elf/dwarf/lizard person culture works the way it does, and death doesn’t really faze him because, well, he hasn’t been alive for quite some time. Don’t get him wrong, though: he bears the living no ill will. He just wants to tear off people’s faces, wear them as his own, and gain their abilities in the process so that he can go about his business without people freaking out at him all the dang time.
Those are some of the bigger things I’ve really been enjoying about Divinity: Original Sin 2. Here are some smaller ones:
- The original Divinity: Original Sin’s “pet pal” talent is back, and it’s better than ever. So far I’ve helped an extremely good boy find his lost love, been talked down to by a crab who’s a beach crab who’s an evil more powerful magic user than me, and met a black cat that just follows me around now. Is that last thing an ill omen? Probably. But will I lose my whole entire shit if anybody ever so much as lays a hand on it? Abso-fucking-lutely.
- When people join your party, you get to pick their classes on the spot! It’s a godsend. Sure, it’s looking like I didn’t make the best picks (do your research first, folks), but I 100 percent believe every RPG should add this feature.
- Put oil on ground. Light oil on fire. Teleport bad guy into fire. Repeat.
- The pre-fab characters you can choose between for your main character become your party members. Some of them, like Lohse, who’s hilarious yet unpredictable due to the dark spirit that’s taken up residence at the spirit inn in her head, work better as party members than playable characters, in my opinion. Again, though, Original Sin 2 is all about flexibility. Wanna play as Lohse? Go for it. Wanna have her travel with you? Then do that. Wanna leave her to die on a sinking ship at the start of the game and rely on “lone wolf” perks to quest alone? That’s also possible!
- So far, Original Sin 2's writing seems much improved over the first Original Sin’s. It does a nice job of balancing grimness—for example, elves can eat dead people to relive their final moments, which leads to some wild stories—with campy silliness, like that talking crab that might be the most powerful being in the world I mentioned earlier.
- The good writing extends to your party members, too. Things are rarely hunky dory between all of them. Case in point: The Red Prince’s goal is to track down mystics known as Dreamers so he can have some grand revelation about his future empire. When we found one, my elvish assassin Sebille stepped forward, saying she wished to have a quick word with the Dreamer. “OK,” I said. “Sure.” She proceeded to grab him by the throat and carve his guts out. The Red Prince didn’t love it! I’m beginning to worry that one of them is gonna haul off and kill the other before things are all said and done.
- There’s this one (totally optional) moment where a guard tells you to stand still, and you can choose to start inching toward him, never breaking eye contact. He gets so mad! It’s adorable.
- You can encounter a woman on a beach just staring out into the ocean, mourning her lost husband and son. If you want, you can basically dismiss her and be on your merry way, but you can also sit and let her reminisce. By the end of it, she’s nearly weeping in gratitude. It’s just a really sweet moment.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m having a blast with Divinity: Original Sin 2. It combines a fun, well-written setting with combat and systems design that puts other classic-style isometric RPGs to shame. It can be frustratingly unforgiving, as I learned by accidentally rolling a party that renders my main character useless, but where possible, it does its best to reward failure instead of punish it. If it was pretty much any other game, I’d have written this post with my teeth gritted and my fists balled (which makes it tough to type, but I manage). Original Sin 2, though, just has me itching to play more, even if that means starting over.
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