Things I want to celebrate about Divinity: Original Sin II

While Adam has the definitive word in his Divinity: Original Sin 2 review, I’ve found myself unable to stop playing in every spare moment, and jotted down some of the very many things that make this game stand out, make it feel so very special. Below I celebrate its extraordinary replayability, the joy of moving furniture, and hideous undulating flesh blobs.

Its Smashing

Sure, lots of games let you smash stuff. In fact, a game that doesn’t let you smash stuff is verboten. But few let you smash stuff in order to meddle with its plans.

DOS2 offers you the most extraordinary amount of freedom when it comes to just how much you can muck about within its world. Famously you can kill absolutely anybody in the game, and still finish its main quest. Just think about the logistics of that – there’s never a moment where killing one particular person sees the story crash into a wall, or forces a reload because it doesn’t allow its threads to come together later. But on a smaller scale, it lets you break or move an enormous number of things for much more minor detail.

This isn’t a game where there are “secrets” hidden in every room. It’s just a game where, if you take it upon yourself to beat the ever-loving shit out of that bookcase, you may well find you can access a crumbled tower and a useful treasure chest within. Or you may find a wall. It’s not fussed, it’s not telegraphing these things, and it’s behooves you to think, “Hmmm, I wonder what might happen if I pick up that enormous painting and put it over there?” Nine times out of ten, nothing! One time, maybe something fancy, maybe access to an empty box.

The point is, smashing past some crates for the hell of it isn’t rewarded by some mechanism, rearranging the furniture isn’t a primary feature, it isn’t something you can game. It’s just that sometimes, like in life, if you look behind a curtain you might spot something interesting. Which brings us to…

It Likes It When You Cheat

I think the best example of this comes with the Gargoyle’s Maze. So yes, weeny spoiler in this illustration, but let me stress this is a non-vital part of the first chapter of the game – nothing that’s going to ruin your day.

This is a maze of ruined walls, the entrance guarded by a gargoyle who gives you a coded warning on arrival that escape isn’t going to be so simple, and that souls must be sacrificed. To get past him the easier way, he implies you’re going to need a special ring. So you can go in and puzzle your way through, go off to hunt for that ring (I’ve never found it, still not sure if it’s a bluff), or…

Or you can cheat. The maze is on some higher ground, a short way from the shore. A shore that has the entrance to a peculiar cave, with its own mess of puzzles and bizarreness inside. The cave, it turns out, proves an excellent distraction from another nifty idea. Because the game also has a teleport spell. One of the four million side quests introduces you to some gloves with the ability, and one of your characters may well pick it up if they’ve Scoundrel talents – having two characters with it is the ideal, because then you can relay your team across to otherwise impassable clifftops in turn. Or indeed, as it turns out, from one little stretch of beach over some unclimbable rocks, to another!

I only stumbled on this via nosy exploring, no greater purpose in mind. But once on this otherwise inaccessible secluded beach, after a spot of sunbathing, watching the waves and what have you, there are vines that let you scramble a route up the cliff faces. And get to the top, poke around enough, and you’ll find a little door that lets you sneak into the cave from the rear. You’re in!

Making this even more lovely, the Gargoyle snarls at you about what a cheaty cheat you are, but acknowledges it’s rather in the spirit of the maze’s creator, Braccus Rex, so you get away with it.

Indeed, making judicious use of teleports allows you to really quite spectacularly cheat the rest of the maze, too. And what makes this so fine, so much more than just the game offering multiple routes to the same objective, is to do it you need to mischievously use a tool at your own behest, rather than follow breadcrumbs or have it hinted toward. It’s your own discovery, even though of course it’s been carefully made possible once you’ve found it, and as a result feels much more special.

The Mutant Flesh Blobs

A real favourite thing about DOS2 is that there’s not a moment of what I’ve played so far that could be described as “grimdark”. In fact, to describe the game I’ve coined the term, “cheerfuldark”. Despite the first chunk of the game’s being set on a prison island on which magical people are being rounded up and experimented upon in brutal and sadistic ways, this is an outstandingly cheery game! It deals with some pretty hefty fantastical matters, has moments of pure heartbreak (you try breaking the news to a bear cub that his mother has died without getting a little bit of dust in your eye), and goodness me is it gory, but always with this big wicked grin behind its eyes.

