I’ve spent this past weekend marathoning Pillars to completion. Though playing it things were obvious, I was wrong about Obsidian and many “old” gameplay elements are YES better than newer trends.
Obsidian is essentially the same company as Black Isle however from their onset they have been plagued by buggy games at release. I used to think that this was because their primary publisher, Atari, was rushing content out well before it was ready. They in fact had been doing that to Troika, whose games Temple of Elemental Evil and Vampire the Masquerade – Bloodlines, were horribly buggy releases. Atari had also going back to when they were called Hasbro and Infograms had a history as a franchise killer with their work on games like Master of Orion 3. I used to think that this was what was causing these poor release quality with Obsidian, but I was wrong.
Their first significant post-Atari game was Dungen Siege III with the publisher Square-Enix. It continued the trend of Obsidian games plagued by bugs, it also had numerous poor gameplay decisions. Then came the Southpark RPG Stick of Truth. That game was massively delayed to a point where it was even joked about on the TV show. It was released and was relatively bug free, I held hope. The creators of the South Park franchise had significant control over the development of that game and gave Obsidian time for it to be released. I was thinking they were giving Obsidian time but it turned out it was maybe just them holding Obsidian back from releasing a buggy mess.
Pillars of Eternity
Pillars is the game that exemplifies many things. How great classic party control CRPGs were, how many additions can be made to that genre of game even still despite it’s age, and how Obsidian has a terrible QA department. First let’s talk about the worst part of this game.
This is a game with bugs that are not just annoying but actually are game breaking. If you want to play this game this is the part you need to pay attention to. SAVE OFTEN. Despite how good games have been lately, in my opinion, I have been saving more than ever. This game especially so. By completion I probably had a vast archive of over 100 saves.
The first major bug is if you double click to equip anything you will lost all bonuses on your character. All passive bonuses, all racials, and even item and trait bonuses. This has a fix. You simple remove them and readd them to your party. How is it game breaking? When it happens to the main character. You can’t add/remove him, if this happens he is screwed unless you have a save.
The second major bug is the Raedric Keep zone. I didn’t have this bug myself however each of my friends have had it. If you explore the entire zone the game will not let you leave it. It will simply crash. This will kill your ironman game or if you only save once or use autosaves. Be warned. As a precaution knowing this I made sure to have 1 save per each new zone I entered.
A third bug I encountered is if you have created characters. Removing them from your party and re-adding them, or creating one with a full party, would result in them losing their voice set.
Another I encountered is the druid spell Plague of Insects. It works like the spell from DND games where it puts a AOE DOT on all people within the effect. It is devastating. Especially when it’s bugged where it never ends, which is the case here. Saving and reloading fixes this issue however you can’t save mid fight so you have a massive damage spell on you that can’t be removed the entire time making druid fights ridiculously difficult and there are multiple encounters with enemies like that. Fortunately you don’t encounter this spell until later on. Early, however, they have the equally devastating lightning spell. I will say this multiple times. Druids are broken.
Overall other than these issues the game is stable. However two game ending bugs are significant issues that need to be addressed ASAP. There are also numerous small bugs you will encounter that won’t affect you playing the game such as dialogue vocals cutting out at times. Rare but it happens.
Obsidian had crowd funded this game, they pretty much were on their own release schedule, and they were published by Paradox which is a fairly hands off publisher. I think with this release Obsidian for sure has convinced me their buggy games of the past was really their fault. Fortunately, however, the game isn’t missing key things that KOTOR2 (unfinished ending) and Neverwinter 2 (unfininished everything) were missing.
The world the game takes place in is relatively similar to the Forgotten Realms universe utilized for Baldur’s Gate. There is a backstory of a living god who fought along side his followers and gods involved in the world. You have a somewhat renaissance era setting (Faerun does have Arquebus and Pistols). You have evil sorcerers, necromancers, mages, undead, lizard people, shapeshifting, and everything you would expect. There are really no surprises if you take the game at face value and they clearly wanted a Dungeons and Dragons and even a Forgotten Realms equivalent setting.
Bringing Life Back to a Genre
Talking with several people about the kind of gameplay in Baldur’s Gate and Pillars of Eternity style games with newer gamers they will at times tell you it’s old or inferior gameplay. Nothing new can be done with it. It’s gone for a reason. This is, frankly, bullshit.
The genre here is party based strategy RPGs. A genre that has been severely lacking for years but finally recently has been getting some love. You have Divinity Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun, Wasteland 2, and several other games out and in the works proving the validity of this genre in a modern time. Pillars isn’t just some rehash as well, it adds many useful elements that people have been wanting for years.
