It’s Been nearly a year since I found myself in a slightly dilapidated German castle just outside Frankfurt, seeing Larian Studios’ Divine Divinity for the first time. My fellow journalists and I were shown round the game and then let loose to play through the first few parts. In the evening we drank beer from tankards and feasted upon roast potatoes and great lumps of pork skewered on daggers from a wooden plate. Not that all press trips are like this, of course. Sometimes they actually expect you to catch, kill and gut your own dinner first. Later we were entertained by keyboard stylings from a man with the most impressive mullet to ever grace a human head. It was a memorable trip.
Since then, the tautologically named Divine Divinity took a sharp nosedive into the dark development oblivion where it was perpetually on the brink of 'almost’ being ready, and even I feared that I’d never get to find out what was on the other side of the bridge where the game’s hefty demo left off. But finally it's here and, damn, it’s been well worth the wait.
Back To Skool
After Morrowind, Dungeon Siege Band Neverwinter Nights, it’s a bit of a to the system to see letric RPG again, ess of the recent of Icewind Dale II. dated visuals certainly Divine Divinity feel itically old skool. As expect, there's the idard type of role-ing set-up, with the iarray of character es, e.g. both male and rarriors, mages and survivors (a kind of thief/druid hybrid) and a familiar 'in times of f trouble a hero will arise' plotline. Nothing new here, you might be thinking, and to a I certain degree you’d be right because Divine Divinity is very much an amalgamation of many different RPGs. The strong storyline and multiple subquests are akin to Baldur's Gate II, the sheer depth of interaction smacks of the Ultima series, the frantic combat is reminiscent of Diablo II and the sheer vastness of the world makes it feel like an isometric Morrowind.
It all starts in a village populated by a small community of healers, one of which has found you unconscious in the woods after you’ve had a rather intimate experience with a strange column of light. As those of you who’ve played the demo will know, there are a few basic quests in the village and a large subterranean level to complete before you’re allowed to go marauding through the countryside. With 3D taking the RPG world by storm, isometric games like this are bound to be seen as a little unsexy. But this is usually a view held by people who value graphics over gameplay and style over substance. For many of you out there, the Baldur's Gate games will be the pinnacle of your isometric role-playing experience. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them too. But whereas BG and BGII gave you solid vanilla-style luvin’, Div Div gives you much more diversity. Graphically, it looks pretty good, at least for an isometric RPG, and even though you can run the game in three different resolutions, including 1024x768, you'll probably end up running it on the medium setting (800x600) just so you can see the small objects more clearly.
Flora And Fauna
And detail is something Div Div thrives on. As soon as you step outside the front door, you’re hit by it. Birds and butterflies flit above your head; rabbits (which are also handy for building up your experience points early on, as well as providing a tasty snack) scamper through the grass. Herbs can be used to make potions, everyday implements like brooms and rakes can be used as weapons, candles can be lit and snuffed out again. Practically anything that’s not nailed down can be manipulated in some way.
It’s not just graphically where Larian Studios have added lots of detail. Little things, such as different sounds for running over stone, water, mud, grass and wood for example, even the sound of birds or night creatures as the 24-hour day/night cycle runs its course, creating a superb atmosphere. As for the music (which you have the aforementioned amazing mullet man to thank for), never before in an isometric RPG has the score been so atmospheric that it’s raised my blood-pressure to dangerously high levels.
Big Wide World
OK, so I mentioned the Morrowind comparison, and it's not an obvious connection I know, but let me explain. In the Baldur's Gate games, moving from one area to the next involved plenty of loading, but in Div Div you walk pretty much everywhere seamlessly, unless blocked by the landscape. There are a few tricks built in to help you move around a bit quicker, such as a pair of small teleportation pyramids - one of which you drop and one you keep in your inventory - that allow you to transport yourself quickly between two locations. There are also transportation portals scattered around the land, which you can activate when you've found the right scroll.
In my time spent playing Div Div, I found only one edge to the map. I wandered through countryside, farmlands, market places, caves and castles etc, picking up quest after quest, and if it wasn't for the automatically updating diary and huge world map, I would have got that same 'I have no bloody idea where I am or what I’m doing’ feeling that I got when playing through Morrowind.
The Way And The Light
Each of Div Div's six possible characters, as well as having their own initial class-based skill (sneak, whirlwind attack and swap location), also has a tailored set of skills known as The Way of the Warrior, The Way of the Mage and The Way of the Survivor. Each of these is broken down into four different trees in a similar way to Diablo II. For example, the warrior has one set of skills devoted to weapon mastery, one to ranger skills, one to warrior’s lore (which revolves around your innate damage and defence abilities) and a fourth tree devoted to more magical skills such as boomerang weapons and feigning death.
