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The RPG Files: What RPGs Need to Learn from Divinity: Original Sin 2

Columns By Christopher Coke on January 15, 2016

What RPGs Need to Learn from Divinity: Original Sin 2

It’s no secret that I loved Divinity: Original Sin. It was one of my games of the year when it came out and I wasted no time re-buying the Enhanced Edition on PlayStation 4. So, it’s not exactly shocking when I say I’m riding the hype train straight to Original Sin 2 town. The thing is, I missed the boat on the original game’s multiplayer. I was skeptical when Larian began focusing on so much on it in the follow-up. Now, I couldn’t be more excited and have to ask, why aren’t other RPGs doing this?

Plus, CD Projekt Red may not be done with The Witcher after all, more information on Baldur’s Gate’s new expansion, Darkest Dungeon heads toward launch, and all the RPGs you need in 2016!

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You can thank this perspective shift to our official podcast. Over the weekend, I sat down with Braxwolf and Zeli (of The MMO Show and now officially on our own) with the purpose of talking about Oculus Rift and what we wanted from our MMOs in 2016, but before long we’d made our way onto single-player RPGs. Zeli blew my mind. She shunned The Witcher. Couldn’t stand Dragon Age. She had no interest in what many consider to be some of the best single-player RPGs available today. Flabbergasted, I asked her why and her answer was as simple as could be: she liked to play games with her friends.

That little bit of simplicity resonated with me. Even as a dyed in the wool RPG player, I have to admit to feeling a bit lonely sometimes. For as much as I love the wonderful stories and set piece moments that are possible in a game like Fallout 4 or Pillars of Eternity, their worlds often feel like simulacrums of modern MMOs, trapped in the uncanny valley. MMOs don’t have this problem; real, living breathing human beings more than make up static quest givers and raid dances. When there are other players sharing the world, the entire thing feels more alive, even if it’s not that good to begin with.

Pondering that truth has really opened my eyes. Have you ever had one of those moments, where you realize you’ve avoided something (like multiplayer in RPGs) thinking you won’t like it, only to find out maybe you’ve been close-minded? That’s how I feel; that there was something good, under the surface, that would have let me have the best of both MMO and RPG worlds, and in a game that I adore.

What is really great about how Divinity: Original Sin 2 is that all party members can be played by people, up from two in the original game. Each of those players is free to go off on their own adventure, tackling quests on their own or as part of a group, roleplaying through conversations that will play out differently depending which character you’re playing. Party members can cooperate or sabotage, work together or each tackle a piece of a problem. Original Sin 2 is made, more than any other game in recent memory, to be a social RPG. It’s enough to remind you of your tabletop days rolling dice with your buddies.

The thing that held me back, and always has, is how hard it can be to actually play with other people. It’s not the game’s fault; Larian does as much as any studio can without relying on online matchmaking. It’s just the getting older that’s the problem. As real life crops up -- jobs, babies, mortgages, hobbies -- finding that regular time becomes a challenge.

And yet, that’s also part of what makes those experiences so special. Because of that, I hope Larian doesn’t add online matchmaking. Not only would it fill games with players who don’t talk and live only to grief, but it would steal the very thing that’s likely to make OS2 memorable. Matchmaking makes things easier, but it isn’t always better. Just ask anyone who played World of Warcraft pre-LFG.

Other RPGs need to add features like this. They don’t need to be grand. Every game doesn’t need branching paths and simultaneous exploration. Developers don’t need to expect two or more players at all times, and not all games need multiplayer at all (there will always be the place for the single-player RPG). But this genre needs to allow us to adventure with our friends. Roleplay is rooted in that. Nearly every fantasy and sci-fi epic is rooted in that. There should be tools to make these games not feel so lonely. Until they do, “living, breathing worlds” is always going to fall short of the mark.

Quick Hits

If you haven’t seen it yet, our News Editor and all around writer extraordinaire, Suzie Ford, made this week’s The List all about The Upcoming RPGs of 2016. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re even a moderate RPG fan.

The Witcher 3 train keeps on a-rollin’ with another big patch that fixes more than five dozen reported bugs and balance issues in the main game and DLCs. The Blood and Wine expansion is due out later this year and is expected to be 20+ hours. Speaking to Express, the studio supported their work calling it “better than the main game.”

Speaking of The Witcher, CD Projekt may not be quite as done with the series as we first thought. In that same interview, Senior Writer Jakub Szamalek had this to share: “Blood and Wine will try to close, at least for a while, the universe of The Witcher. It will be the last adventure of Geralt as a main character, but beyond that there is still nothing written in stone.” This isn’t solid, but is a good indicator that CDPR may be looking to continue the series after they launch Cyberpunk 2077.

Darkest Dungeon fans know the up and down journey the game has had leading up to launch but the wait will soon be over. Darkest Dungeon will launch to Steam on January 19th. They’ve recently updated their Kickstarter page with a slew of information on post-launch plans, including town events, as well as the Merchant and Musketeer classes. Check it out for a full rundown of the reward schedule.

Finally, if you’re a Baldur’s Gate fan, you’ll want to make the time for a good short story. We’ve known for a while that Beamdog is working on an expansion, but a recent short story published by DragonMag is the best bit of insight we’ve gotten into the lore and setup of what to come.

That’s all for this week. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.