When Divinity II: Ego Draconis first made landfall over a year ago, it was met with a rather lukewarm reception. The poor response can partially be attributed to the immensely competitive climate of the time. With the release of Bioware’s hotly anticipated and aggressively marketed Dragon Age Origins, a superficially similar but smaller title like Ego Draconis stood little chance. In truth, DII was not an altogether terrible RPG experience. Though rough in many areas, from graphics to gameplay, it brought a unique style. The two biggest attractions could be found in the vast world of exploration and, of course, in the chance to play as a fire-breathing dragon.
Unfortunately, the limitations of such an ambitious title are quickly revealed. Mediocre voice acting, crude graphical components, and somewhat frustrating controls made DII off-putting to the modern role-playing enthusiast (particularly those spoiled by the aforementioned games). Those who could see past its flaws were treated to some interesting nuggets (the NPC telepathy was my personal favorite), yet the game clearly was released in want of more play testing. The good news is that Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga brings the staggering Ego Draconis back with a shiny new layer of polish.
Nearly everything about the game appears to have been improved in some way. By cutting down on some of the more annoying glitches, players can focus on the game’s strengths. Clean combat and luscious lands invoke that primal excitement every role-player yearns for. The same fluidity of character advancement can be enjoyed as you make your way through the main game, which transitions almost seamlessly into the newly added expansion, Flames of Vengeance. As cheesy as the name may be, FoV does extend the game’s longevity by a good ten hours or so. Your best bet is to take your character straight from one game into the next without beginning anew. This is no Mass Effect sequel, but you’ll find the experience is richer for it.
Still, Flames of Vengeance feels a bit cheap as far as expansions go. The majority of the content is stretched through monotonous scenery and uninspired fetch quests, which are more time-consuming than pleasurable. While it’s true that many expansions–or even full games–offer a short and sweet experience, FoV drags on beyond its expected or necessary length. If players are embarking on an extended adventure, they should at least feel like they’ve achieved something by the end of it. The distinction of FoV makes it seem more detached than original or inviting. Hardcore fans probably won't care, but it’s not quite enough to convince skeptics.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the expansion is the inexplicable removal of crucial elements that made the original campaign so enjoyable. This includes the nearly complete absence of dragon-based missions as well as the battle tower (Bioware fans would consider this their base camp, Ebon Hawk, or Normandy). Without a home base, the expansion lends a more arcade-like feel–more fleeting than thoughtful. This might be an intentional experimental move on the developer's part, as one never knows how players will respond to game changes. A greater diversity of content would likely encourage better reception, especially if new mechanics and features are introduced. Flames of Vengeance works within the confines of the established world, but it doesn’t deliver enough of its own to be considered an advancement in the saga. Even the plot is lackluster compared with the main game, but rest assured, no spoilers will be leaked here.
Although the graphical improvements are appreciated, newcomers expecting a visual powerhouse shouldn't get their hopes up. A good number of glitches can still be found, visual inconsistencies being one of the most striking. Your overall perception of Rivellon’s scope isn’t quite the same as a Bethesda RPG–it’s a limited field of view, despite the actual grandeur of the world. And the audio performs convincingly in most spots but is largely unremarkable. The Dragon Knight Saga might be a significant step up from its first incarnation, but some heavy retooling is required before it can really take to the skies. Future efforts should focus on cultivating the game’s strengths and maybe offering something bolder and more distinctive to reinvigorate tired fans of the genre.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]