Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Honest Gamer's Lament

So in the last month I've finally been polishing off Divinity II.  I hit my stride and, thanks to playing the patched, newer version, no longer got mired down in game-breaking bugs.  In short, I was able to reach the stretch of game that was fun, and I enjoyed mindlessly tearing through Rivellon, discovering nooks and crannies and one-shotting monsters.

The first time I tried to play Ego Draconis I encountered a huge bug on my way into the Hall of Echoes (the final boss area).  It's a dragon-form only, no-land, flight-only zone but I got stuck in my human form  and was therefore physically unable to advance.  This time, though, I was able to complete that section of the game with only mild swearing, and to advance to the "Flames of Vengeance" expansion content.  I enjoyed Aleroth (and how it's changed since the early days of the Divine who, no matter what the canon says, is a lady), and enjoyed maxing out my armor, skills, and stats.  In short, I was a completely overpowered badass covered in pointy bits, but sometimes that's fun.

Seriously, look at how pointy armor gets in this game. You'll put your eye out, Rhode!

I advanced to the final mission, bearing fully charmed and enchanted armor, a deliciously deadly sword, and with all my skills and regenerative potions (as if I needed mere potions anymore) neatly arranged on my hotbar.  And lo, the final mission is: a zeppelin escort in dragon form.

It's a dirty job, and no-one should have to do it.

Dragon form, despite being the selling point of Divinity II that's meant to set it apart from other, similar RPGs, really sucks.  It's hard to master, and all of the time that you've put into upgrading armor and skills no longer matters.  For this mission the game hands you a full set of maxed-out, top-level dragon skills and it still... doesn't really matter.

In short, I spent 35 hours of game time creating a really top-notch, unbeatable character who then doesn't feature at all in the finale.

I expressed rather vocal frustration with this turn of events, employing a number of unprintable words.  My husband shrugged and suggested from across the room: "So... install a trainer."

I paused.  "Um,"  I responded tentatively,  "do they even have those for this game?"

He gave me a withering look, perhaps pitying my naivete.  "Of course they have them."  He typed something into his laptop and within 20 seconds was reciting me a list of options.

What I realized the next morning (in the shower, of course, because that's where epiphanies happen) is that I've been playing so honest for so long that I literally can no longer remember how to cheat.  Oh, I know where to get mods for Fallout games and I know how to create and edit maps for a bunch of classic titles, and I'll admit that in fifth grade I used to stack the Uno deck before dealing to my (not very bright) classmates.  I lay no claims to having been eternally honest.  I just realized that it's been a long, long time.  In no small part I suspect this is because these days I often game on the PS3 and on my Droid, but also it's because games now have things like "difficulty settings" and "actual learning curves."

So, Divinity II awaited.  Obviously, the answer was Google and in five minutes I'd sorted the problem by myself in a way that seemed at least 60% likely not to include malware.  I installed the trainer and it all worked, without putting anything else on my PC (nasty or otherwise), and so I cheerfully booted up the game and got ready to move past this horrible section of doom.

Except trainers only work in human form -- which I had already neatly overpowered (and how) just through thorough gameplay.  Dragon form is still exceptionally vulnerable.  And this mission is the only time in the entire Flames of Vengeance content expansion that you use it!

So the hell with it: the last section of Divinity II: Flames of Vengeance is going to remain unfinished.  You know what happens at the end?  Good triumphs over evil, because it's a Generic RPG.  And because the main game ends with evil triumphing over good, which is a trick they seem unlikely to repeat in the "satisfying conclusion."

I'm out.  "Fun" certainly isn't everything, as I've recently been discussing with another writer.  (Aside: I think he and I will both be blogging on the topic in the not-too-distant future.)  But consistency, satisfaction, and playability are pretty damn important to a game and Divinity II just fell right down on its ass there.  I don't need this brick wall to bang my head against when the world is full of others.
Larian, I am disappoint.  You're capable of really good, if quirk-filled and derivative, game design.  I'm still recommending Divine Divinity to anyone who just wants to sit down at the PC and suddenly look up, 6 hours later, amazed how long they spent hacking at orcs.  But if I'm going to spend hours trying and retrying the last section of a game, I need to have a reason.  I need it to have tactics I can learn, skills I can improve, methods I can change, and a motivation for me to keep going.  Divinity II is giving me none of the above, so back onto the virtual shelf it goes, 70 hours of my total time (I had to play the main game twice, after switching from disc to Steam) ending without conclusion.


The current playlist here at home includes Fallout: New Vegas - Honest Hearts, L.A. Noire, and Chrono Cross.  I've / We've only just begun the latter two so despite me having two "finished" games in one week to complain about, it'll be a while before there are any new ones. ;)


  1. The "I spent xxx hours learning how to play my character and now I have to learn a totally new class with no learning curve for this single encounter" issue is one that has plagued World of Warcraft recently. I can't honestly say that it's a major reason that I'm not playing it anymore, but it is a reason.

    Consistency isn't just important, it's primary. Way too many games have important, impassable encounters where you must use some skill you've never had to pick up, and will never have to afterward. The blitzball tournament in Final Fantasy X. Forced "vehicle levels" like the one that killed Divinity 2 for you are rampant in 3rd person action games, and I've never found one where it wasn't a bad idea. It's a less bad idea if you make the section drop dead easy, intended as a break in the story or action. If it's a mini-game or side-quest, that's fine. If you're forcing me to deal with your vehicle physics because that's the only reason I'd ever use it, or the producer demanded that there be a vehicle section because "that's how it works," then you're making a worse game by definition than you otherwise would have had. If I wanted to race, I'd play a racing game. If I wanted to fly a jet fighter, I'd play Ace Combat.

  2. This post reminded me of hex-editing my characters in... wow, I can't even remember. I can remember the hex editor screen but not the games I edited.   Hours of poking and prodding until I finally found the right locations to tweak...

    I don't cheat much or use trainers much anymore either.  For the most part, games seem to have gotten easier (I never finished Wizardry 1!! I don't even know how many hours I spent trying to map out that crazy dungeon) - when I get bogged down in a game lately it's due to boredom (Dragon Age xpack, Dragon Age 2).

  3. Escort missions can be the absolute worse, especially when it's a "escort this giant, slow moving object that gets attacked and can't attack back"  I think Freespace 2 has some of these, but the giant capital ships are so deadly in the game it doesn't feel like the capital ship is 100% dependent on this one fighter killing everything for it.

    I don't mind vehicle levels, as long as they are reasonably easy.  Sometimes it's nice to have a change of pace, especially if I get a big gun to waste a bunch of mooks with.

  4. Noob question: What's a trainer?

    And thanks for the warning, I'll knock Divinity II off my wish list. I'm glad I set a bar at $10 and the Summer Sale only brought it down to $20.

  5. It sort of depends on the game, but generally it's just a hack that alters the stats of your character. For example, a trainer in Fallout could raise all your SPECIAL stats to 10, make any weapon kill anything in one hit, remove sight line concerns, reveal the entire map, etc.

  6. Just to expand a bit on that, it’s a little program that runs alongside the game and (usually) responds to certain keypresses.