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Pillars of Eternity

By KenpoJuJitsu328-04-2015
Pillars of Eternity

The Defence

Obsidian Entertainment
Paradox Interactive
Role Playing
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core i5 3.1 GHz
AMD Phenom II X6 3.3 GHz
Nvidia GeForce GTX 570
AMD Radeon HD 7700
8 GB
14 GB

The Case

Pillars of Eternity started life out as a Kickstarter campaign called Project Eternity. Obsidian Entertainment, a prominent development house for RPGs, wanted to develop a new computer role playing game that had the feel of old infinity engine games such as the Baldur’s Gate series, Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment but with modern graphics, user interface and other features. Lacking funding, they turned to Kickstarter to ask fans of role playing games and fans of Obsidian to pledge $1.1 million. They received nearly $4 million in support. The drive to create this title was there, the fan interest and financial backing was there, but did the game end up being anything worth playing when all the proverbial smoke cleared? Let’s find out.

The Trial

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me start of the proceedings with this bold statement: if you are even the slightest bit interested in an isometric role playing game then you’re wasting time reading this. You should already be playing Pillars of Eternity. The game is good, damned good.

PoE is a story driven RPG with a tactical combat system. This system is tactical in that while the combat is real-time, the player can pause at any time to issue commands and direct party members. But before diving too much into combat, let’s address the story. The player will create their main character by making one selection each from a list of genders, races, classes, cultures and backgrounds. As an example, my main character for this review was a male Ocean Folk Human Monk from The Living Lands who spent his earlier life as a hunter. Each one of these decisions affects player abilities, starting attributes and how the NPCs in the game world interact with you. Once the creation process is done the player will by fortune or calamity, depending on choices and how you view them, discover that they are a “Watcher”. A Watcher is a person that can see the souls of others and even connect with the past lives of other individuals. This detail is central to the plot and what drives the story as the player tries to find the meaning of being a Watcher as well as why the various soul related problems have befallen the world.

So. Many. Effects.

So. Many. Effects.

The story is complex and multifaceted to put it mildly. Now, I’m sure at least one of you reading this is thinking that if the game is heavily story driven it must be fairly linear. True. This is a linear RPG in the sense that there are some places you won’t be able to get to because you haven’t gotten to that point in the story yet. However, it’s not entirely linear. There are many places you can explore whenever you want as well as a ton of side quests. Did I say a ton? Yes, a TON of side quests. Suffice it to say, there is no shortage of content in this game.

Here’s an example that springs to mind and WARNING: this will contain some small spoilers. My party runs into a certain nobleman. He’s upset that his daughter has gone missing and no one is trying to help. Of course, being the benevolent bunch that they are my party agrees to help and starts asking around. They run into a shady fellow who says he was with the girl when they were, ahem, ‘enjoying themselves’ in the woods when an ogre came and took her. I didn’t buy his story but the party already had a quest to look for an ogre in the same area so off they went. They find the ogre and he denies ever seeing the girl. My party fights and defeats the ogre for reasons unrelated to the girl. On the way back to town I decided to have my party just randomly explore an area and I stumbled across an underground dungeon. I spend over an hour making my way through this dungeon and who do I find? The missing girl. Everything isn’t what it seems here and I won’t spoil it but my party continues through the dungeon and finds a secret exit except...it’s not an exit. It’s an entrance...and this entrance is in a backroom of the shady guy’s I mentioned earlier business place. This whole chain of missions took about two hours to complete along with a sizeable and intricately detailed and trap filled dungeon. All of this time and attention to detail...and it was just a side quest that’s completely inconsequential to the main story. On top of that, I reloaded an earlier save, experimented around and found two other ways to complete this mission. The game is filled with detailed and lengthy quests like this...that some players may never even see because they are completely optional side missions.

Detail is something that this game does exceedingly well in seemingly everything. Nearly all of the locations are uniquely and intricately detailed, even places you’ll only see once or twice. The world is full of NPC’s whose souls you can “see” by way of reading a description of who and what they were in past lives. The options for customizing how to handle pausing in combat allow a player to make the game play either fully real-time, completely turn-based or somewhere in-between. Want detailed information on any stat, attribute, buff or debuff? Mouse over it or check your in-game journal. Want a detailed breakdown on any attack? Mouse over it on your combat log and get a detailed breakdown on the calculations for if the attack hit, how much damage it did on a successful hit, how long it interrupted the enemy, etc. Details, details, details. If you need to know something about the game mechanics, the creatures, the game lore, etc. it’s all packed into the game itself and easily accessible.

