The CRPG is back, excellent titles like Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity brought the genre back into the mainstream, and we see the dividends of their success with the release of their sequels. We already got a chance to play Divinity’s sequel and now Pillars of Eternity 2 is here to continue the CRPG legacy.
The recently released Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is bigger than its predecessor in practically every aspect. The writing, the world, and the scope are all grander, and nearly every conversation is voice acted this time around. If the original was an experiment in revitalizing the CRPG, then Pillars of Eternity 2 is a true maturation of the formula.
Pillars of Eternity 2 Review: Stomped by a God
Pillars of Eternity 2 is a direct sequel to the first game, which might be intimidating for some players. Rest assured, though, that even if you haven’t played the original, the set up for the sequel eases you into your role as the Watcher of Caed Nua.
Your first order of business is to determine which events occurred during the events of Pillars of Eternity. You can do this by importing a save or taking a quiz before beginning a new game. You can also start the game blind and choose from a number of prewritten stories during a conversation with an NPC in the beginning moments of the game.
No matter your previous history, the set up is the same. After the first game, the Watcher retired to Caed Nua. There he ruled until one day the god of light, Eothas (the bad guy of the first game), possessed a massive titan built of Adra that lay underneath Caed Nua. He then rose from the ground, stomped off, and headed towards the Deadfire Archipelago. Unfortunately, before he did that, he took the Watcher’s soul.
Pillars of Eternity 2 Review: To Deadfire
So, what’s a Watcher to do without his soul? Well, you find yourself in the Beyond (because you’re pretty much dead), and meet Berath, the god of cycles, doors, and life and death. Berath and the other gods aren’t too fond of Eothas since he previously tried to break their hold over the mortal realms, and you’re pretty much told that you have to track down and possibly stop Eothas from doing whatever he’s doing.
After Berath is done volunteering you to go after Eothas, you wake up on a ship that is in hot pursuit of the giant stone titan. This is fortuitous since that’s precisely the direction you want to be going in. This is the crux that pulls you into the Deadfire Archipelago, the giant chain of islands that make up the setting of Pillars of Eternity 2.
While Deadfire is remotely located from the bustling cities of Aedyr, Rauatai, and Valia, the riches and secrets it holds attract travelers from across the world. Additionally, many of the islands are inhabited by the natives, the Huana, who form a loose confederation led by a Queen. You’ll have to navigate more than the ocean as you travel through Deadfire as the intrigues and plots of the various factions vying for control of the islands line your way to Eothas.
Pillars of Eternity 2 Review: Good Versus Evil and Everything In-Between
The Deadfire Archipelago isn’t a land that centers around what you’re doing. That you’re chasing a giant stone titan possessed by an unpredictable god is not the foremost thing in the minds of most of the inhabitants of this land. For one, many people think you’re making the whole thing up, or that it’s not that big of a deal.
Some villages of Huana are more concerned about not starving to death than any chase concerning a foreign god. Other native settlements are embroiled in conflict with invading foreigners from Valia and Rauatai, who seek to exploit Deadfire’s rich deposits of Adra for profit. Each individual has their own agenda in Pillars of Eternity 2 and seldom do they mesh with yours.
It’s these various strands that make the world feel alive. You might be the “chosen one,” but that doesn’t mean anyone has to care. Instead, you have to unweave all these threads and attempt to follow them to their source. However, there is seldom a completely happy ending in Deadfire.
Obsidian has done a great job writing each of the multitudes of interwoven stories in a way that makes each decision seem gray. A prime example is the relationship between the Huana and the foreign powers that want to access the Adra Deadfire holds. It’s easy to empathize with the various Huana tribes that wish to preserve their culture and way of life. However, the fact that their society is caste-based, with a number of their people being born into what is basically slavery, makes it questionable as to whether their culture is worth saving. The Valian trading companies may wish to exploit the Adra contained on the islands, and to a lesser extent the labor of its populace, but its use would modernize the archipelago and eventually bring prosperity to the Huana.
