Divinity: Original Sin is a really cool game, but it's not all that interested in holding your hand. It can be complicated and challenging, and some early difficulty spikes may leave new players feeling a bit burned. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make your first hours in the game go much more smoothly.
When finished version of the game hit Steam last week, I spent eight or so hours working through the opening act before I realised that I'd gotten it all wrong:
In this game, you won't gain levels all that often, and you'll have to be very smart about which talents you choose and which abilities you improve. For too long I have been spoiled by the constant stat-boosts and speedy levelling of modern RPGs, and I was unprepared for how parsimonious Original Sin is with XP.
Before long I had two characters with disadvantaged specialisations and redundant abilities, and every battle was tooth-and-nail. Eventually I said screw it, started a new game with new characters, and got everything right. Well, right-ER.
Don't be like me! I'm here to help you out so that you can get it right from the start. A few notes up front:
- These are starter tips, which means that they're intended to make the opening hours of the game easier. I don't have the know-how to advise you on the best min-maxed character build, or give tips on how to beat late-game bosses.
- The game keeps changing. Larian has been issuing updates to Divinity: Original Sin almost daily, and small things keep changing. This post is current as of this writing, but some things about the game could change, and some of these tips could change as well.
- These are tips for single-player. You can play Divinity: Original Sin in co-op (and it's super cool!) but most of my time with the game has been spent solo. I decided that in the interest of keeping the article focused, I'd stick with offering tips for the type of game I've got the most experience with. That said, a lot of these tips are valid for both single- and multiplayer games.
- Discovery is part of this game's appeal. If you want to skip this tips post and figure stuff out for yourself, that's totally cool -- Original Sin is basically a big fantasy chemistry set, and experimentation is a lot of the appeal. That said, some of the mysteries in the game are simply things that aren't explained in the tutorials or are left out of the help menus. Most of these tips are designed to keep you from wasting time without knowing how to do things more efficiently, or from making bad decisions you didn't even realise you were making.
Ready? OK. Let's get source hunting:
Build your characters wisely.
As with most RPGs, character creation involves the first crucial decisions you have to make. Divinity: Original Sin is both old-school and new-school in how it approaches character builds. You start by choosing from preset classes like "Wizard" and "Ranger," but those are actually just suggestions that in no way restrict the abilities and skills you can have. Therefore, it's a good idea to pick a "class" as a template and then slightly re-spec it to be as potent as possible. You then chose which stats (Str, Dex, Int, etc.) to upgrade, which abilities (bows, magic schools, sneaking) to invest in and which talents (persistent traits like perks in Fallout) to assign.
Here are some incomplete but hopefully helpful basic tips for character building:
- Make your heroes complement one another.
I'm playing with two characters named Sabetha and Locke. She's an elemental wizard who speaks for the group and does trade; he's a sneaky bowman who can craft and repair items. Those are the two roles that I've found to be pretty useful, but the important thing is that you not assign the same abilities to both main characters.
- Plan in accordance with your primary party.
It's worth keeping your primary starting party in mind when building your main characters. In the first town, you'll be joined by a fighter/damage-dealer/tank named Madora and a water/air mage named Jahan. So, it's a good idea to bear in mind that those abilities -- up close two-handed fighting and water/air magic -- will be covered for you.
- Make one character an elemental wizard.
I don't want to straight-up tell you what to do, but it's pret-ty advantageous to have one character with at least one point in the four main magical food groups: Aerotheurge (air/electricity), Geomancer (earth/poison/protection), Hydrosophist (water/ice) and Pyrokinetic (fire). It's worth bearing in mind that the primary magic-user NPC who joins your party specialises in air and water, and also that fire and earth work well together, so if you want to get more specific, it's smart to plan a focus in those latter two abilities. But to start with, if you have one point in all four, you can learn any spell, it will just cost more action points to cast some of them. That's useful in case you specialize in fire but find yourself fighting demons who are immune to fire -- you don't wanna only have fireballs!
A side note about mages: It appears as though the two-handed talent isn't really all that useful for a mage. It mostly dictates how much damage you do when you attack with your staff, though I believe (?) it also has an affect on the Staff of Magus skill. It's not a big waste to put a point in two-handed, but Mages rely on elemental spells to do most of their damage, so that point could certainly be spent elsewhere.
- Pick two primary stats to improve.
