Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Written by Eric Hauter on 2/6/2018 for PC  
More On: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Spoilers for a mid-game quest in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire are contained in this preview

I step off the gangplank of my trusty Margo and onto the dock, raising my hand to shield my eyes from the offensive sunshine. The village at the end of the pier is barely legible on my charts, a recent annotation scratched in after hearing a rumor from a one-armed drunkard on the far side of the archipelago. I would have never stopped at this sad excuse for a settlement, but sailors need to eat, and the Margo’s supply stores are running low.

In the distance, I see small groupings of sailors on the beach, sitting idly, nowhere near the boats that would make them their existence worthwhile. At the end of the dock, a wretched looking dwarf stands, uselessly shifting his weight from foot to foot. He is clearly awaiting an audience. I sniff lightly, and grimace at the stench of dead fish and despair. The world is silent except for the sound of the waves slapping the Margo’s hull and the sniffling of the dwarf.

I shake my head at this sad state of affairs. I quietly motion for the hired help, who stand bunched up around me like grapes, to give me some space. I pull a mask of open friendliness down over my face and approach the sweaty little man-rodent alone. I note with some concern that he is dabbing at his clammy flesh with a filthy rag, and I subtly pull my own kerchief from an inner pocket to shield against the stench.

“Greetings,” I say, in what I hope is a diplomatic tone. “I am Princess Pickles, captain of the Margo.”

“Ac,” he says, wiping the perspiration from his brow. “A ship at last. I am saved!”

Rather presumptuous, I think.

 

Following the most successful Kickstarter campaign in video game history, the original Pillars of Eternity was released by Obsidian Entertainment in 2015 to critical acclaim. A throwback to the sprawling isometric RPGs of the 90s, the original Pillars played a major role in reigniting the “Baldur’s Gate” sub-genre of PC role playing games. Pillars served as both an homage and a modernization for earlier games in the long-stagnant PC RPG space, and fans responded by declaring the game a new classic.

Obsidian, who saw their original gamble pay off in spades with the release of the original Pillars (and two expansions), announced a crowd-funding campaign for a sequel in January 2017. The new campaign reached its initial goal in less than a day, going on to eventually raise $4.4 million dollars.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a direct sequel to the original title, taking place in the same fictional world of Eora. Following events at the beginning of Pillars II that find the player character displaced from their stronghold (developed throughout the original title), players take to the sea. They are tasked with searching the Deadfire Archipelago for clues to the catastrophe that has driven them from their home.

I recently had the opportunity to play through a near-final mid-game slice of Pillars of Eternity II, and what I found is going to keep fans of the original busy and happy for quite some time.

The vile dwarf tells me a story of greed and debauchery. The ship that brought him to the island (which had been named by the squatting natives, incidentally, “Tikawara”) had been on a scouting expedition for luminous adra. After being wined and dined for days on end by the local chief, Ruanu, the crew was directed to the nearby island of Poko Kohara. The island, purported to be a likely source of luminous adra, was unfortunately surrounded by perpetual storms, and the crew has never returned from their expedition.

The dwarf, Vektor, has been left behind due to some “illness”, likely the byproduct of too much food and drink. Having the information I need, I decide to head to the chief’s hut. But before I can take my leave from the dreadful man, he proceeds to bore me with chatter about local politics.

It would seem that following the arrival of the scouting vessel, the village priest had bitterly complained to the chief about the outsiders. Arguments came to a head, and the chief and priest were seen leaving the village together. Only the chief returned. The revolting dwarf suspects foul play. I decide to take a detour to the local shrine to investigate. If I am going to be granting an audience to the tribal chief, I would rather know ahead of time if he is a murderous brute.

I motion to the gaggle of hired fools that follows me everywhere, and we leave the dock, heading north through the meager village towards the shrine.

Much like the original title, Pillars of Eternity II begins with a robust character creator. Players are able to select from six races, the physically intimidating Aumaua, Dwarves, Elves, Humans, the mysterious Godlike, and the diminutive Orlan. Each race allows for at least two sub-races, each with their own story backgrounds and statistical advantages and disadvantages.

Having selected a race, players then decide upon what class they will be playing. Rolling a hybrid multi-class character is permitted, but not recommended for beginning players. The available classes are the same as those in Pillars I (Barbarian, Chanter, Cipher, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Priest, Ranger, Rogue and Wizard). Each class has a small tree of sub-classes, which alter the play style and provide bonuses and penalties. Sub-classes are not required, but they are a lot of fun, so I can’t imagine not picking one. Druids, for example, can select from Fury (storm-based damage dealers), Lifegiver (healers), and Shifters (your more traditional animal-based shapeshifters).

