Review: Divinity II – Ego Draconis
Divinity II is an enigma to me. It has great potential and is a moderately enjoyable adventure through yet another dark fantasy world. It tantalizes you with nice little touches that bring vivacity to the character models, yet somehow manages to lack polish and finesse, the things that really connect the players with the characters they control. It draws you into an engaging story, but at the same time manages to alienate the player. It’s a game of contrasts in almost every way – in-game mechanics, plot points and technical proficiencies (or lack thereof).
The story starts out really well, and actually gets better throughout the game. For a Western-style RPG, I was surprised how well the story alone drew me in. You start the game as a dragon slayer – the newest in a long line of warriors who “protect” the world from the dragons and their dragon knights. To start you on your journey, your commanding officer drops you off at the town of Farglow, where you will become a true Slayer. This town serves as a well-rounded tutorial. You gain many core abilities that you will use throughout the game (the passive ability to see undead as well as the ability to read any NPC’s mind) and choose a starting ability and weapon before you leave. One of the things that attracted me to the game play of Divinity II is the fact that you weren’t limited to one class. Before you leave Farglow, you must choose one – warrior, mage or rogue – but that just decides which ability you initially get and which weapon you have at the start. As the game progresses, you can go into any class tree you want, picking and choosing your abilities at will.
Leaving Farglow, you find out that one of the last surviving dragon knights – the people you Slayers are hunting – has been sighted in Broken Valley, the first of the very few major zones in the game. There’s a village there, which will be the base of operations throughout your exploits in the valley. You eventually find out that these dragon knights aren’t exactly what you thought they were, and you are pulled into a quest to destroy the true evil that oppresses the world.
There is nice pacing for the story progression…assuming you don’t bother with many side quests. As I was beginning to play this game, especially once I got to that village in Broken Valley, I got a sense of déjà vu. It reminded me of how I never once completed the main quest line in Oblivion because there was just an obscene amount of side quests. There is side quest after side quest after side quest here. And, after you finish all those, there are more side quests. At several points throughout the story elements you trigger in Broken Valley, I actually had to go back and read the logbook to remind myself what was going on with the main quest. This completely blows away any semblance of decent pacing the game might seem to have. Although, as you leave Broken Valley and move on to the next zone – Sentinel Island – to work on claiming your Battle Tower, things start to get a little better for a bit.
Along with the pacing issues, there was absolutely nothing I came across while playing the game to make me actually care for the characters – not your main character, not any of the NPCs you meet along the way, nothing. There is no substance to these characters. They have their role to play in the story, and, as I mentioned, the story is quite good. But, there is a disconnect between the story and the characters that populate it. This isn’t helped by the drab and often uninspiring voice acting. We complain about games where the voice acting is overdone or over-dramatic, but in Divinity II things are exactly the opposite. The characters seem completely uninterested in what is going on around them; the voices are too shallow, too complacent, too boring.
I enjoyed being able to make my own character, but again there aren’t that many choices. Also, I absolutely hate wearing helmets in the game, because it basically invalidates the point of customizing your character’s face. On the plus side, you can alter your appearance and even your gender in-game via an Illusionist. What I also enjoyed about the player character models is their detailed animations throughout the game. The characters jump, flip, and land with cat-like finesse, and various standard animations in other games are done with flair and intricacy here. Standard attacks in battle are met with a multitude of character animations for the same action, which is a very welcome surprise.
Putting the story and characters aside for a moment, the other major part of the game – battling your foes – is a mixed bag, as well. I’ll be blunt – the targeting system is horrible. No matter how much I try to tell myself it’s bad because I just haven’t gotten used to it yet, after over 40 hours of game play it still sucks, so I’m pretty sure it isn’t just me. To lock on, you have to hit the left trigger and hold it down. This in and of itself isn’t bad, but you have to be close enough to the enemy, there are no visual cues that tell you which mob you’re targeting besides its name at the top of the screen, (and with multiple generic monsters with the same name in a group, that doesn’t help) and switching targets is an often sloppy affair. You think that sounds bad? Brace yourself – it gets worse. Eventually you’ll be able to transform into a dragon and every segment of the game that requires you to be in dragon form is a targeting nightmare. While the directional control of your dragon form is fine, you’re often presented with so many targets at once that it is nearly impossible to target what you actually want to target at any given time. The first time I actually transformed into a dragon on Sentinel Island (as opposed to a pseudo-dream you have earlier in the game), I must have died about a dozen times because of the blasted targeting shenanigans.
