With some extra time due to lockdown, and my kindled interest in BG3 thanks to promising looking demo, I decided to return to D:OS2 and give it a full playthrough. I tried it once before, got to the 2nd act and bounced of the game pretty hard. I played the game single-player, as I would any other cRPG. Normally I would be willing to justify some of the issues that I have with the game as the result of game’s multiplayer-centric design, but as devs are currently tackling an IP, which was singleplayer centric, and I see quite a few things transferred to it from D:OS2 I think it is fair to voice some concerns. At the same time this post IS about D:OS2, not BG3. How much of it will transfer over, I cannot judge at current time, and I will not attempt to. It’s gonna be long.
A WORD OF WARNING:
it will be mostly complaining. My overall opinion of the game is positive/mixed – I admire a lot of it, but can’t say I enjoyed it much. As to my background – I played pretty much every major cRPG and it is by far my favourite genre. Baldur’s Gate2 set me on this path, when I played it in highschool, sometime in mid 2000s.
Let’s start with the main praise I have for the game: the engine Larian build is superb. It’s hand-made for the needs of the game and the investment was worth the effort. Lack of loading times, past the initial one, no indoor/outdoor transitions, robust systemic support – from interactive environment, weight if items being tracked, NPC inventory etc. Space for creative design seems to be endless. I am looking forward to seeing how BG3 will build on those foundation. I felt it was disappointed that Bioware invested in presentation, rather than deepening what BG2 offered –Larian is making high-budget RPGs, which focus on depth and intricacy – something AAA isn’t interesting in investing, and smaller budget projects like Pillars of Eternity can’t quite hope to tackle.
I really didn’t enjoy character building/leveling system.
It consists two things I never really liked:
1) constantly growing attribute system – I don’t find it to be interesting mechanically – you pick a stat which corresponds to abilities/weapon that benefits of it and max it out – not terribly interesting choice – it is especially disappointing as it is one of our main ways of leveling.
2) It’s a classless system, which feels very much like a weak class system. There are some neat combos one can come up with, but the way skills influence effectiveness of abilities really disallows for too much experimentation. I felt a character could focus on two mains skills, with some low level dips into other utilities.
Now, I was never interested in number gain – doing more damage and getting more health, to be able to kill enemies with more health and survive them doing more damage was never engaging to me.
What I look for in a good RPG system are:
1) an ability to define and grow my character – ideally every level should allow me to add something to my character which would further define him and make him/her memorable
2) raise complexity of the combat – adding more and more things to keep track of.
For me D:OS2 peaked around level 10. That was the point in which I developed two main skills which would form a foundation of my characters, and they gained majority of skills I would be using throughout the whole game. I also got enough skills slots by this point to not run out of abilities to use in combat. As such my character development stifled at that point, and what was left was keeping up with enemy’s constantly growing stats.
My favourite part of character development were talents, but I felt there were too few of them, and they were granted to rarely to save the system.
And leveling brings me to the part I disliked the most: items. All in all, there aren’t that many items in D:OS2 – same item, with same or similar bonuses but higher level reappear again and again. Not very interesting, whatever, let’s move on. Oh, but wait! If you don’t spend a big chunk of your game time rummaging through your inventory, comparing items and making sure that your inventory is up to your current level you will get smashed to bits! Numerical rise in items usefulness is so steep with each level, it trumps all other aspects of progression! It’s a tedious, uninteresting and unrewarding way of doing things, that slows the pace of the game to the crawl but also leads to frustrating exploration (more on that later). There are few more interesting items, but at their best they provide an extra skill your character can use without fulfilling requirements nor memorizing it. It’s fine, but it’s a small consolidation in the sea of annoyance that are items in this game.
So let’s talk about this exploration.
Robust D:OS2 engine allows for really big, multiplayer maps – but I didn’t feel like the game took an advantage of it. The biggest offender is the 2nd chapter, Driftwood, which I think is the worst part of the whole game. It’s frustrating, as the game is wide open, but there seems to be a very specific way of progressing through it. A numerical different between low level inventory items and high level enemies is so big, you will get smashed if you go to the place you are not supposed to. Either the game doesn’t lead the player and allows them to do what they want/whenever you want, or they lead player throughout the minefield they built.
