The first time I died, it was because I didn't think crocodiles could fly. In Divinity: Original Sin 2, that's a big mistake. Any enemy you underestimate is probably going to be the next enemy to kill you, or sap your magic armor, brainwash you, and make you watch helplessly as your character drinks the potions you've been hoarding and uses your best scrolls. An early fight with teleporting crocodiles drove home that I should be prepared for the unexpected, and that I'd need a stockpile of resurrection scrolls to bring party members back from the dead.
Almost four months later, with nearly 100 hours of game time behind me, my co-op buddies and I had nearly finished this insanely long, ambitious RPG. We each controlled a character, selected from Original Sin 2's presets. There was Fane, the undead wizard and thief. He got us in a lot of fights by pickpocketing people who didn't like getting their shit stolen. There was Beast, the dwarven pirate who maxed out persuasion to sweet talk our party through sticky situations. And I was Lohse, the traveling minstrel who just happened to be possessed by an incredibly powerful demon. At this point, it was pretty rare for me to die in battle. I'd been stacking constitution until I was built like a brick wall, and could crit for almost 3,000 damage with a two-handed hammer. I had a pretty badass cape. But I wasn't ready for what would happen when we finally faced down my demon.
Spoiler warning: Full-on spoilers from this point forward. If you haven't finished Divinity: Original Sin 2 and intend to, you've been warned!
He'd been toying with me over that 100 hours. Where my friends saw their races' gods in the Hall of Echoes, I saw my demon, who wanted to take over my body and use my power as a Godwoken for his own means. At the end of the game, nearly all our other questlines wrapped up, we faced down Adramahlikh, who would've been tough if he were just more powerful than any other enemy we'd faced, with something in the range of 20,000 armor and magic armor and nearly that much health. But he didn't play by the rules. Four turns into our fight, he broke the mind of the character I'd been playing for four months and irreversibly brainwashed her. She was dead for good.
Or would've been, if Divinity: Original Sin 2 wasn't a game built for save scumming. It's a ludicrously open-ended RPG, letting you play—and screw up—in so many different ways. We saved and reloaded often, to sneak our way past an obstacle we blundered into, to deal with bugs that got us stuck in annoying situations, to undo turning a crank that says "doomsday device" to avoid murdering an entire city (smooth one, Steven). But one constant for the entire 100 hours, one circumstance we never save scummed to avoid, was dealing with the deaths of our own characters. They're revivable, so we'd live with the consequences, buying or stealing enough resurrection scrolls to bring the fallen back after a tough fight.
Suddenly, here was a stunning twist. Lohse was permanently possessed. I had no control over her as she started using her polymorph abilities on my friends, chugging strength potions to deal more damage. So we did the only sensible thing: killed her, thinking a good old resurrection scroll would set everything right. But her ghostly, revivable spirit didn't appear. She was no longer mine to control.
I hadn't just failed the unique character quest I'd been pursuing for the entire game. I failed it in a way that held Adramahlikh up as a genuinely imposing villain. He broke the rules of the game as I understood them. The closer we got to facing him, the more we were told don't fuck with this guy. He's too powerful. But it'd been too long since we'd had a real challenge, and we thought we could handle anything he threw at us. And maybe we could have, but taking Lohse away after just a few turns proved he was ruthless beyond any other enemy in the game.
We reloaded the save, of course, but that didn't lessen the impression that moment left on me—the power of an RPG teaching you the rules of its world, only to upend them at the 100 hour mark. You could argue the moment would've had a heavier emotional impact if we were playing on Honor difficulty, which is harder and only gives you a single save, autosaves after death, and erases itself if your whole party dies. I would've been devastated. But to me, the beauty of Divinity is in how it lets you manipulate its systems to achieve a new outcome. Naturally, we got revenge.
The key to saving Lohse from Adramahlikh's possession was to make sure she was dead already. He couldn't target her if she wasn't in battle. But it was a tough fight, so we wanted Lohse's damage output for the first couple turns. Instead of killing her, we did the next best thing: we beat her up, then buffed the shit out of her.
Lohse entered the battle with about 20 percent HP, hopped up on a strength potion, hasted and clear-minded, spells that gave her more action points and yet more strength. Living on the Edge ensured her health couldn't drop below 1 HP for two turns, and we comboed that with Death Wish, which gives a damage buff for every percent of HP missing. I changed Lohse's armor to make her more vulnerable but bump her crit chance up to more than 50 percent, for good measure.
The first time, Adramahlikh murdered Lohse and we'd barely touched him five turns into the fight. The second time, she wailed on him with her hammer like King Kong swinging a redwood, crushing all of his armor in a few hits. That opened him up to Lohse's incredibly powerful polymorph skill Forced Exchange, which swaps HP values with an enemy. Suddenly, Lohse had 17,000 HP and he was sitting at a measly 3,000. I considered it a poetic way to beat an enemy who'd been possessing my body for his own use. The whole fight took three turns.
That's the essence of Divinity: Original Sin 2. First it surprises you, and probably kicks your ass. The second time you break it wide open, and damn does it ever feel good.