I've given up on saying I dislike certain genres. I used to say I don't like Sim games and then Space Colony converted me. I never liked MMOs until EVE Online. And now I have to give up on my dislike of Diablo-type RPGs. The end of another era. It's always so painful to put aside a prejudice. I have Divine Divinity to thank for my enlightenment.
The story has you play a character that is destined to save the land of Rivellon from the Lord of Chaos. But before you can take on the big bad guy you must be discovered and blessed as the Divine Savior. Similar to LOTR you must get through the game without one of the apostate magicians getting a hold of you. The premise of DD is pretty standard stuff so it falls on the game to make up for the cookie-cutter premise with great details. And it does. Divine Divinity goes an extra mile to create a dynamic world for the player.
To start, you can choose between three classes: Wizard, Warrior or Survivor. The first two are self-explanatory but the third is a nice twist on character creation - allowing you to be someone who thinks on their toes, with higher stealth mode but also with the ability to learn skills that might be more fitting for a wizard. More on this later.
Once you choose your class you start in Rivertown. The maps are big but made smaller by a pyramid rune that allows you to port. The cool thing about the pyramids is that they can be carried around and placed where you want. I loved this touch since it added some strategy to the game and made me feel like my fate was in my own hands.
The quest system for DD is similar to Morrowind in that you have one large quest that becomes clearer over time with dozens of miniquests to keep you busy (should you choose to accept them). The optional quests can be anything from reuniting lovers to retrieving ingredients for a spell. I haven't completed the game (after around 20 hours of playtime) but I'm impressed with the way the designers are making the story come together. Though the dialogue with NPCs can be grating (especially when the voice acting comes up) the writing is a successs overall.
The experience system is a little different from other RPGs in that you get points based on your level, not on the difficulty of the task laid out for you. You can build your character up by taking on whichever tasks sound appealing to you - not just the ones that sound dangerous. It's an interesting way to make you feel like you're not obligated to follow a set path and it works. I only hope other RPG designers take a cue from this touch. The depth of your character is enhanced by the ability to build and track reputation, resistances and personal traits (retrievable in the diary).
At first, learning skills in DD is on par with other games in the genre. Depending on which class you choose you get two level one skills to start that are geared to your class. However, where DD differs is that each skillset is available to all classes! This kind of variety in selection makes for a much richer experience, in my opinion. True it makes the lines between classes less distinct but having a wizard with Elven stamina for those long sprints away from the enemy comes in handy. To differentiate the classes more, each class in DD has its own special move. Wizard's is Swap, allowing you to switch places with any character on the screen. Survivors have Sneaking which makes it hard for the bad guy to see you. And Warriors have Swirling which is a devastating 360 degree attack.
The controls of the game are as straight forward as Diablo 2. Moving takes a right-click and everything else is a left-click. Interacting with people, opening or studying an object and combat are all a mouse-gesture away. The game screen gives you immediate and clearly placed access to your quest log, spells, attributes and a minimap - all without getting in the way of the lush graphics. Of course, you can move the inventory windows around as you see fit, as in Morrowind or your standard MMO.
Combat is where I got my best education on Diablo's appeal. Attacking and defending is pretty much the same as Blizzard's classic but for some reason I just enjoy it in DD more. Since DD's depth is apparent almost from the start of the game I just found I had more patience with the simple combat. Then that patience turned into all-out fun. Funny how that works. The battles can be a bit overwhelming at times, with monsters filling up the screen wanting a piece of you, but a simple click of the CTRL key will ferret out the closest threat. The enemy AI is pretty impressive overall with NPCs grouping together and acting like they actually have something to lose. And they actually do. Everyone is carrying something valuable and if you deprive them of their head you can deprive them of their bounty. The problem is catching them sometimes. Some of them are fast and they're willing to run fast and far to save their butt.
The mechanics of battle can be done in real time or you can push the space bar and plan things out a little. This would be fine if it weren't for the fact that once you decide what you want to do and click the icon the game starts up again, leaving your cursor on the wrong side of the screen to counter some of the enemy's blows. Needless to say, I did most of my battles in real time.
Trading in DD is where a lot of the fun can be found. The prices you come across are determined by a number of factors which can include your reputation, your greeting or even the merchant's memory of their last transaction with you. When Divine Divinity was first announced there was a lot made of the game's AI. This kind of NPC interaction, along with multiple run-ins with NPC warriors and wanderers, is where the AI shines. It isn't leaps and bounds better than other games but it keeps pace and is successful in the final analysis.
The eye candy is certainly unique. The landscape is remarkably rich (in some cases Amazon-rich) with thick vegetation and intricately designed buildings. With all of this visual clutter it's a good thing that when an NPC passes over important objects they become see-through. Nothing is more irritating than missing a power-up, ingredient or clue because of stupid AI. The map system allows you to mark areas of interest on the map which is a nice touch since I always have a hard time keeping track of things with a written log. The only problem I found with the interface is the inventory organization. It's a mess. You can put armor and weapons in their own cache but everything else is thrown into one frigid window and it's very easy to lose track of what you have. DD almost did the interface perfectly but they slipped up here.
The audio is a mixed bag with excellent music, combat and atmospheric sound. But then add to that voices that make Al Gore sound like Robin Williams and you get an uneven result. After a pretty good cutscene in the beginning, the game makes the mistake of talking. The voice acting isn't the worst I've ever heard but it's certainly the dullest. It sounds like one male actor and one female actor did most of the voices and they made them up on the fly. But I can say with great confidence that most will enjoy the music. It's a full score and feels epic, even hummable. I never tired of it .
Divine Divinity has its share of stumbles that mirrors other recent RPGs. It falls back on the same clichés within its story and doesn't offer an online cooperative play that would add to the shelf-life immensely. But it does break with tradition on many small levels and tries to shake things up just a little. DD offers 96 skill levels, 6 classes, 150 NPCs, 100 monster types, simple controls, a competent journal, reactive AI and a well-told story. Not bad for a small development house eh? For those of you who have been on the fence about Diablo-type games for the last few years I really recommend you pick this one up. It's already selling for a song at your local store. Not only will you be supporting a company that truly understands great games, you'll also be introducing yourself to the hack and slash crowd. C'mon in - the blood soaked water's fine.
Score : 8.3/10
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