In 2012, Pillars of Eternity became the most successful Kickstarted game of that time. Raising over $4 million with the help of 77,000 backers, Obsidian Entertainment was able to see their spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate come to life. In 2015, Pillars of Eternity was released on PC, published by Paradox Interactive. Now, two years later, the game has made its way to consoles but was the jump from one system to another successful? Well… yes and no.
• Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
• Publisher: Paradox Interactive
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: PC, Xbox One
• Release Date: Available Now
The story of Pillars of Eternity sees the player character arrive in Dyrwood when the caravan they are travelling with is attacked and its members killed. After escaping, the player witnesses a group of robed strangers performing a strange ritual that appears to tear the souls from their bodies. However, being in such close proximity to the energies of the ritual has an effect on the player and they become ‘Awakened,’ cursing them with being able to remember the memories of their past lives. These magicks also grant the player character the ability to read another person’s souls. Few people throughout history have been granted this power and they have all been given the same title – The Watcher.
The Dyrwood too is cursed by a blight called the Hollowborn Plague which sees children being born without souls, and as The Watcher travels the land trying to undo what was done to them, it is revealed that the curse on the land and the Watcher may be linked. For how simple the story is I found it highly enjoyable and at times truly engaging. As you travel the land meeting NPC’s and party members you get a real sense of your actions having genuine effect on the land, and this is no more prominent than at the end of the game, when every decision you make, no matter how small, rewards you with one of Pillars of Eternity’s many multiple endings.
Every decision you make has consequences and it was quite devastating to see all these choices I was convinced were right spark events that hurt people later on. It was genuinely interesting to see the results of my decisions play out and I had several “ah s**t, if I’d have done that instead” moments.
The story is spread over four chapters, each filled with quests and tasks. On top of the main campaign quests that keep the story moving forward, The Dyrwood is full of NPC’s in need of your help, and even your own party members have quest chains that help develop their character and even have an effect on the ending. The Complete Edition also comes with both expansions, The White March Parts 1 and 2 which boasts an additional 10+ hours each of gameplay content, as well a brand new story and region to discover.
There are usually several ways to go about completing these quests and tasks too, such as keeping or handing over items you’ve been asked to collect, helping or betraying NPC’s, and even killing or sparing people. In this regard gameplay is quite open, and I found myself on several occasions able to pass areas and scenarios I’d been stuck on for a while by approaching it a different way; whether it be killing a guard and stealing a key to unlock a door blocking my way, or following a conversation tree down a branch I hadn’t tried before, Pillars of Eternity definitely rewards thinking differently.
Quests are usually a simple case of travelling to and talking to people, retrieving items, and exploring dungeons, but the variety of locales and ways to approach the task at hand stop them from ever becoming boring. In fact, I’d often find myself wandering off into dark corners of new areas in the hopes of finding secrets and more quests to tackle, which, to the game’s credit, I often did.
Pillars was originally made for the PC, and it shows in how it controls. Built for keyboard and mouse the controls have been converted to the controller with mixed results. Movement around the isometrically viewed world is handled with the left analogue stick, which works fine until trying to interact with certain smaller objects which can often take several attempts to line up. The camera can be zoomed in and out too for a better view of the field, or a close look at combat, and pressing left or right on the d-pad actives fast/slow mode, which, as the name suggests, speeds up or slows down movement.
It’s possible to switch to a cursor with a touch of the triangle button, but due to controller accuracy it has been slowed down considerably and feels sluggish to use. There’s also a weird bug with the cursor where it seems to remain as a ‘no symbol’ even when objects you can interact with, so it isn’t recommended to use.
Combat in Pillars of Eternity will be instantly familiar to those who have played Baldur’s Gate. Combat starts as soon as the party is seen by an enemy, and the party will begin to attack automatically. Pressing the R2 button pauses the game and brings up a combat radial housing a character’s spells and abilities which can then be used by selecting an enemy or friend to use them on.
Party members run on a very basic AI script which can be changed or turned off for those looking for more in-depth battles, but I kept the AI on throughout my playthrough, letting the AI do what it felt was right for the situation and intervening with my own selections when I thought it was being an idiot, which it turns out was quite often.
Crowd control is the name of the game here as it is far too easy to become overwhelmed by enemies. A fog of war covers the land and often times I’d find myself running to attack an enemy near the edge of the screen, only for the fog of war to clear as I approached revealing twelve other enemies who all instantly attacked me on sight.