This intricate dungeon was for a completely missable side mission. So much attention to detail.

This intricate dungeon was for a completely missable side mission. So much attention to detail.

Visually the game is impressive. Most things look crisp, the art is excellent and the visual effects are top notch. It’s all very immersive. The audio is a bit more of a mixed bag however. The audio effects and ambient sounds are amazing but there are a few things that stand out. For one, some of the background sound, like what the chatter you hear in a tavern, seems to be on a short loop so you’ll pick up on it repeating. The other big audio issue is the inconsistency over what is voiced and what isn’t. You can be having a splendidly voiced chat with an NPC only for the audio to stop, requiring you to read the next few things they say, only for the next few lines to be voiced. There’s no rhyme or reason behind what is and isn’t voiced and it’s mildly distracting.

This being a fantasy RPG means that there must be combat present. PoE uses a real time combat system that can be paused at any time manually. The player can also set a nice selection of auto-pause rules to have the game handle pausing for them. Want the game to auto pause when combat begins? Sure. Want it to pause when your weapon is ineffective on a certain enemy? Sure. Want it to pause after a spell or action is completed? Got you covered. All of this is in here because the combat is very tactical in nature. The formation of your allies and enemies matter as you can shield weaker allies by having heartier party members engage the enemy to control distance. Spells have to be properly aimed and thought through ahead of time as most offensive spells can hurt friend and foe alike. Every action in the combat is governed by position as well as by behind-the-scenes calculations that check your offense versus the opposing defense as modified by a random number generated from 1 to 100.

Breaking down the full formulas for the combat system is 1) beyond the scope of this review and 2) completely unnecessary as it’s covered by the game’s instruction manual and in the game itself. I’ll just say it’s satisfyingly deep for those that like number crunching. There’s accuracy versus the four types of defense as well as the seven damage types versus damage reduction...along with the eight damage type that ignores said reduction. All of this works in conjunction with a robust gear, accessory and weapon system as well as an enchanting system for modifying armors and weapons. It’s satisfyingly involved for the more hardcore while also being anywhere from accessible to unnecessary on the lower difficulty settings.

Defending your stronghold manually leads to some awesomely crowded fights.

Defending your stronghold manually leads to some awesomely crowded fights.

So the game has a great story, the characters and companions are interesting and entertaining, there are tons of things to do, the visuals and sound are great and the combat system is robust challenging and enjoyable. So everything is perfect right? Not quite. This is an Obsidian RPG which for many people suggests it’s an RPG that you’ll enjoy in spite of the bugs. This has been true for PoE as well. At launch there were a bunch of bugs present in the game such as debuffs persisting after combat is over requiring a reload to fix, the game crashing anytime the player tried to enter or exit certain buildings, quests that could not be completed which blocked progression, friendly NPC’s in buildings all turning hostile and attacking the player, etc. Most of these bugs have since been patched. In fact, one of the delays in getting our review out was that our press version of the game was on a different branch from the retail version. This wouldn’t ordinarily be an issue but the press version wasn’t receiving the patches. So we’ve been able to see the game at its best and at its worst. The game has been largely stellar in either case and Obsidian have been doing a great job so far of patching the issues.

The Verdict

This is an example, and arguably THE example, of a Kickstarter project done right. Obsidian clearly spent a lot of time and had a lot of passion for this game and it just shows everywhere. The game looks great, sounds great, plays great. I’ve played some Kickstarter funded projects and wondered when I was going to get the rest of the game. I play Pillars of Eternity and wonder what happened to the last five hours. It’s simply a joy to play which is pretty much one of the highest compliments I can give a game. I’ve enjoyed thousands of games over the last 30+ years. Few have been consistently a joy to play to the point where I look forward to the next time I can sit down with them and in some cases actively set up my schedule to make more free time for them. Pillars of Eternity is one of these rare gems. Even if it wasn’t for a review, I’d be playing this game relentlessly...and I think you should play it too.

