03 April, 2016

Divinity: Original Sin nitpick

Originally posted on 06 July, 2014. Out of date given the Enhanced Edition, but a lot of the things still stand true. It's not a review per se - you guys probably know enough about the game for that to be pointless.
Author: Urist McDorf

This is the first of Urist's Nitpicking of Good Games (tm), which means two things - I like the game and I care about it enough to focus on the flaws that could be changed in whatever sequel it might have. I think it's worth every penny you'll spend on it, at least if you have a friend to play it with. I haven't played it in single-player, but I can assume it'd lose some of its charm which comes from the co-op experience.
Now, on to the "review".

Tactical combat
Don't get me wrong, the combat is amazing, and it's pretty rare you have something so focused on terrain nowadays. But for all the ways you can create terrain, why should there be so little tools to reposition your enemies into it or somewhere closer to/farther from you? So far the only things I've seen are two air school spells, teleport and featherfall, the latter being a poor choice to use on enemies most of the time as it deals no damage on itself. Sure, you can create terrain easily enough if you're a mage, but adding some pulls and pushes would bring more variety to the martial classes that have no elemental magic to handle that, apart from special arrows for the archer that cost a pretty penny.
Another rather annoying aspect of the combat is its focus on disabling effects. Almost every time you fight a group of enemies you have a few that will be able to stun, freeze, knock you down or even petrify you. This takes your character out of the combat for two or three rounds (or more if once he's able to act again they just use a disabling attack again) and it poses a real problem for those with the Lone Wolf perk. It pretty much forces you to spend points in willpower (which is the main disable protection), and a non-choice is worse than having no choice, as it traps new players into thinking they can safely ignore the ability and making some levels just "oh goodie, I now have slightly more resistance to some of the disabling effects" instead of something exciting like having a larger pool of skills when you level a skill ability.
Which brings me to the following:

Character advancement
Nevermind the fact that you can't plan your character in advance the first time you play because there's no chart or anything that shows what you get each level and it doesn't seem to have a specific pattern (I know you get ability points each level, but at which point you start getting two per level? three?). Nevermind the abilities which range from very situational (charisma, lockpicking) to situational (bartering, stealth) to indispensable (willpower) at the same cost. The talents are the main offender. See, they're things that can change the way you play completely. You have Pet Pal, which allows you to talk to animals and, while it doesn't actually change the gameplay for you, it opens a host of new quests and tips. You have Lone Wolf, which makes a four-person party into a three- or even two-person party with the benefit of you having more HP and AP (as well as ability points, but that doesn't scale with level and so it's not as big of a boost as it could be). You have Zombie which is bizarre but can be extremely useful in some circumstances, especially if your mage doesn't want to take water magic for healing.
And then you have Politician, which gives 2 charisma (a niche ability which when successful allows you to sometimes go through a quest without a fight I guess?) at the cost of 1 int, restricting it only to non-mages (as attribute points are VERY important). You have Anaconda which adds 10% damage to a specific weapon type, a feat which is accomplished by leveling One-Handed Weapons once (and that adds +10% to all one-handed, not just the maces and such). You have Arrow Recovery which saves you a bit of gold in the long run. You have Escapist which is extremely situational as you usually are able to take an opportunity attack before using the flee button, if there even is an attack. In short, it's a grab bag of game changers and trap choices (though those aren't as plentiful as I've first feared before I actually counted them, there's still a sizeable amount), the latter seemingly thrown in just to give an illusion of variety.

Dialogues in D:OS give you points in binary traits, which give small bonuses when in one of the states (for example, if your Vindictive is higher than your Forgiving, you get a bonus to opportunity attacks; though you still have to have the Opportunist talent to make them in the first place, which is a slight problem when you want to roleplay a vindictive character and still have some kind of advantage for it). The problem here is that in a lot of cases the increase is rather illogical and obscure. A tiny spoiler for a side event that happens in the first town you'll enter: 
why would sparing an orc's life for information (which is the reason expressed in the dialogue, at least) make you gain Romantic points, even taking into account the fact that the orc being under the effects of a love potion is why it's willing to divulge the info? And things like this happen with alarming frequency, though, thankfully, not all the time.

Rogue stuff
I'll try to keep this short (and fail at it), as I don't feel right complaining about stealth and pickpocketing in an RPG when so far not a single one has done it right to my knowledge. Basically, stealth in games like these is either useless (when you can skip an encounter sometimes but why would you if that makes you have less XP and thus weaker) or too good (again, skip an encounter and you get the full XP for it while spending much less time and resources and investing in just one skill instead of the plethora you use for combat). D:OS has stealth being useful for getting your rogue into the right position before the encounter starts (which is great), but the problem is more with the out-of-combat use of it, and that's stealing. You can basically steal anything that's not nailed down, and it's never marked as "stolen" or anything, so you can grab all the paintings in a house then sell them back to their owner with them being none the wiser. It's made even worse in co-op when you can use the other player to root the NPC in place with talking while stealing everything.

As you can see, a lot of my complaints come are about balance and optimal play. It's easy to dismiss those with a "but we just play to have fun, not spreadsheets", but when you end up getting a poor choice of a talent or ability and you notice you're less useful than your partner, it grows on you and in the end you might stop actually having fun. Working more on balance solves those issues and makes for a smoother experience for those who just want to play and have fun. I hope the developers realise at least some of their mistakes and are working on rectifying them for the next time, and I'm looking forward to it. As I've said, I love the game and I think that despite its flaws it's very fun and worth a try if you and a friend like RPGs even the tiniest bit.

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