Stories Worth Telling: The Hard Work of Agency in Divinity: Original Sin II

“The stories we tell, and how we tell them, say something about us, and Original Sin II says that the best things in life don’t come easy.”

Written by Jonathan Campoverde / Published on November 29, 2017

From a young age, I have lived my life through story, or rather, stories have driven my life forward. I lived for moments when I could follow a hero’s tale, whether that was in Narnia, Battle School, or more recently, Roshar. So, when I picked up Divinity: Original Sin II, my soul yearned for this intricate story, for I knew from the hype around the game that Larian Studios would deliver beautiful content. The story of Divinity: Original Sin II checks every box I could ever ask for, and it even adds to the list because of its player-driven storytelling. Rather than simply giving us a story that we can digest in bite-sized chunks, Larian Studios tells a story that requires effort from the player. The stories we tell, and how we tell them, say something about us, and Original Sin II says that the best things in life don’t come easy.

"In a world where story is so easily accessible, we often fail to realize that generating stories takes legitimate work."
The game follows your hero’s story as he or she endeavors to fulfill the role of Godwoken—to ascend to becoming the Divine. Throughout the story, characters venture through the world, strengthening your ability with the Source, and developing the story chapter by chapter through the various choices you make. Each choice my hero made was in reality my choice, for I sunk myself into the story.

I remember sitting at my laptop, starting my game and thinking about the difficulty setting I would select. I chose the Classic difficulty, and I thought to myself, “How hard can it be?” Well, let me just say: I’ve found this game quite challenging because of how invested I was in every decision.

Divinity: Original Sin II does not abide casual engagement. It requires dedication and commitment from the player in order to proceed. This game gives the player the feeling of full control of what happens—even to the point that some required plot points can be irretrievably ruined. In the end, the narrative’s resolution didn’t matter as much as the choices I made throughout. As I played, I often needed to work at overcoming self-imposed obstacles because I accidentally killed the wrong NPC or failed to carefully consider my actions. Several times, I needed to grind out a level or two with side quests so that I would be able to complete one aspect of the game that I had unknowingly messed up. I can’t remember the last time I needed to do that for a AAA game.

For some, this level of difficulty built into the game’s “normal” mode might make the game not worth playing. I loved it. In Divinity: Original Sin II, I found a story that reflected my journey to develop my talents (much like the characters’ Source), that I could cultivate and nurture by customizing characters and interacting with the world differently. The game demanded more from me to unlock the story, and I willingly gave all I could to uncover every chapter.

"It is not a game that I could binge mindlessly, and I respect it because of that. "
Because stories have always been at the core of who I am, I hardly ever have to work to engage with them. Whether they come to me from television, movies, books, or even other people, I take them in, store them away. I bring them back out for consideration, often with as little agency as telling Netflix “Yes, I am still watching” as I binge through an entire season. In a world where story is so easily accessible, we often fail to realize that generating stories takes legitimate work. Original Sin II steals away that notion by giving players substantial input into the story being spun.

The stories worth telling are the stories that take work to develop. Every consumer of stories inherently knows this. We will quickly reject the latest effort of a popular author, the second season of a show, or the next installment in a game series if we sense that the storytelling doesn’t show the same effort as the first. In Original Sin II every player’s story takes work to develop. It is not a game that I could binge mindlessly, and I respect it because of that. In fact, I find myself pulled away from the television and to the computer when I play this game. It fills some deeper need inside of me: the need to tell my own story. And instead of believing that my story should be something that happens to me, I realize that my story is, to a large degree, something that I have to make happen. I know I must work to make my story one worth living. Divinity: Original Sin II has reminded me that the best things in life don’t come easy, and I cannot let anyone or anything else lull me into thinking otherwise.

About the Author:

Jon Campoverde spends most of his time reading and playing any game he can with the occasional writing project when he finds the time. You can find him on twitter at @jcamp_over_day.