Last updated on July 28th, 2017
In 2012, Obsidian started a campaign on Kickstarter, asking support for the making of an old-school CRPG, in the mold of the old Infinity Engine games.
Having played – and loved – the Baldur’s Gate series, Icewind Dale series and Planescape:Torment, I was instantly hooked, along with over 77,000 other fans.
The team that pitched the campaign featured some well-known names such as Josh Sawyer (lead designer on Icewind Dale 2 and Fallout: New Vegas), Chris Avellone (the brilliant mind behind Planescape’s world and story and characters), and quite a few other well-known designers that worked on the IE games in some capacity. I was sold on the idea, and I wasn’t the only one.
So, 3 and a half years later, and after a rather messy backer beta, how did it all turn out…? Well, let’s take a look.
Developed by: Obisidian Entertainment
Published by: Paradox Interactive
Release date: March 26th, 2015
Platforms: PC (Reviewed on PC)
Launch Price: 44.99 USD
The Adventure Begins
You begin by creating your character, and straight away you see there’s some serious depth there.
There are elven classes and six races to choose from, and there are still more choices to make; some are purely aestetic, some add a bit to your background and perhaps some dialogue choices and NPC reactions later, and some even improve certain stats.
Speaking of stats, there are six basic stats, like in the old IE games, but they’re slightly different this time around. Might, for example, unlike the old Strength, is a stat all characters can benefit from, as it influences damage done and healing. Intelligence influences the AOE and the duration of your skills and spells. Perception improves your chances to interrupt enemies and gives you additional dialogue options.
- Classes are mostly familiar right from the start (fighter, rogue, wizard, priest, paladin, etc.), but there are two novelties – chanter and cipher.
- Chanter is basically a bard, and they have a very cool concept of weaving their own songs.
- Ciphers are somewhat similar to the D&D pscionists, where they use mind magic through the use of Focus –a limited pool of magical energy replenished in combat by dealing damage.
Once your hero is created, you begin the story as part of a travelling caravan.
During a night’s rest the camp is attacked by bandits, you’re left to fend for yourself with a pair of companions – and straight away, the game lets you know what it’s all about.
One of your companions is injured and requires rest, the other urges you to run and not waste time in case you’re being followed – the situation then develops according to your choices. This is mostly done through dialogues and text adventures and thousands and thousands lines of text.
Once you resolve the situation, you head out into the night and you’re hit by a massive magical storm. Upon waking up, you find that your hero’s soul is „awakened“ and that you can connect with other people’s souls and see their past lives – making you a „Watcher“.
Soon enough, when you enter your first town, you’ll learn of soul-related issues and curses, babies being born „hollow“ – without a soul, a controversial „science“ called animancy centering around the use and manipulation of souls taking hold in areas, and people fighting it, in an organized manner or otherwise.
Slowly, you’ll being to get a grasp on the world and the lore and story itself.
Getting Familiar with the World
Make no mistake about it, the story is told almost entirely through text. There is a LOT of reading, and despite a decent number of lines being voiced, reading is what this game’s world is all about.
Obsidian has adopted the old IE systems, but they’ve made some nice tweaks to it. For example, when talking with someone, you’ll be getting descriptions about the persons behavior and body language and surroundings – a wonderful touch that really adds to the immersion. They’ve made a great effort to allow your imagination to fully explore and experience interacting with the environment and the NPCs.
Through your travels, you’ll have the option to recruit companions into your party, and like the IE games, the party can contain a maximum of 6 characters.
There are 8 companions in total, each with their own background story and insight into the world, each adding bits to the story and each with their own personality.
Overall, I quite liked them (especially the cipher Grieving Mother and the priest Durance, both written by Chris Avelline), but I didn’t find them quite as memorable as the characters from the Baldur’s Gate saga, for example (Minsc, Viconia, Jaheira, etc.)
You’ll also have the option to recruit/make adventurers or mercenaries – meaning you can basically create your own party. These characters will obviously lack a background or character that Obsidian-made companions have, but if it suits your style – you’ll have the option to do so.
Notably, there is no rogue NPC – and having played a rogue I found them single-target DPS monsters – I can’t imagine having a party without one, and on my future playthroughs with other classes I will definitely be „hiring“ a custom rogue into my party.
