The original Pillars of Eternity first graced our PC's back in 2015 and brought us one of the best old school/new school RPG experiences in recent memory. It offered a long journey that was deep, complex and a lot of fun. For the sequel, Obsidian Entertainment opted, much like with the original, to crowdfund the project with massive success. This along with the critical and commercial success of the first game gives Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire a chance to soar into the sky of gaming greatness and cement itself as a landmark franchise. Does it succeed? Hell yes!
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is available for purchase at Steam.
The story of Deadfire continues not long after the conclusion of the first game. When first starting out, you are given the option to import a save from the original so your major choices can transfer over. If you didn't play the first game there are a couple of presets to choose from, ranging from "neatly tied in a bow" great decisions ending to "ruined everything that could be ruined" horrible ending and a couple of shades in between. Even if you are unfamiliar with events that took place in the original, you'll rarely feel at a loss as the game highlights important location and character names during dialogues that when hovered over with the cursor provide you with the necessary info.
In the vein of many RPG's with direct sequels, this one also begins with an event that effectively restarts your character to a blank state when Eothas – the literal God of light resurrects himself and takes possession of a giant statue underneath Caed Nua, a stronghold that you owned and inhabited during the events of the first game. The stronghold is destroyed and anyone present has their soul absorbed effectively killing them – everyone except you that is. Since you are a Watcher (a person able to see and interact with souls) and you helped other Gods during the events of the first game, one of them brings you back from the brink of death. You then set out to reclaim your soul and Gods task you with finding out the reason behind Eothas' return and his intentions.
Although the main quest seems rather straightforward on the surface, the journey to completion is anything but. After you re-emerge in the world of the living, repair your ship and gather a couple of companions and a crew – you are free to set sail across the Deadfire archipelago in your pursuit of the God. This, of course, is no easy task which will require you to gather information, as well as allies, which will entangle you in dealing with a multitude of factions as well as parties in need of aid or the ones looking to profit off the entire situation. Many decisions you made in the first game resonate here and revelations made there are sure to impact how you approach some characters.
I purposely don't go into much detail regarding the story, characters, and revelations as they are best experienced on your own. Know that the main story is interesting and engaging and even the side quests will tie into it in one way or another. Be it in form of direct material benefits or your reputation for handling certain situations and people. Almost every quest will present you with a choice of some sort and the entire experience is best described as a giant interconnected tree where mine playthrough can turn out very different when compared to someone else. The effects of your decisions can be far-reaching and the consequences can be revealed immediately or 20 hours later which raised the stakes and made me carefully consider what I was doing.
The companions are as interesting as ever, be they returning ones from the first game or entirely new – each has their own motivation for joining you and all of them have plenty of unique nuances and secrets that just beg to be explored through dialogue and questing.
The game starts you off with an insanely deep character creator, not so much in terms of appearance customization but more in terms of your race, class, abilities, background, culture and more which will all contribute how NPC's view and react to you and how you handle yourself through dialogue and combat. Character creator already presents you with so many different options that will severely impact the gameplay and make your life easier or more difficult, depending on who you'll be dealing with.
Deadfire, much like its predecessor is what you make of it in terms of gameplay. Most of the game plays like a good fantasy "choose your own adventure" type of book and many times you will literally be presented with a book describing your predicament as well as offering you a couple of choices on how to proceed. I'd say that my time with the game was 70% exploration and dialogue and a mere 30% actual combat.
The exploration segment is very enjoyable thanks to the new setting which has you sailing about on a Sid Meier's Pirates-like overmap that features numerous islands with interesting locations that hide the new story, gameplay, and loot opportunities. Not only is this map similar in appearance to the mentioned game but is also similar in gameplay possibilities as your ship is your new mobile headquarters. It's fully customizable, upgradable and capable of naval combat.
You can assign crew members to do certain jobs, from cooks and doctors to cannoneers and navigators – and they do their job better if they show affinity toward it and improve over time. The ship to ship combat is unfortunately delegated to the mentioned "choose your adventure" segments where you and your enemy take turns in performing certain actions to gain better positioning so you can fire away. I found these segments rather difficult until much later when I got a better ship so I resolved most by either speeding away or boarding an enemy ship where the combat becomes a standard party affair.
