By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
OBSIDIAN ENTERTAINMENT boasts of a stellar resume built on classic role-playing games. As exemplified by such notables as Neverwinter Nights 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II — The Sith Lords, and Fallout: New Vegas, it’s keen on drawing players in through compelling storylines and inventive quests. In this regard, its Kickstarter-rooted release in 2015 proved to be no exception. Paying homage to Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate and Black Isle Studios’ Icewind Dale, Pillars of Eternity deftly mixed old-school role-playing gameplay with the graphics and quality-of-life features of modern titles.
Set in the fantasy world of Eora, Pillars of Eternity had players follow the enigmatic tale of The Watcher. A being able to communicate and read the souls of those nearby, he or she spearheads a party’s aim to solve the plague of the hollowborn, children struck by a mysterious illness that has them soulless at birth. With branching storylines, multiple ways to solve quests, and endings that depend on choices, Pillars of Eternity had a wonderful story that was both fun to play through and a joy to experience.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire picks up from where the original left off, with the destructive revival of the god Eothas and the Watcher’s new quest to put the god to rest. And, thankfully, it carries the name of its predecessor with pride. Graphics-wise, it runs just as well, but looks even more attractive; textures have been improved across the board, and the myriad artstyles are nothing short of fantastic, propped up by the sheer variety of the locations. And where the first game was focused on dark castles and shadowy basements, the sequel emphasizes travel and exploration, and thus feels brighter and more open-ended.
Which is to say Pillars of Eternity II benefits from its grandiose show of diversity. Environments are in abundance, featuring drastic and comprehensive tonal shifts. From colonial towns to uncivilized jungles, color, vibrancy, and mystery are highlighted, setting the game up properly, as whole continents, countries, and civilizations viscerally add to the players’ knowledge. Parenthetically, the level of detail enhances how the game presents itself.
To be sure, Pillars of Eternity II isn’t just about its looks. Changes have been made to the user interface, and for the better. Even as the overall party size has been reduced, multi-classing and empowered abilities keep combat fresh; players are allowed to develop their character as they please. Action occurs in real time, but the game’s ever-present pause system ensures that neophytes won’t be overwhelmed; naval warfare, while at times shallow, likewise serves to spice up the gameplay. And though it does provide standard CRPG elements, the number of options on offer make it stand out; among other things, players are never forced into one particular build.
On the whole, outstanding role playing is what has Pillar of Eternity II earning its keep. Actions undertaken by the character have consequences; it’s entirely possible to miss conversations with NPCs, bypass items, and forego skills because of the player’s choices. The direction of the story, the composition of the party, what quests are undertaken, and what dungeons to explore are decided entirely by the player.
Indeed, Pillars of Eternity II tries to react to the player’s actions fluidly. It’s the finest representation yet of the type of storytelling Obsidian Entertainment is known for. Whether as a rampaging, chaotic bandit who pillages and loots, or as a noble paladin who values self-sacrifice, players are treated to gameplay premised on absolute freedom.
In this context, Pillars of Eternity II admittedly reveals its only flaw; it must take from its predecessor. It’s best experienced by those who have already played the first game. For newcomers and those who have already forgotten the base title’s story, confusion might reign in the beginning as storylines and information are unveiled without exposition. In the final analysis, however, it’s an experience that’s nothing short of amazing. As a tactical RPG, it simply has no peer.