Or maybe it’s act 1 and Fort Joy is just a very long tutorial… but it’s done all the same.
I took my ship off Reaper’s Coast having completed everything that I found. That’s a weird metric, one that really only applies to RPGs. Action games tend to motivate you through some sort of achievement counter, like “collect all 10 glowing stones” to be some sort of special collector. RPGs tend to just give you a giant map and say “go”.
Which is one of Divinity’s absolute greatest strengths and weaknesses. I’ll use a simple quest as an example – a guy you meet in the tavern says he was ambushed and would like you to try and collect his lost wares. Typical fetch quest in most games, with some sort of combat along the way, right? Well, you CAN do it that way, or you can use ghost goggle vision (TM), find out the guy actually killed his partner, who is royally ticked and wants revenge. But how to get revenge when he’s sitting at a table surrounded by goons? Behind the tavern are some outhouses, knock on one and they tell you about some bad stew and how to make more (why?). So you make some, feed the guy, he goes out back, and you take him out – and take his head. Side note – elves in this game eat body parts to learn memories, so guess what I did? Anyhow, back to Mr Angry Ghost and he says “thanks, take my stuff that’s over there behind the giant troll”. Uh, thanks?
The guy in the tavern is found a found relatively early in your quest. The battle location has you going through half a dozen other events. Ghost goggles can take even longer to figure out. It’s not like it was a linear event, or maybe 3 side quests aside here.
I was running more like 20 active side quests at any given time. And these quests have characters that overlap, and non linear order. Lohar is in like 5 of them, and you can kill him at any point, or ally yourself with him. Maybe you read a book in some other sidequest’s hidden dungeon that unlocks a passcode for a giant vulture. Maybe it’s a special rock, or an amulet. Maybe you don’t pass that persuasion check and close off big option. Maybe you let the lich take more lives for the chance of sweeter loots.
This flexibility makes for some complex and often un-hinged dialogue options. The devs somehow had to keep track of all potentials and write/record dialogue from the NPC/Story perspective. The end result is that there’s no unifying drive – you cannot ever recall what the main quest is actually about. There’s no actual villain that’s twirling a moustache, just the search for the location of the new area to explore. This applies even more so to the pre-written NPCs who never have anything of note to say in relation to what you are doing. You’re a walking god, effectively applying the Highlander mindset, and no one says anything. Their own side quests are 1, maybe 2 steps within a larger map. It’s not for lack of setup either! My 3 companions are:
Fane – An ancient undead, practically immortal. Recently awakened, trying to figure out what the heck has gone on in the centuries of slumber.
Lohse – possessed by some sort of demon who makes her go wacko in scripted events. Zero gameplay impacts (so far).
Red Prince – Destined to his dream woman, according to the fates. A fallen prince from a race of slave takers.
The more I think about it, the more this is like Fallout 4. The characters you met were frankly meaningless, and the urgent quest you were on took 60 hours of building settlements. The world itself is the character, and you’re just a piece of decoration in that larger story. (Which, in my opinion, F:NV did a better job on both fronts.)
This may seem like a complaint, but truly it is not. When I started I was expecting something more akin to the tight storyline of BG2. This is different, and a good different. I really didn’t think this type of RPG was possible.