Divine Divinity

Review by Skinny Minnie and Jen
January 2003

Minnie's Skinny

Retro Role-Playing ... Crushing Crashes ... Double Trouble ... Divine Divinity ...

I am always a sucker for an old-school dungeon crawl. However, if I had put a screenshot of Divine Divinity onto my desktop, I would have seen more of it. It crashed back to Windows XP, sometimes several times an hour, throughout 70% of the game. I never run programs in the background of my Athlon XP/All in Wonder Radeon 9700 Pro rig, and I even swapped CDs at the store and then deleted and reinstalled the game, along with trying one or both of the two patches. Nothing helped. Four out of five WinXP DD players I polled had similar crashing issues. Most of us also encountered areas where random enemies would oddly disappear and reappear in the same spots, too (even patched). Okay, fine—but I should have had a free, unlimited invisibility spell at my disposal too!

Divine Divinity's compulsory combat is of the standard, mouse-clicking D RPG nature (you know: Diablo, Diablo II, Darkstone, Dungeon Siege, etc.), except that there is no multiplayer, and only one playable character can be chosen among the three character classes. There isn't even a long-term, auto-piloted sidekick available. Moreover, there are neither 3D environments nor modern camera controls (such as Dungeon Siege's rolling 360-degree rotational view and zooming), although Divine Divinity is a late-2002 release.

Fine Flexibility

You must begin this computer RPG as a stealthy Survivor, a melee-effective Warrior, or a magic-wielding Wizard, but you may adopt skills from either of the other two classes at will sans penalty (once you earn skill points to apply to those traits by killing droves of dastardly demons and leveling up). This multiple-skill flexibility probably is one of Divine Divinity's strongest features. Warriors, those front-line combatants who are traditionally out of luck in long-distance fighting, can easily add ranged spell attacks from the Wizard's repertoire. My own favorite, Meteorstrike, plus Hell Spikes, Deadly Discs, and Elemental Bolt are just a few of the choices, although some require your character to have a certain level of fight experience before use.

There are even spells natively available to a Warrior such as Repair, which fixes damaged armor and weaponry. (I never upgraded this spell because it would bring my hardware back to 60% usability even when cast at level one, and I only had to pause occasionally to repair things when my equipment icon would turn yellow, indicating something was damaged.) There are other worthwhile, earnable Warrior spells such as Enchant Weapon, which allows permanent magic to be cast on weapons and armor that can be charmed. These items then increase the bearer's strength, constitution, mana or vitality. Moreover, many subset Ranger (archer) traits can also be chosen with earned skill points to improve sight and missile weapon accuracy or to provide special arrow attacks; they are natively part of the Warrior path as well. (I've never been able to get into bows and arrows myself, though. Doink, doink, doink from ten miles away just doesn't cut it for me in a heated, combative gaming atmosphere.)

Fire, poison and lightning damage can also be added to every melee strike. Certain skills like these from every class (including a backstabbing maneuver for the Survivor's daggers) are passive once points are initially applied to them, meaning that they permanently remain active and improve every assault. The other two classes can also adopt Warrior traits as the Warrior may adopt theirs. The Survivor's Identify skill is especially handy, as it can separate the wheat from the chaff away from the few town areas where merchants can be paid to determine the value and specs of items you are carrying. I put five of my ballpark 40 earned skill points throughout the game into this skill, and I was almost always able to toss weaker armor and weapons on the fly, while holding on to the stronger ones for later use or better trades in town shops.

Packs, Hacks, and Heart Attacks

Hordes of skeletons, orcs, thugs, devils, trolls, ghosts, leech-like undead and their ilk will all rush you from everywhere once you leave the first safe town. There are even vampires rampaging about! However, if a group seems overwhelming for your current power level, there are teleporters sprinkled about the expansive map areas that, once activated initially by collecting the appropriate scrolls from NPCs, will allow for quick escapes to safe towns or calmer turf. Moreover, there are two pyramid stones that you will have at times which offer hurried transport as well. There aren't a great number of bosses, and many of those there are seem diminished in size and strength compared to other hack-and-slash RPGs. I played 90% of the game in melee style and even when my Warrior was surrounded, she survived via a native "special move" where she could spin her axe, mace, or sword in a circle and fell a whole swarm of baddies at once.

