Divine Divinity Review
Divine Divinity Review
Review - posted by Exitium on Sun 1 December 2002, 19:28:17Tags: Divine Divinity; Larian Studios
With the recent flooding of CRPG releases in the market, Divine Divinity finds itself in steep competition against many other games of the same genre, some of which that have been more received wider press coverage and have garnered a larger fan-base than Divine Divinity, Larian Studios' second effort into the already saturated CRPG market.
Divine Divinity, a game with a tautological name as any others you would have noticed was a game plagued by constant delays ever since it was first put into full production in the year 2000 after the cancellation of Larian Studios' previous effort, "The Lady, the Mage & the Knight". How does it compare with all the others?
Setting The Stage
As with all fantasy storylines, Divine Divinity is set within an age of myth, legend and so on. Regardless of how generic the setting might be, the story of Divine Divinity is written well. For starters, the introduction movie is somewhat strange, but it sets the stage of Divine Divinity and you will discover the meaning as you progress through the game.
You won't have to scrounge through the manual for an introduction to the world. The story is revealed in a well-presented fashion as your character explores the world. Optionally, you can read the entire back-story in the .PDF document provided with the game. It isn't necessary for playing the game as the majority of the storyline will be revealed in due process, but it'll help you get up to speed.
In Divine Divinity, you have a choice to play one of three character roles: warrior, mage or survivor (rogue) of either male or female sex, consisting of six avatars in a familiar amnesiac hero plotline. Each of the three classes comes with its own innate ability. The warrior has a roundhouse attack that you'll no doubt find yourself using when you're surrounded by the legions of enemies that you will inevitably come to face.
The mage has a less-than-useful 'swap places' ability to get him out of trouble? sometimes. It's not a very useful ability, especially since it drains a lot of your stamina. I would have preferred instead for the implementation of a fully fledged teleport ability instead of the one that Divine Divinity offers. Finally, the survivor has the ability to sneak to avoid enemies. The innate abilities drain your stamina when used, or in the case of the survivor, while it is in use.
Each character comes equipped with a basic pre-selection of skills suited to the class at the beginning. The warrior will have some basic weapon specialization and the mage a few powerful spells, which I'll elaborate upon later. The survivor, akin to the Rogue in the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons rule set a will start out with passive skills such as alchemy, identify, and know creature.
As you progress through the game, you'll find it somewhat difficult to progress if you don't have any skills from the other classes, so you'll have to learn to diversify your character or you'll be wishing you had more skill points. This is where Divine Divinity can get really interesting. Each class has access to a total of 32 skills, with five tiers of each. In order to progress to the next tier of a skill, you will have to meet certain level requirements. The thing that sets Divine Divinity apart from Diablo 2 and Baldur's Gate is that there are no restrictions to choosing skills from any other class besides the one you started with. You're entirely free to pick and choose skills from all the classes, and best of all is that there isn't any limit as to how good you can become in those skills.
As certain playing classes will be less effective than others, Divine Divinity allows for plenty of experimentation and personal enjoyment, and pain from the process. It's intriguing to say the least, to find out which combinations work better than others. It can be a frustrating exercise when you discover the redundancy of certain skills in comparison to others.
For instance, mages completely outclass warriors, and survivors in terms of relative power, and become relatively unstoppable at latter levels. There is so much more challenge to playing the game with either of the other two classes as mages will be able to plow their way through hordes of monsters without breaking a sweat.. Divine Divinity suffers from the same issue that plagues Morrowind. The game starts out relatively challenging, especially if you're a warrior or survivor, but after a certain point you become an unstoppable force. I believe that the game could have used a little rebalancing to accommodate the challenge at a higher level. It just doesn't 'keep the carrot out of reach' in the way that Diablo and Diablo 2 did.
The inventory system is reminiscent of the Ultima series of games and Ultima Online. Every item is divided into five tabs: weapons, armor, magic and scrolls, herbs & potions and miscellaneous. There are no inventory slots, so you won't find yourself scrolling down tediously to find what you need. It's all there, unless you clutter your inventory with too many items. The equipment window follows the standard Diabloesque paper doll model for easy interfacing. It's easy to drag items from your inventory onto your paper doll, though the same cannot be said about dragging items from the ground into your inventory.
