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ToddMcF2002 January 15th, 2013 07:26

Beyond Divinity Review
Beyond Divinity Review (Spoiler Free)

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.


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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Raze January 15th, 2013 10:58


Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 (Post 1061179612)
Larian can and should be blamed for anyone who quit early. After all, first impressions are important.

Divine Divinity started off a little linear and heavy on the hack and slash, as well, but Aleroth had a few NPCs to interact with, places to explore and a few small quests to give you a better idea of the gameplay. While escaping prison doesn't lend itself very well to quests, IMO Beyond Divinity would have benefited from an encounter like the existential skeletons in the catacombs in Divine Divinity (playing the demo before the game was released, just Aleroth made me want the game; the skeletons made it a day one purchase).


Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 (Post 1061179612)
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.

I also looted the potions first. Even without the clue I found it easy to figure out the combination.


Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 (Post 1061179612)
The whole intent I think was to provide an area to grind XP, hopefully find some decent equipment, trade and learn skills.

The battlefields were intended as an optional area to grind XP, etc. I only visited them for the merchants, predominantly to trade (learned a couple skills, but the trainers in the main game are generally cheaper).


Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 (Post 1061179612)
Larian made the terrible design decision to force you to learn skills before they are available to either see or select.

You can toggle the skill window between showing the available skills and showing all skills.

Dr. A January 15th, 2013 11:36

@Todd, nice review! I guess I'll have to fire up BD again some day and try to make it past Act 1 :P

@Raze, major kudos to you for all your informative and helpful posts in the Larian forums!

DArtagnan January 15th, 2013 12:33

Great review - I appreciate it :)

I bought this back when it was released, and I never really played it - mostly due to heavy negative feedback and the fact that lots of other games had my attention at the time. I've sometimes considered giving it another go, but the almost universal negative feedback has kept me from it.

This review just convinced me otherwise, and I happen to adore story-based puzzles in my RPGs. Sounds like just the thing.

So… Thanks!

coaster January 15th, 2013 14:40

Yes, sounds like I should give it another try too - as you say like many I didn't make it out of Act 1 but it sounds like the game really opens up after that.

Alrik Fassbauer January 15th, 2013 15:09

It was far too dark for my taste, especially in the first part, and the part I personally liked most was the Imp Town.

I played it through, though, and considering the mechanics alone, I didn't see it as a bad game at all - it was just the setting which never quite liked.

I still do hope that the Ranaar will return into the series at one point.

They had released a promotional game called "Imprunner" at one point : http://www.larian.com/riftrunner/imprunnermirrors.php

ToddMcF2002 January 16th, 2013 03:19

You are correct about the skills of course. My error. There are still issues though in my opinion. For one, there are simply too many skills and too few points. Do we really need arrow proficiencies? All these sub categories for magic broken down by defense and then again by individual and group? Or, for example, the auto equip of a shield can silently nullify stat bonuses for a pure 1H fighter. The bottom line (I think) is that Larian made some pretty strange and questionable design decisions. Don't get me wrong, they aren't show stoppers, just an aspect that drags on the game's greatness a bit. BTW thanks for your help on the official Larian forums.

BTW… how did you figure out the sequence for the buttons? Pure luck? What are to total number of possible combinations of four buttons? I tried for a while and then hit the walkthrough on that one. Overall the puzzles in that area were a blast though.

@Alrik Fassbauer
Yes the game is very dark. At times the humor or simple lack of sympathy from the darker characters over the wanton death and destruction comes across as overly callous. But Demons and their minions are really evil right? They just don't care about mortal lives. Everywhere you turn there is carnage, it is a way of life in Nemesis. Life is cheap. Really cheap. Its the little stuff, such as simple sequences where a demon lectures a corpse about lessons learned that defines the atmosphere in this game. Its funny. Its sad. Its tragic. But most of all it is engaging and immersive. I actually liked the settings honestly. They were unique, varied and interesting. Act 4 really pulled me in.

And yes Imp town was extremely memorable! Thanks for the Imprunner link. They did a great job bringing that race to life. I really dig the imps in this game. All I really did was hunt them down for extermination in Divine Divinity. ;)

Raze January 16th, 2013 07:58

For one, there are simply too many skills and too few points.

I kept a lot of skill points in reserve because of initial complaints like that, and didn't have any problems. Reload Time was the only weapon expertise sub-skill that I maxed; damage / accuracy / point blank got a point or two.

The skill system was more complex than it needed to be (or, arguably, should have been). Arrow proficiencies were not really needed, though it is easy enough to ignore them. I used normal arrows most of the game and then switched to power arrows, and did not invest in any proficiencies. Likewise, IMO the melee weapon expertise skills should have just been concerned with the base weapon type, and any extra requirements for Shadow or Bone damage types at best a sub-skill (or support skill) rather than being entirely separate. I stuck to conventional weapons, though, so that wasn't really an issue.

I haven't tried a mage character, but some of the spells I can see being split between individual and group; others could have been designed differently.

