Saturday, 6 February 2016

Divine Divinity (PC)

Divine Divinity main menu screen
Developer:Larian|Release Date:2002|Systems:Windows

This week on Super Adventures I've decided to look at another RPG, even though they take forever to play and write up. Because I am an idiot.

First though I have to talk about the name, because the title of Divine Divinity is famous for its redundancy. But is it a contender for the worst RPG title ever? It doesn't have 'chronicles', 'origins', 'prophecy', 'legacy', 'book' or 'Eragon' in there, so I'm thinking... no. It's distinctive and memorable so it gets the job done, even if it is dumb. The game was originally going to be called Divinity: The Sword of Lies, but their publisher was apparently fond of alliteration after doing well with Sudden Strike and I guess Divinity: Deceitful Dagger didn't do it for them.

Riftrunner on the other hand would've been a terrible title for a sequel in my opinion, and Larian were wise to eventually change it to Beyond Divinity. Now they just need to change it so that the damn game works on my PC so I can play that too.

Speaking of the developers making things that work, I'm liking this theme music: Divine Divinity theme (YouTube link). It's more melancholy than your typical heroic RPG music, with harpsichord in place of chanting Vikings.

(Click screenshots to inflate them to their original dimensions.)



There's a 'VIEW INTRO' option on the menu so I clicked it and got to see this barbarian type getting ambushed by orcs in moderately blocky pre-rendered video.

While that's going on a trio of creepy monks are walking creepy hallways, magically lighting the torches as they go. They pass a rat along the way and for a moment I thought he was going to get lit up as well.

They shoot magic at a bubble and the bubble turns into a baby and then the baby is a glowing naked woman and then they try to hit the naked woman with a sword and then it doesn't work and then the naked glowing woman turns into three naked glowing women who then fly up through the roof and I don't even know any more.

This is one of the rare Western fantasy RPGs from this era without an old wizard type narrating events, so I have no clue what any of this means. But it's certainly nice to be able to make it to gameplay without being given a half-dozen fantasy names to remember first.

The barbarian hasn't been having a great day either, as his adventuring is cut short by an arrow to the leg. But it seems like he's being divinified by an energy blast from the glowing naked spirit(s)!

It doesn't actually seem to fix his leg or anything, though it at least solves his orc problems by knocking them away.

A cat comes over to nibble on his fingers and show off the CG team's fur plugin and that's the end of the intro.

Well that worked out pretty well, let's see what happens when I click the 'NEW GAME' option.

Hey, it's given me a character select screen! I'm not sure it makes sense to let players choose what their character looks like right after showing them what their character looks like, but I suppose they never said that the glowing barbarian was me.

I've got a typical fighter/mage/thief selection to pick from here, with a handful of possible portraits for each but no attribute points to deal out or skills to select. Actually that's not entirely true, as male and female characters come pre-equipped with a different pair of starting skills. The genders are otherwise identical stat-wise, though the ladies feel the need to proclaim they 'deserve as much respect as as any male dammit' in their voice clips, so I guess sexism is alive and well in the Divinityverse.

I'm going to go with the female mage I think, just because she's holding a bow and I feel like shooting things. Plus most of the other characters look like they'd get cold.

No polygons huh? RPGs like Neverwinter Nights and Dungeon Siege had moved to real time 3D by 2002, but I guess Larian shared Obsidian's opinion that there's nothing archaic about pre-rendered art (plus it's probably cheaper).

Alright it looks I'm moving my hero sprite across the background by clicking around with the mouse. It also looks like I might have set the resolution a bit high, as everything's so tiny! I've got plenty of miniature icons and bars decorating my screen but I'll ignore them for now and focus on helping myself to everything in this dungeon.

I grabbed a pair of wrecked sandals and a potion, then opened the chest to find… 25 gold. I like how it tells me when a chest has anything in it when I hover my mouse over it, that's a nice feature. There's nothing else to do down here though except sleep on the bed so I'm going to dare the ladder.

Yeah, this isn't a great resolution for this is it? I'll start cropping screenshots from now on to give you a fighting chance of seeing what's going on in them.

The conversation system is very Baldur's Gate, with multiple choice responses but not a whole lot to say. There's a bit of voiced NPC dialogue but most of it's playing out in silence and I'm considering that to be a good thing. Some games have surprisingly good voice acting, this isn't one of them.

It seems likely now that I am the person from the intro, brought here unconscious by a kind healer called Aleroth. I've also learned that there's a quest to be done, though Aleroth doesn’t feel I’ll have much success with it. His leader’s gone a bit mad you see and it may be due to demonic possession.

Aleroth's such a decent bloke that he's okay with me taking anything I need from his home, which is good because I’ve been doing that already. When I start a game waking up in a house I tend to assume it's my own place!

