Pillars of Eternity plundered the best of the genre, but also made its own mark with a setting so well-realised and dense with lore it felt like it could have been based on some forgotten series of grand fantasy novels. And now Obsidian is taking us to another corner of that fantastic world: the dangerous and exotic Deadfire Archipelago, a chain of islands far to the east of the relatively green and pleasant Dyrwood.Deadfire, on the other hand, strikes a bold contrast and ditches most of these tropes for a less common style. By minimizing castles and forests in favor of a beautiful ocean and boats, and the sword-and-shield aesthetic for sabers and blunderbusses, Deadfire’s 40-hour campaign almost feels like it takes place in a completely different world from the original despite the fact that it stars the same Watcher of Caed Nua character we originally played as.The original Pillars Of Eternity – a vast, complex and ocean-deep RPG from Obsidian – was crowdfunded by a global army of fans who were more than prepared to put their money down to prove that there was a clear appetite for a sub-genre that big publishers have, understandably, shied away from in the past decade.
In it, you once again take on the role of the Watcher of Caed Nua, the main character from the first game. At the start of the sequel, Eothas, a god previously thought dead, rises up from beneath your fort, smashes it to slivers, and steals a piece of your soul. Your character isn’t thrilled about this turn of events, nor are a bunch of other gods. They task you with hunting down Eothas, whether you want to or not.And they’re not the only ones. I need to sail my report back to the queen of this Caribbean collection of islands to fill her in, lest her many rival powers discover a weakness they can exploit for further gain. I’m like the piggy in the cosmic, and not-so-cosmic, middle – everyone wants a piece of me. Then as if to compound the issue, I’m attacked by pirates. Twice.After the events of the first game you’ve decided to hang your sword and shield up and settle down in the fortress of Caed Nua. But then a giant crystal colossus buried under the castle is possessed by the god Eothas, bursts out of the ground, destroys your home, and leaves you for dead. You survive, of course, thanks to the intervention of a sinister benefactor, and learn that the giant has been spotted stomping across the Deadfire Archipelago.This interactive overworld is littered with scripted events and treasures to find, springs crew interactions on you at random. You can also be attacked by pirates, or privateers from rival factions, though the turn-based naval battles are so basic as to feel shoehorned in and not much fun. Those lengthy interruptions made sailing times stretch on longer than I’d like, and the expensive upgrades, like new sails for my ship, barely made a perceptible difference when it came to outrunning threats.
While previous knowledge of the game’s past is helpful, you absolutely don’t need to have played the original, and while you play as a specific character, there’s huge variance in class choice, loadouts and personality traits.a story bold enough try unpacking issues like colonialism and oppression, party members who come across as refreshingly grounded and human, a treasure trove of quests for wannabe pirates to plunder, and a bevy of squabbling factions that you can partner up with or piss right off.Take the string of events outlined above: getting to the snake chief involved lots of typical RPG battling and exploration, but talking to the gods happened via a kind of storybook mechanic combining narrative and illustration. Naval warfare is handled in a similar way. Instead of pushing little boats around I instead choose orders listed on a page of a book – full speed ahead, turn to port, fire cannons, etc.Deadfire not only neatly and succinctly summarises the events of the original game in the intro, but gives you the chance to create a history for your character, essentially simulating an imported save. The sheer number of choices and decisions you can make is daunting, however, which is where Obsidian’s selection of pre-made histories might come in handy. These let you quickly decide whether your character was benevolent, tyrannical, or something inbetween.The plot waits far too long to add enough context to your chase to give substantial motivation for partaking in it, considering you seem to be getting by just fine without. Fast progress, and the answer to the all-important question of “why is this important,” are gated behind enemies and areas so challenging that they demand you and your party be of a certain level that is usually far beyond where you currently are when you first encounter them.But you can line up your attacks by pausing the on-screen action, and letting your characters go like a coiled spring. This allows for both tactical depth and the frenetic pace of real-time, meaning combat can often sit between being thoughtful like a turn-based strategy game, and manic like Diablo.