It certainly achieves a lot of this through its gleeful bloodlust, and my favourite example of this is the Raise Bloated Corpse ability. I’ve played my share of RPGs, I know the deal. One of your characters has some necromantic abilities, and eventually you’ll gain the ability to raise a little zombie to fight on your side, right? So when Ifan gained a big pile of Necromancer points, and I found a book teaching the ol’ Raise Corpse ability, I really didn’t pay attention to the word “Bloated”.

Oh good lord it’s revolting. When a foe has fallen in battle, or if there are corpses lying about the place as there so often are, you cast this spell on their cadaver and expect them to jump back up, perhaps emit some groaning noises, and act as cannon fodder for your team. But no, instead the corpse billows out revealing a vast amorphous blob of sweating meat. Meat that oozes and squelches as it undulates across the ground toward its prey. It’s a wonder any enemy sticks around to see what happens next. The animation is wonderful too, its slug-like crawl somehow – somehow – almost cute. And its special ability is, of course, to repugnantly explode itself, spattering all around in juicy viscera.

Again! Again!

I wasn’t particularly delighted when I learned that saves for the Early Access build of DOS2 wouldn’t work with the final released game. I completely understand why – the finished game has some significant differences, new characters, rewritten NPCs, and entire locations changed, so they’d hideously conflict. But still, many many hours of game down the loo. I didn’t relish starting again from scratch. I’m delighted I did!

This really is a game that supports replaying, providing a noticeably different experience if approached in a different way. And it does this without a single scrap of procedurally generated anything.

Picking a different pre-scripted character from the bunch certainly helped. This time through I’ve even ditched the lady I was playing as last time from my party – partly because I’d already seen her surprises for the first section, and partly because it was kind of weird experiencing the moments I’d invested in before tangentially. Playing as Fane, a completely new character, undead, and a touch quirky, and also bringing in Beast, the dwarf, to join Lohse and Ifan, it’s been wildly different!

Each pre-written character has their own unique story in the game, and while you’ll see the periphery of them if you bring that person along with you, it makes such a big narrative difference to see it through a different pair of eyes (or indeed the holes where eyes once were). That’s a big part of it. But genuinely, playing differently has created so many different experiences this time out.

Just little things, but last time I accidentally stumbled upon Gareth before his storyline had been introduced, and indeed arrived at the back of the ‘dungeon’ he was in through some exotic exploring. This time I met his friends first, heard them talk of his importance, and found my way to where he was imprisoned through the front door. The fights were completely different as a result of the approach, and the story played out in a new way. And that was just one NPC in one little smidgen of the map.

Many, many of those moments combined, playing things out in a different order, encountering different people, getting quests that weren’t there before because I didn’t show up until someone had died last time, or even finding out that with different characters you can talk your way into making allegiances with formerly formidable foes, all really adds up. It’s felt so fresh this time, despite replaying it just days since the last time.

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Bloody

I previously wrote about my very earliest experience of Divinity: Original Sin II, when a horrid, horrid guard killed my adopted kitten.

I bloody showed him.

Gosh it was satisfying, when I returned to where he and his companions guarded, a level higher than them now, and blasted them to bits. I gloated over his corpse, and I dedicated the victory to poor little Meow.

On this second play through, however, the cat had a somewhat more ignominious death. The bloody idiot set itself on fire. It had the sense to keep out of the way during a battle, but then decided – as only cats can – that it wanted to stand in a fire and wasn’t going to budge. Sigh.

Still though, when it came to killing the bastard Magister who got Meow last time, he must have been damned confused about the relish with which I targeted him. The bastard.

27 Comments

  1. spleendamage says:

    The ring you seek has the teleport ability already baked in and is super useful.

    • PancreaticDefect says:

      The ring the gargoyle was talking about is The Band of Bracchus. It does not have the teleport ability. It is cursed however. The only item I know of that you can get in the first chapter with the teleport ability are the gloves of teleportation that you get for a quest.

  2. MrFox88 says:

    Omg rpsers, stop teasing me! I’ve had DOS2 on Gog since development, to support Larian, but didn’t want to play it until release, to go blind and unspoilt. Thing is I did not realise it came out right next to GW2 Path of Fire. So now I don’t have no one to play it with and also want to play the mmo first, since arena net introduces new story episodes every so often…

    • ReluctantlyHuman says:

      I am in a similar boat. I’d just begun finishing up the Witcher 3 DLC and dipping my toes back in to Black Desert Online when I realized DOS2 was coming out that week. But then knowing Path of Fire would be right behind, I decided to hold off on DOS2 until I can properly dedicate more time to it.

