Imagine yourself enjoying the vast expanse of your home, quietly minding your own business. Then in the blink of an eye, a giant made of glittering green magic stones, with sun-like eyes, rises from underneath your beloved abode. Obviously, everything from your cute puppy, merry friends, and the house itself, is destroyed by this hulking colossus. Now if you survive such an ordeal, the best course of action would be to stay put, thank the heavens that you managed to get away with your life, and simply live with what happened. But if you think otherwise, then you’re similar to our dear protagonist in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, Obsidian Entertainment’s follow-up to the massively successful Pillars of Eternity that was released last 2015 (we reviewed it so you might want to check it out!).
From Savior of Souls to A Drunken Pirate!
Continuing from the initial paragraph, the protagonist of the first Pillars of Eternity is then thrust into another whirlwind of events. The giant green adra, the risen god Eothas, wreaks havoc as he storms and stomps his way across the Deadfire Archipelago. The gods of Eora, wondering why a god would take the form of a hulking colossus, have decided to send their previous champion, the Watcher, to intervene and act as the gods hand and eyes in this mess of epic proportions.
The Watcher, armed with a ship and in the company of a motley crew of characters, must fight, convince, or connive his way to reach Eothas. But as you, the player does so, getting caught into the web of politics, betrayals, and “go to X and do Y” quests, isn’t as far-fetched as one would think.
The Deadfire Archipelago is filled with the unknown and yet unexplored lands. Four factions vie for control of the isles with each one having their own agendas and plans. As the Watcher, siding with these factions might prove to be useful in the long run. Or if one persists on it, having no sides at all is a side in itself. For an adventurer, this is the treasure trove of fantasy, the Deadfire Islands is a place to build or destroy a name. Also a place to craft your own story. Maybe, just maybe, that green giant can wait.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is and has always been conceived as a modern take on the 2D text-based RPGs of the 1990s. It is played with a top-down view and static camera, partnered with long lines of texts that can either enrich your vocabulary or irreparably cross your eyes altogether. Numbers and information such as distance, radius, and other mathematical equations run this type of world. Slap a good story on it and you have a good example of an RPG from such a time.
If you find the text in conversations lacking, you might want to check out the tabs pertaining to “Quests” and the game’s own “Encyclopedia”.
Influence, Relationships, and Questing
Now, let’s tackle the three “pillars” of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. The first one is influence, the metric that measures how the various factions of Deadfire see the player. Each one has their own motives and plans for the archipelago. Partnering with one might mean making an enemy out of one or two. One good point I noticed about all of them is that they have their own gray areas, none are as clear-cut as good or bad. One faction might look appealing given their ideals and motives, but the way they implement it would make one look the other way. Such is how the factions in this game work. There is freedom in how things work here and if the player chooses not to ally with anybody, that too is possible.
Next are relationships. Each NPC that the player can bring along can react or comment against the player’s replies in any conversation. They each have their own idiosyncrasies and prejudices. For example, badmouthing a faction while being partied with someone from that faction would naturally incur a negative relationship with that character. Having a good relationship with an NPC opens up their quest and their personal background, also giving the player a possibility to acquire rare items. Same with the factions, each NPC has their own goals and some can even conflict with how the player wishes to conduct him/herself in the game.
Last are the quests. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire offers a ton of them. There’re those occasional mundane ones but most are so memorable that they can be stories on their own. The player can also make do with bounty missions, hunting down ships sailing across the islands, or eliminating marauding monsters and bandits that have haunted isolated isles. One can skip the optional quests in order to beeline the main missions, but that would be steering away from the real meat of PoE II.
The game mainly uses the combat mechanics found in the first Pillars of Eternity. Each character has a recovery period which is determined by their previous action, their equipment, and their stats. Once the bar depletes the character can execute a move.
Placement and location is as essential as the equipment worn in battle. Spells, ranged weapons, and even melee weapons, all rely on their distance and angles. Flanking and encircling enemies have their obvious benefits. Magic, both beneficial and destructive, have limited cast ranges and area of effects. Casting a fireball on a certain area doesn’t guarantee a hit as characters, both friendly and hostile, have to pass rolls that would determine if they get hit or they can evade.
It does sound complex on letter, but it is if you look at it intricately! The details and status effects themselves can overwhelm an unprepared reader. On the otherhand, the player has the option to play the game leisurely without the complicated number crunching. In my case, stun means stun and this does that, and that was it. That was how I played it while reviewing this game. I did however, occasionally paused during difficult fights to micromanage my troops. If you’re that much of a perfectionist and statistics and probabilities are your kind of game, then this can also be played as such. Simply typing in some magic words and Google would give you dozens of eye-rolling builds tried and tested only by the resolute.
