This game first came out a while ago for the PC, and I’ve got to admit my gast was flabbered when I saw it had a console release, as it seemed the most PCish of games. I’ve been playing it for a few days, and here are my early impressions.
Although the system’s completely different, the vast array of customisation available reminds me a bit of Dragon’s Dogma. But whereas Dragon’s Dogma focused on physical changes (although some did have gameplay aspects), Pillars of Eternity’s customisation is almost all about the gameplay impact and personal backstory. You have both genders, six races (human, elf, dwarf and original races aumaua, orlan and godlike), and thirteen classes. Each race have different bonuses or special abilities, and each class has different starting attributes (hitpoints, here called endurance, and so on). After this you pick a background and culture, then fiddle with your stats (these are modified somewhat by your race, class, background and culture).
A nice part of the voice options is that you’ve got about eight or so for each gender, but can go for no voice, or one from the opposite gender (this isn’t critical as this seems to take the Dragon Age: Origins approach of having grunts and exclamations but no actual dialogue beyond the odd battle cry). You can also alter your two armour colours (currently, my chanter Pengel has opted for green, which makes his cloak look rather snazzy). The physical appearance, including armour colours, can be altered in-game at any time, right from the start.
After creating your player-character, you’re thrust into the first scene, which introduces some gameplay mechanics in a smooth way and explains a bit about the world. As you might expect, disaster strikes, and then …
It’s a lore-rich original world. I’ve got to say that whilst I personally love lore, for some people it may be a bit text-heavy early on.
One thing I really like is that quest lines do have genuine choice. As is usual for a first playthrough, Pengel the Chanter is a heroic and noble sort, so I’m being very good. But there have been options to be much less good. You’re not shoe-horned into being heroic, so if you want to be selfish and a bit of a git, that’s eminently possible.
Having the swift reflexes of a jam sandwich, I was somewhat wary of the real time strategy in combat. That, as well as the suggestion at the start, had me begin on the default setting of Easy.
So far, it’s living up to its name, but it’s clear to see how certain tactics are helpful and would be critical at higher difficulty. The real time combat can be easily paused/resumed at the click of a button and has a nice pace.
I’ve not had to pause too much but I suspect that’s just because I’m playing on Easy.
Combat tip: intellect increases the area of effect (AoE) for spells etc. The base area is shown in a different shade to the expanded circle. However, negative effects only affect allies within the base circle, not the expanded one.
A nice little feature is that jewels and plants (ingredients) are stored collectively but don’t consume any inventory space, preventing frustration when trying to create something [not tried this yet] and avoiding the ridiculous inventory slot dilemma of taking a broadsword or a rare flower. Because you only have room for one.
You get penalties when you go without rest for a long time (as well as time on-screen, it takes X hours to travel between locations). These fatigue penalties are easily remedied, either by camping (you need camping gear for this, which is consumed upon rest) or staying at an inn. The latter can cost cash but also confers a bonus for the whole party which can last a pretty long time.
The stronghold, acquired quite early on, seems to work well although I’ve not developed it enough to say a lot. Essentially, it’s a ruin you renovate and rebuild to grant yourself bonuses. From what I gather it’s completely optional and you can leave it as a heap of broken stone if you like, but I quite enjoy having my own fort and it doesn’t seem especially expensive.
A nice touch is that class, race, and skills can be checked in conversations, so if your character knows a lot of Lore, for example, they might have extra dialogue options available.
The graphics won’t be troubling The Witcher 3 anytime soon, although it’s worth noting the game didn’t make my fat PS4 scream like a jet engine either, so maybe that’s a good thing. They’ve got old school charm in the world, and I like the fitting menus which look like ye olde parchment (the bestiary even has rather cool drawings).
I love the music. It’s evocative of Lord of the Rings, Final Fantasy and The Witcher 3, and is a great addition both to the world and during the parchment scenes. These are not-cutscenes which have text descriptions beside drawings on parchment. It sounds a bit rubbish but actually works well, possibly even better than showing the scenes in-game would because of the isometric approach.
Sound effects and voices are generally good although there are jarring moments in long conversations where 90% of lines might be spoken and a few are just text.
Bugs and other issues
Load screens are frequent (think Skyrim) and whilst they’re not so bad crossing from one area to another it’s mildly irksome waiting a while for the upper floor of a house to load.
Stealth appears less useful than it could be because it’s a party-wide on/off toggle rather than being specific to a sneaky character in combat.
Longevity and Replayability
Difficult to comment on length, was a bit surprised to finish the first act as quickly as I did. However, the wide variety of character creation, difficulty and quest options does make me confident I’ll play a second time, and perhaps a third.