Divinity: Original Sin II is a fantastic role-playing game that strikes an almost perfect balance between dense, absorbing storytelling, and allowing you the freedom to shape the adventure as you wish. The journey through to the end credits will take you dozens of hours to complete, and during that time you’ll meet scores of well-written characters, be forced to make many thought-provoking decisions, and fight leagues of formidable, sometimes sympathetic enemies.
The game begins with your character - either one of a number of preset heroes or one that you design yourself - being stranded on an island prison. There's a mysterious energy called Source that certain people - known as Sourcerers - can channel in the form of magic. Using magic has recently started to attract weird, vile creatures known as Voidwoken, and so Sourcery is considered a bit of a taboo regardless of the intent of the spells being used.
You, as a Sourcerer, have been imprisoned not because of a crime you've committed, but because your innate ability to utilise Source and thus potentially attract Voidwoken presents a very real threat to you and anybody close to you.
A group called the Magisters are responsible for your imprisonment, and while some of these are from the moustache-twirling school of pantomime villainy, there are many reasonable people amongst their ranks who just think they're acting in service of the greater good, and some who are questioning their faith to the order entirely. Similarly, while many of your fellow Sourcerers on the island are good people imprisoned because of abilities they were born with that they can't do anything about, others quickly reveal themselves to be scoundrels wholly deserving of their incarceration. There's good and bad people everywhere, regardless of their allegiances, and it's up to you to decide who to trust, who to avoid, who to fight beside, and who to kill.
Your first major quest is to escape the island prison you've found yourself on, but you can immediately pick up side-quests, too. Some quests can be taken care of in minutes, but others can be massive undertakings spanning numerous locations, and involving many potential fights. The quest log keeps track of how far you've progressed in your various missions, and markers will appear on the map to point out places of interest, but the game rarely explicitly tells you where to go or what to do.
This can sometimes be a source of frustration as you'll be left wondering why you can't move forward in a quest despite being where you think you need to be, but mostly the lack of hand-holding is both refreshing and rewarding. Divinity II isn't as oblique as a game like Bloodborne, but those used to role-playing titles that give you clear and direct instructions may perhaps feel a mite overwhelmed by the options available here.
You can have a party of up to four people in Divinity II, but you don't have to pair up at all if you'd rather be a lone wolf. You can also play the entire game in co-op with friends taking control of other members of your party if you so desire. The various potential party members you can team up with are an interesting bunch, each coming with numerous character-specific side quests to take on, and offering wildly different options in battle.
The way you distribute experience points determines what sort of warrior you are, with some classes being suited to ranged combat, some adept at conjuring magical creatures for help, others using stealth and subterfuge, and of course, the ones that just like whacking things with big swords. The classes feel well balanced, with each having skills suited for use in different situations, and as you progress through the game you can train your heroes in skills from different disciplines so they’re bespoke to your style of play.
Combat in Divinity is turn based, and your characters have a set amount of action points to use during each round of battle. Moving and using your various skills both use up your points, and so how best to deploy your attacks or buffs is all part of the challenge. Do you move out of the line of fire, but doing so won't leave you enough points to heal this turn, or do you spend your action points on a big attack hoping that you'll be able to finish off your opponent before they kill you on their next turn? The more skills you acquire the more options you have, and the more elaborate this whole dance becomes.
It's not just your attacks or magical skills that you'll be relying on in battle, but the environment itself, and coming up with a fresh idea on how to approach a seemingly insurmountable challenge can be fantastically rewarding once it pays off. You can stumble across a fight and be utterly decimated by your foes, sometimes repeatedly, and then it'll hit you: perhaps you need to launch a fire arrow at the oil drum on your first turn to set fire to your enemies and whittle down their magical shields, or maybe getting to higher ground will put you at a better vantage point to bombard your attackers from afar. Sometimes, you'll find yourself in a situation where you have two sets of foes to contend with, and retreating in order to let them fight amongst themselves before you return at the last minute to finish them all off is the most sensible - albeit, ignoble - strategy on the table.
With stellar writing, challenging combat, a compelling central quest, and dozens of worthwhile side activities, Divinity: Original Sin II is one of the finest role-playing games available on PlayStation 4. There’s the occasional small issue and some scant technical hiccups – particularly when playing online – but these are minor quibbles. This is a dense, engrossing adventure, packed to the hilt with stories worth hearing, conflicts you’ll want to resolve, and secret treasures just begging to be discovered.