Pillars of Eternity Review

“Oh, where to begin?” Jonathan looks nervously at his computer screen as he contemplates something, then looks like he has as idea. “Perhaps with a brief history…” His posture relaxes as he takes a deep breath.

“Pillars of Eternity is an RPG from Obsidian Entertainment in the vein of Infinity Engine games such as Baulder’s Gate, and is the first new franchise they have worked on since 2010’s Alpha Protocol. So instead of covering someone else’s creation they have created their own world, full of choice and incredibly detailed.”

“You begin, as is often the case, by creating a character. To be honest I normally slide a couple of bars about – it’s no longer the default character if I do that – and get through this stage quite quickly.” It appears that Jonathan is thinking of a recent experience, and because in this narration you are slightly psychic, you know this to be Bloodborne. “Thinking of a name is another matter entirely though, as Stacey, my wife, will attest.”

“Pillars of Eternity, on the other hand, provides almost an excess of choice at the beginning, and it comes across as though each choice matters. Initially you pick one of six races, with the standard tropes present such as human, elf and dwarf, but there are also some curveballs with the Godlike particularly standing out. You then flesh out your character with things like origin, backstory, appearance and voice. Most importantly is the class selection. There is a healthy mix of skill and magic-based characters, with the cipher and chanter being fairly unique. As the former had an ability to charm opponents temporarily this was, naturally, my choice.” Jonathan pauses for a moment and collects his thoughts before continuing.

“Anyway, after spending half a lifetime in the character creator,” he exaggerates “it is time to begin the adventure. Your avatar is a foreigner as part of a caravan looking to settle in a new land yet things quickly go wrong. Strange things start occurring to your character and your aim is to discover what that is and try and fix it. It quickly transpires that bad things are happening in this land and that you’re now involved. There’s a surprise.”

“The game handily provides tips as you progress, yet given the complexity of the game these never become overwhelming. Conversations are nicely presented, with a surprising amount of voice over work, yet given the amount of text in the game not everything is spoken to you. Given that the game takes place from an isometric perspective and the screen is fairly static while conversing, Obsidian have seen fit to interlace the dialogue with descriptions of the speaker’s body language that add extra depth to the chat.” Jonathan winks knowingly. “I should probably stop this farce of a review format now I’ve reached the punchline, yet I’m going to stick out out. Your choices in conversations are clear, and it is always explicit if the response is trying to be clever or aggressive, etc.”

“Outside of talking, Pillars of Eternity takes place in real time, except you can pause and issue commands at any time. You can also, at will, halve or double the speed the game runs at too – making travelling quick when needed, and ensuring you do not miss anything in combat. The game also features a customisable list of when it will automatically pause, such as on spotting an enemy. Apart from when fighting the very weakest of foes you will be pausing a lot, assessing the situation, and issuing orders accordingly. Your party, of up to six, is very versatile with a number of available abilities with weapons and armour not limited by class. If you want a priest to wield a longsword and be on the frontline of every fight that is an option.” Jonathan pauses. “Maybe not a very good option, but a possibility nonetheless. You can gain companions as you travel the world yet the game further accommodates differing play styles by giving you the option to recruit extra people into your team by visiting an inn, which takes you back to the character creator.”

“Both long and short term damage is represented in the game, via health and endurance respectively. Endurance is the one you’ll check most as this conveys the damage taken in each battle and can be replenished through abilities and items. If a character’s endurance runs out during combat then they are out of the remainder of that fight. Health gradually goes down over time, more so through damage taken in fights, and can only be replenished through using a campfire to rest or visiting an inn. Characters can die permanently by running out of health. Abilities are generally classified as either ‘per encounter’ or ‘per rest’ with the more powerful ones saved for the latter. The game can be difficult and your party can get taken out quite quickly if you’re not paying attention or have an unbalanced party set up. This can be quite punishing as Stacey was originally going to review this yet after a fairly frustrating 8 or so hours on a Saturday was about ready to throw her laptop through a window. I took the review on instead and I’m certain you will be please to know that the laptop was saved. For now at least.”

“On initially discovering a type of enemy your information regarding it is limited to precisely bugger all. After felling it several times you can see its statistics but cease to earn experience. Instead the majority of the experience points comes from completing quests, deactivating traps, and picking locks. Pillars of Eternity is accommodating to different play styles and you can often talk your way out of a situation or avoid it completely. This is best demonstrated by an example of one early side quest . I’ll avoid outright spoilers although your outcome may be entirely different.”

“So after completing an early quest the party was approached by a mysterious stranger who urged them to dispose of the ruler of that part of the land. After some questioning the deed was afoot. Travelling to the target’s castle one of the party commented that surely they were not just going to walk through the front door. Agreeing, an alternative way was found, whereby everyone scaled a wall and snuck in – yet were a little fatigued by the climb. Stealthily progressing (with just 2 senseless murders) I conveniently found six sets of clothing that would allow my group to blend in. Popping these on, the party started wandering around trying to work out where to go. Along the way they were questioned as to why they were not where they were supposed to be, and the main character managed to talk his way out of it. Until I discovered, the hard way, that a red cursor means you’re stealing. I learned this after Steve (the barbarian, obviously. I did say I was terrible at naming things) helped himself to the contents of a cupboard and suddenly the four other people in the room turned hostile.” Jonathan looks a little embarrassed at this. “One quick bloodbath later, the disguises were ditched. I then found an old man to talk to who was willing to help in the quest if his favourite pupil was rescued. Given the amount of effort the party had been through the old man was convinced to stand guard for eight hours while they rested to regain their strength. Waking up I noticed lootable objects and thinking the old man wanted our help he would be happy to lend some supplies too. Nope, he turned hostile and was swiftly dispatched. At this point diplomacy was out of the window and so the party murdered their way through the dungeons where the pupil was found. He thanked us, told us to let his master know (oops!), and ran off. I’m hopeful he will never discover the truth.To cut an already long story short, the group made their way to the throne room (on the way killing a couple of guards who were minding their own business), and had a revealing chat with the ruler. After deciding not to join his side he and his guards were slaughtered to. Stealth, diplomacy, and outright massacre all in one mission. If I were any better at either of the former two a lot of lives could have been saved. It is situations like this that really make Pillars of Eternity stand out.”

“As well as trying to emulate the conversation style of Pillars of Eternity, this review also features one other similarity. Both have a lot of text, although I’m willing to wage that the game has a lot more. If you’re turned off by a lot of reading this may not be the game for you but you’re also unlikely to be reading at this point. Maybe you’ll notice it thanks to the proximity to the score.”

“Pillars of Eternity provides a deep, open experience. The combat is satisfyingly difficult but if you don’t like micromanaging the party it will soon grate. The story had me grabbed and the amount of detail and lore is dumbfounding. Choices in conversations can affect future events, and you can kill,” Jonathan stops for a second “attack, I should say, anyone you come across. Or you could just wander as a stealthy near-mute who tries to avoid everyone. In fact I might give that a try now…”