It isn't until the ending campaigns that your character's level 36 feels more like an IQ, unless you resort to more tactical, lure-em-out-and-pick-em-off or long-distance strategies. You will also be glad if you have purchased or found limited Shadows and creature statuette spells which allow brief periods of invisibility or morphing into animals for quick escapes.

These single-player campaigns of demonic destruction undulate between NPC-dictated quests that your lone character must accomplish. As in any given RPG, experience points are earned for the successful completion of each, and level-ups occur after so many points accumulate, allowing chosen characteristics to be increased or added to your repertoire.

The Best of the Quests, Plus the Rest

Quests, which are largely item-gathering fests, begin interestingly enough, albeit within the super-stereotypical saga of sudden satanic calamity. You must heal the town's head mage who has inexplicably gone insane, and later you must find a way to clone a magic, health-inducing gem so two dying NPCs can be saved. Nevertheless, errands eventually degrade into multitudes of unrelated, uninspiring inventory runs missing only a medieval UPS truck. Bring this message to the general. Grab me that spell. Hoof halfway across the countryside to get me that new wheel for my cart. Bring me a pillow. Oops, that was my own personal quest—sorry! Most of these dungeon crawlers get bogged down with boring quests at one point or another, and this is a long game even compared to some other RPGs, so I guess I forgive it to a degree.

Picked up goodies themselves contain the usual suspects. Gold (for merchant trading in towns), health vials, mana (spell-casting fuel), and lots of lower-end armor and weaponry are mixed with the only occasionally found spell or higher-quality piece. Towns, as in many RPGs, are too few, so many items wind up tossed for lack of carrying space or teleport abilities, depending on what point you are at in the game. These are common RPG dilemmas, though.

A Review of the View

Divine Divinity is pretty despite offering dated, slightly grainy 2D backdrops. Spell effects aren't spectacular, but flames nicely crackle then flare up in wall torches and water ripples elegantly in outdoor scenes. Forested landscapes and rambling farmlands do cycle through day and nighttimes, while churches are elegantly medieval and soldier barracks suitably imposing. Underground crypts, sewers and caves don't impart Diablo II's level of bloody ambiance or Dungeon Siege's ice-and-crystal shimmer, but the potentially ever-present minimap is just as useful.

DD's automap feature is a humongous, full-screen, grab-and-move jobber that allows for custom flagged notes and quick perusal of all areas conquered and not. There are also icons for the quest log and hero characteristics there, but even with the automap closed, inventory, skills, weapons and current equipment icons are only mouse clicks away downscreen. Easy keyboard shortcut hints are reinforced via text into your subconscious every time you load a save, telling you, for instance, to hold down the shift key and move the mouse to the screen's edges to peruse surrounding areas. Then you may click where you want to be and your character will find his or her way there.

The scant voiceovers are good for the most part, but conversations typically play out in text-driven RPG style. Although there are typos in the written dialogs, the comments themselves are often funny or sarcastic, something long overdue in traditional RPGs. Even some of the load-game screen comments are humorous! As this very long game goes on there are a few jerky translations here and there, but speeches are never big and shortcutting through them is easy. The music is uniformly excellent, blending the timeless, new-age quality of other, similar games with a positive glow of its own.

Desktop Shock

Overall, my worst complaint about Divine Divinity is with its crashing issues, followed perhaps by a whine that the game feels like it should end before it really does. A late-game swamp area is unique in that your character must learn to morph into a ghost to get across it, but in the final battle against the evil deity, Mini Minnie had to assist me by pumping health and mana potions into my Warrior via programmable keyboard shortcuts for my ultimate success. Although combat isn't revolutionary by far, it is addictive and fun nonetheless, and the perpetual RPG rewards of constant gold, spells, and equipment egg the player on even though it doesn't offer Diablo II: Lord of Destruction's higher level of customizable, powerful weaponry, spells, skills and armor. I do award DD a hesitant thumb up for its flexibility and ease of use, plus its addictiveness and hip humor, with the hope that a newer patch will soon be released to address the "Desktop Shock" issue.

Jen's Jaunt

Unlike Minnie, I had very few crashing issues. I played under Windows 2000 on my aging desktop system, a 733 MHz PIII. Throughout the course of this 100-hour-plus game I had maybe eight or ten crashes back to the desktop, which I thought was reasonable. I did load the Hotpatch 2 before I began, which was the most up-to-date available at the time (maybe still is ...) and includes the fixes found in the Hotpatch 1.

