This may be the most out-and-out fun game I’ve played all year. It’s currently vying with Jedi Outcast for my personal GOTY slot.
- Try to balance the linear main quest with the nonlinear subquests.
For a good portion of Divine Divinity, you have to collect seven different people and bring them together – this amounts to seven quests that must be solved to advance the plot (and some of these quests generate their own subquests). You know exactly where you stand to progress in the game, but you are also at leisure to wander off and do whatever the hell you want before finishing the main quest. This is an exceedingly congenial place to be in in a CRPG – a good balance between a sense of forward purpose, and a sense of open-endedness, I-am-master-of-my-fate. (It’s similar to the great second chapter of Baldur’s Gate II.) What I particularly like about the “7-part” main-quest is that if one part of it is stumping you, you can let it rest for a while and go do one of the other 6, then come back later.
- Neat little things are neat.
The world is packed with little subquests to stumble on, hatches to mysterious cellars hidden under piles of wood, clever but-not-too-hard puzzles, gardens and crypts and cemeteries and sewers and all sorts of stuff. This, combined with the fairly robust object-manipulation system that encourages experimentation, means there is always something to do. The world just feels dense. Though it’s not dynamic and alive in that full-blown, autonomous-NPCs-fluctuating-economy way that I long for, it is packed with more detail than the average CRPG. And the game isn’t so huge (a la Morrowind) that the little side thingies can’t have a personal touch too. Some examples of this intangible “neatness” are Nericon’s garden, the puzzle required to sneak into Sir Patrick’s treasure chamber, and a subquest involving a missing imp you have to track down. The closest thing I can compare it to is the old board game Talisman, where there was always another card to overturn, another cool item to find, etc. The HOMM games have some of this too.
- If you have to have lots of prescripted dialogue, make it clever.
In a subsection of the game you are forced to do a series of errands for an obnoxious Duke. This sequence goes on just long enough not to be irritating, and any annoyance is dispelled by the fact that your dialogue options often include memorable putdowns and backhanded insults when you talk to the Duke. It’s a nice little touch.
- Maybe lowered expectations help?
I wonder if the “Serious Sam” lowered-expectations bonus is in effect here. If this had been the next major Bioware IE game, or the next Elder Scrolls game, maybe it would have been denounced as dinky and minor. Maybe my defenses were lowered by the stupid title and the retro (but by no means ugly) 2D graphics. I dunno. Whatever the reason, this game was a very pleasant surprise, and has given me some of the most satisfying and relaxed multi-hour gaming sessions I’ve had in a long while. It’s simultaneously fun and addictive (the two don’t always go together).
The acid test for me is, how do I react when I am introduced to a big new geographical area? In some CRPG’s, I just get tired – “more of the same, more NPC’s to talk to, more monsters to slay.” But in DD, I get excited each time I find a big new area. It’s not that the gameplay mechanics are anything great – they aren’t. It’s standard Diablo-esque hack-and-slash. I think that, like Half-Life (weird analogy I know), a convergence of intangibles (many of which are merely stylistic) makes the whole seem like more than the sum of its parts.