Divine Divinity II: Ego Draconis Review (Xbox360)

It's easy to pre-judge Divinity II; A relatively unknown studio creating a sequel to an obscure series, being published by a small(er) publisher in a genre that has just received a blockbuster release is probably not going to be received with that much vigour. Even the name, Ego Draconis, immediately forces a comparison with Bioware's Dragon Age. Admittedly, even we had reservations going into this, but many an hour later found us hooked on what is a compelling albeit flawed experience.

Even though the setting has been seen before, the story told a hundred times (although even we'll admit that the inclusion of a medieval-Jesus is rather entertaining), for many this is one format that just refuses to get old. Some may take comfort in the fact that for once we have a fantasy tale without Dwarves and Elves, although this does seem peculiar given the inclusion of just about everything else. Regardless, if you're tired of the environment, no amount of gameplay or story is going to change your mind.

Playing in Dragon Form is highly satisfying, if a bit limited.
Character models are nothing special, and very animated.

Looking past the surface though, it's easy to see that Divinity II is unique enough not to be judged too harshly. The world of Rivellon is as finely crafted as any other fantasy world, with plenty of lore, back-story, and humorous tid bits to please even the most adamant explorer. It's taken a different approach to the genre, and in many ways is just as compelling as Bioware's epic, just for different reasons. This title is more 'sweeping', with large, dynamic maps and more consistent action. Instead of being driven by a compelling story, the game is instead driven by a set of core goals, along with countless side quests that help shape you and the world around you. The main plot revolves around you, as a newly minted Dragon Slayer, becoming that which you were taught to hate, and then naturally conscripted into a crusade against a rising evil. Earning your dragon form is definitely a high point in the game, and considering how long it takes to attain it, the actual event feels extremely gratifying and offers a decent mid-game boost.

Divinity has a curious class system, that almost borders on the class-less. Even though you choose one of the 'specialties' at the beginning (Warrior, Mage or Ranger), you can spend your skill points in all three areas, as well as a fourth area that you don't get to specialise in at the beginning. Furthermore, there doesn't appear to be any class restrictions on weapons an armour - you can literally mould your fighter any way you want. This, in our view, is a much better method of character progression, as providing you map things out correctly, you can easily make up for any flaws particular class archetypes have. It's possible to play the good guy or the bad guy in this game, as many a deed or word spoken resembles a particular moral alignment. Unfortunately, there's no actual mechanic in the game to make use of these choices. So aside from what little self-satisfaction you glean from being an arse, there's little to no in game consequences.

The 'battle tower' becomes your central base of operations.
Combat is ok, but I rather preferred Bioware's dramatic flair.

Progression in Divinity II is a strange affair. Whilst the game favours quests over combat for the bulk of experience (eliminating the need for a grind), there aren't always clear boundaries for you to follow. You could be trotting along, minding your own business, and then before you know it you're surrounded by enemies several levels higher then you are. Whilst the natural course of the story provides you with a moderate challenge, sometimes you can hit 'roadblocks' where 90% of the available courses of action are just ever so slightly too difficult for you to handle, usually the result of you being short a level or skill. These unfortunate choke points disrupt the flow of the game, and can often have you traipsing all over the place just trying to score experience points wherever you can.

This game also seems to take perverse pleasure in outnumbering you, especially during the early segments of the game. Being a single-character experience, there's no 'party' for you to manage, which means that you have to take on the waves of enemies by yourself. It's not so bad if you're more powerful than them, but a lot of the time you aren't. As you progress, you gain help in the form of summonable allies, but even they don't always help like you think they would. This all helps contribute to the 'roadblocks' mentioned before. The 'creature' is actually a major feature of the game. After you have completed a particular quest, you gain the ability to use 'body' parts to create a powerful ally that can help you take on enemies.

It's quite interesting seeing the spread of different game engines. Whilst the majority of developers will want to utilise their own graphics kit, a lot of the leading developers are not licensing their software out to others, and it can be rather interesting to see where they end up. Believe it or not, Divinity II uses the Gamebryo engine from Oblivion or Fallout (although to be honest, you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at it). That's not to say the graphics are poor, but they're no Bioware. The character and facial animations especially aren't as good as those seen in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. For some reason, this is made up by exaggerated body movement and emphasis, which at first looked rather silly, but you get used to it.

This is one game where exploring every nook and cranny can pay off - and waste a lot of time.
Your Creature gets made up of different body parts that each affect its stats.

This game is available for both the 360 and the PC, although side from the natural controller vs keyboard control differences, there's little difference between them. The 360 version seems to be more susceptible to bugs and glitches than its PC counterpart, although there have been instances where we observed the same glitch in both versions. Apart from slightly darker tones, there's nothing too tacky about the console graphics, so you shouldn't worry about an inferior port or anything like that.

Divinity II, whilst not being a direct contender to Dragon Age, is nevertheless going to be in the shadow of that game's PR machine. It's a very good title, and highly addictive in certain areas. It's not often that we play through a game until the early hours of the morning, but this title earned its place on that most hallowed list. Unfortunately, it's far from perfect. Nothing game-breaking, but there's so many oddities, annoyances and moments of utter frustration that keep this game from being as great as it could have been. Nevertheless, there's plenty here to entertain, and it's not every day that a game can stand up against Bioware and not be utterly crushed.

Top Game Moment:
Taking flight for the first time and owning some bitches with your fire breath.

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By noobst3R (SI Core) on Dec 19, 2009
Sounds like i'm getting DAO anyway. :p