You can also just leave things to the AI but this kind of approach isn’t recommended especially on higher levels of difficulty. Manually placing your units and giving them their commands during intense parts of combat is key in winning.
One huge departure from the first game is the introduction of ships as home bases. Here, the player can manage party composition, resources, and character interaction. Wandering across the seas of Deadfire requires both manpower and resources. As ships do not sail on their own, each must have their roster of specialist to maintain and keep things in moving order. These characters can either be recruited in pubs found across the isles. Or in some cases, rescued, convinced, or coerced, into joining your merry crew.
Resources are consumed whenever a day passes. The crew must regularly take food and drinks, and of course, salary, during your travels. The type of food and drinks can either increase or decrease the crew’s morale. Morale is how the crew perceive you as their captain. Low morale can cause mutiny, forcing the player to kill some crew members in order to maintain control. Such an event no one would wish to ever happen on his ship.
So what happens when you bump into another ship without the intention of trade? You then go to combat (or pirating, depending on your reasons ARR!). If you imagined ship to ship combat to be similar to the classic Sid Meier’s Pirates of 2004, then you’d be excused. Sadly, such wasn’t the implementation in this game, a missed opportunity I think. It’s all text-based and executed in a turn-based manner. Commands can be given to your crew to outmaneuver or sink the opposing force. If all else fails and you think that your guns can’t do the talking, then boarding would be a better solution. Doing so would revert the game back to its 2D top-down screen for close-quarters ship-to-ship fighting.
If you loved the first Pillars of Eternity, you’ll definitely love this one. It’s more of the good stuff found in the first game, transformed and set into a new setting so that it doesn’t feel or look like a simple reskin. The combat mostly stays and feels the same, banking on placement, status effects, and correct and apt decisions.
I think part of the game’s charm is its story and accompanying side stories. While the player isn’t pressured to do the main storyline, dealing with Eothas’ rampage is partly done out of curiosity. What would the gods do if I do this? What would happen to X if I do Y. Almost everything is affected by choice and the developers made sure to remind you of that. Consequences follow the player be they good or bad. The sidequests are of course, stellar and mostly memorable. While the geography is bordered by blue seas, tales of the player’s action can be heard across the islands.
The game is also somewhat unpredictable with its response to player actions. I remember having a conversation with a deity. To spice things up, I opted to trashtalking him, thinking that he wouldn’t have the gall to kill my player as I have the backing of the other gods. To my surprise, after smacking him with a sword (to no effect), my character was then killed off by a gust of wind. Game Over. Good times indeed!
What made me play the game until the very end was how it was designed to take the player’s plans. Unlike other games that offer players but a semblance of choice, this game gives you total freedom in tackling the problems that it presents. Not allying with anyone is a choice. Fighting against everyone is also a choice. Being a complete a-hole paladin is as doable as being a two-handed berserker messiah. Smooth-talking a dangerous dragon is a viable way to complete a quest, same as simply murdering it without second thought. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire offers what most RPGs in this day and age fail to bring into the table: choices that actually matter. Not four buttons corresponding to replies ending with the same results.
But with its strengths comes its weaknesses. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire may not be for everyone. First obvious reason would be its slow-burn pacing. With its world, taking everything into account and absorbing it takes time. The world of Eora is without a doubt, rich with lore. But simply explaining it in a dialogue composed of two sentences won’t do it justice. Most events in PoE II: Deadfire unfolds at a pace that might bore a lot of gamers unfamiliar with this kind of genre. Second, also connected to the first one, is its mostly text-based approach. There are a lot of voice-overs this time around. Listening to all of them by the second would definitely take time. So most of the game is spent reading and scrolling through letters and characters. Think of it as something similar to a novel made into a format where-in you can click and turn the page regardless of the sequence. A boon for those who like it, an abhorrence to those that look for action-packed experience. Third are its innate bugs. It’s not that bad when compared to other contemporary open-world RPGs, but I did encounter some quest-breaking bugs. But this one might be remedied over time as the developers are very committed in dishing out updates to iron out the creases.
I’m a fan of this type of game and I would definitely recommend it to those with similar tastes. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is an improvement to the already great take on classic RPG in its prequel, and topping it up is already an achievement on its own. Even if you don’t like this type of RPG, you might want to give it a try. I personally wasn’t a fan of it at first, but once you get into it, there’s no stopping that point-and-click adventure. You might even find yourself playing until the wee hours! I sure did!
*The game currently has plans to release FreeLCs in the coming weeks. There’re also plans for DLCs to further enrich the vanilla game.