by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
You are dead. Well, your character is. A god is at fault.
Eothas, the god of light and rebirth, has taken possession of the statue of Maros Nua. Unfortunately for you, that statue previously occupied the space underneath castle Cuad Nua which you so painstakingly rebuilt during the Pillars of Eternity campaign. Pulling himself out of the ground, Eothas levels the castle, leaving you and almost everyone that served you for dead.
Eothas’ behaviour is all mighty inconvenient for the other gods. Eothas is a loose canon and needs to be brought back into the fold, or killed. They need a mortal puppet to make that happen. You served well five years ago so you are resurrected as a Watcher. Once again, your task is to save the gods from impending doom. Quite literally, you follow in Eothas’ massive footsteps to do their bidding.
GETTING MY FEET WET
Back among the living, I found myself as the captain of a ship in the Deadfire Archipelago. My welcome committee was the mother of all storms and a pirate captain eager to relieve me of my meagre possessions. I couldn’t do much against either at this point, my ship was scripted to run aground and over the next few hour or so Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire introduced me to its setting and its gameplay, one baby step at a time.
By the time I got the hang of things, a friendly captain put me on the trail of the motherf* who wrecked my ship during the storm. It would lead to the first significant choice I would make while chasing Eothas. The trail lead to Deadlight, a mighty pirate fortress smack in the middle of the ocean. The people there pegged me as a new arrival but most were content to let me roam freely. When I did find my attacker I was offered a choice to strike a bargain in which he would sing my praises as reparation for what he had done to me, or to attack the braggart outright. Figuring pirate law would allow for vengeance, I chose the latter. I won’t give away too much but suffice it to say the journey back to my ship was bloody and that it would not the end of my dealings with the pirates.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is rife with such choices, possibly more so than its predecessor. The game constantly reminded me of the impact of my actions. Most were minor, others not so much. Through my choices, I made loyal friends as well as bitter enemies. Was the game world so black and white that I could carve a line between good and evil so easily? Not really. It is perfectly possible to maintain a balance with each of the factions, it’s just not what I did.
Cuad Nua may have been destroyed, but that does not mean there isn’t anything to upgrade this time around. Your ship is merely a starter ship with a skeleton crew, pitiful cannons and no redeeming qualities other than it being free. Larger ships can be acquired, as can upgrades and a skilled crew. The crew are not just for show either. Even if they are not fully-fledged party members, they’ll still partake in boarding actions and their names will occasionally show up in the game’s frequent and entirely enjoyable mini text-quests.
Exploring the world is done using your regular party, which consists of only five active members at any given time. Black Isle wanted to make party composition more meaningful and it’s the passive skills such as knowledge of religion or diplomacy where this is felt the most. These skills often serve the party as a whole, and having one character with high diplomacy is usually enough to get you through most of the dialogue options with a diplomacy requirement. If you forget to bring your diplomat along though, you’ll lose that option. By having only five characters the chances that you miss out on at least one specialist skill is very real, which leaves you something to experiment with in your next playthrough.
Combat is mostly as you would expect - pause to give individual orders, unpause to let fly. The enemy AI is a bit smarter now and there were even a few moments that I felt I was playing against a human adversary instead of a computer controlled one. Enemy NPCs lavishly use abilities that mess up your tidy frontline by jumping behind it and then attacking your vulnerable ranged fighters. Your own party’s automatic actions can be configured through the Behaviour Editor which allows you to select which abilities should be used when, on which type of enemy and even under what circumstances. Think… let your Priest heal allies when they fall below 50% and prioritize allies with low armor ratings. Or… let him interdict enemy spellcasters but only when there is at least one ally in melee range. Crazy!
TOO MUCH... ?
That does lead me to a point of criticism. Pillars has a tendency to do both too much and too little in the area of character customisation. My Watcher was destined to be a red-haired Dwarven priest with a streak of white in his beard. Just moments after I started the game I ran into myself. Beodul, one of my crew members, was an exact copy of my creation in every possible way, not just my portrait. Twin brother? This would not be the last time I would look at a character in confusion either.
Where the visual customisation is limited, the choice of character abilities is often overwhelming. The worst culprit is the Wizard ability tree which features a whopping 120 abilities. I have to give credit to Black Isle for making some feel really fun and unique, but there are more that are largely forgettable. Something similar is happening with gear as well. Two heavy armors, same armor rating, but one has a bonus against Crush and Freeze damage, while the other has a bonus to Pierce and Corrosion damage. It’s a detail that I doubt more than a handful of players will ever actively use. You’re not likely to study the enemy composition before every instance of combat and change your armor accordingly. You want to rush in and crush some skulls.
A last niggle is the combat bar, which now plays host to a slew of new icons and behaves differently depending on the character type. Wizards and priests have ability popups, monks have an indicator for the amount of “wounds” they have built up and can be spent on executing their abilities. I don’t mind per se, but it means a lot more clicking and I certainly don’t need a crafting button.
None of these issues offer too great a distraction from the otherwise excellent game that is Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. As with its predecessor, Deadfire is a truly engaging RPG in which there is always something interesting to do, or something to stare at in wonder. So much so, that hunting down Eothas - is - almost the distraction. The archipelago has lots of problems that are in need of a Watcher’s touch and most are intriguing enough that you want to get to the bottom before you progress the main storyline. If that is not the sign of a great RPG, I don’t know what is.
Great story, intriguing quests
Can be a bit overwhelming when it comes to character creation and progression