One of the nice things about Divine Divinity is the interface. It utilizes a limited form of windows system which you can drag around the screen to place wherever you feel it's convenient. The only thing that you can't do with the system is to resize the windows, so your 'miscellaneous' inventory display. You may find your miscellaneous window completely cluttered after awhile. Filling it up is one thing, but cleaning it up can be a real mess to deal with. The game would have benefited much from an inventory 'auto-sort' feature.
Dragging items into your inventory can also be a real drag, if you'll pardon the pun. Divine Divinity utilizes a kind of "realism" system when it comes to picking stuff up to put into your inventory. Often times, you'll find your character walking to the spot where the item is and just standing there instead of simply picking it up. This happens if you're standing slightly farther away from where you're supposed to be standing to pick up an item. This issue holds especially true whenever you try to pick up the teleportation pyramid. The inventory interface will sometimes come in the way of the item you're trying to pick up from the ground, especially in the game's default resolution, and cause some unnecessary frustration.
The Setting And The People
The world of Divine Divinity is extremely large, as you will find out soon enough. It is rife with humor and its jokes often play upon the clichÃ©s of role-playing games, such as talking skeletons pondering existentialist questions, and necromancers who mean well, among other things. But even while the game does not take itself entirely seriously, the story has no less depth than any other CRPG.
Divine Divinity is a host to a veritable selection of interesting characters, like a drug addicted shopkeeper, an insane old sage, a bratty little prince, and time traveling goblins, just to name some. A majority of the dialogues make for quite an interesting read but are terrible to listen to.
The dialogue in Divine Divinity is handled in a fairly simple manner, and is nowhere as intricate as the one featured in Arcanum. You're given an amount of questions and responses, some of which consist of merely humorous remarks and non sequiturs which have no bearing on the outcome of the overall dialogue. As redundant most of them are, they add a nice touch to an otherwise boring conversation.
The voice-overs for most of the speaking characters are quite terrible, and the few adequate ones (the voice of the Male Fighter and Zandalor) are nowhere as well-acted as the voice-overs in other CRPGs. The voices that you'll hear in Divine Divinity can sometimes be extremely humorous and are no doubt unintentionally so, as I would come to suspect. Just wait 'till you hear the dialogue between the Elven healer and Rendelius. It will make your ears bleed. Masochists enjoy!
On to better things, trade in Divine Divinity is a simple process. It's completely similar to the barter system of Fallout. Everything in the game has a value in gold pieces, but everyone you'll meet has a limited amount of gold, so you'll have to find the proper traders to sell you goods to. Unlike some other games, you won't be able to sell all of your goods to someone strapped on cash. You can trade with anyone you choose to. As a plus, you can even make amends with people you were rude with by bribing them with tributes and gifts.
The Barter skill goes a long way into the game, but it just isn't very useful at the beginning, especially when the vendors have nothing to offer you for your goods. You'll have to store what ever items you collect that you wish to sell later in the game because nobody early on will have the kind of resources to pay for the cost of those items. I suppose that it's realistic, but it can be somewhat troublesome, carrying all of that stuff back and forth when you want to sell it.
Play Me A Song
The music by Kirill Pokrovsky is a delight to listen to. The haunting instrumental soundtrack reflects well upon the game and blends well into the ambience that plays in the background.
The sound effects aren't up to par with the quality of the music, though. There's much to be desired in the 'crunch' and 'slash'. Simply put, the effects just don't deliver a powerful enough expression of the force of your attack, and sound rather muted out.
Charting New Territory
Exploration in Divine Divinity is a relatively simple, if not long affair. The first part of the game involves a dungeon of some great length with few interesting encounters, and as such might somewhat misconstrue the overall setting of the game and lead you to believe that it consists mostly of dungeons. The dungeon isn't the longest or the most interesting one that you'll ever face in Divine Divinity, but it's certainly lengthy. The interesting parts are few and far in-between, but where they are, they provide a brief respite from the tedium of the repetitive combat.
