At PAX East 2019, we got our hands on Divinity: Fallen Heroes, the tactics based follow up to Larian Studios’ critically acclaimed RPG Divinity: Original Sin 2.
According to my Steam profile, I have over 100 hours put into Divinity: Original Sin and Original Sin 2. However, I am pretty sure I am less than halfway through both of those titles. Despite my inability to finish these long RPGs, I adore the Divinity series’ decision-driven narrative and strategic, turn-based combat.
So on the one day I was able to attend PAX East this year, the very first booth I went to check out was – you guessed it – Larian Studios. Divinity: Fallen Heroes was just recently announced, and I wanted to get my hands on it faster than Lohse hears demonic voices in her head.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes is a standalone sequel to the story of Divinity: Original Sin 2 developed by Larian Studios with help from Logic Artists. The game takes place across Rivellon as you join a familiar group of heroes aboard the Lady Vengeance on a mission to yet again save the world. Your favorite Godwoken characters like Fane, Ifan, Sebille, Beast, Lohse, and the Red Emperor all make a return, along with the newly playable Malady.
Familiarly, the story and objectives will change based on your choices. If you’ve ever played the last two Divinity games, you know this isn’t just another tagline to sell a game; they mean business. Your missions and objectives change not only on explicit narrative decisions but also on the outcome of events in battle. Even the demo mission’s objective changed based on your decisions before combat.
The last time we explored the corners of Rivellon, it was in an expansive open-world RPG with exploration and looting and crafting and combat and gross amounts of inventory management. This time around, Larian Studios is taking a different approach.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes is a tactics game. This means no more worrying about finding your way to the next story mission, no more trying to min/max your equipped items, and no more complex inventory management! This game extracts the tactical, turn-based combat system from Divinity: Original Sin 2, tunes it up and combines it with a streamlined narrative for a brand new adventure.
Sounds like a great idea, right? That’s what I was thinking too, as I waited in line for my turn to play the thirty-minute demo. When it was my time to play, I was asked how many were in my group. Just me, I replied, cursing that my partner in crime Daniel George was not there to relive our long hours spend playing Divinity: Original Sin 2 cooperatively. Fallen Heroes again supports up to two-player co-op, but this time I was flying solo.
When I sat down to start the demo, the Larian Studios rep at the booth gave me two tidbits of advice. Firstly, don’t forget the objective – it’s easy to get wrapped up in combat. Second, this is a difficult demo, so don’t worry if you don’t beat the mission. I hate to admit, but I scoffed a bit at that last line. Yes, I have an unfortunate penchant for lighting allies on fire, but I have enough game time under my belt that I felt like I could beat this demo mission.
After the game gave a brief introduction on where we were in the story, I was taken to a screen aboard the Lady Vengeance. This screen was similar to that of a visual novel or point-and-click game, where I was able to interact with some of our favorite Godwoken from the last game and make narrative choices but not actually move around.
The city our ship was docked at was under attack, and we needed to protect the citizens first and foremost, I decided. After some more exposition, a command table in the center of the room became clickable. From here, I was able to select my team for an upcoming mission.
The demo first had me select my primary story character. Ifan Ben-Mezd was a badass in Original Sin 2, so I chose him to lead my squad. Next, I was asked to select three other characters from a number of premade RPG archetypes: a healer, a mage, an archer, a rogue, and a tanky soldier. According to the demo pamphlet that was provided, we can expect over thirty different unit types that have over 200 unique skills in the final game. Additional “veteran troops” can also be recruited, but if these units die in battle, you lose them forever.
Finally, I was allowed to pick two special consumable items to assist me in combat. There were a plethora of choices here, from items that heal to items that boost your characters stats to items that change the environment. I went with a healing apple and a cowbell that polymorphs an enemy (a crucial tactic I learned from Divinity: Original Sin 2). These are single-use items that can play a major part in combat, so expect your choice of both items and team composition to be an important aspect of designing a winning strategy.
The first objective of the mission was to save three different groups of citizens who were under attack, which equated to just reaching them with one of your characters so that they would run off to safety. While there were enemies and NPC soldiers fighting nearby, you could ignore them for the most part and rush through to save the citizens before they all die. But any enemy you keep alive will still play a part in the mission, so balancing objectives and combat is an important one.
All along the battlefield were these new shiny puddles of Sulfurium. Similar to other existing environmental effects like Oil and Ice, Sulfurium is a new element added in Divinity: Fallen Heroes. Triggering Sulfurium with a combat ability cause any characters standing in the puddle to be knocked backward like they were just shot. Which leads into another new concept: gunpowder. Yes, Fallen Heroes introduces all sorts of guns and rifles into their combat system now.
The general combat system is essentially the same as Divinity: Original Sin 2 but with a few notable tweaks. When it is your turn, all of your characters get to make their moves at once. You have to manually select each character, then use their Action Points, then manually end your turn. This is different than the previous games where your playable characters’ turns were intertwined with the enemies.
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There was also no viewable order of turns: I didn’t know which units (enemies, friendly NPCs, or playable characters) were going to take their turns in which order. This was a little frustrating at times to strategize certain moves, and something I hope they reconsider adding into Fallen Heroes.
Once I rescued all of the groups of citizens, a few enemy reinforcements appeared, and the next mission objective started. For story spoiler reasons I will withhold the NPC’s name, but a recognizable character appears to ruin the day. This was when I realized I shouldn’t have scoffed at the warning about the demo’s difficulty. It didn’t take long before my party of heroes was overwhelmed, and I failed the mission. Even a cow polymorph couldn’t save me.
The game is certainly challenging, and if past experiences are anything to go on, Divinity: Fallen Heroes will likely include a number of different difficulty options. There is definite potential for replayability as well. I was told the final version of the game would include over 60 missions. Considering I couldn’t complete one mission in half an hour, Fallen Heroes is shaping up to still be quite a time sink. Not to mention the added optional objectives and challenges that will be included in the final version of the game.
As much as I love the free-flowing, role-playing nature of the past two Divinity games, I recognize that that computer RPG style of gameplay isn’t for everyone. The idea of splitting out their excellent turn-based tactical combat system into its own separate game seemed like a natural one. Their way of still incorporating narrative decisions and maintaining the general tone of the RPG games is great to see as well. It’s very much a streamlined version of the past games. It removes many of the advanced RPG features in favor of combat-focused gameplay, which I expect to appeal to fans of the series as well as newcomers looking to feed their fix for tactical gameplay.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes was the first of many games I had the chance to play at PAX East 2019, and while I might be a bit biased, it was definitely my favorite. It’s certainly shaping up to be another promising title from Larian Studios, and I can’t wait for its release later this year.