Review: Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of Eternity pays homage to the CRPGs of old. It's brutal, immersive, rewarding and quite beautiful. Obsidian have developed another winner.  The party members are the big fumble, with uninteresting stories and uneven voice acting, but beyond that it offer a large world and a solid story.  Highly recommended.
Review: Pillars of Eternity
Date published: May 14, 2015
2 / 3 stars

Editor's Note: Tabitha's copy of Pillars of Eternity was provided free of charge by the developer.

Pillars of Eternity is a classical western computer role-playing game developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Paradox Interactive. Pillars of Eternity stirred up a lot of trouble with certain in game messages from backers causing Obsidian ultimately caving into the pressure of detracting parties. While it doesn't take away from the impressive achievement that the game has accomplished, it does still somewhat dampen the soul. All this said, I am here to review Pillars of Eternity—a game that is somewhat the spiritual successor to Neverwinter Nights 2, so here goes.

Pillars of Eternity's story presents a deep and broad world to explore

The story of Pillars of Eternity opens with the main character accompanying a caravan through the land of Dyrwood—the setting for the game. The caravan is set upon while passing near some ancient ruins. The ruins holding significance to the rest of the game, seem to be connected to the supernatural force that destroys those that are part of the convoy. The main character is the only survivor. Marked by the supernatural force, they find that they now possess a unique ability to peer into past lives and the darkness of one's soul. Now branded as the "Watcher", important decisions are placed within their hands that hold the key to the fate of all of Dyrwood.

The plot of "Pillars" is presented in great detail, with certain paths and walls of text required to immerse one's self in the world. These texts greatly flesh out the world—being mostly optional and there for players to delve deep into the mythos. Stretched out across three acts, Pillars often spews out these wall of texts to provide extra context to any given situation and provide the player with the amount of information required to make seemingly unimportant decisions that often have grave consequences.

The decisions system is pulled off interestingly,
without an over-reliance on a polar binary-choice system

Drawing upon the stats within the game, there are certain scenarios and situations the Watcher is out in while being asked for an answer. Many of these decisions have a sort of butterfly effect. Enraging the nearby merchant might seem miniscule and throwaway, but that merchanct might be friends with other merchants, who spread the world to other they know about the watcher. Choosing decisions in Pillars is never straightforward, and this is part of what the game fresh. The consequences of said actions are never immediately visible and are often very likely to affect a later decision the watcher is faced with. The way aspects of the story affect each other is one of the most fascinating things about Pillars of Eternity.

A downside to the story is with one of the focuses being on the party members. Conversations can be had that further flesh out the world and will also lead to party quests. Where this idea fails is that with the exception of one or two, the majority of the party members are really not all that interesting. This causes their plight to often slip one's mind while playing, making their story seem a lot less important regardless of the ramifications. A lot of the story aspects are unique and fascinating to explore, but the characters are somewhat of a letdown.

Mechanically it is an evocation of classical CRPGs

Pillars of Eternity is a CRPG, in the truest sense of the word. Anyone who goes into this game with the idea of combat being as easy as Mass Effect or Dragon age will be sorely disappointed. This is game play on par with Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Baldur's gate or Icewind Dale. Pillars of Eternity will destroy players over and over—and that's just on the normal difficulty. Even with a maxed out party brandishing the best stuff, the final boss took three attempts—this was with the best spells, tonnes of scrolls and items and powerful summons.

Battles seem to follow a system similar to Neverwinter Nights, with unseen dice rolls made in the background determining whether the party hits or misses. No two fights are the same. The party may get wiped within five seconds, depending on rolls and critical hits vs grazes—the party might demolish that same enemy in a rematch with the same stats and characters. Strategy is key to Pillars, many battles often being won by funnelling the enemy into a tunnel, flanking them or just luring each one out one at a time. This game rewards rampant experimentation—requiring thought outside the box.

The main twist on traditional CRPGs is the health system

If a party member is down in during combat, they'll be fine after it's over. They'll regenerate and be ready for the next fight—to a certain degree. Unlike similar games like Dragon Age, health is utilised differently. Each party member has a health pool that they draw from. Endurance is the main thing to watch in battles, while health governs the amount of times a member can be knocked out before they die. If they run out of all endurance and health, that character is gone forever. They can not be revived, however a different party member can be hired from Inns and various places to replace them. Death is permanent however. Health and endurance can be regained from resting with camping kits or at inns—refilling their health pool.

Pillars of Eternity also allows the player to craft, scavenging items around the field to enchant items and make potions, traps and all sort of spell scrolls. Augmentations like poison, fire, ice and other types of corrosive or slash damage can be added into the sockets of items. The quality of items can also be raised to a better, tier, providing more upgrade slots and defences.

Art direction on Pillars of Eternity is pretty solid

Pilllars is not a demanding game resource-wise. Graphical detail is presented well and the camera is generally pretty good. The camera can be zoomed in and out using the scroll wheel on the mouse. The field is represented in a way similar to Diablo II—being top down isometric. The set-pieces are varied, ranging from sewers, to mountaintops, to volcanic caves, labyrinthine mazes and archaic alien architecture. despite the graphical fidelity not being absolutely top-notch the game still looks gorgeous, bright and vivid. The colours are refreshing and the sheer amount of detail on items and models really adds to the immersion. a lot of time and effort has been placed into the visual presentation of the game and adds greatly to keeping one engrossed.

The voice acting is inconsistent

Despite having many voice actors that aren't well known, Pillars of Eternity pulls it off decently enough. The party gives their opinions during important scenes and offer different perspectives or insight. A big let down is that the voice acting is inconsistent. Some really epic scenes have voice acting, while other just as important ones don't. This gives a real empty feeling, leaving the scene absent somewhat—detracting from the overall quality. It feels like the budget didn't allow for constant voice acting.

The voice actors do the best with what they have—struggling to make certain characters likable. The characters aren't really likable and it's hard to get invested in their personal plight. The only thing of worth from helping them is experience and items. The story doesn't feel like it matters. What is unfortunate is some character back-stories did seem interesting and the lack of investment within the character's destroyed the moral dilemmas.

Musically, the game is ambient, with combat being the loudest track. The music always fits each set-piece, never feeling out of place or shoehorned into a place. It is often quiet and calm but can immediately pick up and become dramatic at a moment's notice. This dynamic quality of the soundtrack really adds to the immersion, and oddly enough the chant made at the start of combat never gets tired.

Pillars of Eternity pays homage to the CRPGs of old. It's brutal, immersive, rewarding and quite beautiful. Obsidian have developed another winner.  The party members are the big fumble, with uninteresting stories and uneven voice acting, but beyond that it offer a large world and a solid story.  Highly recommended.