20 May 2018

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire PC game review

I'm currently playing Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire on PC and am having a blast. I love the top-down perspective RPG's as I grew up with Baldur's Gate 1-2, Icewind Dale 1-2, Fallout 1-2 among others. 

Having enjoyed modern RPG masterpieces like the Witcher III: The Wild Hunt (I also had lots of fun with both Skyrim and Fallout New Vegas/Fallout 4) it can be nice to switch from 1st/3rd person to the isometric view and get back into party based playstyles.

I played the first Pillars of Eternity a LOT when it came out a few years ago and really enjoyed the gameplay. The story itself, I have to admit, did not enthrall me. But the characters, locations and gameplay was imo really good. I got the expansion White March for it but was a bit put off that I could not play it after having finished the main storyline, and having no time or energy to replay the several dozen hours sunk into Pillars of Eternity I cannot comment on how good that expansion was.

Now Pillars of Eternity II has been released and I just had to pick up the game. I did not read up a lot beforehand, I only knew that it would have more of a nautical/pirate theme this time around. And it does - which can sound a bit strange and hard to imagine how you blend Baldur's Gate style of gaming with pirates and naval battles.

But let's start from the beginning, Pillars 2 picks up where the first game ended. So much so, that you have the option to import all your choices made in the first game which will affect dialogue options and some other things in the sequel. I love when this is made possible. However, if you have not played or do not own the first game, or are unhappy with the choices made - then Pillars 2 allows you to go down a "backstory" sequence where you answer questions to various options. These answers you made are then used in the game whenever characters, factions or events from the first game get involved.

You are still playing as "the Watcher", someone who can communicate with the lost souls of the dead. The giant statue beneath the Caed Nua castle in the first game has come to life - infused by the energy of one of the gods gone rogue - and is taking a stroll of destruction through the land. It is up to the player to investigate and stop this rampage. The pursuit takes you to the Deadfire archipelago which is a huge map with scattered islands that require ship transportation to be reached.

This is where the game differs from many of its predecessors. Games like Baldur's Gate and Fallout also had world map travel - but Pillars 2 takes it one step further. It mixes in elements from pirate games like "Pirates of the Caribbean" where you are a ship captain and manage both the crew, cargo, ship and supplies. In this game you recruit and buy new ship types/improvements for your transportation. Cannonballs, food and water, repair supplies and crew skill all come into play.

The game also mixes elements of one of my other favorite games, "Battle Brothers" which is a game where you are a mercenary captain and have to manage pay, morale and equipment of your war band in between battles. Because in Pillars 2, whenever you are travel by ship, your crew will consume food and drink items, consume repair and medicine items and morale levels will rise and fall depending on various situations. Winning battles at sea raise crew morale, being served dry crackers and water instead of fruit/meat and alcohol lowers morale as well. Then you have to pay the crew each day to keep morale up.

Morale impacts how fast crew gains experience, and your ship features several different positions, from helmsman to deckhands. Manning a position will increase experience and expertise for that position, but crew members can be moved around between position both out of battle and during combat.

The battles themselves, are very pen and paper like, with text descriptions and focus is on positioning, distance and loading time/crew skill rather than real time action. This is a total opposite of everything else in the game, but I found it oddly satisfying and exciting nonetheless. If you choose boarding actions (risky as crew can get killed or injured) then the game switches to real time action and regular look.

This is just a small part of the game though, even if my description of it is lengthy. Most of the  game will be played on land, in real time (with pause option) and with gorgeous looking 3D rendered character models and terrain/locations. And here the game plays like the classics, you take quests from various NPCs and travel the world to fulfill various requirements. Your band is made of up NPCs that you run across, and you only create your own. They are all well written characters with their own motivation, stories and most of them have quests connected to them as well.

The difference in a positive direction imo with Pillars 2 compared to the similar games from before is that most abilities, spells and actions are refreshed between fights. Meaning that your wizard will be able to cast his spells in each encounter as long as there was a break between the fights, no longer is actual resting required to refresh spells and abilities. The wound system has also been improved in this game, debilitating injuries suffered during fights where characters are knocked out now stack and require proper rest with food items consumed to fully heal.

Other changes to the classic RPG skill tree is how you pick your abilities a bit more freely, and you also have a good overview of what is available so that you can plan your character builds. Some things are however so detailed that I honestly can't tell exactly how they work, for instance there are 4 different kinds of defensive traits and knowing how they work together or if you can get by using only one would require a bit more information from the game and effort from the player to read up on it. I don't worry about that, since playing on normal difficulty the game is still highly enjoyable for veterans of Baldur's Gate and Pillars 1, but yeah - this game certainly has a ton of information that you can delve into.

So far, having played some 20 hours of the game, I'm having a blast. The locations are very well done and interesting, battles are fun. I really like that quests and enemies now have icons showing if they are above your level (and what chances of success are if you go places with your current level). The game has 3 options regarding level scaling, and I'm playing with the level scaling turned off. Which means that low level areas remain low level, while areas that are far beyond my war band level are very hard or impossible to beat if visited too early. I prefer that to the other options where the level scaling keeps the world around you at your level regardless of what - I never liked that in games like Oblivion where you never felt any kind of progress to your character.

Missions are interesting and varied, a lot of them can be  resolved with diplomacy and non combat options which is nice. I also get the impression that this game uses player skill/stats for random encounter tests a LOT - pretty much like Fallout 1-2 where it mattered how high your intelligence or charisma was in certain situations or when interacting with others.

I feel that I have but dipped my toes in this huge game, and it may be early with "just" 20 hours played, but I still strongly recommend it. The story so far is "OK" just like in the original Pillars 1, but the locations, game play and characters are definitely well worth it!

The only bad thing about this game is that it puts a serious dent in my hobby time.


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