Divinity II: Ego Draconis Reader Review
As unique selling points go, Divinity 2 has a bit of a kicker. You get to turn into a Dragon. Okay, so it’s not the first game ever to let you do so- Capcom’s hit-and-miss Breath of Fire series has been built around the mechanic for years- but Divinity 2 goes further than most. Not only can you morph into your draconic form at will, you can then soar around the same landscapes you were just exploring on foot, swooping through the game’s delightfully realised canyons and valleys. Like dropping in from orbit in Section 8 or leaping over renaissance rooftops in Assassin’s Creed 2, it’s an experience that never gets old no matter how many times you try.
That’s partly because the huge landscapes of Divinity 2 constantly challenge you with different navigational hazards and encounters, from aggressive wyverns to shielded, no-Dragon zones which must be deactivated to allow progression. It’s also because Divinity 2 makes you work to earn the ability to shift into the dragon form.
Initially, the knowledge that you can become a dragon might seem a little odd. After all, you begin the game as a Dragon Slayer, a new recruit in an ancient order dedicated to destroying the mighty beasts. Fresh from your initiation, you’re sent with a brigade to track down the last known dragon in Broken Valley. Things soon go awry, however, when the Dragon herself finds you, and passes on her powers as a Dragon Knight to you, along with her mission: to defeat the evil of the Black Ring. Even then, it’s still some time before you can take on the dragon form, which comes only after you reclaim a floating ‘Battle Tower’ as your base of operations.
Divinity 2, then, is certainly epic in ambition, as well as scale. It’s not the grim and gritty fantasy of Dragon Age, but a grander, more sweeping tale of higher fantasy. Whether that’s to your taste or not is up to you, but it’s certainly a refreshing change of pace. The majority of the game is spent on foot, traversing the kind of rolling hills and sharp canyons that would make Oblivion’s Tamriel blush, battling foes in an action RPG style with light MMO trappings. Quest givers boast helpful identifying exclamation or question marks over their heads, skills operate along a hotkey bar with requisite cooldowns to temper their power, but attacks are immediate and swift; a flurry of mouseclicks produces an elegant combo of manoeuvres depending on the weapons you have equipped. Divinity 2 actually gives you a pleasingly broad range of options for your character as you advance, by giving you free reign over how you spend the skill points earned each level. Though skills are split into categories by class- spells for priests and mages, melee abilities for warriors and archery skills for rangers- you’re free to develop them as you chose, which offers a good deal of control over your chosen hero’s evolution. Further customisation comes in the form of armour and weapons that confer their own bonuses and abilities, and can be further enchanted or have charms added to them to enhance their stats. Moreover, your dragon form also has its own equipment and skill lists, allowing you to customise its abilities as well.
Even once you’ve obtained your dragon form and revelled in the simple joy of tapping Q to leap into the air and transform at will, you’ll still be called on to travel on foot quite often, exploring the types of caves and ruins that are par for the course of any fantasy title, though the ones on offer in Divinity 2 boast some fiendishly clever puzzles that require actual thought to solve, which is a welcome addition. There are also some unfortunately inappropriate platforming sections, which might be okay if it weren’t for the loose jumping and movement controls. Don’t get me wrong; the controls are perfectly suited for adventuring and fighting- but your hero is no Nathan Drake or Lara Croft, and trying to do precision leaps usually result in swift death, or at least plummets to the bottom of the puzzle, since you don’t take damage from falling.
