Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a huge fan of DnD. I have played Dungeons and Dragons hundreds of hours, across ten years and several editions/systems. As a longtime fan, DnD is something I have unsuccessfully sought a replication of in the videogame world. Daggerdale was much too small and Neverwinter was guilty of losing that magic spark. I never found anything satisfying—until now.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t Dungeon and Dragons. But as an RPG, DnD has long been the gold standard of comparison. And though it isn’t made by Wizard of the Coasts, there are too many points to discount the similarities. Larian Studios makes a name for itself in what it does better than Dungeons and Dragons. Alongside what it does worse.
The base of DOS2 is your classic four-player RPG. The player creates one character; with options to customize or choose a preset Origin; and finds others later to fill out the team.
Like many RPGs, DOS2 is about chopping through large blocks of health and armor. Though health is universal, armor is divided between physical and magical, with amounts varying based on equipment and individual enemies. It’s possible for some enemies to have almost 1000 physical armor and no magic armor; meaning that specific enemy would be particularly vulnerable to magic-based attacks.
Combat has many means of approach, but status effects are king. Many class abilities and spells apply status effects, in addition to damage, but only if the target doesn’t have any of the corresponding armor left. For instance, the Fireball spell always deals fire damage—to magic armor first, then health—but if one has eaten through the target’s magic armor, it also applies the ‘burning’ status, which deals additional damage each turn.
Burning is one of the tamer status effects, particularly so in a list that includes blinded, knocked down, stunned and charmed. Unlike other RPGs, in DOS2, if one is targeted by an ability that applies a status effect, and one has no corresponding armor, then one immediately has that status effect. This translates to a wonderful feeling of power for most characters, but it’s also a double-edged sword.
Outside the game of whittling armor, controlling the battlefield is key. All magic is elemental in DOS2, with all elements affecting the environment in some way. For instance, most geomancy spells leave behind pools of oil, which slow enemies and are themselves flammable. As a pyromancer/geomancer in my primary playthrough, you can bet that every fight had a raging inferno somewhere. The elements add a nice bit of strategy in battlefield interactions, but in some cases, they could also be quite difficult.
If being wary of this wasn’t enough, one also needs to keep track of one’s actions. As a turn-based system, combat allots a certain amount of action points (AP) to each character each turn. Unless abilities are used, this means four action points, which are spent according to certain formulas. A basic attack costs two AP, movement is variable and most abilities cost in the range of one to three AP.
A cooldown is applied to the usage of abilities, but there’s nothing like MP or PP to restrict spellcasters. In my own eyes, this is an improvement, as spellcasters have something engaging to do each turn, regardless of how many fights they’ve been in. It’s paid for in the elemental resistances most enemies have in some amount, a feature neglected for physical damage.
All in all, combat is a lot to keep track of, but it’s easily the best part of DOS2. Battlefields are dynamic and everchanging, and each character should have something to do each turn, if not crippled by a status effect.
Presentation and World (9.4)
Outside the numbers-heavy combat lies a lush environment with many hours of exploration. The graphics are gorgeous and most things visible are reachable by some means. There are hundreds of NPCs, with plenty of quests across them all.
The story of DOS2 centers around a familiar struggle of good vs. evil. The Void has been re-awakened by the activities of Sourcerers, select individuals who have the ability to channel Source to perform incredible feats of magic. Against the threat of the end of the world, Sourcerers are being captured and imprisoned, of which you are one. Your own means of dealing with this problem will be unique, but your quest will take you well beyond the starter island, to face cataclysmic threats and become Godwoken.
The voice-acting is itself one of the better features of this story. All NPCs have voice-acted lines; even the crab on the beach that one can only talk to if one has the ‘Pet Pal’ perk. There are almost as many animal NPCs as there are humans, and the animal voices are among the game’s best performances. Which is partly why it’s unfortunate that Pet Pal is only optional.
DOS2 has many angles from which to approach quests and there are numerous outcomes in any case. And it is precisely this breadth of options that makes the existence of certain ‘perk walls’ a little strange.
The two major ones in my own playthrough were Pet Pal and the Persuasion skill. Pet Pal is what enables the player to talk to the animal NPCs of the world, who have their own unique quest lines and means of helping the player accomplish tasks. Not having Pet Pal means missing out on a significant portion of the game, which is especially unfortunate when the perk has no direct effect on your character, and might feel like a waste otherwise.
Persuasion, on the other hand, is a little different. As a skill, points available for Persuasion come more often and are available even through items. But the skill doesn’t seem to work as it should. In quests and dialogues, characters will have the option to avoid combat or get items from NPCs through opportunities to use Persuasion. Instead of being percentage-based, it instead functions on prerequisites. Meaning success is merely having all the right numbers, making the option to persuade someone seem rather frivolous. Across 60 hours, there wasn’t a single check I made, and only because I didn’t have any Persuasion.
Design and Value (9.3)
DOS2 has many wonderful systems and its world has a lot of life. But it could use a little something more in its design. As a DnD player, an analogy comes to mind: DOS2 feels more like the release of a core rulebook and base adventure than it does a whole universe.
Perhaps this is why the Game Master mode and the Steam Workshop are prominent features. The Game Master mode enables players to run their own campaigns beyond the main story, which, though long, ends a little faster than one might expect. The Steam Workshop has its own community campaigns available, but more interesting are the classes and abilities. Because if there’s something DOS2 needs, it’s more of these.
In an [earlier article], I talked about how much I liked the way DOS2 handles magic and abilities. In direct contrast with DnD’s spells-per-day system, DOS2 makes mages feel powerful again, without the need of having to explicitly restrict how often a mage can just be a mage. I still think this, but I now feel that DOS2 has a rather limited amount of available abilities. Levels 1 through 9 were a feverish cataloguing of spells, but Levels 10+ greatly slowed down. At Level 13, I already knew most abilities. Which is a shame, because though the level cap is well beyond 20, you won’t obtain any new spells beyond it, nor will you run into any new enemies or NPCs.
There’s much value to be gained from community creations. DOS2 is a big game with multiple playthroughs to experience all the Origin stories, but it’s recommended to take the more genuinely expansive route of Game Master or the Steam Workshop. My hope is that DOS2 will eventually release more of its content, but there’s no word of that at this point.
Overall Score: 9.5 (95%)
Summary: It has a few problems, but Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of this year’s best RPGs. Great with friends and for solo play, DOS2 is a game that promises dozens of hours of challenging quests and dynamic fights. A must-have for all DnD and RPG fans.
- Huge fantasy world to explore
- Lots of quests
- Combat is fluid and dynamic
- Magic is exciting and powerful
- Character creation encourages multi-classing and creativity
- Game Master mode and Steam Workshop add a lot of content
- Not much beyond level 20
- Persuasion and Pet Pal might have been designed better
- Damage slightly favors physical characters
- Some very sharp difficulty spikes in certain areas