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Review: Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga

We don't really get a lot of truly awful games to play on Big Download, as most are at least somewhat competent. Still, there are a few that straddle the line between being hilariously and depressingly bad. Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga is one of these games. While the first Divinity was a tepid Diablo clone with a generic story, it was still passable when it came to the presentation and gameplay. Divinity 2 completely fails on almost every level, and that's after a reissue with enhanced graphics and rebalanced gameplay. We fear what the original game is like if this is the far more playable version. This is a game that only the most dedicated of hack and slash players should play, even if there were elements of the game that were approached with a remote amount of care.

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Divinity 2
picks up in media res as you complete your training as a member of the elite order of Dragon Slayers. To finish said training, you must take on the memories of an ancient dragon, which warps your mind while giving you incredible power. Thus, the plot of the game is set up. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, although it suffers from lack of context: many of the NPCs reference places and events that you have never heard of. While this can definitely add color when used sparingly, Divinity 2 uses it almost constantly, so it feels almost forced. The multiple twists in the plot certainly held our attention, but in the end it merely ends up being constant betrayal. This irked us in other games, and it irked us here. Still, if you are looking for reasonably strong writing, this is Divinity 2's high point.

The presentation of Divinity 2 is awful and inconsistent. There's no other way to describe it. Textures range from incredibly muddy to gorgeous, animations are stiff and unnatural, and the sounds are grating to hear, especially when repeated. The soundtrack is standard fantasy fare that does nothing special, although the varied volume with the sound effects makes it difficult to listen to the music without being interrupted. The most egregious of these errors, we found, was the animation. In an over-the-shoulder action RPG, animations are key. The developers of games such as God of War, Devil May Cry, and Ninja Gaiden know this and put a lot of care into making sure the animations look fluid and cool (but not necessarily lifelike). Divinity 2 shows none of this care, and the animations are simply low quality. They don't project a feeling of action, but rather a feeling of moving a wooden man to attack people. Part of this is the animation itself, and part of it is the way movement is handled in the game, but it's still terrible no matter the reason.

Where Divinity 2 had the chance to shine was in the gameplay department. The standard fantasy fare storyline and the irritating, inconsistent presentation left us hoping that the game would do something special with the game mechanics. After all, we can be enamored by otherwise ugly games that play great! Unfortunately, Divinity 2 is a hodgepodge of half-realized ideas and poor implementation. There's a lot of interesting stuff on display, but none of it is really used to its full potential, rendering the game a broken, uninteresting mess.

Before we get into the combat, we'd like to mention mind reading. Mind reading is perhaps the coolest part of Divinity 2 that completely drops the ball. In short, you can spend experience points (already one negative against it) to read people's minds and gain information you wouldn't normally be able to. While this is, in theory, cool, there's a number of problems with how it is handled. Firstly, it is simply a purchase, with no gameplay revolving around delving into somebody's mind. Something along the lines of a simple (optional) minigame would've spruced it up immensely, with performing said minigame giving you access to more information. Second. 95% of the people you run into are worthless and have minds that are definitely not worth reading. The other 5% - the ones who should be mind read - are main story characters that require an exorbitant amount of XP to read. We realize not everyone has interesting thoughts, but it could have been spruced up a little bit instead of leaving the ability mostly worthless throughout the entire game. Finally, there's the simple fact that mind reading is the only way to influence someone. There's no bribes, no intimidation, no anything besides reading somebody's mind. It's the peeks of a far more interesting speech system that was just never realized, and in an RPG, that's a major issue.

As a hack and slash RPG, Divinity 2 had the chance to get by solely on the combat. After all, games with minimal story interaction like Torchlight banked on how addictive and fun combat is. Unfortunately, combat in Divinity 2 oscillates wildly between being too hard and too easy. For the majority of enemies, you can simply do a melee jump attack over and over again to kill them. They rarely hit you and it deals an insane amount of damage. For the minority that can't be defeated by spamming a single move, you have to use abilities. Unfortunately, Divinity 2 lacks an intricate and subtle combo system in which to use said abilities. Rather, you simply mash the mouse and occasionally press a number key. In an over-the-shoulder action RPG, this is completely unacceptable. We should feel part of the action, not like a person clicking a mouse over and over again. That's what overhead games like Diablo are for, after all! This like of combat responsiveness makes fighting enemies both a chore and a waste of time. Even a few tweaks would have made it far more playable.

The skills are important, as always, and while the selection of skills in Divinity 2 is not particularly impressive or outstanding... well, actually, that's pretty much all. Skills don't make you truly feel like an incredible, ass-kicking Dragon Slayer until you are max level, and even then you are still bound by a stiff, arcane combat system that hates you. Navigation through the skill trees is suspect at best and downright ludicrous at worst, and assigning skill points was actually our least favorite part of the game. It's a terrible interface that lacks context (such as a flowchart of skill trees) or quality, and the skills contained within are not that impressive either. Still, they are functional, so if you can stand an awful interface and the lack of feeling like a badass, you're set.

The only element of the game that we don't have a major issue with is the progression of quests. Quests feel, in general, responsive and interesting. You're never stuck killing X of Y mob to continue, but rather you do actual things such as busting guys from prison or tracking down dragons. In fact, the progression throughout the entire game seems finely tuned to avoid the sort of stodgy nonsense that plagues most RPGs. Perhaps the only downside to this is that you can't really revisit old areas after you have completed them, since chances are you did everything there on your first run through.

There's really nothing done right with Divinity 2. It drops the ball in an incredible amount of areas, and the poor implementation of almost every aspect of the game makes it a mess to anybody used to more polished titles. It is certainly deeper than your everyday extreme action game, but it sacrifices playability and cohesive gameplay to build a facsimile of depth. If you are all tapped out on action RPGs, it'll be a fine, if mostly disappointing, purchase. Otherwise, you can get amazing titles for far less. Exhaust current options in the genre before giving this one a go.

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