Review: Divinity II: Ego Draconis

D2_PC_2Dboxshot.jpg When I think of Divinity II: Ego Draconis I am reminded of D. W. Bradley’s 2005 game Dungeon Lords. Wait! Wait! Before you jump to the comments and start flaming me, let me explain. Dungeon Lords‘ pre-release developer hype talked about bringing the best of his classic Wizardry dungeon design to bear alongside a visceral modern experience that combined the best of games like Gothic 2 and Jedi Knight 2. How could you NOT be excited? With Divinity II, you have one of my all-time favorite games, Divine Divinity, getting a sequel that brings it out of the isometric world and into a fully 3D 3rd person experience. Once again, how can I NOT be anticipating what the game might deliver?

The problem with making an action-based RPG is figuring out how to deliver a deep role-playing experience that is simultaneously full of visceral gameplay that fans of modern 3rd person action games would find satisfying. I’m of the opinion that the first two Gothic games are perhaps the best examples of such a realization. Fallout 3 and the Elder Scrolls games provide thrilling gameplay, and games such as Drakensang and Dragon Age: Origins provide a deep role-playing experience, but none of those manage to bring together all of the elements in the way that the Gothic games have done.

For the first several hours of Divinity II: Ego Draconis I felt that perhaps I had found a new game to fill that void: the combat is thrilling and there is loads of questing that integrates nicely into the story and overall experience. Certainly the pacing is not too intense, and it is generally possible to extract yourself from combat before you die at the hands of a mob.

Like the original Divine Divinity, the sequel is a story-driven game that takes place in Rivellon, occasionally coming across areas we knew from the past, but mostly taking on new places and characters. Neither the story nor the writing are going to win awards, but they work well enough and make the experience thoroughly enjoyable. The classless structure of Divine Divinity also remains, and there are tons of skills of all types to invest your points as you gain levels.

Graphically, Divinity II delivers a high quality experience that is generally comparable to Risen, but not quite up to the so-called ‘AAA’ games. Character models are detailed, and the animations for movement and combat are nicely done and varied enough to remain interesting. There is no day / night cycle or changes in weather patterns, something that feels odd in a modern game of this type – especially since they were present in the original Divine Divinity!

Let me talk about the music … ah, the gorgeous soundtrack. I absolutely adored Kirill Pokrovsky’s Divine Divinity Soundtrack, and Divinity II lives up to my expectations based on the earlier work. The themes once again reflect a sort of melding of western and eastern European traditions mixed with fantasy genre fare in a way that feels very fresh compared with many of the other recent game soundtracks such as Risen and Dragon Age, neither of which feels like it brings anything new compared to Kai Rosenkranz’s excellent Gothic 3 score.

There are two innovative features in Divinity II: Mindreading and the Dragon Transformation. The Mindread skill allows you to pay some experience points in order to probe the mind of characters you are speaking to. Sometimes they have little of value going on, but there are many times when you can open new quests by what you find in their thoughts. Generally, but not always, the more it costs you, the more value you’ll get. You can take additional ranks in the mind-read skill, which lowers the experience cost. As someone who is used to scratching for every experience point, I found it difficult to accept giving away experience points – especially when I got nothing of value in return.

As for the major game element of Dragon Transformation, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand it makes sense in terms of the plot and story development, but on the other it felt like the game took a turn once you gained that shape-shifting ability … and frankly I expected something more. I also felt frustration that flying as a dragon puts you into a whole different style of game, where you can’t attack anything on the ground, nor can you ‘free fly’ as you are constrained from above and by ‘walls’ that are visible and ones that are invisible.

I liked the quest structure and the choices you get to make throughout the game. You are typically given more than one way to solve a quest – with the exception of combat-centric tasks – and upon completing a quest you generally get some fixed rewards and also a choice of an additional reward. This choice was nice since it allowed me to spend experience on mind-reading without so much worrying.

Divinity II has a third-person real time combat system with jumps, dodges, acrobatics and so on. Personally I love that sort of thing – which is where my Dungeon Lords thoughts come from. I could find myself surrounded and take a running jump over an enemy and run to better cover position and cast some spells from a better tactical position, dodging incoming attacks to allow myself to heal. I actually liked the integration of some of the jump puzzles, but in some cases the design of the puzzles and the precision of the control mechanics were at odds, making for too many instances of ‘fail & retry’.

I very much enjoyed Divinity II, but I also have to say it didn’t meet my hopes and expectations. After a few hours I truly loved the game, but after a few more the weaknesses started showing through. It is a solid story-driven action-RPG that is a worthy addition to any genre fan’s library, but after a year that saw Drakensang, Dragon Age: Origins, Risen and the Mac release of Avernum 6, not to mention King’s Bounty: Armored Princess, it is hard to push Divinity II above any of those games as a necessary purchase.

For ardent fans of Divine Divinity, the return to the setting and characters along with the brilliant music might be enough to justify paying full price to play immediately; and for hardcore RPG fans thirsting for another fix I also think there is plenty to like; but for most folks I would recommend waiting for a good sale or a lull in the RPG onslaught to give this a shot. So I am giving the game a weak ‘BUY’ recommendation.

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Pros:
+ Nice combat
+ Solid story
+ Gorgeous music

Cons:
– Action sequences lackluster at times
– Dragon play promises more than it delivers

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also on Xbox 360
Publisher: CDV
Developer: Larian Studios
Release Date: 1/5/2010
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!