Divinity 2: Dragon Knight Saga
Platform Reviewed: PC Digital Download, US
This is one of those few games that I enjoyed so much that I just had to write about it. If you liked Divinity 2 and are interested in the meandering detailed impressions of another gamer, then this chatterbox of a post is for you.
Back in 2002/2003 I played and very much enjoyed Divine Divinity, Larian’s first CRPG. If you’re interested in what I have to say about that game, I posted a review of it on Gamespot. I skipped their second offering, Beyond Divinity because after spending a few hours with that game, I really didn’t like the light me/dark me paradigm.
When news was released about their third CRPG game, Divinity 2: Ego Draconis, I was skeptical about the whole ‘become a dragon’ feature, probably because of how the ‘light me/dark me’ feature of Beyond Divinity didn’t work for me and the ‘turn into a dragon’ feature of Divinity 2 rose my ‘unique feature I’m not much going like’ flag.
However, I was finally compelled by the glowing reviews by both game reviewers and gamers to pick up Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga and I’m glad I did. For those of you who do not know the confusing breakdown of Divinity 2 and all its various flavors I’ll quickly summarize it here:
Divinity 2: Ego Draconis (ED)
Released in the U.S. in January 2010. This is the original version of the game.
Divinity 2: Flames of Vengeance (FOV)
This is an expansion to Divinity 2: Ego Draconis. It primarily plays out in the city/town of Aleroth – a location you touch on during ED. I don’t think there was a retail release for FOV in the U.S., but I believe you can get it from various on-line sources via digital download. GameFaq doesn’t show a release date for this version so I’m not sure when it became available.
Divinity2: Dragon Knight Saga (DKS)
From what I understand, this package combines Divinity 2: Ego Draconis and Divinity 2: Flames of Vengeance into one package. Among other things, this version offers additional quests, additional weapons & armor, rebalanced gameplay, and a superior graphics engine throughout both the original campaign (ED) and the expansion (FOV). This version of the game was released in November 2010.
Note: I came within inches of receiving a boxed copy of this game from GoGamer.com, but instead they shipped me Lego Harry Potter. That whole drama played out on RPGWatch’s forum here
. I ended up buying and playing the digital version of this game from GamersGate.com. As far as I know there are no differences between the digital version of this game and its boxed counterpart. After finishing DKS, I was in fact able to obtain a boxed version of the game from GoGamer.com, I’m one of those people that just needs to have a boxed copy.
It’s also worth noting that it is unfortunate that Larian created some brand recognition problems with three different products for one title. I will probably refer to this post in the future to remember what the differences are. But it is also worth noting that this result is because Larian put a lot of ‘love’ into this game to perfect it further after its original release – something to be commended despite the fact that their marketing makes things a bit confusing.
With that all said, the short version of my impression of Divinity 2 is this: whatever incarnation of Divinity 2 you play, it is a fun game and worthy of any CRPGers library. The game has an interesting story, memorable NPCs with (mostly) decent voice acting, great musical tracks, interesting quests, a wide assortment of weapons and armor, a lot of attributes and skills to fiddle with, a well-designed and modestly interactive world to explore, the ability to enchant & charm equipment, an elegant user interface, and a touch of good humor. You also get to turn into a dragon and own a flying fortress – now what can beat that? If you want to know more specifics, read on!
To follow is a series of impressions on the game both good and bad, in no particular order of importance:
Nods To ‘Greats’
In an interview posted on RPGCodex.net, Swen Vincke of Larian Studios alludes that Ultima VII is one of his all-time favorite CRPGs and it shows in their games. Like Divine Divinity, Divinity 2 gives a few nods to the Ultima series in a number of ways. Both games include a level of world interaction that can reveal entrances to hidden locations or objects. Divinity 2 has ‘black rock’ as one of its ore materials. There is also the matter of Divinity 2’s expansion, Flames of Vengeance who’s acronym, FOV is the same as Ultima 7’s expansion’s acronym – Forge of Virtue (okay maybe I’m reading into things here). But the nods to other ‘greats’ don’t end with the Ultima series. If you like Zelda games you will find some similar gameplay mechanics; dungeon rooms who’s doors slam shut upon entering only to be opened after fighting ‘bad guys’ and ‘bombs’ that can be placed to reveal passages behind terrain. There is also of course a lot of ‘Diablo’ in this game in terms of weapons and armor sets and hordes of enemies you sometimes have to fight all at once.