For my mage, I focused on Intelligence first, then speed. For my ranger, dexterity first, then perception. You'll want someone with a high perception to spot traps and hidden treasure, and speed helps your damage move more quickly and efficiently in turn-based combat. Either way, I'd advise against doling out points to 3-4 different stats -- pick one primary trait and one secondary one, and focus on those. For primary traits, choose the ones that restrict your equipment, since that's the game's way of telling you they're your primary stat: Melee Fighters = Strength, Rangers/Scoundrels = Dexterity, Magic Users = Intelligence.
- Put a point in "Loremaster."
Make one character, probably your crafter/blacksmith, also be your loremaster. Give them a single point to start with, since it's good to have at the start for identifying items. You'll find magical items pretty early on that give a boost in the loremaster ability, so you can keep that item around to use only for identifying higher level items. Some people say to skip loremaster entirely, but I was glad for the single point in the early goings.
- Choose your talents wisely.
For Sabetha (my mage), I chose the Know-it-All talent and the "Pet Pal" talent. For Locke (my bowman/thief/craftmaster), I chose Arrow Recovery and Scientist. Some talents are more useful than others, but those seemed like good starting options, especially to start with. You'll gain a third talent at level three -- more on which one to choose in a bit.
- Pick good names.
Your characters will talk a lot in Divinity: Original Sin, often with one another. Pick two names that you enjoy reading together, characters you'd like to imagine hanging out and talking. I've made my game into one big piece of non-canon Gentlemen Bastards fanfic, and have yet to get sick of watching Locke and Sabetha chat and bicker. Go with whatever works for you.
OK! Your characters will be created and you should be ready to get underway. Let's move on to more general tips.
Always bring a shovel.
One of the most important items in the early game is a shovel. It can be a bit tricky to find one at vendors, but there's actually one laying on the beach in plain sight, right near where the first battle with the Orcs goes down, in front of the waypoint portal:
Going by that screenshot, it's also floating above the ground, I guess. Pick it up and give it to whichever of your characters is normally in the lead. That way you can dig up everything you see, which will lead to all manner of hidden loot and even some quests.
Talk to the animals.
The "Pet Pal" talent is a highly valuable one, and worth spending the point to give it to one (but just one!) of your characters at the start. You can then speak with every animal in the game, and many of them will offer you helpful information or even unlock new quests. At the very least, the animals are all pretty funny.
First up, get your party together.
The first thing you'll want to do upon arriving in Cyseal is gather your party. You'll find the fighter Madora at the King Crab Inn, and Jahan is upstairs in the library above Town Hall. Agree to let them join your party, since four characters are generally better than two. (You could've opted from the start to give either of your protagonists the "lone wolf" talent, which precludes travelling with a companion, but I like playing with a full party, so that's what I've been doing.)
Follow the story to the murder scene.
One of the neat things about Original Sin is that you can do things in whatever order, in whatever way you please. That said, I'd advise following the flow of the story at least until you investigate the murder scene. Gather up your party, go talk to Aureus at Legion HQ, get permission to enter, then enter the room. Some plot stuff goes down there that can actually happen elsewhere -- the first time I played through, I got a big dose of plot while investigating a completely different room. That's still a perfectly valid way to do things, but things will probably make more sense if you stick to the plan at least up until you've investigated the murder scene.
Stay in town until level 3.
If you venture out of town at level 2, you're probably going to get your arse kicked. Instead, stay in town and explore -- you can easily gain a level without leaving the city walls. Dig up all the graves in the town graveyard -- well, except the one that lady is crying over -- which should lead to a few doable fights and give your party XP. One grave leads down to a mini-dungeon under the city, which contains another couple of fights that are tough but winnable. Take on a few quests that don't involve combat or leaving the city, and complete them. In no time you'll be level three, which means…
At level three, take the "All Skilled Up" talent.
All Skilled Up is a little bit similar to the "Gifted" perk in Fallout, in that it gives you a helpful boost at the outset and makes your characters stronger at a crucial time. If you take it at level three and didn't spend your level 2 ability point, you'll have four additional ability points to disperse on top of the points you started out with. While you're doing that, one thing to bear in mind…
Save your ability points to attain higher levels.
