Larian's stock has never been higher than it currently is after the critical and commercial success enjoyed by Divinity: Original Sin II, the epic CRPG full of choice and consequence, engaging combat, and endearing characters. And with that being the case, it wasn't much of a surprise to hear that Divinity: Fallen Heroes had been announced. What was a bit more surprising, however, was the fact that the studio had ripped up the RPG rulebook and instead had partnered with Danish tacticians Logic Artists to create a turn-based scenario-driven adventure with RPG elements. At the risk of being overly reductive, it's Xcom set in Rivellon with magic instead of alien tech.
And on paper, that sounds pretty fantastic. If you're among those who played plenty of Original Sin II then you'll know that the combat was excellent and integrated into the experience brilliantly. In Fallen Heroes, however, the combat IS the experience and the rest of the game, as far as we can tell based on our limited time with an early build, is scaled back to talking head conversations aboard the Lady Vengeance, with the odd dialogue option that leads into the next combat encounter. There's surely more to it than that, but the point is that this new game is not an expansive RPG in the spirit of Original Sin II, rather it's very much its own thing.
We took a look at two different scenarios, both of which branched off from the same conversation beforehand. One had us heading to the docks in order to save some local civilians. Choosing the other option had us rush to aid Lucian directly, civilians be damned. We got no sense of one path being right or wrong, and no clear indication as to how impactful that decision might be in the grand scheme of things. The point of the demo wasn't to give us an overview of the whole game, rather it was to give us a flavoursome introduction to the gameplay systems being used during combat.
Before you start each scenario you can choose from a number of special items that you can use during the skirmish that follows. Most of the time you'll be recovering health or giving yourself additional movement options, but there seems to be a lot of room to experiment with these items. As well as grabbing some special items you can also choose some general units to support your named character, adding to your options with melee and ranged soldiers as well as healers and magic wielders.
Using a movement system not too dissimilar to that of Xcom, each character has a certain number of action points that can be spent on moving around the map or completing actions, such as attacking an opponent or healing an ally. Most games opt to keep things simple by giving the player two actions per round, but it's a little more nuanced here and you're able to spend your points with a touch more flexibility. This allows for more nuanced and strategic planning, but it comes at the expense of general accessibility.
We spent most of our time defending civilians at the harbour. Enemy units flooded the map from all directions and the team had to fan out and move to intercept. We watched on as skeletal foes cut down NPC militia soldiers before moving in to kill the locals. We had to get to them before each cluster of innocents was wiped out, and when we did get within range, we had to use our smarts to get in the way of the unfolding onslaught. Fallen Heroes seems to offer a decent variety of missions, as another had us trying to destroy a series of ballistae before they damaged Lady Vengeance and thus sunk our only mode of transportation.
Divinity: Original Sin II had a decent combat system, and the basics of that have transitioned over quite well. One major addition is the introduction of gunpowder, which gives players yet another thing to factor into their tactical thinking. Other than that it's a blend of straight-up combat and mixing your elemental attacks to make the most of a situation. Given the brevity of the demo, it's hard to say whether a good balance has been struck between to the two aspects, but the early indications are that it should pose plenty of problems for players to contemplate. It's also clear that players are going to have to make good use of the special items - they're not just there for show and these challenging scenarios are going to be tough to beat without careful planning and well-timed use of your equipment and abilities.
It's early days and there's still plenty of time for changes and revisions, both major and small, and naturally, there's work to be done to ensure that the experience is smooth, satisfying, and well balanced. Our initial combat encounters were difficult, perhaps to a fault, but they were also varied and the level design helped to make them feel even more distinct. Moreover, the levels are more textured that you often find in games of this ilk and verticality seems to be at the forefront of their thoughts. This use of levels means a whole new strategical layer should emerge, but again, our short demo meant that we didn't have very long to tinker with our tactics and explore the fledgeling meta.
Quite how deep the story goes remains to be seen, and we'll need to see careful use of the characters if they're going to remain as relevant in Fallen Heroes as they were in Original Sin II. That said, all of the characters we know and love are still very much present so prepare to fight alongside Fane, The Red Prince, Lohse, Sebille, Ifan Ben-Mezd, and Beast in this tactical twist on the series. There's huge potential for this one given its rock-solid origins, although there's a way to go if it's going to live up to the standards set by Original Sin II.