Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
When the original Pillars of Eternity launched in 2015, I was admittedly a bit skeptical about how well it would fare, being a modern game that positioned itself as a spiritual successor to classic isometric RPG’s like Baldur’s Gate. Fortunately, Obsidian Entertainment’s ode to the isometric RPG’s of yore wound up being a smashing success thanks to its combination of old-school nuances and modern gameplay refinements.
It naturally wasn’t long before Obsidian announced a sequel, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, and once again worry started to cloud my emotions. Given how successful the original Pillars was, I wondered how Obsidian could possibly top it.
However, having now played Pillars of Eternity II for myself, I am happy to report that Obsidian has once again done the impossible, crafting an engaging and immersive fantasy roleplaying experience that both builds off of its predecessor and also serves as a viable entry point for newcomers.
Even if you never got around to playing Obsidian’s earlier RPG efforts for yourself, Pillars of Eternity II is a game that every die-hard RPG fan must play, and it is also further proof that the classic isometric RPG format still has a place in today’s gaming market.
Set Sail For Adventure
Pillars of Eternity II allows you to continue your adventures from the first game by importing your save file, but even if you no longer have access to your original Pillars of Eternity saves or you never played the first game, you still have some control over the sort of person your character was thanks to a built-in history generator.
While crafting your character during Pillars II’s opening moments, you also get to fiddle around with two of the game’s new features: sub-classes and multiclassing. Both of these features allow more experienced RPG fans to add some definition to their character, but sticking with the basic classes and skills is completely viable as well.
Once you complete the opening tutorial and finish making your character, you’re thrust right into the sequel’s new storyline. The god Eothas has possessed the massive stone colossus that lay dormant beneath the fortress of Caed Nua (the player’s fortress from the first game), destroying the fortress and causing wanton destruction as the colossus erupted from the earth and marched off towards some unknown destination. The player awakens aboard their personal ship, The Defiant, having sailed to the Deadfire Archipelagos to track the colossus and ultimately figure out just what the heck Eothas is up to.
After a few opening hours spent repairing their ship, the player is free to set sail and explore the entire Deadfire Archipelagos region. Naturally there are specific locations you must visit as part of the game’s main storyline, but you’re also free to explore the many smaller islands that dot the region, each of which has various landmarks that can be explored and plundered.
Along with your main character and recruitable companions (the latter of which include familiar faces from the original Pillars of Eternity like Aloth and Eder, along with brand new companions), you can also manage several aspects of The Defiant itself, including its crew, ship upgrades, and cosmetic traits (if you don’t like the name ‘The Defiant,’ you’re also free to change it).
The crew and ship upgrades come in handy when you cross paths with roaming pirate ships and engage in yet another new gameplay system: ship to ship combat. The ship combat system involves using a tactical interface to manage your ship’s positioning in relation to the enemy’s and, when able, firing on them using any cannons you have available.
Of course, if you’d rather not deal with the ship combat interface (or if you think your ship is outclassed), you can also board the enemy ship and engage in more traditional character-based combat encounters. Much like with the Caed Nua fortress in Pillars of Eternity, managing your ship crew’s morale, wages, hunger, and thirst becomes a sort of meta game, and later on you can even buy additional ships if you want to really embrace the lifestyle of a seafaring captain.
Time Enough At Last
Unsurprisingly, Pillars of Eternity II is the sort of game that you can easily pour hundreds of hours into, and the game’s various difficulty levels allow you to determine exactly how you want to spend those hours. If you want to just soak up the game’s story and aesthetics without worrying too much about min/maxing your party’s combat capabilities, you can stick with the easier difficulties. However, if you’re the sort of RPG fan who relishes figuring out just the right combination of character abilities, skills, and spells needed to overcome a tough boss encounter, the harder difficulties will most certainly grant you the challenge you crave.
Even better, all of the game’s various quests and optional tasks are good about offering multiple avenues to completion. If you’d rather just fight or bribe your way through tricky situations, you can often do so, but those who take the time to discover more subtle and/or cunning approaches will often be rewarded handsomely for their efforts.
For example, early on in the game you’re tasked with tracking down and eliminating a pirate captain who ambushed your ship and left you for dead. Once you infiltrate his fortress, you can simply fight your way up into his stronghold and put him to the sword, or you can steal a barrel of his prized rum, use it to kick off a drunken pirate party, rig the captain’s favorite piano with a bomb, and then have him blow himself up while he’s playing a jolly tune.
Having the patience to discover these unconventional solutions is certainly a reward unto itself, but you should know that, much like with the original Pillars of Eternity, having patience in general helps when it comes to playing Pillars II. There is a lot of text to sift through, so much so that even the most avid readers might find themselves quickly clicking through dialogue screens just to get to the next conversation choice.
The dense nature of the game’s writing certainly isn’t enough to detract from the overall fantasy experience, but you should just brace yourself if you’re not the sort of RPG fan who enjoys poring over pages and pages of text.
Lightning Strikes Twice
I wasn’t sure it could be done, but with Pillars of Eternity II, Obsidian Entertainment has created an immersive and expansive RPG sequel that stands right alongside its well-crafted predecessor, and in some regards even surpasses it.
The game’s dialogue and set-dressing may be a little overly dense at times, but if you’re the sort of player who enjoys getting lost in grandiose single-player fantasy adventures, Pillars of Eternity II was absolutely made with you in mind.