Obsidian Entertainment‘s 2015 RPG Pillars of Eternity was a divisive title for many. While a portion of the rpg community welcomed the crowdfunded title with open arms, a more hardcore crowd found the game to be an underwhelming experience. You can check out our review of the game here. Three years later, Obsidian Entertainment is back with the sequel; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. Does it elevate the franchise to CRPG greatness or fall flat on its wings? Let’s find out.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a computer role playing game developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Versus Evil. The infinity engine inspired RPG was released Microsoft Windows, Linux, and macOS in May 2018. The game will be ported to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later in 2018.
PILLARS OF ETERNITY II: DEADFIRE
Story and Narrative
Deadfire is a direct sequel to the first game. You once again play as the Watcher, a reader of souls in the fantasy world of Eora. Five years after the events of the first game, your stronghold Caed Nua is destroyed by the once dead god Eothas. Eothas takes new life inside a gigantic statue lying under your castle and on his way out, drains the soul of each and every living being nearby, including yours. The player character is then brought back to life by Berath, the god of life and death. You then follow Eothas‘ footsteps to the Deadfire Archipelago, a set of islands ravaged by pirates and manipulated by trading companies. You are tasked by the gods to put a stop to his plans and reclaim your soul in the process.
The story this time around is a lot more straightforward and engaging. Just don’t expect Torment level of storytelling. Even though it’s a direct sequel, you need not have played the first game to enjoy Deadfire. The game lets you in on what happened in the last game through customizable histories where you can make choices on major events from the first game. The writers seems to have struck a balance between quantity and quality of written text as opposed to what they did in the original. The lore is, once again deep and engaging. The game deals with themes such as theology, faith, tradition, colonization, existentialism etc. The dilemma of colonization of Deadfire by other European inspired countries is something a lot of us can relate to and makes the plot more engaging. The main quest is better paced than the original and a lot of the side-quests are written well. Companion quests leave a lot to be desired though.
Gameplay & Mechanics
The general gameplay of Deadfire remains the same as the original. It is once again an isometric point & click rpg featuring a real time with pause combat system. The first change you notice is that the party sized has been reduced to five for better balancing. You are free to import your savegame from the first game or make a Watcher from scratch using the new history creator. The player and his party of adventurers are free to travel the open world to explore new areas, defeat enemies, solve quests, find loot and all the usual jazz. The new pirate theme really works out well as the game is partially free from the clutches of tried and tired fantasy tropes.
Almost all aspects of the gameplay has been streamlined and smoothed out. Characters can now multi-class (barbarian wizard anyone?). The AI pathfinding is a lot more accurate. There are dedicated persuasion skills as well as a few other non-combat skills. Party banter is improved and is a lot more organic. You can use your combined party skills to bypass skillchecks. Most quests are open ended, offering a few more diplomatic solutions. ‘Choose your own adventure-like’ Scripted interactions return and are more in numbers. Eder, Aloth and Pallegina, the three original companions return in Deadfire along with four new ones. Each have their own side stories and are interesting in their own rights. However they lack the complexity of either Durance or Grieving mother from the first game. But if you choose, you can create your own companions from scratch or recruit sidekicks who are devoid of personal quests, The locations in Deadfire are far more interesting. The city of Eketaka puts Defiance Bay to shame. There are three major factions with their own agendas and side quests. The game features a more robust and reliable reputation system for companions, locations and factions.
Instead of the traditional fast travel system seen in PoE and the other infinity engine rpgs, you get your very own ship, The Defiant for overhead sea travel. Since the archipelago is formed of many big and small cluster of volcanic islands, you really need one, and of course; pirate power fantasy! The ship is fully customizable in terms of hull, sails, canons, anchor, and even the lights (you can even buy different ships). But what is a ship without a crew? You can recruit all sorts of shady and weird merry seamen from all over Deadfire to aid in your travels. You can level up your rank as a captain along with the crew through encounters, scripted events and of course, ship to ship battle, to which we’ll come later. The ship and the crew needs resources such as food, water, medicine and ammo, lest they would mutiny against you. The problem here is that after a few hours, the novelty of this ship mechanic really wears off. It becomes a pain in the butt to wait around for the ship to travel from one stretch of the world to another while costly supplies dwindle at a steady rate. Controlling the ship via point & click isn’t that interesting either.
A lot of the combat mechanics have been changed when it comes to Deadfire. Endurance and temporary health has been removed altogether in exchange for a standard health pool. The abilities you could previously use once per rest can be now used once per battle. Character abilities now rely on a specific power resource (like discipline for warriors, and rage for barbarians). There is now full-fledged customizable AI behaviors for your party that works really well (think tactics slots from Dragon Age: Origins). You do not have to use resources to set up a camp. Characters can use food to heal injuries during camping. There are a few more combat speeds to choose from. The classes remain fun and viable. The graphics effects for spells and abilities look less distracting and keeps the combat from going haywire. Obsidian has tweaked the engagement system to be less of a hassle. Stealth and pickpocketing is so broke, that it’s overpowered. The game still relies on its over abundance of stats and afflictions to keep the combat interesting.Other than that, the general combat remains the same.
Deadfire is pretty easy on normal and classic difficulties. So it is advised that you ramp it up for a reasonable challenge. The ship to ship combat however, is turn based. These combat sections are similar to the interactive adventure scenes where you and the other ship take turns to position, advance and fire on each other. Like ship navigation, this also feels a bit tacked on and somewhat boring. They can sometimes drag on and on and makes you think reckless boarding was a better option. Thankfully there are hardly any instances where you are forced to take part in naval combat sections.
Graphics, Performance & Sound
If you think the first game looked gorgeous, wait til you see this one. The locations are colorful, highly detailed and a pleasure to look at. The new lighting, character sprites, animations and weather effects are really well done. Deadfire oozes atmosphere even from its nether regions. Whether it be a sun bathed beach, dimly lit cavern or the seedy underbelly of a spiraling city, Unity brings the game to life.
The game ran well on my dinosaur of a GTX 750. At 1080p, I get about 35-60 fps depending on the region. But there are some instances where some high end PC users are getting really low fps. But the culprits here are the load times, especially on an HDD. While not as bad as the first game, Deadfire still takes an awful long time (up to 2-3 minutes) to load up the game for the first time. All the in-game loading takes place within 10-30 seconds. As for bugs and such, there is the occasional crash (once every ten hours or so) and I have experienced only one bug which hindered a quest progress. All the other bugs I experienced were very minor ones like incorrect audio sync, some imported savegame decisions appearing wrong and characters standing around, not doing anything in combat.
The music, while pretty good on its own, is not on par with first Pillars. Especially when it comes to combat music. A lot of the combat music is underwhelming and feels out of place. While I was out fighting 15 foot giants, the music being played made me feel like I was wacking goblins in the head with a toy hammer. It’s not terrible. But could have been better. All the dialogues in Deadfire is voice acted by the full cast of Geek & Sundry’s D&D podcast, Critical Role, as well as the returning cast from the first game. It really does make a difference. All of them do their job pretty well, especially the narrator Ashley Johnson, a welcome change in the world of typical RPG grandpa narration. The voice acting adds an extra layer of polish to the game.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire improves on the original in almost all aspects. While it may lack the experimentation factor of Divinity- Original Sin 2, Deadfire manages to bring that much needed balance between Inifinity engine RPGs and their modern counterparts. Is it the Baldur’s Gate II everyone wanted? No. After much struggle, the Pillars of Eternity series is standing on its own legs now.