Divinity: Fallen Heroes Preview – A Mixture of the Best Divinity Has to Offer
Larian Studios are, despite being relatively small, are one of my favourite developers around. While their early titles often required a little more polish, their ability to tell a story was undoubted. Then, in 2014, they released one of my personal favourite games of recent times, Divinity: Dragon Commander, a combination of excellent role-playing and storytelling with a mixture of action, real-time strategy, turn-based strategy and a little political simulation thrown in. Divinity: Fallen Heroes (official site), which was only recently announced, looks to be borrowing some of this and tie it in with the outstanding engine that powers Divinity: Original Sin II (read our review here), arguably one of the best RPG's ever made.
Something that needs to be started with is that even though Divinity: Fallen Heroes was on show at EGX Rezzed, it's actually at a pre-alpha stage. There's still a fair amount of development time left, with the question of a release date being answered with "Hopefully 2019, but there are no guarantees". Specifically, the member of Larian Studios that I spoke to said: "It'll be released when it's ready". That's the right answer for any game, especially when you see so many high-profile games that simply aren't ready for release. The aim is also to release on both PC and consoles, but again, nothing is confirmed.
Now, what could I gather from such an early showing of the game and chatting to one of the team from Larian? A reasonable amount, it seems. I started off on the Lady Vengeance (I still can't hear that name without thinking of the film), the ship you may remember from Divinity 2. This is where the link to Divinity: Dragon Commander comes in. You can explore different rooms on your ship where you can interact and talk with the people that are part of your crew - maybe some that aren't, depending on where your story takes you. You'll also find yourself making the decisions that impact the direction your story takes. Essentially, this is the role-playing aspect of the game.
The number of characters and dialogue choices I was shown were very limited so there is always the caveat that they could be for show only. However, knowing what I know about how Larian have handled conversations and the effects of decisions in the past, I would almost guarantee that there will be long term ramifications to your decisions. It could be as simple as alienating an NPC, restricting your access to a certain area or actually increasing the difficulty of a future battle. It may be the case of you bringing a character to your side, unlocking different troop varieties. That's all a guess from me, I was told that your choices will have consequences though.
It's the replay value that will be most affected by the decision making found within the game. Specifically, I was told that there will be around seventy hand-crafted missions within the game, but in each playthrough, you'll only encounter roughly 25 of them that are all story specific. Not only will your decisions be a factor in this, but also your ability when commanding your units in battle. Divinity: Fallen Heroes will feature eight different heroes and, as the game's name suggests, they can fall in battle. Yes, each and every hero is killable.
From what I played, that could prove to be a bit of an issue for me. Why? The two battles I played, I lost. I like to think that the game isn't truly balanced or I didn't have the right troop selection due to the fact that it's only a pre-alpha build. More realistically, I was distracted by my concern that someone from my adoring fanbase would recognise me. That must be it. In reality, I found that I wasn't completely ready or I didn't think it through. The first battle I tried, I simply wasn't quick enough or didn't go the right direction to protect innocent villagers that needed protection. The second, I got absolutely slaughtered.
This is essentially a tactical game at its core. At the start of each mission, you'll be able to take up to six units in battle. Some of them will only allow four. In addition to your units, which come under three tiers: hero, veteran troops and troops, you can also select two consumables to take into battle with you. Should you play co-op, both you and your partner would take in one hero and an equal number of troops each. Victory in combat can also reward equipable artefacts that can be equipped to your troops - should they have survived the battle. You can all start with some that aren't veterans of course.
As challenging as the combat was, requiring a lot of thought and tactical planning, it was entertaining and the sort of combat I like. A fight where you use the terrain and objects to your advantage, such as puddles of Sulfurium that if hit with a kinetic attack (think a gunshot or arrow) will explode. Maybe you'll start a fire, at least causing a wall that will damage any enemy trying to cross it. This, combined with the variety of abilities at your disposal will allow for a myriad of ways to combat any mission you're up against.
For those used to the real-time RPG combat of other divinity titles, this isn't that. Here you have your turn to move each of your units, with them having essentially two actions. The first is a move and the second allows you to move further or attack. However, how far you move and the specific attacks use varying amounts of energy, of which you have a maximum of five energy points (?). Each turn, you regain three, so if you want to unleash something special, it may be worth saving up the previous turn. End your turn, it's time for the NPC allies and enemies to make their moves.
It all makes for an entertaining and challenging system that has ramped up the difficulty. Granted, I am pretty certain that was because balance isn't exactly something Larian are fine-tuning during the pre-alpha stages of development. There's a lot of work to be done but even now Larian looks like they're on a promising path. The fight I entered was challenging enough that I actually lost, so that's certainly something. Then you have the act of running your campaign from the ship, with the role-playing and character interactions being something they have already done in Dragon Commander with fantastic results.
Is Divinity: Fallen Heroes something worth keeping an eye on? You bet your arse it is.