Divinity: Original Sin 2 – Definitive Edition Review (Switch)
Release Date: September 4, 2019
File Size: 11.8 GB
Publisher: Larian Studios
Developer: Larian Studios
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
I feel as though I should include a few caveats in this review of Divinity: Original Sin 2 – Definitive Edition.
The first is that I have never played any of Larian Studios’ previous Divinity games, or even other ‘CRPGs’ that might be considered within the same ballpark (the ‘C’ once stood for ‘computer’ but has since been broadened to refer to ‘classic role-playing games’). Franchises like Baldur’s Gate (of which Larian Studios is developing the forthcoming third instalment, now in its early access stage), Pillars of Eternity, or Wasteland—to cite a few—are basically foreign to me. As far as I can tell, what separates a CRPG from other titles that fall under the ‘RPG’ umbrella is a heavier focus on customisation, decision-making, and tactics-based combat.
With that in mind, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is arguably more of an RPG than the games that I have long associated with the term, whether Japanese RPGs like the Final Fantasy or Tales series, which place greater emphasis on your party members and typically unfold their narratives, as well as character progression, in a more linear fashion; or Action RPGs, which include games like Diablo or The Elder Scrolls and emphasize fast-paced, real-time combat; these can be further distinguished from TRPGs or SRPGs (‘i.e. ‘tactical’ or ‘strategy role-playing games’), oftentimes marked for their turn-based battle systems that revolve primarily around long, drawn-out skirmishes which require careful consideration of strategy amid a fluid battlefield where terrain may be as much of a factor as weather visibility.
However, my aim here is not to delineate every kind of RPG on the market. The point is simply this: RPGs often include many, if not all, of these elements, different ones tending to lean into particular aspects more than others, and Divinity: Original Sin 2 was fairly distinct with regards to the types of RPGs that I have previously played (specifically, JRPGs and ARPGs, including those mentioned).
A second caveat that I want to introduce is that it’s been nearly a year since I was really in the trenches of Divinity: Original Sin 2’s vast single-player campaign. It was last May, in fact, when many of us had far too much time on our hands due to the global pandemic, that I sank around 150 hours into this game in a roughly two-week period. While I have revisited it briefly for the purposes of this review, such a long lapse of time between my completion of the title and a serious attempt to transcribe my thoughts on it comes with both costs and benefits, depending upon one’s perspective.
One possible benefit is that I have had plenty of time to give due weight to the feelings and impressions that I had upon wrapping up my manic playthrough all those months ago. Further, my thoughts about the game haven’t really changed since then. On the contrary, it can often be the case that one feels very ecstatic (or vice versa) about a game immediately upon conclusion, but then, as the weeks and months pass by and our sentiments about it ‘settle’, so to speak, the experience becomes ‘contextualized’ and one finds that their initial ideas about said game drastically change. At the very least, it can be said that I’m resolute, in this one respect, in my reflections about Original Sin 2.
All that said, having not played the game very extensively since last summer (and having played many games since), it’s a fact that much about the game, including the highs and lows of that first (and only) complete playthrough, have somewhat faded into the abyss of human memory. While I will try to be as painstaking as possible in mentioning some of my favorite (and not-so-favorite) aspects of Original Sin 2, I will not go into excruciating detail about gameplay mechanics as I have with some of my other recent reviews. This is not to suggest that Original Sin 2 is in any way wanting on this point. In reality, quite the opposite is true. There is simply too much going on in this game to give all of it (or any of it really) a fair shake within the span of 4,000 words, which is approximately the length that I am designing to confine myself (my third caveat).
And finally, my last caveat (for now): This review only considers Divinity: Original Sin 2 as a single-player experience. The game includes an ‘Arena’ (wherein you can compete against other actual players in versus matches), in addition to online co-op, which allows you to tackle the Story mode with up to three other friends. While it seems like a game that is excellently suited for cooperative play, regrettably I never had the opportunity to give it a shot. Bearing all of these caveats in mind then, let’s begin.
