Fire Emblem: Three Houses Makes School Fun

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Spoilers for Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is exactly as I feared, a game that puts as big an emphasis, if not more, into building relationships, teaching classes, and walking around Garreg Mach Monastery as it does the actual turn-based tactical combat the series has been known for. Yet by deftly weaving these relationships and seminars into gaining new skills, new class recruits, and new story opportunities, Three Houses has proven that not only are the non-combat sections enjoyable, but are now integral to the series.

Fire Emblem has been one of my favorite RPG series, despite not even hitting the US until the early 2000s (in fact many US gamers were introduced to Fire Emblem via the inclusion of characters Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee in 2001). The series features fantasy warfare, larger-than-life anime heroes and villains, and meaningful tactical combat.

In Fire Emblem: Awakening (2012) we began to see a shift, putting a bigger emphasis on the characters. More importantly, we could build relationships between our characters by having them fight near each other on the battlefield. These relationships would upgrade their Support ranking, granting additional bonuses when fielded together, as well as resulting in special mini-cutscenes between the two characters. By maximizing the support ranks for certain pairs of characters, they would fall in love, and a child from the future would unlock as a new recruit thanks to the timey-whimey plot.

This concept was so fun and successful that it continued into Fire Emblem Fates (2015), although the future-child thing didn’t make a lot of sense in that narrative, and I began to grow worried that the focus on socializing was taking away from the tactical combat I fell in love with.

Hot for Teacher

Three Houses takes socializing even further by rolling character advancement and recruitment into building these relationships, knowing your students, and teaching the right classes.

In Three Houses the main character, Byleth, becomes a professor at a military prep school for the all major noble houses of the land.  The story is divided into months, weeks, and days. Each week I can choose to walk around the monastery, talking  to students, completing fetch quests, and hosting meals and tea parties, engage in weekly seminars and lessons where I (or another faculty member) imparts my battlefield skills like sword, lance, or riding onto my students, or I can participate in side missions to see my well-molded team in action. Only at the end of each month do we engage in the next big story battle.

I expected to roll my eyes during these lengthy non-combat sections, but I was pleasantly surprised. The monastery is large enough to make exploring fun, but small enough to never get tedious (near-instant fast travel helps as well). Activities include planting crops, fishing, cooking meals, and sparring in duels. I wish that some of these events were full mini-games rather than little cutscenes (cooking and planting particularity), but all of them create a fun and regular checklist of things to do, not unlike a farm sim game.

The main focus is on interacting with the students of the monastery, both inside and outside my chosen house. For the students inside my house, I work to increase their motivation by bringing them the right lost items and gifts, based on their personalities and likes. Higher motivation means a more eager willingness to improve their skills when class is in session.

For students outside of my house, it’s all about recruitment. Regardless of which house you choose, nearly every character in the game can be recruited – and there are a ton of characters.

In previous Fire Emblem games characters would typically join as part of the story, but here it’s entirely up to me to devote the time into courting my favorite characters by showering them with gifts, hosting tea parties and selecting the right topics, cooking their favorite meals, and taking them on temporary battles to build our support, leading to fun dialogue scenes and eventually, hopefully, joining my roster. It’s an incredibly rewarding system.

It helps that Three Houses is the best-looking Fire Emblem game to date, especially considering the last three games were released on the Nintendo 3DS. The voice work and character design are phenomenal, lending memorable personalities for the 30-odd characters that are present around the Monastery right from the beginning of the game. Dorothea the singer looking for a man to settle down with. Bernadetta the adorable misfit suffering from social anxiety. Silvain the unrepentant ladies man who’s far more interesting once you get to know him. Each character has their own set of skills and class goals, though I can ultimately shape how I want them to grow to build my perfect army.

Around the time of Fire Emblem Fates I was worried about the direction the series was going, shoe-horning character supports and romantic pairings in order to gain their powerful time-traveling children. I couldn’t be more pleased with how Fire Emblem: Three Houses handles the social aspects, presenting a Harry Potter-like fantasy school that’s fun, rewarding, and meaningful. The only downside is I can never play with permadeath on again – I can’t bear to lose any of these wonderful characters.

kingdom hearts 3

Opinion: Kingdom Hearts 3 Has a Nostalgia Problem

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A YA-friendly, easy-to-play action-adventure that explores and celebrates Disney animated movies should be a winning formula. It certainly was in 2002 when the original Kingdom Hearts launched on the PlayStation 2. The popularity of the series and decade plus drought of a main-line game created a huge amount of anticipation for Kingdom Hearts 3.

