After one of the most successful Kickstarters in history back in 2012, Pillars of Eternity went on to be released a couple of years to a very favorable reception by the RPG community and videogame fans alike. Obsidian’s love and previous experience with isometric role-playing classics like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment proved to be very much still in vogue for today’s tastes, with Pillars basically being a modern take on that design style, but spun out of a completely new fiction and world. It eventually got a direct sequel, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire which included a host of improvements and was one of the very rare games where your save game carried over from the previous entry.
Obsidian eventually ported Pillars of Eternity to the current gen consoles, and to all intents and purposes, that version turned out really well, so it’s not at all surprising that the Switch is following suit and is finally also getting its own port, with the sequel not far behind. As someone who played a bit of the original version of Pillars on PC, I was more than happy to start my adventure over on the Switch, and I’m having a real blast with it, even though it still very much feels like a PC game any way I look at it, be it the controls or interface.
Whichever mode you decide to play this game in, be it portable or docked, Pillars of Eternity performs admirably. It was never a system hog to begin with on computers, but given the Switch’s track record with not so fantastic conversions throughout its run, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see some faults in this port, so I’m very glad to report it’s got crisp visuals and sound on both Switch modes. It’s kind of weird that there’s a text bug within the game that makes all on-screen typography to change from unintelligible glyphs back to English from time to time, and even when in English, especially during loading screens, the font seems to change as the game is about to load in.
Speaking of loading times, this Switch version sports some long ones that can take up to a minute to conclude sometimes. It’s usually not that big of an issue normally, but if you’re a save maniac like myself, you’ll be waiting for a bit from time to time while playing this game. I found that not having a bunch of saved games helps alleviate this somewhat, but not much. Another issue you will run into is the usual Obsidian jank when it comes to actual bugs within the game. I’ve gotten more than a handful of crashes to the Switch dashboard during the 20+ hours of playing Pillars of Eternity, and I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what caused these, as the crashes took place totally randomly while playing.
Controlling the game has been mostly great overall. Point and clicking is by far the most precise method for playing this type of game no doubt, but the controller does an admiral job especially when it comes to just running around exploring, allowing you not only to freely using the analog stick to move your party, but also to stop and point and click their locations. When it comes to precision, things aren’t as good, but not too bad — in fights, you can pause and take your time selecting spells and abilities by pulling up a radial menu with the right trigger, and controlling the cursor with the analog stick, which also comes into play selecting your targets — and that selection feature also pops up while exploring, but isn’t as precise, requiring a little bit of fiddling when interacting with doors, chests, or actual people to talk to.
As for messing around with your inventory and such, this is pretty much a mouse and keyboard game on a controller, it never gets in your way but does little to facilitate clicking through boxes and moving items around them, be it equipping items to your paper doll or simply trying to sell unwanted crap to a vendor. It’s totally serviceable. I’ve yet to run into any major issues with the interface, and I’m glad for it, because I plan to stick with the game for the long run as we approach the sequel’s port to the Switch, in hope of importing my save over to it, something I did not do for my original review for that game. The most baffling issue, however, is that the Switch port does not feature any sort of touch screen control options, which would’ve been ideal at least for item menu management. Oh well…
Pillars of Eternity is one of the richest games when it comes to story and lore. Obsidian’s done a brilliant job as usual building a rich world that’s really a joy to dig into, and what’s best, it’s a completely original creation by their part, one of the first ever as they were usually known for picking up other people’s properties and making great games out of them, like Fallout: New Vegas and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. A quick starter for Pillars of Eternity’s story is that it takes place in a word called Eora, and you’re a stranger riding into Dyrwood, where a mysterious affliction plagues babies and makes them be born without souls. The local authorities are on an active witch hunt, hanging anyone who they suspect of being responsible. In the first few minutes of playing — so this is not a spoiler! — you find out that you’re a Watcher, someone capable with communing with the dead and spirits, which gives you an edge while investigating the supernatural powers at play in the story as you investigate the Hollowborn.
While the main story is fantastic, the real meat of Pillars is in its side content, and there’s plenty of it to be found. You’ll have to really look for it, but it’s definitely worth finding, as there’s a bunch that you can pick up from many NPCs in the world, giving you reason to explore the map and go off the beaten path, expanding the lore and backstory, and lots of much needed experience points for you to invest on leveling up. In these, you also mold the personality of your character by putting into use the traits that you pick at the time you create them — the normal host of options from this type of game, like charm and sheer aggressiveness — that play into context-sensitive dialog options if your skill is high enough on a specific skill, opening up different courses of actions for these quests. Some can even vary wildly, depending on the path that you take, an Obsidian trademark that is more than present in Pillars of Eternity.
I’m not exactly in love with how combat plays in the Pillars games, and even though I much prefer the approach that Larian Studios takes with their incredible Divinity: Original Sin games (which reminds me, I need to get back to 2 at some point), I make by with my terrible tactical decisions while playing on normal difficulty, thanks to plenty of save scumming and careful playing. You can kick things up a notch and take the infamous Path of the Damned, but I can’t imagine micromanaging so much, regardless of which system I’m playing, even more with how difficult it is to be very precise on a controller. Still, the option is there for you if you’re up for it.
The Complete Edition also includes the two-part The White March expansion that was released for Pillars of Eternity in 2015 and 2016, which adds new quests and story arcs, as well as new skills, companions, and a higher level cap to the base game by having the Watcher explore the frosty region of White March in search of a special forge. It can be played at any point before beating the final boss from the main content. Considering that Pillars is a long game to begin with, having a 20-ish hours of extra stuff to tackle isn’t a bad deal at all for $40.
If you’ve been missing out on Pillars of Eternity, be it because you don’t own any of the platforms it’s been on in the last few years or for simply not knowing about it, now’s your best chance to get into one of Obsidian’s best games ever. The Switch version is in no way behind any of the previous versions, and given its portable form, it could be considered superior to the other console ports thanks to its excellent performance — if you overlook the crashes you’re bound to run into, so save often! — and fun factor. Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition will be out on August 8th in the Nintendo Switch eShop.