There are some crude ways of doing it – clearly indicating what level are quests and areas designed to, or some more strict handholding, but there were RPGs in past, which lead players in skillfull ways. Original Baldur’s Gate has open world structure, but NPCs and quest subtly guide players towards natural and enjoyable progression – one can easily run into mobs too high for their level, but that would be by their choosing, not by accident. Same with Gothic1&2. D:OS2 is a trial&error, trying to guess where the game wants me to go, getting ambushed by high level enemies and having to flee or getting murdered – it’s a waste of time, and takes you out of the experience.
In addition, it is all too easy to miss big chunks of the quests by too eager exploration. You can find the end point of a quest and still finish it, but it fails to engage. I got better in my 2nd playthrough, but in my 1st attempt all too often I would get involved in something I had no idea and didn’t care about, because I missed the quest giver. I also found it difficult to actively pursue a quest due to lack of direction – a good example is orange quest for Griff in fort Joy, of which I couldn’t find any clue as to were to go, and yet found myself in possesion of said oranges next time I talked to Griff – didn’t know when and from who. On my 2nd playthrough I found that ability to talk to animals and infinite ghost vision are must have mods, which solved a big chunk of those problems. But, especially on the first playthrough, so much of the game felt like sweaping the map, and not being able/be punished when trying to set a goal or direction.
And as we talk about ghosts and such – D:OS2 seems to have brief obsessions with gimmics. Driftwood is LITTERED with body parts to eat for your elf. Some, as far as I know, might be required for completing some quests – as such areas are filled with non-consequential body parts to hide the ones you want to eat. But after Driftwood, they for the most part disappear. Same with ghosts, who for the big chunk of the game acts as nothing more than fuel for source. While really cool ideas, they don’t work, if they are not intentionally engaged by players – oh, I wonder if I eat this person I might learn something I want to learn – instead it is an act of sweapin’. Some of those important bodyparts have no indication they might be important, and same which ghosts. You just spend time shoving meat into your elf and chat to every ghost (at least thanks to a mod, you can skip activating the ability everytime you see a body!) and hope something interesting will happen.
Now on to content.
I am not sold on the origin thing. I think it is clever as a multiplayer design – but from an engaging cRPG perspective it doesn’t cut it for me. Companions didn’t work for me – they never evolved beyond “coop buddy stand-in” – that feeling you get when you play multiplayer game with AI. They have little to say, don’t really seem to have a developed characters, goals or opinions, don’t interact with the world around them, don’t acknowledge each other. Just more bodies to fight, and skills to use.
I didn’t like the PC either. In my mind there are two cRPGs – those that want you to create your character and roleplay and express it, and those that put you in shoes of mostly pre-defined protagonist and want you to play along. D:OS2 is… neither? World and story is so straightforward that contemplating “what would your character do” is not really a thing I could do. I never felt like I could express who my character is, nor the game ever encouraged me to do so.
At the same time, pick an origin character and there is an annoying disconnect between you, the player and the protagonist. The PC will meet and interact with people, whom you know nothing about, have past and goals you don’t quite know. A more focused RPG like Mass Effects or Witcher3 manage to fill that gap and align player desires with pre-determined protagonist desire, but for me D:OS2 does neither – it doesn’t allow for me to role-play, and it does nothing to engage me with the protagonist it gave me.
Which lead me to three main complaints about writing about the game:
1) Something I described in my notes as twitch writing
– none of the origin character seem to really exist in the world and the story. They react to everything with disconnect and snark – very much as players in the safety of their home might. Everyone gives so little crap about what happens around them, it is difficult for me to engage with the events. Every game requires to play along, and D:OS2 just makes it really difficult.
2) Exposition isn’t inherently bad.
