As with all serials, one must start at the beginning, lest spoilers and rewinding technology spell disaster. Divine Divinity may have one of the most redundant names this side of an actual comedy, but the back of the box suggests that PC Gamer put it in their “top 100 games of all time” list.
I’ve probably not played many more than a hundred games in my life, so I suspect it will be markedly easier to get that dubious honour from me.
Divine Divinity is an isometric top-down RPG from the cusp of the new millenium. The player leads a single character around the world and grows him or her by the performance of quests and the liberal murdering of bad guys (hell, or good guys; no discrimination here). Your character can be a Warrior, Mage or Survivor — I picked Survivor, the roguish half-way house that seems fitting for my temperament as an all-rounder. It turns out that you can learn skills from all paths anyway (I’ve seguéd quite considerably into the Warrior’s path, and accidentally got some Wizard path abilities by found spellbooks (oh sweet Life Leech, I’d be lost without you)), meaning the starting class only really affects one special skill and adjusts your base attributes by a negligible amount.
The game starts off fairly brutal. I spent ages trying to stockpile cash to get on my feet with some half decent equipment, but my kleptomania resulted in a spell in jail, which left me with a slightly unsavoury reputation that made it a little difficult to deal with some characters (but it is an RPG and we must live with our mistakes as much as our successes). It doesn’t help that the game also begins in a warzone — Orcs are on the border and behind the front lines (i.e. fucking everywhere), so you can’t move on from the starting town of Aleroth without getting set upon by hordes of the bastards. They’re bloody powerful for early-game enemies, so you just have to run.
I tried luring them into the barracks, but that just resulted in almost complete decimation of the army. At least it wasn’t just me that was too low level for that shit, I guess.
Having said that, the wildlife often posed an even worse challenge than the orcs at that stage. I was totally tanked by a single bee on far too many occasions, and it took until level 18 before I stopped running from snakes.
As far as fiction goes, Divinity is about as traditional as they come. Elves hate Dwarves, pretty much everyone hates Orcs. Bad guys ride dragons, wise old Wizard is trying to save the day but is too old for this. The game begins with you waking up all amnesiac-style in a Healer’s house and it quickly transpires that you are one of three chosen ones and are destined to save the world!
Like Baldur’s Gate, the world may be serious enough but there are still plenty of humorous edges hidden around in the dialogue trees and the quest logs. Unlike Baldur’s Gate, most conversations don’t last particularly long and the villains are from pantomime.
In terms of controls, it’s perched precariously somewhere between the Infinity Engine and a true hack ‘n’ slash. Character movement is controlled either by left-clicking on the ground or holding the left button down and leading the character around. Problems arise when the game misinterprets clicks, something it does extremely liberally; sometimes you’re trying to lead the character away, and it ends up walking him at a leisurely pace towards a patch of mushrooms or some other miscellaneous decoration. Combat is also confused: targets must be explicitly selected, which is fair enough, but when in a group of enemies pounding at you, once the target has been killed you will stand there like a lemon until another target is assigned. It gets a bit troublesome when your mouse is otherwise occupied drinking potions, and it’s even worse when those bloody mummies cast a spell that makes you just stop.
Either I need to click for every swing and I’m totally involved, or I get to sit back and play strategist. Maybe the two elements could mesh, but I don’t think this particular melding works.
The game offers a real-time-with-pause system, which adds to the confusion. When you’re paused, performing any action like drinking a potion or swapping weapons will immediately unpause the game again. Misclicks can open you up to another devastating blow from an enemy that you weren’t expecting; better that the system queued up your one action and let you unpause at your own time (hell, maybe let you queue up several actions, but then we’re just making Baldur’s Gate again. Baldur’s Gate Baldur’s Gate Baldur’s Gate Baldur’s Gate).
Musically, it’s a pleasant combination of Age of Empires II and Unreal, favouring faux-ethnic instruments and tribal beats as often as tambourines and ethereal synths.
Sound-wise, well it’s nothing to write home about. Voice acting is fairly variable, with some lines being delivered with gusto and others being drawled out as if they’ve never been read before. The use of voice acting is also patchy; it doesn’t seem to focus on only main quest dialogue or anything logical like that, but pops up pretty much randomly around the place.
So my initial thoughts are ones of confusion. It’s a bit like making action RPGs in Warcraft III, actually — you’ve got that top-down strategy view where you issue orders and then sit back, except here you don’t have unit AI to take care of assigning targets for combat. And that seemingly minor detail kind of breaks it.
Having said all of the above, however, the game is huge and there is much more to discuss…