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Pillars of Eternity provides a real old-school isometric RPG experience

Posted by warreni, in game review 15 October 2018 · 2599 views

Baldurs Gate RPG isometric tough games

I will provide this caveat up-front: Pillars of Eternity is not a game that welcomes you in with open arms. What I mean by that is, it's actually a fairly easy game to stop playing. It doesn't suck you in right away, and this is in part to things seeming vaguely familiar and simultaneously wholly unfamiliar. Who is Eothas? What is Waidwen's Legacy? Who are the Glanfathans and why do they seem angry that you're touching their stuff? What the heck is a cipher?


In the beginning of the game there's a lot of odd business having to do with souls, unfamiliar gods, and every third NPC you see having a long and complex backstory that rarely has any particular relevance to what you're doing. In short, it can be a little off-putting, and it was. It wasn't until I had more than 10-15 hours in the game that I really started to get a sense of who the characters were that I was interacting with, what the various factions were that they were representing, and where the places were that I was being directed to visit.


What this means is, frankly, it's not for everyone. If you're one of those folks who has to be sucked in within the first hour or two or you won't even bother with a game (and I'm one of those people when it comes to certain genres), it isn't for you. It requires a certain degree of patience and investment into its world. If you're willing to do that, it can be very rewarding, almost as much as the old-school games on which it is modelled, like Baldur's Gate.


Like those games, the combat in PoE can be difficult, even on the lower difficulty settings, but, to its credit, the most brutal fights are typically optional and not required to advance the main story. Combat in this game is a pausable real-time affair, which is pretty typical of the isometric RPGs of today, and it generally works very well. Combat encounters trigger "slow mode," which doesn't affect initiative or the sequence of events per se--it simply slows the proceedings down to a pace at which it's feasible for you to monitor events and issue commands to multiple characters in real-time; naturally, you can always tap the spacebar to pause the game properly. Some fights against weak enemies require little direct control on your part, especially if you assign your party members AI scripts (there aren't actually all that many of these per class, unfortunately, and tweaks tend to be limited to "use limited-use abilities in combat or don't"). The more challenging encounters in the game will, naturally, require that you micromanage your party members in order to survive.


What is Pillars about? Like some of its spiritual predecessors, this is on one level just a game about a guy who has a problem that can only be solved by defeating a major antagonist, and on another level, it's an exploration of major existential and metaphysical themes, such as these: When is a god not a god? If there are no gods, how do we find purpose or meaning in life? If there are no gods, what is the reason for practicing upstanding moral behavior? These are interesting questions from a Western perspective, although I suspect that followers of some Eastern religions would find them less compelling. In any case, the game does not attempt to push answers down the player's throat, providing the player the opportunity to find his/her own answers. How you answer those questions, in fact, will certainly color your view of the game's antagonist, Thaos.


So, what about the DLC? Intriguingly, Obsidian made the design decision (which I discovered after I got into Breith Eaman, so, uh, thanks Obsidian for not planting a giant red flag in the player's way before he enters that area, as many games these days do--"Danger, Will Robinson! Going into this area means you won't be able to come out again until you finish the game AND once you finish the game you will not be able to play through any quest content that you haven't completed yet!") to force the player to go through the DLC content before completing the main story, so if you buy The White March after you finish the original game, you'll have to reload a save from prior to Breith Eaman. The White March adds a new area to the game map centered around the village of Stalwart, a place that is what I (as someone who has never travelled there) picture generic Alaskan towns as being like. The village elder wants you to figure out how to access the legendary White Forge, which is presently sealed away in a ancient dwarven fortress that many adventurers have failed to penetrate; she believes this will create a "steel rush" that will revitalize the community. The first part of the DLC, appropriately enough entitled "Part I," is about the player's journey to enter this fortress and reactivate the Forge. In the second DLC, the player discovers that this action has unintended consequences. The second part delves into a conflict between gods and the meaning and significance of memory in the lives of mortal beings. If you enjoyed the main game, I would highly recommend picking up The White March, but only if you acquire both parts. The first part is relatively shallow and uninteresting in the absence of its concluding chapter.


Because this is an isometric, single-player-only RPG of the sort that we old-timers used to be fond of saying "they don't make anymore," (this is getting less and less true as years go by) it's not a graphically taxing game by any means. It plays equally well on my i5 desktop with a GTX 1060 and my laptop. Sound design is great, as you would expect, and your party members are interesting and varied, with excellent voice-acting all around.


This type of game is something of an acquired taste, and you probably know whether you are the sort of person who enjoys it already. If you aren't, I'm not going to try to sell you on it. You won't like it. Period. If you are, though, you will find this a fun example of the genre that will become a time sink if you let it gets its hooks into you; just be warned that it gets off to a bit of a slow start.

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