My first time through, I didn't understand how ability levelling worked. I had level 1 in something and when I got a new ability point, I was unable to raise it to 2. I assumed that in time the upgrade would unlock, and in the meantime put the point elsewhere. That was a mistake. In fact, to buy a higher level you'll have to save up and use more ability points. For example, to take a skill from 1 to 2, you'll need to spend 2 ability points. It's something that the game doesn't explain very well, but understanding it is vital if you're going to create a focused character.
At level three, go west.
Enemies in Divinity: Original Sin don't scale with your characters, meaning that it's possible to wander into a fight that you simply can't win. None of the battles are easy, but generally speaking, the fights to the west of Cyseal are more manageable for low-level characters than the fights to the north or east. In my experience, the north area is next-easiest, and the east is the toughest. You'll probably want to clear all three areas before you'll be powerful enough to try crossing the lava to go north, though.
Experiment to learn new crafting recipes.
You can craft a lot of basic items without reading a recipe book first. Hold on to any crafting ingredients you find and send them to your crafter, then experiment with going into that character's inventory, picking up one object and putting it on the tile occupied by another object. If you can craft something, the game will tell you. Some combinations are obvious (Arrowhead + Arrow Shaft = Arrow), some much less so.
A few things that are good to know how to make:
- Small Health Potion = Empty Potion Bottle + Drudanae plant
- Large Health Potion = 2 Small Health Potions
- Lockpick = Needle + Needle OR Hammer + Nine Inch Nails OR Soap + any Key (Ha)
- Storage Bag = Leather Scraps + Rope
- Barrel + Arrowhead = Arrowhead matching the barrel-type. (To do this, you may have to have a strong character pick up the barrel, then transfer it into the inventory of your crafter, which defies the laws of physics but obeys the stranger/better laws of video games.)
There's a very useful thread at the Larian forums with a whole ton of other crafting recipes, but remember: It can be fun to figure some of this stuff out on your own.
Lockpicks aren't all that great.
Speaking of lockpicks, sometimes you'll need to pick a lock while sneaking, but for the most part, you'll have enough privacy to just break doors down and crack chests open with no negative repercussions. Have your damage dealer mage or any character with a weapon that doesn't degrade (they're out there) and wail away until the door breaks down. That way, you can get into areas with locks that are too high-level for your thief.
Become an art thief.
This is a CRPG, which means that you can steal everything that isn't nailed down, should you decide to. It's actually really, really easy (too easy?) to make tons of money by stealing -- stealing is the best source of initial funds. Paintings are the easiest, since they're hanging in almost every building in Cyseal and are worth a bunch of money at vendors.
To steal art while people are in the room, you have two options: You can either have one character go up and talk to them while the other breaks off and steals the painting, or you can sneak while their back is turned and grab it in one go. Distracting with conversation only works for a single move, however, so you won't be able to both open a chest and grab something from it. Whatever you steal will have to be laying out.
Remember that every character is a merchant.
Bartering in Original Sin is a bit different from most RPGs: You can click the red diamond in just about any character's dialogue box to bring up a trading window. That's a shift from most RPGs where you'll have a "Show me your wares" dialogue option for designated vendors.
It's worth going through Cyseal and talking to everyone to get a sense of who sells what. There's at least one vendor for pretty much every major type of skillbook, and a few people with good weapons and a bunch of cash. All of them appear to have an endless thirst for paintings, which works out well for everyone. Also, the barter window gives a sense of what the person is carrying, should you decide to do some pickpocketing.
Treasure maps are worth it.
You can buy treasure maps from the artist in the middle of the Cyseal market, and his maps are worth picking up. They will lead to buried chests that always contain loot worth more than the cost of the map, and they're usually located in places that are easy to access. Of course, you could just save, buy the map, grok the location, then reload, go to the area, and trust your perception stat to find the chest. But what kind of terrible person would do that?
(I actually really don't do that, I feel as though I've stolen enough that I should probably give something back to the Cyseal economy.)
Always go down to the basement.
When you're in a building, it can be easy to forget to head down and explore the basement, which is usually accessible by a trap door or a set of stairs. (Sometimes the trap door is hidden under something.) It's always worth heading down to the basement, as every basement has at least a few useful items and weapons.
You can abuse the random loot system.
Loot in Original Sin is randomised, which means that if you're feeling like exploiting the game, you can quicksave in front of an unopened chest, open it, then quickload if you don't like what you get. Each time you load, there'll be different stuff in the chest. Kinda takes some of the fun out of gathering equipment, but it does work.
Join the Fabulous Five.
