… then I finished playing it.
(BTW: this review is going to be so spoiler heavy that it is in danger of turning into a neutron star, so maybe, like, consider not reading it if you don’t like spoilers.)
Anyway, I was really going to give this game a good review. Scout’s honour. Cross my heart and hope to die. Honest. I was absolutely sure that I would give it a good review up until about five minutes before I finished playing.
To be quite frank, it’s not as if the game doesn’t give you enough things to complain about before you reach the final cut scene.
The fighting system is a little bland and being able to target specific enemies would be real swell. While the system certainly works, and you even get the feeling that archery is equal to fighting with a sword, which is rare, the game fails at giving it a sense of reality. Yes, I know, it’s a friggin computergame. Nothing real about it. Still, games like Oblivion (and I am really reluctant to praise the fighting in Oblivion, all I can say to that is level 72 Spider Deadra) manage to make the fighting, especially the archery, more immersive. I guess being able to define the strength of your pull by how long you press the mouse button makes a big difference there. Plus points to the fighting system include that Divinity II is one of those rare games were summoning a creature, especially The Creature, to help you in the fighting really makes a difference. In the end the beastie sometimes did all the fighting while we were standing nearby filing our nails (a note to those who haven’t read my previous Divinity II review: I was playing the game together with my husband. That’s a lot better for people with epically challenged hand-eye-coordination like me.)
Besides the fighting there are other problems. For one there are a lot of puzzles. Specifically the kind of puzzle were you have to jump from platform to moving platform to falling platform and pull levers without having the slightest clue as to what they will do (and while, as the husband rightly pointed out, those are not compulsory in order to finish the main plot and thus kind of alright, I still find this sort of silliness annoying. If I wanted to behave like a grasshopper on a hotplate I’d play Tomb Raider. But I don’t, so I won’t, once is enough.) Doing this kind of jumping challenge once is okay. Twice is still kind of okay-ish. Three times is okay-ish-y if the rest of the game is fun. Four times, when there is instant death lava underneath the platforms and you have no clue as to where all of this is going, is not okay.
The biggest problem for me, besides the last cut scene, was the fact that the game kind of seemed to run out of steam once you have conquered the dragon tower. Sure, it is of fun after that for a while, because there are the Orobas Fjords which you are finally feeling strong enough to explore and because the tower has so many nice little knick-knacks that await your pleasure (and I don’t mean Sassan and her ridiculous … ehm… bra?). But after that you quickly realise that the best levels of your life are over. You’ve met most types of enemies, you’ve seen one flying fortress (and if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all), gone are the nice enemies that give you one or two thousand XP in one go (at least for the most part, there are exceptions) and most annoyingly of all: gone are the interesting quests. Yes, there is still some good stuff, but with a lot of them I was either dissatisfied with the choices that are presented to the player, like with the one were you are supposed to kill the gobin chief for Aurelius, or the quests kind of stopped when I expected them to go on for a bit. Those quests feel as if the developers were running out of time at the end, like many a quest in Two Worlds.
But enough complaining about the minutiae of gameplay. Up until the end Divinity II still was a lot more fun than Oblivion, or Gothic III (sorry if you’re one of these people who get aneurysms when they hear or read that name, I should have warned you. It took me long months of psychological counseling until I could type it without going into seizures). There is still nothing I can say to refute that fact. The game has witty writing that is to this day only topped by Gothic I & II and the early Fallout games. It has lots of sidequests. Diverse sidequests, which pleasantly sets it apart from Oblivion or fetch-me-these-seventeen-polkadot-shrubberies-Gothic-III. You can even find peaceful solutions to some of these (big plus, says Verena the pacifist). Last but not least: Man, is flying fun or what? (Yeah, man, it is!)
But now comes the crux. My biggest point of contention. The denouement. The goddamn final cutscene.
Divinity II had already, before reaching those thrice-damned three minutes of video at the end, demonstrated that futility is the name of the game. After you spend the first 10+ hours of gameplay caring and fighting for the people of the area where you start out (no idea how it’s called in English) they all get wiped out because the evil head-honcho wants to slap your wrist. Tough luck. Want to save that goblin tribe (name also unkown) near the champion harbour (ditto on name) from extinction? Let’s just say that you shouldn’t make a lunch date for the next day with any of them. How about the people on your island? The one with the dragon tower on top? Like them? Well, try not to get too attached. What I am meaning to say that Divinity seems to be rather intent on burning the bridges after you. Big, merry fires. It only serves to emphasize the linear nature of the gameworld. Areas get closed off the second you are ready to enter the next one.
But the biggest, meanest and, not to make too fine a point of this, abruptest thing that the game pulls on you is the last cut scene.
Because, you see, Ygerna wants to be resurrected. Damian wants Ygerna resurrected, although he doesn’t know he does. You, on the other hand, don’t want Ygerna-baby to be resurrected. You want her to continue to rot in hell, especially since the alternative seems to be having to watch her make out with Damian, not an image I wanted to see.
For some time before the end I had been thinking that Telana (for those of you who have either nor played the game or haven’t played the game far enough: She’s the broad that hitches a ride in your subconscious about five hours into Divinity II) sounds a bit too mean and sarcastic to be one of the good guys. Being dead also disqualifies her from being the love interest, so laying on the raunchiness extra thick was also a little confusing (also this would have made Divinity II the first RPG where the main love interest is a porn star). So, I thought, what’s up with you, Telana?
Not Telana at all. That’s what’s up. She’s Ygerna, incognito. And as the final cut scene will tell you she has just used you to bring about the destruction of what little is left of the gameworld at this point.
Why do I need to write a 1500 words review about this, you may ask. After all Dark Messiah of Might and Magic did pretty much pretty damn exactly the same and that game was by all accounts awesome.
Well, for one thing because Dark Messiah gave you some nice fat hints as to what was going on. And then it gave you a nice fat moral choice at the end. Ditch the bitch or be a daddy’s boy. Whatever you chose, the point is that you could choose. Divinity doesn’t give you that luxury. After investing fifty or sixty hours into the game, and in our case quite coming to like its witty protagonist, you get thrown into a crystal prison with that wet drip from the first game as your only conversational partner and have to watch the world end. Well, okay, be demolished by Damian. I have no doubt that the gameworld will go on after a fashion. Why set up a sequel if it were otherwise?
It’s the inevitability that enrages me so. If there were any chance at all of having the game end otherwise, let’s say by reaching level fifty (probably not possible) or by making only the most pristinely good moral decisions throughout the game (like we did), it would have been okay. But it doesn’t, so it isn’t.
As it is, I guess we’ll have to be content with playing the sequel. Maybe we will get to play Damian and make him command his hordes of imps and goblins in Divinity III: Flying Fortress Keeper or maybe we’ll get to play the dude from Divine Divinity and our dude in co-op mode in Divinity III: Double Dragon. Who knows? All I know is that I do not appreciate getting tricked into believing that I can make a difference in a game when all the developers are out to do is set up a nice cushy sequel.