I recently finished my first playthrough of Pillars of Eternity. I played on Easy (default difficulty), did some side-quests, completed the Caed Nua (fort/home sub-storyline) but this was not a completionist playthrough. Obviously there are some spoilers within but I’ve kept them as light and possible and don’t believe they compromise the story significantly.
There’s a huge degree of choice here, which affects both combat and roleplaying. As well as both genders, there are six races, each with at least one subtype, eleven classes (I erroneously said thirteen in my early impressions blog), customisable attribute stats and numerous background options.
Of the races, there are the fantasy staples of men, elves and dwarves, along with the unique aumaua (reptilian beefcakes), orlans (pointy-eared midgets), and godlikes (who look a bit freaky). The classes include standard fare (rangers, fighters, rogues etc) and some more unusual options (ciphers, chanters etc).
The only real downside to character creation is that there are so many options it can be hard to pick what to go for.
The protagonist begins as part of a caravan headed for Gilded Vale, where the local lord has offered a good deal for new settlers. However, the protagonist has fallen ill, and so camp is made beside some ruins. What could possibly go wrong?
After the wrongdoing occurs, the player learns their character has become a Watcher, able to see into people’s past lives. It’s a bit freaky, and you continue on your journey to find out more…
The game is text- and lore-heavy. Personally, that’s not a problem (although it is a little overdone early on) but for some people this will be off-putting. One thing that did irk me was that there’s a lot of voice-over but sometimes (in the same conversation) the voice will be absent entirely and it’ll be just text, which is a little jarring.
I found five (there are more, it seems) companions on my playthrough, and each was distinctive both in combat and story terms. They’d have banter together, interject into my own conversations, and sometimes you can take them aside for a chat. They’re a good little crew, each with their own motivations and character.
World-building is extensive, and if you want to delve into it there is extra information (both lore and gameplay relevant) in the bestiary, as well as an encyclopaedia of information about gods and so forth.
As for the central plot, it hangs together well whilst allowing plenty of scope for side-questing. I don’t want to say too much. I did enjoy it, though here and there the twists were a little easy to see coming.
Combat is real time but can be paused easily and commands given to each party member (including animals following rangers, or summoned beasts). There’s a nice array of interesting commands that enable magical or physical effects and make, as usual, a balanced party more than the sum of its parts.
One thing that was absent which would’ve improved things was tactics. You can set a basic disposition for companions but you can’t pre-set tactical commands (as per FFXII or Dragon Age: Origins). On the upside, you can determine one or two customised formations, putting your beefcakes on the front row and having the weedy wizards at the back.
Combat isn’t scaled, so enemies have a certain toughness. If you wander into an area that’s beyond you, you will know, as the enemy sets about transforming your party of adventurers into worm food. There also isn’t random combat (you can sneak past enemies sometimes, if you like) and once you kill all enemies in an area, that’s usually it and they’ll be gone forever.
Experience is granted both for combat victories and advancing quests, and proceeds on an increasing basis (so, 1,000 xp for one level, then 2,000, then 3,000 etc) so the rate of levelling declines over time. I was level 10 when I finished the game, but I suspect it would’ve been possible to get significantly higher.
There is crafting of potions, cooking of food and enchanting of weapons and armour but this isn’t given a particular introduction (check the bottom of the inventory menu) and I missed it for some time. Good incentive to collect shiny rocks and magic weeds, which take up no inventory space.
If party members are knocked out (and they can be killed permanently but this is easy to head off) they acquire injuries that damage their stats, and if they’re tired much the same occurs. Both fatigue and wounds can be removed by resting either at a camp (camping supplies are limited, you can’t lug around 20 odd) or an inn. These rests can also confer bonuses, so paying for the swankiest room at the inn can be well worth it.
As well as a number of fleshed out party members, you can also make your own at any inn. Especially useful for higher levels when getting the balance just right will matter more.
Whether you fix up the fort of Caed Nua or not is up to you. There is a related quest line, and certain features offer resting bonuses or other advantages (I particularly enjoy the bounty tasks).
Away from combat the gameplay focuses upon the numerous decisions the protagonist makes. These vary a lot by choice (being nice or nasty etc), and by unique opportunities your particular race, class, background might afford. This gives a real sense of your adventure being a unique one rather than running through the exact same routine every time you play. In most RPGs nowadays, decisions that change things are actually pretty rare. Here, they seem to happen in pretty much every quest.
The isometric view can’t be rotated but you can zoom in or out and the camera is rarely problematic. The nature of the game doesn’t place the emphasis on graphics, but they’re clean enough, and I like the style of art used in the rare ‘cut-scenes’ (parchment with ink drawings and options to do this or that) and bestiary. Functional and fine would be the way I’d put it.
The music practically oozes fantasy, sometimes reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, sometimes Final Fantasy or The Witcher 3. Sound effects are pretty good and voice-acting is generally strong. One quibble I’d have (and this might just be me, because I’m quite into voice-acting) is that sometimes you can tell when two characters have the same actor/actress and it makes my VA senses tingle (although it’s a long way from Oblivion…).
The game advertises itself as 70 hours. Not sure how long I spent, but I can easily imagine exceeding that amount. Varying difficulty settings, roleplaying opportunities, and some extra settings (like having your save file auto-delete if you die) certainly open up the possibility of multiple replays.
Bugs and Other Issues
I’ve mentioned a few things above and shan’t repeat them, but one I’d add would be that load screens are both frequent and long. Usually this sort of thing doesn’t bother me (Dragon Age Inquisition/Skyrim never made me gripe) but they are excessively long/frequent.
I only had the one freeze throughout, during a load screen, which isn’t too bad. So, loading aside, not much to complain about.
Some rough edges to sand off and polish, and if you dislike lore/text-heavy games then avoid this one, but if you like an in-depth story world with a great range of roleplaying opportunities then this is very much a game you should seriously consider buying.