Everyone knows the big-name role playing games: Dragon Age, Oblivion, Final Fantasy, etc. And believe me, I've played them all.
However, one of the greatest role playing games I've ever played isn't one of them. In fact, I'll bet you've never heard of it. Even if you did hear about it, you probably never bothered to look at it due to the game's wacky title: Divine Divinity. Divinity is a PC role playing game developed by Larian Studios, released in 2002. The game has everything you could want in an epic RPG: solid graphics (at least for the time), excellent storytelling, engaging gameplay & combat, and incredible immersion. A sequel was released in 2009 which I have yet to try, though I am very much looking forward to doing so.
The story of the game is probably one of its greatest assets; never have I played a game so deep and involving. Divine Divinity takes on a relatively dark tone, in which the world is experiencing a lot of instability and turmoil. It's typical fantasy fare, but it contains a lot of twists, epic adventures, and dangerous enemies. You'll really start to invest yourself in the characters and the setting.
The game world is absolutely massive, spanning many thousands of screens. Traveling through the world is also very exciting -- there is no simple "fast travel" system like their is in Oblivion so you actually feel like you're journeying through the lands. There are teleporter scrolls and stones you can unlock, but you'll have to complete some hefty side quests to obtain them. I actually like this design, since it forces you to earn any form of fast travel (I didn't enjoy fast travel in Oblivion since it kind of spoiled me and brought me out of the world in a way).
But the main appeal of this game is that the world it takes place in simply feels alive. Not only is it large, there is so much going on in it, too, and Divinity does an excellent job of creating one hell of an immersive atmosphere that you can almost feel like a part of. One of the ways the game accomplishes this is by sprinkling little events throughout the game world. For example, in the middle of one of the forests there is a series of gold coins laid out in a "trail" that leads off the main path; if you choose to follow the trail of gold, you'll eventually end up into a clearing where a large group of orcs will ambush (and likely kill) you. Another example -- there is a random human army outpost in the middle of the woods that seems friendly enough -- that is, until you enter. Once you enter, a mage from the Black Ring cult (your chief antagonists in the game) magically appears and casts a mind control spell on everyone, turning them all against you. Little things like this really serve to immerse you in the instability and danger that permeates the land. Immersion and narrative are the chief things I value in a video game, and Divinity delivers in spades.
There is SO much to see, do, and explore in this game -- I barely scratched the surface and I managed to hit well over 300 hours in a single playthrough! There are tons and tons of side quests, and the game almost requires you to do several of them (since they give you much needed experience points). But do not fear - side quests in Divine Divinity are rarely menial, like the typical fetch quests of other RPGs (gather 10 pieces of wood, kill 20 wolves, etc.). Instead, side quests are like mini storylines with several chapters, and they tell compelling narratives on their own. For example, one side quest involved finding the source of a poison that was infecting a town's population; another had me investigating political corruption within another town. These side quests are meaningful and important, and increase your stake in the game world and its inhabitants. Also, most side quests also have multiple endings, meaning that your choices actually impact the game world. This is another example of how immersive the game world is.
Adding to this is the game's "population"; there are hundreds of NPC's populating the game world, and each one of them has a unique personality to match. They all go about their lives in an organic way, waking up in the morning and going to bed at night (yes, the game has a realistic day/night cycle) Dialogue in the game is more free-form (a la Mass Effect), meaning you can interact with them in many ways.
Probably one of the only issues with the design of Divine Divinity is that the pacing is a bit off, especially in the beginning of the game. This is partly because, since the entire game world is open to exploration right from the start (save for a few areas) and this world is so enthralling, it gives you the itch to start exploring right away despite the fact that you start the game ill equipped to handle some of the game's tougher foes. I remember the first time I played the game, I opted to leave the village of Aleroth (the game's starting point) since I wanted to see the game's vast sights; however, outside the walls of town, I kept dying easily at the hands of any and all enemies I encountered.
Finally, the music score of the game is absolutely awesome; it does an incredible job of setting the darker mood of the game and adds a lot to the immersion factor. Here is a sample piece from the game; it plays when you are exploring the game's largest city - you can see how it really helps set the tone of an unstable, corrupt city.
So if you can, go out and get it; it'll be well worth your time! It's only $16.99 on Amazon.com!