Walking back and forth into town for healing potions too can be very boring. As an alternative, the game allows you to teleport directly into the heart of the dungeon with the pyramid that you get from the Elven healer and to rescue the other part of the pyramid and teleport right back out so you don't have to walk miles back and forth to receive healing.
The game after the dungeon is simply huge. While in Dungeon Siege, a huge world mostly referred to pointless, hollow treks from one town to the next involving encounters with countless creatures, Divine Divinity attempts to take the opposite approach to having a world of large proportions. It's relatively alive with people and interesting encounters in comparison to the aforementioned game, but it no less 'suffers' from an overabundance of monsters.
In contrast, the exploration of a seemingly abandoned house in the middle of nowhere can be just as rewarding as any crucial quest as they can sometimes lead to hidden areas that you would have otherwise missed. Empty crates and pieces of furniture will often hide hidden trapdoors that lead to secret locations. Having quite a bit of curiosity can be nice in Divine Divinity.
I just wish that moving stuff around was an easier, more automated process. Moving stuff around takes a lot of time, because you'll have to do a bit of pixel hunting to find a space to drop the item. Often times, you'll miss your intended drop-site and this will always result in nothing moving. If there's anything the designers could have done about the system, it would be to have implemented an automated placement system, so items would drop in the 'clear' area next to whichever 'non-applicable' area you clicked on.
Path finding isn't implemented on walls. As such, you'll experience some manner of difficulty navigating through dungeons and indoor areas. Another problem plaguing indoor areas and dungeons is that the switches to open locked doors are too hard to find. A visual cue revealing their location would have been nice.
A Man With A Mission
Divine Divinity offers an abundance of quests ranging from the mundane to the intrepid, some of which are connected to the main storyline. The order in which you solve your quests in can be important, as certain actions can cause events in the game to proceed in a manner that would cause you to fail undone quests. Divine Divinity has quite a few tedious 'delivery service'-related quests but offers a variety of interesting ones as well.
The world of Divine Divinity is filled with things to read, like letters, manuscripts and inane ravings. Some of which hold vital clues related to quests.
The diary is fairly simple. It contains all the information relevant to completing your quests and progressing through the game. It also contains a history of all the discussions that you've had in the game. Only missing is a 'search' function from the diary. The diary also has a trophies page that lists all of the things that you've killed in the game.
Also present in the diary is an auto-map feature that shows you the progress you've made in the game. Crucial locations to the quests you receive in the game in the game are marked with red flags. The map also allows you the option to add your own markers to the auto-map for your own purposes.
You will make many decisions as you play the game, all of which influence your reputation. Reputation, which is initially neutral, affects how well other characters relate to you. Most characters will refuse to offer you quests or deal with you in general if you are too unpopular. You may only be able to deal with certain characters if you achieve some level of popularity.
Food has a role in Divine Divinity. Food comes in many forms, from the raw meat, to beer. Each type of food offers a temporary benefit, usually by boosting an individual statistic for a short period of time. But as there is no indication as to what property each food holds, you will have to find out through the process of trial and error.
If you have the Alchemy skill, you can create potions by using an empty flask on some of the many multi-colored herbs and mushroom that you'll find in the surrounding countryside. Furthermore, you'll be able to brew more powerful forms of potions as your skill level increases. At the higher tiers of the Alchemy skill, you'll even be able to extract poison potions from trash and rotten food which you can apply to your weapons to poison your enemies.
There are many skills available for you to choose from: some of which are useful, and some of which are not. There is one such skill which is extremely superfluous: Ranger Sight. It is useless because there is another skill called Elven Sight that does the same thing but is slightly better. I do not know why the designers even thought to put it in the game in the first place.
As with Ranger Sight, another weak portion of the game's skill is the Summoning tree, which is extremely weak even at the highest levels and serves little more than a temporary distraction to your enemies. Lock picking isn't very important either as most of the keys are located close to the locked doors and chests.
Beyond these issues, and the fact that the majority of the mage's offensive spells are all too powerful in comparison to any of the skills belonging to the other classes, most of the other skills in the game have a place for their use.
