Review: Divinity II: Ego Draconis (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Divinity II: Ego Draconis
Developer: Larian
Publisher: cdv Software Entertainment USA
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 01/05/2010

In my opinion, 2009 was a great year opinion for RPGs with games like Borderlands and Dragon Age still consuming a lot of my time now into the new year. Recently Divinity II: Ego Draconis (Latin for “I, of the Dragon”) became available as a demo on XBox LIVE so I decided to give it a whirl as two and half play throughs of Dragon Age felt like enough of that RPG. Divinity II is a sequel to a popular PC game called Divine Divinity which had gameplay and random item generation similar to Diablo II. While I never played the first game, I am a big fan of this style of RPG. The one concept that really peaked my interest was that this game is not your standard run of the mill RPG, as Divinity II allows you to become a Dragon. Yup, I said it; a flying fire breathing dragon! How cool is that? I know when I received this game for review last week I had my work cut out for me, as taking on 60 hour RPG is quite an undertaking, but the ability to fly around and burn things sounded pretty wicked. Now with Dragon Age setting a new standard in console RPGs, will Divinity II and its flying dragon gameplay live up to that standard?

Let’s Review

Story

Divinity II is your standard fantasy RPG by most standards as it has fighters, mages, goblins, undead, and of course dragons. Your start the game with your standard character generation of choosing your hero’s gender and appearance. However, there is no class choices, skill points, or attributes to assign. Once your character’s appearance is complete you enter into the world of Rivellon. The world of Rivellon is under threat from a man called Damien, who amasses an army aboard a flying fortress. Damien is on a quest of vengeance against all that is good in this world. There is also an order of champions who serve to protect the good people of Rivellon. Then there are the two warring factions that you will become involved with, the Dragon Slayers and the Dragon Knights. You will start the game as a dragon slayer that has just come out of training and arrive at your first town. In this town you be given some cool powers like silver eyes – hey, it worked for Vin Diesel. These silver eyes will allow everyone to know you as a dragon slayer, as you will be gifted with the knowledge of the dragons. It’s too bad that these memories are so big that you forget all of your previous memories of your life. Maybe this is why you only start with one point on each of your attributes. Next you will be gifted with the ability to read minds, which open all kinds of different dialog options and even some side quests. The last thing you will need to do in this town is choose a class. Your class choice in Divinity II is not as important for gameplay as it is in other games, but you can choose a magic, warrior, or ranger class to begin with. Now you’re off to quest away and hunt those dragon knights. Dragon knights are human who have been given the ability to turn into a dragon at will. They are not real dragons, but more of a hybrid. Eventually in the game you will become one of these knights and about halfway through the game you will gain the ability to actually turn into a dragon and take on Damien’s flying fortresses from the air.

I found the story in Divinity II pretty entertaining. It didn’t suck me in like some RPGs, but it is very entertaining and there are brief moments of humor. One of these moments was a group of dragon slayers I encountered who had an opening intro that reminded me of a Power Ranger intro. I died intentionally just so I could see it again. Also I found if you kill too many bunny rabbits, a level 20 killer bunny takes his vengeance on you. I was only level sixteen at the time so that bunny battle took about twenty minutes. Rivellon is an open world with numerous side quests and there is not a lot of direction in which to go at times. You just have to explore and let the story unfold around you. At first I found this frustrating because I have been babied by so many games that give map locations and directions tags to send you in the right direction. I eventually embraced the lack of direction and just went from cave to cave killing anything in my path.

Story Rating: Great

Graphics

Divinity II has the potential to be a beautiful game but there are many things that hinder it. Initially when you step into the world of Rivellon you will immediately notice the level of detail that is placed into the environment. This game reminds me a lot of Oblivion, as it is full of colorful flora and fauna. The flowing water is quite pleasant as well. The character models aren’t the best I have seen but they are up to par with current generation of console RPGs. There are a variety of spell effects, and each has its own set of colorful animations for your viewing pleasure. Different armor and weapons also enhance your character’s appearance. Earlier weapons and armor look pretty bland, but the stuff you get at the higher levels is very colorful and detailed.

