Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.
Following our look at Dragon Age: Origins, Damien is here to show us a more recent—but no less impressive—isometric RPG, one with turn-based combat instead of real-time-with-pause.
#43. DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN 2, BY DAMIEN LAWARDORN
Crowdfunded games do not have a particularly strong track record. The likes of Broken Age, Mighty No. 9, and Yooka-Laylee have all been met with a mixed to outright disappointing reception on release. However, a handful of projects stand out for their successes, and Divinity: Original Sin 2 is surely at the top of that pile.
The latest in a long-running series of RPGs from Belgian developer Larian Studios, the game acts as a stunning example of how old-school style can benefit from modern technology and approaches. At the heart of this display is the sheer amount of player agency. The lead role can be occupied by one of six pre-determined character or an avatar of the user’s making, with the play style of each party member also being remarkably fluid.
Notably, the skills and attributes available also have uses beyond combat; for example, an undead character can pick locks with its fingers and extra quest-lines can be acquired through a party member capable of talking to animals. These qualities give the user an almost unparalleled level of control over the adventure, yet they do not stand alone among Original Sin 2’s strengths.
The reactive turn-based combat system is also particularly noteworthy. Frequently thrown into incredibly tough combat scenarios, players must use both careful planning and the environment to gain the upper hand against foes. Positioning often proves to be of vital importance, while the ability to electrify, freeze, or set aflame different elements within the game world can either damage or debuff enemies (or party members if they are caught in the crossfire).
As such, the requirement of careful planning and strategy usually beneficial in games of this ilk becomes utterly necessary.
The thoughtful player is further rewarded with high-quality writing. A central subject of discrimination wends its way through the game, beginning with the unjustified imprisonment of the magic-wielding characters and extending to the racist and classist sentiments expressed by many NPCs. The attempt to illustrate the folly of such behaviours rings particularly relevant in the contemporary sociopolitical climate.
However, the writers rarely take a soapbox approach to decrying discrimination, while also giving players the tools to react to it however they choose. This subtext runs alongside a strong central storyline that fantasy lovers will easily find themselves lost in across the dozens and potentially hundreds of hours that Original Sin 2 takes to complete. Furthermore, the game recently received a free Enhanced Edition update alongside the console launch, which brought significant changes to some of the writing, as well as additional quests and a host of small quality-of-life improvements.
Even without the post-launch updates, Original Sin 2 was one of the most lauded games of 2017, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Persona 5, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Super Mario Odyssey. While the title may not have the easy mass market appeal of those AAA games, it should be unmissable for anyone with even a passing interest in RPGs, for it stands among its contemporaries as a model for how to empower the player.
THE PATH FROM DIVINITY TO DIVINITY
Larian Studios has charted its own remarkable course through the history of 21st century computer RPGs, making the success of Divinity: Original Sin 2 less shocking than one might think.
With 2002’s Divine Divinity, the first in the series, Larian hit on a formula that presaged the kind of genre mashups that now dominate mainstream RPGs. The hack-and-slash action-RPG genre was riding high thanks to the Diablo series, but rather than a simple clone Divine Divinity brought more traditional RPG elements back into the mix such as non-combat skills, dialogue trees and more complex NPCs who could react to players’ choices.
However, by the time Divinity II came around in 2009, both the industry pressure on RPG developers and player expectations had shifted. Built using some of the same tools as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3, Divinity II released at an inopportune time for Euro-RPGs. Highly polished American games—particularly as console releases—were dominating sales, leaving little space for smaller releases. The PC space was in recession and games were still being distributed primarily on discs, meaning bigger companies had a better chance of being seen.
The dark ages passed. Perhaps due to an upgraded re-release of Divinity II that saw better critical reception, as well as the strategic spin-off, Dragon Commander, the Divinity brand was on the rise. Even better, the steady overtaking of PC games by digital distribution offered opportunities for niche audiences to speak with their purchases, directly to developers. The aforementioned Kickstarter craze was chiefly driven by this perceived opportunity, and in the end it paid off for Larian.
Thanks to the ecstatic reception of both Original Sin games, the isometric RPG is a viable prospect again, nearly ten years after we thought that Dragon Age: Origins might be the last of its kind. Although only a few current examples of upcoming releases in the genre exist, the purchase of inXile Entertainment and Obsidian Entertainment by Microsoft suggests that a great future is ahead for these kinds of RPGs.
Next week, we turn to a wholly different brand of fantasy RPG, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Why not comment below with your preferred type of fantasy RPG? Is it the sprawling, open adventure of The Elder Scrolls? Something more dungeon-crawly-hack-and-slashy? Or in-between, like today’s game? Thanks again for reading OnlySP’s 50 Favorite Games.