The heroes of Divinity: Original Sin II have no shortage of captivating powers. It’s a deep, complex RPG whose systems interact in myriad ways throughout its single-player campaign. So it comes as a surprise that its Arena mode, a turn-based multiplayer offering, finds order in all of the fantastical chaos, despite the added complication of another human player.
“It has the same experimentation and surprises as single-player,” says creative director Sven Vincke. He’s fighting me in the new Arena mode at PAX 2016, and I just won the first match. I think he took it easy on me.
“Okay,” he says, smiling. “Now I’ll actually try.”
The following match is a whirlwind of elemental magic, environmental explosions, and leaping lizard assassins. Divinity: Original Sin II, like its predecessor, is about nuanced RPG combat, and its PvP mode is no different. There are numerous things to consider when planning your next move: does that pillar block my ranger’s line of sight? Can my flame arrow reach that puddle of oil? Will cursing the ground beneath my opponent box me into a corner during future turns?
As it turns out, I was right. Vincke is already three steps ahead of me. Despite my mage’s lightning barrage and my Ranger’s poisonous arrows, the creative director just stunned both of my characters during his turn, leaving them open to subsequent attacks that chain fire, ice, and earth into a collage of elemental damage.
“It’s like chess,” Vincke tells me. “Always be thinking about what’s coming next.”
So when he casts Shackles of Pain, ensuring my mage will receive damage each time his ranger does, I stop to think: what’s the best way to keep my mage safe? A stunning arrow is the simplest solution, and as his ranger slumps unconscious to the ground, Vincke almost sounds impressed. “Interesting choice.”
There’s also the concern of positioning: characters get an elevation bonus when attacking from a higher perch than their opponent. While my mage’s lightning bolt is effective from the ground level of the abandoned fortress map, it’s even more dangerous from atop nearby scaffolding.
“Movement can be key, especially when trying to get Source points.” This seemed to be Vincke’s priority early on in matches. By touching puddles of silver liquid, characters gained the aforementioned currency, allowing them to use their more powerful abilities. “Controlling the map is one of the most important things you can do.”
Consuming corpses is an alternative way to gain Source points, and introduces a compelling risk/reward factor. That is, you can choose to sacrifice one of your characters in order to give your more aggressive fighter the powerful attack. Vincke opts for this method toward the end of our match, and with his ranger’s arrow storm ready, attacks my last mage from an elevated pillar. The arrows are powerful enough, but with the added explosion of a nearby barrel, Vincke finishes my party for good.
“That match could have ended in so many ways, but that’s how it worked out this time,” he says. “We have those same surprises and reactions that make single player so appealing. In the player vs. player gameplay, it can be even deeper.”
Multiplayer isn’t what comes to mind when I think of Divinity, which was GameSpot’s PC game of the year in 2014. I think of well written dialogue. I think of engaging characters. I think of long adventures across dangerous lands.
But because of the team’s towering Kickstarter campaign, Original Sin II is becoming more than just a single-player RPG, complete with what seems to be a nuanced multiplayer component. That means there will be more ways to experiment with the game’s complex combat when it releases later this year. And that’s not a bad thing.