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Has Divinity: Original Sin 2 been improved by its updates?

God Damn

I’m being stalked by six-legged space demons, I’m on the run from the fantasy police, and my chosen deity is being slowed squeezed to death by a spectral tree, but my biggest problem in Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a talking squirrel.

Not just any talking squirrel. Sir Lora is — he says — a preeminent wizard, in addition to being the target of an order of fluffy animal knights hell-bent on hastening the end of the world with the coming of the “Great Acorn.” Lora certainly stands out, riding a skeletal cat and talking in a plummy accent, commenting occasionally (and derisively) on my quest to save the world. Sadly, for what he’s gained in arcane knowledge, he’s lost in common sense: Sir Lora is an absolute liability in dangerous situations.

Across 70-plus hours of play, Sir Lora made it his business to run gleefully through traps, to throw himself in front of fireballs, and to just generally die whenever the chance arose. I lost count of the times I finagled my way through a tricky, 20-minute long battle only to realise that Sir Lora had been incinerated on turn two. A more sensible person would have mourned quickly, put their head down, and carried on, aware that the recently refurbished world of Rivellon would be too dangerous for little talking squirrels, but despite the irritation, I just couldn’t do it to the little guy. Sir Lora is Cute and Fun and therefore must be protected, total lack of self-preservation instincts be damned.

Sir Lora comes as part of DOS 2's Definitive Edition, released for free to owners of the base game earlier this month. Fortunately, he’s just about the only part of that upgrade that frustrates. Developers Larian Studios have used the opportunity to bring a bucketload of improvements to the already-very-good DOS 2, ranging from the technical — graphical upgrades mean that fire and other environmental effects are less taxing on hardware — to the more esoteric. That includes a revamped script that’s home to 100,000 new lines, according to Larian. A good proportion of these have been slotted into the game’s third and fourth acts, both of which were accused of being understaffed with NPCs and lower on quests than the areas of acts one and two. This was in part a comparison problem — the initial areas are ludicrously busy with people to talk to, jobs to complete, and battles to have, even for this kind of traditional RPG — but Larian have added whole new questlines anyway.

Rivellon is a world of Magisters and Black Rings, of battles between Voidwoken and Godwoken, with a history of Source and the Sourcerers who wield it. Your tolerance for this kind of made-up fantasy language will vary, but it’s only the last one that ever stuck in my craw — a bad pun that still makes my eye twitch every time I heard it. For the most part, the rejiggled script does do its best to explain these concepts early on, pitching a fight between the Stasi-esque Magisters who want to control the use of Source, the Sourcerers who find it awoken inside them, and the monstrous Voidwoken who are drawn to its use.

Tracking the story is easier now the game’s journal has been overhauled, but with so much going on, the script does still falter sometimes. As I reached the middle of act two, with a journal groaning with quest entries, I found that my chosen character — grizzled assassin Ifan Ben-Mezd — was commenting on people he hadn’t met and ideas I didn’t yet understand. It betrayed the RPG engine under the hood somewhat, the grinding gears of quest completion breaking down for a second, but these psychic comments only bent my immersion rather than breaking it.

Perhaps because I was always only a few seconds from another fully voiced conversation. Other RPGs have tried to sell their worlds with a few introductory spoken lines, relying on text once the pleasantries are out of the way. DOS 2 goes the whole way, giving voices to everyone from ghostly god to randy rabbit. Slightly weirdly, everyone seems to be British or Irish — Larian apparently share the widely held view that the American accent has no place in fantasyland — but there’s any enjoyably wide range of accents from the Isles in the in the English-language version of the game. Best of all, Larian seem to have actually hired people with the actual accent they’re trying to mimic, rather than finding someone to make a flailing attempt at Scottish-adjacent.

Some of these performances have also been re-recorded, in cases where the original tone or timbre needed some tweaking, but you might be hard-pressed to call out specific examples unless you’re fresh off the back of a previous playthrough. I couldn’t recall enough about specific line delivery to judge individual differences, but the majority of the performances are confident and convincing enough for the trad-fantasy world of Rivellon.

There are a few stumbles along the way. My Ifan Ben-Mezd came off more arch than grizzled, for example, audibly smirking more than you’d expect for a man who saw his life destroyed. Lohse, too, sounds like she’s got her tongue firmly in her cheek, but it makes more sense for her bard character, the jokes she makes the light against the shadow of a demon coiled around her soul. The majority of repeat speakers remain in the good-to-great tier, though. Walking skeleton Fane is just the right amount of detached for the last representative of a race of ancient eternal beings, but my favourite voice belongs to the Red Prince. He’s a hoity-toity lizard lord, and speaks with the kind of dripping sneer reserved for Bond villains and the truly posh.

