Feel free to either watch the review below or read it, the old-fashioned way. I like to cater to all tastes.
If you’ve missed this game on release, Pillars or Eternity is a real-time-strategy roleplaying game. It’s a throwback to the good old days of RPG gaming of games like Baldur’s Gate and Final Fantasy 7 with the pre rendered backgrounds. It was released back in March but I felt it deserved a review regardless.
Pillars of Eternity is set in the fantasy world of Eora. You start by creating a character with which you will guide a team of up to six adventurers. The game was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and for a game funded this way, the scale and detail of the game is just magnificent. I’ve always gone by the philosophy that if I can spend an hour or more just on the character creation screen then I’ve found a game I’m sure to get my money’s worth from. If you read everything on the character creation screen, it will certainly keep you occupied for an hour or more as there’s a mass of races, classes, cultures and even sub-races to choose from. These aren’t just aesthetic choices either, but will affect the options you have in certain interactions in the game and the way certain races/ people will respond to you.
If you’re expecting that on choosing a class and race that would be end of it, then you’re in for a surprise. After choosing elf for example, you’re then faced with the further choice of pale or wood elf, and the godlike have four sub-race options of death, fire, moon and nature. After choosing your class you’ll also likely be faced with yet more choices such as with Priests choosing one of five deities to worship or with a druid choosing one of five different shapeshift forms. The choices just keep coming. Players used to a modern streamlined version of the character creation, might find it all a little overwhelming, but I found the depth of the customisation a refreshing change of pace.
Once you’ve finally chosen a character and started the game, you’ll find yourself introduced to Pillars of Eternity’s predominately text-based style of storytelling. If you’re into fast-paced action games, then the game’s wall of text might put you off. There is certainly a lot of reading to do in the game but I love the fact that the important sections are voice acted for you and it’s mainly the optional choices that you’re left to read yourself. I also like the fact that as well as dialogue there are written descriptions to help you visualise the characters actions and expressions, as you’ll find few cut scenes in this game and interaction is pretty much entirely text-based.
As with most other RPGs, you can change your character’s equipment, armour and weapons etc. You can buy these from vendors but as long as you complete the side quests, you’ll probably pick up more than enough decent gear to meet your needs and even have plenty of vendor trash left over. You can also buy a non-combat pet which can be equipped in the same screen. Levelling up also works much the same way as other RPGs. You’re given a number of points to distribute among different stats and can choose new class abilities/ spells, the number of which depends the level you’ve obtained, with a higher number of abilities available at higher levels. This gives you a lot of control over the way your character develops, allowing you to focus on offense, defence or support, as while most classes do specialise in one or the other, there’s still a range of abilities available.
Pillars of Eternity will teach you a pretty stiff lesson before you even clear the first area of the game. That being, don’t get too attached to your party members because they can die. How easily depends on the game’s difficulty setting. On easier settings your party member will first become injured, when their health points hit zero, and will only die if they take further damage without resting or healing. On higher difficulty settings a party member will just die the moment their HP hits zero and there is no bringing them back. In this game dead means dead. There are a few ways you can get new party members. They can be picked up as you progress through the storyline, recruited from inns or through your stronghold.
Only eight of the companions available are considered main companions and will react to the events in the game and reveal their own back stories and agendas. These will all be encountered as you play through the main story. In the style of the Dragon Age games, they’ll also have some rather interesting and humorous exchanges between themselves as you’re exploring, which is a great touch. Some of the companions can be missed if you don’t think to talk to them, so be prepared to explore and talk to a lot of random NPCs in this game, or you may later find you’ve missed something important. If you choose to recruit one at an inn then you can create custom characters using the same character creation screen that you used to make your main character. However, these characters will not have a back story or personality like the main companions, so if you decide to lead and entirely custom made party, you’ll likely miss out on a chunk of the game’s storyline.
The gameplay, even on the easiest difficulty setting, is pretty unforgiving. It will automatically pause when combat is first initiated to allow you to issue your orders across the party, which is handy, but after that you’re on your own. Tanking doesn’t seem to work quite as well as it does in other games, and even if you send in your tank first, there’s usually a fair bit of damage spread, so you need to be ready to throw out those heals. Casters are particularly squishy in this game and if anyone gets taken down during combat, for me, it’s nearly always Aloth, the wizard. The worst mistake you can make in this game is to think, ‘I got it all in hand’, and reach for your cup of tea during combat, because your party will almost certainly be wiped out when you look back at the screen. It reminds me a bit of Final Fantasy 13 in that respect. I would just recommend you save the tea drinking for when you read the dialogue scenes.
A short way into the game, you’re also given a stronghold to call home. You can then spend money renovating and upgrading it and hiring guards. The upgrades will either improve security and attract stronger potential recruits to your stronghold or give you added bonuses when you rest there. This is also where your companions and adventurers will hang out when they’re not in your party. Every now and again, minor adventures will pop up which you can assign to those you leave behind in your stronghold for extra income and rewards. It’s not the deepest or most complex aspect of the game but I find it a nice diversion from the main tasks of questing and exploring.
The graphics are charming and perfect for the style of the game. There’s the occasional awkward area where the foreground obscures where you’re walking; this is particularly an issue if you get into a fight in such a location and can’t see who’s attacking who, or who’s being attacked by who, but it’s a rare issue. Much more common is the bottleneck issue, where your party all get caught up behind one another in combat and seem to be incapable of walking around resulting in only two members attacking an enemy instead of the six you ordered to do it. That can get frustrating and can waste time as you have to personally dictate a path around for each stucked member.
Overall, this is a great game, rich in detail in terms of visuals, storytelling and world building. Without a doubt, this is one of the best games of its genre and well worth a play. Just make sure you pack those reading glasses.
Excellent depth in terms of storyline
Crazy levels of character customisation
Great visuals and environments
Main companions are well voice acted and have character and backstory
Plenty of gameplay for your money
AI path finding can sometimes stumble and leave half of your party standing idle instead of attacking
Some may liken the game to reading a novel as there is a lot of reading involved