POE 2 Console Review: Pillars of Eternity 2 Ultimate Edition for consoles is two games in one

As a mainly console player, I’ve been anxiously awaiting for the sequel to one of our games of the decade to arrive on Playstation 4, where we do the bulk of our gaming. In this Pillars of Eternity 2 Console review I’ll go over the game’s performance, delivery and ultimate enjoyment factor. Should you buy Pillars 2 on console? Is it worth it? How many hours of gameplay are there? How does it compare to the PC version? How is the combat, the graphics, the performance? You will find all the answers, and more in this review.

POE 2 Console Review: Pillars of Eternity 2  Ultimate Edition for consoles is two games in one

Developed by: Obsidian Entertainment
Published by: Vs Evil
Release date: January 28th 2020
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Price: 59.99 USD (Ultimate Edition / Console)

Pillars of Eternity 2 Story and Setting Review

Pillars of Eternity 2 is a sequel to the kickstarted Pillars of Eternity, and is credited with injecting new life into the cRPG genre, and eventually bringing about remasters of the classics like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. In the original game, you played as The Watcher, whose unique ability to read souls would unravel the mystery behind a plague of soulless births and ultimately lead you to interact with deities in pursuit of the echoes of your previous lives.

During your journey, you come into possession of a large fortress called Caed Nua, that sits atop a multi-level dungeon characterized by an enormous statue of Od Nua, a long-dead king with a tragic story. As the game ends, your character settles to life as a ruler in Caed Nua, commanding the land and its people as you see fit.

Pillars of Eternity 2 begins by completely destroying that base, as the god Eothas takes over the Od Nua statue and emerges from the ground, killing everything around it including you. Your unique talents are coveted by the other gods, who capture your soul and send you back with a mission to track Eothas and unravel his plans. And thus, your journey begins in the Deadfire Archipelago, as you awake aboard the Defiant, a ship that your companions have kept together while hoping you’d return.

The storytelling of Pillars 2 is very similar to that of the original game, however there’s a significant improvement: most of the interactions are voiced. This may seem like a trivial thing to those with a relaxed mind and acute concentration, but the first game’s appeal did diminish for many due to its text-heavy nature and the reliance on complex back lore for players to understand what was happening. POE2 does a much better job of setting up the story and explaining it in simpler terms, and gets you going on a simpler goal: track the titan rampaging around the world.

That is not to say that the game is without complexity, as it successfully builds an intricate world where many interests are at play, across many races, cultures and beliefs. Weaving them all together and masterfully displaying different reactions to the same danger, the main story and side quests follow a coherent path that allowed my character to gain a deeper understanding of the region and interests at play.

Storytelling is not the strong point of most video games, as the focus is usually on gameplay. As an avid reader of fantasy and fiction, I would have no qualms saying that the world-building of Pillars of Eternity is not far off from the excellent Wheel of Time series (well it has a wheel and all!), and the narrative and delivery are coherent and compelling to the point that I am interested in every single sub-dialogue option available. Pillars of Eternity set the stage so that the sequel could shine, and it most certainly has, even allowing players to import their saves (PC) or select choices they made (console) to affect the world state and character interactions.

Pillars of Eternity 2 Gameplay Review

Gameplay in cRPGs is focused on intricate roles and dedicated systems based around stats, equipment and complex D&D mechanics. How does all this translate to consoles? Read on to find out.

Role-Playing Gameplay

A large portion of gameplay is exploration, dialogue and choice-based. This means that your actions and dialogue choices will gain you tendencies such as peaceful, just, mischievous or dishonest. This will in turn influence how your companions see you and how well you can handle future dialogues with such options. Further, these will affect your relationship with the many Factions of the game.

POE2 has four main factions with individual questlines, and several smaller factions. Your reputation with a faction decides how they see you: good, bad, and mixed. Losing reputation and gaining reputation don’t cancel each other out, but instead are tracked separately. If your positive and negative reputation are around the same, your overall reputation will be mixed. Your standing with a faction or community will influence your persuasion and quest resolution, as well as the monetary benefits you gain.

