What do you love about RPGs? Is it the longevity of the Baldur's Gate series, the fantastic storyline of something like Planescape: Torment, the immense playability of Diablo or the fact that sometimes your loved ones have to get out the hose to remove you from games such as Ultima 3D and EverQuest? Now think about what you hate about them. It might be the fact that they often don't let you do what you like, that you can't interact with the scenery, that you can't smash a chair over that annoying chubby bartender's head. Maybe it's because they can be all about just grabbing the biggest, hardest looking weapon you can find, and clicking as fast as you can on an enemy with about as much AI as a cheese sandwich.
There's no doubt that RPGs over the last few years have been dominated by the same handful of developers namely Blizzard, Black Isle, Verrant and Origin.
If you're an RPG fan, your opinion about what makes a good RPG and what makes a bad one, will inevitably have been shaped in part by the performance of the above developer's games. Yes we have loved them, be it a long tumultuous love affair or a quick fling. But now we're left with a genre that's starting to look a bit grey around the edges, a little bit saggy perhaps, not so lithe and nubile as it once was and our eyes are starting to stray. Throne Of Darkness has already wiggled provocatively onto our screens and given the RPG hack 'n' slash a much-needed lift in the strategy department, and now it's the turn of Divine Divinity to be the Viagra to the flaceidity of RPGs.
Freedom To Explore
"Ever since Ultima 7 and probably Ultima Underworld, I've missed the feeling that exploring a RPG is actually worth it," claims Swen Vincke Divine Divinity's producer and founder, coder, designer and self-admitted chief sucker of the game's developer, Ionian Studios. "I mean, sure, you can find items here and there if you deviate from your path in modem day RPGs, and you can occasionally run into a lone NPC, but not to the extent it was done in those games. That's something we've tried to bring back with Divinity. There's a huge amount of things to discover. The engine allows the player a large amount of freedom, and this has been giving the story guys a tremendous headache over the past 10 months."
In many respects the world and storyline surrounding Divine Divinity, is standard hardcore RPG fare. A troubled lead character, unknowingly possessed by one third of a divine being (well if you will wander the woods alone) must travel a long path to discover the divine powers within themselves and rise up against the forces of evil.
You can play as one of six characters -male or female barbarian, male or female mage or male and female adventurers - each with their own strengths, weaknesses and special moves. Plus there is the usual stats and spell system, which is simple and easy to navigate. But it is the sense of exploration and interaction within the game, mentioned by Vincke, that is probably the most innovative feature of Divine Divinity. No matter how great an RPG looks, there's always been a rule that you can look but you can't touch. For all the good looks of some of the Baldur's Gate 2 settings you couldn't do much more with the environment than raid a few barrels and chests. Even with the occasional fun of twisting a knob or finding a secret compartment, it could hardly be called interactive.
An Easy Pick Up
In the world of Divinity many of the objects you see can be picked up and used. Table legs, kitchen knives, even garden rakes can be used as weapons, and if you're in a tight spot, a carefully aimed boulder can get you out of trouble. Candles can be lit and snuffed out for situations that demand extreme stealth, and food can be stolen or hunted down. More importantly, as you progress you can acquire knowledge that will help you identify local plant life and enable you to mix potions. The possibilities are endless. "I find it idiotic that usually you can see objects on your screen and you can't do anything with them," says Vincke. 'This is something we also tried to address. Not that the player has to interact with all those objects, we just give the option." This sense of interaction looks set to create an absorbing world, and the developers have gone to great pains to implement an unprecedented level of detail to show off the beautiful 1024x768 resolution and create a world players can truly shape. Butterflies and birds fly over your head, rabbits scamper across your path (you can kill them if you catch them) while all the in-game characters porter about their daily business. There's also been a lot of work gone into creating realistic sounds, for example just running my character across about seven inches of actual game screen, I achieved no less than four sound effects: wet grass, hard mud, stone and normal grass. Now that is attention to detail.
There's also a great deal to look forward to in other departments as well, if Larian Studios delivers on its promises. The AI, it claims, will be so advanced NPCs will have a more realistic attitude towards you based on how you treat them, monsters will react more intelligently in a fight and also come looking for you if they sec you've disturbed their area, or even lead you into an ambush. The spell system also looks like fun, particularly the spells that allow you to shift into the body of other creatures, be it a bee, rabbit or ore, which is great for scouting terrains and infiltrating enemy areas. "Finally, I think the end result of Divinity will be an RPG that blends two styles, hard-core RPG and hack and slash action, making it accessible and very deep. But it's important to stress, that it only goes as deep as the player wants," says Vincke.
OK, so it may have a daft title, and yes it's being created by a relatively unknown developer, but Divine Divinity looks like it is shaping up to be a surprising treat for RPG fans, a world that you can play with, rather ihan just play across. Here's hoping Larian Studios does become a David in a world of Goliaths, because that's what we have needed for quite some time.
Though It Was one of those games that immediately erases itself from your memory the instant you complete it, Divine Divinity was a staggeringly good RPG.
While it did nothing new (not that it was trying to) it did a fantastic job of ticking the genre's boxes, resulting in a solid, lengthy, well written and well-balanced role-player.
The game also featured a farmer called Homer, which, for whatever reason, is the only lasting impression Divine Divinity made on me. His wife had a quest, and a little bit of a dialogue tree, but Homer said nothing, exuding quite pride and resilience to the madness of the dark world around him. Homer's bed was broken, too, in that you could pick it up and A carry it around with you in your backpack, deploying it when you really needed a nap.
Homer aside, the plot was incredible - you have to rescue a land being corrupted by evil magic - with main characters transforming into and out of demonic forms like you and I would change our underwear. Diablo-style random loot drops and clickety-click combat filled in the rest.
Divine Divinity is very good, and really cheap. Just don't expect any surprises.
Download Divine Divinity
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Divine Divinity Screenshots and Media
- Baldur's Gate
- Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
- Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
- Dark Sun: Shattered Lands
- Diablo II
- Diablo II: Lord of Destruction
- Dungeon Keeper
- Dungeon Keeper 2
- Icewind Dale
- Kingdom O' Magic
- Lands of Lore III
- Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny
- Lords of Magic
- Magic & Mayhem
- Magic & Mayhem: The Art of Magic
- Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire
- Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds