The long-awaited sequel to Pillars of Eternity is here and I’m happy to say that Obsidian have absolutely outdone themselves. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire improves on the first in every way, making it more accessible to players both new and old.
The first thing I want to talk about in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is that Obsidian have made many quality of life improvements that may seem minor but work to make the game more accessible for newer places and just a lot less tedious for everyone. I’ll give you a few examples. In Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire keywords are highlighted in textboxes and hovering over them makes a pop up box appear with a short description. This includes all the abilities, skills, spells etc. but also important characters and bits of lore.
This is a great improvement for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, with each spell or ability affecting some stat or other, it can be kind of hard to remember what they all are and this new feature keeps you from getting confused about the basic, although complex, mechanics of the game. On the other hand, it also means you don’t have to worry about trying to remember the entire history or Eora and all it’s key characters. I know from personal experience if you take a break from an RPG it can be daunting coming back to it after a while but this is a problem no more.
Obsidian’s efforts into accessibility mean that they’re able to keep the depth and complexity CRPGs are well-known for. Character creation is very deep. You’re given a hell of a lot of customisation options so you can make the character you really want. Each race has a sub race and each class has a sub class. Sub races don’t matter much apart from one or two stat boosts and occasionally having a character say a different line of dialogue if they’re the same race or whatever. Sub classes do have a bigger impact though, especially since you now have the option of multi classing.
For example, my character is a Hearth Orlan Priest and Chanter. When I picked the Priest class I was asked to pick a God. Each Priest has a God they worship and each God offers different benefits and unlock different skills at specific levels. On top of that, Priests have certain spells that get stronger the more in line they are with their religion. Likewise, you can choose between different kinds of chanter classes. I went for the summoner sub class so my summoning chants will conjure twice as many creatures but they’re weaker. This vast array of options makes role playing that much more feasible and enjoyable. It’s one thing to just play your priest character as a worshipper of Berath, it’s another to actually receive benefits for it. It really makes you feel like you’re a part of that world, like you didn’t just pick a way for your character to fight but you’ve made decisions about who they are.
That’s just the start of it though, of course. After you make your character you get to go on a big adventure and that’s where the story begins. Thankfully, the story is much better written than in the first Pillars of Eternity. While I liked it, it was a bit hard to follow at times and it wasn’t always clear what your motivation was for continuing with it. This time around the plot has a much simpler basis. A dead God revived himself, took control of a giant statue that was underneath your fortress and smashed it to bits on his way to the Deadfire Archipelago. He’s been leaving a trail of death and destruction along the way.
You start the game off having died and Berath informs you that you’ll be reborn and you’ve got to hunt down the God that killed you and your destroyed your home. Your motivation starts out simple, get revenge and find out what’s happening but the story does develop beyond that. Without spoiling too much I will say there’s more to it than simple revenge, if you want. You’ll find that the villain has his own motivations and you might agree with them,various other factions in the Deadfire want to stop him for their own reasons and you can pick and choose whose side to be on. Or you can ignore all that and just get your revenge if that’s what you want. The main quest offers you such a massive amount of freedom you almost always never feel limited in what you can do when it comes to any given quest.
Really though that doesn’t just apply to the main quest. Every quest in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire offers you choices like that and it’s not just a typical good or evil choice. Sometimes you only have two options to pick from but there are knock on effects that have repercussions on other quests and your character’s reputation with other factions. For example, there’s a smuggling operation going on in the capital city. The queen asks you to find out what’s going on. You might kill the head of that operation, who happens to be a leading figure amongst the pirate faction. At the time it doesn’t seem like a big deal because you’re not gonna be a pirate but later on you get a quest from another pirate and you need the money so you agree to do it. Oops, she wants you to work for the one you brutally murdered earlier. When this happened to me I didn’t know whether I was annoyed or impressed.
On the one hand, I was now locked out of that quest line I had started. On the other hand, this is just such excellent world-building. With the way they’ve designed the quests Obsidian have created a believable world that just feels real. So many of the quests all tie into each other in realistic ways. Not only does this add to that sense that the world of Eora exists, given that the side quests are all somewhat related to the main quest, you always feel like you’re doing something important. Unlike other RPGs where you might take a break from the main story do so some side stuff and it’s like the plot just stops until you’re ready to get back, Obsidian’s quest designers and writers have so closely integrated the themes of the main story and each side story into the history and culture of the Deadfire archipelago that everything you do feels like it matters and that is quite an achievement for such an expansive RPG as Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire.
