Divinity: Original Sin 2 improves on the original

I admit I waste a stupid amount of time struggling with my personal demons, although fortunately they tend to be fairly benign manifestations of self-doubt. But it's also why I was drawn to Lohse, one of the four playable lead characters with origin stories in the Early Access version of classically-styled RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2. Poor thing, she's got it much worse. Most of the time she comes off as an ordinary human woman—and to think, I could have chosen a huge red lizard man or a flesh-eating elf that looks like a walking shillelagh—but there's a key difference. Sometimes, when she's trying to help a group of folks, the literal demon skulking in the shadows of her psyche will start screaming to kill the whole bunch. 

It makes for good roleplay, at least from what I could tell in the mere nine or so hours of story available in Early Access. The opening hours lack the punch and purpose of the first Divinity: Original Sin, but the details benefit from more attention than before. You can create a custom human, elf, or lizard hero with a blank slate as you wish (or a dwarf with a deplorable beard selection), but I found it's so much more fun to follow one of the four preset origin stories with their plentiful customized dialog options. You can recruit the three heroes you didn't choose later, and they often aren't so chummy. It hints at great replay value, as does a new system of ‘tags’ such as ‘scholar’ or ‘noble’ that affect conversation choices.

Take the moment when I first found the Red Prince, the ‘red lizard man’ above whom you can also pick up as a follower. I found him on the edge of a tidal pool considering suicide. His vermilion skin won him names like ‘Son of the Sun’ once upon a time, but now, like me, he's literally washed up, with a slave's collar around his neck. Maybe it was the demon speaking, maybe it was Lohse, but a Lohse-specific option popped up letting me tell him that suicide might not be such a bad idea. I could have pushed him, I think, but I chickened out. I needed a tank and I knew the way I'd designed Lohse as a ranger wasn't going to cut it.

There is great choice available within that limit of four characters, as I could have designed Lohse as one of 12 classes. Combat feels much the same in action as it did in 2014, but Larian enlivened the strategy by factoring in several welcome differences. Each encounter now starts with four out of six action points active, keeping the action going while environmental elements like bottlenecks and pools of water for electric attacks keep smart tactics at the fore. Now you can bless or curse surfaces, thus allowing burning pools of oil to heal friendly units tromping through them while the bad guys fry. Elevation now matters, too, which I found especially allows for some fun in the standalone turn-based PvP arena in which players can use two heroes from an assortment of classes. (It also serves as the best form of replay value in Early Access.) Just ask my friend who forced me to teleport off a bridge and right into a pool of fire he'd made below in the standalone turn-based PvP area. Good times, he'd say.

Original Sin 2 is still certainly a Early Access game. Most of the time it works so well I could forget that, to the point that I'd sometimes mistake bugs for solutions I just couldn't figure out. One time the big red lizard and I were clobbering jailers, when one of the rangers suddenly teleported through a wall and into a nearby cell. The turns flew by as we struggled to beat down the door or find the key—it was on him, as it turns out—while he just stared motionless at the wall. On a reload, the presumed bug never happened.

Or I once clicked on Lizardo to ask what his people do when they go skiing or whatever, only to find a decidedly non-Tolkienian reply: [Coming Soon: Party Dialogs].

"Ah, yes," his scaliness then says after I clicked. "For moments of deep personal reflection. How fun."

Fun that's yet to come, importantly. These are rough enough patches to warrant holding out until the full game releases some months down the road, particularly if you're like me and you can only commit to playing an 80-hour behemoth like the first game once at most. You'll be plunking out $45/£30 if you act now.

It wouldn't exactly be wasted. Original Sin 2 looks better than ever. The visual details here often impress, regardless of whether it's the refracted sunlight on the waters surrounding a shipwreck-prone island, or in the candlelit corridors of a menacing keep. The music, subtle but strong, comes with a nifty option to choose which instrument dominates the rest.

Great stuff. But for my money (and yours), I recommend giving it time, unless you feel compelled to support Larian's work in spite of your own enjoyment. Grand RPGs tend to work best when they're fully featured and served in full. This is a rough draft—a fine one, but a draft nonetheless.

For more on Divinity: Original Sin 2, you can watch an hour of gameplay, or check out Tom's battle with Larian CEO Swen Vincke in the PvP arena.