Pillars of Eternity Review and Gameplay

Pillars of Eternity Review and Gameplay
The story begins...

Story

Welcome, fellow gamer, to a new world. Don thy armor and ready thy sword for a new epic adventure. Your story beings when a caravan of settlers is attacked and you are the sole survivor.

Pillars of Eternity is a tactical RPG set in a middle-age fantasy world.This setting should be familiar to anyone who has played Dragon Age or the old Forgotten Realms classics.

Except, Obsidian created a new world for their story. Meaning that you'll see lots of cool and interesting names for places and people that you'll hardly remember and it won't even matter really. Those names are just placeholders for the story...and what a story it is!

Usually when a person says "epic tale" you think of either great kings and armies battling, or a small band of heroes crossing a long trail to reach a goal, spanning over several lands. You know, Lord of the Rings style. Well, this is an adventure with kings and armies doing battle, with a small band of heroes crossing a long trail to reach a goal, spanning over several lands and several ages and several lives too.

You are a Watcher. What's a Watcher? Don't worry, there will be many opportunities for you to ask that question in the game. Suspense aside, you are someone with a connection to the world of souls. In a nutshell, that means you can see into the souls of the living, as well as see the souls of the dead, and probably many other fun quirks you'll find out throughout the adventure. How did this happen and what are you supposed to do with it? I could tell you, but then that would ruin the whole surprise. Just follow the paths that other people set before you and eventually you will find out the truth.

Of course there's some big evil going on that you have to prevent. In fact, there are several smaller evils that plague the land. You will meet each for a brief moment and they will each be mentioned just enough so you realize that it all somehow fits into a bigger plot. There certainly is a lot of suspense in that you cross long roads and fight many foes only to receive cryptic answers, but that's what makes it engaging.

Writing

But of course, dear gamer, your story is worth nothing unless you know how to tell it. Be sure to keep a well written record that will stand the tests of time.

Fancy, flashy, action packed cinematic sequences seem to be the way to go these days. That's all well and good, but this game takes a different direction and relies on writing instead - and what great writing it is! Honestly, Pillars of Eternity is so well worded that each sentence feels like it's been pulled out of a grand novel. The wording, the phrasing, it's not the kind of text you can skim over. In order to fully comprehend the meaning you need to inhale the words and that's what makes it beautiful.

They even replaced those standard quick-time sequences with something more story-based. Instead of a slew of cinematic action, you get a page from what appears to be a journal, with a narration of what's happening. Then you get a choice of actions to take and influence the outcome. This may sound boring compared to the standard action packed quick-time events, but as I said, the writing is of a quality to match great novels. Pillars of Eternity is definitely a game that readers will enjoy!

Character Creation

Every story needs heroes and this is your tale. So, who do you want to be? What do you wish to bring to this world? The choices are yours, you choose your destiny...and the destiny of the land.

The Pillars of Eternity gameplay really does let you craft your own character. I don't just mean the character creation process, but a personality too. Thankfully, this game's choices go a little beyond the usual good, neutral and evil selections, and I love it for that! Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. Before you decide what kind of person you want to be, you need to decide who you are.

The character creation process in Pillars of Eternity is probably one of the most unique I have ever seen. Personally, I am a huge fun of originality. While you do get the standard choices of human, elf, fighter, wizard, there are also very unique choices such as the Godlike race and the Cipher class. Of course I had to try this combination as soon as I saw it. I also really like what they did with the Bard, now named the Chanter. They made his abilities musical in the form of layering chants into a song. Each class has its own gimmick and approach and makes it that much more fun to try them all.

Another very crucial point - Obsidian made a promise to try and eliminate pretenses and make a great number of combinations viable. The usual problem with tactical RPGs is that the designers tend to have an idea in their head of what builds work best. Then the character creation system is created around that. For example, you can't take a mage, give him heavy armor and a massive sword, then expect him to perform well. In this game you can!

Huge props to Obsidian on actually managing to deliver a system where you can make whatever character you want and still keep him effective. This doesn't mean that the stats don't matter. They matter a lot, but if you make a mage with a lot of might, that will not make him any less effective than a mage with a lot of intellect - just in a different way. The stats do influence your character, but they are not all so tightly linked. For example, might influences damage. All damage. While intellect can influence the area of effect and duration of abilities. All abilities. You can combine both on any kind of character, or you can forgo one to focus on more defense based stats etc.

When it comes to making your character's personality matter, this may be the only game in recent years that really nails it. Not only does it think enough to offer comical choices, fun choices, cruel ones, kind ones, it doesn't even penalize you for choosing a funny dialogue option. Only the final decisions really count for your reputation. Apart from that, it offers a lot of additional choices based on your character's history, stats, class and race. Yet none of these will make a huge difference to the game's progress, apart from offering more insight, flavor or different outcomes.

Gear

A farmer can take his pitchfork and travel the forests in search of beasts to slay. He would be brave, he may be skilled, but his weapon will break after the first impact and his life will be forfeit. If you are going to shape the world's future, you will need many resources.

The gear. It's the backbone of any character and one of the major pastimes of adventuring. Has there ever been an RPG fan who wasn't eager to unlock that one secret room, where that one great artifact blade is kept that would bring him that much closer to the status of a God? Now, how many times did we get that artifact blade only to realize that it's a greatsword and our knight specialized in longswords?

Well, Pillars of Eternity will not let that happen. Gear is almost completely character independent! True there are abilities that enhance a character's use of a certain weapon, but they are not really necessary to become a true powerhouse. There are also no real restriction on which class can equip what weapon. Same goes for armor believe it or not. There's only a speed penalty, which applies to every class, and that's all.

They also added a very practical system for enchanting gear. There are these "enchantment categories" for different kinds of attributes applied. There's a category for damage and accuracy, a category for damage type etc. You can pick one enchantment from each category and this also applies to the awesome artifact gear. If it's already enchanted with an attribute from one category, you can't add another, but you can still add attributes from other categories. It's a system to make sure that none of your favorite gear ever becomes out of date.

As if all that wasn't enough, you can even have a stronghold. Yes, a stronghold! That you can upgrade, repair, enhance and it will help you become stronger, better, give you a place to rest, offer side quests... There's a lot you can do with it. It does come in a bit later, but just enough so you know what you need from it.

Companions & NPCs

A man is but one of many and one can only do so much. You will face many dangers and many numbers. Individuals do not change history on their own, but they bring people together who have to power to make a difference. You will need allies.

Now we come to what is probably the only weak link of the game (that this Pillars of Eternity review touches upon at least), the NPCs. While the adventurers you hire do each have a unique personality, their own story (and some of them quite interesting that mixes well with the plot), they lack actual character. The whole time it felt like they were there just to be there, rather than being real companions. To be fair, I am comparing them to Bioware standards (i.e. Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic...), who are true masters of making characters you absolutely fall in love with.

As for the other NPCs, some of them are really ingenious. A few of the main quest related ones are especially entertaining to talk to. Though, I have to attribute that to the writing quality. Their dialogue is so well written that they can tell you everything, yet reveal nothing and you still need to guess at their true nature, or the meaning behind their words. As characters themselves, they are still somewhat staple and lackluster.

Then again, maybe I'm just upset that they killed off my favorites too quickly. Honestly, some of them felt like they could have a truly engaging story, the kind I'd like to explore and find out. Apparently, Obsidian didn't agree with me.

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