Games like Divinity: Original Sin are something of a rarity. Not only is it a gigantic role playing game, originally designed for PC, yet that's actually had a release on consoles - it also harks back to the days when developers were all about offering value for money, and role playing games offered the largest bang for your buck. There are no season passes, no downloadable unlock codes, and nothing by way of micro-transactions - instead, what you've got here is a heaving hulk of a game that packs so much in, it makes other games look bad.
Divinity: Original Sin: Enhanced Edition is the somewhat unwieldy name given to the console release (and free PC upgrade) of Divinity: Original Sin, a top-down role playing game set in a fantasy world, with more depth than the Mariana trench. With a huge, hundred plus hour long story to play through, and full support for drop-in, drop-out split-screen co-op, so you can bring a friend along with you for the ride, the story here revolves around a mystical power known as Source, a kind of magic controlled by folk known as (you guessed it), Sourcerers. As a pair of Source Hunters, it's up to you to go around the world, finding anyone who uses this magic, and, well, dealing with them - and we don't mean in a trading kind of way.
Your adventure begins when you get word of a murder in the sleepy seaside town of Cyseal, where a councillor has been found dead, and some foul Source play has been suspected. However, while solving the murder may be your main port of call, you'll quickly find yourself side-tracked by the dozens of side-quests the villagers want you to do. Whether you're tracking down a pair of teleportation pyramid crystals for an absent minded wizard who's forgotten where he placed the other one; trying to figure out how to draw in a crowd of people to watch a down-trodden entertainer's show; or simply persuading a thief not to steal a fish, there's a huge range of things to pass the time - but unlike other games, where the quests are fairly straightforward, so many of the quests in Divinity: Original Sin will take up a heck of a lot of time - and a lot of thinking. These are a lot more than simple fetch quests.
Take, for example, an early quest revolving around a talking head. One of Cyseal's stage/freak shows revolves around a talking, severed head named Nick, who's somehow still alive and conscious. As you'd expect, a huge crowd have gathered to hear him talk - but things aren't all as they seem. Going and chatting to the head reveals that he's being held against his will - and so you'll need to help him out. How do you do that? By stealing him. But how you actually go about doing that is more open ended.
If you're feeling particularly nutty, for example, you could simply pull out your sword and kill his handler on stage - but then you'd also have to take on the entirety of Cyseal's defensive legion. You could try to sneak on stage, but with such a big crowd around, you'd undoubtedly get spotted. We also tried setting fire to a nearby bush in the hope of scaring the crowd away, but unfortunately, the Cyseal guards don't take too kindly to random pyromaniacs wandering the streets. So instead, the solution seemed to be to lure the crowd away. But how do we do that?
Well, turns out there were two choices - either you could put on a show yourself (which we didn't have enough charisma to pull off), or you had to do a little bit more sleuthing. Another thing you'll find yourself doing a lot of in Divinity is talking to anyone and everyone. As anyone could have an interesting quest or tit-bit for you, and as there's no obvious way of telling if anyone's worth talking to before you start a conversation with them, you often find yourself talking to every Tom, Dick and Harry just in the blind hope someone will tell you where to go next. And sometimes, it'll actually work.
Here, chatting to folk eventually led us to discover that Nick the Talking Head wasn't actually as popular as appearance would suggest, and that his keeper had hired a crowd-attracting guy to sit whooping and cheering in the audience to draw the punters in. All you had to do was go and bribe the guy to head over to one of the other shows, and bob's your uncle, the performer's distracted - and Nick's in your pocket. And that was tricky enough - but that's actually only the start of the headless (or bodyless?) Nick quest. You should see how complex the murder mystery one gets.
But it's this same complexity that is also Divinity's undoing, as at times, you can get totally lost - sometimes for hours on end - without a clue what to do. A few simple changes here would have made things a lot more accessible - the ability to set an active quest in your quest log, and have where you need to go next marked on your map would have been a great start - but it's just one of the fairly standard role playing features that for some reason aren't present in Divinity. The aforementioned "this is the man you're looking for, talk to him" icon above certain characters would help hugely, too. It kind of feels like so much work's been put into giving you so many things to do, and so many ways of completing each quest, that they've glossed over some of the important bits that hold the game together. That said, we do like the fact you can mark things on the map manually, so if you come across something you think you should return to later - when you have more powers - you can make a custom note.
The other great thing is Divinity's rather unique sense of humour. This may be a fantasy game, but it's certainly not as stuffy as you may expect - this is a game where you can talk to animals (after buying a certain skill), where getting a quest from a giant talking clam is an everyday occurrence, and being threatened by a French chicken is almost blasé. It's absolutely bonkers at times - and all the better for it.
Yet while Divinity may like you exploring, it doesn't appreciate it when you take things too far. One of the major irritations with the game is that it's all too easy to make an error of etiquette in sight of someone important in the town, and immediately find yourself in conflict with an entire legion of guards. It's made all the more awkward by the fact the controller isn't as precise as the mouse the game was meant to use, so the book you're allowed to pick up may be on a table you're not supposed to be rifling through - stand in slightly the wrong place, and get the wrong object, and you'll be accused of thieving, before being brought up against the proverbial wall. It's one of those things that means you're constantly on edge, and find yourself saving more than you really should have to, because you never know who you'll upset next.