Original Sin 2 is a game that is all about choice. The first series of choices you are given center around the creation of your main character, and what you decide will have consequences on how the narrative proceeds. You can choose from among the half dozen available Origin characters, each with their own short cutscene that gives you an overview of their background history, or create your own hero from scratch (though he or she will lack an origin story, there are more customization options like race and class).
Of course, right away you’re faced with a plethora of alternatives, from character appearance to stat builds, and though Fane, an undead skeleton, and The Red Prince, an anthropomorphic lizard, stood out to me the most, I decided to play it safe and go with the brawny human warrior Ifan Ben-Mezd (and happily I was still able to mess around with things like his facial structure, hair color, etc.)
The beginning of your journey finds you aboard the Merryweather, a ship full of prisoners destined for the dreaded Fort Joy, an island that houses a Sorcerer prison where the most dangerous inhabitants of Rivellon (the kingdom in which most of the game’s events unfold) are transported to serve out their pitiable remaining days. Ifan—the character I chose—is himself detained, shackled by a collar that prevents him from using ‘Source’, a sort of life-force that permeates all beings and holds incredible power for those with an ability to effectively wield it, namely, Sorcerers.
You see, in Rivellon the outright use of ‘Source’ among the common citizenry has been banned as it is believed to attract ‘Voidwoken’, monstrous creatures that exist in a parallel realm and have begun invading Rivellon through a hole in the ‘Veil,’ a Source-infused barrier that separates the land of mortals from the ‘Void’. The Void is a barren, primordial realm that I took to represent the antithesis of the material world; it is not quite nothingness, however, but a place that contains the Voidwoken along with corrupted ‘Eternals’, precursors of the seven races that now inhabit Rivellon.
If all of this sounds rather confusing, then let me assure you: it is. I won’t try to summarize the metaphysics that underlie the narrative here, for while there’s probably a good deal of lore that I’m missing given that I forewent the series’ earlier entries, even when I reached the finale there were a number of characters and subplots that yet remained obscure to me. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The ship that accommodates Ifan and the other Fort Joy-bound prisoners (including the other Origin characters, some of whom you can recruit shortly afterward) comes under attack by a giant Kraken, a Voidwoken who is drawn to the vessel due to the presence of a Sorcerer amongst the crew named Windego. The Kraken destroys the ship, killing most on board, and when you recover your senses you find that you have washed ashore onto the beaches of Fort Joy.
This all turns out to be quite fortuitous for Ifan as he is a mercenary who was hired to kill a Bishop named Alexander, the leader of a quasi-religious military faction that aims to rid Rivellon of Sorcerers by purging them of their Source. As it happens, it was Ifan’s intention all along to come to Fort Joy as this is where the good Bishop currently resides.
This is how the first of the Original Sin 2’s three Acts commences. The story, needless to say, opens up a great deal over the course of its 100+ hour campaign, taking you and the party members you enlist across many different regions, involving dozens of NPCs and intricately interwoven plot threads. And, as I mentioned, the game is truly all about choice; whether or not you decide to help others escape the Merryweather at the outset, or fulfill your contract to kill Bishop Alexander, these decisions are entirely up to you to resolve, and oftentimes that decision impacts how the story progresses, occasionally setting into motion or concluding other congruent quest lines. Even the fates of the Origin characters you meet depend upon whether or not you choose to take them along for the adventure.
The writing in Divinity: Original Sin 2 is solid. From a narrative standpoint, I thoroughly enjoyed the degree to which Larian Studios gave me near complete control over the fortunes of not only Ifan and friends, but basically every NPC that you come across. The game’s multiple endings are also contingent upon the outcome that you wish to bring to fruition. And the individual lines of dialogue that you encounter are, for the most part, entertaining enough. Every interaction has clearly been well thought out and I can’t knock the developers for their artistry or creative output insofar as the main narrative–or any of its particular exchanges–are concerned.
