I highly recommend reading this post, as it shares my filosophy of playing RPG's (which really enchanced the enjoyment I get from the games), but of course I am aware of its length. So here's the long story cut short:
I hope Divinty: Original Sin can be finished on your very first try when you play on the easiest difficulty setting, as the "Once-In-A-Lifetime" challenge of trying to win on your first attempt without ever dying or reloading makes the experience so much more intense. However, this requires the lowest difficulty setting to be free of unforseeably instadeath situations and the like.
Now, the long story:
(this thread will be lightly spoiling to those who haven't played Divine Divinity and Divinity 2, but I'm discussing things that happens rather early in the games, not how they end)
I had so much fun when I tried to win Divine Divinity on my very first try. Maybe you've played games like Torchlight 2 or Diablo 2 on "hardcore mode", where death is permanent. Then you know half of the intensity. But you had probably won those games already in "softcore" before trying your hand on the permadeath option, and thus you knew what to expect.
When I played my "Once-In-A-Lifetime" challenges in the Divinity games, I could never know what awaited me around the next corner. If an NPC seemed to be shifty, I had to be vary, as trusting the wrong person potentially could lead to my death. And in situations when NPC's warn you about places (e.g. "many went looking for the treasure in Dungeon of Doomy Gloom, none of them returned"), it was genuinely scary.
Nothing beats the feeling of trying to guess what awaits you in a dungeon! Do the vague rumours sound like it's a nest of ghosts, spiders or dragons? Should you bring spirit, poison or fire resistence? The Once-In-A-Lifetime challenge is so fun because it turns the game into an unique adventure. Just like in real life you have only one chance, and because of that, everything that happens really matters. You'll be suprised by your own reaction when you run narrowly escape a deadly situation! Your heart will be pounding and you'll be so happy, so happy to be alive! You'll promise yourself that you'll NEVER take such a stupid risk again and from now on swap all your +damage equipment for +hitpoints and STOP exploring the more distant regions of the map until your finished grinding the safer zones. And you'll actually have a lot of fun grinding safe areas after such an experience! Well, sooner or later you're going to forget your promise to yourself and start taking risk again, but until then you're going to feel genuine delight grinding!
However, only well-designed games are fit to be played this way. There can be no unforseeable situations that result in instadeath even on the easiest difficulty. Divine Divinty is a perfect example of fair game to play this way. Why?
1. You can pause your game whenever you feel like it, and you can instantly drink potions while the game is paused, BUT you better not forget resistence, hitpoints and choosing your fights wisely. Straying too far from the areas you're supposed to be in, fighting enemies that outlevel you and going for a hitpoint-neglecting "offence is the best defence" character build is going to get you instakilled (though not in an unfair way).
2. You can teleport away whenever you want, but you have to fight for the teleport stones. I didn't dare to use the first teleport stone before I had located the second one. Had I used it as soon as I found it, I probably would have died by the monsters surrounding it. But that wouldn't have been an unfair instadeath either, as the guy who gave you the teleport stone warned you and said he couldn't guarantee it wouldn't take him to the bottom of a river or straight into a stronghold of orcs.
Divinity 2, on the other hand, did NOT feel fair! I played on the easiest difficulty setting, and put ALL my points in constitution (or whatever the hitpoint raising stat was called). Still I took a lot of damage! I had big troubles surviving the attacks from the evil wizard who attacks you in dragon form before you get to Sentinel Island (i.e. NOT the necromancer on Sentinel Island who is your last opponent before you get YOUR OWN dragon form). The monsters in his tower were also able to hurt me really, really quickly.
And still I had done everything I could to prepare. I had explored pretty much all of the world that was accessible to me before I entered the tower. I had done all the quests and I had killed enough rabbits to invoke the wrath of the monster bunny (which I killed from a distance, so I'm not sure if he would have instakilled me with a single hit in melee). The only areas I had not explored were the stronghold of the Black Ring necromancers and the canyon. The soul of the dragon lady warned me and told me not to go to the necromancer stronghold until I got my dragon form, which I thought was a good thing; I choose to avoid the canyon because the monsters there were very high level and because I was afraid of falling down ("better to go there when I can fly").
