When I heard that Pillars of Eternity 2 launched its crowdfunding project, I knew it was time! Time to spring into action! Right now! And actually play the original Pillars of Eternity, which I bought and dabbled with and abandoned. At least I had an original reason: the backstory was driving me crazy.
I abandoned The Witcher 3 for its unlikable and uninteresting protagonist; Dishonored 2 for its poor PC performance and dull, contrived plot; and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for all of the above.
But Pillars drowns you in its world. They didn’t just copy and paste Lord of the Rings, this is a whole new mythology, starring the Glanfanthans and the Engwithans and the political machinations of the Dyrwood (deer-wood, not dire-wood, it’s not that cool). Sadly, whatever avatar you create knows as little as you. Rock Paper Shotgun touched on it in their review, but the amnesia didn’t bother me. Your character is just inquisitive. Super inquisitive.
Here’s the problem: I’m not. I don’t like the constant info-dumps. I’m not impressed by the soul-scanning feature. The flavor text on the weapons is as out of place as it was in Dark Souls. I even found the manuscript to a play that looks like it takes twenty minutes to perform! I appreciate that they don’t have bookshelves where each book only has half a page of text, but come on, this is way too far in the opposite direction.
I’m not against backstory, I just want it paced better. I want it naturally integrated with the world. I don’t want an amnesiac character to know the history of every rare sword she picks up. Remember the scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf researches Isildur’s history in the library? No? That’s right, it was freaking boring! Pillars of Eternity is like that all the time.
At least Obsidian was kind enough to make the basics straightforward. Something weird happened to your character and now you’re a Watcher, one who can peek into the souls and pasts of others. And drink tea and order around Slayers. Wait, no!
Being a Watcher is probably going to drive you insane, so try and find a cure for that.
Gameplay is great, the old Baldur’s Gate styled revitalized for the modern age and thoroughly overcomplicated. I’m ignoring all of the resistances and skill checks and disengagement protocols and basically having a good time, even though combat’s become routine. Approach enemy, stop, cast Durance’s Holy Radiance, Edér goes to tank, my two wizards cast Arcane Assault to keep the enemy dazed, Kana shoots from a distance, and Sagani does… something helpful (I just got her). I consulted a spookily giant guide to learn how great summoned weapons are for wizards, and that was all the complexity I needed.
Am I crazy or is weapon and armor discovery lame? I can’t tell if I’m supposed to save up for the hilariously expensive store-bought weapons, use the infrequent sweet drops from enemies (I’m four hours in and I’ve fought one boss, what the heck), or enchant the stuff I come across before it’s made obsolete by both of the former. My fighters seem to have adequate weaponry for the monsters on normal difficulty, but it never feels like I know what I’m working towards: collecting money, fighting bosses, or gathering reagents.
Wait, now I remember. It’s money. You always need money. Inspired by Dave Barry (um, and traditional D&D), the game gives you a stronghold to build and maintain. A stronghold sitting above a
procedurally gener endless labyrinth with a dark Master Below at the bottom who should really get that “endless” thing checked out before it starts making sense. The stronghold requires money to repair her spacious campus and provide services to your party.
What? Do you find it weird that I’m talking about the stronghold like it’s sentient? Well it is. A medieval version of Karen S’jet
disembodied herself in the grand hall sculpture and helps you manage this thing. You get the magical equivalent of a Bluetooth headset to keep in touch with her and direct repairs from the field.
I can’t tell if I like this.
Sure, having a place in the world to call my own makes me feel less like a hobo with a sword. I love player housing in games, from the individual to the collective, and this is a nice middle ground. Caed Nua is all run down, full of weeds and ghosts and weedy ghosts, aching to be restored to glory. Which you accomplish by selling hundreds of pounds of blood-stained daggers and torn, muddy leather armor to uninterested innkeepers in impoverished villages. I’ve played enough Skyrim to not complain about that kind of economy, but it’s noticeable.
The stronghold itself feels so contrived. You don’t have to go back to manage it. There’s never any problems with construction (or weapon and armor degradation). If you’re ever bored there’s an always-fresh giant maze beneath the castle with infinite rewards. I loved cleaning out settlements in Fallout 4 because its systems forced you to pick up everything manually (boo) but let you demolish decrepit houses with one button (yay). Here the stronghold feels given to you, clearing ghosts something you do without anyone asking.
Maybe the security issues will bond me to Caed Nua? I fought off a group of spiders and beetles. That was kind of fun. But it could become a nuisance as I’m journeying to become the hero of… of…
What’s my overall goal again? Not going insane? Because I’m nearly at the point where I abandoned my last playthrough of Pillars of Eternity and AHA I remember now!
I’m in Defiance Bay, the first (only?) big city of the region, and I’m terrified to talk to anyone lest they dump another quest on my head. Help this woman break up with her abusive boyfriend. Buy a dagger for a street orphan. Get an amulet back from a courtesan. It doesn’t feel like being a hero, it feels like doing other people’s laundry. Which is about where I quit last time, to do my own.
This time will be different! I’m going to finish it! All the way! Hundred percent!
Oh no a woman wants me to get a book from the Hall of Revealed Mysteries.