Divinity: Original Sin review: next to godliness

Game Info
Platform Win, Mac
Publisher Larian Studios
Developer Larian Studios
Release Date Jun 30, 2014

Divinity: Original Sin is a testament to what an experienced developer can do when freed from the demands of a publisher and left to create precisely the game it wants.

Belgian developer Larian Studios has been building on its Divinity franchise for over a decade, since 2002's poorly named Divine Divinity. For Original Sin, the team pitched an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, billing it as the Divinity game they had always wanted to make but never had the publisher support for.

It's one thing to make lofty promises in a Kickstarter campaign and another thing entirely to actually deliver on them. Divinity: Original Sin delivers in almost every conceivable way. It's a turn-based RPG with all the scope and depth that captured my heart as a kid but with the polish and smart, self-aware writing that has kept me playing modern RPGs. It is, against all odds, the best of all worlds.

Despite that lofty praise, Divinity: Original Sin begins with a groan. The game kicks off with a text scroll describing the current state of the generic fantasy world of Rivellon. There are many kinds of magic in this realm, but one particularly vile thread — known under the goofy name of "sourcery" — has been outlawed. You create and step into the shoes of two Source Hunters, a government-sanctioned force sent to the sleepy waterside city of Cyseal to investigate the mysterious murder of a politician.

The first few hours paint Original Sin's story as boilerplate at best and insultingly dopey at worst. Sourcery!


But it wasn't long before I realized that the game was taking itself a lot less seriously than I was and had some especially bizarre twists in store. The setting of Cyseal and its surrounding area isn't all that large compared to some open-world RPGs, but what it lacks in mileage, Original Sin makes up for in ambition. What starts as a routine murder investigation sprawls into a cosmic journey across time and space.

Even when I was performing relatively standard RPG fetch quests, I found myself consistently surprised by Divinity's context for each task. For example, if one of your heroes has the "Pet Pal" ability, you'll be able to talk to a love-smitten cat who asks your help in fixing his relationship problems. Or there's the talking well that teleports you to a snowy wasteland in search of its twin brother. Whatever dungeon I was running through or whichever character I was talking to, the game always worked to defy my expectations and break the fantasy conventions that initially seemed to bind it.

Sure, orcs are presented as invading enemies of Cyseal. But I also met an orc who was sobbing over the bodies of his fallen comrades and simply asked me to leave him in peace. Many undead foes wanted to rip the flesh from my bones. But others were concerned with the philosophical and religious implications of being stuck roaming the world as a ghost instead of moving on to the other side. And even the kindest of Cyseal's civilians often had dubious motivations that I could uncover by asking the right questions or breaking into the right closets.

Divinity: Original Sin review a 400 two
Divinity defies expectations and breaks fantasy conventions
Divinity review b 1080 two

Roleplaying partners

Divinity: Original Sin always puts you in control of two main heroes, even if you're playing solo. But if you'd prefer to team up with a friend, you can each take control of one of the main characters and play them your way via a slick online multiplayer system.

Co-op can be difficult to pull off in a narrative-heavy role-playing game, but Original Sin makes it work by giving both players reason to be invested. Conversations with non-player characters will frequently be paused to ask each of the two heroes to give a reaction. Your choice will determine various attitudes that can actually have an impact on your combat abilities and stats.

Likewise, it's possible to disagree about which way you'd like to complete a quest. Where other games might leave the players to fight about it outside of the game, Original Sin invites partners to face each other in a friendly game of rock-paper-scissors to determine the correct path forward. I haven't been this invested in my choice of scissors over paper since middle school.

Original Sin's gonzo approach to a fantasy setting extends to the mechanics of how you approach and solve quests. Need to get past a bridge that a troll is guarding? You could pay the toll. Or if your charm is high enough — determined by dice rolls and a game of rock-paper-scissors, no joke! maybe you can talk the monster into stepping aside. Or maybe you prefer to handle things with swords and spells and just wipe the troll out that way.

Not only does the game provide for all kinds of solutions to each quest, but it also rewards them. In addition to changing which characters are alive and dead and what their attitude toward your party is, each path toward solving a quest can provide unique loot and experience rewards to ensure you're not falling behind if you decide not to fight. A lot of RPGs promise a variety of solutions, but very rarely have I felt like every path provides functional, fully-fleshed out choices in the way they do in Divinity.

Original Sin's turn-based combat is heavy on choice and variety as well. You can choose from a number of pre-set classes at character creation, but beyond that every stat increase or new skill learned is your choice. And all of those skills interact with each other in surprising, satisfying ways.

every path provides functional, fully fleshed-out choices
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At one point, I found myself fighting a tough boss who absolutely wrecked my melee fighters when they got in range. Smarting from my most recent defeat, I decided to play it safe and strategic. First my main tank rushed in with an ability that knocks enemies down. While the boss recovered, the tank got out of its range, and my archer shot the enemy with an ice arrow, freezing him in place. Then my magic caster summoned a massive rain cloud, giving the boss the "wet" status effect, just before shooting him with a lightning bolt that now did significantly more damage.

The interactions between these spells and abilities are all rational things that make complete sense; the only surprise is in the fact that so few RPGs do anything similar. If you have your characters move across a patch of ice on the battlefield, they have a chance to slip and be out of commission for a turn. If you shoot a fireball at a puddle of oil, it will ignite, setting any enemies or allies nearby on fire. Mastering these combinations led to decisive victories that made me feel unstoppable, even as the game continued layering new complications onto the formula.

Wrap Up:

Divinity: Original Sin is one of the deepest and most unforgettable games I've played all year

Divinity: Original Sin seems to pride itself on embracing these contradictions — complex yet approachable, nostalgic yet modern, cliché-ridden yet strange and singular in so many ways. It captures the feeling of a classic '90s PC RPG but simultaneously turns each assumption about plot, setting and combat mechanics on its head. I never expected a tiny, Kickstarter-backed team in Belgium to create one of the deepest and most unforgettable games I've played all year. But Original Sin clearly isn't playing to expectations.

Divinity: Original Sin was reviewed using a Steam code provided by Larian Studios. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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