Hands On: Divinity – Original Sin

By Adam Smith on March 28th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

“Can I steal from these market stalls?”
“Of course, but there are guards…”
“Can I lead monsters into the market and if I do will the guards attack them?”
“Of course, but…”
“Can I kill that chicken? Will the guards mind if I kill that chicken?”
I’m playing Original Sin with one of the people who is responsible for making Original Sin and I am trying to cause trouble.

(The Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to add extra content to Divinity: Original Sin began yesterday, but I played the game a few weeks ago and have been waiting until now to tell you about it. The money that Larian are aiming to raise will go toward a second design team, to create the assets for all of the quests, dialogue, characters and areas that are still on the drawing board, so to speak. The version that I played contained enough that was good to make me hungry for more and all of my extensive thoughts are below. If you aren’t familiar with the Divinity series, you may want to check the Kickstarter page before reading on.)

Playing a game with one of its creators can be distracting and even disconcerting. Often, they don’t know your level of experience with the genre or their previous work, and you don’t know how stable the code might be if you wander too far from the well-trodden path. Reactions are being measured, on both sides, and there’s often an obligation, spoken or otherwise, to hover slightly above the mouse and keyboard, like a cagey patron in an art gallery skimming politely from exhibit to exhibit.

The nature of Original Sin’s two-player mode would make it easy for the developers to treat a play session as a tour, with their character as guide and their companion as a willing subordinate, taking in the sights and the details as intended. Plenty of games don’t need an actual person to act as tour manager – cutscenes, camera angles, corridors and containment are efficient shepherds and do the job exceedingly well – but while Original Sin can be played alone, the party of two naturally lends itself to co-op play and the players act as compasses and guides.

As well as fighting together – in glorious turn-based scraps that I’ll describe in a later paragraph – the heroes of this tale provide ethical checks to one another. If one character begins a dialogue and the other is within earshot, he/she can chip in, contradiciting their decisions or demeanour. If the disagreement leads to altered actions or assumptions, the characters personal skills come into play and the game does some background dice-rolling to check who comes out on top. My companion wanted to bypass a battle with two hapless guards, convincing them that we were no threat. I begged to differ and stepped in with a threat and an insult. Fisticuffs ensued and the fisticuffs involved swords.

Original Sin keeps a record of each player’s actions, building a sort of personality profile by measuring how trusting, honest and aggressive they are. These evolving traits colour inter-party dialogue and the whole system presents a well-worked meeting between player choice and actual roleplaying, with the flexible but developing ‘role’ that the term implies (as opposed to ‘you have a sword and your numbers go up’). In Original Sin, you have the freedom of a fantasy world, but your choices have consequences down the line.

Those consequences are not necessarily scripted. Become more deceitful and, sure, the game may remind you with textual cues, but Larian are creating something vanishingly rare – an RPG with a world that is founded on systems rather than scripts. That’s not to say there isn’t a huge amount of text in the game, nor that it’s uninteresting, but Original Sin encourages experimentation, in both design and play.

Thieving is a good example. There’s a small market early in the game and it’s possible to steal from the stalls. In fact, it’s possible to steal just about anything – not since those heady nights in The Blue Boar have I been so inclined to fill my pockets with cutlery and bowls, and a new crafting system means even the smallest piece of junk might have a purpose.

If you’re spotted in the act of committing a crime, the owner of the stall will react, but not always with a ready-built line of dialogue. More often than not, he’ll simply follow his programming and shout for help to fetch some guards, who will then follow their programming and chase the player, who will then either fight, flee or surrender. Events cascade and it’s to Larian’s credit that they allowed me to saunter out of the controlled paths of the planned preview and play with what interest me most – the cogs and gears that run the machine. I want to explore the sharp edges of the world.

And that’s why I ended up leading a group of monsters into the marketplace, watching the vendors flee in terror even as the guards drew their weapons and prepared to fight. I look forward to advancing my character, building a personality and gathering loot when I play the game in the discomfort of my home, but on that day I was more interested in seeing just how much Original Sin’s world would stretch and engage with my efforts to play. I wasn’t disappointed. Original Sin may have clever co-op conversations and a huge open world but it’s also a game that has been built to be broken.

