Video Game Review: Pillars of Eternity

15 Oct

An unwanted power and curse on your protagonist. A realm suffering from a loss of souls, with you the key to solving the mystery. A mysterious antagonist from across time and space, struggling toward mastery. A return to old school isometric Baldur’s Gate style gameplay.

Obsidian Entertainment ran a successful kickstarter in 2012 for Pillars of Eternity, a computer roleplaying game (CRPG). Obsidian billed and packaged the game  as a return to old school style RPGs in the tradition of the legendary Baldur’s Gate franchise, in tone, and appearance, although set in a new and unique world. The kickstarter now over, the game is widely available to everyone. Angry Robot author Carrie Patel was a narrative designer on Pillars of Eternity, responsible for some of the character dialogue, story and interaction.

Pillars of Eternity’s unique new world, Eora, is a Renaissance-era type world. There are two moons. A strange and dangerous wind from cursed ruins can kill the unwary (spoiler: such a wind strikes early in the game). The Eastern Reaches is a southern hemisphere continent that has been partly colonized by an equatorial empire, and has contact and connections with other southern hemisphere landmasses and polities as well.  Technologically, there is a mixture of early Renaissance-era tech and of course magic. Gunpowder has recently been invented, and a few firearms are available in the game.

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The characters and races are for the most part, bog standard. Fighters, Barbarians, Wizards, Priests. Rangers, Rogues, etc.  Too, most of the races you can play are pretty standard fantasy fare. You can choose to be from different regions, and that choice DOES matter in certain story situations, however.

More interesting are the classes and races unique to the setting. Chanters buff other characters in the same way as Bards can, learning and playing various songs continuously to help friends and harm enemies. They can also attack while chanting along. Ciphers are psionicists, using powers of the mind to harm foes. Races like the Aumaua are semi aquatic humanoids. The Godlike are children of the Gods, and visibly marked as their descendants, for good and for ill.

Pelageya, my PC

Pelageya, my PC

 

To try something as unique as possible, then, I created a female Aumaua noble cipher for my first play through. I was delighted with the results. The game picked up on my character choice and it made a real difference throughout the game.

The NPCs are a fascinating bunch, going across the entire spectrum of the game in terms of gender, race, background and class. One can form a character party to just about any standard and template one likes once the recruitable NPCs are all recruited into the party. They all have their motivations, goals, secrets, agendas and subplots that the player can help the NPC pursue, or not, as they will. My favorite NPC turned out to be Pallegina, a Godlike Paladin from the Vailian Republics with a keen sense of honor and loyalty. Plus, she was fearsome in combat. Companions Aloth (a wizard) and Sagani (a dwarf ranger from a southern polar region) were written by Patel.

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The story of the game itself itself was fascinating and engaging. The player character, coming to settle in this wild part of Eora, is revealed to have a gift for dealing with Souls, a being called a Watcher. This is rather coincidental, in a region which has been suffering a large proportion of births without souls. As the game progresses, the unfolding of what the character’s past lives and the lives of someone they’ve been entangled with for many centuries, slowly unfolds. It’s a mixture of the ideas of souls from things like Babylon 5, and Katherine Kerr, and more unique ideas. It’s a rich tapestry of a story that I fear speaking too much about will spoil. There are many small stories, too, not just with the aforementioned NPCs, but also with the cities and communities that you, the Watcher, visit.

While some of the controls and the cramped isometric style sometimes made for very frustrating gameplay, the overall story and arc of Pillars of Eternity made it a fantastic experience. The narrative arcs of both the main character and the NPC party members were all well done, and the game went into great pains in the epilogue to show how your character’s various choices would and will reverberate throughout the land, and in the lives of the people they touched. Anyone willing to invest time and effort, and who has interest in CRPGs, will find much to love in Pillars of Eternity.

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