A long time ago in a generic fantasy setting far, far away, there was a man of unknown origin who had to make the choice: to magic or not to magic? Archery was also on offer, but did he even consider it? Did he fiddlesticks! After opting to go the meathead route with a nice heavy piece of metal and enough hit points to fill a castle's vaults, he embarked upon his path as a warrior and cleave many foes into equal-sized bloody chunks on his way to becoming a true Dragon Slayer.
Now I'm not a writer for a games company, but that basically sums up the context that your merry adventures in Divinity II's world of Rivelon take place against. With recent leaps and bounds made in the vast arena of the RPG, it is oddly refreshing to have such a classically styled fantasy to dive into, conjuring a peculiar fusion of nostalgia and novelty. The introductory plot handed out through frankly copious amounts of highly detailed dialogue set you in good stead for setting out on your quest to slay dragons and had me won over fairly quickly, surprising perhaps, considering the back to basics setting of the title.
I don't know about you, but in an RPG I like to explore every nook and cranny to get the best loot and bonuses when wiping the floor (amongst other things) with the faces of my foes. I can report that Divinity II most definitely has many an opportunity to root around the remains of long dead monsters, but the completionist aspect of the game, if you choose to play it so, can detract greatly from the pace and the unfolding of the story. It took me a while to get inside the game, to really feel what the experience was about, but like a long haul flight to Jamaica, the journey was most definitely worth it.
Were it not my duty to give you readers an accurate idea of what the game is like, I would say simply that the reason for its allure escapes me; that there was an inexplicable magnetism that drew me to collecting and following quests through. I think the attraction revolves around the simplistic game mechanic that is used. Get quest. Do quest. Return quest. The old school approach, reminiscent of the Grand-daddies of the RPG genre, provides very rewarding and open ended gameplay by not limiting a certain way that the objective must be achieved. The possible creativity that can be employed when selecting a tactic keeps the game fresh and the player ready for the endless hours of gameplay on offer here.
Under scrutiny, the graphics are disastrously and unjustifiably sub-par, which is a crying shame considering the time-sinking temptation that is represented by the classic RPG credentials. The anti-aliasing appears to have been picked up by the development team and fired out of a cannon as the first firework at the wrap party because I'll be damned, in fact, I'll be a dragon if I saw one smooth edge in the title at all. This is left unaided by the glaringly obvious screen tear which at times is more of a rupturing of the game's world and a journey into the realm of obscurely arranged pixels. The textures are bearably detailed, but not finished to any high standard, with scenery looking more like a highly magnified RTS environment than a living, breathing simulatory RPG world.
Unfortunately, on the title's visual front, there are very few redeeming features and an overwhelming number of remaining issues. Notably, the animations are dreadfully shoddy, sometimes appearing as if a lazy dev has just pasted a .GIF into the game. I wondered where I'd seen this style of animation before and it suddenly hit me: the games of my youth; the strategy games of the mid to late nineties, the sprites of Red Alert. That a game looks dated to beyond a decade old is unimaginable and does Divinity no justice at all, so I won't dwell here.
Thankfully, the game has some drastically redeeming features. As mentioned the quest-based mechanic harks back to some of the more fondly remembered RPG offerings of gaming history but the gameplay itself is more representative of a dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash, more than a little similar to old man Molyneux's baby, the Fable series, though unfortunately, Divinity is all a bit Fable 1. The hotkeys function well, giving a widely customisable interface which can be wrought to the needs of any play style.
The story progresses nicely with twists and turns hiding in every shadow. A tribute to the writers is the change of sides at the beginning of the game which keeps the player on their toes throughout the epic journey that Divinity has to offer. The variety of auxiliary features, such as the genesis of a pet creature and the ability to shift into the form of a dragon, benefit the experience greatly, keeping the very long game a game and not a chore for the many hours you will be hammering into it.
The game claws back the remainder of the points lost over its scandalous graphical failings with its audio. The voicing of the hordes of NPCs is tremendously done with broad English accents peppering the ranks and not a vocal repetition in earshot. Some of the game's soundtrack can be genuinely moving through its grand orchestral scoring and provides a perfect accompaniment to the doubtless slaughter that follows you and your blade in your travels.
Divinity is not a game to be taken on lightly. If you're looking for something to blow a few hours every now and then, this is not your horse to back. Divinity is a game that really gives back what you put in but if all you have is a few hours spare, it will slap you in the face and tell you to return to your hussy, Modern Warfare 2, before telling you it didn't know what it was doing with you anyway and that all its friends had been telling it you were no good. If you do have the time, though, prepare to be engulfed in a world of mystery, magic and mighty big swords which will most definitely make the hard slog worthwhile.