The world of the RPG always makes me remember back to my time playing D&D in a caravan with two mates decades ago. Back then it wasn’t trendy or cool to like playing D&D, there were no Stranger Things and you found the bars of London full of roleplayers eating hummus. It was a sort of secret affair that you did in the shadows.
When I get to play a game like Pillars of Eternity all those feelings come rushing back and I long for complicated character development, interesting and deep story arcs, and bloody huge magical weapons. But does Pillars of Eternity make me relive fond childhood memories or childhood nightmares?
After a successful turn on PC, Paradox and Obsidian Entertainment bring to you a game that has come from one of the most successful Kickstarter gaming campaigns – a campaign that ended with nearly 75,000 donors. Pillars of Eternity can be compared to games such as Baldur’s Gate and most recently Tides of Torment.
You start your journey as a Watcher, living in a caravan and travelling across the country before looking for work in the city. Something terrible happens and you discover an evil magic that changes all your future plans. You get the option to decide on your character class and all the usual suspects are there – warrior, mage, ranger etc… Now a Watcher is someone who can communicate with souls – living and dead. So if you see someone standing around minding their own business you can delve into their deepest secrets, understand their inner most thoughts, or glimpse into a single solitary moment in the person’s life. It’s a game highlight that I really relished.
The gameplay itself is a mixture of exploration, journeying through the main and side quest lines, and combat. The exploration side of things see you control your character and navigate them around the map. You can interact with items, landmarks and enter into dungeons, houses and inns. You collect items for your inventory and pretty quickly will find yourself establishing a party of highly entertaining NPCs to join you on your adventures. Each location that you discover is utterly individual and packed with detail for your eyes to enjoy. The world is brimming with ideas and massive stories are just waiting for you to find them, before drawing you slowly into their secrets. I loved this element of Pillars of Eternity and really got involved in the world, ensuring that I was to feel a sense of nostalgia over those old D&D campaigns.
Like most recent RPGs I’ve played, the story and created narratives are where these games live and die. The story here is so dense and enjoyably complex that you could put the whole thing into an epic ten novel box set. A good example of the level of chronicle expertise on offer is when I used my Watcher skill on a random character, a short story of immense detail appeared in his thoughts and I was amazed at how much effort went into a minor moment. The writing really is king in this game. On top of that you have a brilliant group of misfits with their own personalities, problems, dynamics and side quests.
Talking of quests, this game has a bundle of them on offer. The main story will take you a fair while to complete, but on top of that you have a crazy amount of side quests to enjoy and many encounters to chance upon. Like any good RPG it’s great to get lost away from the main story and discover other smaller stories. It’s dense, full of lore and will satisfy the hardest of fantasy fans out there.
The biggest problem I had with Pillars of Eternity however was in the battles themselves. There is a load of difficulty levels to start the game with, but even on the lowest setting it won’t be a picnic to plough through your enemies. You can choose a party formation and that will determine how your party attacks in battle, and it’s all in real time, rather than turn based, which is all fine and dandy. The problem I have is that it all seems a bit clunky and seriously messy at times, with party members getting stuck in doorways or not attacking for some other reason. Then every time something happens in combat, like say a character is low on energy, the game pauses to let you know. So the combat is broken up and you lose that sense of real time urgency. Some people might love this and all the multi-interfaced options available, but for me, after the hundredth battle, it felt very old indeed.
The looks of the game are good though. I really enjoyed the level design and the beauty found in many of the locations. It’s very old school and nothing I haven’t seen before, but it’s done with elegance and craft. The menus and interface system are superb as well, but loading times are maddening – something which I don’t understand when you think about the power of the current generation of consoles.
A special mention however must go to the “Choose your own adventure” style of artwork that appears when you select a landmark or hit an action. I adore this and it really works well in the context of the game. The soundtrack is also epic and appropriately dramatic for a game of this type, whilst the voiceover is steady with some nice acting in sections.
Overall I have marked Pillars of Eternity for the gamers who like RPGs, rather than the newcomer to the genre – you know, those who might struggle with a game that comes with such depth to the adventure. The story, design and writing styles are brilliant with some excellent moments and lots of hours to delve into. This edition has lots of content added from the extra DLC packs available and even though the battle system is something I began to loath in the end, others might just love it.
Pillars of Eternity makes me think back to the good old days of D&D… and I will carry on searching for that perfect magical sword.