In many ways, history serves as the foundation for many layers of Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity. The game-play is a nostalgic homage to great isometric games of old and it holds no one’s hands when it comes to difficulty. Permadeath, which is prevalent in the hundreds of rogue-likes on the market, is scarcely implemented in other genres but comfortably finds a place here. Even the narrative uses the many past lives of Pillars inhabitants as a gear for this polished machine. The incredible weight of the past propels Pillars forward for a wondrous experience.
Incredibly well paced opening events end with your created protagonist becoming a Watcher, a being capable of seeing a ethereal layer of existence that normal people feel the remnants of, but can’t actively see or interact with. With this ability, you’re also able to engage with the souls of the many people you encounter.
This ability will often spark quest lines or resolve them, but you can see into the souls of NPCs. Though sometimes the stories will connect like the simplest of puzzle pieces, more often than not these moments often contain intriguing unsolvable mysteries, lending to the ever pertinent grey areas of humanity. Not only are you made aware of the actions of these beings in their current “incarnations” but of their transgressions, victories, and great failures of past lives.
In modern gaming it seems writers are getting the idea that not everything in life is black and white. This is reflected in not only dialogue, but quests as well. Granted, I played a morally sound character, but I realize that the balance is a bit skewed early on with regard to evil deeds. There’s simply no reward and, while acting on the basis of greed, the return for such blemishes on your soul aren’t that profound. That’s not to advocate for poisonous behavior, but in a game where it is a prominent option, it should be a bit more beneficial to add to the turbulence of choosing right or wrong.
The combat is strategic and must be managed meticulously for success to be had. Players will have to pay attention to how effectively each individual character contributes to the skirmishes and be aware of placement during said fights. Sending the wrong character into the fray unprepared will end with an important piece (in Normal difficulty and above they are all important) being incapacitated and you’ll have to reload a save and retry. Awareness of your team’s individual stats and specialties are key, not allowing for wild tactics to be successful very often.
With such intriguing characters at your disposal, it’s a shame that there are no AI options to aid in combat. Every move except the most basic of response of attack must be set in motion by the player. Though it lends to gameplay positively, it detracts from an otherwise strong narrative by not allowing the characters to express themselves in combat as well as outside of it.
Obsidian Entertainment has produced an incredible work of gaming art that isn’t without its flaws, but is made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s a crowd-funded title. Obviously it reached the goal needed to produce the base game, but additional funding allowed things like the Stronghold to be included. Basically a series of dungeon trials, it thankfully fits snugly into the game’s world and adds to the experience organically. It’s not an additional portion thrown in haphazardly and gamers will be thankful for that.
Even if you’ve not experienced many isometric titles in your time, every RPG or strategy fan owes it to themselves to give Pillars of Eternity a shot. The value is top notch, package is well crafted (save for a few bugs) and, most of all, the experience is incredible. The many souls of Eora await your warm, or piercingly cold, touch.
This review was based on a Steam review copy provided by Obsidian Entertainment for the PC.