Fights have been rebalanced across the entire campaign, too, part of Larian’s effort to smooth out some difficulty spikes in the first and second acts. Those spikes aren’t gone completely, though. Even on the standard “Classic” difficulty and with a well-specced party, I came up short against similarly leveled enemies on numerous occasions. A large pitched battle against a Magister group to close out the first act was a particular stumbling block for my gang — until, that was, I realised I could just hang back and wait for the fight’s second stage. From there, with a huge Voidwoken worm distracting my targets, I could take potshots at both sides, whittling them down until there were just stragglers left.

There are similarly sneaky ways around other tough fights, and their continued inclusion in this Definitive Edition feel like tacit nods from Larian to use the game’s systems against itself. I committed my whole party in a hand-to-mouth fight against a shark until I realised that the shark’s natural enemy wasn’t the sword, the fireball, or the crossbow — it was land. Teleporting the shark to the beach cut the battle short and left my squad both bloody and sheepish. Teleportation also solved a problem in the forest north of Driftwood. My party had been spotted by the floating form of a crucified witch, three levels above us and capable of wiping everyone with a single spell. We couldn’t beat her, but we didn’t need to — just down the road was a demonologist with a monster in a cage and a hotbar full of spells. Teleporting the witch in range meant I could hide behind his coattails as he made short work of the witch and bagged me some experience points in the process.

These tough fights are technically beatable without these kinds of tricks — DOS 2 has a lot of room for min-maxers looking to craft the perfect build — but I typically preferred to duck out and come back later. Battles run long on standard difficulty, and it’s hard to know how they’re going to go when you start them, in part thanks to the unpredictability of the game’s environmental system. Fire spells leave burning surfaces, rain deposits water that can be electrified, vaporised, or poisoned, oil can be laid down and then set alight. These effects linger on a battlefield, creating no-go areas where characters take continuous damage, get knocked down, become cursed, and so on.

This system allows for clever play, but it also fosters a sense of chaos that can undo all your carefully constructed plans, walking a line between madcap fun and frustration. It’s not always clear where a surface or cloud technically begins, for one, and too often I was forced to watch as the party member I thought I had placed safely on the edge of an oil slick got engulfed in flame, or electrified themselves and had to sit out a turn. There’s also no easy way to work out the potential range of a spell or ability until your chosen character is in position, meaning you have to move them with baby steps until they’re close enough to launch the attack. An undo button for movement could solve this problem, but it’s not an option, even on the new “Story” mode. Instead, I fell back on the crutch of quicksaving to test distances, a decision that slowed my progress down.

Still in place is the two-fold armour system, where attacks are resisted by either physical or magic armour that must be stripped before their health bar takes damage. Some complained at launch that this forced players down funnels of team specialisation, demanding that they focus only on one type of damage at the expense of the other, and locking off wilder builds in the process. That’s still partially true, but the variance in enemies in the Definitive Edition mean that rolling with a mixed damage party isn’t a terrible idea.

My Ifan, Fane, and Red Prince all dealt physical damage, but I played Lohse as a pure caster, most of her attacks good only for stripping magical armour. Rather than hamstringing my composition, this usually meant I had an ace in the hole against melee-centric enemies, most of whom were tanked up against physical attacks but whose flimsy magical armour would crumble at the first flaming dagger. She also had the vital role of keeping the rest of my party alive with their own armour buffs and healing spells, and for being my primo teleporter for place-changing shenanigans.

Having a healer remains a priority for most parties. Even on Classic difficulty, player characters go down easily once their armour is off, and you’ll need one of the game’s expensive resurrection scroll in order to bring them back to life. The new Story difficulty removes this hurdle, making resurrection an infinitely recastable spell, rather than a single-use scroll. It also boosts player damage and shrinks how hard enemies hit, making it — appropriately — the best option if you want fights to be over fast so you can get to the story.

Not that anyone will be ripping through Divinity: Original Sin 2. It was a hefty game before, and the Definitive Edition’s expansions to its third and fourth acts have only made it swole-er. Arx — the city that acts as the game’s last hub — has been stuffed with new and expanded quests and NPCs, making it feel closer to act two’s Driftwood in terms of general activity. Of these, the showstealer is a full battle against a tentacled kraken that’s made its home in the harbour, but smaller elements — like fellow lizards reacting appropriately to reptile posho the Red Prince — give the place extra life.

It’s because of this litany of changes — tracked here — that save games from the vanilla version won’t work with the Definitive Edition. It’s a frustration if you were some 50 hours into your story, but given the scope of the changes and the chance to try another party composition, it was a burden I could bear. Divinity: Original Sin 2 was bright and brilliant at launch, and its Definitive Edition has only made it bigger and better.

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Divinity: Original Sin 2

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Rich McCormick