In a year when the genre seemed to be in the ascendant once again, Divinity: Original Sin is the most playful and experimental RPG in a strong field. Taking its cues from the intricately interactive world of Ultima VII as much as previous Divinity titles, Original Sin is one of the year's finest games.
Adam: Partly crowdfunded, wholly crowdpleasing.
Before we begin, let me make it clear that Best Kickstarter is by no means a minor category. There are no minor categories. Every game in our list of Bestest Best games is absolutely brilliant and can be considered to be on equal footing to the others. Except for the one that actually wins our Game of the Year award, of course. That game has been scientifically proven to be superior to everything else that happened this year. We've got our own lab and everything.
Divinity is a fantastic cooperative game, does a fine line in tactical combat and is one of the finest RPGs released in the last decade. So why 'Best Kickstarter'? I planted the game in that category myself and with good reason - whatever else it might be, Original Sin is evidence that Larian's mid-development crowdfunding drive was a good call. Without the extra time and money, the latest Divinity game may never have lived up to the studio's ambitions. It's a sprawling game, packed with things to do and interactions to discover, and its eventual success (critically and commercially) was built on risk and a commitment to long-haul development.
Our interview with Larian head Swen Vincke earlier this year served as a reminder - if any were needed - that so many things can go wrong during development. A publisher might have pushed Original Sin out of the door early, the audience might not have picked up the game when it was finished, the team could have become burnt-out. Vincke's willingness to speak openly about the studio's successes and struggles makes the commitment to community far more convincing than it might be otherwise. He also explains the benefits of Kickstarter with a clarity that is often lacking.
Before moving on to discuss the game, here's a short excerpt from the interview linked above:
"The financial side, actually, surprisingly, is the least interesting part of it. Obviously it helps, but it’s not sufficient to drive forward a team of 40 people for so many months. If you do a quick calculation – this is very underestimated – let’s say 5,000 euros for 40 people, that’s 200,000 euros, which gives you five months of work for a million euros. Or even less, more like four months of work. You obviously can’t do that. But the advantages in QA, the advantages from word of mouth, are worth their weight in gold."
And so the game moved into Early Access and, having first encountered the game in early 2013, I could see improvements with every build. Original Sin was never going to be a perfect game but that's fine because part of its charm lies in its imperfections. It's a toybox that invites experimental play, and that occasionally creaks and warps, but rarely fails to entertain.
The combat is a glorious combination of improvised farce and serious turn-based tactical fayre, and the world begs to be poked, prodded, pulled and played with. Enjoyable enough played solo, it's an entirely different kind of treat with a coop partner on board.
Despite the prescribed plot and lack of an actual Games Master to tell stories, there's enough content and flexibility in the game to make it play out like a shared tabletop adventure, where there are orcs slipping on dynamically generated frozen pools of water rather than dice rolls and pencil stubs scratching across stat sheets. It's a social game, using the best possible definition of that term.
It may have a completely different tone and approach to questing, but Divinity: Original Sin is the successor to Ultima VII that I've been waiting for since the early nineties. It's Larian's most elaborate and well-crafted game to date and it's likely to lead to even better things in the future. The game's appeal may be old-fashioned in part but the development process was ultra-modern, utilising crowdfunding, Early Access and wider community feedback to great effect. Long may it continue.
For more on Divinity: Original Sin, here is our review.
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