Divinity 2’s UI is a joy, especially considering the trend in recent years by developers making identical UI’s for both the PC and consoles. Divinity 2 employs an above average UI and one that takes into consideration a mouse, keyboard, and higher resolution (compared to TV resolutions for consoles). The UI is elegant and easy to use while still displaying plenty of information on-screen at once. Tooltips are provided when you hover over things with your mouse and left clicking on most things provides quite a bit of detail. Clicking on weapons and armor doesn’t just provide the essential statistics, but also some lore information – I thought this was a nice touch that generates a deeper interest with the game by the player. Click on a skill and not only do you get the essentials, but you can watch a video of how that skill plays out in-game. Your inventory is broken down into suitable categories that make sense and make it easier to find what you are looking for.
My only (small) gripe with the UI is that you cannot drop inventory items on the ground. However, later in the game when you get your flying fortress you can send things from your inventory to your fortress chest at any time. And throughout both ED and FOV it is worth noting that I never ran out of storage space with my fortress chest. But still, it would have been nice to be able to drop stuff you pick up back onto the ground (and have it stay there).
Overall the game world itself is well done. Exploring every nook and cranny is rewarding and fun as often you will experience something interesting. Also, the graphics are above average and so the world is beautiful to look at. Early on you will find a very large tower that seems to stretch endlessly into the sky – and you can go to the very top. Poking around routinely reveals a hidden hatchway into some cave you can explore for quests and treasures.
However, there is no day and night cycle in this game, which for me is a negative – not a huge negative, but still its absence was puzzling to me for this sort of game. Bizarrely, the developers also include many references to night time in NPC dialogs relating to quests and also in books which one would think would be avoided by the developers knowing that no day and night cycle would be implemented in the game.
Another thing that somewhat broke immersion for me is there is a disjointed feel to the game world. A game like Divinity 2 really should be more like Gothic 3 in the sense of one contiguous outdoor land mass to explore. I don’t mind dungeons/caves/temples having their own map (aka load screen). But Broken Valley, the Orabas Fjords, and Sentinel Island should have been seamless in terms of traveling to each of those destinations.
Invisible Barriers was a big complaint about Arcania: Gothic 4. However, Divinity 2 seems just as bad as Arcania: Gothic 4 with this issue. There are invisible walls everywhere in this game which is really a shame. The situation goes from bad to worse when you start flying around as a dragon as bumping into invisible walls and ceilings becomes a matter of routine.
Arcania: Gothic 4 took a lot of heat for its liberal use of invisible barriers and I find it interesting that I personally have not seen any criticism about invisible walls toward Divinity 2. Perhaps this is because Divinity 2 is viewed as having many other strengths while arguably, the same cannot be said for Arcania: Gothic 4. World of Warcraft was my last experience with a flying mount prior to playing Divinity 2, which sets a pretty high bar in terms of freedom of movement. By comparison, flying as a dragon in Divinity 2 is ironically a claustrophobic experience.
I really enjoy books in CRPGs and Divinity 2 almost gets them perfect. Even the graphical presentation of the books makes good eye candy the first time you see it. Little touches like the corners of the pages curling up under your mouse as if you are going to turn the page is enjoyable. Some books are silly and some books provide the player with more knowledge of the lore of the world which is always welcome. I also liked how no single book was a very long read. Some books in Oblivion were very long reads – sometimes too long in my opinion (of course, this is very subjective).
Unfortunately, I never did come across a book that initiated a quest which was surprising to me. Also, no books that I came across increased any of my attributes or specific skills for having read them – a feature I enjoyed in Oblivion. However, you can find books that give you skill points for use in your dragon form. And in FoV I found (a lot) of books that increased my human form skill point reserve as well.
