Smoke LadyMuscle, an adept and skillful Rogue, who still wonders, to this day, why the Maker christened her with such a name, launched a volley of Static Cloud arrows at a small, ravenous band of grotesque and powerful orcs — stunning them in their tracks, mere meters from where she stood. She sighed with relief, thankful the arrows dazed her foes, knowing how desperate her situation was and how her demise would be at hand if they managed to gain a foothold on her position. Smoke was cutoff from her allies: Madora, a brawny and prejudiced knight, Jahan, a wizened mage and PyroBoy her friend and fellow Source Hunter, whom tapped into the arts of summoning, electricity and water. Both mages took aim at the stunned orcs inside the cloud, and released a myriad of potent and deadly spells toward them, striking and vanquishing them from this world.
Smoke stared at the cloud, watched as the creatures within were killed without mercy and noticed movement from behind it. It was an orc shaman, and it was making its approach — but this shaman, Smoke arrogantly believed, posed little threat to her and her companions and she paid it little mind. And, as if fate heard her thoughts, the shaman cast a stream of lightning toward Smoke, staggering and punishing her for her hubris. Smoke stood there, immobilized and helpless, as an orc ranger appeared, running around the cloud, negating its effectiveness as this creature did not move through it — it was smart, and would soon prove deadly as it took aim with a crossbow, which it had unsheathed moments after stopping. Without a moment's hesitation, it launched an explosive bolt toward Smoke and knocked her to the ground, rending most of her precious life-force from her.
Smoke laid on the bloody dirt, broken and near-death, making peace with whatever deity would hear her thoughts. She turned her head ever-so-slightly toward her team, resting it comfortably on the ground and caught sight of an orc warrior making its way through their ranks, striking at Jahan, whom became battered and blood-covered from the engagement. Smoke then smirked callously at the orc as Madora began to cut the warrior down.
Without moving her head, as every bit of her body hurt, Smoke glanced around the battlefield as far as her eyes would allow, and saw the remains of a mighty, violent orc warlord, whom was teleported onto poisoned ground and killed. His attempt to flank them turned out to be his undoing, as they were prepared for his attack. Unable to actually see them in her vision at the moment, she knew three other orcs had fallen in battle thus far. Now there were only three left and these three looked to prove too much for them to face in their weakened state.
With strength leaving her, Smoke closed her eyes and began to ponder how this battle started, how their tactics had gotten them this far, so close to victory against overwhelming odds, and how, soon enough, they would eventually vanquish their foes and win the day.
Divinity: Original Sin is not a nice game if you do not play it the way it wants you to play. And this game wants you to play with fire, as well as other elements. Many encounters, I daresay all of them, should revolve around the use of elemental attacks to best your enemies, with melee characters essentially taking a backseat, being the last line of defense for your team, or a cleanup crew to destroy the remaining stragglers. The use of elemental attacks is essential for a quick, decisive victory. Casting rain on a group of enemies, then firing a lightning bolt into their ranks is sure to stun them for several turns, allowing you and your team to best your foes quickly.
Even if there is naught a mage in your group, using elemental arrows is the next-best thing to having a spellcaster with you. The cunning use of arrows and bolts can prove to be the turning point in a battle. For instance, a group of skeletons and zombies standing precariously close to an oil barrel can see their life be taken from them with the use of a well-placed fire, or explosive, arrow. Target the oil drum and watch it ignite and explode, dealing massive amounts of area damage along with the constant burning damage they take each turn. The same tactic can be used with water barrels (hit with fire, create steam, then launch a lightning attack into it) as well as poison barrels ... still have no clue as to why they would want to keep poison lying around waiting to be used.
And this game, when playing with a partner, demands you work together to further your goals, rather than lone-wolfing through each confrontation, which, funnily enough, there is a talent called Lone Wolf. Coop in Divinity: Original Sin is merely the single-player experience played out with a friend, save that, instead of controlling four characters each, you are each given two companions to control, outfit, and use in battle. Each character comes with their own unique skill-set, which needs to be used in tandem with your other companions' to deliver big hits to foes. Essentially, you need to plan a course of action for your turns with each other when you find yourself in a large skirmish, against enemies vastly stronger than you. And, by planning together, and planning well, the outcome can be immensely satisfying.