When it comes to boots on the ground segment, the party size has been reduced to 5 when compared to the previous game's 6 man party. I'm personally more inclined toward smaller parties so I had no problem with this and I haven't felt like my hand has been cut off in terms of strategic options due to the dual class system that I chose for most of my party members. Deadfire like its predecessor features a sort of pause-play combat system that's heavy on the micromanagement. Upon meeting with an enemy NPC, the game will automatically pause, giving you time to analyze the situation and decide which of your party members does what. Once you are ready, you can let your actions play out in real time and pause if and when you feel its necessary for further micromanagement.
Initially, these combat situations are fairly easy and automatic AI gets the job done but as the game goes on – it's best turning it off and commanding your party manually if you want to survive. Sure the auto AI is more useful here due to the implementation of a behavior editor that allows you to tweak many different options on how your party behaves and reacts to certain situations but ultimately, nothing beats "do it yourself" approach once you are familiar enough with all the systems in place and there are a lot of these. Positioning, formation, elemental and physical status effects, weaknesses, strengths, skills and abilities all play a role in every encounter making the combat full of possiblities but also quite difficult if you are unprepared.
Despite the excellent combat, what I loved most about Deadfire is the fact that its greatest strength actually lies in the dialogue options and the possibility to avoid almost all combat scenarios if you pick the right responses or invest in the necessary skills. When it comes to improving the skills themselves – leveling them up is immediately apparent and never feels pointless as investing even a single point into a certain skill can open up different ways to progress. The fact that in certain situations the accumulated skills of the entire party are taken into consideration helps the system feel less like you are effectively shutting a segment of the game off just because you didn't invest in one character's intimidation or something of the sort.
First Pillars game had very long load times and things are much improved here, however, as this is a far cry from an open world in the vein of Divinity and is broken into numerous sections – the frequency of loading screens can sometimes be a bit much, especially when you have 5 single screen areas in a row. This took me out of what is an otherwise very immersive experience. Also, if you were expecting Pillars to have any sort of multiplayer, you'll be sorely disappointed. I personally didn't mind as Pillars is much more story driven since it plays like reading a good book and you just don't huddle around a book with more people. Despite my personal preference, I can see how multiplayer would improve the overall game as the seafaring, pirate aesthetic would be perfect for co-op.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Pillars II continues with the kind of old-school visual aesthetic which always reminds me of Diablo 2, Baldurs Gate or Nox only with all the technical capabilities of today. That means 3d characters on 2d backdrops with sharp, highly detailed textures on both as well as great atmospheric effects with weather and lighting that really conveys the authentic feeling of different biomes while somehow retaining the overall impression of being in an oceanic, tropical archipelago. It often felt like a book cover or a painting coming to life which is rarely seen in other games that try so hard to get our old-school senses tingling.
What I did find underwhelming were the combat visual effects. It's perhaps that I was once again spoiled by Divinity 2's insane audiovisual feedback when it comes to combat as here, visually, combat felt rather tame and uninspiring. An important thing to note is the general polish. My time with the game was very much bug-free and run smoothly on both a high end and mid-tier PC with all options cranked up to their absolute max.
On the audio side of things the game shines. Not only is the script generally well written but the voice actors bringing it all to life did an excellent job. Every quest felt that much more engaging and never have I felt that a voice actor woke up way too early or went overboard in delivering lines. I was completely immersed and NPC's felt real as did their problems which resulted in me following the story more closely and doing as many quests as I could find.
The music is much the same. It is rare that I find myself stopping dead in my tracks to listen to the music a game throws my way. Some of the tracks reminded me of other games with great music, and one particular track gave me Morrowind kind of goosebumps.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is an absolute joy of a game and any negatives are ultimately nitpicking because they don't lessen the experience substantially. If you play games for their narrative, this one should be on your must play list as it brings an immersive, interesting and engaging story filled to the brim with interesting and multilayered characters and locations. The game can take you anywhere from 40 to well over a 100 hours, depending on the difficulty and your style of play. Suffice it to say that a couple of years ago I didn't actually like isometric RPGs but games like these are reason enough to turn anyone into an unflinching fan.
|+ Interesting and engaging story||– No multiplayer|
|+ Character creation and the supporting cast||– Frequent loading screens|
|+ Visuals, music and voice acting||– Lackluster combat effects and feedback|
|+ Great class system and challenging gameplay|