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Default Beyond Divinity Review

January 15th, 2013, 07:26
Beyond Divinity Review (Spoiler Free)

Introduction
I finished this flawed gem tonight. There is plenty to like about this game and some things to scratch your head about. First off, there are some serious differences compared to Divine Divinity.
1. Its not a hack and slash game outside of the battlefields. You simply won't be wading through 1000's of creatures on the main arc of this game. You'll spend equal or more time solving quests and puzzles as you will combat. I have to say, once you get your groove developing your builds you are unlikely to find the combat very challenging. There are some exceptions of course so don't get too cocky .
2. It is much darker thematically - somewhat haunting.
3. The last 2 Acts are extremely story driven where Divine Divinity descended into the abyss of pure grinding combat.
4. Did I mention puzzles? There are an extraordinary amount of story driven puzzles in the last two acts. Frankly I was shocked.
5. Having a party makes combat far more interesting. By endgame you can summon 3-4 creatures in addition to your ever present Death Knight. This is a fantastic addition to the Divinity series and this game engine.

Commentary:

The Darkness and Story Depth:
I really enjoyed the darkness of the plot in the last 2 Acts (there are 4). The cruelty of demons that have no sense of remorse echoes throughout Nemesis to say the least. The game was originally called "Rift Runner" which describes dimensional travel. You will eventually "Rift Run" between Rivellon and Nemesis. It was a great feature and plot point. There is a lot of depth in the story that you simply won't find in the early gameplay (Act 1). I shudder to think how many players quit before Act 2. Where you have 3-5 quests in Act 1 outside of the Battlefields you'll have dozens in the later Acts. Larian can and should be blamed for anyone who quit early. After all, first impressions are important. While I enjoyed Act 1 for the most part, the later game areas are far more compelling.

Puzzles:
Talk about puzzles. I hope folks like puzzles because there are lots of them. I would say I really appreciated about 80% of them. The other 20% are either frustratingly obtuse or dodgy in design. Frankly, I was reminded of Arx Fatalis at some points. I found myself running around stuck more than a few times, just like in Arx. I wanted to throw my laptop at the wall a few times too… just like Arx! Or I could just be stupid, there is always that possibility. Act 4 is a barrage of puzzles. Was this Larian's revenge for the negative feedback regarding Divine Divinity's endgame being all grinding combat? I'm thinking yes but who knows for sure. All I know is that I found some of it frustrating, but at the same time creative and rewarding. The puzzles/quests that are geographically confined are for the most part brilliant. What I despise are open ended component fetch quests that give no indication of where to look and have no geographic constraint. I skipped two such side quests. A few are very easy to break as well. For example, objects were arranged as a hint in one puzzle but I had looted them before I realized it was a hint. Impossible to solve if you make heavy use of "K" (show items on ground) and are loot crazy. I'll give Larian huge kudos for going above and beyond keeping things interesting.

Battlefields:
What a bizarre and yet welcome game mechanic, albeit flawed. The whole intent I think was to provide an area to grind XP, hopefully find some decent equipment, trade and learn skills. Each story arc Act has keys to find that unlock teleport capability to the battlefields anytime, anywhere. There are 6 dungeons in each Battlefield (1 Battlefield per act) and each Battlefield has a series of 5 quests. For whatever reason it was randomized, which (in my opinion) did nothing but make the quests uninteresting and introduce bizarre but not game breaking bugs. You see script references in tool tips ($NPC1, Object 4503), find monsters in walls, and pointlessly empty areas after grinding to the "treasure / Boss" area at the bottom of each dungeon. Since it is randomized you might run into what I ran into in Act 1, all 4 Boss monsters from the random generated quests in 1 room at the bottom of the first dungeon. That was… Exciting!
But there is a problem. It is not only clearly tacked on but you just spend too much time there grinding away from the story. It can feel like the game has a serious split personality. Larian gets kudos for the feature but a big ding for (thankfully not game breaking) silly bugs and poor integration with the main game.