      Good luck in Elona!

  3. DavidKer says:

    Teleport a necrofire-pig everywhere, Heal it and keep teleporting it, TELEPORT IT ONTO YOUR ENEMIES!!! NecroFire PIG POWER!!! Game is easy mode at this point, no one expects a flying necrofire pig~! clearly the developers didnt!

  4. Disgruntled Goat says:

    I am really struggling with the combat in D:OS2. I can’t even kill those goddamn alligators on the first island, and I have a full party of characters.

    • Jeremy says:

      Those gators are nothing to sniff at, I got smashed the first time I fought them, then I went back to them once I was level 3. There’s plenty to do on the island, and it’s a non-essential battle, so just come back to it in a bit.

  5. FizicsMcmanus says:

    I want to quote you a party template from u/Spencer1k on Reddit, super helpful and I have had tremendous fun with this party so far.

    My easiest party build, and a very effective set up to say the least, was going a pure phys damage party. Its a bit simple but if you want effectiveness because of difficulty then I would suggest it.

    Knight: Race is best as human or dwarf. Strength/Vitality as your attributes, spread them out as needed. If you need life, then get vitality, if you need damage then get strength and keep your strength high enough to equip gear you want to use at the very least. Warfare for CC and damage skills, a point in scoundrel for adrenaline is nice for bursting. A point in poly can be nice to grab skills like heart of steel for more armor and armor regen. A point into huntsmen for first aid can be handy as well or hydro for healing/magic armor buffing. Talents are stuff like opportunist to hold enemies from running away from you (generally AI will stick to you and not run for your back line if an opportunists blocks them), or living armor if you get enough magic armor to sustain your magic armor in combat more easily and executioner can be nice for AP generation in combat. Super simple knight build.

    Scoundral: Best race is human/dwarf. Use 2 daggers for backstabbing. Focus on Finesse/vitality and some wits for crit and initiative. Get scoundrel skills like backlash, adrenaline, throwing knife and anything else that looks good to you. Get warfare for phys saving throw CC skills like battle stomp and battering ram so that you can stun lock enemies after they have no armor, phoenix dive for more mobility/fire immunity, and its option to get enrage for 100% crit for bursting, but the character generally has descent crit, especially if human, so generally not needed but is an option. A point into huntsmen for first aid/tactical retreat plus option for duck duck goose talent or hydro for healing/magic armor can be handy as well but optional. Good talents are the pawn for 1 free movement to reposition for backstabbing, duck duck goose so you can reposition for a backstab more easily without worrying about attack of opportunities blocking your movement, stench for less aggro, parry master for more survivablity from dodge. Simple, generic rogue character.

    Ranger: Best race is human/elf. Use bow/crossbow. Focus mostly Finesse/Wits so you have high damage/crit/initiative in combat. Get huntsmen for first aid, pin down, ricochet, marksman’s fang if you want, and the most important skill is assassinate. Put a point into scoundrel for adrenaline, and a point into warfare for battering ram so you have a phys saving throw CC, enrage for bursting, and phoenix dive if you want for more mobility/fire immunity. Talents will be Guerrilla, which is very powerful for engaging combat by sneaking and starting out with an assassinate on high priority targets and then bursting them down right when you enter combat due to you high initiative and crit. I found it to kill most high priority targets in one turn, and at the very least will allow you to follow up with a CC with your next character due to destroying their armor. Other good talents are hothead for crit/accuracy, Executioner since this character gets a lot of killing blows due to simple positioning and high dps, if a different character is getting the killing blow a lot more often then getting pawn for repositioning for free is nice as well, “All skilled up” and “Bigger And Better” are good options as well for more damage, and Mnemonic can be more efficient then specing into memory and getting All Skilled up/bigger and better. Leech is also a good option if your an elf, because when you use flesh sacrifice is puts a pool of blood under you, so leech not only heals you when you do that but also gets rid of the blood so you cant get shocked from a mage throwing lightning at you. Be carful of getting Glass cannon. After a lot of playtesting it in the EA I came to the conclusion that its generally not worth it. It isnt bad, and if you know how to use it, it can be strong for the start of fight especially, but AI will straight up ignore everyone on the battle field and run straight at your Glass Cannon and CC them as soon as they can pretty much no matter what, and if your character is consistently chain CCed, they arnt dealing damage. It makes playing against mages and archers and anything that has mobility SUPER annoying if you dont insta kill the fight in one turn.

