There was a time when the idea of playing a sweeping fantasy RPG with a grand branching story, freedom, and choices innumerable was, well, the stuff of fantasy. From the great CRPGs of the ’90s through the entire Elder Scrolls series, Dragon Age, and The Witcher, solitude felt like an endemic part of the genre experience; close the blinds, light a girthy asymmetrically melted candle to set the right ambience, and lose yourself in your own stories in Skyrim. Some of these games – like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights – had multiplayer, but it was always an afterthought, letting a second player tag along for the ride without letting them forge their own path.
Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin changed that in 2014, building cooperative play right into the campaign, and producing one of the best co-op games as a result. Suddenly, both players could chat to whoever they wanted, squabble in-game over key decisions, and generally piss about with wanton role-playing abandon. It was a breakthrough, a tome of game design that finally documented the arcane secrets of creating a multiplayer RPG in which both players got to play an equal role.
InXile’s Wasteland 3 – a more recent alum of the CRPG design school – seems to follow Original Sin (and its even better sequel) with a similar multiplayer experience, in which you and a friend can play through the entire campaign together. And while it works (well, when the game itself does – see boxout), I keep encountering design flaws that make me wish I could wave a copy of Original Sin 2 in Brian Fargo’s face and say ‘You had the blueprint right here on how to do this!’