Review: Divinity II: Ego Draconis

Platform: Xbox 360 (also on PC)

Developer: Larian Studios

Publisher: CDV

# of Players: 1

Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: B+

Featuring a vast game world fun to explore,
many quests to take (or perhaps ignore),
Divinity II, that new Larian lore
more than deserves the posted score

It’s got some quirks (but don’t games all?)
mayhaps a patch will raise things tall
Still, for adventure, heed well my call
What’s here is tops from wall to wall!

Plain old good to flat out great RPG’s make me wax poetic from time to time and as it deftly straddles the fence between those two poles, Divinity II: Ego Draconis gets 2010 off to a fine start in grand style for genre fans. Sure, it wears some of its PC origins on it sleeve a bit too proudly, yet the game is quite addictive and indeed, very highly playable for hours on end. Despite some pesky technical issues that rear their ugly heads, the game is also often quite good to look at provided you aren’t wistfully recalling something else while playing. Warts and all, you can’t knock developer Larian Studios for bringing this sequel to the stellar 2001 PC RPG Divine Divinity to the 360. The first game was an instant classic (it’s been an automatic install on the three PC’s I’ve had since 2001) and what’s here comes very close to being equally as fun an experience. If you’re looking for depth and a flat out huge and fun world to explore, Div II delivers and lets you keep the change.

My personal key to getting the maximum enjoyment out of games is to NOT lump them together “by today’s standards” (*yawn*) or try to judge them based on how similar the game world are to completely different games made by different developers. To me, each and every game world is a separate entity that lives or dies by the characters that inhabit it and should be judged as such, period. It’s all about appreciating different game worlds on their own merits and whether or not the developer has managed to pull me in to the experience by creating a place I don’t want to leave despite half-falling off the couch with droopy eyelids. Div II does that and does it well and often enough that some of its more familiar genre moments are easily forgiven. Sure, you’ll be killing scores of lesser enemies to level up, tackle a bunch of quests involve fetching and returning some oddball items and there are plenty of NPC’s you’ll have no use for once you take care of a few jobs for them.

On the other hand, you get a metric ton of laughs here thanks to a killer bunny, some goofy NPC’s and a few snappy lines of dialog here and there. You can read minds at the cost of a bit of experience points, another fun touch that nets some fine side missions or leads to the occasional dead end conversation. On the surface, the game might seem a bit too “classical” for its own good, but once you’re absorbed into the richly detailed game world Larian has crafted, you’ll find yourself liking what you’re playing more and more. “Innovation” is a highly overused (and overrated) buzzword in gaming these day. I’d much rather have pure FUN while playing a game than have to sit through yet another gimmick that’s going to be overshadowed by the next gaming trend two months down the road. Div II might not reinvent the wheel, but it sure as heck gets great mileage.

If you played Divine Divinity, you’ll absolutely appreciate what’s here right from the beginning. If you’re new to the series and happen to love open world RPG’s with lots to do and many secrets to discover, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear once you start exploring. Then again, the game has a way of making you grin (in a good way) at much of its content. Questing feels extremely satisfying (despite the occasional not so hot reward) and combat is nicely visceral indoors and out. Monsters have the tendency to run off and regain health (an VERY welcome touch), so some of the tougher battles become a matter of dealing with the horde as quickly as possible. Things get even trickier when enemy spell casters spritz out health to their fellow travelers like cute sales gals in Macy*s during the holiday shopping season (or any time of the year, actually).

After a chunk of challenges, you’ll eventually capture and make your home a huge battle tower, a structure that lets you store loot, send out hirelings on side missions and even change your sex if you like. I bring this up again because it’s an unusual thing for some US gamers to deal with. Your stereotypical guy gamer is more used to playing the square-jawed heroic type and ogling the sexy polygon babes in their games and most gal gamers (who refuse to be stereotyped) are used to ogling the guys and complaining loudly that the babes are too under dressed. Here, the gender bending is an amusing extra that should keep both sides happy.

Also happy-making is the game’s well done level of challenge. The game’s difficulty is balanced out enough that you’ll know quite well when you’re wandering into trouble, provided you pay attention. On the other hand, you can also get stomped royally by a mid to high level baddie in the midst of a pack of weaklings. There are plenty of risk vs. reward spots to discover and if you’re properly prepared, it’s always great to uncover a hidden cave or well-guarded treasure. You’ll have plenty of great skills to use and when you get that killer Dragon form, nothing beats running away from a crowd of goblins (or other creeps) all set on “kill”, leaping off a cliff and transforming into a flame spewing winged beast that can roast up those smelly goblins but good. You can also use your dragon form to find hidden caves tucked away in cliff walls and other high places.

It’s here that the game reminded me of Surreal Software’s underrated, overlooked PS2 game, Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates (with an even more open world, of course). Controlling and combat with the dragon is fantastic and the overall sense of flight is very well realized. Unfortunately, just as in Drakan (and Divine Divinity), there are only a set amount of creatures in the game. Should you decide to go on a killing spree and attempt to slay every bad thing in the game to pieces, you’ll find yourself many, many hours later with a worn out controller and a very empty collection of indoor and outdoor locales totally free from monsters. This isn’t a fatal flaw by any means, by the way. The first game and Beyond Divinity (a fine RPG which wasn’t a true sequel) had this feature and I can think of a few other RPG’s that allow for this “realistic” population of creatures good and evil.

As gamers reared in the age respawning baddies to reap for rare loot over and again, some players are so used to the modern open game world with endless looping and recycling of monsters, not something so… natural. That games where the population is indeed finite will be quite a reality grasp for a few folks out there. Get used to it, I say. Or please at least admit that, hell, you’re having so damn much fun playing the game that yes, you wanted it to go on and on after the final credits have spooled up. In English, this isn’t Diablo, a Diablo “clone” or a game where you can exploit one or two areas for a few days and come up for air with an over-powered tank. You have to earn every bit of experience here by hard work, and that’s all right by me.

Presentation-wise, Div II is a bit of something old, something new. The nicely sized fantasy environments are impressive, but definitely play the game on a HDTV setup for maximum visual effect. The difference is like night and day if you see the game on a standard-def set and switch over. Yes, there’s a bit of screen tearing and slightly weak texture work on an analog set, but at 1080p, stuff practically pops off the screen. Much of the character animation isn’t quite as snappy as I’d like it to be, but it’s not a game-killer. The sounds and music are great stuff featuring the solid, expressive voice acting mentioned above and a superb soundtrack that features a few memorable tunes.

The ending might be a source of pain for those that crave post-endgame spelunking or some sort of “New Game+” nonsense, but I rather liked the resolution. Not every game needs that extra play stuff, and besides, I’m sure Larian might consider some sort of patch or DLC in the future if the game sells well and the fans ask nicely enough. That, or we’ll see another sequel at some point down the road. My money would be on both and I’m hoping the developer has NO crazy multiplayer aspirations. Divine Divinity was a singular single player experience and Div II just about equals that game in terms of immersion and overall “feel”. If you’re an open-minded RPG fan, absolutely give this game a shot and support one might fine creative team and their baby.

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