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Divinity II: Ego Draconis review

Divinity II: Ego Draconis review

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Divinity II: Ego Draconis is the sequel to the 2002 release Divine Divinity, which Icrontic has previously reviewed. This new title is a complete departure from the style and features of that game. While Divine was a bird’s-eye dungeon crawler, Divinity II is a first-person role-playing adventure.

The idea with Divinity II is that the protagonist is a Dragon Slayer who, through a series of unlikely events, ends up being given the power to transform into a dragon, as well as the understanding that her way of life—namely the dragon-slaying part—is not the best way to resolve the current crisis.

Character development

The advancement system is fairly fluid, allowing the player to take skills in any of five classes, without any prerequisites other than character level. As an example, you might decide to use Wizard spells at a low level, then decide later to train some Ranger skills without backtracking to grab all the low-level Ranger skills first. Later in the game, the player is given the option to unlearn and reassign skills (for a fee), so it’s not necessary to even keep the low-level skills after they stop being useful.

I found it difficult to focus on just one aspect of the character, as the defense score is divided into three components: Ranged, Melee, and Magic. Each defense can only be raised by increasing the ability score associated with dealing the same type of damage, and a character that tries to focus on just one of the three types of damage will find themselves dying very frequently to the other two types. This essentially forces the player to keep their character mostly balanced. I tried to focus mostly on using magic, but started to run into a lot of trouble in the late game because not only was my melee defense pretty low, but I couldn’t upgrade my armor because wearing better armor requires the same stat.

There are multiple skills to develop in each of five classes.

There are multiple skills to develop in each of five classes.

Another fairly unique property of Divinity II’s advancement system is the inability to grind for character development. As the game offers no repeatable quests, and its mobs never respawn once killed, Divinity II has a finite amount of experience. The downside to the limited pool of experience is a relatively linear plot: Going to an area which is intended for a later point in the story means that your character will be underpowered to defeat the enemies.

The gimmicks

Divinity II’s big trick is the character’s dragon form, which is well-implemented and fun to use (though slightly difficult to control). Sharing no attributes with the human, the dragon is actually a separate character with its own set of attributes that can be improved with superior armor and Dragon Skill Books.

The player gains the ability to use the dragon form about half way through the title, and then only uses it for about three or four total hours—mostly during side quests. The dragon’s main challenges are the various towers and missile defenses around the fortresses of the minor villains.

Because of the dragon’s aerial ways, being the dragon is an entirely separate experience from being on the ground. When you are in dragon form, the enemies on the ground literally disappear, and cannot be interacted with in any way. And when the character is in human form, sky enemies—while still visually present—never attack.

The dragon form is most useful for getting around the map.

The dragon form is most useful for getting around the map.

When not in dragon form, the player has the ability to summon a necromantic “creature” made from various body parts that can be found throughout the world, with each part granting different bonuses or abilities to the creature. The creature is entirely AI-controlled, and works well as a combat partner. His effectiveness, however, is completely dependent upon finding the right body parts, which can be found in random drops. For most of the game, I used a creature with sorcerer spells, simply because the best head I could find (the head determines the class, and skills of the creature) was that of a sorcerer.

Despite PR material describing a creature that helps heal you, I never found a head with that ability, so didn’t get to try that out. I only found a fighter head at the very end of the game, which helped in the final boss fight, but it would have been nice to try it out in a earlier dungeon.

Finally, the summoned creature could stand to have a few more idle animations, since all he does is lift his leg to pee on things—over and over—when the character isn’t moving. It was funny the first time I noticed him doing it, but after the thousandth time, I wished he would do something else with his time.

Pursuit

An interesting part of almost every dialog tree in Divinity II is the ability to read the minds of the NPCs. Each mind read costs XP, usually about as much as killing a monster in that part of the game, but the limited amount of EXP offered in the game makes it a difficult decision.

Characters typically have idle (often humorous) thoughts, but other times they could be thinking about the password to their storage shed, or something that you could use to intimidate them into selling their wares at a lower price. Most of the time you wont be able to abuse a save game to read their mind for free, either, since the information is useless unless you’ve actually done the mind reading (for example, the correct password wont be an option until after the character reads it).

The in-game log also helps track conversations with NPCs

The in-game log also helps track conversations with NPCs

The moral and ethical decisions offered by Divinity II are not quite so polarized as in some other games. Sometimes the “good” choice was not clear from the “bad,” and not every quest has alternative solutions. Sometimes, the solution is to simply tell the NPC that you wont do the quest. For example, there is one quest near the beginning in which an NPC asks you to help him retrieve his pets that were seized by the government to help with a food shortage in another town. If you tell him that you think the other town deserves the animals more, the quest ends there, with no alternative solution or follow-up.

Some quests are also mutually exclusive. There is one point in the first half of the game when the player must decide to save a long dead lord from an eternity of ethereal existence in his old palace, or save his subjects from a similar fate. Completing one quest fails the other, and neither seems to be a better solution, as all of the spirits involved are of dubious deserving.

One thing to note about the morality in the game is that there is not retribution for things that might be crimes in similar games. No one takes notice, for example, when you walk into their houses, smash all the barrels and baskets, and loot all the chests Legend of Zelda style. In fact, aside from specific quests ending in different ways, your moral and ethical decisions didn’t seem to have any effect on the plot as a whole. There was no good versus evil meter, and NPCs don’t treat the character differently based on past choices, unless they were directly involved in the situation.