In between them, there’s a locale dedicated to both science and religion, as well as my personal favorite, Periki’s Overlook, which is home to a popular bathhouse that serves as a secret entrance to the manor of a world-renowned asshole archmage named Arkemyr. (One quest lets you make a mess of his posh palace, if you so choose—but there are consequences.) Each area is full of mini-stories that often feed into larger arcs involving the native Huana people, foreign interlopers trying to reshape Deadfire in their image, and the push and pull between those forces.Characters can use spells or abilities to aid in seeing out a storm at sea, for example. A cipher can enter the minds of sailors and forcefully increase morale; a ranger can send a bird to scout ahead and see how long the storm will last; or a druid can affect a tempest directly.There are towns and cities and temples and jungles, all stuffed with long, twisting quests, interesting characters, and tough moral quandaries to wrestle with. You’ll be swept up in the lives of the people you meet around the Deadfire, from pirates and priests to smugglers and queens. You’ll level up, unlock new abilities and spells, recruit new party members, and find magical items with evocative descriptions.The main plot is surrounded by the intriguing and thoughtful open-world flavor of a region entering the crucible of historical change. At first, it was the tempting XP rewards that compelled me to seek out and explore the different islands, but after spending time among their people, appreciating the distinctive architecture of each village.There’s a system that allows the game’s AI to select all your party’s abilities automatically, should you rather concentrate on yourself, but the real magic comes from delving deep into every menu and conjuring up a concoction of powers that suits the specific encounter you find yourself in.Pillars of Eternity. In Pillars II, his personal quest involves searching for a woman he was involved with back in the day. Initially, he wants to make sure she’s OK, given that there’s a mountain-sized titan who slurps up souls as naturally as we breathe on the loose. Then he finds out that she had a son, and apparently begins to wonder if the child is his. He proceeds to go through an arc of being worried, then kind of excited about the prospect of being a father. It’s a decidedly un-epic way for an epic fantasy game to approach the idea of fatherhood, and it really took me by surprise.
You can fine-tune how the auto-pause works, selecting which events will trigger it—from the start of a fight to encountering a trap, which is handy for avoiding accidental stumbles into tripwires and mines. You can increase the loot radius so you spend less time plundering dead enemies and choose from six different interface layouts. Obsidian’s dedication to making sure you have exactly the experience you want is an admirable quality, and Deadfire is perhaps the most effective realisation of that goal to date.It isn’t long before their leaders pitch you on their endgame and seek your allegiance, and the quests that arise from these calls for aid are the best in Deadfire. The Huana, the natives of the Deadfire Archipelago, seek to preserve their independence and their way of life against what amounts to the colonial intrusion of the other powers, but some caste-based aspects of the culture they seek to preserve are deeply flawed. The Valians seek to greedily exploit the potent natural resources of the islands, but if allowed to do so might bring about revolutionary progress.Every interaction enforces the world or the story (you’re on the hunt for a giant, by the way), or proves so interesting that you’ll actually forget about the main quest and become utterly enraptured by whatever you’re being asked to do.There’s plenty that grabbed my attention, but just as I was getting invested, the quest would wrap up, or the characters would run out of things to say. As I progressed into the end game, I found myself put off by the game’s shifting priorities, as well. The focus moved away from interesting individuals and onto political squabbles between four primary factions.
The Verdict –
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and I like thinking. It’s the reason I play role-playing games, to ponder over everything, however insignificant. And from sailing the high seas to dealing with dodgy underworld bosses and insatiable gods, Pillars of Eternity 2 gives me ponderance in abundance. The Deadfire Archipelago is a bountiful tropical playground I will happily plunder again and again.Pillars of Eternity II could’ve been brilliant were it more focused. It has a lot of good ingredients—scraps of interesting narrative, clever characterizations, a complex faction system, and pirate-themed spins on the RPG tropes of yore.