Well this is weird. It may look like I've become a ghost and floated up to the roof, but I'm actually standing behind the house next to his front door. Why would anyone put a door on the hidden wall of the house in a game like this? In my world only the front and right sides of objects exist.

It's kind of a pretty house though, even though its a bit too dark now to see it properly. Hey, I just realised that it's getting dark! I suppose I should go look for something to do then while there's still enough light to follow the paths.


LATER THAT NIGHT.


I got bored looking for something to do so now I'm playing around with the windows (or 'plates' as the game calls them). I can open up a screenful of these things at once and drag them wherever I want, which is nice and modern. Shame it doesn't have the modern 'compare the weapon I'm looking at with the one in my hand' feature though.

That's the skills window on the right and interestingly I'm not limited to just the mage skills, I can flip through the other two classes and spend points to unlock all their abilities as well. First though I need to find a way to level up and get the skill points to spend.

Hang on, I just realised that I'm surrounded by dragon statues and they rotate when I click on them.

Spinning all the statues opened a path to the catacombs! I getting the impression that I'm not supposed to be down here yet though (my biggest clue is this locked door I don't have a key for yet.

On my way back out I noticed a mysterious lever on the wall I hadn't seen on the way in, and activating it unlocked the door! So now I've learned that this one of those 'pull a lever, run around trying to figure out what it opened' kinds of games. Joy.

I've found enemies!

The game's gone full Diablo, as I click on enemies to send my character over to make them die, then click on my health potion to make sure I don't join them. There is one big difference between this and Diablo though. Well I'm assuming there is anyway, I haven't actually found it yet.

I didn't actually spend much time in the catacombs in the end as I found I ran out of healing potions quicker than I ran out of skeletons. Combat hasn't involved all that much input from me so far, I just click an enemy once and wait for them to die, and losing health during the process seems unavoidable, so I really need to get back to the surface for a resupply.

Next I went exploring down in a well and successfully broke into someone’s house through a secret underground passage. Didn't do me much good though, as I can't get the front door open to leave.

Ah, that lunatic wizard outside must be the demon possessed Mardaneus that Aleroth told me about. Now I've got a good reason to be lurking inside his house: to talk him into undoing the ice spell he just cast before the poor victim freezes to death.

After persuading Mardaneus to unfreeze his friend I decided to explore the town a little. Then I got bored of that. Seems like it's walled in on all sides though so I'm stuck here for now.

Fortunately I've gotten myself something to do as I've figured out that the power to trade was within me the whole time! There's an icon on the dialogue screen that lets me buy and sell items with almost everyone here. I can even give stuff away to them to improve their opinion of me, but I think I'd rather take the cash.

Shopping takes place on this very Fallout looking barter screen, but thankfully Divinity comes with a 'balance' button that automatically sorts out the amount of coins that need to change hands to make it a fair trade, to save me from working out the number myself. Annoyingly though it also shows the stuff I'm wearing in the sell list (with the number coloured yellow).

Divine Divinity quest journal screen
Now that I've had a chat with most of the people in town I've ended up with a proper quest for my journal. My mission is to... turn the dragon statues to open a secret passage and then venture deep into the catacombs! Oh right, I was already doing that wasn't I?

I've stocked up on health potions now so I suppose there's no reason I shouldn't go back and give it another try.


SOON.


Aww, look at the reflected rabbit! The reflected me is pretty good too. I love little touches like this in games.

Okay I admit it, I’ve lost the entrance to the catacombs. It's my own fault, I should've checked the map screen when I left. I wouldn't have this problem if the town was a bit less pointlessly sprawling, with the townsfolk all conveniently gathered around a Sean Connery impersonator and the dungeon entrance just a short walk straight down the road.


EVENTUALLY, BACK AT THE CATACOMBS ENTRANCE.


That's interesting, this time I've been given a teleportation pyramid. It's like my very own reusable town portal, so I can make an instant trip back to the shops whenever I've accumulated too much loot or too many stab wounds.

There's one tiny catch though: the pyramids are a pair and I only have one of them, so if I teleport now I could end up in a volcano, on the moon, in someone's sock drawer... basically anywhere that people stash magic artefacts. So I'll leave that until I've got some levels under my belt. Not that I even have a belt yet.


SOME DUNGEON CRAWLING LATER.


Well I searched a bunch of rooms, clicked on a bunch of enemies and used a bunch of health potions and my hard work's finally earned me a level up!

I spent my skill point on the warrior class's repair skill to fix my wrecked sandals, but I'm still trying to figure out how to actually activate it. I'd give up and visit the town blacksmith instead but I'm not sure the place even has one. I'm working things out as I go.

Getting a level up also gave me 5 points to spend on my attributes, so now I can choose how I divide them between my 'Strength', 'Agility', 'Intelligence' and 'Constitution'. You might be thinking 'wow they really did take this system straight from Diablo, but there's actually a pretty crucial difference:

Diablo (PC)
In Diablo the attributes are named a bit differently.