The lack of mouse control becomes painfully apparent during combat as in order to use a spell on a party member you need to use the combat cursor to highlight the ring around their feet and press X, which is impossible to do during some of the more chaotic battles as they often get lost in the mess of bodies.
Another problem I had with the combat is the system itself feeling broken at times. It uses a modified version of the D&D rules so there are a lot of behind the scenes dice rolls making some encounters feel entirely out of my control as my party stood there for minutes at a time missing everything they attacked, forcing me to reload.
Difficulty spikes in combat too can be unforgiving. On more than one occasion I was forced to use offhanded (but legitimate) tactics for bosses and big groups, and I completely abandon several of the optional bosses included in the game the game after being wiped out in mere seconds, even at the higher levels.
Pillars of Eternity has quite an in depth levelling system, which is sure to keep hardcore RPG fans happy. Party members level up by collecting experience points which are obtained via quest completion and killing enemies, and with every level character are given points to spend on various attributes, and a new spell/ability from a selection a class specific, defensive, and offensive.
Each attribute has an explanation of its role in the game, and the attributes most helpful to a particular class are highlighted as a helpful suggestion with where to spend your hard earned points and believe me when I say they are hard earned.
I’ve always had a problem understanding the ins and outs of levelling systems like this. I never know if I’m increasing the correct attributes for my character build, and spells boasting 2% increase in this, that, and the other confuses me more than I’d like to admit. That being said, I was able to successfully level characters and finish the game without much issue, so as much as seasoned veterans of this type of RPG will get the most out of it, new comers will be able to enjoy the adventure too without much hindrance.
It is also possible to re-roll any characters (for a small price) at any inn, meaning you’re not stuck with a character build you’re not happy with. It’s a great addition and takes away a lot of pressure when assigning attribute spells and abilities. As well as this, Inns are the places to sleep and heal your wounds, sell your loot and buy new items, and Hire help and option that allows you to add brand new custom party members to join the ranks of the ones who have joined you throughout the story.
Another big part of the gameplay in Pillars of Eternity is your stronghold, Caed Nua. Part way through Act 1 you will come into possession of a derelict stronghold and must take on the task of fixing it up. This is done by selecting the areas you wish to mend, paying the asked for price, and waiting for the amount of in game time it takes to fix up, and fixing the place is definitely in your best interest.
As the rebuild progresses Caed Nua becomes your own hub where you can sleep, trade, and explore the seemingly endless caverns underneath. Folk will come and ask for help, bandits will attack, and prisoners can be sent to the dungeons. I’m a fan of micromanaging mini games like this so thoroughly enjoyed seeing my stronghold begin to prosper.
Unfortunately, Pillars of Eternity is not without its problems, and it has a lot of problems. First off, the loading times are absolutely horrendous. The areas aren’t especially big and every building needs to be loaded into and every floor of a new area in the building needs to be loaded into. To put this into perspective whenever you go from an area to Caed Nua to sleep it takes six loading screens before you’re out on the field again.
The worst example of this by a long shot is when reloading a save file. It takes upward of three minutes every time you want to load a save file which is absolutely ridiculous, and I found myself reloading a lot of meaning I have literally wasted hours in total looking at loading screens.
The game is absolutely littered with bugs too, and some are genuinely game breaking. More than once the game would crash on a loading screen, forcing me to close the game. My party would often get caught in a combat loop and refuse to exit combat mode after a fight was finished, forcing me to reload (which took minutes). One of my party members lost her animal companion rendering her useless. It’s unreal how many issues I found. Granted, some were quite funny, such as NPC’s random breaking into T poses, but even that was enough to completely ruin any sense of emersion.
As much as I want to recommend Pillars of Eternity, in its current state I can’t. I genuinely enjoyed my time exploring Dyrwood, but every time I thought the game was on my side it’d throw another bug at me and make me watch endless load screens. It’s these issues that are stopping me from giving it a higher score, which I’d love to do. However, until Obsidian fix their game I can’t. If you’re a fan of RPG’s then you definitely should play Pillars of Eternity, but not just yet. Wait a few months for it to be patched several times, if not eliminating the issues, then certainly making them better. The game should be cheaper too, so even if it isn’t fixed, at least you didn’t pay full price. Maybe they’ll have better luck with the sequel.
Tags: Baldur's Gate, Complete Edition, D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, Dyrwood, Hollowborn, Icewind Dale, kickstarter, Neverwinter Nights, Obsidian, Paradox, Pillars of Eternity, Planescape: Torment, RPG, The White March