But as I said, I played very defensivly. I grinded and I made sure to wear and wield things that made me survive rather than kill quickly. That I put all my statpoints into Constitution didn't hurt me that much, as I was using a sword that killed enemies swiftly in melee anyway, but it was a bit annoying there were no stat points left for Intelligence, Dexterity, etc., and as I took damage so quickly even with this build, it would have been impossible to ensure survival if I had raised other stats as well.
Also, the potions had cooldown limits and it was tricky to escape from losing battles (though I had some fun juming away from an ambush with arrows and magic projectiles flying after me). But boy I was happy when I finally got my dragon form with my own personal teleport to my own personal castle!
So, how did my Once-In-A-Lifetime games end? In Divine Divinty I refused to give the Engineer the money he needed to set his tormented soul free. I then tried to kite him down with my bow as he ran after me and hurt me with Hell Spikes(?) which took away half of my hitpoints each. I used my teleporter stone to escape him and used my leftover stat and skill points to improve my survivabilty. I returned to the Engineer and summoned scorpions (this was the patched version where summonings and bows were improved). I don't know if this was a bug, but the Engineer repeated his demand for the 2000 gold pieces he was denied, and I repeated my anser: no. I kept on trying to run back, summon scorpions, heal myself and fire arrows, but I don't think I had taken away more than 20% of his hitpoints when I cast two hell spikes in blazingly quick succession, and that was it. Totally my own fault! As I enjoyed the Once-In-A-Lifetime challenge so much I really, really regret ending it with my foolhardy decision to fight the Engineer. I even had a second chance to change my mind and pay him and still I didn't take it!
Divinity 2 on the other hand, ended with me getting instakilled by ramming a tower in dragon from! What an anti-climax! I had waited for so long to finally be able to teleport myself away from danger, fly, be able to take more damage, etc. And then I die just because the game is programmed to automatically reduce ones hp to 0 if you touch one of the guard towers (I noticced that you instantly die even if you slowly fly into one, so it wasn't the high speed impact from ramming it that killed me either)!
This is how I would design the Original Sin's "very easy mode":
1. Potions would not work instantly as they do in Divine Divinity, but would take a turn to drink.
2. There would be an escape teleport, and it would always work. I don't really see that much point in inescapable boss battles and other "no turning back" situations. My encounter with the Engineer is a good example of escape teleportation in a boss battle that didn't save a foolish player from his death, but would have saved a wiser player. Without an escape teleport, a death at the hands of the Engineer would have been the fault of the game desiners, not the player! A short delay before the escape teleporter kicks in could be used as balancing measure to keep players away from cheesy hit-and-run tactics.
3. I can understand that there are a few situations that would destroy the game's scripts and dialogues if the player was able to teleport away. In those situations, some NPC should warn the player of the incoming "no turning back"-situation.
4. As I don't think there should be any completely instant way to escape, I don't think monsters should be able to do insane amounts of damage either, not even if you happen to stand next to an explosive barrel when you are hit by a fireball. Especially not if only takes the death of one of the two heroes to end the game, or if the death of a character means that escape no longer is an option. The exception should of course be if you try to go deep into the areas where monsters outlevel you that are designed to be entered later in the game. Remember, I am talking of the "very easy" option now, making tactical misses that leave you vulnerable to elemental combos could very well mean an instadeath on the hardest difficulty level.
4. It shouldn't be likely to level the character in such a way that it becomes crippled and faces major disadvantages because of that. But of course, it's hard to find a balance. In Diablo 3, any level-up choice can be undone, and I personally don't have a problem with that even if it's a little silly that death is permanent but not skill choices. However, I don't think it would work in Original Sin. Raising one's persuation before chatting with an important NPC only to swap those skill points for something else when going into battle would be cheesy! Divinity 2's "respac for money" is better, even the price requires balance in a world where the monsters you can kill for money don't respawn.
5. Those non-respawning monsters of the Divinity series can be troublesome when it comes to balancing the game. As I said, Divinity 2 forced me to meet an enemy I almost couldn't defeat only because I had killed all other monsters except those vastly outleveling me. "Pushing" the player to face things he or she don't feel ready for would only make him or her angry if it results in the player character's death.
Wrong: "I KNEW it wasn't a good idea to face the emperor lich but the stupid game gave me no choice!"
Right: "I KNEW it wasn't a good idea to face the emperor lich but my stupid curiosity gave me no choice!"
I actually think the player should be able to grind his or her way to victory in any situation. If the player systematically empties the whole game world of non-respawning monsters, or grinds respawning ones for an unreasonable amount of time, even the end boss should be beaten without too much bother.
