Pillars of Eternity is a game with a fine pedigree. Brought to us by Obsidian Entertainment, makers of such fine RPGs as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Wasteland 2 and Fallout New Vegas, there is no shortage of genre expertise in its development team. The game started its life as the incredibly successful “Project Eternity” Kickstarter campaign, raising a record-breaking $3.9 million in 2012. Three years later, the game has finally arrived to give us access to the world of Eora and the tale of the Watcher.
The game opens with you building your own avatar, creating a character and general history from one of the six races and many background/class combinations. Character creation, while limited in the level of customisation, is still quite varied. The races step out from the usual human/elf/dwarf standards to include the Aumaua, a race that falls somewhere between orcs and the Na’vi of the Avatar movie, the goblinesque Orlan, and the Godlike – people of any of the races born with the physical features and aspects of the gods. Your background, skills and stats will also affect specialised dialogue choices in converstaions throughout the game, giving each playthrough the ability to greatly vary your experience of Eora.
In the opening act of the game you find yourself as part of a travelling caravan, feeling the worse for wear. Embarking on a simple tutorial quest to retrieve water and medicine, you send find yourself trapped in a dangerous situation and exposed to some serious Magical Destiny Stuff. From here you learn you have become a Watcher, someone capable of seeing and interacting with the past lives of the souls around you. Setting out on a quest to understand what this means, you’re exposed to what this ability allows you to do and the effect it may have, which might be to your benefit.
And the lore in this game. Hoo boy. If you thought Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was throwing you in the deep end with its story, just wait until you start learning about the various cultures, histories, religions, and assorted vocabularies of Pillars of Eternity. The game pulls no punches, with every sentence from the very first dropping names and references to the huge amount of background story developed for this world. It’s by no means a bad thing, of course. There is plenty to learn that will help inform the main plot of your adventure, and it’s all ready and waiting to be investigate in the game’s Lore encyclopedia, as wlel as the varied and branching conversation options with pretty much every character you meet.
Visually, the game has a strong flavour of early Diablo/Fallout titles, with a fixed-perspective isometric view. Each area has been lovingly rendered to ensure the game is always showing something new; early on you will pass through at least three different ‘forest’ maps, but each is clearly distinguishable from the rest by using different colour palettes, environmental objects and sound backing. Despite being seen from a distance for most of the game, character models are also distinct and varied. Visual customisation of your character and equipment is always a big plus for me in an RPG, and Pillars of Eternity is only too ready to oblige. Not only will your appearance change based on your loadout, you also have the option to make changes to the overall colour scheme of your battle ensemble. It’s a small touch, but it truly helps to draw you into the game and relate to your party of characters.
Rest assured, the game isn’t all pretty pictures and nice stories – the game is HARD. This isn’t some watered-down RPG, looking to hold your hand and coast through the adventure. Combat is complex, stat-oriented and ready to crush you if you don’t plan ahead. Enemies exhibit Damage Resistance, use area of affect spells, and move and work intelligently together to really make the most of trying to murder you. Getting knocked down in combat will lower you overall reserve of stamina, eventually leading to your character being maimed or perma-killed (depending on your choice of difficulty level). Take a wrong turn – even in a level-appropriate quest area – and you’ll find big-time enemies waiting to take you down. Scouting, planning and quick-saving are essential to your continued survival – running ahead blindly will not work out for you, as this reviewer can attest.
Overall, the game is an engaging and deep RPG that will suck up your spare time like all traditional RPGs should. Although I’m not typically a player of this style of RPG, I found myself returning to the game within a few minutes of a frustrating set-back. The world is huge, and the selection of side-quests and additional content to investigate will allow you to log more hours in this game than you would expect. It’s easy to see why this game has been in the works for three years, and knowing my luck it’ll take that long for me to finish everything it has on offer. Play this game.
Pillars of Eternity was reviewed using a promotional code on PC, as provided by the publisher. The reviewer has also independently backed the project on Kickstarter.
Review: Pillars of Eternity