Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Vast World Of Soaring Dragons

The end of this decade was a small Golden Age for cRPGs. Oblivion, The Witcher, Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, Risen, even the humble Torchlight revived the genre with fresh ideas and renewed vigor. And Divinity II: Ego Draconis comes as the cherry to this cake.

If one remembers the (excellent) Divine Divinity, well gone are the days of isometric gameplay. Larian Studios started with a clean state and the result is a beautiful third-person action cRPG. The graphics are not cutting edge and yet they are gorgeous. Imagine what a cross between Titan Quest and Fable would look like today [by the way, ..."thank you" Peter Molyneux for snubbing PC gamers with Fable 2!].
The trees and flowers move slightly to the wind; the skies change in beautiful colors; the sunlight and shades play tricks to your eyes; the characters and gear are very artfully designed; and the fighting moves are impressive. If only the animation of the Non-Playing Characters (NPCs) were better I would be talking about one of the best-looking cRPGs ever.

Nevertheless, what grabs you from the beginning is not the imagery but the story. The first PC game to introduce flying like a dragon was Drakan: Order of the Flame. But a dragon-slayer who can shape-shift into a Dragon and back? That's some table-turning.
What is more, character development runs parallel to your Dragon development, on different skill trees. Diversification may satisfy your curosity but do not specialize at your own risk: as you advance you better have some well honed skills if you wish to survive and fight yet another day.

In the best cRPG tradition, there are quick-slots, inventory and life/mana/stamina levels as well as a small local map. Other than that the screen is free of unnecessary clutter.
What is more, I particularly appreciated the music, subtle or emphatic where appropriate. The same care was exercised to the sounds of battle, from unsheathing your sword to letting go of an arrow. As to the English dubbing (the original game was in German) it was very nicely done.

This Divinity II (Dragon Age Saga edition) includes both the (remastered) original Divinity II: Ego Draconis as well as its expansion Divinity II: Ego Draconis - Flames of Vengeance. Patch 1.497 is already out and I heard it to be especially useful for Win7 users (I cannot speak from experience on this one, I am sticking to my reliable WinXP until Win7 SP2 is released). Nevertheless, after (too) many hours of gaming I found no major bugs.

Now some more good news. The original game came with SecuROM 7 DRM - but that has been patched out. The game still requires OnLine Activation, mind you. Even if bought through STEAM, it will still ask for Activation when installed and you will have to de-authorize your copy when uninstalling. This may just barely clear my DRM-tolerance threshold, however, it is still much better than most triple-A games today.

The graphics are exceptional, the world is endless and beautifully designed, the battles are absorbing and the gameplay immersing. All in all, an excellent game and a major addition to any cRPG collection.

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