Christmas is a time for gift-giving, especially if that gift is turn-based murder. It’s one of our favourite winter activities here at PCGamesN, with past Yuletide periods having seen us do battle in XCOM. We’re trading aliens for swords and sorcery this year, though, as we try out Divinity: Original Sin 2’s PvP arena mode.
Larian’s new and unexpectedly great deathmatch mode is already available in Early Access, and after a couple of wild matches we knew we had to share it with you. That’s why we’ve pitted Jeremy and Matt against each other for an epic battle report. Larian call the game an RPG; we call it a table-turning simulator.
Above is the complete recording of our arena match. Every move, every mistake, and every magic-fuelled detonation caught on camera. You can watch it all with our commentary if you fancy. Alternatively, you can click the links in our written report to be taken straight to the moment in the video where the described action takes place.
Jeremy: After picking a handful of high fantasy archetypes from an almost Tekken-style character selection screen, we’re dropped onto a floating island. Divinity lore allows for fortresses situated outside of space and time, so its canon is more than flexible enough to encompass this suspended collection of ruins, rickety raised wooden platforms, unopened chests and explosive barrels we’re calling a battlefield. With a central courtyard, various gullies and numerous breaks in line of sight, it resembles something out of one of tabletop Warhammer’s smaller scale skirmish games. I certainly wouldn’t mind access to a ruler to work exactly how far away I need to stand from Matt’s archer to survive til next turn...
Matt: There’s quite a gap across this courtyard, so I push some troops into position. I instruct the ranger that Jeremy is so scared of to climb a ladder to get a good overwatch of the battle, but all of the enemy heroes are too far away to hit. My warrior moves up to the frontlines; not quite close enough to bash someone with a big hammer, but certainly within range of Jeremy’s wizard, who promptly casts Fossil Strike. It shatters my warrior’s magical defense and leaves a smelly pool of oil, but I’m otherwise all ok.
Jeremy: I’m quite pleased with the big oily boulder I’ve just dropped on that warrior’s head, so I carry on thumbing through my spellbook. As any budding mage soon learns, Divinity’s elemental magic interacts with the world around it, and all it takes is a spark from my lizardman’s leathery fingers to turn the oil pool into a chip pan fire. Matt’s tank manages to pull himself out of the slick in time, but it does him no good - I pick him up remotely with a teleportation spell and drop him unceremoniously a few feet above the flames, letting his own weight carry him down. Hee hee. Isn’t this what everyone goes to wizard school for?
Matt: While my warrior roasts on an open fire, I watch as Jeremy sends his pesky rogue on a little trip. She stops off by a pool of silvery liquid and gathers it up, granting her a Source Point which can be used to fuel incredibly powerful abilities. But then she’s gone; vanished into thin air like Harry Potter beneath his invisibility cloak. Not that Jeremy’s good with that kind of thing: he immediately sends his rogue to investigate a treasure chest, and the creak of the hinges gives away his position. And, to ruin his plans even further, he walks her right into the line of sight of my warrior in the courtyard, breaking her stealth and trashing any sneaky plan he may have had. I see you, Peel. There’s no hiding from my vengeful gaze.
Jeremy: Matt has his own rogue, and it turns out she’s ordained - blessing the fire so that it turns a lovely electric blue bordered by... are those butterflies? Aww. From now on, it’ll heal Matt’s warrior, not hurt him. But what follows is a lesson in Divinity’s constantly rolling ball of after-effects.
His warrior summons a minor earthquake, causing spikes to erupt from the ground and injuring my own tank, who I’ve placed in the middle of the courtyard. But the eruption also brings forth yet more oil, which ignites on contact with the healing flame and dunks my warrior and rogue in a bath of health-giving fire. This is a funny sort of vengeance.
Matt: Well this hasn’t gone as expected, has it? Not to worry, thankfully my elven ranger knows a curse. Said curse restores burning power back to the flame pit, and while my warrior is once again very toasty, Jeremy’s rogue and warrior are also cooking nicely. Not that the scorching goes on for long; the enemy wizard happens to have a tornado scroll, which the jammy git casts so perfectly that it extinguishes the flames surrounding everyone but my own tank. Typical.
The flames that are left will hopefully keep the enemy away from my ranger, though. No one is going to walk through intense heat to climb that ladder, right? Well, turns out Divinity has a solution to just such a problem. Jeremy casts Levitate on his rogue, allowing her to glide over the flames and into range of my squishy, vulnerable archer. Gosh darn it.
Jeremy: This is going swimmingly. I’m feeling pretty confident as I scan my spellbook for something that goes bang or turns people inside out - right up until Matt’s rogue steps forward and backstabs my perfectly healthy warrior for lethal damage. He slumps to the floor.
Matt: Aha, my dear Peel! Remember back when you sucked dry a Source puddle? Well I did the same, and happily I’m the first to make use of it. See, a Source Point allows a rogue to use the ‘Daggers Drawn’ skill, a barrage of stabs that does frankly insane damage. And that’s your warrior six feet under.
With Jeremy sitting dumbfounded, I decide to speed up the aggression. My warrior launches himself up and at the wizard that’s been causing so much trouble, setting the lizard ablaze and knocking him flat to the floor with that huge hammer. Over on the other side of the arena, I have my ranger use Tactical Retreat; a move that sees him dash across the battlefield to a place far, far away from Jeremy’s fearsome-looking rogue daggers.
