Now this is what I'm talking about!
Divinity: Original Sin is an isometric-ish western-style RPG in the style of the old-style classics like Baldur's Gate. And, just like Baldur's Gate, it's incredibly good. That's really it. All you need to know. If you're the one guy on the planet who played Baldur's Gate and didn't enjoy it, please move along. For the rest of you? Come with me on a mystical journey into a magical realm... of adventure!
Even setting aside its position on the shoulders of the giants of yesteryear, Divinity: Original Sin has a pedigree all of its own. Being the seventh game in the series (if my maths are correct) which includes, among other things, a RTS combined with a jetpack dragon flight simulator. For me, though, I'm coming at this whole thing cold. Never played one before, and I've always sort of got them mixed up with the run-of-the-mill RPG series Sacred (because of the names). But they are not the same beast.
Divinity: Original Sin begins slowly enough, with a single straightforward battle and an optional training dungeon (that itself is light on the combat), before you find yourself in a town where you need to solve a murder, and there the social thing begins. Don't even think about stepping outside of the town, because there are things out there that will demolish your two little first level characters in seconds flat. No, it's a combat-light first couple of hours (depending on your thoroughness). But even by this point, the humour and the little touches will begin to be apparent.
There are plenty of initial character classes to choose from for each of your two main heroes, and each has a little paragraph of backstory telling you why you're the ultimate badass. A small thing perhaps, but it adds a little something.
Pretty much every searchable thing - from the corpses of slain foes to backpacks - appears as a different-looking inventory window from which you can drag your loot. Your two main characters are sociable with one another - for instance, a kitchen door is opened and an animal destined for the cooking pot bolts for freedom. You have the choice of reaction for your selected character - does he catch the thing or let it go? Once you've decided, your OTHER character can step in and disagree with the first character, allowing you to create as much or as little tension between the characters as you like. And it makes a difference too - as the characters develop different personalities, these are accompanied by different mechanical bonuses, and some of these can be fairly in-depth. Say you have one character who is a good leader; the rest of the party will gain combat bonuses when in close proximity to him. But if another character has the obedient personality trait, they will gain more from these leadership bonuses.
So there's a lot of detail here. None of it is really explained to you - Divinity: Original Sin mercilessly forces you to figure it out for yourself. Nowhere is this spirit of tinkering quite as apparent as during combat, however. The battlefield is a constantly changing scene of barely-controlled chaos. As it should be. If an enemy - or one of your characters, for that matter - uses a powerful fire spell or attack, they'll leave the ground underfoot ablaze. Now, this will damage anyone walking through it, and heal any fire-based creatures. The fire-based creatures have tons of attacks like this, of course, so as they're pelting you with fireballs they're creating healing terrain for their soldiers. Now, in order to counter this, you might have a spellcaster who can summon a rainstorm, which will clear away the fiery ground, douse anyone currently on fire, and give everyone the 'wet' condition. Also, there's a fair chance that the extinguished fire will create a cloud of steam from the water, which will interfere with lines of sight and can be made into a static cloud with a lightning attack, which will zap and stun enemies. Similarly, the puddles left after the rainstorm can be used to conduct lightning attacks.
It's really clever! And that's just one example of how the environmental conditions become an entire layer of every fight. There are plenty more. Zombies heal in poison, and they have poison blood, so when you cut them up, they bleed, and that pool of blood heals them again. Figure that one out! If you can master these magical and environmental combinations, you'll survive a little longer in combat.
Despite the classic feel of the thing, there are plenty of modern touches that just make the whole experience that bit more pleasurable. For instance, once you've spotted pools of poison or traps on the ground, your characters will, for the most part, have the pathfinding smarts to avoid those things without you having to micromanage them. Walls fade away as you rotate the maps in order for you to see what's going on.
Perhaps my favourite of the little touches is the 'pet pal' perk. This little beauty allows you to talk to the animals in the game. All of them. Rats in dungeons generally have a pretty good grasp of what's going on, and can give you little clues. Animals in the cities tend to be more urbane, such as self-obsessed roosters and soothsaying cows. They're great options for a little humour, as well as another avenue to explore if you need a little help along the way.
It's really great. It's so clever. Really, a top game. These are not just things I'm saying here in the review - they're phrases I muttered under my breath as I was playing it. Always a good sign. Of course, there are a few small issues to criticise, but I wonder if they haven't just put them in to give journalists something to talk about in the spirit of giving a balanced view. Sometimes, things are a little tough to click on - selecting the right person to attack in a busy melee when the sprites are slightly moving can result in sending your archer charging into the fray instead of firing an arrow sometimes. Inventory management, particularly when trading, could certainly have used a lick of paint to streamline things a little - it can take forever to shuffle the right seller to compare weapons, for example, and each character has their own gold rather than it being automatically pooled.
But such trifling concerns really don't deserve your attention. This is a modern RPG classic that screams for your attention if you have even a passing interest in the genre. Clever, in-depth, engrossing and just utterly wonderful.
You could almost call it divine.