Companion Reputation works similarly, except they do not only judge your actions and words, but also develop likes and dislikes with each other. You may be surprised to find that Eder and Xoti almost had a fling, or find yourself suddenly kissing Aloth as he comes to realize you’re just *that* awesome. It all happened so fast! *Cough*. Moving on, there’s romance and it’s woven so well into the story progression and reputation system that it feels well-paced and natural.

Exploration Gameplay

Exploration is mostly going around cities and exploring the uncharted waters and islands using your Ship (or ships, you can buy more!). The Ship mechanic is a cute idea but not something I found particularly moving – I somewhat enjoyed Caed Nua upgrades more as it felt like building a strong home base and I’ve never been much of a sailor. That said, the map is a lot of fun to explore, and the new way to traverse the islands does bring interesting new mechanics to play, even if I found myself avoiding them whenever I could. However, I do enjoy clearing fog from maps and finding monsters of the deep to challenge, so overall exploration is a plus for me.

Combat Gameplay

Pillars of Eternity 2 Ultimate Edition does something no other cRPG in recent memory has done: it gives you the option of having “Real Time with Pause” or “Turn Based” combat. Typically, a game is designed around one single system, and everything is tailored to that specific system. POE2 instead allows you to pick one or the other, and gives you a shockingly different experience based upon which you chose. You cannot change this option after you begin your game, but I cannot overstate how significant this choice is: You’re essentially getting two full games in one, two completely different combat systems in one.

Real time with pause

Regardless of your choice, the D&D elements of the game go deeper than the first installment, introducing multi-classing and a considerable amount of new mechanics for the pro’s to tinker with. Making your character and optimizing your party can take hours, and if you run a full party that’s 5 characters to manage at every step. If this sounds tedious, you might be relieved to learn that there’s a behavior control system that allows you to give your party “if > then” orders so they may act on their own during combat. This, coupled with the ability to slow and speed combat time makes for a very pleasant combat experience for those who spend the time learning the (admittedly overwhelming) mechanics.

Turn-based

Console Controls

HOWEVER! POE2 came out in 2018, so much of this review is old news for PC players. The real question is: How did the controls translate to a PS4 or Xbox One? And the answer is: poorly. While overall world exploration, dialogue and story mode are well-done and enjoyable, the game does suffer from port issues such as over-complicated and under-explained controls, difficulty to select specific items, pathing issues and frustrating moments.

I was more than 20 hours into the game when I discovered that pressing triangle would give me a “mouse” in-game, for example, allowing me to (slowly) make my way across a screen to find that unique box I could not click behind an NPC. I still have not figured out how to see inventory details when buying from a vendor, as the window seems to not pop up. I run into pause confusion as square (pause) seems to sometimes lag a little, and R2 (quick actions) sometimes pauses and sometimes does not pause the game. I grew rather frustrated with the combat controls for the first dozen or so hours of the game in the real time with pause game mode.

Lucky for me, we have a build pro on the team and I got set up with optimized builds for me and all companions, and carefully crafted behaviors for all of them, that allow me to pretty much run into combat and let it play out. If you’re playing the game for the enjoyment of the story and exploration, this is a viable option. If you’re looking for engaging and intense combat, then I strongly suggest you select Turn-Based and save yourself the anguish of struggling to make 5 characters follow your orders via a console controller.

Console Bugs

Pillars of Eternity 2 was not without bugs when it launched, and it took many patches and tweaks to polish it. POE2 Ultimate Edition brings all those patches and enhancements to consoles, but unfortunately is not perfectly polished yet. There is a launch-day patch that should address some issues, but the game has some other bugs that are not easy to ignore. Notably, I seem to crash randomly at least twice and hour, and in some cases from something I can replicate (trying to enchant certain items). Further, the camera resets POV every time you load in and out of a zone, and resets character Stances, Phrases and Auras every time you load – something that gets tedious if you do a lot of save and reload. Though none of these things have made me stop playing, they have certainly made me wish for a good patch that smooths out the experience…

Pillars of Eternity 2 Audio & Visual Review

The music score for Pillars of Eternity 2 brings about the same nostalgic tunes that POE did, and sets the perfect mood for my role-playing session. It’s a relaxing but adventurous music, that turns into a more engaged piece for combat, and back to a specific faction or area tune to set the mood of a specific location. Adding this to some excellent voice acting, I think the developer team has done a great job in delivering a good package.

Pillars of Eternity 2 has a beautiful art team and delivers wonderfully on my 60″ tv. The graphics are a great improvement from the original, and there is a wonderful variation of environment, monsters and NPCs that shows dedication by the developer team. The world is well-realized, has a consistent style showcasing many unique locations, and succeeds in making the story tick the “larger than life” epic alongside the politics conspiracies and open-sea adventuring. Combat graphics have been greatly enhanced, with grandiose spell effects, detailed character animations and even a zoom-in for finishing blows that lets you see all the guts you’re spilling.

Performance

Unfortunately with upgraded graphics come upgraded issues, and such is the appearance of frame-rate drops. I did not experience this with the first game, so I was surprised to find a “laggy” slideshow when entering a couple of areas, and a few freezes when combat was started. These drops in performance may be bundled into the “Bugs” headline above, but it’s worth noting as it was not something that happened once or twice but more of a recurrent theme that would happen once an hour. This is something that I am confident the developers can address with a patch, so it’s not something I would hold a purchase over, and it has not made me stop playing, but it has affected my enjoyment, even if mildly.

Loading Times

And here’s the big one: LOADING TIMES ON PS4! I was actually so frustrated with POE’s loading times that I went out and bought my PS4 pro an SSD (it’s quite cheap and easy you should do it too), but the big difference for me was to delete old saves. Don’t keep more than 10 saves! This same trick has worked for POE2, and my loading screens are no longer than 30 seconds. Yes, that’s still a lot of time, and not ideal when sometimes to get from point A to point B you have to go through 3 screens, but it’s not game-breaking or unplayable. I do feel for those playing on a standard hard drive, because the constant load screens coupled with long load times really ruins the immersion of the game.

Pillars of Eternity 2 Pricepoint and Replayability Review

Pillars of Eternity 2: Ultimate Edition has finally arrived to consoles nearly two years after the PC release of the game, but it’s bundling the original game, plus all of its expansions and free Turn-Based mode. This means that you are getting hundreds of hours of content with not just the replayability options of multi-classing, builds and choices, but the possibility to experience the game with an entire different combat system that would radically change your approach to combat and character progression. This makes a good case for the increased pricepoint (59.99 vs 39.99 on PC), as this is a compelling experience for both casual and hardcore players that can span across multiple playthroughs and be unique and rewarding in different ways with each approach.

Pillars of Eternity 2 Final Thoughts

We placed Pillars of Eternity as one of our top RPGs of the decade because it brought cRPGs back to the forefront of gaming, combining a compelling story with excellent gameplay. Pillars of Eternity 2 is more story, more freedom, more combat and more rewards, delivering an ambitious vision with exceptional commitment. The console version of POE2 has its flaws, some of which are expected for a port, and others which should be patched and addressed by the developer as soon as possible. It remains, however, a very enjoyable experience that I would not want to pass on.

So, Should you buy POE2 Ultimate Edition on Consoles? If you are into cRPGs or a fan of the original game, this is an easy purchase. The 59.99 pricepoint is excellent for the amount of content you’ll get to experience, and there are many quality of life changes that have improved upon the foundations built by the original game. However, if you are playing for a complex Real Time combat experience, or are short on time and patience for slow loading screens, you should avoid the console version and get the game on PC instead.


If you enjoyed this review be sure to check out some in Phoenix Point Review: High Potential, Low Budget and Shenmue 3 Review: 80s Nostalgia In HD. If you’re adventuring through the Deadfire Archipelago be sure to check out our guides and our Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire wiki for all the latest info.

8.5
Summary: The console version of POE2 Ultimate Edition is a wonderful adventure and a compelling RPG, with interesting exploration and reputation mechanics, wonderful role-play opportunities, and a deep combat system that unfortunately does not completely translate to a controller. The dedicated and patient will find turn-based a rewarding endeavor, and would do well to add this title to their collection.
Story & Setting (9.5)
Gameplay (8)
Audio & Visual (7.5)
Replayability (9)
Pricepoint (8.5)
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MMO raider by day and guide writer by night, Fex enjoys multiplatform gaming, good books and animes, and streaming with a cold beer.

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