Minor spoilers for Divinity: Original Sin 2
Note: Schools are closed. We’re hunkering down, and will continue to play first and talk later as we’re able. Stay normal, everyone.
Well, I installed it. Cool disc. Kinda has a moon man on it.
But as today is store again, may not have time to play, so I’ll go back to the wellspring of divinity one last time, and revisit another blast from the past.
Divinity 2 came out in 2017. We played the first one in 2018 or so, because when two came out it got all these tens and we were like “DUDE we should play that some day, let’s play the first one.” We usually like RPGs that get tens, but, in 2017, there was something else that got our attention re Divinity. All the sites said it was EVEN BETTER than another game that came out in 2017, a game we rather liked:
We were up to our eyeballs in ROBOT DINOSAURS and Divinity two hit and we were all “Dude, something better than THIS? THIS IS AWESOME! Better than this is AWESOME AWESOME! Sign us up!”
Now we’ve come full circle. DOS2 was good. It was. But even though I never really like making one on one comparisons in games, I’ll go ahead and do it here: It was not as good as Horizon on many, many, many levels.
And yet, if you go back and look at game of the year lists, best of the year lists, whatever lists from 2017, time and time again reputable sites and media outlets have DOS2 ahead of Horizon. I think I have an idea why, and I really hope I’m wrong.
See, non gamers think that gamers are all technical and shit. We know all about computers, we’re cutting edge, all into gizmos. This could not be more wrong. We’re Luddites to the core. Shit, we even demand disc drives in our boxes. Our NEXT GEN boxes! We cling to the past. Sure, we SAY we want ray tracing and locked 60 fps 4K and use words like that (well….some of us do….I’ll explain what that is later), but really we want to put in a disc and play just like we put cartridges in the ol’ Atari 2600 back in 1983.
And when I look at DOS and HZD, I worry that we’re the same way with content. We (and I mean the grand we, not you and me we) say we want something other than zombies and shooters and swords, but we kinda don’t. Horizon was one of the most innovative game worlds we’ve ever seen. DOS2 was D&D Scottish dwarves and tree hugging elves, a love letter to a game that came out TWENTY YEARS AGO. It was comfort food. It was familiar. And the critics LOVED it.
Shit, the game that got most of the Game of the Year awards that year? Zelda. A sequel to a game that came out in the seventeenth century.
As someone who doesn’t just like ROBOT DINOSAURS for the sake that they’re ROBOT DINOSAURS, but for their innovation, this troubles me. It makes me think that even gamers that care about world building and story are far too rooted in convention and the past. I’ve seen my kids play Zelda. It, too, isn’t as good as Horizon.
But oh does it bring back the memories.
And that’s not good.
Well…I mean, people do like the same kinds of things they’ve liked before. It’s a known phenomenon. Tolkien-inspired fantasy has been popular since the ’60s and will probably continue to be popular until the ’60s. I like it myself! I will apologize to no one for my fondness for the tropiest D&D tropes out there! BRING ME MY FANTASY GAMES.
And also, what do we mean by ‘innovative’? Because yes, Horizon had a novel premise in ROBOT DINOSAURS, but the narrative structure and the gameplay was pretty classic. A young hero with a mysterious past wanders around fighting monsters to save the world. It’s arguably THE main adventure story. Which I say not as criticism, but just to note that the structure, while I adored it, was innovative in the sense that the story was a cool new twist on the classic, rather than that it was something completely new. (Like an old hero with a well-documented and boring past fighting monsters to save the world! I’d eat that up, man.)
We also must keep in mind that kind of by definition a Game of the Year is going to be the thing that appeals the most to the most people, right? So a good game with classic, familiar roots is very likely to be popular with more people than a good game with a slightly weird new setting. (Even an awesome one.)
Also, a Game of the Year is going to be the thing that a whole bunch of people played, which strongly favors large games with big distribution budgets, and those are going to be the games that companies are most confident they can make good money on–so probably not truly experimental, extremely innovative materials. Obviously, something completely innovative and bizarre is a huge risk.
I don’t really see any way to get around the basic fact that people are drawn to things that remind them of things they like, so I don’t think it’s surprisingly or even that disturbing if a Game of the Year is never something completely out of left field like…I don’t know…What Remains of Edith Finch or something. That was interesting, it was different (in terms of story and gameplay), I enjoyed it…it wouldn’t be my Game of the Year.
Fair. But video games have a particular problem with familiarity: They’re overly prone to sequels. Sure, sure, movies do, too. Marvel and Star Wars will guarantee that for the foreseeable future. But artistically movies and television are driven by originality. Avengers Assemble Then Disassemble then Reassemble is never going to win best picture. Sam Jackson is never going to win an oscar for playing Sam Jackson (unless he already has, which is likely). With games, you have a Zelda game, a relic from the 80s, winning GOTY in 2017. Zelda.
So while yes, I love D&D tropes as much as the next guy, if not more, there’s sticking to tropes (say, superhero movies) and sequels (the same damn superheroes). Zelda was an open world fantasy RPG. With Link. And Zelda. And Gannon. Again.
And while Divinity (the first) was technically a new world, it didn’t feel ALL that new, while Horizon did, despite the fact, as you correctly say, the story itself wast tropey as hell.
And now look: Larian’s next thing? Baldur’s Gate 3. A sequel. To a twenty year old game.
A great game mind you, but still.
And I have no doubt it’ll get fabulous reviews.
To argue on behalf of Divinity the Second (BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS TO), it wasn’t a terribly novel-feeling world, but the mechanics were in some cases quite interesting. We discussed the use of characters at some length: from-scratch vs. premade characters as PCs, the existence of the other premade characters as NPCs, the fact that you had to pick a subset of those characters to continue the game with and the way that necessarily required you to miss certain bits of the story, etc.
One could argue this was at least as innovative a use of character, played out on in a old-style setting, as Horizon’s novel setting was an innovative use of story elements played out on an old-style story framework.
Someone who voted for Divinity 2 over Horizon could, if they cared to, say “hey, I’m rewarding the innovative use of character choice as a key determinant of the story experience,” just as much as someone tho preferred Horizon could say “I’m rewarding the use of a new, creative and awesome story setting.”
So, again, innovative in what sense? Tropey and formulaic in what sense? There’s probably going to be some way in which most any game will be derivative, and some way in which most any game (well, any decent game) will be creative, and maybe it’s just personal preference as to which ones ‘count’.
Of course, for me it normally comes down to Sweet Loot, Romanceable Lizards, and Setting Things on Fire…though in the case of Horizon, I adored it enough to overlook the lack of scaly romance.
Hmm. Fair point. Maybe taking innovation in doses is wise.
But you are a sucker for scaly romance.
Any promise of that in outer worlds?
Not so far, but the game is young and the planet is large!
It best have romance! Seeing as I blew my last relationship, what with enslaving the world and all.
Don’t be too hard on yourself: we’ve all been there.
It’s what ruined things between me and my high school crush. Right before the prom, too. And did the tux rental guy refund my money because everyone was enslaved? No. Bastard.
To be fair, as a slave of the god-king, he probably lacked the legal standing to make a decision regarding refunds.
Which you can appreciate today, but which I’m sure provided very little solace to your aching heart as a love-struck teen.
It did not. I mean, shit, if the God King is going to prevent me from getting laid after the prom, at the very least he can give me pizza money.
If that’s not a NEW SENTENCE, what is?