|By Andy Grieser |
Divine Divinity is a pleasant surprise. I’d expected a bland clone of better action RPGs, but instead found a deep, engaging fantasy world.
At the outset, the player is first directed to choose from one of three character classes: fighter, mage and survivor (thief). This is really just to determine statistics bonuses and a class-specific special move. Each class also has specific skills, but in a very nice move, the player can choose a skill from any of the three classes at each level-up. I always wondered why sword-swingers couldn’t pick up a little magical knowledge or pick some locks. Now they can.
The plot itself is pure RPG: In an intro cutscene, the player is zapped by a mysterious white light. As the game opens, the player wakes in a healer’s hut and is asked to help the community of healers in a few tasks. These tasks blend into the overarching plot, with the world immersed in chaos and the player’s character designated a Marked One (that is, one of only a few folks who could conceivably save the world). While that’s a standard plot, it unfolds slowly, with the player learning on the run rather than from the outset relying on one of those handy all-explaining prophecies.
Divine Divinity, like Prince of Qin, is an import (German in this case) that slavishly molds itself on the Baldur’s Gate titles, not to mention the Diablo and Ultima games that came before. This is not a bad thing; those games are worth imitating. But where Prince of Qin seemed lacking in early quests, Divine Divinity is absolutely awash with them.
Again, this is not a bad thing, especially since many baddies can be overwhelming to our poor early-game characters. This way, the player can make a little progress on one quest, get stuck, turn attention on another, level up, get a bit farther in yet another quest, and so on.
The quests are varied enough to stay fresh. In fact, rarely do they obviously fall into the “kill the foozle” cliché. Instead, the player can do anything from sabotaging an invading orc army to solving a murder mystery to rescuing innocents in peril. Of course, most of the quests involve taking on overwhelming numbers of bad guys, but that’s all in a day’s work for a Marked One, right? Combat is fast and furious, though players can always hit the space bar to pause the game and take a breather.
The diary feature is absolutely essential. It keeps track of quests (which can be sorted, and completed quests hidden); displays an automap of the area; records conversations with NPCs; and more.
Here’s where the biggest of DD’s flaws hits, and hits hard. Quests can be broken almost too easily. There’s one major problem that can almost derail the game: When talking to Commander Ralph, don’t try and walk into his private room. He’ll throw you out, lock the door and stay inside. Which means no reporting back to him for certain completed quests. In other areas, quests are given with unspoken time limits, which can irritate those of us who easily get sidetracked but other plot points.
Graphics are good; the game is played at an isometric angle, and the feel is more like an update of the Ultima series (well, the seventh and eighth installments) than anything else. Gamma level has to be pumped up on most systems, but that doesn’t tend to wash out details.
Sound is very good. Hearing is a tracked attribute, and the player will sometimes be able to hear enemies approach before seeing them. Music is also quite good; whereas most game music fades into the background, I often consciously noticed and enjoyed DD’s tunes.
One odd thing: The game’s documentation says Divine Divinity can be either a straight RPG or an action RPG in the Diablo mold, depending on the character’s actions. I was unable to find any sign of this. It certainly doesn’t detract from the game as it is, but it makes me wonder whether the documentation referred to a planned version of DD that we didn’t get to see.