Earlier I said this game has the potential to be a beautiful game, but the frame rate has some issues. When moving around, the screen appears to flicker a lot. There is also some lovely white dotting where the textures meet. Sometimes your character or the enemies will fall through the textures. I remember a time when I had no legs while in a battle. While this was humorous, it was definitely a flaw. Last time I checked, my legless warrior was begging outside of the local liquor store. He is a dragon knight vet after all. All kidding aside the games overall look had a two year old kind of feel to it. The graphics definitely could have been more polished. I should mention while these things will lower the score, neither of them are game breakers for me. Overall the game was amazing to look at with plenty of details.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

Sound

The opening title screen intro of Divinity II will give you pretty good idea of what to expect in the musical score of this game. The musical score is loaded full of epic orchestral moments. Some of the dungeons have some pretty amazing scores. This one fortress I was battling in had one of the most memorable tracks, as it was like a NIN remix of a Lord of the Rings track. I can only think of one bad thing about the music in this game and it is really not that big of a deal, but needs to mentioned. In the one of the first towns you start, the musical track had actual people whistling part of the chorus. They sounded like they had a few ales before whistling the little tune. I found this kind of annoying, but not enough to make a difference because most of this game music is great and fits the environment or situation you are in.

The voice work within the game is pretty good. While nothing really stood as exceptional, it had very believable voice talent. Some of voices didn’t match with the lip movement of those speaking at times, but this didn’t bother me too much. You get to choose the voice of your character and he will talk a lot in combat situation. “I am out of Magic.” and, “I cannot do that yet.” were repeated quite a bit within the gameplay. Overall, I would have to say the score in this game is amazing and I would even find it enjoyable to listen to outside of the game with the exception of the whistling. Without the whistling, I maybe could have given this a perfect score.

Sound Rating: Classic

Control and Gameplay

One of my biggest gripes about Divinity II is the currently broken save system. The save system is this game is so incredibly frustrating. First off, let me start by saying this game has an autosave which is only used when entering into some sort of boss battle. This game is pretty hard, though, and you will die a lot more often than that. So early on I started saving often only to find out that when you overwrite a save, it doesn’t change the location of the previous save. Imagine for a moment that save before entering a building and then once entering the building the door locks behind you, and now you must quest your way to end of said building to escape. Now imagine that you are overwriting your save every time and all of the sudden towards the end this quest you die. Guess what? You end up loading your save and find yourself outside of a locked door and the quest is broken. I ended up loaded a save from like three hours of gameplay earlier. I found a way around by constantly making new saves and deleting previous saves. I think I spent about as much time managing my saves as my inventory.

This game plays in the 3rd person perspective and uses a very cumbersome aiming feature. The aiming was definitely made for a mouse and not your left stick. Some objects, like keys, are very hard to pick up and not only that are easy to miss as they are so small. This really encourages you to thoroughly explore every room for items. Another odd function that was hard to get used to was using my right trigger to jump. I can’t think of any other game that does this so I was constantly have to force myself to remember how to jump. The game does allow you to use eight presets for your abilities, which are the four standard buttons and your D-Pad. The problem with the D-pad is I would sometimes use the wrong ability, like summoning a creature rather than turning into a dragon.

One of the more pleasant aspects of this game is they have some very original ideas in terms of gameplay. On the surface Divinity II is your standard RPG with a main linear quest and numerous side quests. You gain experience and levels and select abilities. Even though you choose a class in the beginning, you are not limited to it. You can basically choose to pick any abilities you want without penalty because of the class you choose. You can be a ranger with cleric abilities or, like me, a fighter with some ranged magic abilities. I love magic missiles. Every time you level you gain four attribute points and one skill point to add to your abilities. On your abilities, you can choose to add a new skill or improve a current one. I recommend sticking to a few abilities and try to max them out. Some of them get pretty powerful late in the game. This game also offers numerous different weapons with varying effects and damage. The randomness of the weapons seems similar to a Diablo style generation, even if the gameplay has moved away from the top down perspective. One of the most obvious differences is the ability to turn into a dragon. However, you even get to do some 3D platforming, manage a battle tower, and mind read as well.

Playing as a dragon is an awesome feature in this game. I was concerned how this was going to transition. The transition is smooth. You can just be running around and with the click push of a button you are flying over the same environment you were running on. When you first become a dragon knight you get a taste of this ability via dream sequence, but it doesn’t become openly available until about twenty levels in. Once it becomes available, you will encounter flying baddies and ballista towers for you to burn. On the flying fortress levels you will be turning into a dragon and back again quite a bit. You will use the dragon to take out the fortress towers and then turn back into human form to take on the ground forces. I would have preferred to scorch the ground forces. The dragon form levels with your character and has its own abilities and armor.

