Divinity: Original Sin Early Access: The sandbox RPG that wants you to mess around

Divinity: Original Sin

By on January 28, 2014 at 3:55 pm

“Hand in hand, ‘til the end.”

It’s the closing remark in last year’s brief hands-on with Original Sin, coming while Larian Studios were still neck-deep in a Kickstarter drive that held the future of their project in the hands of the many. Then, it was a story in the process of being written by each backer, community member and developer, holding on through a journey that has — since Double Fine’s intrepid headline catcher — granted the wishes of many, and crushed the hopes of more than a few.

In truth, Kickstarter’s yellow-brick road may be one giant leap for a game hoping to find gold at the end of the crowd-funded rainbow, but it is far from the final chapter for any developer in search of a ‘…and they lived happily ever after’. It is, instead, a prologue to the story proper.

Kickstarter to Larian, then, was much like the dual heroes of its game who wander into Rivellon with the weight of the world on their shoulders, a murder mystery to solve and an orc invasion to quell. Heroes that promise the world — the saving of the world, in fact — leaving a question sitting on the tip of every tongue: Can they deliver?

Some nine months later, and Original Sin’s Early Access is the colouring of its pre-alpha sketches — and what colours they are. The world of Rivellon is at once more vibrant and expansive now than it was in its early days, banners flying high in the wind atop the brick walls that buckle under the weight of constant attacks. Those walls keep safe a city filled with wandering civilians and chattering merchants, both rich and vibrant, as diverse as the myriad of spell combinations and environmental effects that ensure combat is a thinker’s game.

It’s a place that could so easily buckle under the weight of its trope-laden threats: Orc invasions, undead hordes and the Usual Greater Evil™. And yet the world of Rivellon — and Original Sin as a whole — is refreshingly lighthearted. It is host to the quirky and off-kilter. A place for both characters and larger-than-life caricatures. Home to houses and crypts overflowing with items and objects where anything that isn’t bolted down can be stolen, combined, crafted or sold. Larian’s philosophy is one of providing a myriad of options and basking in the insanity that ensues. Not a new goal, for sure, but one executed here with such a sense of possibility that Original Sin becomes a black hole of classic CRPG interaction just begging you to fall in.

If its long distant CRPG’s cousin would warn “You must gather your party before venturing forth”, before allowing you to step out into the unknown, Divinity’s Early Access foray could be defined with a similar phrase – “You must gather the latest patch before venturing forth”. Accept the current invitation and you’ll be participating in an alpha in the truest sense of the word, with questlines prone to breaking and large areas still under construction, whose area transitions are marked off with tape promising a “Coming soon!”.

It’s what manages to keep a lid on Original Sin’s Early Access playtime, cutting out at fifteen hours or so, and while only a small slice, it is a slice that invites you to view it from multiple angles and sides. Because Original Sin is a game made for the quick savers and quick loaders. Crafted for the curious and the completionists. For the tinkerers, thinkers and boundary pushers. Built for the sole purpose of being bent and broken, and watching how divergent the results can become. So while it may not be as inviting an early taste as the emergent, systemic survival games that thrive on the iterative process, Original Sin is, perhaps, the most fitting to bear Steam’s Early Access title. An early taste at a game in the process of being fleshed out and fixed, so that come release the curious at heart can break it in far more brilliant, entertaining ways. Even now? It’s a promise perilously close to being delivered.

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