The auto equipping of shields can also be a problem with archers, since a disabled shield is easy to miss in the inventory window, and the extra weight can cause the character to become encumbered more frequently.

BTW… how did you figure out the sequence for the buttons? Pure luck?

Since I missed the clue (and didn't realize there was one at the time), I assumed the combination must be easy to guess, which meant it would likely be a relatively straightforward pattern. I started with 1234 and 4321 (even though they would be a bit too straightforward), 1324 and then 4312.

What are to total number of possible combinations of four buttons?

4! = 4*3*2*1 = 24

Warmark January 16th, 2013 08:24

Excellent review Todd!

I was waiting for your take on the game when I knew you were playing it and it was worth the wait. The game just jumped to my number one position on the to-play list.

And thanks to Raze as well for his help everywhere on Larian games.

wiretripped January 16th, 2013 15:06

Yep, excellent review.

I too shied away from the game due to the (in general) negative reviews, but maybe I ought to give it a shot nonetheless.

Warmark January 16th, 2013 16:54

Just a couple of questions Todd, did you start the game with Warrior/Wizard combo and what difficulty setting did you use?

Going to do a restart today with the game.

ToddMcF2002 January 17th, 2013 02:27

My death knight was a wizard archer so I always had a ranged option. He concentrated on Shaman weather magic and bow accuracy. Bows are great in this game. My main hero tanked and put all points into 1h shield accuracy, criticals and damage. The first two I maxed out. Be careful not to overlook agility even for melee, for whatever reason Larian chose to have you miss a lot in the higher levels instead of giving creatures lots of health. I played on Action. I could appreciate higher difficulty later in the game but that may make Act 1 pretty punishing on Tactical. Try it and let us know! :)

Warmark January 17th, 2013 02:36

Thanks for the info Todd, I'm sticking with the Action level, the first tough guy I faced, Fergus, beat the crap out of me as it is, took a few reloads to get by him…I still need to finally get out of Chapter one at some point in this game :).

Gloo January 17th, 2013 03:40


Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 (Post 1061179612)
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.

Larian made some bad decisions on the beginning of this one and on Divine Divinity as well. I almost missed the goodness of D.D. for some years (didn't bought it on release) only because the catacombs at the beginning of the game were so boring and didn't give a fair taste of the real content. fortunately I read a good review of the game later on and felt I might have missed an excellent RPG, instead of a mediocre action game. Same here with your excellent review of B.D. as I left it after playing a bit of the first Act and not having been hooked, to say the least. As I read more and more favorable advices about it, I feel I'll give it another go soon. Thanks for that !

ToddMcF2002 January 17th, 2013 06:58

Yup Fergus is a wake up call! Same thing happened to me *and* I had not saved yet. whoops ;)

Raze January 17th, 2013 09:08

The Larian forum topic Killing Fergus has some suggestions on strategy and early stat point distribution.

I started off with both characters as warriors, the hero using crushing weapons (club and then two handed walking stick) and the DK continuing to use swords (switching to two handed when available). IMO that is a good combination of damage types for most of the initial opponents, though I occasionally had my hero switch to a bow for tougher fights. Once I got to the citadel (the end levels of act 1), I switched my hero to a crossbow archer full time. Playing again I'd have the DK be a bow archer, to concentrate more on agility; with the hero as an archer you need to invest in strength for armour (and possibly crossbow) requirements.

Alrik Fassbauer January 17th, 2013 22:52

Ah, Fergus ! Those were the times ! ;)

Igor January 18th, 2013 00:33

Well described and sumarizes my feeling about game when I played in especialy as I was skiping battlefields, also regardless to this point I would add that if you play as summoner meaning the points you add are to upgrade the dolls,somehow it does not want to progress and lvl so be the end even if you added some lvls your dolls that you were using before to add alot of points are to basicaly usless or maybe to take a hit or two and do nothing if not taking one unless you patiently waited entire game to summon one doll for first time.

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.

ToddMcF2002 January 18th, 2013 02:01

The bows were simply fun. The better spells take alot of mana so relying on magic for ranged is problematic. The early battlefields have literally 1000's of arrow drops of all types. I had around 19K regular arrows, 3K bone arrows, 2K fire, 1.5K explosive etc. So the skill is a good one with ample ammo to shore up a magic user. The Ranaar and Elven bows, once acquired are pretty devastating even with regular arrows. I spent most of my time with a lesser but augmented for Agility Shadow Bow.

Summoning dolls might be weak but armed with ranged weapons and kept at a distance can be effective. Also, even used for melee they are great for distracting an enemy so he doesn't focus all his attention on your avatar or Death Knight.

Raze January 25th, 2013 13:05

Only the act 1 summoning doll can use a ranged weapon (crossbow).

If anyone without the game already was tempted by this review but didn't rush to get it, I am doing a Beyond Divinity giveaway in the GOG forum (EDIT: which is now over).

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