How Original Sin got the RPG stealth gameplay just rightA lot of Western RPGs since Fallout have implemented the Combat, Diplomacy, Stealth gameplay triangle. However, because the focus of stealth gameplay is drastically different from that of traditionally combat-heavy RPGs, it often ends up as one of the following:
- Useless Useful Stealth, especially in Player Party-based games, where The Sneaky Guy is commonly the only party member who can sneak past the enemy.
- Gimmicky Optional Stealth found in a single quest and never needed ever again.
- The centerpiece of gameplay, completely overshadowing the rest and turning the game into a Stealth-Based Game with RPG Elements.
Divinity: Original Sin manages to integrate a solid stealth system with party-based Turn-Based Combat in a surprisingly organic fashion, by keeping the stealth mechanics very simple and intuitive:
- Upon pressing a button, a Player Character enters the "stealth mode", telegraphed by switching the surroundings to Deliberately Monochrome (and the PC's model is replaced, with the inherent Divinity silliness, by an "inconspicuous" environment-appropriate inanimate object).
- While in the stealth mode, the character's movement speed is halved, and the enemies' vision cones—the core element of the game's stealth system—are displayed. As long as the PC stays out of them, they avoid detection.
- Appropriately for an RPG, the size of the vision cones is calculated based on the sneaking PC's Skill Score opposed by the NPCs' perception stats; furthermore, there are perks that improve stealth gameplay, like letting the sneaking character move at full speed.
- The teleportation mechanic (both the Pyramids and the waypoints) counters the need for the entire party to have good stealth skills to make stealth a viable gameplay alternative, as a single Stealth Expert can teleport the entire party to themselves as soon as they reach a safe location or if they're caught.
- Because the stealth subsystem was built into the Game Engine from the start, the latter reacts correctly to stealthy players—for instance, a sneaking PC does not trigger cutscenes and NPC-initiated dialogue (except in very specific and deliberate instances).
Equally important to the gameplay mechanics is the level design. Original Sin rarely forces the player into stealth, but its open levels present ample opportunities if the player wants to use it, from scouting past a tough encounter towards the next waypoint, to gaining a tactically advantageous position to Back Stab an enemy before the battle starts. The enemies roam about, always shifting their vision cones, making stealthy gameplay engaging to the player.
On two occasions (the Luculla Mines and the demon-infested ruins), the game does force you to resort to stealth by introducing invulnerable enemies—mindful of the Lord British Postulate, the designers have precluded the players from simply killing the enemies they were supposed to run away from and graciously justified it in-story. For players who included a sneaky character in the party, this is their Day in the Limelight that justifies the skill points spent on stealth, while for combat-focused parties, there are the invisibility spells. And again, the teleportation mechanics alleviate a lot of the frustration associated with an Unexpected Gameplay Change.
Of course, the stealth gameplay in Original Sin isn't perfect. Since killing things is the main source of XP, you get absolutely nothing for sneaking past them (Talking Your Way Out at least nets you some XP), and you get exploration XP regardless of whether or not you killed everything along the way. Furthermore, sneaking up on most enemies reveals that their only reason for being there is to be obstacles to the player's exploration, and they have no agenda except waiting patiently to fight them. A bit of NPC Scheduling or at least Enemy Chatter would liven up the stealth gameplay considerably. In short, while the game engine gives you all the tools for stealth, the game's overall design rarely gives any incentive for it.