First you have the “fast forward” and “slow” buttons. As a Infinity Engine veteran this is a godsend. I would often have to rest multiple times casting haste on my party, once I get it, to walk through zones and run around turning in or gathering quests. The slow button is also great especially with new players that want to get a feel for the game or for people trying to maximize combat potential on higher difficulties.
Then you have the solution to the question of killing rest all together or just allowing infinite spells and rests. You have a limited amount of camping supplies up to a maximum of 4 rests until you can replenish it. Adds that extra bit of challenge to the game of managing when you rest instead of blowing all your big spells per encounter then resting immediately after like what you could do in Baldurs Gate or Neverwinter Nights.
They also seem to have finally got combat somewhat organized and added challenges and differing fights. For example in Baldurs Gate and Neverwinter 2 you pretty much could get by with just bashing through battles and throwing direct damage spells all around aside bosses. On this game you actually have to worry about tanking. Some enemies even rather early will teleport behind your lines and attack your DPS casters. Enemies have a wide variety of resistances. You can also make custom formations. You have a lot of crowd control spells. The strategy is there and it is fun to exploit however it takes some time to learn. There are many interesting and challenging battles in the game to where even if you don’t care about the story and want to play a squad based strategy game you will have fun.
The replayability is also there. There are multiple dialogue options based on class choices, stats, skills, as well as the games wonderful “alignment” system. The NPCs will also talk to you differently based on what choices you’ve picked in the past as well.
There is a lot of good stats, numbers, and information in this game. You have a bestiary which you fill by killing enemies. You also have stats on who is doing what in your party be it most damage or most dying.
This game shows anything but that this genre is old, going back to Pools of Radiance in the 80s. It shows that it has much to offer.
FINALLY a Good Camera
In the past with games like Neverwinter Nights 2 companies tried to make a more cinematic action orientated combat. The camera followed your character there were no fixed angles and you had to manage it often. Here you have a standard isometric view like on Diablo 2, Baldurs Gate, or countless other classic RPGs. Not having to manage a camera all the time and having a nice zoomed out view is great and something I missed in games like this. Instead of experimenting with the camera they went with what works, and that pretty much explains this game as a whole. They added improvements where they were needed in the genre and simply kept what was proven.
The Bad – Aside the Bugs
Aside from the annoying bugs in this game there are some issues I have with it. Game balance is clearly off.
There are some classes, like Druids, that are just ridiculously powerful. You can end encounters with 1 AOE ice spell that does insane damage with just a level 1 slot. It also pushes enemies back and recasts fast so you can spam it with good effect. Monks can do a ridiculous aoe attack against an unlimited number of enemies. You see things like this throughout the game, clearly more work needs to be done on balancing the classes. Wizards are all but useless because the Cipher and Druid are so much better at damage. Paladins are clearly inferior to Fighters. Druids are easily the best DPS class. There are some stats that are clearly useless dump stats, kind of like Charisma in Icewind Dale. This is a new game “system” where before they used DND which was playtested basically by two companies, Which would be WOTC and Obsidian/Bioware depending on the game. Expect game balance patches and soon.
There is also a limited amount of NPCs to join your party on this. Less than Baldurs Gate. Fortunately you can create your own party members to allow for more variety. Unfortunately they won’t have a story.
As far as how difficult the game it really it’s hard to tell. Most random encounters you can breeze through then all of a sudden you will encounter a pack of druids in the wild that eliminate you in seconds. I’m not sure if this is a bad thing, it’s fun to be surprised. However you explore a whole area without saving and have relatively good time of moderately challenging or easy encounters and you suddenly encounter something that seems it should be for much later on. The encounter that comes to mind is much more difficult than any boss fight at that point of the game and comes out of nowhere. I suspect that this is related to balancing and scaling of spells.
Overall this is a great game. The story is well written and it’s something that will allow for not just two but multiple replays due to the amount of choices you can make. The ending is also great and has a plethora of possibilities. Choices you make can also have highly unexpected results in the ending of the game.
They just need to fix the damn thing.
- Great strategic gameplay.
- Plethora of character creation options.
- Characters are well thought out and have good banter.
- Replay value is high complete with vast difficulty options.
- Excellent story with a wide variety of choices.
- Good voice acting with recognizable voice actors.
- Ability to create your entire party.
- Game breaking bugs complete with some lack of polish.
- Limited NPC party member choices.
- Balance issues. At times severe.
Other Similar Games To Check Out:
Divinity Original Sin – Strategy gameplay.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Plot and story quality.