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Divinity Original Sin 2, a great game that turned into one of my most disliked game experience in a long time

Content of the article: "Divinity Original Sin 2, a great game that turned into one of my most disliked game experience in a long time"

This is part rant, part story, part critique. I tried trimming some ranting out and added some chapters for clarity but this remains pretty long.

A bit of background:

By now it has become tradition that since I moved out, twice a week, I hit up my dad on Discord and we play a coop game together.

We have had some ups and downs with the experience and while we share many favourites, we also have different appreciations of other games.

The main difference being that my dad does not feel any nostalgia of the “old-school” aspects of games. This includes both old-school graphics (most notably pixel art games he has religiously kept away from) but also game mechanics.

While a good amount of people will make entire essays about why Morrowind is better than Skyrim on the simple basis that it doesn’t give you a floating quest marker to follow, my dad welcomed this change with open arms.

Enters Divinity Original Sin 2.

I had tried the game in solo before, but I had never gotten past Fort Joy, having gotten bored of the slow pace very quickly.

However, my dad and I had already made it past multiple more tedious tasks through the simple fun layer coop always adds (such as playing Ghost Recon to 100% which is filled with classic Ubisoft open world activities), I saw it as a good opportunity to finally see what all the praise was about.

It is also worth noting that I had played a good amount of DOS first of its name with a friend but we lost contact before finishing it and the story of that game was too mediocre for me to want to start anew.

An encouraging start of the adventure…

Back to DOS2, Fort Joy ended up being a fun experience together.

For me, the slow pace was compensated for by getting to explain to my dad how elemental combos worked and trying to figure out together what playstyle we wanted our characters to adopt. While for my dad, it was a good thing that I at least had some appreciation for the game’s lack of clear indication on where to go or what to do because he really didn’t enjoy the idea of not having a definite objective marker to follow.

We progressed through Fort Joy and the remaining island quite smoothly and arrived at Reaper’s Coast without any hard blocks.

…with the occasional stumble:

At level 12 however we had our first major issue. All the quests we had in our journal involved enemies of level 13 or more and given how much of a difference a level in this game makes we found ourselves stuck. We tried for a couple more hours to gather any crumb of XP we could find but eventually resorted to who would quickly become our third player: Google.

This is because my dad and I have something in common and it might be the first red flag that we fundamentally clash with the design idea of CRPGs: we are both extrinsically motivated players. We don't blindly run around in the hopes of finding something. We don't explore for the sake/fun of exploring. Talking to every waking NPC checking for quests is not something we enjoy doing (more on that particular one later). We will systematically take the time to clear out every side content we can before progressing in the main quest (as we did in Ghost Recon, that’s how we got to 100%) but find no enjoyment in blindly checking random areas in the woods just hoping to find content.

But we knew that DOS2 being a CRPG would feature some “old-school” aspects either of us might not enjoy and as this was the first time we even ran into an issue with the lack of clear guidance we let it slide.

Onwards from level 13 we were back to smooth sailing through the rest of act 2.

Act 3 was not particularly difficult; we did however have a mild disappointment with the Lunar Gate puzzle.

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What was needed to solve it was not made obvious and after having completed every single other quest on the map we could find, just before moving on to the arena, we looked up the solution on the trusty G friend. It turned out we should have taken note of the symbol displayed by some altars we barely acknowledged the existence of except for some cryptic dialogue they delivered when we interacted with them. So of course, not feeling like doing an hour of running in circles gathering all the symbols we just took them from the wiki entry to unlock the gate (which turned out to just be a shortcut anyway and not a fun dungeon like we expected) and moved on to the arena.

Better does not mean good and story still doesn’t fit into a coop experience:

Now, before I move on to Act 4, I should address the “some altars we barely acknowledged the existence of except for some cryptic dialogue they delivered” (and also address why talking to all NPCs for quests was not something we wanted to do).

I’m sure someone will wonder how we could barely acknowledge dialogue with the Gods. Well, it’s because while DOS2’s story is an improvement over DOS1 and is serviceable to give context to your actions, it’s not gripping enough to make someone care. The mix of seriousness and jokes of the world itself combined with coop rarely being a story focused approached made us skim through any dialogue that felt cliché or boring to get to actual gameplay faster.

Turns out the entire main questline is cliché and boring. Gods, Kings, powerful magic that is also forbidden, you’re all conveniently chosen ones but only one of you will become a God, we were rolling our eyes at it before even leaving Act 1.

This is also why we didn’t want to talk to every NPC trying to find quests in Reaper’s Coast: most NPC dialogue is pretty damn generic but that would not have been an issue solo (after all every RPG has its fair share of filler generic NPCs). The issue was more that when playing coop we just don’t want to sit there and read/listen to generic NPC dialogue. At the end of the day we’re playing together to (quite surprisingly) play, not do a book club meeting.

It got bad enough that my dad who always tries to be the most absolute good guy ever in games was more than happy to accept my proposal of making Lohse the Goddess at the end without removing her demon because it was funnier than whatever genericness the game was trying to deliver.

And with this joke of an objective decided we went onto Act 4.

Frustration galore:

Act 4 started off well enough; found a creepy stupidly large kraken that was 2 levels ahead of us really early on; got a bit worried about us being severely under levelled but we moved on to the main city.

