Why I Love: ‘Pillars of Eternity’

Why I Love: ‘Pillars of Eternity’

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It’s been too long since I’ve played a decent game of Dungeons & Dragons. Night after night of rolling dice and spelunking through caves, forests, and ancient tombs with friends and family are something I’ve been craving lately. And then, of course, adulting gets in the way of everything, making it difficult to keep a campaign going with the original party intact. Luckily, the gaming gods are kind and have granted me with Pillars of EternityThough admittedly, I still break out the dice to roll my character.

IT’S A REFRESHING TAKE ON FANTASY

Along with D&D, I’m a fan of anything that falls under the “high fantasy” genre: Age of WondersLord of the RingsBaldur’s Gate, and Warcraft are all series I’ve come to love and peel over page after page of lore regarding them. And while there’s nothing wrong with high fantasy, it’s nice to see a darker setting while still remaining charming and whimsical in its own way.

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The game opens with you stopped with the rest of your caravan among ancient ruins, bedding down for the night. After contracting the equivalent to Montezuma’s revenge, the caravan master sends you and one of the guards off to fetch berries to cure your ailing bowels.

Stomach discomfort aside, the sounds of crackling bonfires, music, and the laughter of children fill the air as weary travelers lay out their bedrolls and review the plans for the next day’s journey. As you make your way back to camp, you and your new friend are ambushed by tribal elves, shouting accusations of looting and trespass on their holy grounds.

You both manage to fight your way through only to find everyone slaughtered, their bodies mangled and twisted at the feet of the elven warriors, whose painted faces glisten with sweat and blood, unwittingly embroiling yourself in a religious conflict that extends beyond the mortal realm.

Though you deftly enact sweet revenge upon the local welcoming committee, the winds shift direction and pick up into gale force. But this is no ordinary wind storm. No, this storm rips the very souls from both the living and the dead, ushering them back to “the Wheel” (see “Buddhism” with a dash of elven magic) after having lost their way. Mind you, this is all within the first 15-20 minutes of the game.

Without spoiling much more of the beginning of its story, Pillars of Eternity breathes new life not only into high fantasy, but the cRPG genre as well. As haunting as it is enchanting, Obsidian has truly outdone themselves in their literal last ditch effort to keep their doors open… speaking of which…

IT’S A POSITIVE EXAMPLE OF CROWDSOURCING’S POTENTIAL

Initially referred to as Project EternityPillars of Eternity is an example of one of first successful video game projects on Kickstarter back in 2012. Having been dealt with cut projects and failing to impress publishers with Project Eternity, they made an appeal to their fans–one that not only netted them over $4 million during their crowdfunding campaign alone, but saved the company as well.

The story’s actually pretty interesting, which you can learn more about in Obsidian‘s official video detailing Pillars of Eternity‘s development:

Now I point this out not only for Obsidian‘s sake, but the fact that this title is an illustration of synergy between a game developer and its fans. Moreover, that fans do have power over the fate of not only a single title, but the companies themselves.

Obsidian, however, continues to make good on its backers’ faith, really putting money-to-mouth as the metaphor often suggests. From the beautiful cutscenes and narration, to the revisiting of classic cRPG graphics and polishing them up for a new generation and the improvement on old, yet well-serving mechanics, Pillars of Eternity is well-crafted and constantly getting better with regular updates and content additions.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a high profile company breathe their entire life and soul into their game like this, and it really shows. Granted, I believe that all developers and designers–like all artists–invest at least part of themselves in their creations, I do believe studios do this to varying degrees. After some struggles and criticisms in the past (most recently, I think of the bugs and glitches that plagued Fallout: New Vegas), Obsidian at least seeks to better itself. And I think it’s fair to say they’ve seemed to have found their stride with this new-found confidence.

IT LOOKS PRETTY AND IS WELL-WRITTEN

I can’t claim to be an expert on programming. I’ve taken a few courses for a couple of years in college and have tried my hand at designing my own games (the design part was fun, but implementing it in code was a whole other beast), but nothing special. But what I can say is that, knowing how difficult it is to get a simple calculator to work sometimes in Java, it’s no easy feat to program an entire game, let alone when everything’s riding on its success.

Whereas games like Mount & Blade: Warband and Darkest Hour (a mod for the original Red Orchestra) have proven time and again that state-of-the-art graphics aren’t necessary for games to be fun (and even addictive, in some cases), the fact that Obsidian could create a game whose mechanics shine as brightly as its graphics and storytelling do is testimony to their impending mastery of their trade–and I say impending because I want to see them do it again a few times with titles in the future.

Pillars of Eternity seems to be half graphic novel, half moving oil painting. On the former, in certain situations you’re brought to a screen that resembles a choose-your-own-adventure book (a clever to save on special animations for characters bounding over chasms in ancient caves or scaling walls), adding to the problem-solving gameplay via text rather than navigating or interacting with the environment visually.

Dialogue is also spoken at times to highlight important information spoken by important people (not every villager is gonna have something pressing to say, but at least inn- and shopkeepers pleasantly greet you on most occasions), though stage narration is left silent, though still present.

Instead of omitting this, the game takes on the feel of an interactive book rather than a manuscript akin to other RPGs. And by mixing up the presentation between live cutscenes, the “static action” scenarios,” and incorporated vocal dialogue all keep the player engaged in the story, rather than leaving swaths of text to stagnate much like in other RPGs. MMO quest givers know what I’m talking about.

On the latter, the actual gameplay’s graphics are simply superb; lighting, water, fire, and other element effects are beautifully rendered. Motes of dust glimmer in streams of sunlight colored by stain glass, and fireflies dance in the pale moonlight as sparks drift off your torch as you and your party find a spot off the path to camp. And that’s not even touching upon the spells.

Most who know me know I usually never play as a spellcaster in RPGs (I’m personally a ranger or support class kinda guy), but after meeting some fierce mages and warlocks, I came to find they’re as dangerous as they are flashy–and they’re pretty flashy. Not to mention chaining different effects and all the strategic choices it offers; getting one party member to fix a target in place while another is charging up a spell that’ll cut a line through anything between the caster and his intended target.

Combined, the visual, audio, and storytelling components all equate to a highly polished roleplaying experience, but that’s not even the best part.

IT HAS A BRIGHT FUTURE

I gotta admit: I wasn’t a fan back in 2012 that helped fund Project Eternity. Hell, I didn’t even know Obsidian was on the brink of collapse back then (to be fair, this was before this website and when I was slaving away in college so hopefully that’s a little forgiveable). But having picked it up after its launch back in March, it’s taken over the spot Baldur’s Gate once had in my heart for cRPGs.

I have both the original and Baldur’s Gate II (which, for those who aren’t aware, both Baldur’s Gate and Pillars of Eternity shared a lot of the same design and developing staff) and even now, I find it almost painful to play them, their mechanics now painfully antiquated by all of Pillars‘ nuances. But with this new IP (and the subsequent revival of the Baldur’s Gate series with a new title in the works) comes new opportunities and if Obsidian keeps up at the pace they’ve set, they’re going to be well off for a long time.

I look forward to trying out The White March two-part DLC after getting back into the base game (if I’m honest, I’m just biding time until my next paycheck to pick up the season pass). But what else is in store for the series, I wonder? Modding support? More DLC or even a sequel?

Whatever it is, I’m sure that Obsidian is going to impress.

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Anthony Magestro

Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.