I really enjoyed the ability trees and the freedom you have to do what you want. This freedom also extends to the amount of choices you have as to what weapons and armor you’ll equip yourself with and how you’ll upgrade those pieces of equipment with enchants and charms. I played a dual-wielding, melée-focused character and was overloaded with choices in which weapons and armor to equip at any given moment. This is a good thing! It was really fun to hop into a group of enemies and just use melée area-of-effect abilities to plow through them. As much as I enjoyed the freedom there, some things did bother me about the ability trees. There are certain “abilities” that I don’t think you should be forced to spend points for, such as inventory space. There are also instances where the trees seem to force you to do certain things, which limits your freedom a bit. As an example, being the melée warrior I was, I wanted the Thousand Strikes ability because I thought it sounded cool. I think the level requirement on it was level 15, so when I got to that point, I immediately learned it. I was aching to use it in battle but, you know what? I couldn’t. Why? My entire spirit (mana) pool wasn’t enough to use it. This, in turn, forced me to go over to Magician tree and start learning Mana Efficiency and even forced me to put some points in boosting my Spirit stat as I leveled up from there. This also points out an inherent problem in forcing all character builds to use a single type of “energy”. I feel that should have been handled differently.
Another aspect of battle is when you’re able to get a necromancer to create a creature for your use from various body parts that you find throughout your travels. You’ll find a goblin head here, a skeleton leg there and everything in between. Take those parts to your friendly neighborhood necromancer and he’ll create a creature that acts like a pet for you during battle. Let me tell you, it’s a huge help. There are segments of the game I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to get through without the creature at my side. Various body parts have stat bonuses to enhance different aspects of your creature, as well, so you can modify him to your liking. This goes back to the insane amount of choices you have at every point throughout the game. However, the tutorials are non-existent in how to manage your pet effectively, and I had a hard time trying to figure everything out.
There are quite a few other aspects of the game I enjoyed. The visual presentation is great, for a dark fantasy title. I also loved having a base of operations – your Battle Tower – which you acquire about half way through the game after fighting away its previous inhabitant. Once you acquire this tower, you have access to your very own alchemist, necromancer, enchanter and personal trainer, as well as vendor NPCs and NPCs that will go out and gather materials for you. On top of all of that, one of the most welcome and important features of this Battle Tower is the coffer in your master bedroom where you can unload all the crap that has been cluttering up your inventory up to that point. The only issue I had was how long it takes to get your Battle Tower. I feel it should have been set earlier in the game, especially because of the inventory issues. (On a side point, why does it seem like every Western RPG I play has major inventory issues? Just go the JRPG route and allow an infinite number of item slots in your inventory. It isn’t that difficult.)
Travel is also pretty simple in the game, as you activate shrines you can immediately teleport to which are spread generously around the various areas you visit, and that was nice. There are also numerous optional dungeons – usually tied to side quests – with plenty of things to find if you explore enough. But, again, we get back to that point about the game’s pacing suffering from too much side questing and not enough prodding to move forward with the story. Many times the dialog choices you’re presented with are quite hilarious, as well, which added an extra kick of excitement while you’re running around questing. There is no real morality system, however your choices do influence the way certain individuals may view you and can limit how useful they can be to you in various situations.
Now, onto bad things – although mostly minor. I’ll save the huge technical issue for last. See, I build up anticipation that way.
While the visuals are nice, the technical execution isn’t the best. There are some major frame rate issues, although, for me those particular technical transgressions didn’t detract from the overall experience too much. Much of the side-questing and extra loot – little things in the game – comes by reading someone’s mind, which is an ability you get very early on in Farglow. The only issue? Reading someone’s mind costs experience. In a game where experience is a precious commodity because of the rough difficulty spikes and built-in soft-capping of levels at various points, you don’t really want to read someone’s mind unless you have to. Yet, the really juicy tidbits about a stash in a dungeon, a hidden key or side-quest trigger often cost a lot of experience. I found myself avoiding mind-reading the majority of the time, doing so only when the story called for it.