6. Even though I call it the "Once-In-A-Life" Challenge, I don't think it should be very challenging to survive for a player making wise decisions. Those who fail the challenge should not die because of tactical mistakes (doing a few bad combat moves), but strategical ones (facing dangers they aren't ready for, stealing from a well guarded castle, etc.).
BUT - playing through the game in a strategical wise manner, systematically going from the easiest area to the toughest, is often rather boring! As I said, it is something you do for a while after narrowly escaping death in a scary close call situation, but soon enough your lust for adventure is going get the better of you! This is what I love so much with "One-In-A-Lifetime"! It is not like a computer game - it is roleplaying a true adventure! You leave your cosy "home" (stash + bed + teleporter stone) and its safe surroundings and go out to face greater risks and rewards, you almost wet yourself as your character almost dies, and when you finally return home, you realise how much you truly love it! As I said, playing the game strategically perfect should be safe even if you made an ineffective character build or make dumb tactical moves during combat, but that would not make tactical skill or clever skill specialisations useless! When you DO go on a dangerous adventure, it should be your smart choices during combat and level ups that save you. But should you fail your "Once In A Lifetime"-experience, you shouldn't feel that you died because of your bad battlefield decisions or because you didn't look up a character guide on the net. No, those things only sealed the fate you challenged brought upon yourself when you neglected the NPC who told you NEVER to stray from the path through the misty swamp of tentacled mindeaters.
7. No level-scaling, please! Nothing beats the feeling of escaping something really, really dangerous, clinging on to life by the skin of your teath - only to come back later and having your vengeance on those who almost killed you! Also, your own level shouldn't affect how much xp you get from killing monsters. Why? Imagine running into a lone death knight 10 levels higher than you and carefully sidestepping his crossbow bolts while you fire your own at him, sometimes taking a lot of damage but spending many health potions to keep on fighting. Finally he drops dead! You get a load of experience, his sword and his shield, or just a random drop of items 10 levels higher than you. Now imagine that you couldn't use his sword because of its high level! You almost died for it! Or imagine that you don't get full xp, because that would be "too good" and give you a couple of full levels from just one monster.
8. No self-destruct sequences (or rather dark castle crumbing down after dark lord's death) please! And no escorting missions ending in "game over" if they fail.
Or, imagine you actually do gain a couple of levels from killing the death knight, but that you now don't get full xp from the monsters you usually fought, because their level is too low. If this game is like others in the Divinity series and monsters don't respawn, you actually lower the amount of xp you will get during the game if you take on monsters of higher level than you! That would encourage you to play an extremely safe and boring game where you begin with exterminating the weakest monsters and then systematically take on foes of higher and higher levels. No, when doing the "Once-In-A-Lifetime" challenge, you playing it safe is rewarding in itself, and when you actually do work up the courage to defeat that death knight, you deserve to wield that sword and gain those leves, without easier monsters losing a part of thier xp value.
If you read through all this, I would greatly appriciate if you told me what you think of my "Once-In-A-Lifetime" challenge! Would you like Original Sin's easiest difficulty setting to be well suited for the playstyle? Sure, the difficulty setting would be way too easy for anyone who have played the game before and especially someone who isn't even playing a permadeath challenge, but it can hardly hurt to have it there.
Those of you who have bought the alfa/beta tester Kickstarter offers, would you be willing to test the fairness of the "very easy mode"?
Those of us who only bought/will buy the finished product, would you be willing to try winning your very first game? Unlike checking a "permadeath" box on the character creation screen in most games, "Once-In-A-Lifetime" doesn't delete your character when you die, so you don't have much to lose anyway. If the unique adventure experience ends in tragedy for the heroes, you can continue playing the game normally, with some suboptimal choices here and there (from not reloading) as the only consequences.
And finally, those of you who make the game, what do you think of this challenge? Do you feel it is worth to balance one of the game's difficulty settings only for an experience players can have one single time, a challenge most players won't even try out? I think you, as developers, could do something against that. You could have the game suggest the player to try out the challenge when he or she chooses difficulty. Not because it happens to be my favourite way of playing, but because I seriously think this works wonders for ANYONE's immersion! It is a roleplaying game and an adventure, after all. Why not make it actually FEEL like you live a life in another world, where brave deeds defying death are as real as the tragic demise of an overconfident hero?