Feedback is one area sorely lacking in many CRPGs but Divinity 2 is one CRPG that goes further than most in this area. The game communicates to the player very clearly as events take place. If you progress a quest by some action, the game tells you by stating the full name of the quest as shown in your quest log and weather the quest was completed or progressed. As you perform activities that progress quests, your quest log updates to reflect your progress, accompanied by a blinking cursor in your quest log to indicate changes have occurred in your quest log for a given quest. Every dialog you’ve had with NPCs is recorded and available to you at all times (except it seems that mindreading info is strangely omitted). If an item is given to you or removed from your inventory, the full name of the object is shown on the screen as either being added or removed from your inventory. When you are buying equipment, hovering over items compares it with currently equipped items. The amount of feedback in Divinity 2 is very thorough and I very much appreciated that.
While I loved Gothics 1 through 3, they all were lacking in this area. How many times I picked up a ‘ring’ from the ground, only to have to fiddle around reviewing my inventory for 5 minutes to finally realize I picked up yet another ring that I already have 5 of and it wasn’t a new or unique ring that I did not have. It was the same when NPCs gave you something during an NPC dialog: NPC Joe Smith gives you ‘ring.’ Ugh.
In my opinion, Divinity 2 does so much right in this area that I find it hard to complain about some shortcomings. For the sake of offering improvement tips, here are a few things I would have included in this area:
Keys – In my play through of the game, the place where you find a key and the door or chest it unlocks was usually in close proximity. However I did end ED with two keys that I never found a lock for. I would suggest that the player be able to label their keys with information. Or at the very least, have a key’s tooltip text state the specific location where you found the key. That way, the player could later have some chance at hunting down the lock the key belongs to. As it stands now, I have no idea where I picked up either of those two keys and no clue as to where I’d begin to look for their locks.
Another thought is that if information can be attached to keys to help identify where the key was found and perhaps any other relevant information about the key, the developers would have more flexibility to perhaps place keys further away from their locks with players still having a good chance of hunting down the lock for the key.
Finally, a key ring would have been nice. Note to CRPG developers: If you are going to have lots and lots of keys in your game, create some kind of key ring in your game to organize them all. Thank you.
Quest Loot – When you hover your mouse over equipment in your inventory, a chest, or a vendor’s inventory, the game will compare whatever you are hovering over with what you have currently equipped. However, this feature doesn’t work when you select your loot options after having completed a quest – which is one of the most important times it should work because once you’ve made your choices, you can’t go back and pick something different if you select something that is not something you really needed.
Map – The maps provided to the player do their job although I didn’t like the art direction of them much. However, the developers allowed us to make our own notes on the map and for that all is forgiven. The only thing I’d ask is being able to type in a bit more info per marker than is allowable in Divinity 2. Oh and one other thing. When the player brings up the map, the name of the area should be displayed… for example if you’re exploring, ‘The Bandit’s Cave’ then when you bring up the map it should read, ‘The Bandit’s Cave.’
I generally didn’t have any problems with inventory, Divinity 2 separates things out into manageable categories. Your carrying restrictions are fairly liberal. You can carry 100 items and if you invest skill points, you can carry much more than that. My only (small) criticism is that quest related inventory items should not count as part of your carrying capacity and any other object that you cannot destroy or send to your war chest also should not count.
Like no day and night cycle, this is another puzzling design decision. You take absolutely no falling damage. If you were in orbit above Broken Valley and fell to the ground, you’d be just fine. Then, bizarrely, the developers include several areas in the game involving jumping from platform to platform where the only real risk of falling means you just have to start all over again. In the early part of the game, there is even a jumping platform area where the ground is littered with the bodies of those who came before you and fell to their deaths… but if you fall you are perfectly fine. Because I love to explore game worlds, the absence of falling damage detracts a bit from the feeling of reaching a difficult area where falling and dying to get there is a real barrier (Risen got this right). This is just a minor gripe but there you have it.
Most of the quests are interesting with very few being of the Fed-Ex type or kill X foozles variety. I also enjoyed picking up quests via signposts. I had hoped that I would at some point obtain quests by reading books but it never happened – or at least I never found a book that added a quest to my quest log. I also thought the voiceovers for inanimate objects was a nice touch… for some reason it had this sort of ‘Harry Potter’ movie feel to it (which is good if you liked the Harry Potter movies).
