On the Late to the Party scale, I have to concede that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic has been a major blind spot for me. After all, I love Star Wars (before Disney got their claws into it, at least), and if you mention Star Wars and videogames in the same sentence then KoTOR inevitably comes up (probably just after I’ve thrown Jedi Knight II into the ring myself).
This one is going to be controversial, because this map is not a dedicated singleplayer map: it’s co-op, for up to 7 players (odd number, but who am I to complain?). However, it can be played quite happily alone, and I do, with potentially shocking regularity. Why? Because it’s procedurally generated, that’s why! Every play-through is different!
So while this does not strictly qualify for the SPRPG Diaries by being a dedicated singleplayer map, it is a map that’s stayed with me and that occupies much more of my brain than it should. I think, therefore, it deserves some attention and discussion.
Larian have the most beautifully predictable development cycle. They release a game, it’s huge but a bit shaky around the edges, and one year-ish later they release a final edition that’s got a huge pile of fixes and extras. At this point you wonder why anybody even bothers with the first version, but then again, I suppose they only find out what needs fixed or boosted after millions of players have hacked at it for a bit.
So here we are again, with Divinity: Original Sin 2: DefinitiveEdition. Point one: it is kind of actually a sequel to Divinity II rather than Original Sin (which was a prequel to everything). Point two: why isn’t it called the DivinityveEdition?
Divinity: Original Sin 2
Having played through every Divinity title from the beginning, it’s been fascinating to see them meld a fairly basic trad-fantasy setting into something altogether more vibrant over the course of each game. From lizards being just another type of enemy lurking in the sewers to them being the haughty owners of a vast empire, with elves that eat the flesh of other creatures to read their memories; from “Source” being a random healing fountain in a small town to a lynchpin of the cosmos…
The best narratives are the ones that lean on their settings, where the mythology and the politics of a land are an important element of the story rather than mere set dressing. Divinty: Original Sin 2 has this in spades. The Seven gods are important, the magic powers you wield are important, and there are twists and turns abounding as they unwind how all these things fit together. My memory of the original Divinity is a little hazy at this point so there might be more than a touch of the retcon flying around, but overall it’s a fascinating extrapolation of all the madness that has come before.
However, while the main plotline of D:OS2 is excellent and full of interesting twists and turns, it does seem to get lost in the minutiae of everything else. The game unfortunately has the same structural flaws as its predecessor that makes working through the it a choppy affair.
Divinity: Original Sin was a confused game in that it acted like an open-world game, where you could choose to “go anywhere” and “do anything” in “any order”, but it was functionally a linear game. Although landscapes opened wide for you, the combat encounters awaiting you were arranged along a golden path — one that was obscured to the player but rewarded you with impossible fights if you strayed off it.
This is most keenly felt again in the second act of Original Sin 2, the town of Driftwood and its surrounding environs. It’s a huge area, huge and dense, with quests sparking off in all directions — perhaps too many directions. Problems arise when you want to follow a particular quest but run up against an encounter beyond your pay grade and have to divert to another; and then you find that other line is also too high for you.
The thing about Driftwood is that over its course you go from about level 6 to 16. That’s a huge mechanical gulf, and as you get to the upper reaches of that range it takes even longer to get enough experience to trip over the next line. That means if you’re level 14 and see some level 16 enemies, you might be another four hours or more of gameplay away from being reasonably able to tackle them. Soon you’ve forgotten who was doing what to whom because it’s so difficult to keep following a single thread.
I think they would have been well to split this second act in half, which would ensure the open world exploration was more constrained, such that seeing somebody slightly too tough would be a source of excitement to be anticipated Soon rather than something to be forgotten about for a week.
Combat has also had a tune-up that I’m in two minds about. Traditionally enemies have a single hit point bar to whittle down, but this time there are two additional armour bars added into the mix — one that resists only physical attacks, and one that resists only magical attacks.
In theory, this is an interesting system. It means you need to choose where to send your party members to make most efficient use of their skills. Warriors go up against enemies with light physical armour, where their basic sword strikes can ignore the magical resistances and get to the underlying vitality, while the mages unload on the heavily physically armoured foes who have weaker spell resistances. It means you can’t just whale on a single enemy at a time, but need to shuffle around a lot more.
