A large mob of enemies can be dealt with swiftly if one party member causes the heavens to open up and rain to pour down, while another takes advantage of the weather to strike with lightning attacks, the magic travelling through the water and bouncing between enemies. Those that aren’t killed or stunned could swiftly become the victim of ice magic, quickly freezing because they are already wet.
Strewn throughout these battlefields are all manner of environmental elements that can aid or hamper the party during battle: barrels of toxic chemicals, explosives even puddles or hurtling balls of molten rock spewing out of a volcano. It’s another thing that demands attention, never letting you simply cruise through a fight.
Fights aren’t about who hits hardest, fastest - they are won by the group that controls the field and manipulates the environment. And they can be big, these scraps. And long. Original Sin is not a game you can just play for half an hour and expect to get anywhere, as individual fights can go on for that long, and sometimes quite a bit longer.
The vivid magical effects and bold lighting can, at times, lead to battles feeling a little busy and bewildering. More annoying, the camera is inexplicably incapable of turning more than 180 degrees, which can add to the confusion, making it tricky to target or even see enemies with enough frequency so that it starts to grate. A minimap and a tactical mode that offers a bird-eyes view does alleviate this, however. [Update: In the comments, Fluttersnipe pointed out that there's an option to turn on 360 degree camera movement. Larian warns that the game isn't designed for that, though, so it might cause some minor problems.]
Throughout Original Sin, Larian has been able to fulfill its rather grand ambitions despite not having the gargantuan budget of RPG heavy hitters like BioWare or Bethesda. Even the isometric view and basic graphics - elevated, mind you, by excellent art and lighting - don’t feel like concessions, instead evoking the simpler looking but infinitely complex RPGs of the ‘90s.
So I can’t say that Larian has bitten off more than it can chew, not at all, but in one significant way, the studio wants to have its cake and eat it too. Rivellon is a big place. The massive surface areas and ancient sprawling dungeons take an age to explore, and such wanderings are encouraged. The lack of guidance inspires going off the beaten track and just looking for adventure.
But the game balance and Original Sin’s linear plot is juxtaposed to the freedom. In the first region, even leaving the town before level 5 invites death, and simply walking down a country road near the hub can lead the party of adventurers into a nest of enemies many levels higher. When even a single level can make a significant difference, this can be a mite frustrating.
The alternative isn’t handholding; a common sense approach to the escalation of threat is all that’s needed. The starting area really shouldn’t be surrounded by threats that could demolish new players.
I confess, though, that after licking my wounds when I fell foul of a high level enemy, I played more cautiously, employing stealth and scouting to find and assess threats before my main party reached them. I don’t think it’s too generous to assume that’s a design decision, I just think that it’s one that could have been tempered with a more organic progression.
The aforementioned linear plot has a much greater impact. There’s a specific route that needs to be taken, story-wise, and deviating from that - which can be done - causes all manner of confusion, with NPCs acting like you’ve done something you haven’t, and enemies suddenly jumping three levels higher. It’s a strictly linear story in a very non-linear world, and the two just don’t coexist very well because there’s no guidance, no way to tell which quest comes first.
Perhaps, in other games, I would have grown annoyed more frequently than I did, because any problems that Divinity: Original Sin has are surrounded and almost snuffed out by all the things it does, not just right, but phenomenally well.
Things that would normally be ancillary, at best, like an ability that lets you talk to animals are so fleshed out that I can’t imagine playing the game without them. I didn’t choose the Pet Pal perk as an example lightly, as it’s utter genius. Not only does it unlock a number of especially guffaw-worthy quests and absurd gags, there are puzzles I honestly don’t know if I could have completed without a walkthrough and paths I would have completely missed if it wasn’t for my ability to have a natter with a rat or shoot the breeze with a chicken.
When I play Divinity: Original Sin, I’m back in my parents’ study, gleefully skipping homework as I explore the vast city of Athkatla. I’m overstaying my welcome at a friend’s house, chatting to Lord British. And it’s not because the game is buying me with nostalgia, but because it’s able to evoke the same feelings: that delight from doing something crazy and watching it work, the surprise when an inanimate object starts talking to me and sends me on a portal-hopping quest across the world. There’s whimsy and excitement, and those things have become rare commodities. Yet Divinity: Original Sin is full of them.