Outside of my last round of Zelda-ing back on the SNES, I am completely inexperienced with this type of game. I think that led me to do some things I was not "supposed" to do. For instance, whereas Minnie ditched all of the subpar booty she earned, I took all but the worst of it and teleported back to a shop and dropped it on the ground as a stockpile for future trading. Thus I almost never needed to spend money on potions or other goodies when I could just pick up excess weapons and armor from my pile and carry them into the shop with me for trading purposes.

When I was presented with the character-type choice, I picked the female Wizard because I thought it would be fun to do magic instead of all fighting all the time. It did not take me long to learn that I could choose new skills out of any of the three categories, like Minnie said. But I did wind up sticking mostly to "my" skill category; my second-favorite skill set was the Survivor's, which included Lockpick and Alchemy.

My Wizard chick's "special move" was a spiffy backflip-to-the-other-side-of-the-room maneuver. I used it exactly never.

Each skill or spell has five levels. Each time you level up you get a skill point to spend as you please, either on a new talent or on improving a talent you already have. From time to time you can purchase a new spell from a shopkeeper, and other times you might find weapons or armor that have a skill or two built into them.

I have a feeling that, due to my inexperience, I did a lot more of the side quests than Minnie did—it took me a long time to figure out that I didn't have to do everything.

There was plenty of fighting, but it didn't take long for my character to become powerful enough that she could just stand back and collect experience points as summoned netherworldy creatures did her fighting for her. And when these creatures eventually became too weak (not until the very end of the game) to do much good, I had a huge arsenal of spells at my disposal. Three of these were my favorites, though, and I only resorted to trying others on the rare occasions when these three had little or no effect.

The overarching story of the game is your standard one-person-saving-the-world-from-chaos theme. Pretty thin stuff to be sure, but the many varied side quests offered glimpses into the lives of the game world's inhabitants. Like Minnie said, basically you are playing UPS driver, but finding the items to be delivered presents some puzzling challenges.

I really liked the fact that the monsters never respawn; once an area is clear it stays clear. This helped to lessen the overall ratio of fighting to questing, although I still felt like I spent about 98% of my time killing one thing or another, sometimes en masse. The no-respawning did have one drawback—late in the game when I felt like I needed to level up a time or two to earn new skills that I wanted, I could not find anything left to kill.

Divine Divinity has six bosses, all but the last of whom you must defeat twice each over the course of the game. Only one of these bosses posed any challenge at all, but her level of difficulty more than made up for the ease of finishing off the rest of them. The easy boss-killing suited me just fine; given the choice between a few easy bosses or way too many difficult bosses, a la Final Fantasy X, of course I'd choose the former.

I had a love/hate relationship with Divine Divinity. I would find myself hopelessly addicted to playing for days at a time, then get equally hopelessly bored and quit altogether for another week or two. Finally, as I neared the end and had had enough, I finished as many quests as I could in a big burst of activity and then performed the (I thought) final action that would take me to the game's finish.

Much to my dismay, that was not the case. There is definitely too much of a good thing here—by the time I was ready to put this game behind me and move on to something else, I still had to spend another full day playing just to reach the "real" end, and that was with heading straight for the objectives—do not pass go, do not collect $200, whambamthankyouma'am. And then after all of the hours I spent on this accursed game, the finale was a big letdown. The endboss was frighteningly easy to kill, after a whole lotta work in getting there, and the "reward" cutscene was too short and left too much unanswered.

This disheartening development is the reason for my downgrading my verdict to a thumb up instead of a gold star. Overall, Divine Divinity has a lot going for it, especially for the adventure gamer looking to expand her gaming horizons. I thought the graphics were nice, the menus and features easy to understand and use even for this genre newbie, and the gameplay for the most part fun. (But my opinion is formed, unlike Minnie's, with no basis for comparison—it was all refreshingly fresh to me.)

Every player will have a different experience with Divine Divinity. There are literally millions of combinations of skills and levels of same, and the vast quantity of available subquests only adds to the possibilities. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Larian Studios
Publisher: CDV
Release Date: September 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

PII 450 MHz
128 MB RAM (256 recommended)
DirectX 8 compatible video card with 8 MB RAM and 800x600 resolution (minimum)
100% DirectSound compatible sound card
4X CD-ROM drive
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
2.5 GB free hard disk space

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