While it is possible to customize your character’s gender, face, and hair, it doesn’t do much for the game, as the face and hair are never seen (being under a helmet almost the entire game), and the NPCs don’t even change their dialog to match your gender. They still call you “sir” and “him”. Some of the female NPCs even flirt with the PC in a way that obviously shows that they were expecting a male protagonist. In addition, the NPCs often had a strange tendency to “overact” their emotions by making huge arm and head movements, which were unrealistic at best, and sometimes got into the realm of being goofy.

Customizations to the protagonist's face and hair are lost once the player finds a helmet. Perhaps that's why the female NPCs will flirt with a female protagonist. Either that or the human race in this world is doomed.

Customizations to the protagonist's face and hair are lost once the player finds a helmet. Perhaps that's why the female NPCs will flirt with a female protagonist. Either that or the human race in this world is doomed.

One small feature that I think would have given the game a great boost in pacing would be a way to “rest”. As it is, the player’s health and mana regenerate slowly, so standing still long enough results in full health and mana. Since Divinity II’s resources are limited, especially in the first half of the game, this is the best move from a strategic perspective. However, standing still for up to five minutes is not very interesting, and a way to speed that up would have increased my enjoyment of some of the dungeons.

The world of Divinity II also seems small at first, having only three major outdoor areas, but these areas are packed with entrances to further locations. This design creates a landscape that quickly becomes familiar to the player, while still allowing them to discover new locations with every quest. Unfortunately, these new locations are completely static, even from game to game. A few item drops are random, but that’s all, and they don’t really add much to the replay value.

Panorama

The visual styling is impressive, not just for the high graphical fidelity, but also for the artwork in the textures and effects which are immersive and appropriate. Some areas, however, suffered from a bit of jittery motion on my system (which is no slouch), especially those areas with lots of NPCs in them. Fortunately, there was never combat in those areas, so it didn’t really compromise game play.

The scenery is beautiful and terrible.

Outdoor space blur a bit at the edge of the screen as the dragon form speeds up.

The scenery was seamless, and the vistas presented were beautiful and terrible. I think future level designers can learn a lot from the constructed spaces here, especially the outdoor areas, and how much they were able to do with such a relatively small space.

Noise

The voice acting was good, and well-cast, though it would have been a bit easier to enjoy if it was possible to turn off the subtitles, since I find them a bit distracting. The music was also good—there were different tunes for each area, and the music shifted and increased tempo when the character went into battle. If I could, I’d add a few of the ambient orchestral pieces to my personal collection. The music was one of the few things that I think was done really well in Divine Divinity, so I was pleased to see that Divinity II hung onto that trait.

Reigns

The controls are fully remappable, which is a big help with getting all the skills and spells to work conveniently. Oddly, there are only eight shortcut slots, rather than the typical 10. Because of this, spell casting was a little cumbersome, as spells had to be assigned to shortcut slots, rather than just attacking with the mouse button like the other two attack methods. I personally fixed this by remapping one of the slots to my right mouse button.

The combat system is unique: It allows commands while paused, like some other tactical RPGs (such as Neverwinter Nights), but it does not allow the player to create a queue of commands during the pause. This means that if a player really wants to be tactical, they’d have to pause after every action. This is not entirely needed, however, since the player can set a pause threshold that will cause the game to pause automatically when the player reaches a certain percentage of total hit points.

Enemies must be targeted before they can be attacked by anything other than area effect spells.

Enemies must be targeted before they can be attacked by anything other than area effect spells.

One aspect of the combat system that seemed odd to me was that the player is not allowed to attack enemies who are not “targeted”. Targeting is easy, you only have to look at the enemy and be within a certain range, but that means that there is no way to engage enemies from a distance. Most skills simply don’t function without a target, but even the bow doesn’t work at any kind of range. You can always fire the bow, but if you don’t have an enemy targeted, the arrow will go right through them. The reason for this is understandable: The combat is not intended to be skill-based. The player does not ever have to personally aim any ranged weapons or spells as they always fly directly toward whichever enemy is being targeted

N

I always appreciate when I'm allowed to make my own notes on the map.

Encoding

There was one bug in the build I played, which hopefully got fixed for the final release. On one of the dragon stages, there was one lightning tower that was positioned so high up on a cliff that my dragon couldn’t reach it (there is a flight ceiling), so I was unable to destroy it and stop it from firing at me.

Also, there were some errors in the translation from the original German text, the most prevalent being the frequent use of “with” in place of “by” in many item descriptions (for example, a sword might have an ability which “increases the magic damage with 5”). These errors never interfered with game play.

Last word

Divinity II is a fun and unique take on the first person tactical RPG genre. Nice graphics, an interesting story, and a fluid development system make this a great example of the genre, even without the dragon gimmick.

Though the title has little replay value and ends somewhat too soon, the 30-40 hours you do get out of Divinity II will be hours you’ll remember, and make it a game you’ll be comparing others to for years to come. Divinity II is a must have game.

Comments

  1. Grimnoc
    Grimnoc
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