Unfortunately, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like a PS2 game in all the worst ways.

Seventeen years feels like forever ago, but I played and enjoyed the original Kingdom Hearts. The hack and slash combat was fast and fun, and the use of Disney and Final Fantasy characters as NPCs and party members was something truly special. The story rested on whimsical light against darkness tropes, which is perfectly fine when you’re battling alongside Goofy and Donald. When the sequel came out in 2005 I jumped all over it, only to be left with a vastly more convoluted story involving virtual world copies, soul-merging heroes, and impostor villains.

Several spin-off games, prequels, and side stories were released in the years between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, which I ignored. I fully expected to be completely lost in Kingdom Hearts 3’s story. But I did not expect the series’ defiant refusal to evolve beyond its PS2-era interface, combat, and level design.

kingdom hearts 3

Kingdom Hearts 3 is a grim reminder of how far gaming has come in the last decade and a half. I was frustrated from the very opening level in the Disney Hercules world of Thebes and Mt. Olympus. Every area is mostly a series of walled, linear hallways, with a few larger rooms for bigger combat sequences. A minimap in the upper right corner is mostly useless, and the game lacks a proper world map. Countless times I got completely turned around, doubling back for awhile before I realized I was going the wrong way.

Exploration in most worlds is extremely limited and not very rewarding. The exception early on is the Toy Story world, which primarily takes place inside a three story toy store, granting a bit of freedom to explore different areas. Even then I got completely lost when I was told to go to one location, only to finally look it up online where exactly I needed to go. Never have I ached for a proper quest marker or just any kind of journal. At the very least a standard map would’ve saved so much of my frustration, even with the mostly boring level designs.

Don’t even get me started on the Gummi ship sequences. They managed to make the weakest part of the original games and make it even worse in Kingdom Hearts 3.

To travel to each new world you have to pilot an ugly, blocky, customizable ship in a pseudo free-roaming space sequence. Controlling the Gummi ship is abysmally frustrating. Worse still the game forces you into retro shoot ’em up boss battles between worlds. These boss fights weren’t difficult but took forever to complete, all while doing nothing but mildly moving the ship around and holding down the attack button.

kingdom hearts 3

On-foot combat isn’t much better. Fighting the heartless and the nobodies mostly boils down to mashing the attack button as quickly as possible while Sora vaults through the air with colorful keyblade attacks. Occasionally a special attack is available, such as uniting with your allies or summoning a neon-colored Disney attraction, like the teacups or carousel.

The attraction attacks are a neat idea but given their resource-less cost you never pass them up, and it turns the already dull combat into an even duller shooting gallery or rhythm game. The first time you unleash the teacups or the splash run is a blast. Not so much the 20th time.

Gaining a new keyblade after completing a world is the one piece of fun loot you’ll ever get. Each keyblade has slightly different stats and different special attacks they can unleash, including transforming into entirely different weapons like a warhammer, dual pistols, or a magical staff. Visually it’s fun transforming the Frozen keyblade into a pair of lighting fast dual blades, but the actual combat doesn’t change. I’m still mostly mashing the attack button.

kingdom hearts 3

Elemental spells can be thrown around, but feel sluggish and weak compared to the much quicker basic attack combos, and selecting a spell using the d-pad is a nasty UI holdover from the PS2 era. Equipping abilities is also needlessly fiddly. Sora and friends level up and gain new abilities, which must be actively equipped. Each ability takes up a certain AP cost, and a character can only equip so many. If you equip an accessory which grants additional AP, you’ll need to first de-equip a number of abilities in order to shuffle your items around. It’s exactly as annoying as it sounds.

I’m not going to comment too much on the story itself, given that I fell out of the Kingdom Hearts loop long ago. But I was disappointed in how the story approaches the Disney worlds. The worlds of Frozen and Tangled simply recreate the movies, beat for beat, including drawing cutscenes directly from the films (yes, they do the entire “Let it Go” number).

