Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a role-playing game from the experienced team at Obsidian Entertainment who also developed hits like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords, Fallout: New Vegas and South Park: The Stick of Truth. Obsidian knows there stuff, especially when it comes to RPG’s and they do it very well. Their latest series of games has been Pillars of Eternity, with four releases since 2015, two of which were expansions to the first game. So consider this the true sequel to the much loved original game.
It’s an RPG that seems to take a lot of narrative delivering techniques from table-top games like Dungeons & Dragons and is played from an isometric perspective. Before playing, I was ignorant to the series and after playing, well that’s what this review is for, to divulge my thoughts now. Does it draw me in or cast me out?
You get thrown into the proverbial deep-end almost, but have no fear because you get some inflatable arm-bands to help you float. What I mean by that is yes, this is a direct sequel and you follow on from the previous title, but in such a way that you don’t feel lost and are kept up to speed on the events that led to this. Creating your character is step one into ensuring that you feel like this is still very much your story even if it is a continuation.
Taking place five years later than PoE, some unruly god decides to go crazy and attack your stronghold of Caed Nua. Eothas is the god of light and rebirth and as such he was thought to be dead but, no, he is very much alive and after souls, whilst tearing Caed Nua a new one, he absorbs the souls of those unfortunate to lie in his path. Your character, the Watcher faces the same fate but not to such a damaging extent. Turns out you are destined for something greater as the god of death Berath chooses you to become his herald and task you with chasing Eothas and thwart his antics. What follows is a ship ride to the Deadfire Archipelago and then a captivating, lengthy adventure.
Like most RPG’s the character creation goes incredibly in depth allowing you to choose a look, attributes, skills, abilities and perhaps most importantly, classes. There is also the option to go multi-class by combining two together, basically this just means when levelling up you have the choice of grabbing abilities from both classes. Within each class there are subclasses which further specialise each character and decides how they go about fighting etc. So big choices are made very early on and they keep getting thrown at you, just a warning.
From here on out, you can build your own story around the main narrative. There is a set path for the main quest but what you can do between points A and B for instance, are massive, the amount of side quests are plentiful, the number of interesting characters to approach and converse with is huge and the quantity of areas to explore is…..a lot!
Setting out on the grand adventure there is an immediate emphasis on open-ended play, and where-as in some games it can become a bit too much, I feel because of the lore, story and content I wanted to fully explore everything I possibly could. What’s most impressive is just how much of the side content actually draws back to the original objective. It doesn’t throw needless information about and instead builds the backstory and world around you in a meaningful way.
Before playing I was most apprehensive about the gameplay, isometric typically isn’t my style and in particular an isometric RPG, which made me take a second glance. I felt that immersion would be a real problem to obtain but am thrilled to say that wasn’t the case for me. In fact, this view allowed for more of the world to be taken in and appreciated, like getting a birds eye view of everything going on.
Movement was perhaps a down point for me, it’s not free move so you can’t just use W, A, S and D or the arrow keys, but you’re forced to use the mouse and click a point in the area for your character or party to move to. It feels like something of the past in that regard, not necessarily to say that’s a bad thing but I just associate it with either strategy games or the old point and click adventures, not with an RPG per say. But in spite of that, for me, I enjoy the overall outside of battle experience of travelling around in this way once I got used to it, it just grew on me.
Combat, much like the majority of the game is very player choice orientated and makes use of a real-time-with-pause system. This allows for the combat to be paused whilst you work out a strategy on how to best approach a fight or the best escape route. When not in pause mode, the action takes place in real-time, which forced me to really think on what the best abilities to use are and when to activate them due to their different casting times etc. Not only that but outside of a battle is when you make the most important choice of all, who will your party comprise of. Five spots available, one of which your character takes up, this puts an emphasis on playing smart and working to the various strengths and weaknesses of each character and knowing when best to utilise them.
I am not a huge combat guy, I always prefer the narrative driven side, and Deadfire brings with it a feature I love so damn much, a combat speed slider. There are many options at your disposal that no matter the type of player, you can have fun, at your own pace, I appreciate that. An impressive system that I made the most of was being able to change the target of one of your attacks even whilst it’s casting, so if the enemy tries to evade you can switch up the direction of your area attack and catch them anyway, this is just a true example of incredible game design.
Speaking of game design, the AI is off the charts, for both combat and general play. You can set manual AI behaviour, but the auto behaviour is insanely competent, to the point where I didn’t feel the need to tamper with the settings at all. My party members would follow my orders without fault and be useful to each other even if I made no attempt to tell them what to do. On the flip side to this, the enemy just happens to be a little smarter than your average bear too and I would often witness them form their own formations and execute strategies in the midst of battle. One fight saw my party of heroes go up against a mixed squad of swordsmen and archers, I couldn’t do too much to those pesky archers because the close combat fighters were always on me and stood in such a way to try and block any attempt to go through them. This fights complacency and boredom which is important in a game so packed and with such a lengthy playtime.
Now for general play, companion relationships are basically all the rage in this and rightfully so. As I went about my business, walking here, walking there, my companions would strike up a conversation with each other and would also wish to start talking with me. Every time they piped up, I shut up and listened, hanging on their every word, because of the fantastic dialogue exchange between them. I felt very much in the game, travelling in a group and just overhearing my friends talking to each other, some say eavesdropping, I say caring. Bonds will form or break throughout and you can have a drastic impact on which way they go by offering advice or sometimes not intervening at all.
PoE offers perhaps one of the best sea adventures, being able to set roles to your crew, maintain your resources and do combat with other ships. All of which have been designed for an easy to learn, difficult to master kind of mentality, very pick up and play, but there is a ton of information and variables to take in and understand. It’s there if you want it and for those who don’t you aren’t worse off.
The world is absolutely filled with awe-inspiring locations and views, paired with stunning high resolution and high-quality textures. Each place tells a different story and lets on a lot about the type of people who live there, what may have happened previously and what to expect. The Gullet is a district inside the city of Neketaka, and district may just be too nice a word for it. It’s an utter mess, buildings held up by pillars of rock formations and linked together via man-made wooden bridges. It’s where the lowest of the low are situated, not just criminals but those low in socio-economic status too, the very poor and downtrodden. This you can immediately tell, just from its look alone. This trend happens all the way throughout and pits you in the fantastical world of Eora.
What I found myself getting lost in throughout my travels were magnificent tunes, ranging from the jolly sea shanties when sailing the seven seas, or how ever many seas there are, to the dramatic melodies that play during tense and emotional moments. The soundtrack stands out as one of the best of the year thus far and maybe even the past several years, for its ability to induce emotion and build an immersive atmosphere, a feat that isn’t easy with an isometric perspective.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a prime example of exemplary story-telling, featuring not only just a main cast of interesting characters but a whole supporting cast of them too. The isometric view and right click to move system aren’t highlights for me but were executed in such a way with other factors to create an addictive, satisfying gameplay experience regardless. The world of Eora is one you need to get lost in.
OVERALL: 9.5/10 – EXCELLENCE
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)