Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Dead Squirrel That I Hit

A quick update on Divinity: Original Sin 2. It might be the game I'm playing the most right now, yet I'm still not convinced. It's addictive, for sure, but these days I'm less willing than I once might have been to mark that up as a positive.

Steam tells me I've played 67 hours so far. That's a lot of time to put into a game you're not entirely sure about, isn't it? There is something of an "I've started so I'm going to finish" in effect, I guess. Theoretically I'm at the end of the penultimate section. I know that because the game told me to go back to Malady and tell her I'd found a way to go to... wherever the hell it is we're supposed to be going.

And there's the problem. Sixty-seven hours in and I have only the vaguest idea of the plot. Let's recap: my character used to be a singer but somehow also a "sourceror", whatever that is. I'm still not at all clear. She has some nebulous bad thing inside her that keeps making me think of Black Desert's Black Spirit, although this one's not in the slightest degree amusing. My character's also a Godwoken, whatever that is. Some kind of big deal, or so they keep telling me.

That's a lot of baggage to be carrying about but there's way, way more. There was some sort of war recently or a demonic invasion or something. The fallout left people like my character subject to arrest, incarceration, interrogation and execution. Never been sure by whom, exactly. A church, a governement, a milatary force. All of the above.

The attitude of my supposed jailers varies so wildly as to be entirely incomprehensible. Some of them act like sadistic psychopaths, some like overworked scoutmasters. One minute they're setting up to torture you, the  next they're offering you cake. And everyone seems to have a plot going but none of the plots to together. Or matter a damn.

As if that wasn't enough, I've picked up three travelling companions, all with backstories and baggage of their own They all joined me with the caveat that they'd better get this thing done that they needed to do right this minute or they'd be off, count on it... and then none of them ever mentions it again.

Well, not unless we happen to randomly run across someone they recognize, in which case they hijack the controls for a few moments, have conversations I can't follow, do things I don't understand, often with extreme violence, leaving me to deal with whatever mess they've made while they step back into my entourage as thought nothing ever happened.

Until last night I also had a squirrel following me about, riding on a skeleton cat, talking about Giant Acorns and the end of the world. And then I had this humungous battle in an tight space Everything that could be set on fire was set on fire and then some.

When the smoke cleared the squirrel was a charred lump on the floor. Of the bone cat there was no sign. I tried to ressurrect the squirrel but the game wasn't having it. I had no idea the creature could be killed but then again I have - had - no control over where he went or what he did so I couldn't have done much about it anyway.

It was a bummer as the kids stopped saying sometime around 1972. Then I went to bed and watched Roswell and Maria broke up with Michael so it wasn't much of a fun evening all round.

I have a quest journal that is beyond bursting with storylines I've started but not finished. Almost nothing ever gets finished and even if it does it's purely by chance. I gave up trying to bring any of the side quests or sub plots to a conclusion long ago. That way madness lies.

Still, with all that unfinished, it seems ridiculous to go tell Malady we're done so I'm wandering about hoping a few things will sort themselves out by sheer momentum. About all I've learned is that some areas are a lot lower level than others and I probably went the wrong way at the beginning because all the almost impossibly hard fights I eventually won mean I'm now laughably overpowered, overlevelled and overgeared for the areas I'm discovering I missed.

My overal impression of the plot is that I have no idea what it is and I don't really care. The tone of the game is darker than I'd like or, more accurately, dark in a really unoriginal, boring, heavy metal kind of way. I have yet to meet a character I care about. I didn't even like the squirrel much; I just don't like feeling responsible for charring him to a crisp without even noticing.

I haven't taken any screenshots since I took some for the last post. Not one. What's more, it occurs to me that I never even thought of taking any. The game is quite gorgeous but the enforced camera angles are so appallingly awkward it's a struggle to appreciate the scenery. Lining people up for a shot is like buildng a card house wearing boxing gloves.

