By Tyler Grezaffi
From the makers of titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2 comes a game combining classic RPG framework and engrossing storytelling. Pillars of Eternity (PoE) is a brand new, infinity engine style roleplaying game from Obsidian Entertainment, who partnered with designers from Fallout 1 and 2, as well as Icewind Dale 1 and 2 for the duration of their Kickstarter-backed production. The result is an original fantasy IP and a melting pot of mechanics from the above games.
For readers that originally missed out on the traditional Baldur’s Gate style of top-down tactical combat, you now have +2 Luck, for this too is my first experience with the genre, and my inventory holds stacks of opinions from the perspective of a beginner.
Gamers of the touch-screen generation, be warned: this is not your typical play through of Cut the Rope. Obsidian set out to create a modern day successor to games that involve complex tactical combat, and in PoE, button mashing is certainly out of the question.
The player controls up to six characters of varying fantasy classes, and must be aware of each of their multiple abilities and positioning in order to be successful in combat. Behind the veil of swinging swords, there are multiple rules to be aware of regarding things like hit-chance and damage-reduction, as well as 25 types of injury that can affect a character, 19 different statistics, and multiple weapon damage types. For a veteran of the genre, these are likely etched into their mind, but for newcomers, this can quickly become quite overwhelming.
Yet therein lies the most enjoyable part of my experience; learning the ropes. At one moment, I would be cut down multiple times by the same pack of wolves. Yet in the next, the fight would be a breeze, simply after consulting with the bestiary and learning which spells and weapons would be more effective. This depth of combat can allow the patient player to eventually enjoy the fact that it was their strategy, not the giant flaming sword that they carry, that won the day.
The story is not shallower than the combat in PoE. Mostly told through text-base description alongside sound effects, the experience often feels like an interactive novel. And though the large amount of reading involved may add hours to the game time if fully explored, the detailed descriptions and deep conversations allows players to experience first-hand the dark, mature themes explored by Obsidian. Women within the world are mysteriously giving birth to soulless children, and in some areas they are even put down in attempts to stop the epidemic. The protagonist suffers a threat of a sickness and the possibility of going mad. In truth, the story is about as forgiving as the combat system.
Within all of this darkness, there can still be much beauty to explore in the game. The world is vast, and the locked, top-down camera displays an art style that is both gritty and beautiful. Interesting characters are seemingly around every corner waiting to be met. Eventually, the player can obtain and upgrade their own stronghold, which contains helpful buildings that produce crafting items and followers that can be sent on quests.
The most common recurring thought while playing this game always came back to its depth. The combat, the dialogue, the amount of tasks to take on and choices to make; it is overwhelming in the most welcoming sense. And although at times, a beginner may feel as though they are learning advanced strategies of chess for the first time, consider this: It may be easy to like a forgiving game that holds your hand as you advance, but it’s hard not to love one that taunts you from afar with its difficulty; unaware that it’s about to be flanked by five of your party members…