Monday, 14 December 2009

Game-Debate Review: Divinity II - Ego Draconis

If I were to tell you this review is about a dragon based RPG, it’s more than likely you’ll think of the massively publicised Dragon Age: Origins. Now while, DAO is certainly an excellent game it’s been somewhat hogging the limelight.

There are in fact other recent RPG releases, recent RPG releases that have dragon themes and this is where Divinity II – Ego Draconis comes in. Produced by independent Belgian studio Larian (Now say you can’t name a famous Belgian), Ego Draconis is the latest in their series of Divinity titles. However, new players need not fret because you can be totally unfamiliar with the previous games and still appreciate Divinity II as the highly enjoyable title it is.

You play the role of a newly trained Dragon Slayer in the fantastic looking fantasy world of Rivellon and the game starts with you creating your character. You choose the basics like sex, looks, class and starting stats. While this isn’t revolutionary, it does nonetheless give you the feeling that it’s your story rather than that of a pre-determinedcharacter.

Once you’ve decided on your looks and stats you have the opportunity to choose a class - warrior, ranger, priest or mage – and the choice will further boost your characters stats in some capacity. For example, choosing mage will increase your intelligence which will in turn boost your magic spells. As you level up it’s completely up to you how to distribute your skills which again, allows you to feel as if it really is yourcharacter developing in a way that isn’t too different from Fallout 3.

Once out of the training academy quests are the name of the game and you’ll play through a lot them. Many of these are optional side quests but without completing them you’ll find Divinity II gets very tough, very quickly. I learned this after my level 2 character failed the first boss encounter horribly. This problem was encountered throughout much of Divinity II, especially during the first half of the game. Without completing side quests and level grinding you’ll find it impossible to push on through the story missions because groups of enemies that are just a couple of levels above your character will absolutely slaughter you. However, roam around Broken Valley and its dungeons for long enough and you’ll get there eventually. (On an interesting side-note, enemies don’t respawn. Once you clear an area they’re gone for good.) The combat itself is a somewhat hack and slash affair but is fun nonetheless. It’s your characters special skills that make combat really enjoyable and these are assigned through hotkeys making it easy enough to dispatch of goblins, the undead, bandits and a variety of other clichéd Tolkienesque fantasy villains.

Yes, Divinity II is full of fantasy characters that could be straight out of Lord of The Rings or Dungeons and Dragons, but much of the game is tongue in cheek in a very charming way. You can’t help but smile when talking to the NPC’s who all have regional accents from throughout the UK. Of course, as inLord of the Rings , there are loads of “ooh ar” accents representing the West Country, but you’ll also find scouse soldiers, Irish boatmen, and my personal favourite, a Welsh weapon smith and his wife...apparently from Dudley. There is a real charm to the voice work of the NPC’s which certainly makes up for your characters lack of speech. Yes, you select a voice when creating them but this is mainly just used for quips during battle. When in conversation you select your responses from a text menu. Or you can choose to read minds...

Yes, as a Dragon Slayer you have the option to read minds while in conversation with NPC’s. This is paid for by sacrificing experience points. (These are easily earned back after defeating a few enemies) Sometimes mind reading will give you massive insights into completing a mission, extra skill points or a variety of other bonuses. Sometimes you’ll just end up seeing what the NPC had for lunch. Generally you’ll know if mind reading will end up being useful because the thoughts with the most benefit cost the most experience points to access. It’s a nice touch that certainly gives Divinity II a unique gameplay element in the world of RPG’s.

Now for the big one and what is possibly the most unique selling point of Divinity II – the ability to play as a dragon. You’ll have to work for it though because this ability is only unlocked around the half way point of the story. (I won’t say why exactly the slayer becomes the dragon, that would spoil the story) In dragon form you can quickly travel across maps and access areas that would be impossible to reach on foot. Of course your dragon will be involved in mid air battles with a hot key system identical to the one for the ground. However, if you’re planning on taking your dragon form transform enemies on the ground to mere piles of ashes you’ll be disappointed – while playing as a dragon you can’t target enemies on the ground, nor can you even see them. Occasionally I would transform back into human form only to find myself surrounded by foes and quickly killed. Frustrating but nothing a quick reload can’t help with. It’s not only when in dragon form that you’ll find yourself getting frustrated moving around Rivellon. Waypoints are provided for the main quests but that luxury doesn’t accompany the side quests. There were a few occasions where I needed to level grind but couldn’t actually find where I needed to go without exploring every nook and cranny of the map. Not that I don’t like exploring – I do – but sometimes I just felt the game would be more enjoyable if you were directed towards the locations when you take on side-quests.

A quick mention must go to the superb soundtrack that’s featured throughout the game. The storyline on the other hand isn’t particularly strong with its basic stop the evil fella theme. That said Divinity 2 is excellent fun and you won’t really be thinking of the story as you hack and slash your way through foes and complete quests. Larian studios have produced a good game here, and while some will say it’s your typical fantasy adventure, its tongue in cheek humour and the ability to play as a dragon certainly offer you something different. It’s also a massive game with a completion time of at least 25 to 30 hours when you throw in the many, many side quests which really demonstrates that Larian can mix it with the big boys. Add to this that many of the quests have multiple outcomes and there’s massive scope for replaying the game. Divinity II – Ego Draconis is an enjoyable romp and is definitely worth playing if you want a different take on the RPG genre. The hack and slash nature ofcombat also makes it an ideal first foray into the world of RPG’s if you’re unfamiliar with the genre. Divinity 2 does have some minor problems but it’s definitely worth parting with your precious gold coins for this magical experience. Get goblin bashing!

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

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