Divinity II: Ego Draconis Review

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Divinity II: Ego Draconis Publisher: CDV Software Entertainment
Developer: Larian Studios

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

A fledgling Slayer is about to be initiated. The order of Slayers have hunted dragons and the draconic humans known as Dragon Knights to near-extinction, ever since a rogue Dragon Knight slew the Divine. The Divine, a hero whose tale is recounted in Divine Divinity had spared the life of Damian, son of The Damned One and heir to horrific evil. With the help of the Black Ring, an order of humans loyal to the Damned Horde, Damian prepares to take control of the world of Rivellon, crushing it under his unsympathetic rule.

What is a Slayer to do? Face a dragon, of course. But what happens when that Slayer is unprepared for the remarkable mental powers of a Dragon Knight? That Slayer could end up upsetting the very balance of power and determine the fate of Rivellon.

Kyle Ackerman

Divinity II: Ego DraconisThere's a reason why we don't often go back and replay classic games. Games only age well if they have a truly remarkable play experience or brilliant storytelling. Otherwise, perfectly good games of yesteryear seem vastly inferior today, left behind by advances in technology, changing tastes or streamlined game design. Fans of PC role-playing games from ten to fifteen years ago will find Divinity II: Ego Draconis to be a familiar experience. There's even a lot to enjoy, but Divinity II feels old. Despite the massive graphical face-lift, Divinity II has a lot more in common with its nearly-decade-old predecessor Divine Divinity than it does with modern role-playing games, especially on consoles. Divinity II isn't a bad game, but it may be a victim of changing tastes and play-styles that further hangs itself with a few daring, but ultimately poor choices.

Let's dwell on the good to be found within Divinity II. The game packs a surprisingly large amount of adventure into a fairly contained game world. It may not be the most compelling bullet-point on the back of the game box, but the best part of Divinity II is the game's skill system. Play-style archetypes break down primarily into warrior, archer and mage, but it's far more complicated than that. There's a tremendous variety in skills, and a limited pool of skill points that can be spent, even after advancing many levels. That means you'll have to a select a few skills to invest in and advance. While there are many synergistic combinations, you have to commit. It doesn't pay to spread points thinly, but (late in the game) skill points can be entirely reassigned – for a fee.

Always Challenging, But Not Too Much

Divinity II: Ego DraconisThe game also does a good job at maintaining a challenge at nearly every level. Foes don't scale in difficulty, so there are plenty of regions you won't visit until you're ready. At the same time, the experience you get from defeating enemies changes depending on your relative level. That generally keeps the player exactly on the progression for which the developers have designed the game. This keeps things from getting boring, and as long as you don't make foolish skill choices, always possible.

I only found the way loot scales to be poorly designed. This is an old-school RPG, meaning that there are a bazillion containers to open, and you'll probably end up opening all of them. Everywhere you go, the world is full of buckets, barrels, chests, boxes and the like. Their contents are only determined when you approach, and are level appropriate, so it's tempting to hold off opening anything until you need it. At early levels, containers contain pointless trash and pocket change. Later, barrels in the wilderness can contain epic weaponry and a king's ransom in cash. Because of the randomized loot system, by the late game I found myself inundated with virtually indistinguishable power items that could be further customized and enhanced at the right facilities. A little more care into differentiating random items would have been appreciated.

Rule A Mage's Tower With a Big Supply of Body Parts

I found a new love for Divinity II when I earned my tower, a bit past the mid-point of the game. It made everything more fun. Suddenly, I had craftsmen to make me potions, improve weapons, train my skills and men to fetch ingredients. I even acquired a necromancer to build me a pet monster out of the spare body parts I acquired in my travels. (It really bothered me when I found a spare goblin arm in a barrel and my hero would say, "Oooooooo. Shiny!") I had storage space, and even a supremely cool throne room with dancers and a musician. I wanted this for so much more of the game. It kept things fun.

The necromantic creature is one of the big selling points of the game, but I found it to be more of an irritation than aid. He stood around and peed on everything, but was ineffectual in combat, rarely even serving as a needed distraction. Not to mention how creepy it felt bringing back body parts from all over Rivellon. He didn't even look that cool.

I Know What You Know... I Feel What You Feel

Divinity II: Ego DraconisAnother one of the big selling points for Divinity II is that you can read minds. It probably looked great in the design documents. You can read the mind of any non-player character with whom you can speak. That's cool. To do so, you incur an experience debt that prevents you from advancing in level. That sounds good – it's great to force these choices to be meaningful – but the execution is poor. Most NPCs offer little more than a pointless quip or poorly penned joke. Hefty experience costs should mean hefty rewards, but most just offer useless items or cash. Others mustn't be missed, offering skill points or statistic improvements.

If you try the sensible strategy of paying for all the expensive mind-reading opportunities, you end up with a pile of crap, a few perks and an experience debt that will make further advancement mind-numbingly painful. There's not an infinite supply of monsters, so (save a few tricks) there's essentially a fixed amount of experience in the game. Pay too much for mind reading, and it's hard to finish. I think the existing system in Divinity II would work if the game provided better cues or riddles as to which marks would be productive.

Heir Of The Dragon

Divinity II: Ego DraconisAnother huge selling point is that you get to transform into a dragon. It takes a while before you can do so, but it ends up being a mode of transportation more than anything else. Meaningful battles when you're in dragon form are few and far between, and while in dragon form, you can't see lots of important things on the ground (like monsters). It's fun to flap around as a giant, fire-breathing monster, but when you fight in dragon form you just barrel around burning everything to a cinder. It soon becomes like a steed in most massively multiplayer online games – you transform to fly quickly, then change back to do anything important.

I did like that the game was decidedly classic in its quest outcomes, but tastes have changed and that won't sit well with all modern gamers. Quests usually have several solutions, but this isn't the standard good or evil option. Many of the resolutions are sub-par or will fail the quest outright and irreversibly. It's possible to mess up a lot of side-quests in the game without even knowing you've done so. Others are so cryptic that you may never know they were in the game. It's a throwback to the way things were before FAQ sites chronicled every possible action. It was cool to exchange tips with friends in the long-ago gaming era. Now it seems archaic.

Don't Poke The Bear (Or The Player)

I did enjoy a lot of Divinity II, especially once I understood how all the systems worked, and I'd taken control of my tower. The ending, however, was downright maddening. I spent a lot of time punishing the inhabitants of floating islands to be tough enough to fight the final battle, then the ending as much as called me stupid. The player has to identify with the protagonist to keep playing. That's why games often offer tremendous customization and dialog choices. It's OK to dupe me if I had a chance to escape the jape, but not if that's the entire plot of the game. The ending of Divinity II is just a gigantic "Ha Ha! Don't you feel foolish, now!" It made me regret not the actions of my character, but the fact that I had played all that time at all.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 4, 2010 11:51 AM.

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