One design decision regarding quests that I like is how quest related objects (and even doorways) spawn when you get a quest or become aware of things via mindreading. I’ve read on various forums how some people don’t like that. I like this approach for two reasons: 1) I feel more comfortable exploring things because I’m not worried I’ll break a quest by finding something out of order – I’ve played a lot of ‘sandbox’ type games where you can stumble on to objects before your character is told about them and sometimes you break quests (and sometimes you break plot driven quests where the only solution is to start all over again /twitch) and 2) In general (as in, not in every circumstance) I like the idea that if your character doesn’t know about something that is quest or puzzle related, then objects relating to that puzzle shouldn’t be there. Here’s an example, in Ultima IV, one way your character can learn mantras for shrines is by discovering NPCs who know the mantra. However, if you as a person (as in, not your game character) already know the mantras (because you are perhaps on your second play through of the game), you can do certain activities sooner than other players can who will have to discover what the mantras are first. In short, I like an appropriate amount of definition between what I know about the game as a player and what my character can know based on his progress in the game world.
FoV introduced a few timed events. I like the idea of timed events and thought it should have been used more frequently in FoV. Timed events were completely absent in my play through of ED – although there could have been timed events that I just missed on my first run through of the game. In any case, timed events, when done correctly, can add an exciting challenge to fights with enemies and completing quests. I only experienced two timed fights in FoV (which were challenging in a fun way), wish there was a bit more than that.
The NPCs are well done with a few very memorable characters along the way. The voice acting is above average for a computer game as well (especially if you compare the voice work of Divinity 2 to Arcania: Gothic 4). Mindreading is a nice touch with all nature of various rewards for exploring peoples’ thoughts. Early in the game I made the decision to mind read everyone (that was mind-readable) and never regretted it. Sometimes mindreading gives you a boost in a specific skill, or a skill point, or even an attribute point –all good stuff in my opinion.
My only gripe as it relates to NPC’s is that while there were usually a good number of possible dialog responses in conversations, after experimenting, very few result in a drastically different outcome. For example, you have a 3 choices of how to respond to an NPC: respond with respect, respond rudely, or respond in a neutral way. After saving/loading and trying each response, the end result is typically the same. That said, the strengths of this game are plentiful and if you want dialogs that are center stage in a CRPG there is always Dragon Age: Origins.
The crafting portion of this game allows for a greater RPG experience and is done adequately in Divinity 2. Crafting isn’t nearly as involved as in Oblivion or Risen and tends to be more simplistic with its implementation (which is neither good or bad). My only gripe in this area relates to charms… I just never really came across enough charms that were useful to my equipment’s level. For future Divinity games I’d like to see crafting expanded and a bit more complex.
There is also a little inconsistency as it relates to crafting. While in my tower I could create enchants and potions when my actual materials were in my war chest. But to charm an item, the charm needed to be in my personal inventory. This is just a small inconsistency but I noticed it.
I have a love/hate relationship with CRPGs that create randomized loot. I love the idea, however I am personally cursed. The curse goes something like this: I decide to role play a mage character. From that moment on, the game’s random loot generator will forever tend to present melee and ranged weapons and armor. In another scenario I decide play a melee character. From that moment on, the game’s random loot generator will forever tend to present magic and ranged weapons and armor. And so on. You get the idea. This is my curse. And Divinity 2 was no exception with implementing the full force and effect of this curse upon me. There are some nice weapons and armor sets to found in Divinity 2 which are fixed in terms of their stats and bonuses, but in the time between nice armor sets, I was running around in magic and ranged oriented weapons and armor pieces with a bunch of skills invested in melee.
Something else I’d like to mention here as it relates to weapons and armor. I’d like especially difficult to get to (or unlock) treasure chests to NOT produce random loot. There is nothing more yawn inducing than figuring out the twists and turns of some puzzle or quest (or finding some difficult to find key) that leads you to a treasure chest that randomly spawns a lot of junk you could care less about. I’d like more of a hand-placed-loot approach in situations like these. This is a medium-level gripe and is not limited at all to just Divinity 2 (cough TES games cough).