If I am to care about what’s going on I need to understand what’s going on. Source is bad… what is the source, how is it different from normal magic, where are we, who are the factions we are talking about etc. etc.
D:OS1 was balls to the wall silly. While not exactly not something I liked (how many bad cat puns can you made and still be able to sleep at night?) it felt more genuine that D:OS2. D:OS2 is still silly and absurd – it just also happens to have macabre. Having someone have their face brutally smashed doesn’t make for a darker or more mature tale… it’s just more violent. If I want a darker tale, I don’t mean gory, just more nuanced – believable world I can engage with, place when I feel my actions could have real consequences. Folks at Obsidian are masters this stuff. Characters in D:OS2 don’t have nuanced or depth, they are just unlikable. If you guys want to make silly games – that’s fine. If you tried to appease people who might have rolled their eyes out of their sockets in D:OS1, I don’t think it really worked… or at least not for me.
Something I have to mention as well: reactivity. D:OS2 gives player a lot of freedom, but really acknowledged it. If I can do something, then it’s generally doesn’t matter. If I did something D:OS2 didn’t like, it will retcon it anyway. Kill a character – resurrected because plot demands it, and character in question doesn’t mind being killed by you. Consume NPCs source so they can’t be resurrected - they got resurrected anyway. The game is also sloppy how it tracks things. I killed both mother tree and shadow-prince, so the game decided I did nothing, because I couldn't turn the quest in to neither.
At the same time the game loves to reference random forgettable NPCs. Name calling random NPCs I encountered briefly tens of hours ago, and can’t quite recall… There are even ending slides for character I barely recall… which would be cute addon, if core reactivity was satisfying.
Now the final part. It is mostly easy of use stuff
1) I already mentioned ghost vision and pet-pal
– I really fail to see the benefit of having them as they are in the base game. It’s increased tedium without depth added. Does spending 10 or more second every time player encounters the body a worthwhile addition? On top of that, missing on ghosts can lead to some major progression roadblocks.
2) Like wise – individual bartering and persuasion
– again waste of time. There is no benefit of having it limited to one person – bartering only applies to character that has it? Give him all the items you want to sell before traiding. Can’t pass a persuasion check? Reengage the NPC with a character with high pers. go through entire conversation again and pass the check this time around. Mods make this game far more playable, but then disabling achievements just feels like developer spite for making their game more fun. Likely there is a mod for that as well.
3) LOOOOOOOOT RANGE!
You rummage through a container: you see a sword, bow and a dagger. You can switch between warrior and ranger, to check whenever equip the items or dump them in wares, but not the thief because she is third in line, and doesn’t stand literally on the box. You should be able to freely switch character in those situation if they are in follow mod, or have wider interaction range. Annoying time wasters. Same with choosing reward from quests – do I want those daggers? I don’t know, I can’t recall from top of my head what they thief is carrying and I can check even though she is standing right on top of me.
4) “I have noticed something”
– where? What? If you miss the starting sparkle when a character notices something, it can be very difficult to locate it.
5) Item diarrhea
– like it’s all cool how interactive the game is, but sometimes it goes way overboard with amount of trash items it packed into one room. It’s also very inconsistent. Some rooms read like a craigslist, some don’t. If there is intent to it, I didn’t see it. Beside making it difficult to make out what is in those rooms, I also found myself picking up items by accident – you click to move, and you get caught stealing. How, what? I don’t even know.
6) MMO style hotbar doesn’t cut it
– another extreme time waster. It’s nice to have “frequently used abilities” bar, but making it all there is just isn’t sufficient. Keeping an order in there is a pain, with abilities coming and going all the time. I would either like to see something more traditional for BG3, or if system will stay similar a more robust “folders”. One can achieve it with containers but it’s fiddly. Any not allow us to simply add “arrow/potion/scroll” button which will allows to choose from any item we have in the inventory? Or group of spells: fire spells, ice spells etc. Something to easy organization and cut time spent on moving things on the hotbar, everytime spell roster gets changed or expanded
You got that far? Congratulations I am done. Thank you for reading.