Better yet, nearly every line of dialogue features voice-acting, including a narrator that frequently fills in details such as what a character may be thinking, or how their facial expression betrays that person’s true feelings (which isn’t visually conveyed and probably couldn’t be given the game’s isometric perspective). I appreciated the voice-overs, especially the narration, for though they almost never sounded very convincing I also never found myself getting annoyed by them, which is perhaps the most that one can hope for where voice-acting in video games is concerned. They added dimension to both the characters and overall story that, unfortunately, I otherwise couldn’t quite connect with despite some fleeting moments that captured my imagination.
That’s doubtless my biggest issue with Original Sin 2’s writing, to the extent that I can lay blame on the game rather than chalk it up to my own indisposition. Though there were aspects of the storytelling that I found to be truly intriguing at times, and the inclusion of countless well-written sidequests helped to keep me engaged throughout, ultimately the plot of Original Sin 2 left me fairly confused and admittedly underwhelmed. And aside from being an epic that I didn’t fully understand, I always felt somewhat detached from its characters.
When it came to who-did-what, or who-belonged-to-this-or-that-group–i.e. the ‘what’s’, the ‘why’s’, so on and so forth–I simply found that I didn’t really care all that much. It’s not for a lack of trying either. To the extent that I wanted to get into the characters and background stories that Divinity: Original Sin 2 portrayed, I just… couldn’t. At the end of the day, while there was much in the narrative that I appreciated during the moments that I was heavily invested in the game, on the whole I found it to be largely forgettable.
Whereas I felt little more than apathy towards the story of Divinity: Original Sin 2, the gameplay elicited a much more visceral reaction, and one that was mostly positive. Combat and exploration are really the bread and butter here, so let’s first discuss combat.
Like everything else in Original Sin 2, combat requires a decent amount of patience to fully grasp. There are an almost endless number of ways to build your party, from the weapons and armor you elect to use, the ‘Talents’ or ‘Abilities’ you wish to enhance, to the ‘Skills’ you can have your characters learn—whether these be physical or magical—and until you find yourself comfortable with Divinity’s various systems you’re likely going to struggle. A lot. Unless you’re the most hardcore of CRPG enthusiasts (which I am not), the learning curve in this game is steep.
Combat ensues when you attack a creature (or NPC) on the field or they decide to ambush you. Every character involved has ‘Action Points’ (AP) and any action that you take when engaged in battle, like advancing the position of a party member from point A to point B, or choosing from amongst your available set of moves (again, whether physical or magical), requires the use of AP. When a character runs out of AP, it’s someone else’s turn.
That’s the simple half. The more difficult part is coming up with the right strategy to ensure success. Make no mistake about it, Original Sin 2 is very much a tactics game, and the most similar title that I had played within the year prior, in terms of its role-playing action, was Fire Emblem: Three Houses. That might be a rather superficial comparison in many other respects but Divinity’s dogfights had far more in common with that game than any of the other (non-S)RPGs that I’d encountered previously (and since).
Apart from character stats and equipment, you have to always be mindful of the environment while on the battlefield. If an enemy is on a ledge above you, they will have an advantage as their attacks will be more likely to score a critical hit. If you knock over a barrel of oil and lubricate the area in which an enemy stands, their movement will be slowed. Hurl a ball of fire at the oil spot and kaboom! Now you may be surrounded by a scorching blaze. If you want to put it out to avoid the potential of taking burn damage, call down rain from the sky. And likewise, if you’re standing in water, then you’d better be careful that no one strikes it with lightning or fills it with poison, or things will turn south very quickly.
These are some of the situations to consider in every armed conflict and is where Original Sin 2 shines at its brightest. It’s utterly satisfying to strategize each move, or the next three, and then watch as your execution flawlessly snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. My only problem was the extent to which defeat occurred, i.e. over and over again, especially in those first ten agonizing hours or so on Fort Joy when I felt that I was totally in over my head.
The game includes varying modes of difficulty that you can choose at the start of your campaign (or change at any time you please). From easiest to hardest, there’s Story Mode, Explorer Mode, Classic Mode, and Tactician Mode, along with an Honor Mode that includes the game’s hardest difficulty setting (Tactician), in addition to the erasure of your save file should all of your party members fall victim in battle (I think you’d have to be something of a sado-masochist to find enjoyment in this game mode). Basically, the harder the mode, the stronger and smarter the A.I. Now, I’d like to think that I’m no wimp, but I am of the opinion that there is a point in video games when adversity starts to impede fun (*cough* Cuphead *cough*). So, I went with Classic Mode.