In the Frozen world I was hoping to actually adventure with Queen Elsa. She has superhero-style ice powers – how do you not include her as a party member! But no, we have to tell the entire Frozen story again and follow everyone around, at one point getting thrown into an annoying, bland ice labyrinth for no reason other than to pad out the adventure.

kingdom hearts 3

The Pixar worlds fare much better. Both Toy Story and Monsters Inc take place AFTER their respective films (first films anyway). The stories and level designs are much better served when they’re not beholden to retelling stories that were clearly not built for video game adventuring. Tangled’s world consists of running through a forest to the castle, then running back through the exact same forest. Whereas in Toy Story Sora and company are shrunk down and explore a toy store with giant robots. The Pixar worlds are far more interesting (to a point) and make the actual Disney animated worlds that much more disappointing.

I had fond memories of the original Kingdom Hearts. And I still think a high-concept RPG using Disney’s deep roster of worlds and characters is a wonderful thing to explore in a video game. But Kingdom Hearts 3’s shocking refusal to evolve beyond its aging level designs and simplistic combat create an experience that only the most nostalgia-blinded fans can enjoy.

apex legends

Apex Legends is the Battle Royale You’ve Been Waiting For

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In the 2014 sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow (also known as Live Die Repeat), Tom Cruise is drafted into defending Europe from the violent alien invaders. He’s quickly killed in combat, but at the same time becomes infected with the aliens’ time loop powers. Like an action movie version of Groundhog Day, Cruise repeats the same day over and over as he goes through a montage of getting quickly, and often hilariously, killed. He eventually learns how to fight back, teams up with an awesome Emily Blunt, and saves the world.

When playing a battle royale game, I often feel like Tom Cruise in those early moments of Edge of Tomorrow. I drop down. I run around frantically. I die, mercilessly. Repeat.

But Apex Legends feels different. Not only does it have the most well-refined systems I’ve seen in the genre, but it makes me want to double down and improve my gameplay rather than throw my hands up in frustration. For the reasons I’ve listed below give Apex Legends a try, even if you’ve been entirely turned off by the explosively popular genre so far.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Most battle royale games feature a team mode where groups can join, survive, and win together. Apex Legends is built from the group up for three person squads. Teamwork in Apex Legends is easier and more enjoyable, even when playing with random strangers.

From the very start players draft their characters together, then drop into the world together. Squads should stick together – though not too close, and many of the character abilities foster teamwork and coordination, such as Lifeline’s ability to call in a supply drop, and Pathfinder’s ability to create a zipline for quick travel.

apex legends

Most importantly, squads can revive and even respawn their fellow teammates. Players enter a downed state when their health depletes and can be revived. Even if they’re killed, a teammate can grab their beacon and high tail it to the nearest respawn beacon, summoning them back to the fight. Some of my most memorable and thrilling survival stories have occurred after only one of us has been left alive to bring us back from the brink.

Should’ve Put a Ping On It

The intuitive ping system is incredibly clever. It’s the primary reason why playing with random squadmates ever has a chance of succeeding. With the press of a button, a squad mate can call out and highlight weapons, ammo, enemies, loot chests, and areas of interests. I can ping sections of my inventory to tell my squad I need ammo, body armor, or a certain weapon mod, declare an area to defend, and quickly yell out where and when I saw an enemy.

All of this is done without the need for voice chat at all. That’s particularly a huge plus for younger teens and concerned parents.

Less Players, More Action

Every match features 20 squads for 60 total players. That’s a significant departure from the 100-person matches of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite. Yet even with almost half the players, the action rarely feels big and empty. Sometimes we drop in the corner of the Swamps and never run into a person until 20 minutes later. But usually there’s always another firefight around the corner.