Divinity 2 shines here. Unlike Oblivion where level scaling creates a sort of ho-hum experience as you level up, enemies in Divinity 2 will hand you your head on a platter in 1/10th of a second if you roam into areas you aren’t prepared for. It can be frustrating to be outclassed. But it is highly rewarding when you return at a higher level and with better gear and put some serious wup-a$$ on baddies who handed you your head earlier on. Divinity 2 scores high in the satisfaction of character progression.
Divinity 2 really shines here. Carefully exploring the world is rewarding. More often than not, you will experience something interesting. This aspect of the game really compels the player to pay attention and look everywhere – and for that you are generally rewarded. This was one big criticism I had with Oblivion – sure the world of Oblivion made nice eye candy, but other than that there wasn’t much reward for exploring nooks and crannies. In Divine Divinity, there was a house where I moved a bunch of barrels from all being stacked on one another and discovered a trap door. There was no hint or clue (that I can remember) to do this, but since you could move objects around, when I saw the barrels, I was naturally inclined to move them. It’s this kind of discovery that is so satisfying. Divinity 2 has moments like these in spades.
I wish my mage character (who I’m playing now) could have an outfit similar to Zandalor. I like the idea of a pointy wizard hat for my mage characters.
Divinity 2 can and does offer real challenges when it comes to combat. There’s nothing like wondering into an area where the enemies substantially outclass you and you get handed your be-hind. In outdoor areas if you find you are outclassed you can always just run away. But indoor areas can offer a very special type of punishment if you’re not careful. Players need to utilize Divinity 2’s old-school save-game system, (and old-school save game systems are a good thing) and use it smartly, in order to avoid unwinnable situations. There were at least 3 instances in my play through where I had to resort to a much earlier save because I found myself in a predicament where I could not defeat the enemies and I had become lazy with saving my game progress. These encounters always happened in scripted events in dungeons with fights against bosses (and their minions) where a door slams closed and locked until you defeat all enemies. Finding out at that moment you are terrifically out-classed can be painful if your last save was hours ago. My recommendation to players is to always save outside of a dungeon before venturing in. Then, while exploring the dungeon, use quick-save to capture your progress as you clear it out. If, in the end, you find you are outclassed with no way to escape the dungeon, you can resort to the save-game you made before ever entering the dungeon and only lose the time you spent in that particular dungeon.
20/80 Vision While Flying
When I first took shape as a dragon I thought the blurred effect while flying was pretty cool. About 1/10th of a second later however, I hated it. The reason is because it just made it hard to clearly see the game world. The final analysis of this ‘blurred’ effect is that while it has a cool ‘ooh ahh’ factor to it, it just wasn’t practical for the player as they explore the world.
I’ve read a number of complaints on various forums criticizing enemies that re-spawn in certain areas of the FoV content. However, I saw that as an opportunity to level up my character. After playing ED and always feeling like my character was behind the curve relative to enemies I was combating, I found this a refreshing way to even the playing field (and then some). I suppose if you are rushing through the game it can be irritating, but I liked it and didn’t think it was overly done.
Changes to Locations
I appreciate having access to all locations throughout a game. The ability to go back to places you’ve already explored and find subtle changes or changes in NPC attitudes. And I’ve always advocated for geographical changes to the environment based on player actions or progressing the plot of some quest (or main quest).
Divinity 2 gets this a bit wrong in my opinion. For example, once you obtain your fortress, Broken Valley is taken over by Damien’s forces resulting in a poison cloud on the ground making all but the highest elevated areas of Broken Valley accessible. This is the kind of thing I’ve wanted for years but Divinity 2 gets it a bit wrong. I like the idea of Broken Valley changing, but I’d rather still had it where the vast majority of that land space was traversable in human form.
Divinity 2 is a great game. It has all the trappings of a ‘sandbox’ game without quite being a ‘sandbox’ game which in my view is its single biggest shortcoming. Fortunately, the game has so much going for it that to bring it to the level of being a full-bore ‘sandbox’ game wouldn’t take more than the collective will of the developers to make it so. So what is needed to make a future Divinity game more ‘sandbox-ish?’ In my opinion, just four things; A full day/night cycle, falling damage, contiguous world-space, and deeper crafting mechanics. Nonetheless, this game is truly awesome.