Rather than providing specific stage directions for every eventuality, Larian tag and code their world and its inhabitants, instructing every element how to react to the players’ presence and actions. That’s why it’s not only possible to ignore the main quest and head into the wilds, it’s also possible to involve NPCs in your own subplots, simply by having the systems that drive them collide and intertwine. The reactions to the situations you concoct may be less perfectly executed than a cutscene containing a motion captured and fully-voiced argument involving Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, but Robert Zemeckis will be bringing that to the cinema in his take on Don Quixote (Stewart is the windmill). Original Sin isn’t about perfect execution, it’s about a world that reacts, providing all manner of possibilities, from tactical use of artificial behaviour to accidental farce and disaster.

Combat switches the game into a turn-based mode and manages to create complex tactical decisions, bolstered by use of the elements, through both magic and the natural environment. Casting an ice spell near water will freeze the water, changing the terrain and making it more hazardous to traverse. Therefore, a spell which creates a rainstorm may only seem useful for dampening spirits and putting out fires, but can, with a little invention, transform an entire corner of the battlefield into a slippery death trap.

The early stages that were available during the time I played didn’t allow for a great deal of experimentation because most abilities are unavailable at that point, but it’s a promising system. Indeed, Original Sin’s entire design seems to be made up of individual decisions specifically chosen to please me. Equipment drops are at least slightly believable, in that giant rats won’t be wearing full platemail and carrying the deeds to a house, but items that were visible used in combat will also frequently ‘break’, vanishing at the moment of death. It’s a good compromise, preventing those with a packrat mentality from feeling the need to carry twenty identical shortswords, but also providing a credible correlation between the thing that is killed and the things that it drops.

It’s a small thing but it pleases me, as does the fact that the creatures of the world won’t level alongside the player characters. Some areas are dangerous and to be avoided, and you’ll either have to earn right of passage by becoming more resilient, or find an alternative way around.

When I arrived at Larian’s event, I expected Dragon Commander to drown out Original Sin’s more traditional noise with a barrage of hybrid genres and dragons wearing jetpacks. It’s the former that has grown in my memory though. The dual character system provides an amusing and potentially dramatic back and forth (even in single player, where the second character’s interruptions can be controlled or left to the computer), and the combat is solid, but it’s the sheer amount of interactive elements in the world that most impressed me.

I wore a bucket on my head. I made a weapon by hammering nails into a piece of wood. I wondered how many things I’d be able to cook and craft, how many places I’d be able to camp. The answers to those questions will depend at least partly on the success of the Kickstarter, which launched yesterday. Swen Vincke, Larian’s founder, understood that people may be confused as to why a game that has been in development for so long, and that is already in such a strong state, requires $400,000. The simple answer is the one on the Kickstarter page:

“We want to put together a secondary design team, backed by extra programmers, artists, animators and testers. We want to make this team as large as we can. The designers’ mission will be to increase the amount of interesting things you can do in the world, as much as possible. The artists, animators, programmers and testers are needed to ensure that all the necessary assets and features to do this are present.”

The content that I played was far more than a proof of concept but the nature of the game – a different kind of open world RPG that genuinely did remind me of my favourite Ultima – left me wanting more. I’d only seen a tiny portion the world, only found a couple of item recipes and less than a handful of quests, but I was hoping that the game would be enormous. It’s an RPG built on solid, amusing writing and strong systems, and the more space it contains, the more possibilities there will be to explore, enjoy and break those systems.

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77 Comments »

  1. pakoito says:

    It needs more emphasis on the kickstarter, maybe in the main picture. I came expecting a mention to it and it’s just a paragraph in a wall of text.

    The game needs to be completed and perfect, and deserves more credit than Garriot’s.

    Don’t forget to mention you can also pre-buy-ks-whatever a copy of Dragon Commander as of now.

    • tumbleworld says:

      I was leery of this being kickstarted until I spotted — on the KS page — the two-player is optional, not compulsory. Thus, backed!

      • sawanswan says:

        If you think Laura`s story is amazing…, 1 weak-ago mother in law also earned $6796 sitting there a 10 hour week at home and the’re co-worker’s mother-in-law`s neighbour was doing this for 5 months and earnt over $6796 parttime from there mac. follow the advice at this website… .. http://www.Fly38.COm/

    • Adam Smith says:

      Added a paragraph at the beginning. I thought I’d already mentioned the Kickstarter elsewhere but my brain is playing tricks on me. And they’re not even particularly interesting tricks!

    • Samwise Gamgee says:

      This actually seems more Ultima-ey than Richard Garriot’s new game. Ultima’s 6 & 7 are my favorite games of all time and I am more excited about this than Shroud of the Avatar.

  2. Christo4 says:

    Sometimes, I’d like a game where i can play as a Troll making people pay my toll depending on how scary or big i am, pillaging villages if the peasants didn’t give me their weekly tribute, assisting an adventurer in their fight against a boss and then leaving at the last second letting the “hero” die, drinking all day long, mating with harpies, using whole trees as weapons, throwing chickens at the army who comes to slay me… Not enough games capture the essence of being a troll (better said, none).

    • ScubaMonster says:

      I would pay good money for that game.

      • puzzlepiece87 says:

        You both may enjoy Hoard, which is partly the same thing except for dragons. Try the demo first though, I didn’t find the game very deep and didn’t end up buying it.

        • Shuck says:

          They had the very rough beginnings of a good game with Hoard – it’s unfortunate that they didn’t follow through and actually make a game out of it. Instead they just seemed to be satisfied with that and released it – as a result, there’s just nothing there.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      This is the closest I could find: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-rl3RPC_Mw

      Not a troll, but there is a bridge involved!

    • BooleanBob says:

      It’s soul. SOUL. You keep making it sound like ‘boy’s hole’.

      • zul says:

        You gotta pay the Troll Toll
        If You Wanna Get Into That Boy’s Soul
        You gotta pay the Troll Toll
        To get in!
        You want the baby boy’s soul
        You gotta pay the Troll Toll
        You gotta pay the Troll Toll
        To get in!
        Troll Toll!

  3. MichiGen says:

    Larian Studios together with CD Projekt Red, inXile and Obsidian are my most respected and favorite RPG developers. If this KS won’t make at least 1m I’ll be seriously disappointed from RPG gamers. I really hope they’ll succeed because after great Divine Divinity and very good Divinity 2:DKS (and also decent Beyond Divinity) they deserve every cent. I suggest everyone to get AT LEAST 40$ tier – that’s only 20$ for a copy of a game + free soundtrack.

    • Martel says:

      $40 was a good price point and spot to back, that’s what I did. Helps if you have somebody that you could coop with to give that 2nd copy to though.

    • karthink says:

      Inxile? They haven’t even made an RPG yet.

      EDIT: Oh, wait, they made Hunted: Demon’s Forge, didn’t they?

    • frightlever says:

      Beyond Divinity, their previous game with two main characters, was an absolute turkey. Really liked the original and even Divinity 2 kept me entertained for far too long. Beyond Divinity, on the other hand, was an exercise in frustration and when it wasn’t being that it was being a bug-riddled mess.

  4. RProxyOnly says:

    This game is gonna rock so hard.

    …what are you waiting for?

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/larianstudios/divinity-original-sin

    • Berzee says:

      I’m waiting for the game to come out,
      and for the internet to tell me it rocks.
      (It does sound pretty nifty, though).

    • cerpinandcygnus says:

      backed!

    • Arkh says:

      I’m sold, I will back it. The game looks good, and I love to support RPGs, especially some with different emphasis than just big open worlds.

      Hope I can get my girlfriend hooked up in this ti play with me. She only likes Terraria.

      It’s a good compromise, preventing those with a packrat mentality from feeling the need to carry twenty identical shortswords

      Oh god, I do this so much. Must. Carry. All. Loot. I even begun to clean houses on Oblivion but I gave up as things sell for nothing and I got tired of walking crouched stealing everything.

      Thanks a lot for this, Adam! I enjoy your writing and I wasn’t aware of the kickstarter nor the game.

  5. Martel says:

    I was interested in this anyway, but man, now I think I’m going to have to back it. I’m also intrigued by the coop mention, I play as many games in 2-man coop as I can.

  6. Zeewolf says:

    The Blue Boar – Ultima VII !

    It sounds a lot like Ultima VII, but with proper combat. In fact, I watched the Kickstarter-video, and for the first time since the original Dragon Age, I see an RPG combat system that I’m genuinely looking forward to sinking my teeth into. Combat in RPGs so often feels like the stuff between the fun stuff. But here it looks genuinely interesting.

  7. Jason Moyer says:

    Beyond Divinity? Is this a co-op version of that game or am I just taking a typo too seriously?

  8. somnolentsurfer says:

    Can you poke a badger with a spoon?

  9. aliksy says:

    Strongly considering backing it. Sadly the guy I play most co-op games with went “Meh” when I linked it to him. Wonder how the turn based combat will play out, since that’s what lost his interest.

    Also: Fuck yeah no level scaling. Level scaling needs to go away.

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      Agreed on level scaling. Bring overpowered is underrated, provided the challenge is there (ie not on health bar).

  10. Archangel says:

    Why have I not heard of this? It sounds amazing!

    Are the other Divinity games this ambitious/fastidious/fun? The feedback I’ve read is that they were pretty mediocre/forgettable.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Divinity 2:The Dragon Knight Saga(get the directors cut) is an under appreciated gem. It shows that it’s possible to make game with the GameByro engine that looks really good, and, while I had occasional crashes, was relatively stable(You listening Bethesda?). It’s a third person actiony RPG, with a decent story, and interesting quests. It is often funny, and occasionally ribald. I tried to blackmail an adulteress, and she told me to piss off, and went and admitted the affair to her husband, and has a neat bit of existentialism involving a merchant(I don’t want to spoil too much). It has a few massive difficulty spikes, so be aware of that. If a mob is 2 levels above you, you can beat them, but it’s a fight. 2 or more baddies a few levels above you, and you’ll often die. You can blend skill trees, so you aren’t stuck with playing a single “class”. It’s often on sale for ~5USD from GamersGate or GoG. Plus, you get to play as a Dragon(!) some of the time.

    • Samwise Gamgee says:

      Divine Divinity (the first one) is superb and well worth playing and as close to an Ultima experience I have had since the actual Ultima series ended. Beyond Divinity (the second one) was sadly not as good as the first so I would just skip that one if I was you.

      By coincidence I actually have a copy of Divine Divinity on GOG to give away and nobody to give it to so if you can let me you know your email somehow I will gift it to you then you can see for yourself.

  11. apocraphyn says:

    Bloody hell, Adam, you’ve pretty much sold this to me. I was initially put off by the Kickstarter since I’ve never really dabbled much in the Divinities and have backed plenty of games recently, but this sounds like a fairly unique (and hilarious) co-op experience. Thank you for the decent write up.

  12. Drakedude says:

    My gods. You show this to a dwarf fortress player who plays with tilesets, with a twin brother who spends far, far too much time heavily modding Skyrim? You’re going to have a good time. TAKE MY MONEY, ALL OF IT. (his will be steadily siphoned over the course of the campaign).

  13. Ateius says:

    That lengthy description of mechanics and reactionary game systems made it sound rather a lot like “A TES game, but isometric and with co-op”. Which means I must have it.

  14. Eddard_Stark says:

    Thumbs up Larian! This might turn out to be a fantastic RPG. Kudos to your passion guys. I hope the Kickstarter picks up the pace, the game sure as hell deserves it.

  15. Vander says:

    I liked the previous divinity game, but found the combat lacking depth, this is turn based…miam.

    And there are too few belgian studios, have to back it up.

  16. mwoody says:

    I absolutely love the idea of a game that’s almost finished getting a B-team whose job it is to go back in and just add stuff. It’ll be like a game that comes pre-modded, a concept I’ve always wanted to see Elder Scrolls try (i.e. identify top modders, send them copies months early, let them iron out the kinks pre-release).

  17. DrollRemark says:

    This isn’t really my sort of game, but I must say that I love the idea of a co-op game where you can simply wander off from your partner and do something entirely different.

  18. Waltorious says:

    I’m excited about this game too, but when I went to the Kickstarter page, the first thing I saw is a picture of the female protagonist in a platemail bikini. Adam, were you able to tell if that’s going to be standard attire for her? That stuff really annoys me. But otherwise the game looks great.

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      This. I’d love to play this game with my wife, but this would make it more difficult to convince her.

    • karthink says:

      Pretty much this. It’s putting me off.

    • Klingsor says:

      This! Can’t tell how much I’m annoyed by that. It also tells something about the audience the developers aiming for. I’m certainly not part of it.

    • NotToBeLiked says:

      Half a page of comments before someone complains about this absolute non issue. Are people still busy complaining in the article specifically written to attract this crowd?

      • cawt says:

        I had trouble understanding the second sentence sentence of your comment. Are you referring to the moustacheless soupgate thing? If yes, It seems you are complaining that the authors/owners/whatever of this blog are trying to attract a readership that is not to your liking?

        HOW DARE THEY.

        Or, you know, it could be that they are just standing for what they believe in.

        I think you should post aggressively to defend your opinion and help it prevail. The more posts the better. Don’t hesitate to be bold. Do no shy away from ALLCAPS. Do away with all this PC crap and please enlighten us. Teach us the ways of the Manlyman Tinfoil Hat.

        And yeah, bikini armor is not only a bit ridiculous, but also sexist. It’s an issue.

    • aleander says:

      Yup. Just switched me from “yay” to “nay”. If your art direction didn’t stop long enough to think about it, or your business let this through, you have no business doing games anyway.

    • RProxyOnly says:

      I Find this a stupid arguement.

      You don’t mind running around comminting wholesale slaughter, but woe betides anyone use gives a ‘chainmain bikini’ because it’s sexist?

      People like you need to go sit in a corner while the rest of us have some fun.

      • iucounu says:

        “You feel excluded when you see that sort of thing? I can’t even conceive of an world in which this is a valid complaint. I now mock and ostracise you. Please leave.”

    • jrodman says:

      Well there’s the bikini-armor, then the overly tight blouse armor (possibly passable if she still didn’t have a giant sword. A rapier might pass). Then scroll down a bit further and find the blatantly sexualized elf-whatever.

      Yeah, gonna pass on giving this money.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        Dude.. again I have to say “big deal :/”.. it’s a bit of fun.. I wouldn’t ask the makers of Barbie to start sticking guns into their games just so I could play.. so why should we have games, that are JUST A BIT OF FUN that feel they have to apply themselves to an audience other than those attracted to it.. If you don’t like it fine, STAY AWAY.. but to ask for them to be changed, in any manner when you might not like it anyway, is just a bit silly.

        If all games were design with the ethos you expect them to be, then they would be bland, unfun, shitty games, because where would it stop?

        • jrodman says:

          Are you really this flustered by people who don’t like sexism?

          It’s amusing that you think I’m pushing for a specific.. something? Your congnitive dissonance is working overtime.

      • redsteven says:

        Agreed.
        Most of the art is (unfortunately) standard fare for the industry, but the elf all the way at the bottom (the one labeled “Concept art of Astarte, spirit of the Source”) crosses the line.

    • Ringwraith says:

      This being a Divinity game, I fully expect it to be mocked ruthlessly, as that’s usually what characterises the series, a “standard” fantasy core peppered with weirdness all told with a knowing sense of humour.
      It’s entirely possible she’ll send you on a quest to get her some clothes.

  19. ResonanceCascade says:

    I remember a rant from one of the Divinity leads several years back about how no one ever followed up on Ultima VII and how this game (which was unannounced at the time, but is obviously what he was referring to) would be a full scale effort to live up to its promise. That alone is enough to get a backing from me.

  20. Paul says:

    Absolutely loved Divinity 2, and I love reading Swen’s blog. Backed.

  21. abandonhope says:

    So what’s up with the base tier being limited to 10,000 slots? Are they only looking to raise a certain amount, or are they hoping when it fills up people will resort to the higher tiers?

