Last year I reviewed Divinity II: Ego Draconis, noting that “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.” I ended up giving it a weak ‘Buy It’ recommendation, really focusing on the audience who would naturally be biased in favor of the game.
Nearly a year later we have the Dragon Knight Saga, which includes a ‘remastered’ version of Ego Draconis and the Flames of Vengeance (FoV) expansion. FoV was released to solid reviews in Europe some time ago, and there have been several posts by Lar on the Larian forums (yes, I see that too – it is NOT a coincidence) about how he had been dissatisfied with certain elements of Divinity II at release, things that fans echoed in their criticism, and things they have addressed in the new release.
My basic review is this: everything is the same, but BETTER! We don’t give numeric scores, but I would have struggled between three and four stars for the original game, rating it as about a 70% effort. For the Dragon Knight Saga, however, my struggle is between four and five stars – I would rate this as a 90% game, call it my favorite RPG of 2010, and give it an enthusiastic ‘Buy It’ recommendation!
As I noted in my previous review, Divinity II is the sequel to Divine Divinity, which is one of my all-time favorite games. It takes the franchise from 3D isometric view tile-based game to a 3D 3rd person open-world game, and the story makes use of many references to the original game while taking place in a different time. Since the majority of the experience is centered around the modifications to the original game, I’m going to run through some of my original review, and make updates to show how things have progressed. Quotes from my original review are in italics. Then I will address the expansion briefly, since much of what was introduced in Flames of Vengeance found its way back into the original via the Dragon Knight Saga (one benefit of having to wait and not getting the expansion released in the US!)
Divinity II – Remastered
For the first several hours of Divinity II: Ego Draconis I felt that perhaps I had found a new game to fill that void (referring to my love of the Gothic games): 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.
Nothing changed here, and to be honest that had me worried a bit early on. I mean, I loved the first several hours the first time, right?
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!
While there are STILL no day/night cycles, I would now change the phrase “but not quite up to the so-called ‘AAA’ games” to “right up there with ‘AAA’ games”! The amount of polish and added detail in the textures and environments, as well as more even performance throughout the game, really makes a difference.
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.
The soundtrack was a highlight – and remains a highlight! I really didn’t address the voice acting in my original review, but I noticed it this time around as a distinct positive. There were very few issues with translations or poor voicing, and I found it far better than most RPGs in recent memory in terms of the quality and variety of voices.
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.
This time around I made the conscious decision to ‘just do it’. I spent too much time and too many experience points mind-reading, and occasionally I came up with a gem: either a funny thought or a secret or a new quest … but regardless it was well worth it. It remains a hard sell for XP-stingy gamers, but it is definitely something I highly recommend!
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.
In the original, the game was more or less ruined by the end section. As always, part of it is a lack of time and resources. With the Dragon Knight Saga, Larian was able to add in content in the last quarter of the game, polish up the overall Dragon experience, and make it so it is a part of the experience that you enjoy doing because it is done well and isn’t the ONLY thing you are doing late in the game. It totally transformed my opinion of the end-game.
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.
The quests were already rich and varied, but have become better. As I mentioned, much was done with the end-game, but throughout the entirety of the game you can feel the hand of the developers fixing little details and adding minor stuff all around the world. The dialogue was tightened and made more interesting in places, the couple of broken quests I found had been fixed, and overall it was just a more robust system.
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’.
Once again, it is clear that the development team took copious notes while playing the game as well as from their testers, and worked on rebalancing the game. Before you would cruise through one area and then get one-hit-killed in the next … now the challenge is more consistent throughout.
Flames of Vengeance Expansion
This time around the main game took me about 50 or so hours to finish. Then it was on to the expansion – and it was massive! I spent about another 30 hours in Rivellon working through the expansion, which was well worth it!
Flames of Vengeance picks up at the conclusion of the main game, and follows you to the ultimate conclusion of your main quest. You are much higher level, as are your enemies. You continue gaining levels and skills and become more powerful – yet the challenge doesn’t abate! I found combat loads of fun throughout.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the questing: in an add-on too often the focus is getting you from end-to-end and sticking to the main quest. Here you keep picking up side-quests, and there are new things to discover just by exploring. Note that this isn’t the sort of stuff ‘loot junkies’ will care about, since as with most games you are well past that point. The reward is the experience of meeting characters, having dialogue, and working through the quests.
By the time you get to the end you will find yourself exhausted and satisfied. When I first played Divinity II I was disappointed at the ending. Now I am thrilled at having worked through such a great and well written story and game.
I held off one section of the original review for the end:
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.
As I said, this has now completely changed. In a year featuring Din’s Curse, Puzzle Quest 2, Mass Effect 2, Eschalon Book II and more (Ed. note: including the original release of Divinity II!) … Divinity II: Dragon Knight Saga is my favorite RPG from 2010. I thoroughly enjoyed the original game, and found the add-on a thrill to work through. I have already started again to replay as a pure warrior, since I played my prototypical mage first. If you were on the fence about this game, don’t hold back anymore – this is definitely worth playing.
+ Nice combat
+ Solid story
+ Gorgeous music
+ Long game with excellent quests
– Dragon play is still the low point
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also coming to Xbox 360
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Larian Studios
Release Date: 11/5/2010
ESRB Rating: Mature
Source: Review copy provided by publisher