"I intend to rule an empire one day, not a tiny outcropping in the sea," says the Red Prince when I ask him what our band of adventurers should do next. True to his name, he's both red and a prince. And also a giant anthropomorphic lizard man, possibly with delusions of grandeur.
No more help is Fane, another of my companions. "Is it not enough that you travel with me," he says, "Must you speak, too?" I'm actually surprised that he can speak, as he appears to be an undead skeleton, and possibly the last remaining member of an ancient race from before the age of man. Fane and I are not exactly besties, but I'm helping him find a magic mask that can make his skeletal visage pass for human.
These are just a few of the characters you'll meet in Divinity: Original Sin 2, a mouthful of a name for a retro-style roleplaying game that's become a hit among PC gamers. Despite the "2" in the title, it's actually the seventh game since 2002 in the Divinity series from Belgian game developer Larian Studios.
More than that, it's an out-of-left-field success in an industry dominated by a handful of major franchises, made even more surprising because this is a very old-school Dungeons & Dragons kind of affair, with page after page of stats and ratings to obsess over, a traditional high-up isometric view of the game's world and exactly the kind of carefully choreographed turn-based fights that have largely been replaced by hacking, slashing and button-mashing. You'll probably spend as much time researching the inner workings of the game online as you will playing it.
The game, originally funded as a Kickstarter project, has reportedly sold about 500,000 copies already (at $45 or £30, which converts to about AU$55). It was officially released on Sept. 14, but fans could buy and play an early-access version of part of the game since last year. Those sales numbers sound even more impressive when you consider this is a PC-only game -- there's no version for game consoles like the Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch.
Despite that, Original Sin 2 has shot into the list of most-played games on Steam, the preeminent PC game platform and store. It currently sits at No. 4 on the list, with as many as 85,000 players in the game simultaneously (as of this writing, it's being played by around 69,000 people). The other games on that list are mostly long-time favorites like DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike, although the top slot is still occupied by this season's other left-field indie game hit,(also known as .)
I asked a couple of CNET's resident RPG fans if they were playing Original Sin 2 yet. Naturally, they were. Rich Brown says:
I'm still working my way through Act 1, but so far it feels like a refined version of the highly enjoyable original D:OS. The turn-based combat remains tough and it still rewards creativity thanks to skills like teleporting, telekinesis and the element-based environment effects. I'm still trying to figure it all out. I'll call it progress when I stop lighting my own party on fire during every fight. I've seen a reviewer or two refer to it as the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate 2. That's the highest bar in CRPGS [computer roleplaying games] for me. So far I agree. I hope it stays at that level throughout the rest of the game.
David Katzmaier likens it to the, another of my all-time RPG favorites:
After three nights I really like it so far. I've played a lot of newer-school isometric-view RPG games recently and it's right up there with Pillars of Eternity, Diablo 3 and Torment: Tides of Numenera, but the series it reminds me of most is Dragon Age, which I loved. The voices and dialogue are superb, the flexibility in party construction and advancement is really refreshing and game design is innovative. I decided to play with a controller and it's super-easy to juggle party members to handle inventory and optimize for certain tasks -- having a barter specialist handle the merchants, for example. The learning curve is kinda steep but worth it, and I'm digging the careful consideration required by the turn-based combat system. I'm psyched to explore more of the vast world, and my characters' backstories, with my undead-led team of Sorcerers.
Maybe the current Game of Thrones zeitgeist has made people hungry for sword-and-sorcery games, or maybe it's the same gaming nostalgia for classic concepts that has us playing Sonic and Mario games on the Nintendo Switch.
Either way, in my first few days with the game, the most interesting thing may be the online community that has sprung up around it. There's so much in Original Sin 2 that's simply unexplained, from how classes and abilities work to how to improve gear and craft potions, that the game's main forums on Steam and Reddit are filled with thousands of happy experimenters throwing ideas against the wall, sometimes blowing their characters up in the process, and reporting the results for the rest of us.