It’s all a bit Baldur’s Gate.
Obsidian launched a KickStarter campaign for the old-school RPG Pillars of Eternity, a game planned to appeal to fans of games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. Sure, it was not set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, instead having a completely original setting, but it was set to be isometric, incredibly deep and packed with content. Of course, there was a question of whether or not this retro style RPG would still have an audience in this world of modern gaming. But, after raising more than a massive $3 million, that question was cast aside and the fans and backers eagerly awaited their game.
Launching towards the end of March, the fact that I am only just getting around to reviewing this title is testament not only to how big the game is, but also to how involving Pillars of Eternity is. It is easy to get lost in this fantasy world, in much the same way that players would lose themselves to the likes of Baldur’s Gate, sometimes for months on end.
Set in the new fantasy world of Eora, of which the player will only get to see the smallest amount in Pillars of Eternity, there is no denying that the developers have gone above and beyond to create a fully fleshed out world for the player to enjoy. The game may only encompass a small part of Eora, but the legends and lore that the player uncovers along the way suggest a massive world which is simply ripe for exploration. There is a lot of reading in Pillars of Eternity, something which may turn off certain gamers. But through conversations and discovery, the world of Eora simply comes to life, and the writing is so good that the world seems incredibly plausible, for a fantasy setting.
This incredible writing goes beyond creating a setting for the game, and gives players frequent insight into the various characters that they come across through the course of their journey. Most of these characters will have a quest for the player, sending them deeper and thus learning more of the world.
However, before the player finds their way to the main quest and the numerous side quests, things begin with the hero traveling through the country as part of a caravan, headed to Gilded Vale. Of course, things go wrong as the caravan sets up camp and is then ambushed and all but destroyed. Things get a little more strange during the escape as the player bears witness to an event that sets the story for the game. The main story succeeds not only as a vehicle for moving the game forward, but also for engaging the player.
Before it all begins, however, the player will have the task of creating their character, and how much time they put into this is entirely up to them. There are six different races to choose from, with both the mundane and the more fantastical available, along with eleven classes to choose from. There are a fair few customization options as well, allowing the player to create a character that they will want to spend time with during this epic journey.
Pillars of Eternity is a party-based RPG and, as such, players will find themselves controlling a team of characters, even right from the very start. There is little by way of tutorial in the game, but thankfully things start slow enough for the player to get to grips with the basics. That being said, Pillars of Eternity is a difficult game. The opportunity to save the game at almost any point takes the edge off the difficulty, but for those new to the genre it really will be an uphill battle.
The combat plays out in real-time, and all of the characters in your party will need guidance. When considering all of the different abilities and spells that the various classes will have access to, the idea of controlling a group in battle, especially against a larger group of foes, may be a little overwhelming, even more so when taking into account the companion AI is almost non-existent. However, there is a pause option which makes everything much more manageable, allowing the player to pause the combat and issue new orders, reacting to the enemy. Move characters into the right positions, set them up to cast their spells, use their potions or whatever, and then let the game play out for a few moments before pausing again and re-assessing the situation. The whole system works incredibly well and makes even the most daunting encounters, which are quite numerous, that bit more possible.
Visually, Obsidian have done a great job of replicating the look of the classic Baldur’s Gate games, albeit with a modern layer of polish. Anyone who has played games like Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale will feel at home here, although the quality of the setting and use of visual effects make the game feel much more modern than the aging inspiration. In short, Pillars of Eternity looks stunning.
Pillars of Eternity will not be for everyone, mind you. It is a difficult game with very little by way of explanation, so newcomers to the genre may find themselves struggling. And the massive amount of text that players will have to work through will not be something that many gamers will want to deal with. However, with those two limitations aside, this really is an RPG that tweaks the nostalgia bone and will entertain RPG fans.
It is big, incredibly detailed and very deep. Pillars of Eternity was set to re-ignite a love for the retro-styled RPGs, which it does admirably. But it is also capable of introducing younger gamers to a classic genre which still deserves to be around. It may be difficult, and is certainly an epic undertaking, but Pillars of Eternity is a hugely enjoyable journey into a new fantasy world, and shouldn’t be missed by any RPG fan.