    Support: This is the class that basically does everything else. One way to spec support is just kinda get a little of everything and run sword/shield and spec into vitality/memory and a little strength to equipt weapons and turn him as a tank that buffs your party. So get stuff like Pyro:Haste/Peace of Mind. Hydro: Restoration/Armour of Frost/Healing Ritual/Rain. Geo: Fortify/Turn To Oil. Aero: Favourable Wind/Teleportation/Blinding Radiance. Warfare: Battering Ram (CC), Battle Stomp (CC), Provoke (taunt), Overpower (Sorce damage skill for bursting). Necromancer: Bone Cage. Basically anything that buffs your party, CCs enemies with phys saving throw, or makes yourself tankier is useful on this guy. Important talents are Mnemonics because memory is in high demand, All Skilled up for more skill points since the character can use a ton. Bigger And Better for more attribute points if your in need of memory or strength for equipment. After that its just get tankier with stuff like living armour and anything else that looks interesting to you honestly.

    The other way to build this character is to get a point in Hydro for healing and maybe a point into pyro for haste, but after that just go pure summoner. As a summoner, its important to know that summons scale with your summoner level, and at certain milestones your incarnate will upgrade and get a lot stronger and at summoner lvl 10 he basically turns into a massive juggernaut. The reason we go summoner as the other option, is because totems summoned on default terrain that isnt a status, are summoned as wood totems and deal physical damage, also blood totems deal physical damage (you can make blood pools without being a necro with an elfs flesh sacrifice btw). If you summon you incarnate in terrain he will also take the property of that terrain, so you can make fire incarnates or water incarnates, but we want a phys damage dealer so blood or default are best for damage, and water incarnate can use restoration so he can be used as a secondary healer as well which is nice. Talents dont matter much, just get more skill points from all skilled up and tanky.

    Race for supporter doesnt matter much honestly, just elf would probably be the only one you dont want it to be.

    Just remember to go thievery focused on one character for tons of gold, bartering on another character for tons of gold, Sneak is on the ranger, Persuasion on one character for dialog options, and put points into loremaster as needed on the persuasion character because bartering and thievery are more important for gold generation. Spec it into the characters/races that make the most since for what your using, its pretty versatile. Its also an option to not have a persuasion character. It can be nice to have an origin character have persuasion because you get some nice dialog and alternative quest routes which can be fun but overall I havnt really encountered persuasion being super important, just cool to have to see different options. If you dont care about that then you can run 2 theives because theiving is easily the best gold income in the game but once you pickpocket someone once, you cant pickpocket them again unless its with a different character. That means having 2 theives allows you to steal from everyone twice, and when you consider how much loot you get from stealing once, doubling that basically allows you to have almost any gear you want from a vendor in the game eventually.

    Sorry for the length but it really helped me.

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      The way the new armor system works, it does encourage you to go all physical or all magical.

      It’s not a great feeling when my rogue and fighter beat down a monster’s physical armor, then it’s my wizard’s turn and they have to start from scratch on the opponent’s magic armor. Feels like my party is working against each other.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Yeah, I think the game encourages you to dip a point or two in other skill sets so that your mage can apply a physical status effect or your warrior can apply a magical one, or buff the ones doing the damage. You don’t want to be beating down both armour types on the same creature if you’ve got any alternative.

      • BockoPower says:

        Agree, sometimes this is annoying. Though to be fair most of the time, when fighting multiple enemies, they are balanced to have someone with lower physical armor or someone with lower magic armor so you can focus on it instead. But then comes the other annoyance in the spells range and radius. For this reason I decided to stick some high range spells or buffs with variety of magic or physical damage in each one of my party members so I can have more flexibility. And thumbs up to Larian for putting at least 2 skills in every school that can be used and comboed by every class.

      • OmNomNom says:

        This is only really a thing in the very first part of the game. Once you start doing decent damage you can drop armour pretty easy and your party makeup really does not matter

  6. x3style says:

    So doing the maze yields an epic item. Not having the cat die gives you the cat as a summon. The cat has leap and swap places as skills.

  7. Hoot says:

    Bounced hard off the first D:OS about 5 times, created 5 pairs of characters and played for an hour or 2 each time and just jacked it in.