    • Chris D says:

      It might be that their concerned about cannibalising their potential sales by having anyone interested in the game pick it up cheap at this point, so there’s no one left who’s willing to pay full price for it at launch.

      I don’t know whether that’s something which is likely to happen or not, but at this point kickstarter is still untested enough that I don’t think anyone really does.

  22. Njordsk says:

    backed this yesterday. I just hope it’ll come out this year.

  23. colossalstrikepackage says:

    In case anybody is wondering, I asked the devs (via kick starter) what the likely system requirements would be. Here is their response:

    We didn’t do the tests yet, but we think recommended will be something like Intel® Core™ 2 Duo E6600 or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 5000+ or better, NVIDIA® GeForce® 8800 GT (512 MB) or ATI™ Radeon™ HD 4850 or better, 2 GB RAM. There’s still a lot of optimisation we have to do so we’ll need to see where we’ll end up.

  24. Svant says:

    Must say this sounds and looks really promising but the female hero concept art is a bit… lacking. Why on earth does she have to wear armor that leaves here belly/tits uncovered… Its just such a “#¤”#¤” lazy decision.

    https://s3.amazonaws.com/ksr/projects/474642/photo-main.jpg?1362496006 Why >.<

    • NotToBeLiked says:

      Because that is nice too look at. If people don’t like it I’m sure there are options to play without any female characters if you don’t like seeing women.

      Don’t even know how you came to the conclusion laziness has anything to do with this…

      • Svant says:

        I like seeing women, but i prefer they keep their intestines inside their body, and that said woman looks like she can actually do something and not just be there to look at.

        • NotToBeLiked says:

          I’m not a native English speaker, but I’m quite sure I don’t see any intestines in that picture. And women can be nice to look at AND able to do something cool… One doesn’t exclude the other. So unless you already know how this female character will be portrayed in the game, you’re just complaining about nothing.

          • Svant says:

            No there is just a whole lack of armor protecting her intestines, because the first thing that would happen is her getting a sword through her liver.

            What I want is characters that look believable, characters that look like they are about to go into a swordfight with someone. Characters that do not want to die horribly from a belly wound. That is why armor was invented, not to show off her bloody tits.

            No we do not know how she will act in-game which is why I am only complaining about the lazy ass design of her looks.

          • Soldancer says:

            I’m with Svant on this one, and it’s nice that I’m not the only person who had a reaction to that image. It’s the classic “Guy is a power fantasy, woman is a sex object” dichotomy that we see too often in the games industry. I’m not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I do think that is a trope that needs to go away.

            Not that this is going to stop me from backing the project, since it sounds really cool. I just think that some designers need to stop and question whether certain fantasy tropes like “female armor,” “ridiculous shoulderpads,” and “hair that would totally screw up your ability to fight without being blinded every time the wind blows” really need to stick around. It’s something almost subconscious at this point that needs to be made conscious.

            In other news, I am also pleased to see that I’m not the only one who really enjoyed Divinity II. I think that most of the people who didn’t like it probably only played Ego Draconis before the expansion released. I sure as heck would have been miffed. :/

    • Voronwer says:

      Agreed. It’s why I clicked away.

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      Agreed. I originally backed this game, but after doing some further research and hearing about the coverage of their other game (dragon commander), I’ve pulled my money. Here is their lead on sexism and censorship:

      http://www.lar.net/2013/02/28/self-censorship

      Tom Francis (the only PC Gamer writer I trust completely) writes in his latest PC Gamer preview article on Dragon Commander: ‘A sense that its not just for boys, but that it’s for a particular kind of boy.’ Sorry there’s no link yet – it’s in the latest edition of PC Gamer.

  25. NotToBeLiked says:

    This seems to be pretty much an RPG that ticks of everything I ever wanted in an RPG. If they can deliver this will be a classic!

  26. derella says:

    “…a different kind of open world RPG that genuinely did remind me of my favourite Ultima…”

    While reading through the article, all I could think was, “this sounds very Ultima 7-ish.” For me, that’s an instant pledge.

  27. ElkiLG says:

    I loved Divinity 2, that’s why I won’t back this one. I still can’t enjoy turn based combat.