My ex-Dragon Slayer had just fought her way up an abandoned, haunted tower. Fighting my way to the top was exhausting—I had elected to start off as the ‘Ranger’ class, which meant that instead of running at things and smacking them with a sword until they fell over I had to shoot arrows at my enemies until they fell over. This was exhausting because in Divinity II, you have to aim your arrows, or at least use the right analog stick to get the sluggish targeting reticule to highlight the enemy for long enough to lock on to him. Additionally, my ex-Dragon Slayer seems to take her sweet time nocking and firing from time to time, although other times she seemed to fire fairly quickly on her own.
Of course, I didn’t have to stay as a ranger—you are allowed to select talents from all possible classes as the game progresses, forging a nigh-omnipotent character, but at this point I wasn’t really close to that level of ability. In fact, the only reason I was fighting my way up a haunted tower in the first place was because some dying dragon lady had asked me to, although she had failed to specify how to get to the tower or indeed why the tower would be filled with angry skeletons (I think that it is probably just a quirk of RPGs that when people say ‘abandoned’ they actually mean ‘filled with skeletons’). After wandering through the countryside and murdering goblins, I found a tower that looked just full enough of skeletons to be the one I was looking for. So began the battle to get to the top, or wherever it was that this ghost I was supposed to talk to was hiding.
Which brings us back to where this started: Me, standing outside of a door into a haunted, ‘abandoned’ tower. What would await me when I stepped through that door? As it happens, it was not the right door. There wasn’t a ghost in the tower at all, just a single skeleton which, according to the mini-map, wasn’t an enemy. I figured this was the former Dragon Knight ghost I was supposed to be interrogating about the fall of the Divine, an old demigod who was betrayed by, historically, the whole order of the Dragon Knights. The truth of this view had recently been called into question, but the actual machinations remained a mystery waiting to be unraveled as the game progressed. I approached the skeleton cautiously, and spoke to it. It was not the Dragon Knight I was there to meet.
It was a merchant. A living, talking skeleton that was not interested in fighting and wanted only to be left alone. As a way of pacifying me, it offered to trade with me. At this point I had several choices in terms of how I responded, and rather than giving the usual ‘die monster!’ or ‘okay, let’s trade,’ I went with another option which the game brilliantly provided: ‘holy shit, a talking skeleton.’ Now I realize this is a pretty surprising dialog choice—hadn’t I been killing skeletons for a good twenty minutes by this point?—but even more surprising was the skeletal merchant’s response, which boiled down to: ‘Can we not discuss this? I knew a guy who thought too hard about his own existence and dissolved.’ So of course I continued to question the mechanics of this skeleton’s existence—where was his voice coming from, why was he a merchant anyway, and what exactly was holding his body together? In response, the skeleton grew more and more nervous, until finally he fell apart, a victim of an existential crisis. Let me be absolutely clear here: this is something that actually happened in the game. A skeleton had an existential crisis and fell apart. I could not talk to him anymore, and I could not trade with him anymore.
Marketing brought to you by looking vaguely like Dragon Age 2. This has been the mandatory mentioning of Dragon Age 2 for the review. Thank you, and goodnight.
Unfortunately, I also could not find the exit to the room either. There was the door I’d walked through initially, yes, but it was locked, and according to the arbitrary rules of the game, could not be opened by lockpicking (a skill which I always gravitate to almost immediately in any game where it is an option). There was no indication in that dark place (so very much of the game is in the dark and semi-gloom, except for the parts where you travel between dungeons in a gorgeous outdoors) where the exit could be. There must be a puzzle, I thought, and so I began to look for anything that I could activate. I found some wall-panels to push via the time-honored, honed-by-Wolfenstein 3D technique known colloquially as ‘wall humping’ (although in this case it involved making large sweeps with the targeting reticule hoping something showed up that I could interact with), but they only seemed to poison me, set me on fire, and, briefly, turn me into a ladybug. I could find nothing else to interact with, and the constant sweep of the screen caused a disturbingly high amount of graphical tearing, which eventually lent itself to a headache. I was stuck in this godforsaken room with the remains of a skeleton I’d literally talked to death, with no indication of what to do or where to go.
I turned off the system, restarted from an earlier save point, and kept away from that room. Eventually, I found the ghost I was supposed to talk to, and he sent me on another quest. The game continued. I learned how to turn into a dragon. It was pretty awesome.
But for me, the game is and always will be that mixture of brilliance and stupidity in that locked tower room, when all that was good and bad about the game met. Where I talked a skeleton to death and then, presumably, wasted away to nothing trying to get anything to happen that would let me out of the room, but alas! I couldn’t even get turned into a bug again.