At the same time when you unlock full ability of your dragon form, you also gain control of your battle tower. While this game doesn’t allow for managing a party, it does have a number of NPCs working for you in the tower. You have a necromancer who will help build undead Frankenstein like creatures for you to summon. I should mention that I was collecting body parts for this creature very early in game with no idea what I was supposed to do with them. Why the game would give them to you this early is odd to me. You will also have an enchanter to magically enchant your weapons in armor. There is an alchemist to brew potions for you with all the herbs you collect. There is a skill trainer that allows you to improve your abilities maximum level for a cost. The skill trainer also allows you reassign all of your skill points. Sasson has merchant abilities and also upgrades your battle tower when you have performed side quests for the previously mentioned NPCs. Hermaphrodite is an illusionist who allows you to change your gender and appearance. In your throne room you have a dancer and a muse who will be absolutely pointless for the story. Lastly there is Tom, Dick, & Harry who are your runners and will scour the world of Rivellon for components for potions and enchantments. They can also have their armor and weapons upgraded to succeed better at these attempts to get you loot. One other cool option is that once you have the battle tower if your inventory gets full you can send items to a chest located in your bedroom for retrieval later.

Experience is gained in the usual way by killing enemies and completing quests. You can also spend experience to perform your mind reading ability. The mind reading ability opens up new side quests, unique dialog options, and unlocks new skills. Every time it’s used you get an experience debt which is filled first before experience is added to your level progression. The mind reads vary in experience cost so choose wisely. I did this a lot early on and couldn’t figure out was I was level one for so long. When you complete a quest you will earn a reward, but on top this you get to select a reward bonus. The reward bonus is usually additional gold and experience, but sometimes you can earn a unique item.

Overall, despite the major flaws in the saving system, this game’s gameplay is pretty fun. I am sure that this flaw will be corrected in a future patch, but for now it is difficult to use. Another odd thing is that this game expects you to platform from time to time. With some of the camera angles, this can be harder than it sounds as this game doesn’t seem appropriate for jumping. The platforms will sometimes move or even drop into hot lava from your weight.

Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

Replayability

Divinity II has a pretty long story line, but I can’t see myself playing the story more than once. There isn’t a lot of diversity in your early class choices to justify it. If you really wanted to, you could get all the achievements in one play through. The story is good but not compelling enough to go through again. Your choices, whether good or evil, don’t seem to impact the main story line too much. You do choose four of your NPCs for your battle tower out of a pool of eight. Those NPCs did have their own side quests, so I suppose you could go back and chose differently to experience the other side quests.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

Balance

Divinity II is a pretty difficult game. I played this on medium difficulty and went from hard to very hard halfway through. You will be saving a lot and you know how much fun I had with that. A lot of the difficulty I found was from lack of direction. I would end up going into quests that were way beyond my level of experience only because they were closer to me than the easier ones. Then I would get to the easier quests and just breeze through them as I was like level 28 killing some level 22 imps. However, I do think you think you will get your $60 worth of entertainment on this game but it may be worth waiting for until they patch it.

Balance Rating: Above Average

Originality

With the Fantasy RPG genre, I think it is getting harder to be original. I think Divinity II does some things that make it stand out in the crowd. With the ability to become a dragon, unique reward system, battle tower management, and some mild platforming, this game tries hard to be different. The dragon form ability is to me the most stand out feature and I found it quite enjoyable to destroy stuff as a dragon.

Originality Rating: Great

Addictiveness

For me any RPG with a good story can suck me in for hours on end. Divinity II is no exception to this. Now I have not reviewed a lot of games for this site yet but this is one of the first I really enjoyed to sit down and play for a few hours. In fact one of reasons the review took a while is that I actually wanted to complete before writing this. I am at level 33, so I know I am close, but I was unable to beat the game in time for this review. Hopefully that will change in the next week. So yes, I still need a fix in this game.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor

Divinity II will appeal to a few RPG fans out there. If you played the first game for PC then you might want to pick this up. If you own a good gaming PC, then you might want to get it for that as I heard the controls are easier to manage. With so many good RPGs out right now and games like Mass Effect 2 on the horizon it is hard to call this a must buy. I have personally recommended it to a few of my friends that I know would enjoy it. As for you the reader, I would say try the demo and go from there.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous

Divinity II feels like it could have used some quality time to work out a few of the kinks I mentioned. For me like I said before none of these was a deal breaker for me. They just were kind of annoying. This game, despite all its flaws, was a really amazing experience for me. I enjoyed the story a great deal and really loved my dragon form even if I couldn’t burn those imps from the air. I do think it would be cool to raze villages with fire from the sky, but hey, I am evil like that.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: ENJOYABLE
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: ENJOYABLE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: GREAT
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:
Divinity II: Ego Draconis is a fantasy RPG that allows you to take on the form of a dragon to lay waste to your enemies. If you are craving a little more RPG in your life, this might be worth picking up. Despite some of this game flaws like the broken saving and frame rate, it is still a visually stunning game. Even thogh this game is not a big budget game like some other recent RPGs, it definitely delivers. The musical scores are epic and fit in perfect for this fantasy adventure. So if dragons are your thing, this game is for you.

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