Divinity: Original Sin II Preview

I can complete this quest faster than you!

Divinity: Original Sin succeeded because it captured the essence of old-school RPGs with progressive mechanics. It brought the CRPG genre to the 21st century in a way like few other games, and that success has resulted in a sequel–a sequel that was funded in a single day on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter page briefly details origin stories, competitive quests, and skill crafting; important mechanics I got to see in action at PAX Prime.

Developer Larian Studios puts a strong emphasis on the enhanced narrative in Divinity: Original Sin II. The lighter tone and humor in the first game had its moments, but as a whole it lacked structure and gravity. In order to expand on the narrative elements, Larian plans to introduce origin stories to the creation process to help shape each player's own unique story.

The PAX demo features a human protagonist, one who was born in a nearby town. Thus, the townspeople treat her differently than her companions. In fact, a lot of the people in her town are racist, which creates some issues for the traveling dwarf in the party. On the one hand, the racial dichotomy affects the narrative because each conversation changes depending on the character. The human protagonist faces different obstacles in the town because of her origin, just as others react differently to the dwarf because of his.

The origin mechanic also affects the structure of the game in the form of competitive quests. Larian is at its most inventive with the competitive quests, as it sounds like a system that hasn't quite existed in other RPGs. When two individuals play the game cooperatively, they can go their separate ways at any time. That means one person can control the human protagonist while the other controls the dwarf, using the example of the default party in the demo. At one point the dwarf is prevented from reaching a certain area in town, so he must find a different solution to a particular quest.

That means two players can compete with each other even when they're playing cooperatively. It becomes a friendly competition between players of who can complete this quest the fastest, or who will have a harder time because of the origin story he/she picked. It's an ambitious mechanic in which gameplay and narrative intersect in a meaningful way. Players have to think about their decisions when it comes to that initial character creation process and how that affects potential co-op relations.

The rest of the demo looked familiar to the first game in the series, and for good reason. Larian crafted a fantastic combat system, and the company doesn't want to change it too much. There are some important tweaks in that area, though, namely the redistribution of action points. Characters have fewer action points in Original Sin 2, but skills typically only cost one point. This allows players to move around and experiment on a more consistent basis, which is when Divinity truly shines. The sequel also introduces skill crafting, which can result in some unusual but powerful abilities.

Divinity: Original Sin II doesn't represent a huge departure for the burgeoning RPG series, but systems like the competitive quests and origin stories show Larian's willingness to experiment within a familiar framework. It seems like the scope for the sequel is already huge, and it will only grow as fans continue to contribute to the Kickstarter in the next few weeks.

There isn't a firm release window for Divinity: Original Sin II, and PC is the only confirmed platform at the moment. Fortunately, it appears the game will be well worth the wait.