What else is different, hmm... oh, Divine Divinity restricts my hoarding with a weight limit instead of Diablo's an item grid. I can't think of anything else right now but I'm sure there's something obvious I'm overlooking.

I was giving some thought to how I can distribute my points to optimise my damage, but it occurs to me that I should probably just raise whatever I need to raise to equip the weapon I want to use. If a bow wants me to have 25 Agility before I can equip it, then that's where the points are going.


A WHOLE LOT OF SKELETON MURDER LATER.


Stairs going down!

That's interesting, as I was wondering if this was a 'single epic multi-floor labyrinth' kind of game like Diablo, or an 'ongoing journey forwards' type of adventure like Dungeon Siege, and this is definitely a mark in the 'super dungeon' column.

Plus I've opened a shortcut back to town, which is also very Diablo. That's going to help me out a lot until I work up the courage to resolve the teleportation pyramid problem.


SEVERAL CLICKING BATTLES LATER.


Oh crap, I forgot to glance down at the health bar and now my mage is lying in a pool of her own blood.

Weirdly there's no game over text, it just lets me watch the skeletons get on with their day. Fortunately for me the game has quicksaves so I've lost next to zero progress from this lack of attention. Next time though I think I'll be luring them out to a doorway or something else I can use as a chokepoint, as that's clearly way too many skeletons. Too many skeletons for a mage with a knife and no armour on anyway. Why don't any of these treasure chests have awesome pants inside them?


EVENTUALLY.


Right, I've got most of the town mapped out now I think. It's a pretty big place considering there's like five NPCs up here. I keep having to hike back up here via the shortcut staircase and visit everyone willing to barter as they they only ever have a handful of potions in stock. They can never have enough axes though fortunately, or else I'd be utterly broke.

Running back and forth isn't as tedious as it could've been though as my character actually can run, but only as long as their stamina bar holds out. Stamina recharges by the way, health and magic doesn't.


CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK LATER.


I've occasionally come across these notes scattered around the dungeon that provide clues to the possessed healer's condition and what's going on with all these skeletons. Seems that the healers upstairs had a bit of a feud going with a necromancer, and you know how these things always end.

I kind of wish I cared about this more than I do, but to be honest the story hasn't caught my interest yet (and neither has the gameplay really).


SOME HACKING AND SLASHING LATER.


Bloody Skeletal Conjurer...

He's not like the other enemies this one. I'm breaking out the heavy guns, barely chipping away his health with my magic spikes spell, while he keeps throwing skeletons at me! I don't know why he bothers though really, as he always ends up walking over and personally smacking my mage to death in a couple of hits.

To be fair this seems like an optional fight, but he also seems like a good natural source of XP and I'm trying to get a level up so I can go and fight the other super-tough enemy guarding the exit!

At least I’m getting plenty of good loading screen advice with all these deaths. Now I know to check out what effects food has, try mixing potions and other items, and to avoid copying the game in case my computer blows up. Wait, what?

But GOG promised me that it's DRM free now!

It also recommends sleeping to restore HP instead of chugging down health potions, but there ain't many beds down here in this crypt, so I don't know what it expects me to do!

Oh damn, that idea makes a lot of sense. I'd actually forgotten about the teleport pyramids.

Well I'm sick of banging my head against this Skeletal Conjurer so I'm going to use my pyramid and see where it sends me. Hopefully somewhere sunny.

Well that didn’t help.

It teleported me right in the middle of a gang of skeleton archers and they destroyed my character within seconds. I'm getting the feeling that I'm missing something obvious that'd make this game a lot less of a pain to play.

I loaded my save and gave it another try, using my 'pause the game and drink a potion whenever my health's low' trick, and actually managed to grab that other pyramid and get out. Oh, that's something I should mention: the game actually uses a 'real-time with pause' system like Baldur's Gate, so I can stop the game to quaff a potion and select who I want my character to start hacking away at.

Now I need to go find a bed to put this infinite town portal stone next to.


EVENTUALLY.


FIREBALLS! This is what I've been missing out on. I've been trying other magic without much luck, but this rapid-fire spell utterly destroys Skeletal Conjurers and Guardians from a safe distance!

I've finally found a decent bow to use as well, capable of inflicting actual harm. My last weapon was dealing out 5-16 damage, so 13-74's a bit of a step up, even if it is slower. I'm going to have to use my repair skill on it though as the durability's only at half. I don't think weapons can get destroyed in this but I'm not going to risk it.

The repair skill's a bit of a pain in the ass in this actually, as I have one ability equipped at a time and I keep forgetting to put fireballs back. I go to light up a skeleton army with purifying flames and end up standing there useless with the 'click on a weapon to repair it' cursor on instead as the enemies stroll over and smack me around the head.

