Imagination is limitless. It expands inward, infinitely, only bound by what we can’t think of. This makes game design a challenge. We want to explore our virtual worlds in our own way, and the promise of a sandbox invites us to get creative.
This is especially the case in role-playing games, which are rooted in pen-and-paper traditions that allow for just about anything. Unfortunately, too many games have rules and boundaries that force players onto linear paths and decision trees. Is there a game that lets players go absolutely buck wild without falling apart?
Divinity: Original Sin 2 from Larian Studios is such a game. The 2017 sequel to a successful Kickstarter project, it expects players to bend its rules but never truly breaks, offering hundreds of hours of questing across different classes and playstyles.
On the surface, Divinity: Original Sin 2 appears to be a cookie-cutter RPG. Turn-based combat, magic, swords, all that jazz. But once you start playing it you realize there’s a lot more going on than at first blush. Divinity: Original Sin 2 lets you do nearly anything you can think of. Want to get into a locked chest or through a locked door but don’t have a key? You can smash it until your sword breaks, go get another sword, and keep smashing. It has a spirit of “why not?” That doesn’t exist in other games.
The same is true of dialogue and NPC interactions. There are a LOT of characters in this game. And very few have simple dialogue trees. Most NPCs have a conversation with you, and these can be informed by both information you’ve learned in your journey as well as numerous skill checks. There are skill checks aplenty in this game, which makes its party system crucial.
You’re not stuck on your main. You can control anyone in your party, and often will. They don’t even need to stay together! Divinity: Original Sin 2 lets you split characters up and wander around on your own (the story will do this deliberately too.) And, like chests and doors, you can demolish anyone you come across if you want to. Just know there are consequences (e.g. guards) for when you get out of line.
In order to give players an astounding amount of freedom, Larian constructed a massive and complex world. It sounds counterintuitive. Why make something complex if you’re going to have so many variables?
Think of it more as a web. Sure you can tear through a few strands but you’re still going to be tangled up in it no matter what. And the real joy of the game comes from seeing how your actions influence the story, either through save scumming or doing multiple playthroughs.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a big, big game. It’s easy to log 70+ hours just mainlining the story. But it's even easier to go beyond that, because you’ll spend a lot of time getting lost, being curious, and failing often. The successes are what keep you coming back though, both in your anything-goes exploration and in the deeply satisfying tactical combat.
What Divinity: Original Sin 2 does well with story and exploration, it also does with combat. There is no “right” way to defeat enemies and win encounters. Elemental and environmental damage are hugely important, and play off each other in unexpected ways. For example, liquid transmits electricity. So, if you stab a man and blood pools at his feet, guess what? Hit it with some shock damage and suddenly he’s riding the lightning.
Larian Studios also includes plenty of thoughtful quality-of-life design elements. Saving is easy, co-op is tons of fun, and the inventory system is easy to manage despite its intricacy. Divinity: Original Sin 2 isn’t just a deep, fun, complex game, it’s a perfectly polished one, too. All the characters have engaging backstories and motivations, and the mainline quest features some truly contemptible villains.
The only word of caution is this game can be a bit overwhelming at first. Freedom often is. Feel free to lean on walkthroughs and playthroughs if you get stuck, unlike some other gigantic RPGs there’s no toxic fandom around this one yelling at you for making things easier.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is available on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC. It’s currently on sale in the Steam store.