The diverse Canyon map is filled with military bases, shanty towns, industrial walkways, steep valleys, and open desert. The map feels like the perfect size, and strikes a great balance between moments of quiet looting, tense exploration, and explosive firefights.

apex legends

Choose Your Fighter

Apex Legends takes a page from online hero shooter Overwatch in providing several unique character classes to choose from. Like Overwatch you can’t have more than one character on your team, forcing teams to balance their preferred play style. All eight current characters bring something unique and interesting, like Bangalore’s smoke bombs, Gibraltar’s dome shield (hello, Winston!), and Bloodhound’s Predator vision. Apex Legends does a fantastic job incorporating these characters and their abilities, without deviating from the core gameplay of grabbing weapons and shooting each other.

Apex Legends has been a pleasantly addictive experience. When matches go horribly wrong, as they often do, it’s over in minutes. And it takes less time than that to cue up the next match. Wait times are non-existent, and we’ve never experienced a second of lag or server issues. Releasing a complete (and free to play!) game that works right out of the gate shouldn’t be cause for celebration, but here we are.

I’ve adored my time with Apex Legends, despite having yet to win a match. I’m still Tom Cruise in the middle of figuring everything out. I die, a lot. But repeating has never been so fun.

playstation classic

The 15 Games We Want on the PlayStation Classic

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When Sony announced the PlayStation Classic, they teased only five of the 20 included games: Final Fantasy 7, Jumping Flash, Ridge Racer Type 4, Tekken 3, and Wild Arms. The original PlayStation has plenty of great classics to get excited about, so we’re listing the 15 other games we’d like to see on the mini emulator. Some of these games face an uphill battle given licensing and company restrictions, so consider this our dream list representing multiple genres and gameplay styles.

The PlayStation Classic is launching December 3.

Final Fantasy 8

playstation classic

The Final Fantasy series was on a roll throughout the 90s. Final Fantasy 7 gets a lot of love and attention as one of the first big 3D JRPGs, but 8 is beloved by many as a worthy followup. It portrayed characters in a more realistic art style and featured a complex battle system that involved ‘drawing’ magic instead of using MP. Even with Final Fantasy 7 already announced for the PlayStation Classic, few PS1 fans could complain about including FF8 as well.

 

Final Fantasy Tactics

playstation classic

While the main series put out some of the greatest RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy also enjoyed an excellent strategy spinoff in Final Fantasy Tactics. The 3D chessboard-like battlefields provided fun tactical opportunities. Each character could switch between 20 different classes, creating endless combinations and replay value. It also introduced the world to Ivalice, a popular Final Fantasy universe that would later be utilized in the later Final Fantasy MMOs.

 

Metal Gear Solid

playstation classic

A relative late-comer to the PlayStation One, the action series Metal Gear Solid became renowned for its excellent stealth mechanics, practically inventing an entirely new subgenre of stealth games. The series went on to spawn bigger and better sequels through multiple generations of PlayStation consoles, making series director Hideo Kojima a household name for many gamers.

 

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

playstation classic

Speaking of inventing genres, Symphony of the Night reinvented the platforming of classic Castlevania games into something else entirely. It, along with Super Metroid (featured on the SNES Classic), are considered the progenitors of the ‘metroidvania’ genre, creating an open 2D world full of secrets, hidden paths, extra bosses, and numerous abilities, weapons, and spells to unlock.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

playstation classic

Skater culture was all the rage in the 90s. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the perfect confluence of tight controls and great game design that took full advantage of popular culture. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the Madden Football of its day, and the sequel is often considered one of the best sports games of all time.

 

Resident Evil 2

playstation classic

The original PlayStation era witnessed the birth of the now classic horror series Resident Evil. The original was memorable but rough around the edges. The sequel opened up the action from beyond the mansion into the surrounding city in the grips of a zombie apocalypse. It remains a masterclass in creating uneasy tension through graphics, sound, and pacing.

 

Gran Turismo

playstation classic

The emergence of 3D was rough for many genres, yet racing games made an excellent transition thanks in large part to Gran Turismo. The racing simulator quickly became one of best-selling games on the console, featuring a staggering 140 licensed cars and cementing the genre’s popularity for years.

 

PaRappa the Rapper

playstation classic

Without the dance pad there’s not a good way to include Dance Dance Revolution but that doesn’t mean the PlayStation Classic should turn a blind eye to the then-emerging rhythm game genre. PaRappa fills that requirement nicely, as the titular anthropomorphic dog matches symbols flying across the screen to right beats.

 

Tomb Raider

playstation classic

With the success of the recently rebooted trilogy, it would be more than appropriate to revisit the game that started it all. Tomb Raider was one of the best 3D action-adventure games of its time, spawning a host of sequels and immortalizing beloved heroine Lara Croft for decades to come.

 

Chrono Cross

playstation classic

Chrono Cross was the highly anticipated sequel to one of the best RPGs on the SNES (and best RPGs period). The time-traveling adventure explored alternate dimensions with a ridiculously huge cast of characters and a highly customizable spell system. It also features one of the best soundtracks ever produced.

 

Crash Bandicoot

playstation classic

Some may only know Crash Bandicoot from Skylanders, or maybe from that certain sequence in Uncharted 4. But back in the day, Crash was considered the Mario of the Sony PlayStation. He never quite achieved the popularity of the mustachioed plumber, but he still starred in some solid 3D platformers, spawning several sequels and spinoffs.

 

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

playstation classic

Hack and slash action games were still in their infancy in the early days of 3D gaming. Legacy of Kain helped pave the way by putting you in the shoes of a powerful vampire. Raziel could employ a large variety of weapons, glide with his wings, and use the environment to defeat his enemies.

 

Medal of Honor

playstation classic

One of the biggest and most popular shooter franchises today, Call of Duty, can be traced all the way back to the PS1 with the original Medal of Honor. Originally developed as a video game version of the seminal World War 2 Steven Spielburg film Saving Private Ryan, the series really took off thanks to its split-screen multiplayer mode.

 

Metal Slug X

playstation classic

Our dream list is woefully short on cooperative games. Thankfully the perfect series exists for couch co-op. The Metal Slug games were 2D, arcade-like shoot ’em ups that reveled in over-the-top 80s and 90s era action movies. Players could find different weapons as power-ups and even command vehicles against gigantic bosses.

 

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysse

playstation classic

True to its name, Oddworld was a 2D platformer in a bizarre alien world. At a time when many games were experiencing the technical woes of early 3D design, Oddworld gave us refreshingly beautiful 2D art and animations, with a great balance of action and puzzles.

no man's sky

Revisiting No Man’s Sky Two Years Later

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Even if you never played the game, chances are you’ve heard of No Man’s Sky. The universe-spanning indie game proved incredibly ambitious coming from tiny studio Hello Games, who helped steer the hype train all the way to its release in Fall 2016.

The shoe dropped rather spectacularly, creating one of the bigger video game dramas in recent history. It launched with loads of technical bugs and problems, and even on launch day consumers weren’t sure if the game supported actual multiplayer (it didn’t).

The result was a massive drop-off in players and a huge round of refunds. Hello Games went quiet, for better or for worse, but kept plugging away at the game.

no man's sky

Since then they’ve released four major content updates, all free. These updates have updated, improved, and changed major aspects to the core game, including adding land-based vehicles, base-building on planets, and controlling a fleet of frigates. The latest update, titled No Man’s Sky Next, officially added multiplayer support, nearly two years after launch.

With two years worth of updates, No Man’s Sky is unquestionably a better game than the original launch version. It sits comfortably as a more relaxing, friendlier survival-crafting game that emphasizes exploration above all else, yet it still falls far short of its initial grand ambitions.

Star-Crossed

From the beginning I’m able to quickly jump into a game with a friend. Despite the fact that the universe supports countless planets to explore, only four players can join a game together. When joining a game you plop down near the location of the host player. If you want to return to single player, you can reload and seamlessly return to back where you left off.

no man's sky

The multiplayer is oddly the least impressive new change. Having a friend to bounce around planet withs, firing lasers together isn’t terribly exciting, at least in the early game. Not being able to opt-in with sharing resources, inventory, or even missions is a terrible constraint that highlights multiplayer as a tacked-on feature rather than built into the gameplay.

I didn’t have much luck with random folks either. While exploring a planet I had a quaint fellow named “Lucifer69” join my server. This fine chap proceeded to ram into me with their space buggy, bounce all around me, and begin firing their terrain manipulator at the ground beneath me, trying to bury me in a makeshift cave. Players can’t really hurt each other but they can certainly be an awful nuisance. They were the only other human being in our entire universe, and I hated them.

