How Divine Divinity Broke My Heart

When Larian released their “old-school” RPG Divinity: Original Sin back in June, I was enthralled. I could barely run it, I knew there was no chance of me ever completing it, and number-crunching builds is not one of my strong suits, but its uniquely elemental combat and open-ended questing managed to hook me for 35 hours (a drop in the bucket to some, but record-breaking for me). Trying to capitalize on the Divinity buzz, the Humble Store quickly offered up a huge sale on the previous games: Divine Divinity, Beyond Divinity and Divinity II.

Right off the bat, Divine Divinity intrigued me. It sounded like an action RPG with a sprinkling of more thoughtful and methodical mechanics, which is exactly what it turned out to be. Usually you’ll see people chalk it up as a Diablo clone and this is definitely true of the first few hours of the game, which oddly see you descending a handful of floors in a sprawling dungeon – something you’ll seldom do for the rest of the game. But once I completed the dungeon, I was presented with a single waypoint… on the other end of the map.

How I got there was completely up to me. There was no way I was going to be able to get there without leveling, which turned into several sessions spread across a week and a half of exploring the countryside and clearing the orc camps that dotted it.

Making it to the waypoint was a massive undertaking, hindered by my intense desire to clear all the fog of war and my character’s need to sleep in order to regain health (health potions are scarce, and meat from animals can only be eaten so much at a time). But making it there and entering the second primary area presented me with a whole new game – one driven by talky quests and narrative rather than combat. There were suddenly just as many new quests in my log as there were orc camps I had cleared, and soon after making it to the waypoint I was confronted with an entire city, Verdistis, to complete favors for. It seemed to me that I was in for one of the most enjoyable games I’d played in recent memory.

Divine Divinity had been developing a bad habit, though. A bad habit of dropping you in the middle of a swarm of enemies without warning, repeatedly. Nearly all battles linked to the story are ambushes, which at first makes sense for a game of this type, but this game is sort of a thinking man’s Diablo as opposed to a Torchlight. The combat is very slow paced and enemies do quite a bit of damage, so these ambushes often have to be abandoned completely and returned to later.

These situations were generally easy enough to slink away from and find a choke point to funnel everyone through, but there came a point a little over halfway through the game where there was no where else to go. It was an entirely separate map with no exits besides the one I had to fight my way to, filled with hundreds of killer bees. This map had no resources and no allies of worth. My mage was essentially boned, and I was too – Divine Divinity is nice enough to cycle between two quicksave slots, but I hadn’t made a habit of saving as frequently as I should have and as a result, my save was as good as dead. All attempts to make a beeline to the exit were quickly cut down, as my health was nearly nonexistent. I couldn’t put up any fight as a mage, as my mana was too low to do me enough good.

Whenever I complain about this, I realize that there is another side to this coin: I made the decision to touch the imp’s magical sphere and enter the bee world, and had the option to delay (though it is part of the main quest), but I think more disclosure, given the finality of this decision, was called for. The dilemma I have is the question of who’s at fault, the game for throwing me into this situation or mine for not saving. Surely the problem could have been solved with more responsible saving, but the game’s role in this can’t be ignored. It strikes me as the cherry on top of the rotten encounter-design sundae that is Divine Divinity to be trapped in bee hell without warning, sustenance, or an exit, and my 24 hours of playtime to have gone to waste.

Header image source: http://www.entdepot.com/2012/07/05/divine-divinity-gets-gussied-up-with-enhanced-steam-re-release/

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