Although your chosen character will be able to access the various passive, offensive and defensive skills which they specialise in the quickest, they will also be able to take on some of the skills and spells from the other two paths, although somewhat more slowly. This basically means the list of possible character profiles is virtually endless, as you can mix and match a host of skills from different skill trees. One of the areas I was worried about Div Div falling down on was the general script and voice-overs. And although the voices of the main characters have a rather annoying American twang to them, the narrative - both written and spoken - is thankfully very good. In fact, if you thought that the storyline in Neverwinter Nights was less hardcore than the normal Bioware fare, then you might well find just what you're looking for in Div Div. There are also some nice little touches throughout the game, such as two resurrected skeletons musing about why exactly they can move and talk without muscles or vocal cords, which eventually leads them to fall apart through excess existential thought. It may not be high comedy, but it certainly raises a smile, which is rare in the slightly sombre, serious world of role-playing.
The quest structure is very much like a cross between Baldur's Gate II and Morrowind. There’s a vast number of sub-quests and inter-connected plot strands revolving around your destiny and the general malaise sweeping the land. Along with that, there are the everyday problems of the locals, such as cattle rustling, demonic possession and suspicious men wandering around in big hats. Many of the game’s quests are connected and actually require you to pay attention, rather than just being a simple case of 'go here, pick up this, take it to somewhere else’ etc. The game is also littered with manuscripts, letters and books, which can hold vital clues for your quest, information on the land, helpful advice, or similar scribbled rantings... or maybe just someone's family recipe for apple crumble.
Quest For Glory
While you can find many of the elements of Divine Divinity in other RPGs. it’s rare to find one that combines them as successfully and surprisingly as this one does. Although it has to be said that the person responsible for naming the game should definitely be led gently aside and told that no self-respecting grown-up should be titling games with words they like the sound of. regardless of their actual meaning.
It seems the future of roleplaying games will inevitably move towards the Morrowinds and Neverwinter Nights of this world, but Div Div is living proof that, when tailored by the right hands, isometnc RPGs can still be as captivating and challenging as their 3D counterparts.
Download Divine Divinity
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Better clear out your diary for the next few days as this exclusive demo for Divine Divinity is pretty damn meaty, with an estimated average of 10-15 hours of gameplay, and even more if you explore every area. After being ambushed by orcs and hit by a huge bolt of holy light you're feeling a bit rough. You find yourself waking up in the home of Joram, a healer from the town of Aleroth who found you unconscious in the woods. There are several quests to complete in the town itself as well as four levels below the town and a few areas outside. Most of Aleroth's inhabitants will be friendly or neutral towards you at first, but your behaviour towards them can drastically change their attitude towards you. For example, if you help them in some way they might give you a piece of information or lower the price of their goods. Conversely, if you mess with their stuff or attempt to nick things from under their noses, they'll lock their doors or fire off a few spells at your fast retreating arse.
You'll also find that many things around the village can be picked up, opened or even used as weapons. A harmless-looking rake can turn into a deadly weapon and although you won't be able to make full use of them in this demo, various plants and herbs can be turned into potions. Even rotting food can be manufactured into poison for increasing the damage of your weapons. All this and more is in the full game, but until then let this demo be your guiding light.
Let's face it, RPGs over the last few years have been ruled by the same few gaming godfathers, who really need no introduction. In their favour they have turned out consistently good, and consistendy similar titles to a vast fan base they know is salivating for anything they can get their hands on. But we've dined on meat and potatoes for too long. The times they are a-changing, something's blowing in the wind - and it's not Martin in 'just stepped out of a salon' mode... it's Divine Divinity.
We admit that Divine Divinity, or DivDiv as it has affectionately come to be known, took us somewhat by surprise, which is why it wasn't covered in our RPG round-up. DivDiv has appeared almost from nowhere from a relatively unknown - at least until now - developer, the Belgium-based Larian Studios. Like early man examining some strange object, we have poked it, prodded it, stuck it in our ears and given it a good sniff, and we can pronounce that it is looking very palatable indeed. DivDiv is set in a typical RPG fantasy world, filled with the usual array of wizards, demons, ores and suspicious men in big hats, which you explore with one of six characters. Both the Baldur's Gate and Diablo franchises could do with taking a few make-up tips from DivDiv, because graphically it's looking extremely pretty and supports a rare 1024x768 resolution.
The game is obviously trying to forge a new path somewhere between BG and Diablo, incorporating a relatively hardcore RPG storyline, yet with a substantial amount of hack'n' slash and spell-casting action. But what DivDiv seems to be vying for above everything else is a highly immersive and interactive game world, where virtually everything you see on screen can be picked up, manipulated, eaten, or in moments of extreme panic, thrown at people's heads. For example, if you have the right knowledge you can pick herbs and use them to create potions, jump inside the bodies of creatures to do some undercover work and even make poison out of rotten food and use it to up the damage potential of your weapon.
The AI, which is something that has never yet been properly addressed in RPGs, also looks like it will be a step forward if Larian can deliver on their promises. Each monster will have its own plan of attack, and certain creatures will be so advanced they will actually go and round up their mates to set ambushes for you. DivDiv might keep us all sitting in our darkened RPG caves playing with sticks, but it may just hold the secret of fire. We're hoping for the latter, because we're freezing our arses off here.