There's also a gaping chasm between the actions of my team's actions and the consequences. The game gives warnings should you attack guards or murder or steal in plain sight but we routinely leave town squares looking like slaughterhouses and no-one seems to notice. The bodies of people we killed a week ago are still lying in the same pools of blood as commerce and conversation carry on all around. It makes it hard to believe anything we do is real, let alone important.

The game's one saving grace - and it's a huge enough one to explain the many hours I've put in - is the tactical combat, which remains fascinating. I constantly discover new tricks, some of which are cheesing game mechanics, others which feel like genuine inspiration.

I won a huge fight with some much more powerful opponents by moving a dozen barrels of oil into their building using telekinesis. The I blocked all the exits with wooden crates while the guard on the door quite literally allowed me to box him in. I lobbed in a fire grenade and the whole thing went up like a fireworks factory. By the time the fire went out most of my opponents were already dead. Of course, so were all the NPCs inside I might have rescued or spoken to, but they were another kind of bad guy so...

Another even more unwinnable fight I ended up winning by having my most of the party stand way off in the woods then getting one person to pull like it was classic EverQuest. Splitting them was tough but it turns out mobs in D:OS2 do leash, eventually. That took me the best part of two whole evenings.

This kind of thing requires very intense concentration while at the same time taking place in a kind of stop motion that allows for breaks to be taken at any time. It's ideal for getting your mind off other, worrying topics. The necromantic abilities that require you to get close to someone and touch them to give them a disease are a little unsettling but that's about the only call back to reality.

That's where I am right now. It's very apparent that, with the mind-boggling depth of decision trees, this is a game that could be played and replayed but I think once will be enough for me. More than enough, most likely.

Then what? Steam sent me an alert today to let me know a game on my wishlist was on offer. It's Unavowed, described by PCGamer as "one of the best adventure games ever made" and by Rock Paper Shotgun as "unquestionably one of the most impressive point and click adventures made in many, many years."

I was going to buy it so I'd have something to keep me occupied during the lockdown after D:OS2 is done but then I read the description: "A demon possessed you one year ago..."

Been there, done that.


  1. Awww, but there's probably a lot more linearity of story in Unavowed!

    1. I'll get to it eventually. Just... two demonic possessions in a row? No-one needs that!

  2. These are the reasons I'm very afraid of the upcoming Baldur's Gate III, also being made by Larian Studios. Although Divinity: Original Sin and D:OS2 are very well made, look fantastic and have some engaging gameplay, nothing in either of them says that Larian cares the slightest bit either about story or character.

    I'm a huge Baldur's Gate fan from 20 years back, modded it for years, and the three things that made the BG series for me were: the story, the characters, and the scriptable combat (it was making combat scripts that I used to mod).

    The new BGIII has turn based combat - compelling, as you describe, but very much not scriptable; and the story and characters are being created by a studio that has shown it simply doesn't take either of those things seriously. So yeah, after two decades of dreaming of a BGIII, it has arrived in nightmare form.

    Larian are a super-skilled and super-talented studio - but the games they make are not games I enjoy. And that's after finishing D:OS twice. Would have been a lot happier if Obsidian had got the rights to BGIII - I'm constantly replayin Pillars of Eternity I and II.

    1. That's an excellent analysis. You've nailed exactly what I was groping for. There was never a moment in BG1 or 2 when I didn't know exactly what I was trying to do and why. There were plenty of side stories and all the supporting characters had agendas and backstories but nothing felt irrelevant or random. In D:OS2 a lot happens but the only connection is that it's happening in the same place at the same time.

      Put another way, the Baldur's Gate games were novels; D:OS2 is a short story collection and not even a themed collection, either. And the characters never develop beyond a surface level. I'll bet I won't remember anything about any of them a few weeks after I stop playing but I can remember Imoen and Minsc and Jaheera fifteen years since I last plated, as clearly as I can remember Ce'Nedra or Pris.


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