For almost every significant choice thrust upon you in Pillars of Eternity 2 someone will have to be the loser. Like the real world, there’s no making everyone happy, and even decisions that might seem morally sound when you make them can have consequences that make you question what “right” actually is. Unveil a thief, and later on, you might see his body floating just off the shore after he’s sentenced to death. It makes you start thinking about whether or not an action you think of as “good” will cause more evil than if you just leave well enough alone.
Pillars of Eternity 2 Review: Mad Skills
Pillars of Eternity 2 is a CRPG, so you know that it’s going to be stat heavy. Fortunately, it doesn’t go full D&D and has you deciding between 100 different skills and specialties for each character. Instead, you can assign points between 7 Active Skills and 9 Passive Skills, each of which factor into things like conversations, crafting, and events.
Just the skill system adds a lot of replayability to the game because you’ll find specific paths blocked to you if you don’t excel in particular skills. Having low Athletic ability will prevent you from scaling walls or leaping across pits, and attempting such a feat may result in injury. Having knowledge of history may give you perspective on a situation that you otherwise wouldn’t, or context for a particular occurrence.
Almost every major interaction will give you a chance to use skills, and the outcomes you get from using these skills are almost always more desirable than the ones you get without. However, you won’t ever be able to excel at everything, so it’s best to pick the skills you think your personification of the Watcher would have. You can be a stuffy intellectual, an empathic social butterfly, or a religious fanatic. The choice is yours.
Pillars of Eternity 2 Review: Fighting Spirit
The combat system in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire isn’t too removed from the first game, but some refinements make the whole thing feel more polished. It’s still done in real-time, with the ability to pause and issue commands to your party at will. There’s one less party member allowed this time around too, with five being the max instead of six.
One of the most significant additions to combat in Pillars of Eternity 2 is in AI scripting. You can now write extensive scripts of priorities for the AI that allow you to make sure each party member is using their abilities to maximum effectiveness. The whole thing is a bit like Gambits in Final Fantasy 12 and will enable you to practically automate many fights. While this might sound like it would get boring, the enemy variety is enough so that you can’t just steamroll through the game with a “perfect” AI setup.
Pillars of Eternity 2 Review: Anchors Away
The Deadfire Archipelago is a vast chain of islands, so having a stationary stronghold wouldn’t be too useful. Now, your home away from home (which, remember, has been stomped on by a giant stone statue) is the Defiant (or whatever you want to name your ship). Your boat is your primary form of transportation, and it’s armed. You can use cannons to either defend your ship against n’er-do-wells or do some n’er-do-welling of your own by engaging in a little piracy.
The ship-to-ship combat is a welcome addition, but at times it’s a bit too basic. It takes place on the same choose-your-own-adventure-type screen you see during exploring islands and making certain skill checks. While that style works pretty well in brief interludes, ship combat can take a bit to resolve. You can navigate, fire cannons, switch out the crew, and make repairs during a fight, and a gauge at the bottom keeps track of your distance and orientation relative to an enemy vessel.
Pillars of Eternity 2 does an excellent job of keeping the dice rolling behind-the-scenes during most of the game, but ship combat killed the immersion for me at times. I’d have liked to seen a more in-depth implementation of ship combat, especially since the ships look so good. As it is, fighting an enemy vessel through a series of text choices on a rather drab screen gets dull at times.
However, I did enjoy the rest of the ship system. Each ship needs to be crewed, and you can recruit sailors at a port to run your vessel. Each sailor has a specialty or two and levels up during the course of the game. It’s like having a second larger party that you can grow. There are also upgrades for each ship that changes their physical appearance and stats that give you something to strive for once you find the vessel of your choice.
I’m hoping that a future DLC brings more to do with ships because your vessel feels like a party member and I want to do more with them.
Pillars of Eternity 2 Review: Champion of CRPGs
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a title packed with more raw plot than Pillars of Eternity 2. Almost everyone has a story to tell, and that’s what makes the game so unique. The main plot is serviceable enough, but the main attraction here is how fleshed out the world is. It’s a great place to get lost in for 60-70 hours, and it maintains enough variety that things don’t feel too repetitive.
If you’re a long time CRPG fan, or you never really gave them a try, Pillars of Eternity 2 is an excellent choice. It has the complexity of CRPGs of old but without the clunkiness. It’s a much bigger, more polished game than the first in almost every way and a worthy successor.