It's something of a long-running joke that there are remarkably few famous Belgians, and certainly when it comes to Belgian game developers we got as far as Appeal (of Outcast fame) and then drew a blank. With any luck Larian Studios' latest project will earn them a place on this most exclusive of lists...
Here Be Dragons
Due for release through CDV later this year, Divine Divinity is a role-playing game which looks set to straddle the divide between stats-laden hardcore affairs such as Baldur's Gate and lightweight action-focused games like Diablo. Set in a traditional fantasy land of orcs, skeletons and dragons, Divine Divinity puts you in the shoes of an adventurer suspected of being the saviour whose coming was foretold in ancient prophecy. There's some twaddle about a Divine Order, magicians turning to the dark side and all that malarkey, which is tracked in your diary as you carry out sub-quests and uncover more information about the world during the course of the game, but if you're more interested in cleaving some orcs in twain you can simply skip any plot dumps and conversations and still be able to finish the game. While the plot is a little hackneyed, Larian have created a vast world to explore, filled with interesting characters to interact with. All of the game's NPCs have their own unique behaviour and an individual memory, so if you treat them badly they won't forget it the next time you wander into their shop. March into a dwarf's home, knock over his ancestor's skeleton and kill all his pigs for the experience and he's liable to get a bit shirty, overcharging you for his goods, refusing to talk to you, or even grabbing an axe and settling the score. On the other hand, if you help someone they will remember that you did them a favour and be more friendly towards you in future.
Get Some Skills
The game also sports a vast array of items and skills, many of which can be combined or enhanced by the player. For example, using your alchemy skill you can mix together herbs to produce a healing potion, or create poison from stale food and then apply the resulting goop to your weapons. There's the best part of a hundred skills to choose from as you make your way through the game, and although they are split between three character classes (or "ways") - warrior, wizard and survivor - you will be able to learn skills from other ways to broaden your character's abilities. Which should make a welcome change from the normally rigid Dungeons & Dragons inspired class-based rules of most PC role-playing games. Each way also has its own unique special move for combat, and fights are fast and furious with plenty of flashy over-the-top spell effects in the best Diablo tradition. And while the essentially two dimensional isometric view of the world might not win any prizes for technological innovation, it does at least give the world a suitably dark and moody look, with nicely detailed backdrops, monsters and characters.
From what we've seen so far Divine Divinity seems to be shaping up to be a solid role-playing game, with a nice mixture of fast-paced RPG-lite combat and more involved character interaction. With the game hopefully emerging during the summer we should know more soon, but at this point our biggest criticism of Divine Divinity is that goofy title...