Of all the games I played at Pax Prime this year, Divinity: Original Sin 2 was hands-down the best. Don't get me wrong, I played a lot of amazing things, but playing alongside Swen Vincke, founder of Larian Studios, things couldn't have gone more wrong in our demo. And I am so glad they did. Role-playing video games, especially those influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, have always fallen short of capturing the magic of a tabletop experience. But as Swen and I went through a generous portion of Original Sin 2, there were times where I felt like we might as well have been sitting down at a table, pouring over character sheets before making our next decision.
Original Sin 2 certainly has a lot of time left before it will be complete, but already the ideas packed into it are terribly exciting. Chiefly among them is a renewed focus on multiplayer and fleshing out the wealth of interactions that players can have, both with each other and with the game.
Our demo started out with Swen and I playing split-screen co-operatively on a PC using Xbox controllers. As a huge fan of the first game, just the setup alone was enough to sell me on what Original Sin 2 would likely have in store. Each of us controlled a separate party of two characters, though Original Sin 2 now supports up to four players at once.
What was immediately apparent was how gorgeous Original Sin 2 looked. While the first game was certainly a stunner in its own right, the environments of Original Sin 2 were packed with lush details, something that Swen told me is likely to look even better by launch.
One of the bigger additions to Original Sin 2 is the origin story that each character can choose from, which will significantly alter how each character approaches various events. For example, my main character was a Source user who, prior to the demo, had been thrown in jail by her mother because of her abilities. When we arrived in my hometown, the guardsmen were surprised to see me wandering back, but after some clever lies, I was able to convince them all was well. My second character, an elf, however, was not as lucky. Because each character has a separate backstory, that also influences how other characters interact with them. Because my elf was just a random visitor, the guards were reluctant to let her in. When Swen tried to hint that I should try greasing some palms, I instead decided to insult the guards, which—as you can imagine—helped the situation very little.
Our characters were now separated, as my elf was no longer allowed in the village. This is where Divinity: Original Sin 2 showed off just how robust it can be. While I left my source mage in the village along with one of Swen's characters, he and I set off with our two other characters to try and gain access through other means. This is where things began to go horribly wrong.
Like a true Dungeons and Dragons campaign, though Swen tried to guide me, I had total freedom how to approach the game. This demo wasn't some linear corridor that I was walked through, but a massive world that Swen, flabberghasted as he might become at my insistence to not obey instructions, was always willing to let me explore. I frequently entered rooms I wasn't supposed to, only to find secrets that whispered for me to keep digging. Of all the demos I played at Pax, Original Sin 2 was the only one that I felt profoundly sad to put down when my time was up.
Part of that is due to the new competitive questing system where players can essentially take on two sides of the same quest and work to sabotage the other. The quest we played through involved me working to save my mother who had been jailed for a crime, while Swen worked for a different party with a conflicting agenda. As we set out to complete our own separate branches of the quest, things took a fortuitous turn when Swen was unexpectedly jailed because I had slipped contraband into his backpack. Being the kind soul that I am, I offered to give one of his characters some items he needed to free his second character—but accidentally ended up consuming them instead. As I tried to procure another set of items, I triggered a fight that eventually spun out of control to the point where village guards were flocking in to kill me. Swen, meanwhile, freed his character and casually strolled over to the battle to watch.
As things turned more dire for me, Swen crafted a healing potion and handed it to one of my characters. When I drank it, I realized I had been betrayed. Swen has slipped poison in it to help seal my fate. Then, when I was my weakest, he joined the battle and, with a single fell swoop, slayed my elf. It was the kind of thing that you just couldn't script into a story—it needed to evolve from the same improvisational storytelling that forms the foundation of every tabletop role-playing game.
After I the demo, I joined Swen in the back corner of the booth to talk a little bit more about the game. My biggest question being what it must be like developing such an experience that was so flexible to anything I player could want to do.
"It would be impossible to develop this game if we didn't have Original Sin," Swen told me. "Because we have this entire framework that we built. So, essentially we're looking at five years of development."
Swen went on to describe how difficult it could be working with the origin stories, which impact how every character in the game responds to you, as well as layering in the competitive PvP element without compromising singleplayer.
"It's a lot of fun because the experience we had—I've been playing with several other people all day and we saw completely different storylines."
Of course, Original Sin also launched with an expansive set of mod tools that allowed players to tailor the game experience and create their own adventures. This time, Larian Studios has even bigger ambitions in mind.
"We know that there was a lot of stuff that people didn't like with the editor in Original Sin," Swen said. "But the essence remains: It is a very complicated thing to make an RPG."
Swen also talked about how they're working to address tweaks to the combat. With the release of the enhanced version of Original Sin coming in December, which already overhauls the first game, Original Sin 2 introduces several unique skill systems that will hopefully inspire players to explore options more readily.
In the demo, I already got a taste of one of those systems, which allowed me to make use of devastating Source powers. However, those Source powers required the use of a Source point, of which I could only carry one at a time. Points could be earned by praying at a shrine or, if I was feeling particularly evil, killing players and absorbing their ghosts or using a spell to ravage their corpses—both of which incur a massive penalty to your character's karma.
As I've said already, Divinity: Original Sin 2 was the best demo I saw at Pax. The fact that it was truly apparent that Swen wasn't leading me through a carefully choreographed presentation, but rather just sitting down to engage with the world he and Larian Studios were building, was a refreshing experience. But beyond that, Divinity: Original Sin 2 already looks like the best kind of sequel; everything looks bigger, better, and deeper. At this point, waiting a whole year until I get to play it in full is going to be torture.