The nice, excited people at developer Larian Studios have a good grasp on how to make a deep, interesting, and satisfying RPG. Now, they plan to bring their acclaimed isometric, turn-based RPG Divinity: Original Sin over to consoles with the new Enhanced Edition of the game.
In my hands-on time with a beta build of the PlayStation 4 version of the Enhanced Edition and as a fan of the original PC version myself, I can say that the console version is looking great so far. The console version of Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition makes very few compromises, the full range of control and combat options that PC users had access to in the original version of the game are accessible in the console version. A great example of this version consistency is the skill bar at the bottom of the screen. There are no additional shortcuts or hot-keys in the console version, instead Larian took advantage of the turn-based nature of the combat system to allow for a skill bar that first needs to be switch to before you can select a skill or item to use from it. This means that the limited buttons on the controller can be consistently used for the same things at all times; the directional pad will always switch between party-members while in menus and out of them, the face buttons can always be used to interact, etc. When a player wants to access their potentially large repertoire of skills and consumables, they can switch control over to the skill bar and then select from five pages worth of it. When you see the console version of the game in action, you may notice the skill bar is not that long, and as such requires you scroll through it a little soon to get at your other skills. This is intentional, as it turns out most of the questionable things in this game are, because a big feature of the console version is local co-op play of up to two players. The designers at Larian wanted to keep things as consistent as possible and the skill bar’s reduced size allows them to fit two skill bars on the screen, one for each player. Although, the idea of toggling your control over to the skill bar first and then selecting a skill to use takes time to get used to, it definitely works.
As battles are turn-based, there is no problem in toggling control between movement and a menu to determine your next move. Movement in battle is still determined by selecting where you want to go and targeting an enemy still involves moving the cursor over to them. For those unfamiliar with Divinity: Original Sin, actions in combat require Action Points, or AP. The skill bar stays present on the screen like before, so you will see which skills you will not be able to use if you first used AP to move to a different position. In other words, combat is the same as before but with some notable improvements. What should be noted though, is that I am talking about the console version of the game, which feels just as good if not better than the original PC version due to the impressive controller support. In many ways, playing through a combat scenario felt as good as before, but with a little more information and more options. Many of the changes and improvements to the systems stem from a desire to make the playing field a bit more even between classes as mages were originally arguably the best class for everything. This time around, players will be able to acquire and craft grenades of different elements and types. These grenades have their own skill tied to them and serve to make the wide variety of environmental hazards and combat scenarios are a little friendlier for classes like say… rogues.
Fans of Divinity: Original Sin will remember the great way elements interact with each other, for example, throw a fire ball at a barrel of water and it will explode but leave a cloud of thick fog that conceals the effected radius of that explosion. Originally, classes like rogues and warriors could do little but adapt to this, but now they can throw grenades that will essentially act as a consumable means of creating elemental effects. In addition to this, character classes are given a little more freedom in what they can spec as. As a rogue player, it excited me to find that I could have a dagger-using rogue who not only dual-wields now, but can carry a mage staff and a dagger. I could cast spells, like teleport, and then get my critical damage bonus on dagger back-stabs. Speaking of back-stabs, players who took advantage of positioning will be happy to know there is finally a back-stab indicator behind enemies, so you now know exactly where to move to get that back-stab. Of course, this means that the combat will also adapt to my increased abilities. Oftentimes, combat encounters will begin with my party being hilariously outnumbered, even compared to before. Fortunately, I had grenades, mages, and a warrior. Clearing the enemy ranks with AoE spells and items, then eliminating some poor scrubs with my rogue who now has a higher, more satisfying DPS thanks to dual-wielding, made me feel more in control and more capable than I did in the PC original but just as free. My one gripe with combat, at least from my time with it, is that targeting an enemy with the control stick could be faster and easier than it currently is. There are many times in the original version, where in haste and confidence, I accidentally moved next to an enemy instead of attacking him, and unfortunately that is just as possible in the new version if you do not change the selection to only jump between characters and NPCs.
Navigation with the controller felt great, though most of the console controls took getting used to. Take the menu navigation, since they wanted to reserve the d-pad’s functionality to switching between party members, navigating your inventory (which is organized in tiles) can only be done with the thumb-stick. This was still too sensitive at the time and I kept going diagonally or down when I just wanted to scroll right. The quest log and inventory menus are completely separate and the talking interface for conversations takes up the whole screen, both things that bothered me but did not impede my enjoyment of the game. Movement, which was always a little slow for me, is still slow and feels slower when you are using a control stick to push the character forward instead of selecting a destination to auto-move to. There were definitely bugs as well, for example the build I played of the game was missing the character models on the equipment screen, had screen-tearing, and had a noticeable dip in frame-rate every time there was an explosion. Otherwise, the game looks better than the max settings of the original and there are definitely many changes, both practical and visual. The added content is definitely noticeable as well, and a surprisingly influential addition at times. In the beginning of the game, I had encountered new characters and events that were not there before. This served to flesh out an entire faction, and now that everyone is voiced, the whole encounter served to drive home the magnitude of my characters’ roles relative to the game world. This significance and immersion was something that had originally taken me about 20 hours to feel in the vanilla version. Party members are also more talkative and more often have something to say about a quest, an encounter, or an event. Since Divinity: Original Sin starts with two player-customized characters right off the bat, and never makes you play solo, the local co-op option in the console version works naturally… so long as you don’t run into a problem trying to figure out how to give another player control of the second character like I did. Once I was playing local co-op, I noticed the added bonus of speaking to a person right next to you with your in-game character. The two player characters have more interactions this time than before, and if you find yourself sitting right next to your partner in real life like I did, this can make for some amusingly cheeky, passive-aggressive in-game exchanges.
Overall, despite the learning curve and arguable setbacks their uncompromising console port entails, Larian Studios has done a great job so far bringing a classical PC-style RPG to the console. In fact, after my time with the game, I would say I almost prefer playing with a controller. Sure, some things get longer to navigate to but when it works, it works well. Many controls are still up in the air too, so some problem controls may not be set in stone just yet. Touting much more content and a new ending, Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition is looking great and better in nearly all ways than the original. I look forward to sinking just as much time, if not more, into it as I did with the old version when Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition comes out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC/Mac/Linux later this year.