Builder Better Worlds

I hadn’t played No Man’s Sky since that ill-fated initial launch, so all of the previous updates were new-to-me as well. The base building is solid and well-integrated into the tutorial. It doesn’t do anything I hadn’t already seen in other survival games like ARK: Survival Evolved, however. I gather resources by blasting rocks and trees, and use them to construct walls, doorways, and roofs.

Bases provide a nice sense of permanence, though No Man’s Sky’s themes are still deeply rooted in pressing forward and continuing to explore the stars, not necessarily putting down roots. Thankfully many of the important buildings, like the refinery, are built to be mobile and easily picked up when I’m ready to move on to the next planet.

I haven’t yet unlocked the ability to build land vehicles or purchase my own frigate, but those are definitely interesting goals to work toward. The ongoing story campaign feels roughly the same, and I actually enjoy the way it holds your hand through every step of the process, whether it’s how to craft Antimatter or teaching me to refine Ferrite Dust.

no man's sky

Space Stations have also been vastly improved. No longer are they embarrassingly big and empty. Now they’re full of aliens milling about, all of whom can be interacted with. Some provide side quests, other trading opportunities or gifts. It’s not exactly Mass Effect’s Citadel but it makes the universe feel much more alive.

My primary issue with No Man’s Sky’s is similar to most survival games – it demands a large amount of your time before it gets interesting. The early game is still very much about shooting lasers at rocks, though inventory management is much improved these days. I start with a larger inventory on both my exosuit and my starting ship, and receive less random items that I have to travel all the way to a settlement or space station to sell.

The economy of resources and credits is more streamlined, which is also No Man’s Sky’s greatest strength. Since there’s no food or hunger bars and most fauna aren’t hostile, the universe is a much more relaxing space to explore.

The bleeding-color art style evokes classic sci-fi literature at its purest form, before Star Wars pretty much took over the genre and made space all about war. I love Star Wars as much as the next geek, but what No Man’s Sky provides is a journey into a science fiction universe I rarely see in games or any media. One that’s primarily about making new discoveries and taking striking screenshots.

The procedurally generated universe can still provide endless hours of exploration, though you’ll quickly see through the curtain after less than a dozen hours, recognizing the basic template of every rock, tree, creature, and planet. The universe loses its sense of wonder after that, and even traveling planet-to-planet with friends doesn’t quite hold up to the ambitious space game we dreamed about. No Man’s Sky is definitely a better game now that it was two years ago, but it remains a cautionary tale of over-hyped glitz that was doomed to disappointment.

co-op

Divinity: Original Sin Is One of the Best Co-op Games for Couples

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Seven months and 80 hours later my partner and I finally put down our PS4 controllers in triumph to watch the end credits roll on Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition.

We have played many cooperative games together over the years but none have enthralled both of us quite like D:OS. Its rewarding tactical combat system, huge world, and most importantly, a story that weaves together both characters equally kept us invested in one of the best cooperative gaming experiences we’ve ever had.

Divinity: Original Sin was part of the new wave of Kickstarter indie games back in 2013, riding the explosion of successful multi-million dollar campaigns like Project Eternity, Wasteland 2, and the Double Fine Adventure. The common thread through most of these campaigns was nostalgia. Indie developers wanted to bring back niches genres that weren’t popular with major publishers, such as point and click adventures, and tactical computer role-playing games. Two of my favorites.

Divinity’s campaign was a big success, releasing in 2014 on PC. As a fan of classic PC RPGs like Fallout 1-2, Baldur’s Gate, and Planescape: Torment I immediately devoured it. While it definitely fits the mold of a classic cRPG, Divinity goes beyond what I expected. It takes its open-world cues from the even older Ultima series and adds gameplay functionality that’s closer to actual tabletop Dungeons & Dragons than anything else.

A year later, in 2015, it released on consoles with an Enhanced Edition upgrade. It would be several years before we finally caught up with modern consoles and I considered giving it a replay, this time cooperatively with my partner

I was unsure it would be a good fit for us. Until then we’d enjoyed quicker, easy-to-digest co-op games like Diablo 3 and the entire Borderlands series. Divinity: Original Sin is a huge, dense, lengthy RPG that refuses to ever hold your hand. Yet we completely fell in love with it.

