We’re heading into one of those random non-holiday release booms. Today it’s a horseman of the Apocalypse as a brooding anti-hero, tomorrow it’s a Wiccan librarian with shotguns strapped to her ankles and way too many particle physics effects on her jooblies, and next week we’ll have the continuing adventures of Buck Rogers, Space Gigolo—so why can’t I pry myself away from a second-tier fantasy action RPG from an unknown Belgian developer?
(Seriously—Belgium? Who gave Belgium a developer? The country’s as big as my closet; I’m surprised they can even fit a studio there. Did they have to bulldoze their one gas station to make room? Is it a time-share deal with Luxembourg?)
Xenophobia aside, Larian Studios’ Divinity 2: Ego Draconis has exactly two things going for it: a name that I wish I had come up with 10 years ago and applied to my own “Untitled Project About How Dragons Are Awesome,” and the reptilian goodness which that name implies.
The rest of the game, unfortunately, ranges from merely forgettable to unforgettably horrible.
See, in the world of Rivellion, dragons are bad, ’mkay? They killed the Divine, Rivellion’s local demigod, fervent advocate of normalized dragon-human relations, and all-around paragon of niceness. They plunged Rivellion into an era of chaos and forced humanity to devote countless resources to the wholly righteous and not in any way unscrupulous task of systematically wiping the draconian scourge from the face of the world.
In case you failed Obvious Foreshadowing 101, this is all lies. Dragons are our friends, and the entire deicide-begetting-genocide thing is a “let’s you and him fight” scenario manipulated by the Real Enemy to preoccupy the two major threats to his plans, which apparently involve filling the world with invisible walls, poisonous green smoke, and floating islands that poop lightning.
Players find this out the hard way (as opposed to the peasantry, who find this out the “I’ve just been killed by a demon” way). A newly-minted Dragon Slayer sent to help kill the last of the shape-shifting Dragon Knights, the ego in Ego Draconis gets his own chance to go native Avatar-style when the last Dragon Knight passes on her heritage—and her powers—with her dying breath.
Ego Draconis allegedly runs on the same engine that powered Fallout 3 and Oblivion, but I’m afraid to put that in print for fear of a libel suit from Bethesda. Divinity 2 is easily the buggiest game I’ve encountered in three console generations.
These aren’t the run-of-the-mill texture mishaps or random script errors here. We’re talking game-crippling, data-corrupting gremlins, tearing chunks out of your wings like they’re auditioning for the William Shatner Twilight Zone episode. Big, ugly monsters that feed on frustration, lost playtime, and repeated hard resets. The game itself may be its own kind of dragon, one of the mean ones that liked to live in caves overlooking villages and demand sacrifices. The old ones ate virgins; this one snacks on fun.
But if you plow through enough of Ego Draconis’ nigh-unplayable glitchery to make it through the early game, the rain abates, the clouds part, and the “Hallelujah” chorus begins to play to the drumbeat of giant leathery wings. Once Ego Draconis’ shape-shifting mechanic is unlocked, it becomes one part sword and sorcery, two parts shooting gallery, and 17 parts Top Gun. For a few fleeting moments it turns a half-assed attempt at a single-player World of Warcraft into a breakneck series of medieval dogfights.
Once the dragoning begins, Ego Draconis is a different creature altogether. Rivellion is a fairly huge affair, and the addition of dragon flight to your hero’s travel options brings to mind the best parts of older Final Fantasy games—the part immediately after the airship is discovered, when players inevitably rejoiced in their newfound freedom from the tyranny of the overworld map. Besting even that nostalgia, Larian saw fit to outfit its airship with three different flamethrowers and its world with goblin villages and the aforementioned lightning-spewing flying fortresses, both of which turn from nuisance to target practice when seen through a dragon’s eyes.
Is that enough to save Ego Draconis? For the average player, probably not. It takes the kind of patience native to a species known for sitting on piles of gold for centuries at a time to wade through the lack of quality control delivered by Ego Draconis’ mediocre majority. Most people simply don’t want it enough.
But those people aren’t me. Just give me a few square miles of open sky and get out of my way. As long as my save file doesn’t delete itself again, I’ll amass more dragon points so I can raise my dragon levels and buy more dragon skills after I find more dragon armor to protect me from my dragon foes until I, with a mighty dragon roar, immolate them in a blast of dragon fire. Dragon.