Skill System:
OK this is major ding for Beyond Divinity. The problem is simple. Unlike the great and simple skill system for Divine Divinity Larian made the terrible design decision to force you to learn skills before they are available to either see or select. What the problem with that? You put valuable skill points into your build only to find a better skill from a trainer later. Here ignorance has a real price. For example (and this one is really bad in my opinion)… a 1 handed weapon skill is different from 1 handed with a shield. However, you wouldn't know the latter skill branch even existed until Act 2. See the issue? Larian compensated by allowing the player to undo skill allocations for gold. That works, because you can farm for gold in the Battlefields but it feels like a work around. I ended up paying the price to reinvest in for the shield path myself.
My recommendation is to simply use the User Guide found on Locus Inn to premeditate your build. Its not a cop out. It overcomes poor design.

Feedback ingame:
This is another whopper. The lack of feedback ingame. For example… Larian in their infinite wisdom decided to integrate language learning ingame, and took it to the extreme. For example: No longer are charm runes self explanatory in their effect. You'll find while they are color coded for level but effects aren't known (you can infer their potency via vendor pricing). So YIT JOPH (major agility +5) is not known. Good luck remembering them all. How does this add to the game experience? It just doesn't. I never figured out how to decipher them and used the guide. Another example - and this one you'll go nuts on during gameplay: "Item Acquired". You'll see this message often particularly on quest awards. There is no '~' log access. There is nothing to indicate what happened. I did notice items tended to appear in inventory left justified, which helped somewhat. Brilliant or stupid design decision? Sorry Larian… stupid. How about the effects of mystery potions and foods? All I can say is stare at your stats and hopefully you'll see the effect. Its simply pointless. Its not "hardcore" its just dumb. Perhaps I'm being harsh but… nah I'm not.

Bugs:
A quick note here. On Windows 7 64 bit the game was extremely stable with XP SP3 Compatibility enabled. There was only one exception: In Act 3 there was a particular bug that prevented saving without a crash. In strange fashion, you *had* to succeed a tiny "test" that didn't matter materially for the game or story line and yet would break the game (CTD) if you failed it and tried to save. Go figure. If this happens to you, go back and succeed the test. Simple as that. Otherwise, rock stable, including toggle to windows…. to check the user guide

Party based:
Rarely do you find a game where you can set ranged combat party members to attack in realtime and kite with another character and make the whole thing rewardingly tactical. Its just fun. The magic system is deliciously explosive and potent (the Shaman nature magic is brutal!). You can even give your summoned ranged weapons to use as their inventory is accessible while they are around. Its great! The melee has good feedback as well. Criticals shake the screen. Blood sprays. What's not to like? This is just a great addition that adds welcome gameplay mechanic depth to the Divine Divinity experience.

Graphics / Environment / Denizens:
Larian really nailed these environments. They are simply stunning. The fog and fire effects, the architecture, the corpse parts everywhere, the nasty trees and the creature variety. Its a clear improvement on Divine Divinity especially in the later Acts. You'll be hard pressed not to enjoy the creature variety in this game as well, both opponent and NPC. Its pretty impressive and the animations are very well done as is the voice acting (for the most party anyway).

The Imps deserve a special call out. They are all simply a delight. As are demons. They are cruel… truly merciless and yet hilarious at times. Just great writing and great characterization. Well done Larian!


Conclusion:
Its hard to nail this game down other than to say its a flawed gem. I will say it is well worth playing especially with the users guide. I find the guide not to be a cop out. It easily overcomes what I consider simply dumb design decisions that drag the otherwise fine experience down. The split personality of the game due to the Battlefield mechanic is an oddity and I found that spending too much time in the Battlefields began to feel like a chore once I was powerful enough to make combat a less lethal experience. With the later Acts so focused on puzzles I simply switched gears away from the Battlefields. In fact I skipped the Battlefields entirely in the 4th Act and it kept the game and story well paced and fun. The story was very strong in Act 4 and I didn't want the distraction. I finished the game at level 31, a bit shy of the expected 35. In the end, combat tactics made the difference vs. raw level.

So grab the guide, fire up the grey matter for the puzzles and head to Nemesis. It is a place to experience HUMAN!

"For Innos!"
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