These guys seem like creeps and/or liars, and when the guy outside the inn asked me to join on my first playthrough I elected to tell him to piss off. As a result, I was closed off from the Fabulous Five quest. The second time through, I decided to join them. As it turns out, it's not really a huge deal either way, but if you join them you'll get to complete one more quest, which will give you a few thousand XP to do something you would have done anyway. It's definitely worth joining up.
Make sure your crafting/lore person has the right tools.
Get the right tools for your crafter/loremaster ASAP. They will need:
- A repair hammer
- A regular hammer
- An identifying glass
- A trap disarm toolkit (not as vital, but useful).
- Plenty of empty potion bottles, blank scroll paper, arrow heads, and arrow shaft.
Keep your weapons in good shape.
It's easy to forget to keep your weapons repaired. It's also a nuisance to do it, unequipping swords and sending them to the crafting character, then sending them back, then re-equipping them. It is, unfortunately, totally worth doing, since you definitely don't want a sword to break in battle. Also worth noting: For some reason, bows deteriorate faster than most other weapons, so keep an eye on your archer's equipment most of all.
Don't forget that you can teleport from anywhere.
Early in the story you get the ability to fast-travel. Any time out of combat, you can hit this button:
...and teleport to any discovered waypoint portals. Don't waste time walking back through areas you've already explored and cleared out; it's much faster just to teleport.
Enjoy these two helpful keyboard shortcuts.
1. To access a character's inventory in a standalone window, right-click on their portrait on the left-hand side of the screen. You can do that for multiple characters and multiple windows will open. It's much faster than cycling through inventories using the arrows at the top of the page.
2. If you have stacked items in your inventory, you can unstack them by shift-click dragging them to a new tile, then selecting how many you want to split off.
Your bags have more space than you think.
The amount of stuff your characters can carry is only limited by your maximum carry weight. It is not, thankfully, limited by the number of squares in your inventory. If you fill your main inventory or any of your bags down to the bottom line, a scroll-bar will appear on the right, meaning you can roll down to a new, empty row. Keep putting things in that row and you'll get more and more space. It took me a long time to realise this was the case, which then made it much easier to keep all my ingredients and scrolls organised in bags.
Avoid traps by walking single-file.
I love the fact that you can change your party's formation as you explore. Sometimes the three party members you're not controlling can be a bit nutty, and will make your heart skip a beat by floundering around behind you, inches from an armed trap. If you have to thread your way through some poison puddles or carefully sidestep a bomb, be sure to use the formation button above your character portraits, which by default looks like four dots arranged in a square.
Combat is difficult. Expect to get hosed.
I have gotten my arse kicked in so many ways at Divinity combat that I'm pretty well-versed in how to lose. So, my first combat tip is: It will happen. You will lose. It's ok. The main reason it's ok is because…
Just because you lost once doesn't mean you'll lose again.
Original Sin is a stat-based game, and it's wildly unpredictable. Enemy AI will sometimes tend to stick with the same patterns as you fight, but they will also significantly change up their approach from fight to fight. Furthermore, elemental damage can be such a game-changer that a single spell or scroll can turn a tense matchup into a rout. If you get your arse handed to you, reload and try again with slightly different tactics. It will usually make a world of difference.
You can punch a tad above your weight, but don't push it.
Because higher-level enemies can be so deadly, you'll probably want to avoid anything that's more than one level above you, at least at first. If you're outclassed by three or four levels, even basic enemies will be so powerful that your best tactics will barely make a dent in their armour. In the early goings, discretion is the better part of valor.
Remember that you can always run for it.
Last night I was engaged in a tough battle against an unexpectedly powerful group of enemies. I took out a few of them but was getting my arse kicked, so I had my party run away, one at a time. Running is stressful, since you'l have to get each party member individually clear of attackers and leave one action point to press "run" at the end of their turn. But if you successfully flee, you can recharge your characters or even go level up before coming back and taking on your enemies, whose numbers will remain reduced by whoever you took down in the first fight. It's not the most graceful way to win, but it is still a way to win.
Be liberal with your special arrows.
It's easy to try to save your special arrows for bosses, but I'd advise using them whenever you see an opening. You'll make more and more as you go, and soon will have a hell of a collection. But more to the point, every battle is tough enough that you'll need every advantage you can get. The same is true for scrolls, though those can be worth saving a bit more, since they're rarer than special arrows.
