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Divine Divinity

  • Windows 98/ME/2000(sp2)/XP
  • Pentium 450Mhz with 128MB RAM or greater
  • 8MB DirectX compatible video card
  • DirectX compatible soundcard
  • 2.5GB of hard disk space
  • Official website: http://www.divinedivinity.com

Ever since the first role-playing game was developed (Adventure for the Atari 2600), the combination of exploring unknown lands and nurturing a character from his first steps to a mighty warrior has become quite popular. Such games as the Ultima series, Zelda, and the more recent Baldur's Gate / Diablo series have shaped the genre into an engrossing and exciting alternative to shooters. It's no wonder then that the latest RPG offering from Larian Studios has adopted all the best features from its 'ancestors' and combined them to make something rather nice.

Before I launch into the meat of it, I feel I must point out some of the really well designed points about this game. If you were to split the RPG genre in half, you would end up with involved, deep and tactical RPG's on one side (Baldur's Gate) and hack'n'slash on the other (Diablo). The flaw with the former is that the action can sometimes be too sparse for those wanting a good scrap every 15 seconds, and the latter can sometimes be too repetitive. Thank goodness that Divine Divinity is part-way between!
Divinity (as it shall be known from now on) borrows heavily from amongst others, the Diablo series. The enemies come at you in droves, items are dropped from dead enemies that need to be identified, there is always a safe haven in the form of a village and even the character selection screen is unbelievably Diablo 2-esque. However, Divinity does have its redeeming features which can make you forgive the obvious 'borrowing' of ideas.
For one, targeting enemies and monsters is now so much easier. Holding down CTRL and clicking will now target the nearest enemy to the cursor, a godsend when you realise how fiddly it is to click on them. Skills and potions can be bound to function keys to allow quick access, and armour/weapons can be equipped by simply double clicking them in the inventory. So for example, if you were holding a bow, double-clicking a sword would equip it and also the best shield in your inventory, while storing the bow safely in your pack. Right-clicking on any panel will close it instantly, and if things get to hectic, pausing the game is accessible via the spacebar. While paused orders can be given, which probably won't help if you're being swarmed but at least gives you time to breathe.
As you can tell, the best usability features of Baldur's Gate and Diablo 2 have been implemented into Divinity to make the entire experience easy to control.

Right, the meat of the game! Your avatar awakes to find himself in a healers basement, after suffering a sudden assault by (what appears to be) an ethereal force. The healer describes to you the mental state of their leader, which is, for lack of a better word, colourful. Your main quest is laid out to you immediately, and the obligatory side-quests emerge as you meet the other healers in the settlement. Your character can be one of six choices, although there are only three classes: warrior, survivor or wizard, with male/female options for each. Your choice will determine your initial vitality, mana, strength, agility, intelligence and constitution.
Other 'background' statistics are reputation, charisma and your resistances to the elements. If you read your diary straight away you should find the 'traits' page, which describes your current statistics with a somewhat pessimistic slant (see screenshot!).This style of humour lasts throughout the game, with a small interlude containing philosophical skeletons and an orc chief who tests his weapons on his tribe being small examples. It's nice to see a RPG that has a tongue-in-cheek approach at points; a smile now and then only enhances your enjoyment of the game.

The graphics? Well, nothing special really - a 2 dimensional isometric layout with a viewing angle that often makes it difficult to see your character behind a wall, especially in dungeons. It looks nice and the characters are well animated, but Diablo 2 did it substantially better. Once you get used to the angle and what to look for to proceed, it gets easier (although ordinary doors still remain bastard hard to spot). Also, your characters initial light radius is comparable to that of a small child with a match. I doubt even in the murkiest of hell-pits the viewing distance would be four feet with a lantern, but the radius can be upgraded when you level up so I guess it's even more encouragement to hack those monsters to bits.
As for the sound, it's pretty damn good. The music is nice and not over-dramatic, the voice acting is very well done and the sound of combat and associated noises is just right. Monsters make appropriately spooky/scary/weird idle noises, and your character gives informative feedback when you ask him to do something he can't.
In general, the atmosphere is quite good. The story starts perhaps a bit abruptly, but as you ease into the game you should find that the world is just right. The passages and rooms are dark and foreboding, and you can tell when to have a bad feeling about this! The only thing that makes it less believable is that your character can run fairly normally sideways, but due to the comparatively extreme viewing angle, running up or down the screen is like Linford Christie in his prime. Still, running about like a madman isn't a good idea considering the traps and monsters that can appear on the minimap like deer in the headlights on a foggy road.

I do have one or two reservations about the game, though. Divinity may have all the best elements of Baldur's Gate and Diablo, but it also misses out on some really obvious features that surprised me in their absence. For example, you can't move your character about by clicking on the minimap, the path finding when you move your character sometimes doesn't work properly, and it can be hard to find doors and other objects that are next to an East or South wall. You sometimes have to click more than once on containers to actually get your character to open them; bizarrely the first click doesn't always register.
Then you have the niggling little annoyances, like the current weight and maximum weight of your backpack not being shown in the inventory, not being able to bind normal keys to potions/skills, which in turn distributes the shortcut keys across the entire width of the keyboard - that can be deadly in fights. Your mana doesn't regenerate, although once above level ten or twelve it becomes less of a problem. Some spells seem a little pointless, especially the freeze and floorspike spells - surely a lowest of the low skeleton should be frozen all the time?

Eventually it comes down to you; the consumer. Do you want another RPG with similar traits to Diablo 2 and Baldur's Gate? Do you want another isometric hack'n'slash that pretends to be more than a genre stereotype? If so, you really can't go wrong with Divinity. It's a solid, working and fun role-playing game that will keep you playing for quite while.
If you're an experience point junkie then add another 1 to the score, but as RPG's go, this isn't particularly special.

7.5/10

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