2015, for me at least, was an amazing year. I may have finally landed my dream job and married my soulmate, but honestly the most incredible moment of the year was reviewing Divinity: Original Sin Enchanced Edition. As awesome as my wife is, she just hasn’t touched me, moved me, excited me as much as I felt whilst playing Divinity, a game I regard as one of my all-time favourites. Of course, I’m being melodramatic, but it’s to get the notion across that since that day I have compared every RPG I play to Divinity Original Sin, however, unbeknownst to me, another equally as critically acclaimed RPG had been released not long before, an RPG that a lot of other video game journalists compare their new releases to, Pillars of Eternity. Now not being a member of the fabled “PC Master Race”, I wasn’t familiar with this game until a port was announced for PS4 and Xbox One not so long ago. Friends and colleagues of mine simply cannot stop gushing about this adventure, with some calling it one of the finest RPGs ever created, so how will it fair when I compare it to what I believe to be one of the finest RPGs ever created? Polish those swords and get those reading glasses on, it’s time to save humanity!
Pillars of Eternity is a multi-award winning Real-Time RPG adventure, originally releasing on PC back in March 2015 by Obsidian Entertainment, the minds behind Fallout: New Vegas and South Park: The Stick of Truth. Rereleasing now on Xbox One and PS4, this latest and “Complete Edition” features the captivating main game, as well as both parts of ‘The White March’ expansion pack, bringing with it new companions, abilities and a new ravaged land to conquer. The adventure follows you, a foreigner in the land of Dyrwood who, after escaping a savage storm, witnesses a cult ritual, a ritual at that that strips bodies of their souls that leaves Dyrwood to suffer with the Hollowborn Plague, a curse that causes children to be born without souls. Due to being in the vicinity, you become engulfed in the surrounding magic, turning you into a Watcher, a powerful being with the ability to see spirits and past memories. Naturally being unable to sleep through the never-ending visions and nightmares, you set out to seek the cult leader and have the curse removed before you go insane. Blimey! The character creation menu features an extensive range of classes, races and beliefs in order to create the ultimate hero and leader of a band of tough renegade acquaintances, scattered throughout the cursed land. Combat in Dyrwood must be handled in the most strategic way possible, and the game allows you to do this by pausing the game each time you wish to change tactic. With a tremendously dark, deep narrative and terrifically in-depth, challenging gameplay in front of my very eyes, Pillars of Eternity’s critical acclaim certainly seems justified, but is it really as good as they say? This adventure isn’t for the faint hearted … or the weak minded.
Pillars of Eternity is not an adventure you can just pick up and play, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Since it’s serving as a spiritual successor to such old school classics as Baldur’s Gate and Planetscape: Torment, Pillars of Eternity too has an incredibly detailed and beautifully written narrative, yet also like it’s elders it too features deeply challenging and intricate gameplay. With that it’s fair to say that Pillars of Eternity is aimed at those who are experienced in real time strategy and already know what to expect from the game; chances are you already knew that. Most RPGs I’ve played have gently eased me in to the gargantuan world I’m tasked with saving, however here Obsidian have removed the stabilisers right from the off, leaving me rather overwhelmed to say the least. If you’re someone who doesn’t care for long conversations, tearing through pages upon pages of incredibly detailed lore or reading up on your party’s attributes, then honestly Pillars of Eternity isn’t for you. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, I’d argue it’s a pair of reading glasses. Reading your bestiary and studying the game’s encyclopaedia should be as common place as swinging your sword, as you’ll quickly discover that this land is unlike any other you’ve saved before. When using spells that have multiple effects on enemies that have multiple immunities, it’s essential to know each of your attacks and stats before stepping into battle, as not everything is signposted and not everything is explained; knowing the difference between endurance and health for example will really come in handy. Pillars of Eternity is easily one of the most immersive and epic journeys one could take, but be prepared to do your homework before you strap on those boots.
Pillars of Eternity is more than just a spiritual successor to old school RPGs in gameplay, as the similarities continue in regards to its presentation and storytelling. If you’re expecting flashy cutscenes to illustrate every daring move you make then you’ll be sadly disappointed. Instead what Obsidian do is allow you to paint the pictures yourself, by presenting to you very descriptive ‘choose your own adventure’ like scenes that require you to imagine the peril yourself. Providing you have the right credentials and stats, certain options will be available to you (climb this, hide from that etc), however not every exciting option is the right decision, and it’s up to you to think about the fate of not just yourself, but the safety of your party. Each time you level up your character you’ll have a chance to add points to a (insert Liam Neeson voice) particular set of skills, and though these skills will assist you in battle, they are without a doubt more important and useful outside of battle. Here’s a couple of examples. Lore will improve your magic in battle, but outside it will equip you with valuable knowledge that could get you out of sticky situations, improve your reputation and unlock unique conversations for sweet rewards. Raising your Athletics skill will increase how much endurance you recover in battle, but outside it will determine how you and your party scale perilous obstacles, carving risky shortcuts to avoid unnecessary battles. The sheer surprise and mystery surrounding these events is so much better than any cutscene or quick time event they could have used, making it an incredibly intriguing adventure to sit through and play.