I'm actually doing pretty well now and I've got a sack full of loot I'm too weak to equip. Trouble is I'm too weak to carry it properly as well, and the NPCs are too poor to buy most of it off me. I'm going to end up pulling a Morrowind here and having a house full of treasure I can't get rid of.

Actually I know what I'm going to do! I'm going to trade an axe in for some bloody armour as I still haven't found any. Probably a big factor in why I kept getting my ass handed to me now that I think about it.


SOME ADVENTURING LATER.


I have become a wealthy and well equipped battlemage, with my sprite well dressed in pre-rendered armour, but now I've got another problem: I can't pick up my pyramid once I've teleported back to the crypt! I keep trying to drag it into my inventory but it beams me back to my house instead.

It's definitely possible, I've done it before, but it's going to take a few tries. It's such a weird issue for a game to have. Could be worse though, there could've been a loading screen in between.

Speaking of dragging things, it's not just collectable items I can move; I can also click and drag things like that jug in the background. I could probably use this trick to block off doorways and then fire arrows over the top... but I probably won't. I don't need to now that I have decent weapons and armour.

There's not much else going on in town, but I have found a side-quest involving two mortally wounded patients and one healing gem. So the game isn't just about making your way down floors in the catacombs. Though it's been mostly catacombs so far.

I occasionally meet people down in the crypt as well, though these two talked themselves out of existence before I could chat to them.

That reminds me, I met a bunch of semi-friendly orcs a few floors up looking for an axe, so I need to give them a visit later and see if they're interested in any of the ones I've accumulated. No clue where I met them though. It's up to me to mark things on the map myself and I've been lazy. It's not the kind of game that has quest arrows.


EVENTUALLY.


Finally, it's that healer-haunting necromancer I came down here to slay!

Time to release you from the bonds of life with the full force of my fireballs foul abomination!

Oh hang on... he realises he was wrong and wants me to kill him? That's unusual.

Even more unusual is that he died in a cutscene and then I had to run away from the epic boss battle with a room full of his enraged minions so that the now de-possessed leader of the healers could single-handedly wipe them out for me. Well that all worked out then. Quest 1 complete!

Uh, what do I do now though? I've ran out of catacombs and I'm still stuck in this town. I'm going to go have another look around the fence and see if I can spot a front gate or something.

Wait... so I could've just walked right out of town at any time?


CONCLUSION

Divine Divinity may look like a straightforward single player Diablo clone at first, but it has hidden depth... at least that's what people say. I've heard it described as a cross between Diablo and Baldur's Gate, or Diablo and Morrowind  (and Ultima VII). The trouble is that it only opens up after the catacombs quest, so all I've seen of it after my hours of gameplay is the basically the tutorial dungeon.

It was a very nice tutorial dungeon though, if nothing special, and it became even better when I remembered I wasn't playing Diablo and I only had to click each enemy once. My character knew what to do after that. Also my experiments seem to indicate that the dungeons aren't procedurally generated, so it's perhaps not intended to be replayed in the same way (even if it is played in the same way).

One thing I like is how aside from the character model and voice, the difference between the classes seems to be just a unique skill and a few attribute points. You're free to develop your hero any way you feel like and equip anything you want. On the other hand, typing that out just reminded me that the characters have voices and I kind of wish they didn't as they're pretty terrible.

I can't say much about the story seeing as I barely saw any of it during the time I played it, but I liked the music and the retro pre-rendered visuals at least. Western RPGs had pretty much made the shift to real-time 3D by 2002, so this feels two or three years out of time and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Obsidian and inXile definitely didn't think so when they went back to the style for Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera. Would be nice if they'd taken the perspective into account when putting down house doors though.

So... yeah, I didn't really give this enough time to form a proper opinion. But it has grown on me during the time I did give it, and I wouldn't mind playing more of the game (especially now that I know there's more to it than just Diablo 2002), so it earns my shiny 'Not Crap' star!



Look at that, an RPG article that didn't spill over to two pages for a change. Being lazy is finally paying off. Feel free to add your own words underneath though, comments are always welcome.

6 comments:

  1. I played this game with every character back in the day but always lost steam before reaching the end. It's just too big. Still, I might play it again someday, and finally finish it (I wish!)

    It's also different from Diablo since you can pause and give orders within combat, which makes a huge difference.

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  2. The title seems quite famous
    Pretty decent Diablo-clone but it deserves 1,000 point for CGI cat
    At least from me anyway

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    1. You're alright by me, Widi Soedomo.

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  3. Thanks for the in-depth review.

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  4. I still had 3CDs of this game great game
    Too bad you not mention small graveyard in Aleroth :P on one guy tombstone says not place ANY FLOWERS! on them...espiecailly from his wife.

    :) And guess what happens if you put flowers vase from his wife grave?

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    Replies
    1. The guy who wrote the tombstone comes over and gives you an angry glare?

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