Game: Pillars of Eternity
Publisher: Obsidian Entertainment, Paradox Interactive
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this article.
Pillars of Eternity is an interesting title. It builds on previous projects in Obsidian’s repertoire and borrows from them—most of all Neverwinter Nights 2 and Wasteland 2, that they collaborated on with inXile Entertainment.
The story is unlike anything I’ve experienced previously in a CRPG. It is heavily based on your party members, with their individual stories tying into the main plot in some way. You are accompanying a caravan to the land or Dyrwood. While traveling to a nearby village, you are accosted near some ruins, forced to defend yourself. The caravan is destroyed, along with all its travellers except for you, by a powerful supernatural force. You are touched by it and manage to survive. This experience then awakens you to aspects of the world previously unknown. Now armed with new knowledge, the “Watcher” must make important decisions about the future of Dyrwood and the fate of the kith.The story is presented quite well, with the detail in writing being in depth. There are sections within the game that draw upon existing stats to alter the story slightly, and every decision, no matter how small has some impact. It may make a future quest easier or harder. You may anger people, or gain favour with certain factions, depending on your decisions through the game. You can help party members sort out problems and every decision seems to pop up further along the game making them that much more important. Some parts of the story are told within old-school “wall ‘o text” style captions that spew out a ton of exposition.
The main focus is on the characters which are not all that memorable. Most of the characters, with the exception of a few, will completely slip your mind and cause you to forget about their side-quests or their personal plights. This aspect of the story is disappointing, as a lot of the story elements are unique and worth exploring further in depth, but the disposition of the characters will likely put you off it.The game is split up into three Acts, with a short gameplay section after Act 3 that acts as the ending and final battle. The acts all have their own subplots and stories self-contained, as well as ties to the overarching plot of the peril that Dyrwood is in.
The gameplay of Pillars of Eternity is brutal. Every single enemy you encounter will very likely wreck your party—regardless how well you are equipped or how well your party is built, there’s a chance you won’t survive your next encounter. The combat seems to borrow heavily from Neverwinter Nights 2 with the ability to pause at any time and plan your next attack. At the same time as all this, rolls seem to govern your defenses, attacks and survival—not that you get to see what’s there, but it seemed too random to not be dice rolls.Due to this aspect, no two battles play out the same way, adding another layer of depth when you are engaged in a fight for your life. Trying out different combinations and finding out what works is key here, often opening up strategies not previously thought of and giving you just that little bit more of a chance to survive an encounter.
Should a teammate go down in battle, they will be revived after you have won, with their health intact and perfectly fine. The game, however, doesn’t use health the same way as other games. Your characters can only go down a number of times—with this number governed by your hp. The more they are knocked out, the less endurance they come back with until eventually they can be killed. Death is permanent.
Luckily if you lose your party members for good, you can just hire extra adventurers from several places within the game—inns, the keep and faction strongholds. in this way the game is forgiving, but it’s best to just save at regular intervals and avoid the death of your characters. If your party is injured beyond reason, you can rest in an inn or utilise a camping kit to regenerate them to full hp.
Crafting is also an option, and as you scavenge certain items in the field, weapon augmentations will become available to you. These range from damage augments, adding poison, slash damage, attack rates and so on. Certain pieces of armour can also have these augmentations as well, filling sockets within your equipment, however, there is a limit to how many times a weapon can be upgraded.Graphically, Pillars of Eternity isn’t very demanding. The detail in the graphics is quite decent and everything is presented well. You can zoom in and out on your characters using the scroll button, and the field is presented in a similar manner to Fallout 1 and 2—with a top down, semi-isometric perspective allowing you to highlight all your characters and move them around. interaction with items is fairly simple, depending on your perception, as the game will highlight interactable objects.
The set-pieces are all quite varied, from barren snow-planes to tropical plains, damp caves, and ancient labyrinthian ruins ornate with exquisite and unique architecture. Temples and various villages dot the world of Dyrwood, but overall the world map isn’t very big. It only encompasses a small amount of land, with different climates all being strangely close in proximity to each other. While the environments are standard roleplaying fare, the effort and detail put into them is quite impressive.
Despite the graphics not being anything overly amazing, Pillars of Eternity has immense attention to detail and the battlefields are quite striking. The developers have put a lot of time and effort into crafting the world of Pillars and it really shows. Few games take the time to give their world an immersive life of their own and populate the world with real people.The sound design is quite decent, with most of the music in the game being ambient than anything, though the music accompanied by the chant your character makes at the start of combat synergises well, and lets you know that you’re in for an ordeal. You’ll both dread and relish the moment when you hear the chant signalling combat.
The voice acting is fairly decent, considering that it was done on the cheap. Your party members speak up in important dialogue parts, offering insight and extra exposition to the game, though sadly the voice acting isn’t everywhere in the game and it’s a shame. Because some parts are voice acted, and others aren’t, it really makes the one missing acting that much more obvious. This can be quite jarring as some lines seem important enough to have warranted having sound with them, and it seems like the budget just didn’t allow for it in some places.
While the efforts of the voice actors try their best to make do with what they’re given, the characters just ultimately aren’t that likable and I didn’t find myself once really all that invested in their personal dilemmas past wanting the experience, items and gold.
Overall, Pillars of Eternity is still a really good game, despite the issues with voice acting. The removal of the joke that sparked the whole “Transphobia” controversy irked me, but other than that, the game has an immense amount of replayability. I went through the game as a god-blessed barbarian and I feel as though I missed out on a tonne of stuff. Despite the small area the game takes place in, the world is expansive and there is a lot of things to do. I regret that in my haste to finish this review I actually missed many sidequests deliberately and wound up gimping myself for the final boss.I was unable to beat the final confrontation, as the recommended level was 11-12 and after 65 hours, I was only level 9. This is not a game that warrants only one playthrough however, and I think I will be taking my time next time I play. If you’re looking for a solid old-school Crpg that will remind you of Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights or Icewind Dale, you could do far worse than Obsidian’s latest outing and Pillars goes a long way to supporting crowdfunding as an idea—to join Shadowrun Returns and Wasteland 2 in this category.