We did a few quests with little issue, but then came the first of many annoyances. Arx is filled with level 20 ambushes while the players arrive in town with level 17 or 18. Anyone who’s played the game knows that you only need to bring 1 ambusher to low HP to dissolve the ambush which makes it actually pretty easy to gang up on one guy to survive it. Except that 80 hours into the game, we had been conditioned to accept that being 1 level behind was very suboptimal, being 2 levels behind was suicide and being 3 levels behind meant we were going down the very wrong path, so when we got ambushed, we loaded the save seeing that after 1 turn we were almost all dead already. Except no, this was the right path and all we had to do was gang up on one guy but the game never told us that nor even suggests that and it makes 0 sense to focus one single guy when the more logical approach was to try to get everyone’s armour out of the way to be able to chain CC them ASAP.

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Reaching level 18 however we weren’t moving smoothly anymore, we were barely stumbling, it was more of a case of getting pushed around by level 19s trying to find the intended properly levelled path, a similar case to Reaper Coast’s 12-13 event but much, much longer.

But eventually we cleared out all the side content (once more double checked that on the third player’s search engine because at that point our patience had run out) except for killing Lohse’s demon as that was going against our personal motivations and isn’t player choice what Role-playing games are supposed to be about?

With the main quest being the only thing left in our way we had to go and vanquish Lord Kemm whom we lost to painfully. We did several honest tries but after 5 failures we called it for the day and I went solo onto the one task my dad loathes above all and I have a fairly strong disdain for: min-maxing our builds.

Choice and guidance should not be mutually exclusive:

It’s worth noting that none of our characters were min maxed or even profoundly optimised; it’s not particularly fun looking at numbers for half an hour per character (especially in coop, same as reading pages of dialogue) when all you wanna do is have fun in combat.

Our builds were extremely shaky at the start but Act 1 being pretty forgiving it actually developed lots of fun and durable character traits and running gags. My scoundrel-aerotheurge rogue spent more time dead than alive but she could deal a surprising amount of damage. My healing archer was somehow so threatening that enemies literally ran past every other character to hit her making herself the most common healing target. My dad’s mage became a tank to survive his own explosive spells and his warrior had mastered summoning, so he never had to do any fighting himself.

Our builds were bad but as already said we had managed to get through most of the game unhindered, so no alarm bells were rang. Except that once in Arx our build limitations started to be felt and by that time it didn’t feel like an option to completely re-specialise our characters; they had an identity by now which mattered; this is a role-playing game after all.

In my solo session I managed to free up quite a few ability points for my dad because he had invested them in relatively worthless abilities like retribution and perseverance or the odd forgotten point in hydrosophy while we still needed 2 healers. And…I can’t really hold that against the game but my dad did say that it felt off how many skills were at 0 and it didn’t feel right to just dump everything in pyrokinetics, especially since spell requirements rarely go over level 3.

Most modern games using a number system like DOS will either be balanced so that min maxing will create clear weaknesses and clear strengths while being a jack of all trades won’t make you excel at anything but it will make you universally decent. Alternatively, they will use a skill tree system where min maxing doesn’t look weird because you’re pushing towards the end of a tree for a big reward.

DOS’s number system makes it so that being a jack of all trades isn’t a possibility, instead investing in a bit of everything simply makes your character suck at everything. This is something that might be painfully obvious to DnD players, or CRPG veterans and while I wasn’t aware of the state of DOS’s system, I did realise fairly quickly the uselessness of some abilities if you didn’t heavily invest in them. This wasn’t the case of my dad though; he just took the way he understands regular mainstream games and applied it to DOS without DOS even once saying “hey min maxing is good, this isn’t skyrim” and that’s something I will fault the game for.

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Finishing up and breaking every game rule:

After this however we went to Kemm again, got a fair fight and onto the path of blood we went.

That’s where Karon showed up. Karon nuked us in an even more spectacular manner than Kemm except this time there was no more margin of min maxing within our builds barring a complete rebuild. We considered cheating at that point because we were simply done with the game, just wanting to finish it for the sake of it and move on to our next game. But Google told us to cheese it instead by keeping 1 character “frozen in time” in the dialogue with Karon while all our other characters ran to the other side of the room. Once “unfrozen” the speaking character got the sad task of tanking up Karon’s nukes for 2 turns and then all the other characters kept him CCd from across the room far out of range of any of his spells until he died, making this by far the easiest fight of the entirety of Arx which is very questionable given that playing this fight fair was virtually impossible.

Finally, we get to this nice room of levers. I don’t know if we missed something but given that when you click on the levels the characters say “this was good” or “this was bad” I’m assuming you are actually supposed to pull the 20 or so levers individually until you figure out which ones are good and which ones are bad which I find completely insane and tedious but at this point I wasn’t surprised anymore either, thank you Google.

Last problem however, we were level 19 and missing 10% of our XP bar to get level 20. Trying the final boss fight while being 1 level behind was…yeah it wasn’t good.

So we did the one thing we could: we went back to Lohse’s demon, cheesed his nurses (as otherwise the fight once more Karon levels of stupid) and killed him to finish this quest and get our level 20, making the final boss fight hard as it should be but fair.

Meaning that to finish this role playing game we had to give up on the single storyline decision we actually cared about.

I can’t say either of us enjoyed the last 20% of the game. The combat was very fun and that remained fairly consistent but as an RPG and especially a coop RPG I can’t help but feel like DOS2 failed unless you’re an already knowledgeable CRPG or DnD player.

But maybe the both of us have grown just too used to mainstream hand holding (at least in RPGs).


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