Divine Divinity

Perhaps not quite divine, but still the ultimate modern-day Ultima.

In many ways, Divine Divinity is the Diablo II that a lot of us wanted but didn’t get. In yet other ways, it’s the Diablo II we’d have kicked out the curb. We get a very familiar take on action role-playing here with all of the usual trimmings – random itemization, upgradable character attributes, skills aplenty and monsters galore – but with an added focus on NPC interaction, multiple-choice quests and an expansive free-roaming aspect that reminds one of Baldur’s Gate or even Ultima.

Chill out, mighty orc! With the freeze spell you can turn unwary opponents into ice sculptures.

Chill out, foolish Orc! With the freeze spell you can turn opponents into ice sculptures.

The preliminaries you’re required to go through before being thrown into unavoidable dungeon crawls are pretty extensive by action role-playing standards. First you pick one of three ubiquitous character classes to play as, be it the warrior, mage or rogue (which the game calls the ‘survivor’ for whatever reason) and proceed on a quest to banish evil and reunite the seven races of Rivellon. After some investigating you uncover an extensive network of catacombs which you must clear for the first seven or so character levels, but get past that initial hurdle and you’re rewarded with quite a big, open-ended world to explore, replete with tons of villages, towns, hidden treasures and side quests.

Overall there’s a lot more complexity here than in your average ARPG. Alongside such additions as an alchemy skill for brewing potions, a reputation system, an ability to enchant or poison weapons and special combat moves we also get a skill system that isn’t conventionally limited to the three character classes. That last part is especially unusual, as it allows each character free access to the game’s entire pool of 96 skills, potentially yielding such absurd hybrids as an axe-wielding mage. This odd departure disrupts character building by quite a bit, but on the upside you get a lot more stuff to play with.

You can chat up with hundreds of NPCs.As in Morrowind and Ultima VII, many of the items laying around in Rivellon can be used or combined, moved, and repositioned (occasionally revealing elements like secret passageways). Like any RPG worth its weight in magic armor — and very much unlike Diablo II — Divinity has a complex (if not very compelling) story, and boatloads of quests. You’ll need to go on your fair share of them too, because many of the game’s straight-path quests can be tough without vital experience points under your belt.

But All Good Things Come To An End

Ultimately there’s not one fatal flaw with Divine Divinity (the missing multiplayer comes close though), but rather we get a long list of grinding annoyances and inconsistencies spread far and wide. Take the controls for starters – while Diablo II perfected the isometric hack ‘n’ slash with its remarkably fluid mouse interface, Divinity is lacking greatly when it comes to navigating your onscreen avatar. A skewed perspective makes navigating around the world without getting stuck a bit of a challenge.

Hey look, a blacksmith! And it only took several hours of gameplay to find it!

Greetings noble and extremely rare blacksmith!
It took me but several days to find thine ass.

Running up on the annoyance scale is the aforementioned skill system and some weapon balancing issues. You can find frost weapons that all but break combat in your favor, or you can just employ the extremely useful ‘freeze’ spell with the same result. Bows, which in addition to being substantially overpowered come with infinite ammunition, can do upwards of 90 damage early in the game, and often I would use them to kill the more powerful Guardian skeleton mini-bosses. There’s a difficulty slider that doesn’t require a full game restart but Divinity is a tad too easy to begin with, and perhaps a little unbalanced. It’s also too big for its own good. While the game world is impressively large, a lot of that real estate is merely generic wilderness used to farm XP.

Although you can trade with most NPC’s, proper specialized merchants aren’t spread out intuitively, and the ones that are available aren’t always packing enough gold for your wares – plus there’s seriously nothing more annoying than not being able to find a shop to sell your crap when playing cart mule, which drags on for far too long. Simple RPG logic dictates that any three houses nestled in close proximity must have a shop nearby.

So is Divine Divinity worth your time investment? Eh, mostly I guess. It plays half-decently as an action RPG mired by those pesky quirks and odd design. But the quests are fun and the sense of completion experienced after clearing up an entire dungeon is oodles more rewarding than in most ARPGs.

System Requirements: Pentium II 450 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 8 MB Video, 2.5 GB HDD, Win 98

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