The combat system is akin to the one used in Neverwinter Nights, with the difference that it plays at a much higher pace. Combat is a fairly simple and straightforward affair. You left click to attack and right click to cast a spell or to use a skill. You have to manually select each enemy to attack and the game will do the rest for you. You will not have to hold down your mouse button to attack continuously.
However, even as casting spells require you to click for every attack, mages will have no trouble playing the game as the offensive spells that they employ are the most powerful forms of attack in the game, and as such, mages will find themselves clearing entire maps in a quarter of the time it would take for a melee fighter or archer especially in the latter stages of the game and this constitutes as a terrible imbalance between the three classes.
In Divine Divinity, you will frequently fight against bandits, legions of the undead and a wide variety of monsters. You'll occasionally fight against bosses leading that carry keys and other important quest-related items, so combat is an unavoidable affair for the most part. Combat in Divine Divinity is also the prime source of experience gaining, so you won't be able to go progress far into the game if you don't have the necessary levels that come from fighting.
The combat in Divine Divinity may be fun to watch due to its intensity, but because of its abundance, it becomes tedious after awhile. Some of the encounters you face can be extremely trying, such as the combats with the near-invulnerable Orc War Drummers who drum their health back to the maximum. Thankfully, most of the fighting is fast, and ends very quickly.
Over time, you'll find your equipment degrading over a period of use, so don't forget to have them repaired by a forger, or repair them yourself with the Repair skill from time to time. A single point in the skill will suffice just nicely. Also, you don't have to worry about them breaking, because when the durability level of an item drops to nil, it'll merely become unusable. However unusable, you'll still be able to repair it back to working condition.
The visuals are a real treat. While not as pretty as Dungeon Siege, but prettier than any other 2d isometric CRPG to date, and on par with the backdrops of Icewind Dale II, Divine Divinity is truly nice to look at. The isometric angle from which the game is played is set in an oblique angle. It is a tad different from other isometric games so it'll take a little getting used to.
Divine Divinity employs some three dimensional effects to spruce up magical effects, though they seem to exhibit a little grainy and blurry quality. But if you're however adamant about wanting only the graphics on par with Dungeon Siege, you'll be a little let down in this aspect.
The game supports resolutions of a minimum of 640x480, to a maximum of 1024x768. The game runs at a default resolution of 800x600, which retains some graphical details (of keys and other small items) that are otherwise lost on the max resolution. If your computer meets the recommended specifications, your game will probably run at a smooth rate, but turning off some of the options will help tremendously with any issues you may experience.
Normally, you won't experience any slowdowns with this game if you maintain your hard drive. But if you have a fragmented hard drive, you may experience some very bad issues with game freezing every few seconds. Defragmenting your hard drive should solve this issue.
Saving and loading times do take quite a long while, the latter even more so. You do not want to spend your time reloading the game too often.
Before the patches were released there were some crash issues with some systems, so it's rather sad that I have to inform you now that some of you might not be able to play the game right out of the box. But if you're reading this, then there is no doubt that you have access to the internet, so you should be able to download the game's patches (which aren't at all large) from the game's official website or from any number of game file websites out there. Needless to say, the majority of the bugs have been amended, so play should be flawless after the application of the patches. I've not experienced any serious technical issues that would have otherwise derailed my enjoyment of Divine Divinity after installing the latest patch.
There is no multiplayer option to speak of, but this is absolutely not an issue because Divine Divinity is a single player experience in the extreme sense. The single player setting can last up to a hundred or more hours of play, and this is no exaggeration. You should prepare to devote a lot of your free time to Divine Divinity for the long haul.
Overall, Divine Divinity is an enjoyable game, if not one marred by a variety of faults. It's likely to appeal to both seasoned veterans like myself, and newcomers alike. While fantasy's a dead and beaten horse with the extreme commercialization of Dungeons and Dragons, Divine Divinity manages to breathe some fresh life into the world of CRPGs by offering humor, nice graphics, and an immersive storyline. Like all games, Divine Divinity has its pros, and its cons. If you're looking for an enjoyable game that'll last you awhile, Divine Divinity's a good choice to go with.