Developer/Publisher – Larian Studios/ Focus Home Entertainment
Year – 2010
Genre – Action-RPG
Formats – PC, Xbox 360 (tested)
Players – 1
Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga © Larian Studios
Review copy was courtesy of Focus Home Entertainment
Western created RPGs are enjoying something of a renascence of late, with the Mass Effects and Elderscrolls of the genre dominating over their Japanese counterparts. In that mix how is Dragon Knight II: The Dragon Knight Saga, consisting of the original Ego Draconis and its all new sequel, Flames of Vengeance, Dragon Knight Saga is offering two large games for the price of one, is it a saga worth being told?
The original game begins with you as a new recruit for the Dragon Slayers, the noble protectors of the world of Rivellon, as you go through your initiation that will grant you access to skills you will need to do your chosen occupation. After your initiation, which leaves you an empty slate to start over at level 1, you are given the choice between three classes, before starting the game proper.
A dragon has been sighted, and your team just happens to be the closest, but due to your character’s lack of experience, s/he is left behind whilst the others hunt it down. Coming across the dying Dragon Knight, Talana, who in a desperate bid to save the world, shares her knowledge and powers with the character, binding with them in the process. Learning about a greater threat to the world in the form of Damien and his armies, the character is forced to appreciate the gravity of the situation and find a way to stop Damien’s ambitions.
Riddled with clichés, right down to a Gandalf like wizard, the story is not going to win much praise; but it’s also full of enough twists and turns to keep you guessing on what the outcome of your adventure might be. Whilst the overarching plot leaves a bit to be desired, the actual writing throughout reaches peaks of excellence, especially in regards to its comedy, from references to the Beetles and the Marx Brothers from one character, and another dialogue tree where you character goes metaphysical over the question “your money or you life?”
Be warned however that Flames of Vengeance starts of where Ego Draconis ends, literally in the case of playing though the first, which allows you to carry you save – and thus your character – over. As such I won’t spoil the story of the first game by writing a synopsis for the add-on, but let’s say that it involves more questing, but a lot less dragon form.
At the start, Dragon Knight II is unforgiving in its difficulty, simply surviving encounters in the early game has more to do with luck and trial and error than any kind of skill. While this may be typical to a degree in all RPGs, Dragon Knight’s level of difficulty might come across as harsh, even draconian to the uninitiated, with many early encounters typically land you against enemies who are of higher levels than you, making the start of the game seem insurmountable. Enemies also don’t respawn, meaning that it is impossible to find a nice area to do some grinding. Although, since enemies don’t respawn, and health regenerates, it can be easy to wipe out all the local enemies whilst healthy and just retreat to a safer place after a particularly vicious fight to recuperate.
Once you reach level twelve and have improved you skill set, the difficulty evens out and dealing with enemies becomes a lot more manageable. Though occasions where you can wind up dealing with multiple enemies who have the ability to rapidly heal each other while they ally attacks you from a distance can make the difficulty seem a little uneven, especially when you rarely have the luxury of allies yourself. This problem is offset by regenerating health – even at the lowliest of levels and plenty of ways to obtain health restoring potions. Another aspect which quells the challenge is the AI’s pathfinding ability, they tend to get hung up on walls and scenery, making it easy to put yourself between them and a tree; while this is useful for ranged fighters, it still means that they’ll prove a hassle for close-ranged, low-level combatants.
Like a traditional RPG, you start at the bottom and work your way up the levels by gaining experience from defeating the goblins and bandits that you come across, either in the over world or in the numerous caverns and mines and completing missions for NPCs. Levelling up you character allows you to boast their stats, and assign a skill level to one of their skills. Stats are the standard attributes of strength, intelligence, etc, that make up your characters physical and mental abilities while skills are your characters special abilities, from their magical powers to how nimbly they can swing more traditional terrestrial weaponry. To less combat oriented abilities like lock picking – which will grant you access to otherwise unattainable chests or the ability to read minds.
