I think most of my comments about Divine Divinity‘s difficulty stemmed from how badly I arsed up the introduction — right down to being unable to access a giant tomb full of nice level 1 and 2 skeletons that would have been ripe for my fledgling Survivor. But no, I had to completely miss the manuscript on the floor with the instructions on how to get in and give up. I got in at level 24 and… Well, didn’t get much useful experience out of it.
More Divine DIvinity
The systems that underly Divinity‘s RPG mechanics are intense in their intricacy and sophistication. Alongside all the basic traditions — Strength increasing damage and carry capacity, Intelligence increasing mana and so on — there are many tangential asides, such as losing health reducing your Strength. Food can be consumed to restore health, but after a few items your character will start to emit floating text saying “I’m stuffed!” (I do enjoy the light-hearted dialogue and text) and refuse to eat any more.
The level of interactivity in the world is also serious, with mobile objects like barrels, chairs and chests all able to be fitted into your inventory (assuming you’ve got the muscles for it). But not only is most of the world mobile (oh yes, and kitchen pots count as helmets), a lot of it can be combined for effect — like dragging an empty tankard onto a cask of ale to get… A tankard full of ale. Subtle and mostly useless, but a nice detail. There’s even a hilarious side quest that illustrates this beautifully: a cook asks you to wash dishes, which requires emptying a bucket of water into a washing tub and then putting all the dirty plates in the tub. I was going to be outraged that a quest was just a lot of dragging and dropping, but I chuckled so it gets away with it.
The world is simultaneously giant and tiny. If you take a look at the teleporter map, it seems like you’re spread across quite a wide area; but actually playing the game, the relatively close-in perspective (well, I had to play at 800×600 because I couldn’t read the font used for books) and the character’s movement speed really eat up the distance. Even so, everything in the game world is rendered to perfect scale — buildings are seamlessly enterable, meaning that if you approach from the wrong direction you’ll have five minutes of running around the exterior to find the door (there are some large estates with needless garden fences and huge fenced fields with single entry points that accentuate this). Unfortunately, the lack of upper floors means that most buildings are unsightly sprawls that don’t have particularly coherent layouts.
Enemies don’t respawn, so once you’ve explored the countryside once that’s pretty much your whack. Luckily, a network of teleporters can be activated that offers instantaneous travel between key locations — you just have to find each teleporter first. There are also the teleport stones, which can be placed at your leisure, i.e. one next to a safe haven with a bed and one to be dropped at your current quest and then picked up again once you’ve finished selling all the bangin’ loot.
And then it all comes crashing down.
The great risk with any flexible, effectively classless skill system, is that you are free to build your character in the wrong way. You can only make locally optimal choices, at least on your first game — you can only guess at the challenges that await further down the line. On the whole, I did fine with this: I abandoned my dagger-driven ways and sunk loads of power into swords and enchanting so I could beef myself up to take on the universe, and did so with reasonable success. I ended up with a slew of resistances that made me mostly impervious to anything ghostly. With the liberal consumption of potions, things were going quite fine.
Then the final boss sequence began. You have to defeat all five baddies you’ve previously tanked, before you get to finish the deal with the big bad. Again, fair enough — until you get to bloody Josephina.
She casts spells; fair enough. But she casts a spell that stops you from being able to attack, and she casts it instantly and repeatedly and completely locks you down. As a fighter, without an attack I was useless. I had no area of effect abilities to cast while blind, and my summoned DreadKnight companion got locked down by the same spells. Complete impasse.
I was hoping to find some cheats on the interwebs, but none were forthcoming. I just found a number of horror stories about other people who also had trouble with this boss. The solutions presented all required my character to be… Well, not my character.
Without the lockdown, I could have endured the damaging spells and the summons and powered on through. It’s something I’m always extremely wary of in my projects — anything that removes capabilities and control from the player is to be used very sparingly, because as soon as you lose capabilities (at least, without being provided with any new alternatives) your previously balanced character becomes useless and you’ve just poured thirty hours of your life down the drain for closure that cannot be reached.
Overall, then, a solid experience tainted by difficulty spikes. The world does go on a bit for a game that has a rather unconvincing combat system — it is at its strongest when you’re in town, talking to people and doing reasonably local quests.
Recommended? I’m not sure, to be honest. It’s got seeds, germs of something more, but its conflicted soul results in an experience that ultimately can’t be called much more than “pleasant”. Either way, if you’re going to play it, read up on Josephina at least ten levels before you intend to hit her (for me, that would have been about level 32), and spoilers be damned.
But Divine Divinity is only one third of this collection, so there is much more to be done…