The Dragon Knight Saga, or Larian Gets Something Right Finally

Like many other games in my (digital) collection, I picked up Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga on a whim from Steam because it was on sale at a heavily discounted price. Not really expecting much from it after the other Divinity games by Larian Studios I found myself pleasantly surprised to be playing a competent, not boring action RPG with some interesting concepts.

You start off the game training to become a Dragon Slayer, an order of warriors devoted to tracking down and killing Evil Dragon Knights. Very early on this all gets turned on its head and you become a Dragon Knight yourself and learn that–surprise!–they’re not really evil. In fact, they fight the real evil out there. And so begins your quest to save the world, because that’s what happens in RPGs.

The combat and character building is pretty standard. You pick from one of three classes (mage, warrior or ranger) but don’t really have to stick to it. In addition to these skills there are two other trees: priest, which focuses on summoning mainly and “Dragon Slayer” which offers general skills like lockpicking. The skills are not stat-dependent and allow for a decent level of customization but nothing too wild. My character was focused on ranged combat with summoning skills to keep enemies off my back. It’s not a crazy forked tree so you can skip around as you please and only need to hit a certain level to put points into skills.

The skill tree, click to make big!
The skill tree, click to make big!

You get the standard handful of stat points to allocate to the usual categories (vitality, strength, dexterity, etc) as well as a skill point per level. You can hoard them or spend them right away or spend some and save some. I found myself leveling up so fast that I’d spend them in bunches when I got around to it and that it didn’t make real huge impact on the game if I waited a bit.

Becoming a Dragon Knight gives you the perk of being able to turn into a dragon. You can’t do this all the time, and most of the parts where you fly around in dragon form are game events where you don’t have any choice. The dragon has separate skills from your human form but you don’t get points as you level up to use on them. Any changes to the base levels of your dragon skills come from finding books that when used give you a point to spend in them or equipping different dragon armor.

Flying around as a the dragon controls very well though dodging attacks is kind of tricky, and most of the time you’re a dragon you are getting attacked by all sorts of stuff. A few times I lost track of my health and died because I forgot to heal but this was no fault of the game.

So what we have here is a solid action RPG with some unique elements that makes for a pretty good time. Unfortunately there are some annoying problems with the game.

First, I will refer you to one of the worst boss battles of all time. It really is that bad. I’m not going to recount it here in full but it is really badly designed and made artificially hard by being completely unfair to the player.

The game is built to be a pretty straight-forward action RPG but from time-to-time there are platform elements thrown in. Now, I love platformers a whole lot but they are really just shoved into The Dragon Knight Saga and done very badly. I thought developers learned a long time ago not to shove out of place badly executed jumping puzzles into games but apparently I was wrong. The jumping in the game is simply not precise enough to shoehorn them in, I am all for puzzling but they need to work within the game’s construct.

Beyond level design, the main game ends very abruptly. I seriously had no idea the game was ending until the credits started rolling. If I only owned Ego Draconis, I would have been pissed, and I feel bad for anyone who bought it standalone since you cannot buy the Flames of Vengeance expansion separately. It’s worse than the infamous Halo 2 cliffhanger because that was an actual cliffhanger rather than a SHOW’S OVER FOLKS, GO HOME moment.

After I got over the initial shock of the game pulling the plug suddenly, I started up the expansion. Flames of Vengeance isn’t bad, but it is a lot less fun than Ego Draconis. Due to certain circumstances you are stuck in one city the whole time and while there is some variance, most of the place feels and looks exactly the same. Which is unsurprising since it’s a city and all. That said, it does do its job which is finish up the damn story from the main game. Really, they shouldn’t be seperate pieces at all but I think that Larian maybe realized that when they smooshed it all together and released it in a bundle in this manner.

The Dragon Knight Saga is really the first time Larian executed well on their interesting ideas, and is well worth the sticker price. You might need to take a break now and then to power down from jumping puzzle rage but overall it’s a really solid game for action RPG fans. Just make sure that you pick up Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga and not Divinity 2: Ego Draconis.

A Study In Terrible Boss Design

I have played a lot of video games of varying quality, and many of them have had bad or aggravating boss battles. But I have never played one that is as badly designed as General Raze in Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga.

Here is the scenario you are thrown into:

In the small room where you fight General Raze there are two transporters toward the front that just ceaselessly spawn enemies. They don’t stop at two or four or ten, they might stop at fifty but I didn’t count. All I know is that if you don’t keep killing them the place becomes full of them. They’re not high-level but goddamn are they annoying. Especially when you are surrounded by a zillion of them or they come out of nowhere and hit you from behind and interrupt whatever it was you were trying to do.

Once you get General Raze down to about 50% of his health he runs into a healing room–there are two at opposite sites of the room in the back–and he goes back up to 100%. You can turn these rooms off using levers in front of them for a whole 15 seconds! If you time it right and Raze goes to a shutdown room he runs over to the other side to give the other one a try. He goes back and forth until he finds one that works so you have to simultaneously keep the spawned creatures at bay, try to hit Raze and run around trying to keep the rooms turned off.

You may think that you can use the legion of enemies against Raze and corner him or lure them into blocking the healing rooms, but if you try this you’ll find that he just…magically teleports into the room and is healed. There is no creative option available to the player, you must beat this boss exactly as the game designers decided was appropriate. Several times when Raze’s health was low my creatures and I were pounded him and the scene that shows him in the rooms captured him not standing up but getting knocked around by blows that weren’t happening.

On top of the annoying design and heavy-handedness of the fight, there was a particular technical problem that drive me nuts. After you ¬†use a level it cuts into a short movie of the room turning off (and it does this every time, not just the first to let you know what your action does). When the game cuts back from the movie, there is a slight delay before you can move but not before all the enemies around can. This cuts down the already short time that you have to run back and forth by precious seconds, and also gives any enemies nearby the chance to get in your way. I am playing through on PC so I didn’t have a controller to throw but I sort of wish I did.

Hard boss battles do not bother me, at all. The whole point of a boss battle as far as I can tell is to give the player something different/harder than the other parts of the game. So hard is fine. I’ve dug in and beaten plenty of excruciatingly hard bosses in the past, and I generally find it pretty satisfying as long as we’re not talking about Hoshigami levels of difficulty here. But when the whole thing is muddled up with questionable design and takes out most of the creativity these battles usually ask for it makes me wonder why I bother.

The good news is that Raze is not a mandatory battle. Yay! The bad news is that to upgrade your Battle Tower and get a set of good armor you have to beat him. Boo! Since I am a crazy person who couldn’t possibly not upgrade her base all the way, I did eventually defeat Raze hours later after doing almost everything else possible, at about six levels higher than him and re-adjusting all my skill points to suit the battle as much as possible.