Even then, my early hours on Fort Joy were brutal. People will often say about some problem, generally speaking, ‘It gets worse before it gets better.’ With Divinity, I found the inverse to be true: ‘It gets better before it gets worse.’ I continually found myself at the mercy of people or enemies that seemed simply impossible to overcome (they weren’t all that merciful). There was so much to see and so much to explore in the game’s dense, beguiling landscapes, dangling in front of me as a kind of tease, for virtually every path that I took resulted in my quick demise.
Eventually, of course, I did slowly gain my bearings. After much trial and error I became powerful enough that I was able to enact vengeance upon my former tormentors. And then, drunk on my newfound authority, I chose to wipe out nearly every trace of life that I ran across on that cursed prison island (sparing a few of the innocents, but only a few) solely because I could. At this point, after hours of frustration and bewilderment, I began to warm up to the game, loving it even.
Then, finally, I got off of Fort Joy, making my way to an uncharted area called Reaper’s Coast, one of the larger topographies among the game’s handful of disconnected, open-world regions. I was eager to explore and flaunt my newly acquired powers, growing ever more confident in my mastery over the game’s comprehensive menus and mechanics. And… once more I regularly found myself on the receiving end of a sound thrashing. Rinse and repeat.
This was more or less my experience throughout the entire game. I would endure stretches of vexation, attacked by enemies or attempting quests in which I stood no chance, only to finally overcome until I was yet again confronted with what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. Even when it came to the final boss, there were different endings that I could have procured depending on how I approached that battle, and I did what I almost never do in video games: I took the easiest way out.
This hampers, in my view, the other aspect that is perhaps Original Sin 2’s greatest asset: its exploration. Every one of the game’s three Acts consists of open-world sections that are resplendent in their colorful design, and yet I always felt discouraged from thoroughly investigating them until the very end of my time in each Act (once you continue on to the next Act, you cannot return to any of the areas in the preceding ones). Sure, one could say that is part of what makes the challenge pleasurable; you see a location that you’re unable to traverse, which instills in you all the more incentive to keep pressing onward. I get that. The problem is that you never quite know where you should go, which made exploration an endeavour that all too often resulted in punishment rather than reward.
But to speak of exploration for a moment, aside from the dangers that lurk around every corner, behind every shadow, and beneath every bush, Larian Studios did a magnificent job in the creation of Divinity’s world, Rivellon. It’s a realm full of life, interesting NPCs, and tons of loot. You can examine nearly every object to see whether or not it contains any items that may be of some use (for selling or crafting, for example).
Given the dizzying amount of interactive objects and items that you can acquire, Original Sin 2 is an obsessive-compulsive personality’s worst nightmare (this applies to its volume of discoverable side quests too). If you’re the type of person who has to check every nook and cranny for that last piece of sellable junk to fill up your inventory before moving on to the next room, you’ll have plenty to keep yourself busy. It’s also easy to imagine why a mouse and keyboard would be the ideal way to experience Divinity.
And yet, to the credit of BlitWorks, the team that handled the Nintendo Switch port, they somehow pulled off an incredible feat in making the interface on the Joy-Cons/Pro Controller feel extremely natural. Absent a mouse to effortlessly hover over an object to check if it contains any worthwhile items, the developer implemented an ingenious alternative. Hold ‘A’ to ‘scan’ over an area, the scanner expanding outward in a radius from the point where you are standing, allowing you to inspect entire rooms at once. It’s a creative solution that somehow works brilliantly well.
There’s a lot more that I could say about Original Sin 2’s gameplay but for brevity’s sake I’ll conclude with this: there is an abundance of things to learn and do in Divinity, and the points that I have raised thus far hardly skim the surface. All things considered, when everything felt like it was clicking for me, few RPGs can match the level of fun that Original Sin 2 offers. But this was dispersed across too many lulls, as well as sections that just proved more obnoxious than enjoyable. And to be clear, it’s not that I am complaining about the game’s difficulty per se, but rather its difficulty spikes. Granted, you are free to roam large swathes of Rivellon at your leisure and do as you please, the pacing of the game could still have been better and will always stick out to me as a bit of a sore spot.