Admittedly, getting into the story wasn’t really fluid, even with my backer beta experience. The game chucks a lot of lore and exposure at you very early on, trying to establish the world around you – but does so a bit clumsily. It all starts meshing together in the second Act, when you start getting exposed to politics and intrigue after reaching Defiance Bay – the game’s first major city.
In the end, despite the wonderful writing, the lovely text adventures and the well-written characters, I still have to say it’s all based around a story that’s more „adequate“ than „great“.
Also, while Acts 1 and 2 are fairly long, Act 3 is very short if you just follow the main story (fortunately, I realized that early on and spent quite a few hours doing side content – which is great in any Act), and Act 4 is basically the final confrontation. So, it all comes to quite an abrupt ending.
Aside from the dialogues and the text adventures, the other part of your interactions with the world is through fighting. PoE’s combat is real-time with pause (RTWP), and it is a decent challenge, even to an IE game veteran.
The classes have a good number of spells and skills, you’ll have to micromanage the characters a lot – but it stays mostly fresh and interesting as there are a lot of ways to set up your party for combat, lots of pocket strategies and different builds within the classes. Two basic mechanics you will have to get used to are engagement and endurance.
Engagement works similar to D&D Attack of Opportunity – which will limit your movement around the battlefield, and is basically implemented in the game to prevent simple kiting and running around while shooting enemies with arrows and bullets. It means if your mage tries to simply run away from an enemy in combat, that enemy will get a free hit on him – often resulting in serious damage.
You’ll have to find ways around this by disabling the enemy before you run, or using the very limited (dis)placement spells that are available to most classes in some way (rogues get invisibility, for example, wizards a short-range teleport, etc.).
The other important mechanic to note is the Endurance one. Your character will have both Health and Endurance. Endurance is an in-combat pool of energy that, when drained, leaves your character unconscious. If your Health drops to zero, however, you’re quite dead.
Your Endurance replenishes fully only by resting – which you can do at an Inn, or by using a Camp Fire, which you will have in limited supply (for a large portion of the game, 4 will be the maximum you can carry).
This was done to prevent rest-spamming, but is only partly effective and sometimes simply tedious – as enemies don’t respawn and you can simply run to an Inn and back with fresh supplies.
Overall, the combat feels fluid once you get used to it, and the most important part of it is positioning. Once you get that bit down, you’ll find the whole thing a lot easier.
There are issues, don’t get me wrong. The pathfinding is absolutely ridiculous at times, and Choke Point Gaming can still win you the vast majority of fights (stick your tank or tanks up front, switch everyone else to ranged weapons behind them, and a lot of the time you’ll have yourself an easy win).
Another issue is that companion AI is basically non-existant – you have to micro them constantly.
This comes naturally after a while, but it still feels weird when you’re down to your last enemy, you relax and take a sip of your tea – only to realize the enemy is beating on your rogue while your companions are standing 2 feet away, doing absolutely nothing.
All this is done in a very clean and smooth interface, that feels very natural and intuitive.
Crafting, Itemization, Stronghold
There is a decent crafting system in the game, and you’ll find certain scrolls and potions to be very useful, especially on higher difficulties. Armor and weapon upgrades are fairly easy to pick up on, and you’ll get a feeling which to upgrade for which characters and roles very soon.
Itemization overall, though, is – I’m sad to say – quite forgettable.
I can’t remember a single item from the game I just spent 45 hours playing. A new upgrade means that the weapon is maybe 1 point in a certain stat better than your current one. Very few weapons or armor have distinct „special“ abilities to go with their story and lore.
If you played Baldur’s Gate 2, you’ll remember Celestial Fury, Crom Faeyr or the Carsomyr: Holy Avenger. You’ll remember the Shadow Thief armor, Robe of Vecna or making your armor from dragon scales. Pillars of Eternity doesn’t have that. The itemization is fair, it’s adequate, but it isn’t great, it isn’t memorable.
Pillars also features a stronghold for your hero. It’s available through a quest, fairly early on, and you’ll be able to renew and upgrade it. The upgrades allow you to have merchants in your keep, an inn, guests and mercenaries, and adventures for your inactive companions. It also allows you to build a Warden’s Lodge, which I found quite useful as the Warden gives you bounty quests – generally difficult fights, but you get rewarded with a lot of XP and some quality gear.