If what I saw during an hour session of Divinity: Original Sin 2 is any indication, the RPG sequel is gonna make you really mad at your friends.
Divinity: Original Sin 2, the sequel to Larian's excellent evolution of classic PC RPGs, hit Kickstarter today. A handful of hours later, it's already almost completely funded. A couple days ago, I met with studio founder and creative director Swen Vincke for a demo of the follow-up, which he touted as the Baldur's Gate 2 to Original Sin's Baldur's Gate 1. He said that Original Sin 2 is about "expanding in all directions."
It is also about trolling the crap out of people. Here are some things I observed:
The main thing Vincke drove home is that Original Sin 2 supports "competitive co-op." It's not meant to be a brief afternoon distraction; alternatively aiding and infuriating your friends is baked into this one's bones (though it is completely optional). At any given moment, you and three friends can be on opposing sides of the same quests.
For instance, one character might be aiding a powerful lord in order to gain access to his dragon (not like that) and get the group off an island, one step closer to their next objective. Another, however, might have struck a deal with shaaaadowy forces to assassinate that very same lord -- preferably without anybody else seeing. Pretty much every major quest in the game will work this way for four fully fleshed out characters, each with their own complimenting and conflicting motivations.
This is where the trolling comes in. While Vincke's co-worker from Larian was running around, doing deeds for a quest, Vincke decided to mess with him. First, he dribbled some poison into an otherwise perfectly normal-looking health potion and slotted it into his frenemy's inventory. Then he put the town guards on high alert for illegal contraband, noting that he could easily acquire some and put that into his alleged ally's inventory as well. The other Larian-er, playing a dwarf, was already number one on the guards' suspect list due to the town's history of racism against dwarves.
Later, he got into a battle with some mercenaries, and that's when Vincke chose to strike. He gleefully ran to join the turn-based battle, dagger aimed right for his ally's back. First, he attacked his friend directly, turning him into a screaming tangle of flailing limbs, beard, and fire. Then his friend went to drink the potion and, well, you can probably guess what happened next. It's some Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck shit. Sometimes friends, sometimes foes, but you can expect a hefty dose of comedic slapstick regardless.
I'm a little worried. That was a pretty ideal set of circumstances, and I worry that it will be tough to replicate them when not taking part in a highly controlled demo. Both players were on roughly the same leg of the same quest, both taking their sweet time to get everything done. What if the stars hadn't aligned so nicely, though? Or what if one player decided to scheme up a troll job so elaborate that he'd be granted honorary real estate beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, only for his pal to zip through the quest without him? Divinity: Original Sin was great because it had so many interlocking systems, so many moving parts. Pairing that volatility with highly conditional multiplayer elements of quests strikes me as something that may not always pan out as Larian has envisioned.
I brought my concern to Vincke, and he said that quests are being designed in ways that occasionally force the party to come back together, realign and start from the same basic place again. Also, he added, this is still a party-based game, and it's being balanced for four characters (NPC or human). So if you're not sticking together (and probably meddling in each others' affairs to some extent), the game will be significantly harder, if not impossible.
What about single-player? I don't know about you, but I never played Divinity: Original Sin's multiplayer mode. I like my classic-style PC RPGs like I like my Hans: solo. Vincke, however, told me that focusing on all these intertwined multiplayer elements actually makes the single-player side of things way better, in his opinion.
He used origin stories as an example. Every character that can join your party has a detailed origin story and background. This, in turn, means they react to the world differently than anyone else, and the world reacts to them in similarly unique ways. Virtually every dialogue in the game will be different depending on which character is doing the talking, Vincke explained. If Original Sin 2 was purely single-player focused, Larian could've maybe cut some corners with that, made character motives and choices only superficially different. As is, they will lead to tangibly different outcomes, a story you can twist and contort like putty. Case in point: a quest I saw involving a poisoned mayor had at least four different branches for the party's four different characters -- everything from healing the mayor to killing the mayor to, for one character, getting your own mother accused of the crime.
Ghosts are rad. You know, generally, but also in the video game. So in Original Sin 2, pretty much everything that dies -- from a random spider baddie to an NPC capable of talking your ear off so fiercely that Mike Tyson would blush -- leaves a ghost. They're actually amalgams of Source energy -- the, you know, source of people's powers in Original Sin's world -- so you can, if you're role-playing someone who's kind of a dick, absorb ghosts to gain source energy for use with new Source Skills. If you're less of a dick, you can also talk to them.
Or, if you're LITERALLY THE BIGGEST DICK IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE, you can do what Vincke did to figure out who poisoned the mayor. She was, you see, was in a coma, so she couldn't simply say, "Oh yeah, it was totally The Dark Lord Sauron in a mummy costume." Vincke's solution? Finish the fucking job the poison started. Once he was sure nobody was around, he electrified her, quick and cleanlike. When her ghost appeared, he popped open a dialogue window and asked her who poisoned her. She gave him a pretty straightforward explanation. Mystery solved.
You can mix spells to form new ones. A blood spell + a rain spell = blood rain. If you have the leach talent -- which lets you regain health while standing in pools of blood -- life is grand (and also a Slayer song). You'll be able to combine pretty much every spell similarly, Vincke said.
You probably won't be able to thwart bosses with chairs anymore. Vincke told me that Larian watched a lot of footage of people playing the first Original Sin to figure out which systems needed fixing. While the team loves clever exploits and is designing Original Sin 2 to enable exploits rather than forbid them, they're hoping to patch some of the first game's more glaring holes. Enemy AI, then, will hopefully be significantly smarter. Guess that means you'll just have to find new ways to make enemies look silly.
You'll still be able to talk to animals. Thank goodness.