Fangirl Plays: Divine Divinity, Part 1

As I mentioned before, I backed Divinity: Original Sin on Kickstarter and took advantage of a neat little offer during their campaign: Add 5$ to your pledge and get Divine Divinity as Download! So here I am, trying to get into the Divinity series, and overcome my natural awkwardness around old-school role-playing-games. A hint: I’m actually loving it.

I think I mentioned before that when my brother gave me Baldur’s Gate 2 when I was around 15, I didn’t get into it at all. Really, I didn’t get what I was supposed to do, I didn’t get the combat or whatever. Later, after I had discovered a passion for pen and paper role-playing, I tried Neverwinter Nights. Still couldn’t be bothered. I should mention, however, that I readily played Oblivion and Skyrim, as well as Fallout 3. They’re different, and I’ll get to that.

Anyways, with Divinity, I’m trying hard to do this right. I am not just running around, casually exploring the world, collecting XP. Oh no, this time, it’s personal: I am reading the fluff texts. I am talking to everyone. I am reading the books. I am investing myself in this world and its storyline, to get the most out of it.

At first glance, Divine Divinity reminds you immediately of all the other old-school isometric RPGs: Ultima (especially VII), the Baldur’s Gate series, Fallout 1 & 2 and so forth. Actually, I mean that literally: It reminds you of that, not me. I didn’t play any of those. My only frame of reference? Diablo 2. Yep. Which may explain my current unbound enthusiasm for Divine Divinity. All I knew, so far, where MMOs that provided green quest arrows on the map, and “action” role-playing games, where no single NPC had anything of value to say.

I am overjoyed that in Divinity, most quests can be solved by talking. I get XP for “good” choices and actions. I get to explore the world without much help beyond “the Inn is south-east of the village”. At first, this was extremely difficult for me: Get used to the crutches and you’ll forget how to walk, so to speak. I was absolutely baffled by some of the quests, even though the solutions weren’t that hard; simply because the game seriously expected me to think. Okay, I may sound like a real dumbass now, but seriously, put yourself in my shoes. All Diablo 2 required me to do was klick on stuff, klick it until it died. Infinity-Veterans may laugh, but this is what it’s like for me.

And when I say “think”, I also mean that the game provides hardly any security nets. The only help you get is talking to freaking everyone in the world, which creates really good immersion. There’s hardly any breaking of the fourth wall. But this also makes you, as a player, more responsible for what happens.

For example: In the healers’ village in the beginning of the game, there are two sick patients, and you can save only one of them. I thought that they would just lie there until I found a way to heal them both (which is possible, of course), but when I left the village for a little while, they just died. Of course, right? The healers said they wouldn’t last much longer, and so they didn’t.

I was really baffled by this: Nowadays, so many games try to make the playing experience as smooth and rounded as possible, so that nobody has to experience failure or unexpected pitfalls; not unless they are planned to happen. Mostly, there is no such thing as a failed quest. You “just can’t” kill certain NPCs, or drop important stuff by the side of the road.

Which I did. I got a quest from the army general to blow up some Orc supplies. What I didn’t notice was that he gave me a barrel with explosives specifically for this job. I noticed quickly I was not strong enough to fight the Orcs yet, so I came back later… only to find that I had misplaced the explosives. See, I am playing a warrior babe, as usual, and knew I wasn’t going to put any skill points in explosives! When the barrel started to annoy me in my full inventory, I just dropped it. Somewhere.

Oh god, the horror. I had to load an old savegame when I still had it to narrow down the area where I might have left it; thank goodness the world of Divinity is a persistent map (unlike Diablo 2, which trolled any attempt to finalize exploration in exchange for re-playability). It loses nothing. After a few hours of search, I actually found my barrel of explosives. Technically, this was annoying. Actually, it was awesome! Yes, really! The feeling of accomplishment I had when I finally found the barrel was truly great. Just as the feeling of urgency in the healer mission. I really appreciate the game for giving me this kind of responsibility and teaching me the hard way what happens when I don’t exercise it.

A word on the great skill system of Divinity: No matter what class (Rogue, Mage or Fighter) you choose, you can spend skill points in anything. My fighter, for example, can pick locks, do alchemy, charm weapons and cast healing magic. I think the game even expects you to do that, since you cannot put more than five points in any skill. Interestingly, I thought that maybe I could solve the orc supply quest without the special explosives – couldn’t I just use any kind of bombs I had? With the explosives skill? I don’t know. I didn’t try, because at that point I (foolishly) believed that a game couldn’t possibly make me spend points on a particular skill to get a quest done. 

I was wrong. In several later quests, I specifically needed to have a certain skill to complete a quest – in a certain way! For example, I wanted to kill a vampire that was plaguing the folks in Rivertown. Since I couldn’t get into his crypt the first time I met him, I just assumed that I needed to find a “questy” way to do it; I thought I’d probably run into him again sooner or later. For all intents and purposes… I waited for the quick-time event! I thought the game would let me know when I was supposed to tackle a particular task. (Maybe I play too many strategy games – they’re all about waiting for stuff to happen so you can react accordingly.) But no: I learnt lock picking, got into the crypt and slew the vampire. Piece of cake. I also saw that I could have probably used telekinesis to flip the door lever. Nice.

The same thing applies to the “get into the castle” quest. To get help finding the way through the sewers you can join the Thieves’ Guild. Problem was, I wasn’t really a thief, and as an honourable fighter hadn’t spent any points in pickpocket. (Not that I believe that anybody has anything worth stealing, anyway. You get rich quickly in Divinity.) For the first time in a role-playing game, I not only was not tempted to rob everyone blind – unlike, for example, in Oblivion, Skyrim or Fallout 3, where I had no moral scruples whatsoever of joining the Thieves’ Guild or robbing poor crack-whores of their last healing drugs.

In the end, I thought ‘screw the Thieves’ Guild’ and went to explore the sewers myself, which worked out just fine. I felt rewarded just because the game didn’t force me to go through this in one particular way.

However, in some instances, the game also gets weird because of this openness. For example, I always waited for a quest or task that would procure me the Dwarven Scroll for the teleporters. I expected something big, really, where I had to prove my worth.

So at some point, I randomly talked to this one dwarf and impressed him with my charity by refusing an expensive gift (as I said, I was pretty rich already…). He got all teary-eyed and left the room. I gave myself a good pat on the back and left, too. Later, I found out that I could have stolen the Dwarven Scroll from his table, had I but looked for it. When I went back, it wasn’t there any more! Frustrated, I googled the problem and found that I could just walk into the mayor’s house and steal the scroll from his table instead. Okay, well then, forget about the quest.

Some quests are also buggy as hell, but it’s an older game and neither this or the Scroll incident were game breakers. The funniest so far was the Sword in the Stone in the Dark Forest. When I pulled it out, a malicious ghost appeared and promised death and destruction to the world!! He was too hard to fight, so I.. er… turned him into a little bunny. Seriously, the polymorph spell is the most imbalanced thing in the game. Because the opponents, even bosses, don’t turn back. They just hop away from you. I read that I was supposed to get a quest from this, something like “put the sword back, or else”. I didn’t, though. And the ghost wouldn’t follow me away from the stone. So I just kept the (really great) sword and left a slightly disgruntled looking bunny behind, not really feeling the guilt of dooming the world.

Well, you know, I lol’d. So even in its weirdness, Divinity is great entertainment, a good, immersive game. The storyline, so far, is a little stereotypical, but for some reason, I find it gripping and easy to invest in. Stay tuned for the next article on Divinity, where I look at some other details of the game, and by which I’ll hopefully made it through the story!


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