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SummaryDraco sum, sed humani nil a me alienum puto!
The GoodEgo Draconis is (despite the number) the third installment in the Divinity series, which included the fantastic Divine Divinity and the imperfect, yet very interesting Beyond Divinity. I was pleased to discover that the transition to 3D and "social pressure" that must have been applied to developers, urging them to focus on flash instead of substance, has not damaged the soul of the series. Ego Draconis is much like its predecessors, which means that it is a sweet, heart-warming game with plenty of creativity and attention to detail.
Though the tutorial takes place in a suspiciously confined area, fear not: once you get past the initial training, you'll be thrown into a fairly vast location you'll be able to explore at your own pace. There is no continuous open world in the sense of Morrowind, but each act takes place in its own "mini world" complete with non-linear exploration possibilities, secrets and sub-quests. The game cannot be compared in size to either Divine Divinity or any modern 3D open-world game, but it sort of walks the middle ground between the expansive Elder Scrolls-style design and the ever-decreasing worlds of Bioware.
The important thing is that this world, small or big, is beautifully designed. There are breathtaking views and fabulous contraptions, a sense of grandeur both in outdoor and indoor locations. But that was achieved by many other games as well. What I particularly liked about Ego Draconis is how each location was clearly hand-made. Copy-pasting has unfortunately always been a prevalent trend in game design, and the developers of Ego Draconis did their best to avoid it at all costs. Each place has its own personality, and no two dungeons are alike. Speaking of those, they have certainly been reduced in size compared to the previous games, but instead have more detail and even a few nice puzzles thrown in.
In general, the world of Ego Draconis is not empty, and the game has been designed in such a way that it constantly encourages exploration and attention. You can rush through each area, but you'll miss a lot of optional content that way. By not checking every nook and cranny in every room you might not notice some interesting information or cool items. There are secrets everywhere, all sorts of locked chests and other stuff that raises your curiosity. I call a gameplay system "rewarding" when it urges you to think outside of the box and come up with creative solutions instead of just mechanically do whatever the game tells you to.
You can clearly see how valiantly Ego Draconis tries to combat simplification and excessive hand-holding. There are no "magic arrows" or even quest markers! The journal keeps track of everything you do, but you'll have to study the environment on your own and remember yourself where is what. Transportation is also done perfectly: there are waypoints that will conveniently teleport you around, but you'll have to discover them first, which means that on-foot exploration is necessary at all times. And even though the world is not truly open, there is still plenty of ground to cover, and the addition of physical abilities such as jumping and swimming is always welcome.
The game also offers a fair amount of side quests, some of which are very interesting. There are actually very few generic fetch quests, and many require you to think hard before you come up with a solution. Many quests have branching outcomes that depend on your decisions, and the choice is often anything but easy. Sometimes you'll have to choose sides, and that involves more than just automatized faction loyalty or a black-white moral system. I liked how the game put those choices into side quests and tried to focus them on personal affairs. Few games would offer you the challenge of correctly handling a situation involving marital fidelity and its consequences.
In short, Ego Draconis is a "tasty" RPG, meaning that it gives you plenty of varied material to chew on, and it has that comfortable pace that I've always associated with the classic Ultima style: neither too abstract (like in Elder Scrolls), nor too precipitated (like in modern Bioware games). Sure, Ego Draconis is neither as expansive as the former nor as cinematic as the latter, but sometimes the golden mean is the way to go, and this game represents the best of that tendency.
It is also a challenging game, requiring you to actually plan ahead and think hard before you invest those hard-earned experience points. It shares the character-building strengths with its predecessors, offering free-form customization and plenty of skills to choose from, each with its own levels of proficiency, just like in Diablo II, which was an obvious inspiration for that gameplay mechanic. Combat is a bit simplistic, but fun nevertheless. There are new interesting skills such as mind-reading, which often leads to unexpected results or good rewards. The addictiveness of randomized items is back, with plenty of weapons and equipment to try out.
In addition, Ego Draconis also offers some cool gameplay elements of its own invention. The most notable one is, of course, the ability to turn into a dragon. You'll have to wait a long time before you get hold of that, and even then the feature is quite restricted, but it is indeed awesome to soar through skies, setting huge enemy fortresses on fire. You can even equip your dragon with claw weapons and armor, and I think a sight of the fearsome reptile clad in leather leggings and a cute cap is bound to make you smile. Late in the game you also acquire your own tower, where you have access to more cool features - a necromancer that builds summonable creatures for you (which you can outfit with dead body parts!), an alchemy garden harboring an entire complex system of potion-brewing and alike, a blacksmith that would customize your weapons, and so on.
The main plot in the game is quite predictable for the most part, but the exotic characters and the wealth of side quests make up for that. It's the small details that matter, sometimes buried deep within the game's intricate sub-quest system, there for you to discover. I was, for once, delighted to meet a skeleton during a journey to an optional location, with whom I was able to engage in a provocative philosophical discussion and eventually made him disappear by convincing him that he couldn't possibly exist. And who can forget that pig-lover of a farmer who sent me on a dramatic quest to rescue his precious sus domesticus by whispering "Rosebud" into his ear?..
The BadAs much as they tried to reduce the loss of material, in some aspects it unfortunately became clear that even this game underwent simplification and "streamlining". For once, there is significantly less physical interactivity than in both its predecessors. You can't just pick up everything you see and drag things around any more, which makes the environment less busy and less immersive. Yes, the two predecessors were 2D, but physical interactivity has been with 3D games since the incomparable Ultima Underworld. I guess I just expected a bit too much from Larian, but that only means that I really value their work.
There is also less loot for some reason. Enemies rarely leave anything behind, and while there is plenty of treasure, at some point it became irritating to whack down hordes of bandits without getting even some basic weapons in return. You'll need to hunt down enemies, though, since there are no huge "battlefield" areas any more, and the world itself is smaller than in Divine Divinity, while the enemies are still finite. I also think that there could have been more populated places. There is a village in the beginning and a few tiny settlements afterwards, but no real urban areas. The expansion corrects that somewhat, but I still felt it was too little.