Developers: Larian Studios
Publishers: Larian Studios
"I just wanted to play a game with my girlfriend." In that one line, Larian CEO Swen Vinke sums up the ethos behind Divinity: Original Sin -- a game that harks back to the golden age of old school RPGs ("Look at my hair!" Vinke says pointing to his snowy locks. "I'm nothing if not old school!") and let's you enjoy that solo or with a friend, and also create your own adventures.
An isometric RPG situated in the universe of the original Divinity, Original Sin is the story of two characters -- one man, one woman -- who become embroiled in a struggle for an enormous ancient power known as The Source. We didn't really go into much more detail in terms of the overarching scripted narrative itself, because playing through a portion of Original Sin, with producer David Walgrave on hand to help me get up to mischief, it quickly became apparent that it's going to be the narratives that the players forge for themselves that truly stick in the mind.
Take an early example in which we came across a distraught clam. The shrieking fellow had found himself washed ashore and wanted me to throw him back in the water. At moments like these, both players get to make a choice: do we opt to steal the valuable little creature, or do the nice thing and fulfil his wish? David was all for being considerate, I was up for being a bit of a bastard, but the manner in which this conversation played out was fantastic, as burbling snippets of conversation choices bubbled up until we reached something of an impasse. At this point, the outcome was eventually determined by an unseen dice roll, and we chucked him back into the sea and received a nice little reward for our troubles.
It's these little branching dialogue trees that form part of the charm of Original Sin. You can fully immerse yourself in true role-playing along with a friend, and the game will naturally respond to the manner in which you interact with the world around you and the characters therein. Going off the beaten track and uncovering little items and learning new lore will unlock an ever expanding litany of keywords that can be added to the dialogue trees, encouraging exploration.
Much in the same way that I found myself delighted by Far Cry 3's emergent gameplay opportunities through environmental systems and superb programming, so too did I walk away from Original Sin thinking that Larian are on to something rather special. Thievery is a perfect example of how Original Sin is predicated more on systems than a resolutely specific script. A first foray into a nearby town revealed market stalls piled high with goods ripe for looting. Indulging in kleptomania led to the shopkeepers calling for the guards and I was quickly hunted down and thrown into prison. But every action you take, and every choice you make, is recorded by the game and used to construct a social player profile for your character that will affect the way people react to you.
Rivellon feels like a lived-in world, stuffed with inhabitants, creatures, and horrors that would go on doing their thing regardless of our presence. Of course it's possible to dive immediately from the beaten track of the main story missions, and roam freely. Go out meet new people (or monsters), invite those people (or monsters) back to the town where you're staying and watch the good people freak out at the newcomers.
Combat returns to it turn-based roots, providing a seamless transition from real-time adventuring into dynamic isometric combat that reasserts a sense of tactical importance. Respecting your own power and getting out of your own way is a key lesson to learn early on, as is making the most of the elements. We followed up a water-based area of attack move on a group of guards with an ice blast that immediately made the terrain extremely hazardous, and a fire-based affront to my character let to a dousing from David. When it starts raining, it's time to get those electrical attacks out.
You can spend points to give you better insight into the various tactics that your enemies will use against you, but it all depends on your style of play. Larian are touting a classless system that allows you to spend your action points as you see fit, but that doesn't mean you can be overly extravagant in your spending either. “It's definitely a game that rewards you for thinking things through," says Walgrave. "You need to make the most of the skills and spells, your equipment, your weapons, the things you can craft. You'll need to use the environment to your advantage, spend your action points wisely, and use the fact that you're not always bound together to provide flanking opportunities perhaps. There are bonuses for working together efficiently as a party."
You see, even when playing with a friend, the co-operative play is completely optional. One of you could be merrily picking a fight with everyone you possibly can in a town (which actually means everyone and their cat), while the other is off gallivanting across fields and mountains on the other side of the map. You stumble across combat individually, so that even if your companion is locked in a mortal struggle, you can choose to assist and help out, leveraging the tactical advantage of having a second player to flank and backstab, or you could just bugger off and do your own thing. There are convergence points, of course, and the game is tethered t the world of the first player, but for a game that encourages you to spend time paying through with a friend from start to finish, there seem to be plenty of concessions to making co-op play as seamless and easy to access as possible. Drop-in, drop-out, locally and online. Original Sin is shaping up to be a game defined by player choice.
"Player choice is an essential part of what we want to create," says Vincke. "When you play a tabletop RPG you're all coming together to shape a world around you and make your mark on that world, and that's what we wanted to achieve here too."
But building the Rivellon that Larian want to create has taken time and money, particularly when one considers that the studio has abandoned traditional publishing practices to go fully independent. This is where the Kickstarter comes in -- that final injection of money to spit, polish, and get the game over the last hump. The systems are all in place, and Vincke notes that they could probably release a version of the game now, but the point has ever been to simply cart it out, but rather to see if there was an audience willing to pay a little upfront to have the developers push the boundaries in terms of depth.
"The money will go towards making Original Sin a richer experience," says Vincke. "It allows us to have more NPCs, more side missions, more scripted moments, and more unscripted opportunities because of the increased character number. It allows us to bring Rivellon to life in far greater detail and essentially make a more engrossing game.
"We're in a good position in that we've been able to make the game we wanted to make, but these things can always be better. We have enough to show an audience, so why not see if more maps, more characters, more quests, more puzzles, more loot, if these are things that they'd like to see. It's like focused pre-ordering. In the end we'll make a loss on those Kickstarter pre-orders because they'll be at a price lower than the eventual retail price, but without that money we wouldn't be able to realise absolutely everything that we want to in this game. It's an exciting model, certainly, and one that makes us answerable to peope who understand what we're trying to do -- our fans -- rather than some guy in marketing who's never played an RPG in his life. So it's kind of perfect for us."
Our time was too short to get a full idea of just how deep the rabbit hole will go when it comes to Original Sin, but Larian are fiercely proud of the game that they have on their hands, and it's not difficult to see why. It's an ambitious venture, staggering when you consider that Larian are throwing in the creation tools along with the game too, but the project smashed its Kickstarter target and is well into its stretch goals. In a world where plenty of vocal gamers have expressed disappointment that so many RPGs have moved away from the hardcore aspects that made the genre great to begin with, it's refreshing to see a team embracing that old school spirit and bringing it up to date seemingly without compromise.
Bring on November, we can't wait.