Can Larian Studios stay faithful to the CRPG genre while still courting modern gameplay mechanics?
It’s difficult nowadays for developers to stay faithful to their games and to their audiences. Like the Scarlet Pimpernel it seems they’re lured in by the first bit of frilly trim or flash of thigh they see. Except in the case of the gaming industry it’s usually a large production company offering lots of cash and game-breaking deadlines, rather than a beautiful woman sporting polkadots. That’s why Kickstarter is so bloody great – it cuts out the middle-monster (that’s you EA) and brings games back to the people. You fund what you like. If enough people fund it, it gets made and the developers are responsible to you, not a corporate entity that thinks quicktime events are an engaging gameplay mechanic.
It’s awesome to see games like Larian Studio’s turn-based, isometric CRPG, Divinity: Original Sin get over $944,000 funding through Kickstarter. It’s still racking up coin through Paypal (and will be until May 10th), where it’s already broken the $1,000,000 mark. The funding means players will be treated to NPC schedules, full day/night cycles and dynamic weather – which will apparently influence the magic system, so any ice mages amongst us better pack some superior strength sun cream for those hot days.
Not only does this funding show that gamers want to get involved and influence the games that they play, but in the case of Original Sin, it also demonstrates a burning desire (insert dragon pun here) for some classic gameplay – some good ol’ orc-poking, elf-licking CRPG gameplay, to be specific. But Original Sin’s appeal doesn’t stop there.
The game may hark back to the CRPG heyday that saw the likes of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and, of course, the original Divinity game, Divine Divinity, but it brings some new and never-been-tried-before ideas to the orc-stained table. Take the co-op – not new in itself, but whereas in say Baldur’s Gate one player took the role of the main character and made choices on behalf of the party, in Original Sin the ability to influence the world falls to both characters. You and your friend (or soon to be enemy) both make decisions, choosing to agree or disagree as you see fit.
It’s a subtle mechanic that if implemented right could really change the way co-op is played in this dialogue heavy genre. After all, freedom of choice (and not just archetypal good/evil options, thanks Mass Effect) and the ramifications of your actions are what separate these games as great. By the developers’ own admission, this system attempts to simulate something like a pen and paper RPG. You know, where people sit around tables, living out fantasies through imagination alone, felling great demons with pencils and getting jiggy with a neighbour clad in elven gear over in the corner next to their mum’s washing machine.
Wisely, they’re not perching all their hopes on one feature though. As I already mentioned, thanks to hitting their $1 million goal, magic will be affected by the state of the moons and the weather, but elemental properties will also interact with each other, NPCs, enemies and your character. Faced with an ice demon, what do you do? Melt it down with a fire spell? Sure, then charge ahead into the fray only to slip on the water and land on your bum, leaving yourself in a vulnerable and, more importantly, undignified position.
Your character will also gain renown depending on how you interact with people. This means you can’t steal someone’s prized stuffed squirrel, nip out of town for a minute then return and instantly become their best buddy. Not unless you have the amulet of bare-faced beauty, or the stirrups of saucy seduction (I made those two up). The best part though, is that guards all around the city won’t suddenly know what you’ve done, not unless an NPC tells them, or they are privy to the crime. After hours of getting busted stealing apples in Oblivion, this is sweet criminal music to my thieving ears.
Why are we returning to games of the past? One indie dev recently suggested that it’s because the developers of today were the children of yesterday. They grew up with these games and now, given the opportunity through projects such as Kickstarter and Steam’s Greenlight, they’re able to recreate them for the next generation of gamers. It could also be that, compared to the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, these games have small budgets, and with small budgets there often simply isn’t the option for advanced graphics. Some other part of the game has to shine brighter than a spit-shined star, and lucky for us it seems to be the gameplay. And where better to look for tips on creating great gameplay and stories than the 90s: the home of pages of unspoken dialogue, bloodthirsty forest nymphs and, well, Peter Andre’s short lived singing career. But we’ll forget about that.
All in all, I’m about as excited for Divinity: Original Sin as a dwarf is for a good pint of ale, a hard hat and whiff of his wife’s braided beard.
That’s very excited, if you didn’t get that last bit.
Images: Larian Studios