In my playthrough, I created a Moon Godlike female wizard (Princess Pickles), opting to specialize as an Evoker (pure damage-based destruction canon), despite her Moon sub-class’s natural tendencies towards healing. The game offers help with which stats to sink ability points into, advising right in the UI whether a particular stat will be helpful or not to your build. You can also choose some starting abilities from the new skill tree, and decide upon weapon specializations. To round out your character, you can select your geographic area of origin, and your pre-adventure job. Princess Pickles began life as an aristocrat before having a life of adventure thrust upon her. This gives her extra bonuses in the Bluff, Intimidate and Diplomacy skill rankings.

Finally, players are able to select from various cosmetic settings. In addition to a general graphical overhaul, Obsidian has made a point of improving character graphics. This allows for a far greater number of appearance and costume customizations, and improves lighting and fidelity. While I was running my preview of Pillars of Eternity II on a fairly low-end machine, I was still able to see the graphical difference between this and the first title.

I’m standing in the swampy dankness of the local shrine, eyeing the rather unattractive local priest. A disturbing statue of the toothy sea-god she worships adorns the wall behind her, and some of her pathetic followers lurk in the shadows nearby. Though they purport to see good tidings in my presence, I can sense that they feel otherwise and wish me ill. The priest is overly suspicious of outlanders, and it takes some rather careful verbal gymnastics before she will even engage me in conversation.

The priest informs me that the foul dwarf’s crew will likely never return. The island of Poko Kahara is cursed, and the gods have probably destroyed the sailors for daring to set foot on its sacred shores. The priest seems fine, even grateful, at this turn of events. She feels that outsiders who discover adra nearby would only turn on the locals for slave labor.

It turns out that the new priest is the daughter of the missing old priest, recently taking up the post after his untimely demise. She tells me that her father was not murdered, but instead was the victim of an ancient and primitive ritual. Her father was greatly opposed to the presence of outsiders for the same reasons she harbors, and while he protested bitterly, the chief disregarded his opinions. This conflict came to a head, and new priest’s father was destroyed when both men waded into the sea to let the ocean gods decide which man was correct.

The new priest tells me that for the good of the people of Tikawara, I should simply destroy the pillar of adra. No good can come from the establishment of a permanent mining facility, and any financial rewards would be far outweighed by the danger to her people. Not wanting to provoke her and risk some crazed and primitive religious reprisal, I agree. The priest’s chatter, combined with the heat and stench of this place, has wearied me. I motion to my gaggle of followers and take my leave.

The conversation system in Pillars of Eternity II will be quickly recognizable to players of the first game, or anyone who has experienced the systems in recent Fallout and Elder Scrolls titles. Players are given a wide variety of possible conversational options, allowing them to take wildly different approaches to each exchange.

In addition to standard responses, additional conversational options appear depending on a character’s stats and specialties. Players start with a couple of base points in Bluff, Diplomacy, History, Insight, Intimidate, and Metaphysics, and can add to these stats as the game progresses.

Unlike some games that allow responses based on simple statistics, Pillars II often allows conversational branches based on combinations of stats and character traits. For example, you will often see conversational choices that are allowed due to stats combined place of origin, or race. Who you are and where you come from lends weight to your ability to communicate with people from different walks of life. And if there are options that are not open to you, the game makes it very clear that you are missing out on a possible conversation thread. Hovering your mouse over the blanked-out option will reveal which stats and statuses you would need to pursue that line of discussion.

I enjoy role-playing in RPG, and approached conversations from that standpoint. While Princess Pickles is a stuck-up aristocrat, she is also a diplomat. She most often chooses to keep her priggish opinions to herself, approaching conversations with “lesser folk” with a false openness. However, when it is to her strategic advantage, she will make a pointed observation, or even stoop to some mild intimidation tactics to keep others off balance.

Chief Ruanu is a fool.

I stand in his meager hut, surrounded by his stinking sycophants. I am staring at him in disbelief as he does his best to influence me with false compliments and greasy charm.

Having spent the better part of a day in his village, it is clear that he has led his people to the brink of destruction. A tribe of nomads, these people have purposely moved from previous island homes that were capable of sustaining them. Under the leadership of this incompetent wretch, they have taken up residence at Tikawara, where fish do not breed, and crops do not grow. Now, they fight over scraps, accusing each other of theft and laziness. Fishermen congregate dejectedly on the beaches, knowing that no fish live in the nearby seas.

