Of Nostalgia And Disappointments – And The Occasional Gem Of A Game
I was thinking with what “this game is so great because” reason I should start when writing a blogpost about Divinity: Original Sin 2. Romances perhaps? It’s been a staple in many of my favourite games and even though I don’t feel it’s a super important feature in a good game it is nonetheless one I really like and appreciate when it’s there.
And oh boy it’s there. They FINALLY let me romance the Dwarf! – After first Hawke and then my Inquisitor pining after Varric for years now and Bioware blatantly stating that they never even thought someone would want to romance a Dwarf because of looks and, well, shortness (which, I am not gonna lie was a statement that hurt me personally on several levels but I’ve made my peace with the apology they came out with later for those remarks) I got the message: Dwarfs are not lovable in a romantic sense. And then Larian comes around the corner, casually throwing Beast and his damn Scottish voice at me. (Same VA btw as Sebastian in DA2 – can you blame me?)
In addition to that, there are five other companions. An at least 10.000 years old undead that is the last of his kind with both attitude and adjustment problems. A slightly shifty older man with very questionable morals who still somehow seems to be the warmest and kindest person in this game. A cannibalistic elven woman who is a former slave on the hunt to end her ex-master and who’s policy is stab first, ask questions later while twisting the knife. A disgraced prince lizard man who kindly offers you to be his servant when you first meet and has an overall problem to see anyone else as an actual person. And a human actress/singer who is the life of the party, throwing around casual quips, oh and the tiny inconvenience that she has something supernatural living inside her head which may or may not be the ultimate evil. All of them bisexual, none of them race-gated. Either of them can become your love interest, your best friend or your bitter rival, depending on how you play. And this is one of those cases where they will leave. Or stab you in the back. Or outright try to beat you towards the end of the game. Because you are not “the” chosen one. You are “a” chosen one. And so is each of your companions. Either of you could reach the ultimate goal of the game.
I’ve been playing RPGs since the first Baldur’s Gate came out. I’ve been playing table tops and pen & paper even before that. And the first RPGs were a wonderful addition to my p&p gaming experiences. That changed over the years. Choices that actually impact the world around you became less and less. The games looked much prettier though. Inventories and party gearing got less confusing, but also, after a point less fun to play around with. In some games they disappeared altogether. And while I absolutely don’t miss those features in games like Mass Effect for instance they separate action oriented games a bit from the RPG genre for me. For Bioware that feature came back in Inquisition, but that game’s combat & gearing was so broken that you could steamroll everything in nightmare mode with the right crafting recipes – making gearing and finding loot ultimately meaningless because all you keep doing is selling the garbage that clutters your inventory.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had loads of fun with DAI’s combat. I played through the entire game several times and if I am honest it wasn’t the gripping story telling that kept me going back to it – it was the fun I had finding out just how OP I could make my character. (To the point where I was soloing the end game dragons in under 2 minutes with my Assassin…) But it wasn’t challenging to me. And I don’t mean challenging in a purely measured on difficulty way at all either. Games like Dark Souls that are known for having super hard combat don’t appeal to me at all precisely for that reason. I don’t ever need things to be super hard just to feel some sense of achievement from it. What I DO want is to feel challenged in my way of thinking. I want combat so be interesting and thoughtful. Senselessly difficult combat bores be just as much as steamrolling absolutely everything does. And I really enjoy any sort of combat system that rewards thinking out of the box – as long as it isn’t a constant or even the only requirement. In the end I still want combat, not an elaborate puzzle game or I’d simply replay Portal 2.
This is not a post where I want to bash on other games. Especially not since I did enjoy all of them in some capacity. If I criticise things about Bioware specifically for instance it never means I don’t like the game – it usually means that I think it could have been so much more than it was. And sometimes, it needs something from a completely different corner to put some things into perspective and make you remember what originally drew you to the genre. For me it was both the role playing aspect and the feeling of wonder when exploring something new. And I did that this week with Divinity: Original Sin 2 specifically. A still rather new RPG from a smaller Belgian publisher that was a crowdfund project and got very glowing reviews the past month.
Here’s what I personally loved about it so far.
The excitement of finding out how a world works. Both mechanically and story wise. That first few hours when you don’t completely understand the world you are in yet. When you wonder if that one thing an NPC said is meaningful or just a throwaway line.
Those moments when you move out with your party and want to explore but you still have to be careful because you haven’t completely figured out the combat system yet and don’t exactly know just how much enemies you can handle before it gets really, REALLY dangerous. The moments when you get to know the NPCs in your party and around you and you don’t know yet if they will become your friends or if something will go horribly wrong. The first times you make either or decisions in a game you don’t know yet and you constantly worry it might come back to bite you in the ass later – and it most certainly will.
The first time you are suddenly in a boss battle you are totally not ready for – and then you manage to beat the boss by an inch, literally crawly of the battlefield half dead but with a “ha, take that!” attitude. Or that horrifying moment when you realise that you should have thought about party composition at least once perhaps because three mages and a ranger without a tank at all are probably not quite as tough as you’d hoped and if that damn mini boss would just stop hitting you for a moment you could perhaps reskill someone without dying.
The first big plottwist coming, either in a huge revelation made by an important NPC or perhaps just in a bit of lore that suddenly makes you go “well, shit!”. Finding some loot that you have no idea if you might need it later so you stubbornly hang on to it and let it clutter your inventory for way too long. Later, when you figure out it might actually be useless it’s almost sad to sell it – you carried it around since you started this adventure after all. Like a memento almost. But then you realise this memento weighs more than half of your inventory so there really isn’t a question anymore.
Finally getting the hang of the combat, realising you can use the environment to your advantage. Throwing tar at an enemy and then igniting it with fire. A sound strategy until you remember your rogue was literally just backstabbing them and is now standing in the same puddle of burning tar. Accidentally electrocuting yourself because you didn’t think about the fact that fighting on a beach might mean you are standing in water at some point. Killing your tank because you forgot that he is undead, therefore should not, under any circumstances be hit with a healing spell ever. Ordering yourself a t-shirt that says “thing before you cast”…
All those little and big things were part of my first 15 or so hours in this game. If you can’t tell so far I am absolutely loving it. I’ve had a whole post with screenshots about the features and loads of explanations planned to show off all the things I loved so far but maybe that is better spent going into a completely different blogpost. When talking about the development of games with friends, specifically about the RPG genre there has been a lot of nostalgia lately. Not necessarily for a specific game even, but for a certain feeling. For the excitement of binge playing something new. The wonder of starting an unassuming game someone recommended you and suddenly realising that you are in the middle of something great, something that speaks to you. Back then when I knew little to nothing about the genre those first few games surprised me constantly. And showed me new things. And most of them turned out much, much greater than I ever anticipated.
Due to media being very different nowadays and certain games changing directions on top of it that feeling has mostly disappeared. In some cases it turned into weariness even. Or into the need to try to be less excited about something in advance because of previous letdowns and disappointments. It has turned into me deliberately lowering my expectation because I’ve been shown more often lately that my expectations are not cost efficient or simply not something a developer wants to actually make. Which I have to accept because anything else would be entitlement really. But when suddenly something shows up that challenges this whole thought pattern again it is marvellous and that is pretty much what has been happening with my gaming attitude and this specific game this week.
At the moment I am completely ready to dive deeper into DOS2, looking forward to getting completely lost in something new that is just on the right side of familiar to to constantly give me the feeling that I know this – but not really. Not yet. And isn’t that just the best thing I could have hoped for?