Quicksave is your most powerful magical ability.
You can quicksave at any point in Divinity: Original Sin, even in the middle of combat. If you're a nervous nelly like me, you do it constantly. If you're about to try a risky gambit in a battle, you can always hit F5 first -- that way, if it all goes wrong, you can quickly reload.
Of course, if you're a real degenerate, you can abuse quicksave to retry a single attack until it lands, or re-attempt to convince an NPC of something until you win the dice-roll. It is a simulated game, after all, and since you can control how many times the simulation runs, you can generally control the outcome. If that's your jam, have fun! But if it isn't, try to restrain your characters' amazing powers of time-travel just a bit.
Every battle should involve huge pools of oil, water, or other elements.
I was not expecting elemental abilities to be as big a deal as they are in Original Sin. Almost every fight quickly becomes a total mess of spilled poison, burning oil, steam clouds, electrified water, and all sorts of other hazards. I cannot stress this enough: You have got to take that shit seriously. Be liberal with your special arrows and elemental spells. Avoid straight-up steel on steel combat whenever possible.
Fire, in the early goings, is often a deciding factor in a fight. If your mage has both the ability to create an oil spill and launch a flare (the boon of a fire/earth pairing), you can quickly turn any battlefield into a burning hellscape. But never forget that it goes both ways -- your enemies will do everything they can to cover you in poison gas, burn you alive, and freeze you until you can't fight back.
One trick I like to use: Have Jahan use his teleport ability to pick up the enemy's mage and drop him right at Madora's feet. She'll usually go after him, and if you get it right, you can wipe the mage out in a single turn without putting Madora in harm's way.
Another good trick: If you have the "Midnight Oil" skill that I was talking about before, you can usually cast it a bunch of times on the battlefield before the enemy spots you and the fight begins. Do that properly and your fire caster can use flare to unleash a flaming field of death during his/her very first turn.
Think strategy, and think about deforming and rewriting the battlefield. If you go into a battle hoping to simply beat and stab your enemies to death with traditional weapons, you're almost surely going to get owned.
Delay your foes, especially archers.
There are a number of ways to delay enemies and force them to skip turns -- you can shock them while they're in water, freeze them, knock them down, etc. It can be invaluable to delay enemies' attacks, particularly skeleton archers, who seem dead set on firing off ruinous elemental arrows early on and putting you on your heels. In the early stages of a fight, focus as much on forcing skipped turns as on doing damage.
Always press ALT after winning a fight.
Enemies drop all manner of junk when they die, and it's easy to miss things unless you hit the Alt key to highlight everything. If you want the best loot, be sure you survey the battlefield before moving on.
The world of Cyseal is rich with hidden secrets, and there is a lot of fun to be had in finding them. Search that dead body you found, it may have an interesting note. Go talk to the rats in that basement, see what they have to say. Travel to each and every corner of the map, because there's almost surely something you missed the last two times you were there.
As with most RPGs, it can be tempting to try to barrel through the main story missions, but Divinity: Original Sin greatly rewards those who do sidequests and optional puzzles. Not only will you get much-needed XP, you'll get to experience some entertaining and funny side-stories and crack some really cool challenges. If you're feeling stuck on a particular battle or puzzle, check your journal: Chances are, there are ten other fun things you could be doing.
Break the rules!
This guide has focused on how to follow and exploit this game's rules. However, Divinity: Original Sin is often at its best when I try to play "wrong," to bend and break the rules in whatever ways I can.
See how far you can push the simulation, and you'll be surprised with how weird and wild things can get. There are holes in the scenery, odd workarounds that would have been polished out of a more modern-seeming game. Passing through those loopholes conjures a distinctive kind of excitement: Can I really do this? Am I supposed to do this? Have I broken something, or can I save my game and move on? I can't believe it just let me do that!
It's a feeling that too many modern games have scrubbed away, and easily one of my favourite things about Original Sin. So, embrace it. Follow the rules until you start to feel restless, then break every single one you can.
Maybe save your game first, though.
Hopefully these tips will make the game's early hours smoother for some of you than they were for me. Of course, with a game like this, there is no one best way to play, and no one best tip to offer. I'm guessing that a few of my tips have flaws or can be achieved in alternate ways, so if that's the case, let me know. I'm also sure that plenty of you have your own tips to share, and I hope you'll do so in the comments below.
Happy source hunting!