Jeremy: Everything’s changed, and I don’t like it. Suddenly I’m a warrior down, my wizard’s become a rotisserie lizard, and most of the enemy party have transported themselves back across the courtyard to the spot where I started. I want some of that secret Source Matt’s been glugging.
My dwarven rogue downs a potion of invisibility, disappearing from the map. Then she pursues Matt’s ranger across the courtyard, consuming a Source Point for a revenge backstab from the shadows. It’s like my mum always says: if you’re outclassed, plagiarise. The bow-wielding elf is left standing. Is it just me, though, or does his feathery headdress look slightly ruffled?
Matt: There’s blood everywhere. It’s like the shop floor of Sweeney Todd’s place on ol’ Fleet Street. I’m having none of it, though. I send my swift little rogue within throwing distance of the enemy dwarf and shatter a bottle of chloroform over her head. The fumes knock her out instantly, downing her for one turn.
Jeremy: My wizard lizard regains consciousness just in time to see his rogue comrade fall asleep, as if he’s taking the night shift for this battle. Typical. I have the mage cast a spell that sees him swap places with that feathery glam ranger down in the courtyard - but not before Matt’s warrior has got in a couple of blows with his ginormous hammer. Wincing, I decide to conduct a little chemistry experiment - unleashing a burst of Dragon’s Blaze at Matt’s rogue, who’s standing a little too close to a poison cloud. There’s a big bang, and the battlefield starts to resemble hell again.
Matt: Anyone else would panic during such an inferno, but my rogue is, of course, well-versed in healing fire. With fury in her eyes, she strides through the blue flames and unleashes a series of blows that knock a few scales off Jeremy’s wizard. Following up is my warrior, who uses Blitz to dive from the wooden gantry down to the wizard, deal a blow, then sprint to Jeremy’s rogue and deal yet more damage. It’s an attack I like to call ‘The Barry Allen Ballet’.
I’m about to discover I’ve made a huge mistake, though. Jeremy’s rogue buries a Sawtooth Knife in my warrior’s back, and blood pools on the cobbles. “The Peels send their regards,” she whispers as she shanks my tank to death.
Things are looking down, but I spy my chance. I send my ranger on a pilgrimage to collect a Source Point from the far side of the map. I nock a Freezing Arrow into my bow and ice-over the area around Jeremy’s mage. The silly lizard tries to move in the treacherous conditions, but slips and falls flat on his back: the perfect position to receive a killing blow from a powerful Source-fuelled arrow barrage.
Jeremy: Outnumbered two to one, skulking among the sarcophagi at the far end of the courtyard, I’m rogue alone. The nature of Divinity’s turn-based system means that, with fewer pieces on the board, I’m only going to be getting half the number of goes as my opponent from now on. If I’m to make it out of this, I’ll need to skip some of Matt’s turns for him.
That dratted ranger has taken point on the same wooden walkway my wizard took his nap, but I’m not going to let him start firing. I clamber up the ladder and stun the elf with an electric jolt - before lobbing a terror grenade at Matt’s rogue that leaves him gibbering for two turns. That’s long enough for me to stick the ranger several times in the back.
The weakened elf flees, coming to a halt with his hands on his knees in front of the very chest that first gave my position away (Matt: I’d hoped there were more goodies inside. There were none. Boo!). I have my dwarf give chase and finish him, poking a final hole in his fetching forest-wear. It’s to be a rogue-off.
Matt: This is how it’s going to be, is it? You may have evened the odds, Jeremy, but there’s no escaping my hungry blades. I put my rogue into sneaking mode, making her invisible to the enemy so long as they don’t lock eyes with her. I have her carefully scuttle towards the final goal, eyeing up the tasty neck that’s just waiting for a quick, sharp slice. Jeremy has no idea that I’m just a few feet from him, but as he rustles through his inventory for a grenade he spots me!
Jeremy: I know Matt’s close, and I figure even invisible people show up when they’re covered in flames. So I ready a firestorm bomb. But, as I spin on the spot to throw it, Matt’s rogue suddenly comes into line of sight. A mirror image of my own in everything but team colours, the dwarf’s been standing right behind me.
Remember that chemistry lesson earlier? I have just enough action points left to start the firestorm and follow it up with a poison grenade. The two react with a boom. But Matt’s rogue is still upright. Bollocks.
Matt: Like the T-100 chasing down Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese at the end of The Terminator, I have my rogue stomp through the fire towards Jeremy’s final hero. Her flesh may be scorched, but there’s still fire in her belly. Standing just inches away from his nose, I let the power of electricity burst from my rogue’s fingertips, stunning the enemy dwarf and forcing her to stay still as she prays for the end. While the poison running through my rogue’s veins burns and damages her, there’s enough HP left that I can deal the killing blows.
Sawtooth Knife in hand, my rogue leaps and plunges the weapon deep into her opponent’s shoulders. There’s blood everywhere; it’s like the set of an ‘80s slasher film. There’s just one more strike to go, and I’m very happy to provide it. Jeremy’s final hero collapses in a pool of her own arterial spray, vanquished.
Jeremy: It was a puddle of Source magic that first saw me lose the advantage in this battle; only fitting that I should drown in a puddle of my own making.
And so our battle report comes to an end. We’ve all learned something, even if it’s just that fire and poison don’t mix, or that Divinity’s realm is devoid of Christmas spirit. Tell us about your own battlefield experiences in the comments.