Chief Ruanu has led his tribe of sheep to this place in hopes of securing a deal with mining companies, which would bring revenue to his starving people. He dreams of building a trading post and making Tikawara a major port in the exchange of adra. But the first ship he has sent after the elusive adra has gone missing. He is clearly hoping that I will do his dirty work for him and find the lost souls he sent on a fool’s mission.

However, the reward of adra would be a boon to my crew. It is also possible that I might find some answers to my recent troubles in the ancient temple where the adra supposedly resides. Against my better judgement, I accept a key to the temple from the chief and return to the Margo. I am anxious to put this wretched place behind me for a while, looking forward to the crisp smell and refreshing breezes of the open sea.

Navigating the Deadfire Archipelago by sea is a simple affair, as easy as pointing with your mouse to the place you would like to go and clicking the mouse button to go there. A fog of war surrounds areas you have not yet visited, but they quickly recede as you explore. A simple dropdown allows you to set a course to a previously discovered location, and your boat will travel there automatically.

Your ship maintains its own crew, and you need to constantly procure proper supplies to keep them fed, hydrated, and content. It is important to note that not all food is created equal. Hardtack will keep your crew alive, but it doesn’t make them very happy.

When traveling the seas, players will sometimes see other vessels sailing along, minding their own business. If you are in a pirating mood (or you are low on supplies and need to steal from others to stay afloat), sidling up beside another ship will initiate an encounter.

I’m not certain what I expected from the naval combat in Pillars II, but it certainly was not the system that I found in place. The first time I initiated a battle at sea, I was utterly stumped by the interface that popped up. Ships are represented by two little symbols at the bottom of a screen that looks for all the world like a page from a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Battles are turn-based and play out in rounds, with players selecting from a list of possible actions (Turn Port, Full Ahead, Fire Cannons, etc). Actions are represented through sound effects and still illustrations, with the tiny ship symbols changing position to display the vessels’ relative position to each other. Like most video-game sea battles, ships try to maneuver into a range and position where they will be able to shoot opponents with cannons, without getting blasted to smithereens themselves.

My first time using this system, I flailed around hopelessly, randomly clicking commands until I sunk my opponent with a lucky shot. The second time though, I resolved to get my head around the dynamics at play, in order to employ a little strategy. Realizing that the game didn’t have me on a timer, I studied the UI until I understood the relationship between the ships’ positions. From there, I was able to maneuver into position, warming to the simple but tactically deep interface. By the end of this second battle, I realized that I was as deeply engaged with sinking my opponent as I would have been in a game that featured a more graphically intensive representation of naval combat. The interface gives players all the information they need to engage in deep and challenging battle. Gamers might be surprised by the navel combat in Deadfire, but given a chance, they will find it to be mechanically solid and strategically satisfying.

I am standing in a chamber in an eldritch dimension, surrounded by souls of the dead.

I have traveled far to reach this place. With my team of servants, I have fought my way through an arid desert, overcoming a giant automaton to gain entry to the ancient temple. I have battled my way through four levels of subterranean horror, overcoming traps and monstrosities, poison and pestilence. I have picked up new weapons and skills along the way, but the price has been dear. I have been forced to watch as the mysteries of the dwarf’s crew unfolded before me. Echoes of their betrayals have played out before my eyes as I explored deeper into the temple, and it has become clear that they went insane and turned on each other.

At the base of the temple, I had located a gargantuan pillar of adra, which fueled an ancient machine. Activating the machine, I discovered that it opened a gateway to a parallel universe. Leading my band of paid warriors, I made my way through the portal, emerging into a wondrous realm of crystal and geometric marvels. But before exploring far into this new world, a dramatic shift occurred, and my surroundings transformed into a collage of horror and decay. I was in a world of dead souls. Now, standing before me are the spirits of the missing ship’s crew and the old drowned priest who had warned the people of Tikawara against outsiders.

The soul of the ship’s captain begs me to return her spirit to her dead body, but I know better than to try to merge a soul to a carrion shell. That way lies abomination. Better to destroy all of these wretches where they stand.

Ignoring their pleas and pathetic attempts to reason with me, I grip my rod and fire my opening salvo of missiles into the crowd.

It is time for a confession. I have never been good at “real time with pause” battle systems. I am great at the “real time” part, but abysmal at “pausing”. I much prefer to set up my party with complementary powers and equipment, and then just let the AI lead them through battle. This leads to my battles generally playing out in a jumble of flailing bodies and whizzing spells and status effects. I pause only when things go completely off the rails, after a sufficient period spent yelling at my dudes to pull their acts together.

