Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire Review – Far away from Stale
Platforms: PC (reviewed) [Switch, PS4, Xbox One]
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release: 8th May 2018, (Consoles Soon)
One of the biggest RPG enjoyments I had the pleasure to experience in recent years were Wasteland 2 and … Pillars of Eternity, obviously. While I never took myself for a huge old-school RPG fan, as soon as I first tried myself on this genre, I instantly fell in love. So the announcement of a sequel to Pillars of Eternity, made me more than happy. Now, after a surprisingly short waiting time between crowdfunding campaign and release, it´s time to declare Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire as yet again a milestone of the genre.
Taking place five years after the original game, we´re presented with yet another tragedy when the god of light and rebirth Eothas awakens from his eternal sleep. Destroying our beloved castle along killing hundreds of people in the process, only to leave us as the sole survivor. After our soul was brought back to life by Berath, the goal is clear: Travel to the region Deadfire and pursue Eothas.
Staying true to its spirit, Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire once again features a giant amount of customization options for your character before starting the game. From the vast outer appearance options common in every old-school RPG, Obsidian expanded on the character and class specialities compared to the predecessor. Every class now features vast specializations and more stats than ever. As a result, the initial set-up might look final but other than a few points and beginner skills, everything stays the same, allowing for some class switching and mixing at its finest.
The rest of the main story could pretty much be described as “bigger”. While the beginning is subjectively more captivating than in the predecessor, the overall quality didn´t falter one bit. Instead of aiming for a more action-packed sequel, Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire features the same dozens of hours long, slow-paced writing we learned to love. Personally, I found the mysterious atmosphere in the first third somewhat more thrilling than the “chase the god” quest we´re presented here. Yet, otherwise, it feels just like continuing a giant playthrough. With the addition of the new ship mechanic, Obsidian also improved one of the biggest problems I had with the game: Reaching new areas took too long. I often found myself bored of the ever-same area. Luckily, the sequel features a much faster pacing, where every few hours cities or even whole biodomes are changed through sailing to a new island. Everything about the environment just feels so much more dynamic and captivating.
Though where I really lost myself all over again are in the side quests. As much as I hate to draw the comparison, playing Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire often felt like Skyrim … in a good way. Whenever a new area was introduced, simply following the main quest to the nearest marker was almost never a simple task, simply because the worlds are clustered with side quests and people to talk with. Trust me, if you began a conversation with only one of them, you will be trapped in an endless cycle of solving and accepting new quests for the next couple hours. They´re that interesting, full of variety, unique characters or ideas. Given, some seem lacking compared to others but when the overall standard is already immensely high, those lows can be quickly forgotten.
A huge reason why those stories work so well is, again, the writing. Since Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire is an old-school RPG, every dialogue happens in the bottom text window, which is often clustered with text. Naturally, no one with an antipathy for reading should even consider buying it. For those who are, they can expect some of the best-written dialogues of recent years, masterfully crafting world-building and exposition together. Topped off with as much character as possible, they create a consistent level of quality throughout the whole game, without ever feeling too lengthy or boring. In fact, I almost never felt like skipping certain passages, simply due to the fact I wanted to know more about them, even though their dialogues hardly mattered for the plot. Mixed with a giant amount of selectable choices at important passages, conversations really feel like conversations and not just like exposition drops.
Another big part of the base experience is the combat, after all, confrontations can never truly be avoided. Boasting a typical CRPG system, built around each character´s individual abilities. While lower difficulties don´t necessarily require a high amount of strategy, the game forces you to use your party efficiently. Just commanding them to attack whoever´s near to them for the next turn won´t ever lead you to victory. Instead of using buffs, debuffs and special traits of every class you have on the battlefield is the most essential aspect. Even though it doesn´t feature amazing combination options like Divinity Original Sin, the system is still deep enough. When you sank some hours into levelling in particular, the sheer amount of abilities, passives and what-not will certainly catch you off guard, which is a great thing for RPG suckers like me. Given, if you´re not willing to spend some hours into planning all those things, this certainly isn´t a game for you.
The other, far more interesting gameplay aspect, is the ship, featuring everything one could wish for. As previously said, Deadfire is a far more island-heavy world, yet, our own boat isn´t a mere transporting device. On the one hand, you can improve it just like any other character. From changing cannons to better ones, select an own crew, recruit others for the ship. Imagine you´d be the captain of your own ship and pretty much everything that should be possible is possible here. On the other hand, those customization options aren´t just for show, since traversing the seas is often dangerous, pirates and alike will attack as well. Those battles are fought in an interesting but rather clunky way. In a turn-based system, you have to move your ship around, command the crew, fire cannons, plan the enemy movements, all those things. Unfortunately, the sheer mass of options can often drown you later on, when there´s just too much to do. The fact moving the ship and the indirect control scheme didn´t feel perfect for me to begin with, never got me truly in love with this thing. Although the base is absolutely amazing.
Otherwise, the rest is just what one would expect from a CRPG: Navigating your character is done through mouse-clicking on the location, the game is filmed from the bird perspective and so on. Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire doesn´t do anything totally new or surprising. However, the way it presents its environments is once again pretty damn great. Obviously, the graphics aren´t on par with modern AAA games but that´s not the point after all. The different islands feature some great designed cities, biodomes and dungeons. Especially the cinematic camera presenting every city when you first discover it, is a pretty neat touch. I still think there could´ve been some more “colourful” ideas because most of the colour palette remains in the grey-brownish side. Nonetheless, the amount of unique locations can pretty much make up for it. Combined with the captivating, mysterious soundtrack and some actually well-presented “epic” moments, Obsidian re-created and re-touched their technical framework in some cool ways.
All in all, Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire is basically a way bigger, enhanced version of the first game. It once again features a great storyline, hundreds of amazing side-quests, superb writing and a really deep combat system. Topped off with the newly added ship-mechanic, as well as a whole bunch of other improvements. Any CRPG fan can be sure to get his load of 60-80 hours long well-written epicness if you have the time and stamina for it.
[A Review Code was provided by Versus Evil]