Why Divinity: Original Sin is the best game I've ever hated playing
It's easy to to put a game down when it's faults are front and center. When a game is constantly glitching, or a mechanic is so broken that playing it is almost impossible. When the story isn't compelling, or the dialog is too campy. When a game is tangibly bad, it is easy to say "fuck this", put it away, and never look at it again. Yet, if a game is well made, has a decent story, and characters you can like; Well then, that makes it harder to put that game down and leave it be, no matter how much you want to.
That was my dilemma while playing Divinity: Original Sin , an old school RPG from Larian Studios. D:OS is, objectively, a good game. As I searched for a good RPG, especially one that has a very dynamic magic system, all the forums I visited couldn't recommend this game enough. It was critically well received,, with a respectable overall score of 87 on Metacritic. The Steam reviews are glowing as well, with a "very positive" overall rating.
Clearly, people have found a lot to love about this game
The story itself takes standard fantasy tropes and adds it’s own unique spin.In D:OS you are a Source Hunter, one who hunts down Sourcerers, or people who have a type of magic considered evil within this world. They are not to be confused with sorcerers who are people with regular magic.
You get a chance to create your own character as well as a companion who, at the start of the game, have been summoned to investigate a murder, one in which Source may have been used. There, you can recruit two more companions to assist you on your journey, and who have their own problems that can be resolved throughout the course of the game. As is usually the case in seemingly simple mysteries. Through the course of your investigation, you learn that this murder is nothing but a small part in a larger plan. A plan to destroy the world as you know it.
So naturally it is now your duty, nay your destiny, to save it.
How you save the world is, well, that is for you to find out.
My biggest problem with this game is that it throws you into the deep end, and just leaves you there. It is entirely up to you to learn how to swim, and figure out where to swim to.
Larian Studios doesn’t leave you totally in the dark,you are given the option to go through a small tutorial dungeon at the beginning of the game. This teaches you the basics of combat and how the dynamic world works. That’s really the hook for this game, everything can be interacted with, and you can use the elements to your advantage. See an oil barrel near an enemy? Have a character shoot it with an arrow to break it,spilling the oil on the ground. Then you can have your mage set the ground on fire. Boom, burning enemies. Is there fire blocking your way? Have a someone cast rain to put those flames out. This helped create a combat system that was, hands down, the absolute best part of the game. The top-down tactical camera added more depth. The turn based system kept things from spiraling out of control, and the hits had real impact.
So why do I hate this game?
The problem really begins and ends with how little the game tells you about what you should be doing and where you should go.
The game gives little to no direction as to where you are suppose to go, or when. This can be quite nice in an open world RPG, but I like to know what the boundaries are. For example, you never know when you’re about to enter a fight with something way more powerful than you are, they do a poor job of letting the player know that they have stumbled into an area meant for higher level characters.
Once you arrive at the first town and are introduced to the main plot, you are left to figure out where to go on your own. Your map, once you've cleared the fog of war, doesn't show you where anything is. Or rather, it shows you where the buildings are, but not what each building holds. Worse yet, you'll meet characters who will give you a quest, only you won’t know that you have been given a quest and you’ll have little clue as how to solve it. The whole game requires a lot of trial and error and knowing what to do only after something screws up.
Case in point: the first side quest I encountered was right after I entered the town of Cyseal. I found a ship burning in the docks. I watched as the ship burned and sank, not realizing that I could have saved the ship if I had the proper spell or scroll on me. Of course, I didn't have the proper spell or scroll, so I could have done nothing to help, even if i knew I should. The game never even hinted that i would need this item so soon or what it would do.
Some sidequests that are given can't even be resolved until much later in the game. Sometimes so much later that you forget you even had a quest to begin with.
Most of these issues would be easily remedied by an "active quest" indicator. Of course D:OS doesn’t have even this most basic element of modern RPG design Instead, you have a journal that vaguely tells you that something is up. As you can imagine the more quests you gather, the more cluttered your journal becomes. After you complete a quest, it doesn't leave your journal, it simply becomes marked with "cleared" and is left to take up more space. This makes the whole thing unwieldy and a chore to use
This directionless game play might be fine for seasoned gamers. For a "newb" like me, it takes some of the fun out of a game. I don't like solving complex puzzles. Or trying to find a key two areas ago for a door I am trying to enter now. (Though, to it’s credit, in D:OS you can open a door by destroying it.) Overall it just gets in it’s own way, killing any momentum i could hope to gather.
This clunky design is typified in a late game example. Toward the end you have have to enter a gated area. On the floor in front of an unbreakable door are four symbols. As you pan your camera around, you see levers associated to the symbols. These levers however are blocked by more locked, unbreakable doors. After scratching my head and cursing the game for several minutes, i checked the walkthrough. The walkthrough told me that I had to fight certain enemies, each related to the symbols, thus related to the levers. These enemies did not exist in my game. That is because the walkthrough was for the original D:OS, not the Enhanced Edition I was playing. Several more frustrating minutes later, I found a Youtube walkthrough. It showed me that I had to place random statues onto random platforms, to reach a random, otherwise unreachable area, to pull a lever, to open a door, leading to one of the levers. But, I had to leave one character behind to continue to pull the first lever, to open passage to other areas, to reach the other levers.
Confused? Yea, so am I. It’s all just so damned tedious and needlessly complicated. These layered barriers added nothing more than an annoying roadblock.
Point being, this is a game with great RPG systems, and engaging story and some stellar mechanics, it just wants so badly to have you be clever while failing to give you the right tools to be clever. The game wants you to know the answers, but it won’t ask you the questions. It’s what makes Divinity: Original Sin frustratingly brilliant.
I hate it so much.
Anyway, I’ve now started playing Divinity Original Sin 2. I’ll let you know how much I hate this game soon.