Divinity 2 – Ego Draconis Preview

We can continue the RPG genre to its final stupidity… or you can listen to my alternative.

Standing along the edge of a cliff perched high atop a waterfall, you survey the world before you, an open landscape of clouds whipped in cascading puffs of chalky whites, charcoal grays, and bittersweet yellows that surround the craggy inlet, whose rocks have been beaten by the waves long before humankind set foot on the land. A breeze nudges your sword as you take a deep breath of the ocean air. You begin to raise your arms for your morning stretch, but then, you hear the footsteps of five, no, six soldiers behind you. They have been tracking you since yesterday evening. The city guard has been more persistent than you thought.

[image1]With their crossbows aimed at your head, you turn around slowly with your hands in the air. Your steel-plated armor clatters together. The soldiers, dressed in simple armor and red cloth, demand that you place your sword on the ground. Between them and the waters below, there is no escape. But you can see fear in their eyes, their shaky hands and feet, for they have heard rumors of the young Dragon Slayer with silver-blue eyes.

And so you snicker, annoying a few soldiers under their skin. But before they can react, you turn and fall off the cliff with your head to the sky. As you dive into the bay below, they run towards the cliff in shock. But as they reach the edge, a dragon swoops up with its mouth running with fire. One look in its eyes and they know it is you… nd you are hungry for experience points.

In Divinity 2: Ego Draconis, the sequel to the 2000 action-RPG horribly-named Divine Divinity, you are put in the shoes of an apprentice Dragon Slayer, from an order of paladins which formed after the hero of Divine Divinity was tragically slain by a Dragon Knight during a battle with the evil Damian. Since then, The Divine of Rivellon has sworn revenge against dragonkind, which doesn’t bode well for you once an ironic twist of fate soon turns you into an infamous Dragon Knight. (Does that mean you know how to slay thyself?) But with power, both human and dragon, you will be able to uncover the truth and bring peace to Rivellon once more.

The journey from fledgling squire to legendary Dragon Knight fits somewhere between

Fable II, Diablo II, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, both in design and in difficulty. You run around in third-person from town to town in a world of green, built using the Gamebryo engine, as you battle monsters, accept quests, earn experience, and acquire and upgrade up to 70 combat and magical skills. In other words, don’t be surprised if this sounds like your standard fantasy RPG – replete with swords, armor, health, mana, and an epic storyline.

[image2]Of course, there are several unique twists, the most touted being able to transform into a flying, fireball-spitting reptile, after a certain pivotal moment in the story takes place. While you’re in dragon form, the gameplay turns into a three-dimensional shooter, where your goal is to take out everything from poor, hapless soldiers to one of the many defense turrets surrounding an evil floating fortress. While you bob and weave around anti-air projectiles and waves of magical bullets, you can invoke special draconic spells for stronger attacks and healing powers.

However, there are some areas with anti-dragon fields that will force you to turn back into a human and destroy the source of the field using your skills as a Dragon Knight. Sometimes that means having to complete a straightforward puzzle in a cave or a platforming challenge in a tower, but that almost always means you’ll need to vanquish some foul beasts or ghoulish fiends. Try stabbing.

Upholding the new standard of branching conversation trees and quests set by Mass Effect and Fallout 3, Divinity 2 allows you to not only complete quests in more than a handful of ways, but also lets you read the minds of any NPC at the cost of some experience points. (Don’t worry about losing a level when using this power; you will just accrue “experience debt”.) Mind-reading can also give you the location of a special mace or lower the prices of a merchant. Coupled with the dragon who has been fused with your soul (it’s a part of how you become a Dragon Knight) and who can speak to you, provide helpful comments, and imbue you with otherworldly abilities like seeing the dead, you are indeed a one-man wrecking crew.

As an example, a farmer’s wife wants you to deliver a letter to the blacksmith. You can be a goody two-shoes and do as she asks, or you can read the letter yourself and then use the information found within the letter to blackmail the wife, the wife’s husband, or the blacksmith (or if you’re crafty, perhaps all three). But if you read her mind, you will stumble across the whereabouts of her husband’s key, which when used in the right way can lead to more profitable paths. Then if you read the husband’s mind or the blacksmith’s mind… oh, you devil, you.

[image3]Better yet, you don’t have to take every quest; in fact, it may be better not to take a quest at all. A man may be looking for a person to help kill some beasts for their pelts… or that man might be looking for a person to con. Of course, you might not be certain on that last bit if you don’t mind-read the man beforehand.

Similarly, you might not want to brandish your sword of justice too soon. Eradicating a bandit camp might sound like the credo of a heroic paragon, but that would mean that those bandits can’t give you quests later on. That would mean all those quest-related experience points and shiny items would all go to waste. (And they’re really shiny.)

Eventually, your valiant feats will grant you an ancient tower that becomes your home base of operations. (Hey, what kind of hero doesn’t have real estate?) More than just a storage house for treasure and a hub for teleportation, the tower accommodates various entertainers, an illusionist who can change your looks (and gender) with a little magical plastic surgery, and runners that can fetch you ingredients and materials while you’re off saving the world. It’s important to give your runners some equipment too, especially if you don’t want them to come back in twelve bloody pieces.

Will the power of dragons save you or destroy you? The answer might not be as clear as it looks, but there’s only one way to find out. Divinity 2: Ego Draconis swoops into stores in North American and Canada on January 5th on Xbox 360 and PC.