Today on Kotaku Splitscreen we’re talking to the director of Divinity: Original Sin 2, one of the best role-playing games we’ve ever played.
First, Kirk and I talk about Nintendo Labo and The Leftovers before getting into the news of the week (18:37) on Counter-Strike’s co-creator getting charged with commercial sexual abuse of a minor, a Subnautica developer losing his job, and the controversy over Toad’s head. Then we talk to Swen Vincke, CEO of Larian Studios and director of D:OS2 (36:53), about staying independent, developing RPGs without filler, and much more. Finally, Kirk and I reconvene to talk Rise of the Tomb Raider and Monster Hunter: World (1:07:17).
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Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below:
Jason: What makes [Divinity: Original Sin 2] feel so special to me, and why I think it’s one of the greatest RPGs I’ve ever played, is that it feels like there’s no filler. Every single time you do anything, you’re always either making an interesting decision, fighting an interesting battle, making choices that have consequences. I didn’t even think it was possible to make a game that was 100 hours long with no filler—was that something you had in mind as you were going? I apologize, I haven’t played any other Larian games, but is that a pillar for you guys?
Swen: Yeah. In our history, we sometimes had to rush games to ship them. That’s where filler comes from, essentially. We try to avoid it. We hate it ourselves, and I think if you see us moving forward, you’ll see less and less filler. Production’s a reality, so sometimes you have to cut corners, but we always feel very unhappy about the corners we cut.
Jason: So what’s an example of a corner you had to cut on Divinity: Original Sin 2?
Swen: *laughs* There are some combats that I think we could’ve done more extensively. You don’t know the narratives we cut, but we did cut quite a few of them. Sometimes if you’re unlucky you might fall in that particular pathway, and you feel it, and you say, ‘Ah this is not as cool as what I expected there to be.’ That always hurts, but on the whole, there’s really a lot of stuff to be enjoyed when you play D:OS2.
Kirk: I’m curious about something related to filler but a little different, and that’s the notion of grind in an RPG. There’s really no grind in Divinity: Original Sin 2. One of the things that strikes me as very interesting about the game is, there are areas where you can go and areas you can’t. There’s a really steep differential between each level. If I’m level 12 and I’m fighting a level 13 enemy, they’re gonna really kick my ass, where if I’m level 13 fighting a level 12 enemy, I’m gonna have a significant advantage. There’s really no point at which you can say, ‘Man I really wish I was level 13, I’m gonna go to the Cliffs of Noor and kill 5,000 drakes’ or whatever, and level up. You just can’t do that in this game. What’s your thinking behind that from a game design perspective?
Swen: So first of all, kicking your ass is important for you to feel important when you manage to kick their ass. This is one of the basic tenets of our design. It’s always possible to deal with enemies that are higher level than you, but you have to start exploiting the system. When you do that, you feel really good about yourself.
Kirk: It can be really fun.
Swen: Exactly. For that reason, we actually make the differential so high, and some people hate it, right? But it’s a conscious choice we put in the game. It has a downside—if you missed something, you might feel like you’re stuck. So that’s something we’re fighting with. But on the whole, I think people who play Original Sin 2, they get challenged, and when they overcome the challenge they feel like, ‘OK, I achieved something, and this was really rewarding. Because now I get rewarded for all the potential frustration I had to overcome to get there.’
Kirk: I do yell at this game a lot, but I really like that feeling—I’m sitting here thinking just as an enemy beats me over the head and I get mad at it, but there’s that feeling like you’re a genius.
Swen: Often you are a genius. Because we see things that people come up with—that’s fantastic, the way they’re doing that. This is also why there’s no grind, because each combat is designed as a tactical puzzle you have to solve. If you have combats that are as challenging as they are in Original Sin 2, then when you go from combat to combat it has to be different. So that’s a very big focus in design also, to make sure that you never have the same combat experience. Because otherwise you wouldn’t do it—you wouldn’t do it three times, if you have to spend 20 minutes in combat, maybe an hour if you get your ass kicked, then you don’t want to do that.
Listen to the full show for much, much more. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.