Judging an RPG by its towns is usually a safe bet. Does the urban intrigue come so thick and fast that you get anxious about skipping a single house? That’s good. Or are they a porridge of stone walls and side quests? That’s bad.
The first town in Divinity II is great, a cosy little place crammed with quests, scandals, oddballs and secrets, where the hick residents look up at your Dragon Slayer character with saucer eyes. Bounty-hunting and undercover missions for the rag-tag local guards blur with rumour-quashing investigations and pig burglary. Even the local baker is secretly cooking up more than just bread. It is, sadly, the standout town.
You’re a dragon slayer in a world with almost no dragons, and when one does show up the last thing your superiors want is for a neophyte like you to go jogging off after it. Some dragons are better than no dragons. Without wanting to spoil the various twists and turns of the confused yet warm-hearted plot, your underdog eventually earns their own fully staffed Battle Tower and the ability to turn into a dragon with wings and fiery breath whenever you please.
Wonderfully, far from being the usual inoffensive medieval archetype, your character is a massively facetious smart aleck who talks circles around everyone else. In a great touch, you can add to this and spend experience points to read minds: you’ll get a sentence of text with reverb indicating what’s going on in someone’s head. That sentence might give you extra dialogue options, or lead to you getting an extra skill or stat point.
Sadly, the story dithers around your rise to power, and it takes at least 12 hours before you get to the dragon form. Ego Draconis finally opens up like a scaly flower once you can go flapping around the world with runners, an alchemist, an enchanter and even a necromancer at your beck and call. In a bigger game it wouldn’t be much of a problem, but by the time that happens a third of the game has passed.
Between that lovely first town and finally getting your dragon form, there are some unforgivable issues: monotonous, awkward combat with little weight or complexity; a dire lack of autosaving coupled with unskippable cutscenes; vague quests with no map indicators. Much of your time is spent out in the field, watching a monster’s health bar tick down.
Which is odd. Larian Studios’ predecessors to Divinity II – Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity – were solid action RPGs, yet Ego Draconis finds strength in its non-combat sections. Despite their lack of clarity, the quests in Ego Draconis are creative and sparkle when it comes to dialogue and resolution. We failed an early investigative quest due to a thieving guard protesting his innocence, and a high point in the middle of the game is interviewing the candidates who’ll staff your tower. The twist is that if you don’t take them on, they’ll die.
It’s possible to squeeze past the flaws, develop a character into a mage who carries an axe, do the quests and plough through the combat. And there are secret areas that reward you for being observant. But there are better RPGs around to play first. The Witcher: Enhanced Edition and Dragon Age: Origins should be in your collection before you pluck this from the shelf.
Jan 5, 2010