by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Hungry for a proper RPG experience, I gobbled up Pillars of Eternity as any starving fan would after years of RPG deprivation. Obsidian have since served up a worthy lunch in the form of Tyranny, and that has kept me satisfied while they worked on Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. However, the recent announcement that the game would be delayed by a month reminded me that I could still snack on the beta a bit.
Deadfire’s main character, The Watcher, will be familiar enough to anyone who has played the original game, but everything else won't. The preview build started me off at the docks of the small settlement of Tikawara in the Deadfire Archipelago. Tikawara turned out to be only recently founded by Chief Ruanu and his ragtag tribe. Fugitives from a life of strife and hardship, they could have chosen a more accommodating island with a better supply of food and a less hostile indigenous population. Suffice it to say that the town was not doing well, and my first tasks included finding out why the local Fish People were attacking Tikawara, and where their food stores had disappeared to.
During the game’s setup, I had opted to switch off Deadfire’s promising looking enemy level scaling feature but I am not sure that was the right call. A huge chunk of the fun in role-playing for me, is discovering - the hard way - that my party is not ready for a certain area, and then leveling up to return the whooping. That kind of gameplay is not for everyone though, and an opt-in enemy level scaling feature makes a lot of sense. Even with it switched off, you don’t really expect your early battles in a game to be hard work, but they were. Even on “relaxed” difficulty, two of the starter island battles proved extremely difficult, and a third had me walk away. Was it designed that way? Possibly, but it might just be that the level scaling feature still need a bit of work.
I did better on the next island, Poko Kohora. Here I got to see Obsidian’s storytelling prowess really take shape. Poko Kohora is said to be rich in adra but few people return from going there. Riddled with storms, the extreme weather conditions on the island are affecting the entire archipelago, and Tikawara’s fish supply in particular. A well equipped Vailain expedition interested in obtaining some adra recently vanished without a trace, a sure sign that not all is right on the island. The Watcher’s ability to see ghostly plays of past events once again proved to be a wonderful storytelling device, allowing players to discover what happened to the expedition. I don’t want to give away too much, but it wasn’t pretty. At at this point the game had me completely immersed.
Deadfire plays very much like it’s predecessor, but there are a few notable changes. Not in the least the setting - a tropical archipelago is a far cry from medieval European towns and castles, and it looks like we’ll be spending most, if not all of our time here. Yet the maps look as gorgeous as ever. Your ship functions as your home base and it’s kind of nice that you can bring it along wherever you go.
Obsidian has reworked much of the user interface. It’s much cleaner than it was before and, of course, customizable. It works pretty well and has the added benefit that you can easily switch your party’s AI on and off on a per-character basis. I’m less enthusiastic about some of the other AI elements though - in battle, I felt like I was constantly opening combat sub-menus to find what I need, not in the least because of additional icons that are there to support the new modal system. While I like the idea that weapon use is adaptable - for example that you can hit harder at the cost of accuracy - I’m not sure if it is worth the confusion on the combat bar. It’s entirely possible that I just need more time to get used to it though.
Despite that little criticism, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire feels like a warm bath, and if absence makes the heart grow fonder, I’m going to be mighty fond of this game when it hits the shelves on the 8th of May.