Make no mistake – Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – Ultimate Edition is an excellent RPG. In the same vein of classic computer role-playing games, this is dense, tactical and delivers a beautifully rendered fantasy world that is just begging to be explored. Originally released on the PC in 2018, it has now moved across to console systems, following the release of the well received predecessor. Developer Obsidian Entertainment is no stranger to the genre, nor is it new to the world of console gaming with past iterations in the form of South Park: The Stick of Truth, and the recently highly revered The Outer Worlds. The question that remains is, has Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – Ultimate Edition made a smooth transition to consoles? Or is it a poor representation of a beloved game? Thankfully, Obsidian has maintained justice with their property, but console limitations hold it back from greatness.
Following directly from the events of the original Pillars of Eternity, Deadfire immediately throws you into the thick of its fantasy world. Lore is dumped on you like a pile of paperwork from your boss, and if you’re new to the franchise then this can be overwhelming. But Deadfire attempts its best to ease you into its alluring world with early dialogue and character building choices to shape your experience based on previous events. The basic principle sees you as a Watcher, a person who helps the spirits of those who have passed on to the other side. After the events of the previous Pillars of Eternity, your stronghold has been destroyed by a rampant god, and it’s up to you and your party to hunt down this towering being. It appears initially as a basic fantasy adventure, but Deadfire has Obsidian on their side, and if there’s one thing they excel at it’s the writing.
Despite cramming a thousand variants of terminology for species, locations and general world-building, it all comes together as a cohesive narrative. Players of the more recent The Outer Worlds will be right at home, with party members and all the dialogue choices that come with it. Regardless of it being a densely crafted lore dump, Obsidian still manages to humanise its cast of characters through dialogue options and casual conversations as you scurry across the world.
The writing here is among Obsidian’s best and has been expertly crafted. Deadfire is also welcoming to ‘choose your own adventure’ segments, which present pages of dialogue and leave you with choices to fulfil at the end. While it’s clearly a tool to make the most of the limited assets it has with its engine, the writing is so supremely written that it’s a fantastic substitution and arguably better for it. It’s just a shame that Deadfire is privy to noticeable mistakes in its translation, with misspelled words, repeated sentences and grammar mistakes. It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but is noticeable when the writing is so finely polished, bringing you out of the experience. Whether this is from the initial release or something that’s been lost in translation to consoles, it definitely feels as though more time for quality control was needed.
Deadfire brings across everything from the PC version, including all available post-launch content. What it doesn’t bring, however, is the fluent control system found there. Traversal can be finicky with controls that don’t translate well on consoles. You must select all party members if you want to travel as a group, so that means both bumper buttons must be pressed. This would be fine, but it’s easy to just switch to another party member or forget entirely. When you’re zipping about, engaging in battles and conversations with the world’s cast of characters, it constantly drags you out of the adventure. It all evidently feels more tailored to a point and click play-style, and while Obsidian has created the best with what they have, it still doesn’t quite feel natural.
Combat is also a mixed bag with two different styles of play. The first is the original style, which is real-time but offers you the ability to pause in order to select actions and abilities. It gives you a great feeling of maintaining the battlefield, but can often become overwhelming with the limited control options on a controller. With certain menu shortcuts being sacrificed, keeping a steady foot in the fight can be a repetitive and long-winded process of using the ring menu to navigate the UI. Luckily, certain abilities can be quick mapped on a toolbar, easily accessed by the left trigger. But it’s easily a system that yearns for more fluidity in its movement; something that a controller just can’t withstand.
The other option is to play the game’s turn-based mode, which is definitely more favourable for a console setting and the style I personally found lands better. It allows more time for a responsive and well thought out decision. It completely eradicates the stress of keeping up with the battle in real-time, but battles do become significantly longer. The two options come down to certain preferences from the player and how they respond to the control system. Unfortunately, there is no ability to change mid-game, so the decision you’ll make is the one you’ll stick with.
The world of Deadfire is joyous to explore, with its wonderful isometric gameplay showcasing every element of the world in a picture-perfect setting. It’s runs incredibly smoothly with no hiccups in terms of frame rate or texture pop-in, maintaining a consistent graphical level. A few bugs remain buried within however, such as items not displaying descriptions when looting or random audio cut-outs when it comes to voiced dialogue.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire was another home-run for Obsidian when released on PC. By now everyone who’s interested in Deadfire will no doubt know what they’re getting themselves in for. The single question remains on whether this does justice to a fantastic CRPG. Honestly, the answer is no. While Deadfire is still a fantastic game and one of the best isometric RPGs in recent years, it’s clearly much better suited for a PC audience. If that isn’t an option for you, there’s still a solid port here with the Xbox One version, if you can see past any of the technical missteps. Obsidian has crafted the best possible translation they could have done, but if the option presents itself then the PC version is the way to go.