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Pillars of Eternity: The Review

Wow, Paradox Interactive is on a roll. First Cities: Skylines, and now this? Granted, I don’t know how much they put into this, but still. Having your names attached to two things that have garnered so much support must be great.

Pillars of Eternity is a love letter from gamers to the PC RPGs in the Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment Bioware era. And judging by the close to 4 million mark at the end of its kickstarter, I have to say that there are a WHOLE LOT of gamers who loved (who love) those games.

Pillars of Eternity certainly harkens to those games of old. Care has been taken for it to resemble the games it draws inspiration from, from depth of story and character, to the meat of the combat and character creation system, to even the top down isometric view and almost identical UI. It even has the same glowy green circles and crosses that you might remember in the original Bioware games.

This staunch cling to the past has both pros and cons, and this is the most obvious in its gameplay. Some articles have lauded the character creation system as a whole new way to ensure that ‘there are no trap builds’, but this is not the case. Yes, it is true that this is not the D&D of 3.0, 3.5 or even 4th Ed, but a whole new system, but anyone who is even remotely familiar with pen-and-paper RPGs will be able to see the lineage from D&D’s Armor Class to Pillars of Eternity’s deflection.

This translates to an incredibly number-crunchy character creation and combat system. Players who are familiar with engagements, free strikes, at-will vs encounter vs per-day attacks, and the use of various status debuffs will be able to adjust to Pillars of Eternity relatively well. New players though? Get ready to get your ass handed to you. This also means that while you may TECHNICALLY not need a balanced party to complete the story (as yes there are multiple ways to complete a quest), you WILL need a balanced party to walk from one side of the map to another, less you get gored, pulverized and frozen by the random bears, wolves and ghosts in between. Choose normal difficulty if you want it hard, and choose easy if you’re trying to remember what old-school PC RPGs were like. Get your pause button ready, and above all READ YOUR SPELLS, because there is friendly-fire.

All of these things aren’t bad. Combat is deep, and rewards caution, good formations and strategic thinking. I also love the spin on traditional fantasy classes and races. But there are ‘good’ builds and ‘bad’ builds in combat, and forewarned is forearmed. I would in fact recommend hunting around online for some recommendations and builds, just to ease the pain of the game a little.

Why is this important? Because you do not gain XP from combat.

Now, I support this decision. RPGs SHOULD be about the story and solving quests through various means, not just violence. However, when said quests are conveniently behind ghosts and bears, one ends up looking for the most pain-free way through them. Which unfortunately leads to a certain level of optimizing.

Another mild annoyance is the isometric view. I get that it was a conscious decision to retain the view, but considering Pillars of Eternity is rendered on the Unity Engine, I would have hoped for at least some limited camera rotation, so that I can pick up everything I want easily. One last small peeve is the fact that you can totally walk into map areas that you are totally under-levelled for. The first time I played, I made a beeline for the main quest and was frozen by a dozen wraiths and shocked by a dozen more spirits.

To be honest, I had a bit of a relearning curve with Pillars of Eternity. I was so used with something semi on rails, or relatively easy that I forgot what it was like accidentally stumbling into a dire bear cave and getting mauled for… well for making a noob adventurer mistake. I assumed (after being coddled by many a new rpg) that if I can get there, I have a right to fight and loot everything in there. Getting killed over and over again was a good reminder of the old Baldur’s Gate days.

And well, I would do anything for a good story. I’m barely through Act I but what I see so far I really enjoy. All stories (even the side quests) seem to be remarkably multi-faceted. No one is 100% right or 100% wrong. Pillars of Eternity tries very hard to make it difficult for me to select a specific choice, and they have succeeded very well. In my stewing on which is the ‘best’ option in the conversation tree, or which choice to make in ending a quest, I do end up picking what is ‘right’ for my character. Which is really what an RPG is all about.

I really hope that all my doom and gloom doesn’t frighten anyone away from Pillars of Eternity. It’s an immensely solid game, with a really good set of stories set into it. It’s one of the best old school RPGs out there, and you definitely need to get it if you feel at all nostalgic about the Planescape Torment and Baldur’s Gate days.

And if you’re not? I say try it out anyway. It’s going to be tough going at first, but if you like it, you’ve just opened yourself up to a whole plethora of old RPGs.


Singapore’s resident Press Ganger, that is, the man to go to for Privateer Press’ WARMACHINE, and HORDES. Kakita also dabbles in Games Workshop’s WARHAMMER FANTASY and WARHAMMER 40K lines.

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