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PC Review - 'Beyond Divinity'

by Ben Zackheim on June 17, 2004 @ 12:41 a.m. PDT

Beyond Divinity is Larian Studios’ new role playing game set in the award-winning Divinity universe. In Beyond Divinity, you become soul-forged with a Death Knight. Your fate is to spend the rest of eternity bonded to this creature of evil, unless you can undo this curse. You and your unlikely companion embark on a great adventure to unlock the secret of riftrunning... your only answer to this life of darkness!

Genre : Action/RPG
Developer : Larian Studios
Publisher : Hip Interactive
Release Date : April 13, 2004

Buy 'BEYOND DIVINITY': PC

One of the biggest challenges in reviewing games is giving a title a fair shake when compared against its competition. The other big challenge is to let a game stand on its own, separate from any of it predecessors. Beyond Divinity had a steep hill to climb. If it was going to stand out as a worthy buy it was going to have to match or exceed the first game in the series Divine Divinity and hold up well to the recent master-stroke of RPGs, Sacred. Unfortunately Beyond Divinity, while fun, doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

I reviewed Divine Divinity for this very site and found it refreshing. I had never been a big fan of RPGs but something about the game made me sit up and take notice. It was awkward at times, with a clumsy interface and its share of bugs but it was also a blast. The world was huge and filled with adventure. It was the kind of game you wanted to be playing when you weren’t playing it.

Beyond Divinity is less a sequel and more another chapter to the huge tale of the first game. Even the developer acknowledges BD is simply more of the same. Maybe they figure that if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. They updated the graphics engine with support for DX9, added zoom, spoken dialogue, and some game balance tweaks like a new reputation system and Summoning dolls (more later). Otherwise this is Divine Divinity: Chapter 2. Not a bad thing, on the surface. The only problem is that the game also keeps the problems that DD had and adds a few of its own.

Beyond Divinity starts off with a great twist. During a fierce battle with a necromancer you’re dragged into another realm where you are bound to a Death-Knight – body and soul. You and your new enemy are essentially attached at the hip. A nice recipe for some drama. You both agree that this will not do at all and set out to break the bond. It soon becomes clear that the only way you’ll be able to free yourselves is to become a riftrunner, someone who can travel between realms. And that’s going to take some effort. Around 100 hours of gameplay effort.

When you create your characters you do so with a “Be Like” method. You choose whether you would like to be like a warrior, survivor (i.e. thief) or wizard. If you’d like to get more granular you can dig in and assign experience points. Luckily you don’t have to stick with one character attribute. You might very well decide to go down the warrior path as a wizard once the game progresses. The character creation and development is as good and open as the original Divinity game. It should be noted that when you choose your partner’s attributes you’d be wise to choose a complementary set of skills. I made the mistake of sending two warriors in the first time around and it just makes for a tougher time than it needs to be. The development of your characters involves six attributes – strength, agility, constitution, intelligence, survival and speed. On top of these are five modifiers – initiative (who attacks first), luck, regeneration, accuracy and evasion. When you level up you get five stat points that can be assigned to the attributes as you see fit. You also get one skill point which can be added to one of the available skills (each character type has a different set of defensive and offensive skills). Every five levels you’ll get two skill points. The bottom line is you get a lot of customization, as it should be. BD gets kudos for doing character right.

Into the bad stuff…The first levels of the game are a total disaster. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to get through, even on the easy setting! The enemies are too tough, there are too many of them and there’s no learning curve provided for managing the characters. It might be a great concept to have two characters bound to one another but it’s also a task to control. Instead of holding the newbies hand through the initial stage BD requires you to jump in with both feet. The result is a frustrating sit-down with your computer that makes you want to go outside and enjoy the day. Even selecting the space bar to pause the action and make a move proved inadequate to overcome most of the first quests. To boot, the manual is of little help in teaching you some of the basics. It’s nice that the game includes a little novella but resources would have been better spent on focusing the manual for newbies and klutzes (like me).

More problems become apparent quickly. Important clues are hidden in the morass of textures on the screen. You can click on the ALT key to reveal important items nearby. But there were a number of times when a pointer would tell me that a treasure was on the ground in a specific spot but no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t see it! Other bugs in the first hour of play included getting trapped inside a guard while he slashed away and (my favorite) getting transported inside a wall, with no way out.

The combat system is actually quite fun if you have the patience to learn it after such a dubious beginning. The game provides straight out combat, tactical combat (being that you have two characters to work with) and stealth. It’s during the blood-letting that you begin to feel a bond with your characters. Two different warriors, who would usually be enemies, working together to persevere. As the game moves on there are pieces of knowledge that one character has and the other doesn’t, further adding to the sense that the two are kindred spirits. You also get the Swirl Attack which can be hot-buttoned (as most everything can be) so you can take out a circle of enemies surrounding you. If all else fails you can sneak around trouble, too. This is a skill that can be developed over the course of the game.

BD has added the spoken word in plentitude. The Dark Knight is a talky bloke. Unfortunately. I’m not sure what they were thinking when they hired this gent. He sounds like the comic book guy from the Simpsons trying to act tough. It really doesn’t work at all. Other voices in the game have a touch of humor and quite a few are professionally done. Yet one of the main characters sounds like a joke. It pulls you out of the moment and certainly doesn’t add to the game. That’s a problem since you’ll be spending dozens of hours with him.

BD does one thing very, very right. It offers the sense of a vast world. Just wandering around yields so many NPCs, adventures and incidents that it even puts Divine Divinity and Morrowind to shame. Assuming you get past the awful beginning you will find a lot to sink your teeth into. The game takes place in five acts, each with their own quests and atmosphere, and there’s little to find at fault in how the developers are able to juggle such a huge experience. It would have been nice to see more variety in the settings. Too much of the game takes place in cramped quarters.

Additions to the Divine Divinity experience make the game more fun to play in the later stages. As in the original, you get portable portals that you can set anywhere you want, elaborate (some would say confusing) inventory control and alchemic abilities. But added to that are Summoning Dolls who will assist you in battle. It’s a creepy and well-done touch that proves to be one of the more useful tools in combat. As you gain experience you can actually assign skill points to the development of your dolls, making them more powerful and tougher to kill. The system is similar to Sacred’s weapon upgrades where items you find in the world can be grafted to your high-skill weapon by a smith. Being able to develop your tools as a game goes on is a fine feature and unique to RPGs, so the more tweaks like this the better, in my mind.

Spells can be combined together so you can cast a few at the same time. The maneuver is risky since it uses a lot of mana but, if used right, it’s effective (it also happens to be similar to the Combo Arts feature in Sacred). Another fun touch is the ability to combine objects together. So if you see two objects on a screen that might work together you can drop them on each other and see what happens (this is used a lot in puzzle-solving). Most objects have a context menu that allows you to choose what exactly you want to do with it. All of these touches just make you feel like the universe is huge and yours for the exploring. A lot like Sacred.

Yes, I know that Sacred keeps coming up. It was what I was playing when BD came into my life. As stated before, it’s tough for a title to break away from its classic competition, much less its current competition. Sacred is such a gamer-friendly (and stable) experience in comparison to BD that it’s hard to underestimate the damage that can be done by the difficult learning curve and the bugs. BD is not really an improvement on Divine Divinity but it is a good game overall. If you’re feeling patient and want a massive adventure then BD is worth a look. If you have Sacred in your library, keep playing till you get to level 50 and then see how you feel.

Score : 7.5/10


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