It Takes Two

Want to pick a lock and steal from someone’s home? Go for it! Want to murder everyone in sight? You can certainly try. Just want to head into a dungeon and find some sweet loot? Now we’re talking!  These things have all been done before, and done well, but Divinity: Original Sin puts a unique cooperative spin on everything. One character can distract a guard while another sneaks past. One can be in the middle of a lengthy dialogue session with a dangerous cult leader while the other can get into a battle with mutated plant life outside of town.

The seamless split-screen opens up the possibilities in an already player-driven world, allowing couples to join forces or separate to do their own thing as much as they want.

co-op

The story focuses on two main characters who are equal in every way. Instead of having a second player tacked on as a sidekick or hireling, both are Source Hunters, essentially federal agents who hunt down dangerous magic users in the fantasy world of Rivellon. In Single Player you customize both of them at the beginning. Obviously in multiplayer we each get to choose and make our own Hunter. My partner created a mage who specialized in Fire and Earth magic, while my rogue wielded a bow along with some useful Witchcraft abilities.

While both characters begin the game as blank slates, we’re given numerous opportunities to flesh them out. Throughout several key moments in the story, our characters indicate they wish to chat. We had some fun roleplaying our characters with each other. Our responses earn points towards various personality traits, such as Romantic vs Pragmatic and Forgiving vs Vindictive. These traits don’t influence the game much (a +1 to a minor skill or so) but do wonders to bring our characters to life.

These moments are also baked into the single player, leading to some challenging exercises in juggling multiple character roles. Divinity is built from the ground-up for two player co-op, but playing single player is equally viable thanks to its carefully tuned turn-based combat.

You Have My Sword

Combat in Divinity is challenging and complex, which are not typically hallmarks of a good couch co-op game. It’s completely turn-based, with characters receiving a pool of Action Points each turn. Everything from moving to attacking to casting spells costs a certain amount of AP, along with putting spells and abilities on cooldown. Learning how and when to use skills is paramount.

Even more challenging is that characters don’t automatically learn new skills when they level up. Skill books must be found or purchased from vendors. This grants total customization to how we want to play our characters, but can be overwhelming in the beginning with so many options available.

co-op

Complexity brings perseverance, and Divinity’s combat is very rewarding. Many abilities can be combined with the environment for satisfying effects. Cast a lightning bolt on a puddle to create an electrified zone that stuns anyone inside. Shoot a fireball into some oil barrels and watch the gigantic explosion that sets the ground aflame. Coordinating together is the only way to win many battles. Nearly every turn we had to discuss how best to utilize our abilities in any given situation, like the best cooperative board games.

I’ll never forget the time I lost my characters midway during a battle with some nasty giant spiders in the desert, only to have my partner pull us through with careful coordination and strategic planning. What seemed like a quick reload turned into an epic comeback as she gradually prevailed, and we cheered together at the end.

Thankfully Divinity’s battles prioritize quality over quantity. Many RPGs, particularly Japanese RPGs, are plagued with repetitive random battles designed to gradually drain your resources. In Divinity all enemies are visible directly on the map, and they’re relatively few and far between. Individual battles last much longer but are also much more meaningful, which is more how tabletop D&D operates than many hack and slash video games.

co-op

Divinity’s huge world and length can be off-putting for many couples. Eighty hours is incredibly intimidating if you want to see it all the way through. If you do the math we averaged only about three hours a week, and that was typically long sessions on weekends.

Firing up the game became like our weekly D&D adventures (shameless plug): getting together once a week to unwind and play the next phase of a story together. The familiarity of jumping in to accomplish the next tasks at hand – rescuing an imprisoned witch, avoiding deadly patrols in a mine, helping a sentient wishing well find his brother – provided a strong sense of purpose and organic narrative throughout many weeks and months.

Completing Divinity: Original Sin has left a temporary void in our gaming schedule. Yet we’re also excited to jump into Divinity: Original Sin 2 when it launches on consoles this fall. I’m sure it will take us another 6+ months to finish. I wouldn’t have it any other way.