Still, the quests are only one part of Divinity: Original Sin, and while arguably most of your time will be spent running around talking to people, a fair amount of it will be spent in combat too. And this is another area where Divinity really surprised, because while it may look like a hack-and-slash style game, it actually has turn based battles. Ditching the button mashing for a more strategic, slower paced approach, each character will begin each round with a number of action points, and everything you do - whether it's moving, attacking an enemy, using a skill or spell, or even changing your equipment - will drain them. There's no grid to speak of here, either - instead, the further you move, the more action points you'll drain, and that forces you to think about battles differently.
Luckily, not only will you have your fellow source hunter with you (possibly human controlled if you're playing in co-op), but you can also add other non-playable characters to your team. By the time you venture out of Cyseal, if you've played your cards right you'll have added a half-cat, half-human archer woman known as Bairdotr to your team, along with Madora, a Texan lady with a very big sword. Working together as a team, you'll need to think carefully about how you spend your action points, and what you do in each battle, as you try to play up to each character's strengths in battles that every bit as much depth and variety as the main game itself.
For warrior characters, like Madora, the obvious option is to stroll up next to a character and whack it with your sword for massive damage, but even the most basic of fighters have access to a range of skills and abilities that can either damage foes further away, or buff your friends (or simply put them out if they're on fire). Bairdotr, the archer, is a god send, as even if you position her far away from the battle, she can still pick foes off from a distance - or use her ricochet ability to fire an arrow the bounces off all nearby foes, letting you hit several enemies in a single shot.
But perhaps the most useful characters to have are the wizards - the magic users - who can take advantage of all sorts of elemental powers to cause havoc, many of which can be used together. One of our most used strategies is to lay down a wall of fire between us and our foes. Waiting for a few to clump together, then casting an oil slick spell would create a huge puddle of oil around the foes, just waiting to be lit alight. A quick fireball later, and the enemies inside were ignited, slowly burning away, draining a sizeable chunk of their HP with each go. On the downside, creating said fire throws up a lot of smoke into the air, which hides any enemies behind it from your archer - they won't fire blindly, and simply will refuse to shoot at anyone you suspect may be lurking behind the smoke. Throwing a water balloon down and putting the fire out has a similar effect, creating a barrier of steam.
It's these trade-offs that form a huge part of the Divinity battles, with there being so many ways to approach each fight, and so many components that each work together that you can exploit. Just yesterday, we ran out of action points at just the wrong time, and couldn't set fire to the oil patch we'd created. Luckily (but perhaps not for her), one of our other characters had previously been set alight by our foes - and so all we had to do was get her to set foot on the oil patch to cause it to burst into flames, taking the enemies with it. In a similar show of the sheer depth here, an early boss fight sees you facing off against a giant robot gone awry. Many would simply raise their characters until they can brute force their way through - but more cunning players will head out to have a chat with the wizard that made the robot first, who's only too happy to give you its remote control, letting you disable it from a distance. Pretty clever, right?
But while the depth may provide you with plenty of options, it's this same complexity that lets the game down, as the battles in Divinity are incredibly hard. And we mean, incredibly "oh god, I'd better save" after every battle, because you can never be sure you're going to survive the next one. You can go from full health to dead in the space of a single turn without even really making a mistake, because all it takes is a few of your attacks to miss, and the tables will turn.
Luckily, the game does come with two difficulties - a normal, and an easy mode - but while the easy mode does make things a heck of a lot simpler, we can't help but feel it doesn't make things simple enough. Although we were dying less on easy, we still kept biting the dust with a little bit too much ease - and in Divinity, death is a big problem. You see, while most games provide you with a handy resurrect spell from the very beginning, or let you visit a church to bring your party members back to life, there's no such thing in Divinity. Once your party members are gone, they're gone - unless you have a single-use resurrect scroll in your inventory. Unfortunately, you only start the game with one of these, and they aren't exactly all that cheap to keep restocking either. Regardless, though, you can't afford to keep dying as much as you undoubtedly will when you first start out with Divinity - and that's a big problem on the accessibility front.
And it's that level of difficulty, and complexity, combined with a bit of roughness round the edges that really stop us from giving Divinity: Original Sin a higher a score. Despite everything the game gets so right, from split-screen co-op letting us share the adventure with a friend, to the fact it's a proper, old-school style role playing game, on a console, without any sign of a season pass or any bleeding-the-consumer-dry DLC, we couldn't help but feel like we'd have been enjoying it a lot more with a few simple tweaks that'd stop us getting lost every hour or so, and breaking any pace the game was meant to have. It's a bit awkward spending 30 minutes wandering around town because you have no idea who to speak to next, only to finally find who you're meant to be talking to, leave the town, and get slaughtered by an enemy that's so tough, you wonder if you're actually supposed to be facing it yet. The difference turning the difficulty down made to how much we were enjoying the game was immense, but we still wish we could have taken it down that little bit more, too - or at least had an easier way to resurrect our friends. If you love your role playing games, and you've got a friend who'll stick with you for the whole thing, then Divinity: Original Sin is well worth picking up, as you'll find nothing else like it on console, and little else like it on PC. Just be prepared for a heck of a learning curve as you find the ropes - but plenty of reward if you stick with it.