Obsidian don’t just tell a dark, disturbing tale through a gruesome, perilous world, but also through a cast of well written, well voiced and incredibly unique warriors, each with their own deeply detailed backstories, motives and abilities to bring into battle. In Pillars of Eternity you have the chance to control up to 5 additional heroes at a time, and fully understanding how each of them work and what exactly they can bring to the table is key to dominating the battlefield. Merely asking them all to attack blindly rather than micromanaging each of their abilities is a sure-fire way to getting yourself butchered; any one of your comrades can be permanently killed, so keep that in mind when approaching that area’s boss. Health can only be regained when visiting an Inn or by using a campfire on the road, so it’s important to manage each attack your squad performs rather than leaving it to the AI, which though it is a helpful option it will mean nothing if you haven’t got the right squad or abilities. Every character you meet, whether that be party member or NPC, is packed with hundreds of lines of dialogue, dozens of contrasting opinions and textbooks of worldly knowledge, meaning it’s in your best interest to communicate with every one of them as much as possible, as long as you don’t mind an awful lot of silence anyway. For whatever reason, not every line of dialogue has been recorded, which isn’t too much of a big deal, however what is disappointing is that conversations, even with major characters, will contain both voiced and unvoiced dialogue, which sounds a little odd. In my opinion either every character should have all their lines recorded or none at all, as taking in a conversation where every 4th response has a voice attached to it is a little bizarre and doesn’t match the quality of the rest of the game. Despite that however, the sheer level of creativity and thought that has been applied to even the most irrelevant character is staggering, making every acre of land here more than worthy of exploration.
If you missed Pillars of Eternity the first-time round, then this is the quintessential time to dive into one of the most passionate and awe-inspiring RPGs ever made. Paradox Arctic have worked very closely with Obsidian to guarantee the best console port possible, and with the ease of selecting attacks, pausing combat and navigating menus, this has absolutely been achieved. Pillars of Eternity has had its UI completely reimagined for easy viewing on TVs, as well as making it a comfortable adventure to play out with a controller. With the all new control scheme, players can now comfortably from their armchairs manage their characters from creation to levelling up, all without straining their eyes when reading wordy text, a major issue I stumbled upon when reviewing Wasteland 2 a couple of years back. Pausing the combat and managing my attacks too is incredibly easy and satisfying slumped into my couch, but the heat of battle still didn’t stop me from sliding to the edge of my seat. Of course, one of the biggest selling points of this title, like every other ‘complete’ edition, is the inclusion of additional content. In this case it’s both parts of The White March expansion pack, a continuation of the epic tale that takes you into a new land that needs saving. As well as dishing out another few dozen action, packed hours to consume, The White March’s much appreciated patches have also been applied to the main game, including an increased level cap, new and improved AI system and Cragholdt, the optional dungeon that can be accessed separately from the White March expansion. Including such an expansion is obviously an integral reason for re-releasing a very young game, but for it to be such a big and well received one is just something else. This edition has been made with console gamers in mind, making it a game for those who had missed out, so if you have already played or currently own this title then you aren’t missing anything by not picking it up again.
I’ll keep it brief, Pillars of Eternity is a masterful love letter to old school RPGs, making it an absolute must buy for adventure connoisseurs. The narrative is as beautiful as it is harrowing and the sheer level of detail put into its cast and lore is astonishing. If you’re expecting this to be a flashy adventure with wise cracks, cutscenes and tutorials around every corner, you’ve sadly come to the wrong kingdom, as this is an adventure aimed at those who know they can handle themselves in tough real-time battles. If your idea of hell is reading buckets of text, having endless conversations and taking battles at a slower, more calculated pace, then honestly this adventure isn’t for you, however for those who want a real challenge and welcome the homework attached to this completely mesmerising world, then Pillars of Eternity couldn’t be more of a perfect ally*
*That being said, if you too enjoy vibrant landscapes, sharp wit and turn based gameplay, then Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition could be a better alternative, why not read that review and decide for yourself.