For example, a group of bandits are standing in close proximity to each other. A ranger lets fly a Static Cloud arrow, which stuns and electrifies them. Your buddy's mage casts Midnigh Oil within their ranks and sends a fireball into it, setting the pool of oil, and your enemies, ablaze. You see an enemy skirting the edge of the chaotic fiery lightning death-trap and a second mage teleports him into the mix, stunning him and setting him on fire, as long as the initial teleport doesn't already kill him first. Finally, you see two bandits that are standing in a straight line, several meters away from each other, thus you use your Knight's Charge ability, hopefully knocking them both to the ground, stunning them.
As one can plainly see, toying with elements is a huge part of the combat, leaving melee characters to essentially ward off anyone who happens to wander too close to the group, or don't find themselves being hit right-off with an elemental attack. These characters are usually best left in front of your weak ranged characters in the hopes that the brawny melee character will be taking, and mostly absorbing, the hits. Also, their Speed stat is lower than most other characters, so ensure that you do not have them wander too far away from the group.
However, the player is not always required to use their elemental skills purely for damage purposes. When using Area of Effect spells and projectiles, pay close attention to how much ground will be affected with that attack, because you will be creating bottlenecks. And when that transpires, that's when you move your melee character(s) to that area to stave off the enemies that will be moving through. I highly recommend getting the talent that allows your melee companion to perform Attacks of Opportunity. You will be getting a free attack each time an enemy moves close enough to you, if they try to move past.
But take heed, traveler, as elements will also work against you if you are not careful. The rain puddle and lightning mix is a great combination as long as you don't accidentally walk into it yourself. While the game's pathing tries to make your life easier, by automatically avoiding obstacles, sometimes if you are standing too close to a puddle when lightning is cast upon it, and you attempt to walk away, you can find yourself stunned for several turns, or burning to death if it happens to be a Midnigh Oil, Fireball combination.
One of the worst positions you can find yourself in is by standing too close to a barrel of noxious materials, as you can expect the enemy to use your carelessness against you, and fire on the barrel itself. Depending on what's in the barrel, and what was used against it, your character(s) will most assuredly suffer massive damage. Keep in mind, though, that while the barrels are small, the area the contents will cover is massive, meaning that you could find yourself standing in poison, oil, or water if you aren't mindful of your surroundings. And that means scrapping a plan until next turn if too many companions find themselves in imminent danger.
Rest assured that if you find yourself entangled with enemy mages and archers, you will always be in peril. These enemy types will almost always use elemental skills against you, on each of their turns, as evidenced in the short story written above. Rangers and mages are as fearsome as they are weak, and if you do not eliminate them with all due haste, they will wreak havoc on your team, especially so if your group is clustered too close together. One well-placed arrow or spell could easily debilitate your entire team for several turns, leaving you at the mercy of the AI's ferociousness.
And just because you have Action Points, doesn't mean you need to spend them. You continue to accrue action points during the battle, until you reach your max allotted, meaning that if you skip your first turn, you will have almost double your AP, depending on your regeneration rate. The worst possible position to be in is facing an enemy head-on and realizing that you are one Action Point away from being able to strike, thus having to make a strategic retreat as to not give your enemy extra hits against you. So, when you spend your points, do so wisely and with a plan in mind. Only use this-many points this turn, as to allow you to make an extra attack on the next, if need be.
But, how does any of this latter portion, where I speak about the perils that can before you, relate to tactical play? In a game so heavily focused on physics, environmental manipulation and the use of Action Points, the player must always remain observant to their goings-on. They must always try to remain one step ahead, and have a plan in mind, at the end of their turn, that incapacitates their foe. Be aggressive, not reckless. If you are not mindful of your surroundings, pay no import to the various enemy types you face and put your characters into a compromising positions, you will find that most battles begin to become almost too difficult to conquer. Poor positioning can lead to your weakest characters becoming fodder and quickly incapacitated. Disregarding environmental hazards can result to your characters being stunned and killed. Allowing mages and archers to continually strike your characters will always lead to devastating AoE attacks that can cripple your fighting force. Plan ahead to ensure that their next turn never comes.
But with a great plan, sound strategy and sometimes a little improvisation, you can win almost any battle you find yourself thrust into, no matter how difficult the fight, or how low-level you are compared to your foes. For instance, take the story above. This was a real account of a battle Rathorial and I were in. Playing on Normal difficulty, our group consisted of two, level 3 characters, and two, level 4 characters — and we took on, and eventually beat, a group of six, level 6 enemies with their level 7 warlord.
Suffice it to say that with correct, tactical play, you can reap copious rewards and experience from your foes — enemies you shouldn't even be challenging yet. But if you plan poorly, or not at all, you can expect your opponents to take full advantage of you, so remember to save often.