In an age where more and more developers are moving towards the action-adventure genre, cRPGs are a dying breed. Popularized by the iconic Baldur’s Gate series in the 90s, it has largely been kept alive by the efforts of crowd-funded indie games, Larian Studio’s Divinity Original Sin and Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity being the most successful ventures.
These franchises may not be that popular, but they’ve both met with an immense deal of success on each of their respective turfs. The sequels tried to modernize the genre in an attempt to make it more accessible to the newer generation of players by making the interface more streamlined and ditching some of the constricting DnD rules.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire especially succeeds in doing just that. It retains the basics of the older DnD games like sprawling dungeons full of traps and treasures, character customization and reputations, a diverse caste in addition to emphasis on player choice and ridiculously tough boss battles. On the other hand, the more frustrating mechanics like limited wizard spells and class and weapon restrictions/penalties have been done away with.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a direct sequel to the original Pillars of Eternity, and many of the main characters, including the protagonist are retained. However the game design and setting are vastly different. The sequel is set in the Deadfire archipelago where maritime combat constitutes a good chunk of the gameplay. Furthermore, the game has a branching questline with multiple factions and abundant side quests as well as bounties.
Pillars of Eternity II: Plot and Character Creation
Just like it’s predecessor, Pillars of Eternity II is also set in Eora, a land where creatures are reincarnated after death, their souls passing into different bodies, a cycle that is watched over by the gods. However unlike the first game which was set in the backwater country of Dyrwood, this one is set on the untamed islands of the Deadfire archipelago .
The game starts off with the Watcher losing his life and property to a rogue god. Then after being sent to the Beyond (a void between death and reincarnation), the guardian of the wheel, Berath gives them the option to become her herald and track the rogue god, Eothas across the Deadfire. You can refuse her offer, but doing that sends you back to the world as a furry creature that doesn’t survive long.
After the introductions are over, you choose your class and backstory. You can simulate your decisions from the first Pillars or import the save. These decisions have subtle but recurring impacts on the world that are felt throughout the game.
One thing worth keeping in mind with regard to the character builds is that here the base attributes don’t increase as you level up. You can increase the secondary perks like mechanics and diplomacy, but the base numbers remain unchanged, except for any gained through gear or spells.
Another new addition to Deadfire are multiclass characters. Your own character or your party members can have dual-classes. This allows you to take advantage of the skills and proficiencies of two different classes. However there’s a catch. Early on, most of your attacks and spells will be rather weak. Also, you won’t get access to either class’s top tier skills.
If utilized properly though this technique can be quite potent. For example, you can have a battlemage with moderately effective melee attacks armed with destructive AoE spells that can be casted at close range. Such a character can boost the party’s overall offense significantly even if most of the characters are specialized in support or healing.
Combat and Exploration
Being set in the Deadfire archipelago has major implications on every facet of the gameplay, most of them positive. The focus of the game shifts to exploration of the dense network of islands, some hidden while others known. Most uncharted islands contain dungeons or crytic puzzles, and along with those come lots of treasures.
However unlike the first game, the dungeons here are precise and don’t drag on for more than a handful of levels. An overview map similar to open world JRPGs is mostly used for exploration which switches to 3rd person-isometric within towns, villages and ruins.
Maritime combat and ship-maintenance are core components of the gameplay in Pillars of Eternity II, although the combat is fairly simple and limited to a bunch of dialog options. These involve barking orders to your crew and unless you decide to board the enemy ship, there’s no actual combat involved.
You can buy ships along with crew for it from the local taverns. Upgrading them is fairly simple, provided you have the coin for it. Customization is also possible, but that’s rather pointless given that you won’t actually notice it.
Onto the core gameplay itself, it feels a lot more streamlined and fleshed out. Animations, visuals, sounds, pretty much everything has been overhauled which adds a nice feel to it all. The primary change is with regard to spells and abilities. Most of these were limited to a certain number in-between rests. In Pillars of Eternity II though, the spells recharge after every encounter removing the need for unnecessary rests. Curses also go away after resting at a tavern, although if your characters have sustained injuries, you’ll have to assign a consumable to their slot before resting to heal them.
Enchanting is a handy tool allowing you to turn cheap weapons and equipment into powerful ones. However, the materials and price for enchanting high-quality gear is pretty high and often not worth it.
Player-Choice and Factions
Player choice is a key element of Pillars of Eternity II. The reputation mechanics have been expanded to include companions as well and although in the beginning you can play around with all three factions, by the end you have to side with just one. This further improves the branching narrative of Deadfire.
The game features four factions in total, the native Huanas, the pirates of Principe, the Vailian Trading Company and the Royal Deadfire Company. Each faction has it’s own principles and structure- the Principe is led by a council of powerful but backstabbing pirates and the Huana lack a centralized rule but many follow the Queen of the capital city Nekataka. The VTC and RDC boast a more organized structure but each have their own issues.
The Principe stands for freedom at the cost of chaos and lawlessness, the RDC represents order often in the form of monarchy and lastly the VTC brings in culture and tradition but is plagued by corruption. The Huana find themselves caught between these foreign powers and their petty squabbles. All their hopes lie pinned on reclaiming their ancestors’ lost treasures which they consider their birthright.
Player choice isn’t limited to factions and companions. In fact for almost every interaction in the game, you have the option of peaceful settlement using your silver tongue, money or if those don’t work (or you lack the skill), you can always bash some heads in. Be it with giant fiery dragons, deranged heretics, violent isolationists or even Eothas (the rogue god) himself, if you have a well rounded party, a peaceful exchange is always possible.
These are some of the aspects of Pillars II that stand out almost immediately.
Quests and Writing
The story and characters have always been one of Obsidian’s strongest points and that’s evident here. The element of mystery and suspense was quite prominent in the first game and once again it has been adopted in the sequel. Throughout the game you chase a powerful deity whose motives are unknown to you. This has all the other gods on edge and half of the Deadfire is in a panic. The sense of urgency and doom is always present in the air. Its not all bad though, the other NPCs often have pity on the Watcher and treat them kindly.
The character writing is also solid, although I believe the first game had it better. None of the characters have the charm of The Grieving Mother or the fanaticism of Durance. Eder makes a welcome return, so does Aloth, but most of the other characters are average at best and can’t compare to the first game.
Each character has their own respective questline which allows you to know more about their past and future aspirations. Just like all the other side quests, these companion quests are spread throughout the map and require you visiting multiple regions across Deadfire. In some cases, the companion may permanently leave your party if you do something that goes directly against their faction or ideology. Yes, they do go away forever- poof! into thin air.
Apart from the side and companion quests, the game also offers more than two dozen tasks and bounties. These are basically mini-quests that can be completed quickly and usually just involve eliminating a dangerous foe or fetching something. Mind you, these are still better than most of Ubisoft’s side-quests.
I wanted to keep a separate section for the exquisite music of Pillars. There is not one track in the entire game that is not above average, even if you compare it to other AAA games. From the cheery tavern music, to the soothing ambient tracks and finally the dreadful tunes that make your toes curl you when you commune with the gods, this game has a phenomenal soundtrack.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is one of the most immersive cRPGs I’ve played, so much so that I increased the difficulty (usually I play RTS games at the lower difficulties) to prolong the game-time. This is one of the few games that gets a near-perfect rating. As long as you love any kind of RPGs, be it the Skyrim kind or the story rich BioWare RPGs, this is one game you just have to try!