Luckily for me, Deadfire includes new player-configurable AI choices. Players can select simple commands, or drill down to allow each character different responses for specific triggers (think Final Fantasy XII). This allows me to keep my delicate magic users behind the lines of battle, while my tank and rogue rush in to collect agro and deliver DPS. When a battle begins, my guys just fall into place and start the fighting without me. With my sad strategic skills and poor reaction speed, this works out better for all of us.

Parties in Pillars of Eternity II have been reduced from six to five members, to streamline battle and make it easier to follow. The nameless party that accompanied Princess Pickles on her adventures was made up of a Priest, a Rogue, a Fighter, and a non-specialized Wizard. This allowed for a well-rounded party that was generally able to handle themselves in battle.

Of course, Pillars of Eternity games don’t dole out experience points for killing monsters and bad guys. Instead, EXP is earned through quest completion and upon discovery of new locations. This dynamic makes stealth a viable option that will allow battle-adverse players to progress.

I am standing once again on the putrid beach of Tikawara village. Chief Ruanu stands before me, and this time, the reception is not so warm.

After defeating the awful lich creatures that inhabited the other dimension, I made the executive decision to destroy the adra-powered machine, sealing the gateway for all time. This had the side effect of destroying the adra deposit, dashing the foolish hopes of Chief Ruanu. He would not be able to convert his wretched village into a hub of trade, and his miserable tribe will have to fend for themselves.

I face him with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that while he may not realize it now, I have actually done him and his people an enormous favor, forcing them to grow up.

Of course, his primitive mind doesn’t allow him to see the wisdom of my actions. He jabbers on about his disappointment, finally announcing that I, Princess Pickles, and my crew are no longer welcome in the village of Tikawara. Though the ugly young priest supports my actions, the rest of the tribe murmurs their agreement with the chief. They disperse, leaving me standing offended on the smelly and sweltering beach.

Slowly, I turn over the chief’s words in my head. I feel a burning rising up inside my guts, and the salt spray from the sea stings my eyes. I turn and face away from my warriors to blink it away. It dawns on me that if I am to retain the respect and obedience of my crew, I will not be able to let this misguided judgement of my character stand.

Wasting no time, I gather my warriors and slip through the village to the chief’s hovel. Bursting through the door, I spy him gathered with his minions discussing the recent events. Wasting no breath on words, I whisper the incantation and send a rolling ball of fire surging through the room, engulfing them all in purifying flame. My team of hired muscle surges into the fray, and in a matter of seconds, the chief and his advisors are no more.

Leaving his hut, I am amazed to find that the remaining villagers have turned on me for killing their leader, even though they must realize what a terrible fool he has been. Even the dreadful priest has decided that my offenses are unforgivable, and she now holds me in distain. There is no choice, no choice at all. I stalk through the village, bringing fire and destruction in my wake.

When it is over, not a soul is left alive in Tikawara. Even the useless fishermen on the beach now lay in pools of blood, never to lazily ignore their work again. This meager village has been scorched from existence, and none are left alive to tell the tale. Satisfied with my work, I allow myself a small smile as I board the Margo to sail away.

Too late, I realize that I never procured the supplies that I originally came for, and there are no ports within the range that my meager stores will allow.

Ships in this area would do well to steer clear of the Margo today, because friend or foe, someone will be gargling saltwater before this day has passed.

I obviously had a great time fiddling around with Pillars II. In the end, I spent around 19 hours playing through the available story, digging into the systems and reloading various saves to make different choices. I can confidently say that upon release, fans will be pleased with this sprawling and detailed world. According to Obsidian, the bit I played represents around 1% of the final game, which means that Pillars of Eternity fans have many, many hours of fun to look forward to.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is scheduled for release on April 3, 2018. Several versions are available for pre-order through Steam and other retailers. According to Obsidian:

“The standard edition of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire will cost $49.99, digital and physical retail, while the Deluxe Edition will be priced at $59.99. The Deluxe Edition will include the game’s official soundtrack composed by Justin Bell, composer of the soundtrack to the first Pillars of Eternity. Additionally, the Deluxe Edition includes: an in-game pet, a Deadfire themed special in-game item, a digital pen and paper RPG starter guide, a high-resolution game map, and Volume II of the digital guide book, published by Dark Horse.

The Obsidian Edition is priced at $74.99 for the digital version, and includes everything that comes in the Deluxe Edition as well as the first three DLC expansions for Pillars of Eternity II, which each cost $9.99 to purchase separately, although these will not be available for separate purchase until the game’s official launch.

The physical version of the Obsidian Edition will cost $79.99, and will include the same content as its digital cousin, but also additional, physical rewards: a cloth map of the Deadfire region, an Explorer’s notepad and a set of postcards that render the Deadfire Archipelago in beautiful detail."

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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