One Saturday a couple of weeks ago, I woke up around 8:30AM excited for what I knew would be a productive day. I'd get some errands done, do laundry, and maybe even start outlining my next book. But first, I thought, I'll play some Divinity: Original Sin 2. At 4PM, I knew I had made a mistake. At 11PM, I realised that I had just accidentally played for 14 hours straight.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is just that kind of game, a brilliant, absorbing RPG that ruins your plans and steals entire days from your life. It took me 76 hours to finish the game, and I'm already plotting my second playthrough. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it's one of my favourite games of 2017 and one of the best role-playing games I've ever played. It takes the depth of Baldur's Gate 2, mixes it with the systemic chaos of Ultima Underworld, and sprinkles it all with a healthy sense of humour.
I've been thinking a lot about why Divinity: Original Sin 2 enthralled me, and come up with the following reasons:
- There's absolutely no filler. It may be hard to believe that a game that took me 76 hours to beat has no padding, but hey, that's Divinity: Original Sin 2. There are no boring battles or tedious quests. Every combat encounter feels staged and deliberate, while almost every quest has enough wrinkles or twists to be worthwhile. (And when a quest doesn't feel worthwhile, chances are high that it will be tied to something interesting later.)
- The writing is spectacular. The companion characters are particularly lively, offering their own side quests and chiming in with thoughts and banter after every major plot revelation. But even the little moments are fantastic. There's the crab who thinks it's an all-powerful wizard, the dog who turns out to be a demon, the crab who's looking for a crab who thinks it's an all-powerful wizard, and oh so much more. You'll meet characters with dark secrets, characters with even darker secrets, and characters who just turn out to be straight-up arseholes.
- It rewards experimentation. As Nathan pointed out in his review, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a game begging you to exploit it. After slamming my head a few times against one tough boss halfway through the game, I realised that while one of my characters was talking to her, the others could use a teleport spell on her. Knowing that the main room would immediately spawn a few hellish beasts that would decimate my party, I teleported her a few metres away, where my characters could group up and take her down with less of a problem.
- Battles are full of strategy. The game's toughest encounters force you to scout out the battlefield, position your characters properly, and use terrain to your advantage. Sometimes that might mean grouping your party in a circle and teleporting enemies to you; other times it might mean smashing oil barrels and using a fireball on them to set an entire field ablaze. Like most RPGs, Divinity: Original Sin 2 can eventually turn into a routine of finding the strongest abilities and abusing the crap out of them, but even then it can be challenging, especially in its first half. (Pro tip: Turn up the difficulty setting when you get to the second half of the game, otherwise you'll pretty much just stomp everything.)
- As a result of all this, you're constantly making interesting decisions. Every minute of Divinity: Original Sin 2 is actively engaging your brain. There's no going on autopilot or mindlessly mashing buttons while you play this game. You have to make choices constantly: Who to recruit, how to solve disputes, what sort of abilities to give each character, and so on. Just about every quest can be finished in multiple ways, and they all work together in an unexpected, delightful fashion, sometimes with weighty consequences. Save one character in the first act and he might show up in the finale. Choose to leave a tortured wizard in his prison and he might just escape and try to kill you later. And so on, and so on, to the point where you might just want to start a second playthrough just to see what else might happen.
I do have some gripes - there are a lot of bugs and the UI can be a real pain - but this is a special game, one that's well worth your time if you're into RPGs and have a PC. Just be warned: You will probably not get anything else done for a while.