I used to think that the PC Rpg was a dead and stale beast, we did have a moment's spark of life with Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate II. But they really brought with them nothing new, apart from PS:T which had the most absorbing story and character interaction in any Rpg I've seen. Until now of course, since I've just lost a few hours of my life to one of the most engrossing and absorbing Rpg games to arrive on this planet for a while.
Now you might wonder why on earth I haven't mentioned Neverwinter Nights or Dungeon Siege in this particular passage so far? They have their own merits but are pure full 3d titles. Divine Divinity is not, it's a gorgeous high resolution 2d Isometric adventure Rpg that breathes life into the genre once more. I've got a bit of a history with this game of course, after the writing of the original story 'The Prophesy' I was asked to rewrite and edit it. Of course I did this for CDV and Larian studios and had a hell of a lot of fun doing it, struck up a bit of a relationship with them both and have to admit Larian rock. But this in no way biased me to this game. If this game sucked I'd tell you now. But it doesn't, I personally think DD rocks and is a worthy addition to any hardcore Rpg'ers shelf and collection.
It builds on the style of Baldur's Gate and those that have come before it, but adds lots of nice graphical touches and gameplay elements that were missing in those games. Remember I said it was 2d Isometric? Well from the quality and high resolution of the graphics not to mention the animation, you soon lose yourself in the meticulously crafted world that is Larian's baby and rightly so too.
Pick from three classes, male and female of each and off you go. The Warrior, the Survivor and the Wizard - Larian didn't call the Survivor a thief and I'm so glad about that, since I think it adds a little more to the game. You can even choose the portrait of your character, but there's no custom portrait import function - doesn't really need one to be quite honest.
Stats are defined by the choice of class and you're all ready to enter the world. You do so and the first thing you'll notice is the attention to detail that's been lavished onto it. It's a pure delight to look at and to play. You can click on almost anything and something will happen, candles are lit and doused, torches and lanterns too. It's nice to see Larian thought of this and implemented it as well. Time passes, day folds into night and night passes into day, all with some very nice lighting effects. It's also full of little touches in the background, such as butterflies, reflective water and rabbits - rabbits can be hacked into bits and used as a stock of healing meat to keep your health up. But don't eat too much in one go, or you'll end up stuffed and have to wait a while to chow down again.
Apples, carrots, herbs and honey - you can find and use the lot somehow, you can learn how to brew potions and make honey from beehives. It's all in there, alongside the other more martial skills like augmenting damage and strength. There are several skill paths to choose from and Larian left it open for you to choose where you want to put your skill points. And just as you rise in levels, you can put your 5 stat points into the various Statistics - again a treat for those people who like to have this kind of fine control over character advancement.
The game plays surprisingly well and Larian have packed it with hints and tips to keep the newbie Rpg'ers understanding and learning all the time. Hold down Alt and you'll get a nice text box appear over the items to help you find those that might have been obscured or hidden by the game's backgrounds or dead monsters. Combat is easy enough to get used to and pretty soon you'll be clicking on those skeletons and bashing their heads in with the best of them. And yes, if you're wondering, you can also be a sneaky so and so and steal almost anything from anyone, as long as you're not caught doing it. While the shopkeeper was away I filched a nice set of weapons and armour from him. Its stuff like this that the Developers in other companies should always pay heed to. You have a reputation, and your character will have various others who like or dislike him/her giving you ample opportunity to make friends and enemies.
There are plenty of things to do in Larian's world and you will spend a good few hundred hours uncovering the lot. Mess with everything that looks suspicious and explore every nook and cranny of this huge world/game. Because the first dungeon itself is a monster that makes Ruins of Myth Drannor look small by comparison. Divine Divinity has a solid storyline too and a great set of voice actors, compared to some of the other games out there. There are some truly humorous performances and dialogues between your character and the various non-player (NPC) characters in the game world. It's obvious that Larian themselves are fans of a lot of fantasy since there's a good few references to the likes of Pratchett and even a tip of the hat to 2000AD's Nemesis the Warlock.
It's a great game, and it's got a well thought out interface too, top marks on the GUI. I was never at a loss where to find anything. And since they made the game accept commands even when paused that gives them extra brownie points as far as I'm concerned. While we're back on the subject of graphics, I'm going to tell you now that I think the design of the world; the animations and the textures are superb. They're rich and vibrant enough to make it look more like a work of art than a game and flow very smoothly. You'll also find your in game character changes to match their chosen worn armour and carried weapons. I swear that if Larian could make a Multiplayer version of this gem it could seriously kick Diablo II's butt off the top spot, along with some of the newer games like Dungeon Siege - well as long as it was done right and there were some cool features added. Sadly DD isn't Multiplayer, but it's one of the best Singleplayer Rpgs I've seen in a Dragon's Age.
It's a game that will take you a long time to master and a long time to explore, and you really should spend all your time searching out every secret and side quest that you can find. I found one that amused and delighted me after about an hour of playing. I'm not going to spoil it, but it's one of the best little side additions I've seen in a very long time - in short it made me carry on with the monster bashing and I felt as though the world was really there for me.
And this brings me onto my next key point, Atmosphere - Divine Divinity is packed with it, from graphics to the gorgeous music and audio that accompanies your quest. The steady drip drip drip in the dungeon along with the rattle of the doors, the life of a quiet village and the steady click, clatter of a skeleton in the dark - all serve to make you more and more immersed in the game. Once again, it gets top marks from me and it's not hard to see why a lot of the fans want the music on CD. I'd pay for a CD of the soundtrack to this game. It's got a beautiful soundtrack that just oozes power and finesse. The composer I would rank up there with the sublime Jeremy Seoul of Dungeon Siege and Morrowind fame. So all in all I'm totally enthralled with this fine piece of PC Rpg goodness and one quick closing word to kind of quote Lynn from the Forums.
Do not judge a book by its cover, in equal measure; do not judge a game by the name. Divine Divinity may not have the most amazing title in the world, but I tell you now, lurking beneath the name is the most astounding 2d Isometric game of this year, buy it and spend a long time exploring it, it'll drag you in and capture your soul like a dark demon in the mist. I found it a true pleasure to edit/rewrite the story known as the Prophesy - and now to see the game that the story is part of, come to such vivid life is a rare treat indeed. Well done Larian studios, I'll be watching your next release with eager eyes.