In practice, though, there’s a spanner in the works, because while a character has a shred of either physical or magical armour, they will shrug off the status effects that come with your special attacks. Physical armour stops enemies from things like being knocked down, magical armour stops them from going on fire or acquiring any number of handy status effects.
Since every encounter starts with everyone at maximum in all meters, it means there’s a strangely dead period for the first few turns where it’s almost pointless to use any special skills — because while they will do damage as normal, the special effects that allow you to control a fight rather than just participate in it won’t take hold. You can make it rain and then electrocute the puddles all you want, but nobody will get stunned until you’re half-way through the encounter. Your best bet is to concentrate on damage until you’ve flensed those armour meters away, at which point the raw vitality bars seem awfully small and it’s all over.
Needless to say, there are ways to replenish physical and magical armour during combat, once again disabling those special status effects and thereby drawing out fights into long, hard slogs. Which is especially irksome when you’re on the cusp of the fight being a bit too difficult, and it’s more than half-way through before you realise just how out-classed you are right now.
Even worse, when enemies cast spells their status effects seem to ignore your team’s armour more often than not. So while you can’t get a foothold on them, they tend to be able to lock you down much sooner, fostering feelings of frustration and unfairness rather than meaty challenge.
So it is a bit of a mixed bag. You can rely on Larian to produce fantastic writing, swinging between delightful whimsy and po-faced heroism and everything in between; of that, there is no doubt. But the pacing spoils it and the triple-layered health meters sound good on paper but in my experience they only served to draw out fights rather than to make them more interesting.
Overall, I did have a lot of fun, but I can’t escape the feeling that I paid a heavier price than I was hoping for it. If Larian can just drop those open world pretences for the next one…
You know that thing where gog.com offers you a DRM-free version of a thing for literal pocket change, and it includes all the DLC you never had the first time? Yeah?
Well, I hadn’t played Dragon Age: Origins for a few years and I was kind of in the mood so, £3.49 later, here we are. In playing it, I’ve remembered just how… well, broad it is. In order to manage your party of companions effectively there are a lot of decisions to be made about how to equip them, and though in the right doses that’s quite fun I feel that maybe Dragon Age has gone a bit overboard…
Drakensang is a lost gem. Back when the world was lamenting the lack of Baldur’s Gate-a-likes, Drakensang slipped out without much fanfare; I picked it up on a whim seeing it on the shelf in Game (remember when Game had PC shelves? Good times). Based on The Dark Eye system rather than Dungeons & Dragons, it nevertheless promotes the same ideals: a player-created character leads a tight-knit strike team as they vanquish evil in real-time-with-pause combat based on a tabletop system.
I like equipment in games. There’s a thrill to finding a new, better sword, that looks cooler and does more damage. But it seems to me that more and more games are somehow getting equipment… wrong. Everything seems to have less value, everything seems more disposable. There’s no thrill anymore, just a treadmill of incremental but almost invisible advances.
It’s amazing what you can do with only global state and one-dimensional arrays, when you really put your mind to it. What was supposed to be a quick fart in the general direction of a Warcraft project has grown into something quite incredible.
Well, incredible on the technical side. The game itself is no more or no less than a streamlined version of my standard WC3 RPG formula. You may or may not want this.
Ahh, the darling of Kickstarter. I didn’t back Divinity: Original Sin, because while I’ve enjoyed many previous Divinity titles I’m also extremely risk-averse and scared of new approaches to life.
I mean, what if they made a game I didn’t like? Or worse: what if it would have been my input that made it bad? Artists, I think, are best left to their own devices, and as a consumer I feel better making an informed purchase (or not) of a finished work. Crowd-funding might be an excellent way to gather cash up-front for things that seem too risky to a giant publisher (even though there is actually a huge audience hiding under the quilt), but I’m not sure that crowds are entirely trustworthy in some other matters.
Either way, the game got funded and got made without my intervention. Did the crowd impart its wisdom or did Larian make a belter despite its howling? Does the presence or absence of crowd intervention even matter?