Depending on how old you are, or if you watched an older relative play RPGs, you may have memories of titles like Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate, earlier RPG titles in which you didn't play one fleshed out character, but a party of six in which you had to micromanage each and every little stat and movement of each of them. These games were like if you were playing all of the characters in a game of Dungeons and Dragons while the DM, in a bad mood due to none of the other players flaking on this game he worked very hard on, tries increasingly brazenly to get a TPK. That isn't to say they were impossible, but this is how I remember the difficulty with me being maybe nine at the time I played those games and thus woefully unprepared for in-depth strategy.
Fast forward about a decade and a half and Obsidian Entertainment releases Pillars of Eternity, which faithfully recreated the feeling while making the complexity and difficulty palatable with an intriguing story. The up-and-coming PIllars of Eternity II: Deadfire does well to continuing that period in RPG period that I feel is grossly understated in the mainstream. Though what I played of the game would be super inaccessible for people coming into the genre fresh-faced and innocent, I can't recommend it enough to people who are familiar with the CRPG. The customization on the primary player character is almost overwhelming, the combat is precise and unforgiving, and the story (of what's been prepared) seems to assume you've played the last one. However, for some, that's just how we like it.
Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire is available for pre-order on Steam for $49.99 and at time of writing will be released May 8.
You are still the Watcher. After an incident in the last game gave you the ability to see the memories of departed souls (and all the events after), you are now the captain of a ship travelling around some polynesian-style islands and you're sent to solve the mystery around the disappearance of the last ship and her crew as well as the strange storm that has been ravaging the nearby seas. There are a few side quests at time of writing, but that's about it but I will say that it did whet my appetite for a bit more. One of the quests even gave me a really hard moral choice, which I won't spoil but if that's any indication of the other quests to come, I'm going to have some legitimately difficult moral choices ahead in this game.
I must say I quite enjoy the world of these games and I especially love the fact that it doesn't have a bunch of exposition explaining every cultural difference. A few times a word is highlighted if you don't know what it refers to and bam, there's a little definition so you can keep moving without making the conversation seem stilted and awkward. More epic fantasy games need that, I don't have time to rummage through in-game appendices.
Upon selecting "New Game", you are immediately thrust into a myriad of options that any new player would have no idea what to do with. I've played a bit of Pillars of Eternity and I still felt a tad lost. You have to pick a race, a subrace, a class, a class archetype, ability points, skills, spells or maneuvers, and equipment specializations. I've only really seen this level of customization on pen-and-paper role playing games. The difference is in pen-and-paper games I can have several things open at once to get the best idea of what it is I'm making. Though you can flip around a little in Pillars of Eternity II, it's still a rather awkward interface for such a complicated process. Even if they just had recommended classes listed for each race for a little direction that would make it a little more palatable. As is, I think I grasped it after a little back-and-forth, but I could see any new players feel like they're being shot out of a cannon into a brick wall.
The good news though is that you only need to go through this process once for the main player character. The other party members you pick up are pre-generated.
Watch where you click
The biggest tip I could give to a newcomer is that every click counts. Do not click without thinking. When just exploring it doesn't matter so much because the stakes are low, when scouting with a rogue you need to be a tad more careful, but if you're in combat you need to have every move carefully plotted beforehand. If you have the combat AI turned off, the characters won't respond even if their face is being eaten by a scarab beetle. If the AI is turned on, it's a bit easier to manage but an aggressive AI will burn through every spell in even the most minor of battles and a cautious AI will still attack, but they'll use no useful abilities. It's like a really high-stakes real-time strategy game with no barracks to keep constantly spawning troops that have died. On multiple occasions I accidentally told a character to move in the middle of their casting a spell, which cancelled the whole thing and usually put them in mortal danger.
The low point of the game is definitely the ship combat. Most of the game's combat is fast-paced and high-stakes, where even the smallest miss-click could cost your entire party their lives. Then you get into the ship and it suddenly becomes text-based. Maybe I've been spoiled by games like Black Flag and Sid Meier's Pirates, but I just didn't enjoy the ship combat. If I wanted to play a game like that I'd have gotten my D&D group together. I hope they add a bit more to this, because as is I was not exactly grabbed by the part of the game that is usually the more exciting part of any game. This is the first time I've gone "oh no, ship combat." There is plenty of time left for development though, I hope they can spice it up a bit.
graphics and audio
I have to give Obsidian some credit here, they put a lot of effort into being sure that everything in the game is as detailed as possible even though you only look at it all from about fifty feet in the air at least. Character creation is the closest you will ever be able to look at your player character but there's still a decent amount of aesthetic customization. I never had a hard time telling my friends from foes, all of the races had a unique look, the scenery was pretty and I even at one point went "Oh crap" (If you play the beta you know what part I'm talking about).
The music was decent, nothing I'd write home about but it never appalled me. In CRPG tradition you do get to pick a character's voice that responds every once in a while to your commands and though there wasn't a ton of variety in that and the lines are all roughly the same, there was nothing wrong with any of the lines. I wouldn't call the audio lackluster, nor would I call it illustrious, it's got just enough luster (have I said "luster" enough? I think so.)
From what I've played, Pillars of Eternity II could be a welcome addition to the library of any CRPG fan, but I don't think it will win over non-fans of the genre or people just getting into this genre or even this franchise. If you're looking for something a bit more accessible, maybe try the classic Baldur's Gate or Icewind: Dale. These games have a bit of a high barrier of entry for a newcomer and they're a bit cheaper if you find you don't like this style of game. However, if you found yourself craving more after the first Pillars of Eternity, its sequel is shaping up to look like, for the most part, a really great continuation of the franchise.