But look at that, over a thousand words and I’ve barely touched on Pillars‘ core gameplay. When you’re not in dialogue, Pillars gameplay takes place from an isometric point of view reminiscent of the classic style of Baldur’s Gate and other CRPGs of the time. Everything plays out in real-time but when it comes to combat the intended way to play is to pause and unpause continually. That is, you’re meant to play tactically but pause to issue commands, watch them play out and repeat as necessary. This style isn’t for everyone as it doesn’t lend itself to a sense of flow or good pace but if micromanaging a party of 5 sounds like fun then you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.
Combat in general is a bit easier this time around. Either that or I’ve just suddenly got really good at RPGs. In the beginning, combat encounters can be challenging because you have a limited selection of abilities and companions but it isn’t long before you have more party members and spells than you know what to do with. There are difficulty options to increase or decrease the difficulty but I found the normal setting was enjoyable. I very rarely had my whole party die and letting one member get knocked out during an encounter isn’t a big deal since they get up right after and can be instantly healed when you rest. Being able to rest at any time does make the injury system somewhat pointless though. You see, characters can get injured from being knocked out in battle or if you make a poor choice in the other encounters throughout the game.
Injuries reduce your stats and sustaining 4 injuries results in death. However you can rest whenever you like and when you do, you choose an item of food for each companion which heals their injuries and can even give stat bonuses that last until you rest again. It really makes death trivial and those other mistakes inconsequential, which takes some of the weight out of your choices. Speaking of food though, there’s a lot of it in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire because you need it to feed your ship’s crew.
That’s right, you’re the captain of a ship now and that means you get to explore the open seas! As you might imagine from its name, the Deadfire Archipelago is made up of a bunch of small islands and the only way to travel to and from them is on your ship. I really enjoy the whole sailing aspect to Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. It adds a lot to the sense of freedom you get from exploring when you know you can go anywhere you want right from the start. But it’s more than just a vessel for travelling, you can battle any other ship you see sailing about. That’s why you need a crew. The small ship you start out with only needs a small crew. Someone to navigate, one person for each cannon etc. Later on you’ll get the chance to buy bigger ships and upgrade their hulls, sails and cannons.
There are cosmetic upgrades as well like a bigger captain’s quarters if you want to customise it further. But anyway, ship combat plays out differently than normal combat. It’s all turn based and takes place in menus rather than actually on the sea. What happens is each turn you pick an action like moving your ship, turning it round or firing the cannons. Ship battles themselves aren’t super interesting but they are fast paced. Of course, you don’t have to end all your battles by sinking the other ship. My preferred method was to get in close and board the other ship. When you do that, then you get to fight the other crew like a normal battle. After you win you’re rewarded with a huge amount of items, food and drink for the crew and plenty of money.
So that’s combat. Now onto exploration. When you’re exploring the overworld you don’t just pick a place on the map and appear there after a loading screen like before. Now your party is represented by an icon of your character and you can freely roam the various islands. On the way you’ll find an abundance of places to visit. Some are simple combat encounters and a few are sizeable dungeons with good rewards for exploring them fully. Most things you interact with on the overworld will present you with choices in a text box, accompanied with some pretty art. I like these because, like the ship battles, they’re quick and don’t break the pace of the game.
You’re often presented with interesting choices that take your party’s skills into account. For example, you need to get into a sewer but it’s blocked by a grate. You can pull the bars apart if you have a strong enough companion, use something from your inventory to pry it open or use a spell to melt the bars. Like the dialogue choices I mentioned before, these events take into account more than just simple stats and also offer a huge degree of choice. You really feel like an adventurer when you can use everything your party has learned to overcome the obstacles in front of you.
So that’s Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. As I mentioned at the start, it takes everything the first game did well and improves upon it. On top of all I’ve said so far, the soundtrack and graphics are excellent. Despite its isometric view everything is rendered in real-time with a great amount of detail resulting in beautiful vistas everywhere you go. This is accentuated by the variety in locations. The Deadfire has tropical jungle, lush beaches, ruined castles and much more to explore. The music is a lot more memorable than in the original Pillars, where the music was more ambient than melodic. Over all Deadfire is an absolute joy to play that will keep you entertained and engrossed for hours upon hours.