Divinity: Original Sin 2 – A Tactical Sandbox Disguised as an RPG

By Ian Boudreau 03 Oct 2017 0

By now you’ve probably heard tell that Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one of the better role-playing games to come out in several years. It’s an improvement on Larian’s already-quite-good 2014 Divinity: Original Sin in almost every respect—the world is even more open, the characters all have tons more depth, and the story is engaging from the word go. Coming to it as someone who fell in love with computer RPGs back in the heady Infinity Engine days of Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, I’ve realized that Original Sin 2 is what I always was hoping for from the Dragon Age games, but had always stayed just out of reach.

 

Probably the main reason for that is how Original Sin 2 is able to let go of players’ wrists and give them free reign in a world detailed enough to almost feel like a simulation. NPCs don’t have “plot armor” that protects them from player violence if they have an important quest to describe—you can attack and kill anyone your horrible little heart desires. Objects in the world, from barrels to furniture, will react realistically to the chaos of battle, whether that means spilling water down a flight of stone steps or a cloud of gas igniting as a fireball passes through it.

What this means, and the reason I’m writing about it here, is that Divinity: Original Sin 2 is one hell of a tactics game. Combat rules are relatively simple and hew closely to Dungeons & Dragons, but there are so many different tools and variables that each fight, and even each time you play a particular fight, feels like a fresh tactical opportunity.

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Combat plays out in turns, and turn order is established based on the initiative of all the characters involved in a fight. Based on their stats, characters will have a set number of action points to use per turn. Each action and movement costs a set number of AP, and you can do whatever you want in whatever order as long as you have the points for it. Simple as can be.

Simple, until you consider the vast number of skills, weapons, spells, abilities, skills, and environmental variables that get thrown into the blender during any given combat encounter. Surfaces can be coated in oil, water, lava, blood, and poison. Water and blood can be electrified or frozen, making them slippery. Oil can be ignited by fire, which can then spread to anything flammable in the vicinity. Rain spells can quench flames, causing clouds of steam. And there are further elemental combinations—flames can be turned into holy fire, which will heal characters who aren’t undead (you can patch your skeleton pals up by casting poison spells in their direction). If worse comes to worse, you can help out a companion who’s been set alight by hurling a water balloon at them.

Elevation has a role in Original Sin 2’s combat as well, and your ranged characters will benefit from range and damage bonuses if they’re above their targets. You’ve also got to consider positioning, such as how to get your stealthy nightblade character into a backstab position, or where to launch a character with the “Battering Ram” skill. One feature I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of lately is splitting my party up—I can have a couple characters head off into hiding spots or high vantage points while my main contingent stirs up trouble with the local constabulary, giving me a huge initiative advantage when the fighting inevitably begins.

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The base game is so full of options when it comes to combat that I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s there. And nothing confirms that notion for me like popping open Game Master Mode and having a look around in there.

What I’d hoped to find, and didn’t, in 2015’s Sword Coast Legends is gloriously present here: A fully-functional multiplayer campaign designer. While I knew this mode was planned for the game’s release, I was still impressed with the power Larian has packed into the tool: You can upload custom art for campaign maps and vignette cards, design multi-stage levels and combat encounters for your players to fight through, and run a full campaign for four players right from your desktop, even including dice rolls for player skill checks. And there’s a nice selection of stock, fully-dressed 3D scenes to pick from that range from magma caves and mountain gorges to dungeons and city squares.

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You can pin these custom levels across your campaign map and add in all your notes and lore—or you can just see what happens when a few cave trolls get into a fight around a lot of exploding barrels. The point is, it’s a robust toolset that you can use to either create stories on the fly or try out just about any tactical scenario you can come up with.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is certainly a deep role-playing system, but that depth makes it what I’d at least think of as “strategy adjacent,” and I’d hate for tactics fans to miss out on this title based on genre alone. Dwarfs and elves and magic spells aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but I think most strategy fans will be able to find a lot of joy in Divinity’s willingness to set hundreds of tops spinning just to watch them bounce off each other.

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