Pillars of Eternity was one of the first successful Kickstarter game projects I’ve ever got to play for myself. Headed by industry veterans that had a hand at some of my favorite games that I had played during my school days, such as Baldur’s Gate, the folks at Obsidian certain knew what they were doing with that game. While I haven’t had the opportunity to fully complete the original Pillars, nor its DLC pack The White March, I certainly played enough of it to know it’s the sort of RPG that I like. It’s the kind of game that respects your intelligence and doesn’t lead you by the hand, all the while serving a rich world to explore and characters whose stories I actually wanted to unravel.
The good news is that there’s going to be a new entry in the series that’s stated to come out on May 8th. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, as the name suggests, explores the region of the Deadfire Archipelago, giving you your own ship and crew to sail around with. The pre-release beta client that I got to play plopped me in the waters outside of Tikawara, a fishing village not too keen on receiving visitors that sits on the tip of a bigger island.
But before any of that, I was treated to a very traditional character creation screen, from which I rolled an Aumauan, the aquatic race of the Pillars of Eternity fiction, who just happen to be native to Deadfire. When in Rome, be a Roman, don’t they say? How about a Roman who’s not only a Fighter but can also summon beats to help her out? That can occur in Deadfire thanks to the inclusion of the multi-class option. Or not, if you choose to stick to a single class. I decided to stick with being just a monk with a bloodthirsty side, favoring pain inducing attacks over more illuminated skills (let’s just say that this choice was entirely due to this being a demo and not the entire adventure, otherwise I would’ve wracked my brain trying to come up with something more clever).
Anyway, from the outset, Pillars 2 felt instantly familiar, sporting the same isometric view and click-click-click movement controls. While I would’ve liked to see more precision in the way you interact with items and NPCs — the icon flipping mouse cursor is confusing and not very intuitive when it comes to actually interacting with the damn things, but alas, everything else felt and controlled exactly like the original game, so pretty much like the old Infinity engine games played. I took my pre-rolled posse of mercenary buddies along with my scaly self for a visit to the aforementioned village, where I ran into their leader of sorts and engaged in an ability check dialog sequence that I think I lost. We didn’t reach an agreement as to whether or not I would check out whatever evil being of the week was killing villagers, but I ended up going out to explore the island anyway.
Exploration started out as soon as I clicked on the map. Instead of just picking a location and fast travelling to it, map movement now allowed me to click different areas and even pick up loot along the way. Some points of interest even injected a few dialog checks, one of which had the group confront a sort of dryad creature who ended up being a pretty nice creature after I carefully and respectfully approached it. It’s not every day that a woodland inhabitant gives me a stat-boosting mushroom, so I counted that as a win. My journey eventually led to a more direct combat encounter against a group of mermen who attacked me after another multi-option text screen.
Fighting also felt pretty similar to the original game, as in completely and lovingly keen on kicking my ass. Pausing and being a little more strategic proved to be the best approach. My group was thankfully pretty diversified class wise, so I was able to keep everyone mostly healthy as my burly warrior kept their hulks busy as the wizard applied some hexes and the rogue did some of them in and jumped out of the way at just the right time. All skills are apparently still tied to limited uses, so keeping things varied helped some of the more physically weaker characters keep enemies at bay, since their bigger attacks seemed to require longer casting times, something that was offset by the fact that various different abilities could be used. After a couple of unsuccessful bouts, I managed to off those guys and decided to hop back to the village and take it to the sea.
Seafaring is the new notch in Pillars 2’s belt, as opposed to the first game’s castle management. The more mobile approach to travelling felt pretty good to tool around with, even if the map itself was obviously limited considering this is a beta. Taking it to the sea proved to be quite dangerous, and I quickly ran into some hostile forces. Funnily enough, the encounter played out via the same style of text boxes that I was served with while huffing on land. It had me control the ship’s movement and attacks while taking turns with whatever the enemy decided to do, all of it taking place with the backdrop of the same amount of world building text seen in other areas of the game. This could’ve turned out comically terrible, but it honestly turned out to be pretty fun, if not a little nerve-wracking, given how bind I felt as to how I was doing.
All in all, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire seems to be on the right track. Considering that its release date was pushed back from April up to month and change after the feedback that Obsidian has gotten due to this beta. This test version is currently available to certain Kickstarter backer tiers. It’s safe to assume that this delay means that they’re taking their time tinkering and balancing the game, and considering just how much there is to it as a complex undertaking of an RPG, that’s always good news.