Case Review

  • Beautiful And Detailed: The game is wonderful to look at and there is an abundance of detail in everything.
  • Story and Writing: The story is engrossing and entertaining with a group of interesting characters set in a well realized fantasy world.
  • Strong Combat Mechanics: Challenging, accessible, deep, customizable and enjoyable.
  • Length and Content: There are a ton of things to see and do. The amount of value you get for your money is unreal, even at full price. Some people like really long games and others like shorter games. 50 hours won’t even get you to the midway point if you do everything along the way so take note, this game is very very long.
  • Bugs: The game still has a collection of annoying bugs. All of the progression blocking ones we noticed have been fixed but there are still some minor annoyances to be found. If it weren’t for the bugs I’d have given the game my first ever perfect score here.
Score: 4.5/5
An amazing role-playing game on top of arguably being the standard bearer for a quality Kickstarter funded game.


First things first, Pillars of Eternity is deep. REALLY deep. Like Mariana trench reading some intense poetry deep. In the first ten minutes of playing you're hit with so much text, back-story, and information that you could write a college thesis on the subject matter. I say this, because you better be ready to read a lot here. If you loved reading the hundreds of codec entries in games like Mass Effect or talking to every single NPC in Dragon Age then you might really like all the text, because it's used to build characters, setting, and everything you'll ever want to know about the game.

Beyond all the text it's a very traditional Baldur's Gate-esque isometric RPG game using the same infinity engine that was used to make games like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale. You've got your classes, your races, your factions, and your humble medieval settings filled with nefarious wizards and heroic warriors. It's so standard that the first enemy you fight in the game is a totally normal wolf which is barely a step above killing rats for your first quest. But for as traditional as it is, it follows a very successful formula, and even adds whenever it can. The most impressive of these additions is just how much freedom they give you in carving out your own adventure. Don't want to solve the bell puzzle to advance? Then just use your rogue to pick the door's lock. Don't want to go adventuring yet? Go read up on the history of nearly every NPC in the game. And there are meaningful choices too with consequences that can change the game permanently for you, something that we don't see nearly enough in any genre these days.

Is it the 3rd coming of Baldur's Gate? I wouldn't go that far, but it's absolutely what Kotaku called "The Next Great Computer RPG." It's got a classic feel to it, it's tactical, it's filled with lore, plot, and options, and most importantly it’s fun. It's a hard game that's so dense and has so many systems woven into it that even reading the wiki is hard to understand at times, but all of this complexity just makes it a better game for players who are willing to sit down and really learn about it. A few glitches aside, Pillars of Eternity is a great game and a must play for any fan of Isometric fantasy RPGs.

Score: 4.5/5


The latest in what is becoming a long pedigree of crowdfunded games, Pillars of Eternity promised Obsidian at its best. They were given as much time as they needed to complete a character focused RPG with an epic scale, and it’s fair to say that they pulled it off nicely.

Mechanically, Pillars works the same way that all modern takes on Isometric RPGs do. If you’ve played Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin, or Shadowrun Returns, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty picking up the basics. The notable exception is the combat. Rather than grid based, turn based combat, Pillars opts for a real-time combat with pausing model, and allows freedom of movement. There’s also a surprising depth, with different weapons causing different types of damage, and being resisted by different attributes of both the player’s party, and the enemies they face, which in theory forces you to ensure that your party is prepared for any eventuality, both in the way you deal damage, and the way you resist it. In practice, unless you really like playing on the hardest difficulty settings, you won’t notice exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes, and won’t really need to.

Where Pillars really shines is in the character interactions. In true Obsidian form; each major character you encounter is nuanced, and has a wealth of backstory and motivation as to why they are travelling with you. Quests are very much the same, with complicated twists and turns that further confuse what is right and wrong, and can end in a number of different results, depending on your responses. The Main Quest has a compelling hook; with your character gaining the ability to see the spirits of the dead in a magic ritual you were not meant to witness, and uncovering a plot that could shake the very foundations of the world while coming to grips with this ability. The character creation system is wonderfully deep, and the range of character archetypes available are a godsend to people sick of the ‘fighter/rogue/mage’ archetype common to modern RPGs.

Score: 4/5
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Posts: 120

Yet another Kickstarter game I'm glad to have backed but probably won't be able to play for a while.