There are some times I got annoyed at enemy encounters and the strength of them. There seems to be some pretty big difficulty spikes at times. The game seems to soft-cap your leveling – you can’t power level yourself by endlessly grinding on mobs because mobs don’t respawn ever. So once you clear all the side quests and mobs out of the zone, that’s it. So, you can really only get to a certain level before various main quest events and there were a few that I swear only luck got me through, after dying multiple times. This is not fun, but these are instances where your creature comes in handy. Along the same lines, you seem to be forced to do side quests because if you don’t, you will get clobbered. I missed very few side quests, cleared out all areas of Broken Valley and Sentinel Island and still end up a few levels too low for most mobs in Orobas Fjords when I first went there. What is with this? You shouldn’t have to do every single possible side quest in the game just to barely escape instant death in a battle involving a swarm of mobs several levels higher than you in order to continue the main story.
Also, there’s horrible enemy placement in some areas. When you first teleport from your Battle Tower to the Orobas Fjords, for example, you land right in a group of about half a dozen goblins. Why?! Why not put them a little farther down the road, out of aggro distance from the waypoint shrine? Finally, as far as minor issues go, I feel the need to complain about the lack of diverse environments and zones. There are really only three major zones in the game. The bulk of your time will be spent in only two of those – Broken Valley and Orobas Fjords. They do get boring after a while, considering the amount of time you spend in them, even though the visuals are very pretty. More diversity would have been nice.
There is one issue, though, that trumps all the rest and nearly caused me to give up before I wanted to. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is a major issue in why I scored this game the way I did, because it is really something that should have either been caught in the QA process or patched very quickly after the game was released. There are very difficult points in the game – you will likely die often (not as often as in Demon’s Souls, but still often enough). While this does make you think strategicially in some situations, and you usually don’t have repeat deaths in the same group of mobs, you will still have to reload a save file when you die. You must save often. In my opinion, the game doesn’t auto-save often enough, but if you remember to save frequently, you should be good, right? Possibly not. There’s a horrible corruption issue with saved games. Every other time I die and reload a saved game from a few minutes previous, the game hangs. I can use the Xbox guide button on the controller and back out to the dashboard, then reload the game, but this is incredibly annoying. Here’s a typical situation: I’ll save the game because I’m pretty sure I’m going into a hazardous situation. I get in over my head and die. Ok, so I go and reload the saved game and 1) I’m not in the same location I was when I saved, 2) the screen is red and frozen, the enemy’s name is there, but I’m in the wrong location, 3) the game is just frozen or 4) any combination of the above. Sometimes you could reload that save file and it would work, sometimes it would not multiple times in a row and I’d have to revert to a slightly older save and hope it wasn’t corrupted, as well. The worst of these times was when I lost about two hours worth of questing because of two corrupted save files that wouldn’t load no matter what I did. I also have been in situations where I load a save game and am not in the same location I saved it, but everything that I have acquired and accomplished up to that save point is still there. This is the lesser of the saved game bugs, but still rather annoying.
I’ll be honest with you guys, I started off finishing up this review thinking I would give it four stars. But, the more I thought about it and the more issues I had throughout the game with the horrible targeting and those save game issues, I decided it wasn’t worth that review score. Those two issues brought about so much unneeded frustration that I just about gave up on the game. I’ve never in my life played a game that frustrated me so much because of a technical problem.
If you enjoy dark fantasy games, I’d recommend giving Divinity II a shot, because there is a lot of potential there, especially in the better-than-average story for its sub-genre. It also does some good things that other recent games of the same style don’t, such as allowing you to re-specialize your points. However, the disconnect between the characters and the story, and the lack of establishing a connection between me – the player – and the characters in the story is an issue. But, that issue extends to most Western RPGs I play and isn’t really tied to this specific title. There are some rather substantial technical bugs, as well. I really hope a patch comes down the pipe soon, because these corrupted save issues can really ruin someone’s fun, regardless of what they feel about the rest of the game. This is one of those games that will appeal to fans of the genre, but likely not many others. There are hints of greatness – especially in the story itself – but Divinity II ends up falling into the “average” category just about everywhere else.
- Game: Divinity II – Ego Draconis
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Release Date: 1/5/2010
- Developer: Larian Studios
- Publisher (U.S.): cdv Entertainment
- MSRP: $59.99
- Additional Info: A copy of this game was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for purposes of this review.