From the outset you can read the minds of any NPCs you come across, doing so however requires you to spend any future experience points you earn, making it that much longer to level. While for the most part, this power is occasionally useful (merchants may lower their prices for instance or you may gain increases to stats), there are sections of the game where reading the minds of others is mandatory and needed to progress. However, there is nothing to stop the player from saving beforehand to see what effect mind reading has a character, then reloading the game if the cost seems to be more than the value of the information gained.
The majority of your time in Dragon Knight, will be spent undertaking various quests, in both main and secondary varieties. Quests can be multifaceted, with various outcomes or conflicts, or else relatively simple, like selling Goblin hearts for money. The successful completion of quests offer up XP, both as a rudimentary reward, but also as one of an optional bonus award as well as gold, potions and, in some cases, unique equipment.
When you reach about halfway through Ego Draconis, you’re unlock both the Battle Tower, which acts as a hub for items and equipment, grants you access to new weapons and potions as well as enabling you to up the maximum of your various available stats from their initial state of five.
The Battle Tower also allows you to practise a bit of necromancy, creating an undead creature to aid you in battle, body parts are found throughout the game, and like other tools and weapons, vary in their effectiveness. Your creature can be summered at any time, having a monster can be used to fight enemies and make up for areas that you’re not designed for; for example if you’re specialising in projectiles, you could built your monster to do well at close range, and vice versa. A well built monster can turn the tide in your favour much more easily and you’ll spend hours fitting up your monstrosity up with the best limbs you can find.
At the same time as you reach the Battle Tower, you’ll also gain the ability to morph into a dragon at will. Allowing you to cover ground faster and attack air units. A major downside to being a dragon is that while you in the air anything on the ground will disappear until you return to human. This reduces the tactical usefulness of being in dragon form, contrariwise, outside of a small section of the game, air based enemies will only attack you whilst you’re a dragon, completely ignoring you – and also disappearing when you change back to human. Some areas are protected by an anti-dragon force field that must be deactivated before you can safety transverse the area in your dragon form, or else prevent you from using said form altogether.
Morality, a factor of many western role-playing games, is less pronounced than in other games, a lot of dialogue options, despite having different alignments, tend to lend to the same conclusion. Elsewhere however, dialogue trees tend to be fixed as a series of questions, rather than the more complex and ranged nature of the games peers. Occasionally a choice may make a particular character like or hate you, giving them less incentive to favour you, but it never makes you feel that you’d making any difference to either the story or your character as a whole. In fact the decisions you make don’t have any impact insofar as the main storyline; which is fairly linear and set in stone. This can, at times, make the quests feel more like extracurricular activities than anything resembling character development. If you like karmic consequences in your RPGs, you’ve come to the wrong place.
During play through I had saves fail to save or load and the occasional crash, forcing reloads; it’s no worse than on other games that used the Gamebryo engine, but it’s notable that I always kept a backup safe, just in case.
Built on the Gamebryo engine – the same engine that brought us Oblivion and Fallout 3 – Divinity II is in good, if aging company. The game still looks good, but like its contemporaries the engine is starting to show how old it has become. Animation is decent during action, but become stiff and unnatural during conversations, there are also some texture and shadow draw-in whilst moving across the landscapes and too few models when it comes to enemies to differentiate them from each other. Again a number of these are issues are to do with the underlying engine itself rather than with this game in general, the world does looks good for the majority of the time, in spite of the problems it’s inherited.
Sound effects are the usual affair of western role-playing, from the crackling of magic to the sound of steel meeting steel, it works well if anything, but . The music stays in the background for the most part, filling the game with ambiance more than with dramatic themes, while the music is of high quality; there really isn’t anything here that will stand out in the mind. Voice acting is exceptional, with hours of dialogue that ranges from the sombre to the absolutely hilarious, and not one line seems to offer these tones unintentionally, the comedic and the serious are kept separate from the other.
Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga, is a good game with often brilliant dialogue and some minor issues with the AI, an unrelenting early game and the now dated engine, yet these issues don’t spoil a generally strong foundation of a role-playing game, that offers a lot of world to spend hours within, as well as the ability to transform into a dragon.