I’ve already said a little with regards to the game’s presentation, from the way it perfectly translates its control configuration from the PC to the Nintendo Switch hardware, to its high-quality voice-acting which indisputably belongs in the upper echelon of video game voice-overs. In terms of graphics and performance, Original Sin 2 may suffer some when compared to its PC counterpart but the game still looks and runs great on the Switch. The characters and environments aren’t super impressive when maximally zoomed-in but you’ll almost never play from this vantage point. For the most part, when you’re running through swamps or caves, the game–including its art style and camera perspective–resembles the Switch port of Diablo III. That is to say, the quality of its visuals remain fantastic.
Likewise, composer Borislav Slavov (Crisis 2, Crisis 3) handles the game’s fully orchestrated score, and it has everything that you’d want to hear in a fantasy epic: there’s classic tavern jingles, tracks that invoke scenic countrysides, and others that superbly capture the setting whether you’re in a creepy dungeon chamber or in the middle of a fierce, adrenaline-inducing battle. In revisiting these tunes (all of which are currently on Spotify), I forgot just how much I adored the game’s music. The Main Theme and the absolutely beautiful composition, Rivellon, still give me goosebumps.
The music, like the overall presentation, is top notch, and I really have no complaints on this front (there are some long loading screens but that’s about it). Divinity: Original Sin 2 is easily one of the more impressive productions on the Switch, especially when one considers that, unlike Larian Studios’ upcoming AAA heir-apparent (Baldur’s Gate III), Original Sin 2’s original development launched with a Kickstarter campaign (that raised two million dollars and went on to generate Larian Studios about forty-two times that amount within the span of a year).
I started this review with a few caveats so it’s only proper that I conclude with one or two as well. This may sound strange coming from someone who is currently reviewing a game but oftentimes I find it easy to dismiss the pronouncements of game critics. That said, there are certain publications and outlets whose opinions I value more deeply, and on the whole I generally take a game’s Metacritic score to heart, even when there are countless examples of game’s receiving more accolades than I feel like they merit (*cough* Undertale *cough*). Hence, when my feelings about a game are at odds with the overwhelming census, I seriously question whether or not the fault lies with me.
Wait. Fault? These are all merely opinions, anyway. And as someone who considers himself a gamer first, who just so happens to like to write about games as a hobby (all of us here at SwitchRPG have actual jobs, you know), I have to give you my honest take on Divinity: Original Sin 2. As a critical darling (its Metacritic score is 93%), many would consider Larian Studios’ magnum opus to be an outright masterpiece and a must-play title. Our very own Gio called it ‘one of my favorite games ‘eva’’’. If you yourself feel that it epitomizes nothing short of video game greatness, I won’t contest the point. I can completely understand why you’d feel that way but–what is the saying?–different strokes for different folks, I guess?
Don’t get me wrong. I tremendously enjoyed Divinity: Original Sin 2. You don’t pour 150 hours into a game, in two weeks no less, unless you’re having a good time. And it’s no exaggeration to say that I could spend hundreds of more hours in its world, replaying the game in different ways for a whole new experience and learning an abundance of tricks that I’m sure I overlooked the first time. But as no less than thirty of those hours were spent in futile ventures that ultimately resulted in game over screens, my exploits felt somewhat tainted by extended joyless intervals.
Nevertheless, the game is really good, and the moments of frustration and tedium are far exceeded by numerous peaks of pure bliss. If you find that CRPGs are your primary fix, then yes, you must play Divinity: Original Sin 2. For everyone else, I can wholeheartedly endorse it as worth your time–with the caveat that you excel in patience, embrace persistent failure, and have a lot of time to give. To quote the game’s tagline, remember: ‘Choose wisely and trust sparingly; darkness lurks within every heart.’