    Behold, on my 6th attempt, after re-finishing Pillars and getting it out of my system and generally being in a more light hearted mood I installed D:OS again…

    …and I’m fucking hooked. It’s awesome. How did I not realise this before? The systems! The turn based elemental & rock/paper/scissors/status effects/craft-a-voodoo-doll-to-kill-a-orc combat! The schlocky in content but (as the game goes on) increasingly well written and layered plot! The fact that you can pick up pretty much anything in the game and in fact need to during some of the games puzzles! Can’t get in that locked house? Hoy your teleporter pyramid through the window and use it’s twin to jump to it!

    What a delightful game. 10 hours of mixed, false starts and now I’m 30 hours into a proper playthrough. Loving it.

    Buying the sequel is clearly my allotted game purchase for next month.

  8. AutonomyLost says:

    I cannot wait to play this! I mean, I’m at my computer right now and can boot it up immediately via Steam since I downloaded it last night… but I don’t want to have any other loose ends really.

    I’m playing Nioh on the PS4, and that’s the absolute polar opposite of this game, so I may just juggle them back and forth when the mood for either strikes me. Hmmm…

    Anyway — thanks for the article, John. Makes me even more excited to dive in to this epic experience.

  9. tafoya77n says:

    Your first point is the core of why I don’t think I’ll ever get into this game. The first one had the same problem and I burnt out on it very hard before the enhanced edition came out. This makes it so you will miss out on potentially really important, fun and interesting interactions, quests and such if you don’t do everything all the time. Every barrel has to be opened, every character in town talked to at each stage of each quest or else you miss out. This is made worse by the scarcity of gear and the difficulty of combat, where if you don’t want to bang your head against a fight multiple times before getting it you better have awesome gear, right from the start.

    I really want to like these games for the endless possibilities and interactions, but at the same time it makes so much of the time you play, opening, moving and repeating conversations rather than actually playing the game.

    • Foosnark says:

      Really it’s not possible to experience everything in a single playthrough anyway. Encounters go differently and some paths are closed off depending on race, persuasion checks, the skills you have available, etc.

      I wound up restarting several times over the course of a week or so until I wound up with a party that just flows better (and I also turned down the difficulty a notch from where I’d tried at first). At this point I’m caught up in the story and very glad I chose one of the origin characters because that’s really driving things along at times.

  10. Blake Casimir says:

    But it’s not first person.

    Why are first person RPGs so rare? :(

  11. Jekadu says:

    My favorite part of the game is how *wholesome* it can be at times. I just found a couple enjoying a picnic and sat down to join them. They gave me a bit of exposition on a nearby storyline, but most of all they were just delighted to have someone to share their food with on such a bright day.

    Of course, the interaction that will probably stick with me the longest is the one where you find a frightened, lonely Magister who was blinded when undead attacked his group and left him the lone survivor. Voice trembling, he’ll still insist on trying to do his duty if you let on that you’re a Sourcerer. You can attack him or leave him be–he’s not much danger to anyone but himself–or you can simply… hug him. He’s probably not getting his eyesight back even with medical aid, but you can show a bit of compassion to someone who is afraid and hurting and really just wants to help people.

    The game can be a physics sandbox of darkly humorous cruelty, but the scripted interactions contain a lot of heart.

  12. Kinsky says:

    As another case in point of this game being bewilderingly multifaceted: I started the game with Pet Pal and, of course, took it on myself to talk to every animal on the island. Almost uniquely among them, this cat doesn’t have very much useful or interesting dialogue, and I thought his incessant following to be a token sort of thing, especially when the Magisters suddenly murdered him (I figured that was the payoff). However, I found myself reloading to keep him alive as long as possible (followers naturally avoid combat and try to keep themselves alive, although sometimes they run into fire instead), and was surprised with a short scene after crawling out of the sewers of Fort Joy in which he became my familiar, and granted me a spell to summon him.

  13. nitwit says:

    Welp, you may have just convinced me to pick up this game. Is it good to play on your own? Or do I need to trick a friend into playing with me?

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      Qazinsky says:

      It is very playable solo if you enjoy party based RPGs, in combat you control each one at their turn. out of combat, you can have them move independent or have the other three follow you around like ducklings or anything inbetween.

      You can have your characters split up and talk to different characters (that will react differently to different origins/races) or just let one character do all the talking with the others on autofollow without need to mark and move the group, depending on how you feel like playing.

      EDIT: That being said, it’s probably funnier in coop, like most games with that possibility are.

  14. ephesus64 says:

    Whatever you do, don’t feed the dog people. I had a chunk that I was going to give to an elf at some point, but instead I fed it to a hungry dog and it went aggro at me, so I had to kill it. ]: