No matter how many new games there are, many developers will still draw their ideas from the past, and some – from the very distant past. Once, role play gave us not only the choice of levelling and build, but also the choice of the plot, the choice of methods of playing, all in your own individual way. Now everything is a little bit different, less choice, preferring to create aRPGs, rather than old-school RPG. For it’s easier. But there are always those who fight against this unwritten rule. Some fighters are ideological, some are made by life.
Obsidian Entertainment – a good studio, which started with finishing off others’ franchises (Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR, Dungeon Siege, Fallout), but kept evolving constantly, perfecting themselves in the genre of role-playing games. South Park: The Stick of Truth, for example, was one of the best games of last year, according to many publications. But even if it seems like you’re on top of your game, there still might be a hole in your pocket. Due to the cancellation of a very expensive project in the Aliens universe, Obsidian almost went bankrupt. They were rescued by Kickstarter and Project Eternity – an old-school role-playing game, the budget for which the studio collected in just a few days.
Yes, that’s exactly how Pillars of Eternity came into being, another game which Obsidian Entertainment can be proud of, and through which they can continue to exist. It is born out of old patterns and rules, is extremely complicated, both in gameplay and in the understanding of the game, especially if you are a young player, and haven’t caught the era of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and of course, Neverwinter Nights. If you find these names to be only empty echoes of the past, then Pillars of Eternity is simply not for you. It smells of mothballs, and it looks only remotely like modern role-playing games, but I will come back to this.
To begin with, the game turned out to be exactly what we wanted. Giant stretches of text in dialogues and records, the widest customisation of characters, a modest but deep selection of side-kicks and really lots of different skills and abilities. I went through the game twice, but I still haven’t mastered them all.
The choice of the hero’s path begins in the main menu, where you will need to choose the difficulty setting of the game. There are four, and with each level the enemies become more dangerous and harder to kill, but even the most severe “hard” is nothing compared to the two additional options which add even more “problems” to each level of difficulty. The first will disable all tips in the game and force the player to think about their actions on their own, and the second will delete your save files every time you die. Yes, if you tick a box next to this mode, you will have exactly one attempt to complete the game from start to finish. The fourth difficulty level in conjunction with these two parameters will make you go grey faster than you can cry ‘Heals!’
And after you select the difficulty level with a shaking hand, vast prospects for creating your own character will open before you. Six races, eleven classes, a variety of history (eg, choice of birthplace and his way of life will affect the basic characteristics), and then … and then an endless column with skills, characteristics and additional specialisations. The fact that the game can also change the character’s appearance and voice – these seem mere trifles compared to other customisation options. Pillars of Eternity is a game in which the first hour of your adventures will take place in the character editor.
Then the game’s plot starts to throw your way companions who love to chat while wandering, but if you think that you’re done with the editor, you’re wrong. The fact is that you won’t find all mates all at once, but it’s quite dangerous to roam the local lands and dungeons. You will have to seek help from taverns where you will be able to literally put together teammates to your liking in the same editor. They will not talk, their stories will remain a mystery, but they can be customised to fit you, to create the perfect party. Without this, alas, you’ll be getting nowhere. The game will cause a lot of trouble for casual players even on easy difficulty level. The higher the difficulty level, the more it’s necessary to ensure that all are equipped and that all have the right skills, that they are all used on time, – in general, you’ll have to take manual control and sweat to finish the game.
Yes, it will be hard, but no more so than any of the old role-playing games. The only modern analogue that comes to mind is the terrific Divinity: Original Sin, but these two games are way too different, to be compared. Pillars of Eternity looks worse, and is played a little differently. If Divinity: Original Sin was bright and cheerful, Pillars of Eternity is much darker, and even less like good old Fallout. On the other hand, it is in Pillars of Eternity that we have very non-linear dungeons, which can be fought not only with the sword unsheathed, but with a thinking head. Fans will be able to solve puzzles to pass some very difficult places without getting involved in a fight, just taking a shortcut in certain places. As for the non-linearity of the rest of the game, this should be addressed separately and elsewhere.
It’s better if I tell you about your castle. You always wanted to have your own castle, right? You will have one. It can be rebuilt, you can hire guards, you can send there party members who you don’t take with you on your journey. And under the castle is a multi-level dungeon of a Diablo type, where we have not only monsters, but also interesting puzzles, and not very interesting traps which killed several of my party members. Irrevocably killed, which is important. So, when you get tired of running around the world and completing the main and side quests, solving the problems of children born without souls, you can relax and look into this dungeon, which, by the way, the game only has due to the fact that Pillars of Eternity gathered more than the requested amount on Kickstarter.
However, we should not forget that Pillars of Eternity is still an indie. An expensive one by today’s standards, but still an indie. Neither graphics on the whole, nor visual effects in particular are a priority for the developers; they are fully invested in the text and content. There is nothing here for fans of “games to be looked at”, nothing cinematic here, and all the scenery and locations are sometimes purely formal. Here is a track in an impenetrable forest, which is not even moving in the wind, that’s a static house and a barely noticeable flowing river. No, it’s better not to look around, and look close at the contents. The authors counted on that you’ll dedicate 50% of the total playing time not to examining locations, and not even fights, but to reading. There’s a lot of text in this game. The authors even added a stretch function to the interface dialogues of the game for the sake of reading, and some game situations are done in the form of a text role-playing game.
And that’s how we have Pillars of Eternity. A game filled with text, manual combat settings, the finest customization and 30-40 hours of quests and adventures. The game is not for those who began their roleplaying with Dragon Age, Skyrim and The Witcher; too much water under the bridge to compare what was then and what is now. Pillars of Eternity, partly because it has a modest budget, is trying to be an old game for older players. Those players who won’t be confused by a long analysis of all the features of combat, as well as numerous options in the dialog boxes. There are quite a lot of those players as it turned out, and it is a fact established by Kickstarter. The rest should think – is this too hard? Do you have the strength and the courage to challenge the game that breaks into our present from the seemingly forgotten past? Up to you.
The non-linear approach to a variety of tasks
Fine avatar customization and party members
Many interesting dialogues
Not a very big world
Most dialogues sound different, but lead to one and the same event