The combat in Divinity 2 isn’t always that satisfying, which is a bit of a shame given that there’s so much of it. Hits –either with swords, spells or bows- don’t feel especially solid, and you’ll repeat the same attack animations every time, which gives little variety. It is mostly fun, though, and the differing situations thrown at you when facing groups of enemies compensate for this fairly well. You’ll fight groups of similar enemies quite often, but thanks to differing roles for them- Imps, for example, come in vanilla ‘warrior’ varieties, but also in ranger, healer, shaman and totem master flavours to name just a few- the battles generally feel sufficiently different to keep your attention. They’re also pretty challenging, too. Divinity 2 doesn’t respawn enemies in visited locations, so if you’re finding a battle too tough, its either because you haven’t spent enough time hunting down enemies and completing quests in other areas, or because the game just feels like being tough right now. Often it comes down to your choice of tactics; taking out enemy spellcasters or healers should of course be the first option, but the spotty targeting can render this a difficult task. On the plus side, you never have to fight alone: several priest spells allow you to summon undead allies to fight alongside you or heal you, a charm spell lets you muddle the allegiances of an enemy for a time, and once you have access to your Battle Tower your resident Necromancer can piece together body parts to make a creature companion with customisable abilities that will follow you around. None of your companions can be directly controlled, frustratingly- I’ve often summoned a Ghost which is supposed to heal you only for it to devote itself to hurling bolts of energy at my foes and leaving me to die- but they add up to a broad range of options for the savvy adventurer.
Life as a dragon is a similar mix of exciting breadth hampered a little by implementation. Whilst on the one hand it’s incredible to be able to just up and fly about the same landscapes you’ve been exploring on foot, reminiscent of the finest moments of underrated classic Drakan, and the controls are sharp and intuitive, you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that land-based enemies simply fade away when you lift off. If you leave your creature or summoned allies behind in a battle, they’ll carry on fighting, but you’ll only hear the sounds; the models simply vanish. Subsequently, there’s no way to interact with creatures on the ground- you can’t attack enemies from the air unless they can fly as well, and whilst you can soar over villages and ruins it’s hard to know which is which at times, since you won’t be able to see any people unless you land. It’s not normally a problem, since transitioning from one form to the other is a simple buttonpress and incurs no cooldown or penalty, but it can be frustrating to drop out of dragon form into the middle of a group of tough enemies you couldn’t see before. To be fair, such concessions are probably implemented to limit the potential framerate impact and allow Divinity 2 to maintain well-detailed character models and environments, whether viewed from a distance in the air or up close on foot, but we still wish there had been some other way around it.
Speaking of the visuals, they’re a pretty mixed bag. Whilst animations can be lacking, the character and creature models themselves are quite well detailed and boast some imaginative designs, though some elements are merely derisory clones of what you’d find in any other fantasy. At other times, though, the developers capture moments of real beauty; sunlight streaming across an ocean, blotted out by your dragons wings as you swoop low between two cliffsides; a gigantic tower rises up in from the swampy depths of a deep valley. It might even be unintentional, fleeting beauty, but beauty nonetheless.
The soundtrack is also worthy of note; the musical score blending quiet moments of calm, brooding ambience and orchestral bombastics with genuine flair. The voice acting might not always be up to the same standard, but it’s not bad, and benefits from a spectacular translation that retains a quirky humour, especially in the many books you can find scattered around the world.
Divinity 2 is a pretty massive game, as well. The regions are huge, and it’ll take several hours of adventuring before you can progress to the next, and with plenty of side missions to do along the way you’ll not be strapped for content. Many quests are simple in design but skilfully executed, though the clumsy quest log doesn’t do a very good job of keeping tabs on them. One interesting addition comes with the inclusion of a mindreading system, which allows you to scan the minds of people you meet, though doing so incurs a cost in experience normally relevant to the information being gleamed. Whilst many of the mindreading junctures serve merely to add a little more character, some offer up intriguing insights that might shape your perceptions of events, or even offer additional quests. It’s a system that, like many things in Divinity 2, isn’t explored quite as deeply as it could have been, but one that is welcome nonetheless.
Divinity 2 has its share of ups and downs, but in the words of Alan-a-Dale, “sometimes ups outnumber the downs.” Perhaps developers Larian simply strove for too much- but for every part where they didn’t quite deliver, there are numerous parts where they did, and how. Divinity 2 manages to feel different and fresh in what has become a fairly stale genre, innovating in unexpected ways and delivering a huge, varied game that’s easy to sink hours and hours into. It’s not always perfect- it can be downright frustrating at times- but for the most part, Larian have created an entertaining and surprisingly charming title.
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7 / 10