I’ve been playing tabletop RPG Dungeons & Dragons (5th edition) regularly for a couple of years now, with a small group of close friends. We started with one of our number running a big long campaign, then when we got to level 20 (and after I’d finally cajoled him into letting us fight the Tarrasque), the next started his big campaign. About half-way through the first, we took a small break to play the published adventure Dragonheist. During this second campaign it… fell to me to provide the interlude adventure.
Picture the scene: a man who has dedicated his life to spending years meticulously crafting scenarios hosting an infinitely-responsive adventure with only a week between sessions for planning.
It doesn’t take much more than proclaiming yourself to be like Baldur’s Gate to get me interested. It’s a type of RPG that’s been underserved in the last decade or so, with occasional delights like Drakensang and Dragon Age: Origins mostly edged out by 1st- and 3rd-person action RPGs, which are fine but scratch a different itch. Sometimes you just want to command a small party of fun people in real-time with occasional pauses.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker proclaimed that it would serve this niche, but also isn’t from the 90s, so I decided it was worth a look.
When the Freedom Slips Away is almost half as old as me — I finished it in 2006, making it 14. I was 16. I was still in school!
Time makes fools of us all, and much as I don’t like what Blizzard have done with Warcraft III: Reforged, I have to concede that it is now the “official” way to play maps and, since I’m still alive enough to deal with the situation, I feel compelled to do what I can to keep my seminal works in good order.
So I give to you: When the Freedom Slips Away Gold, a huge raft of bug fixes, a few compatibility tweaks, and some Known Issues that I can’t touch.
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.