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The List: 5 Things MMOs Could Learn from Pillars of Eternity

By David Jagneaux on April 06, 2015 | Columns | Comments

5 Things MMOs Could Learn from Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of Eternity is a game that does a lot of things right for not only its genre, but in general. MMOs and other types of games across our industry could learn a thing or two from what Obsidian has delivered to use in 2015. It’s a game that’s equal parts nostalgic and fresh, both approachable and challenging, and above all else, immensely engaging.

Obsidian has proved with Pillars of Eternity that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get it rolling again – sometimes it just needs a little tweaking, a bit of an overhaul, a fresh coat of paint, and maybe a good push. And most importantly, they’ve done this without pulling from existing source material – it’s a 100% original new IP with tons of potential ripe for exploring. So now let’s take a look at 5 things MMOs could learn simply by observing Pillars of Eternity.

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5) Make Nostalgia Approachable

When non-CPRG playing friend of mine ask me why they should play Pillars of Eternity, I firstly point them towards this list of reasons that I wrote last week. Obviously. After that though, I realize that listing off other similar games won’t do any good. Those friends of mine never played Baldur’s Gate at all, they don’t know about Icewind Dale, they’re unfamiliar with Planescape Torment – I had to think of new ways to describe the game. By improving upon the foundation of which Pillars takes its inspiration, it feels both old and new at the same time.

The pause-and-play real time combat is an elegant combination of strategy and action that still holds up today. The innovative new classes and original setting make it easier to get into. Even with Baldur’s Gate it helped if you were already a D&D fan – but not this time around. Understanding the squishiness of Wizards will surely help, but that’s not something a little trial and error won’t teach right quick anyways. Pillars of Eternity is able to riff on tons of tropes and established mechanics, while also introducing new ideas and concepts – a subtle trick that’s captured gamers in just a couple of short weeks.

4) Give Us Depth

Then once you break through that hard layer of getting someone to give your game a chance, you can layer on the complexity. There are plenty of great MMOs and RPGs that have released recently, but with the massive market shift towards accessibility and making games hit as many demographics as possible, it’s come at the cost of the depth and options us RPG gamers are used to.

The new classes like the Chanter (which is really just a different take on the Bard) are an interesting diversion from the norm. Slightly altered rulesets, new stats, and a dynamic world create new lessons to learn and enjoy. In order to capture this same level of depth in an MMO, we don’t have to return to the days of targeting based skill rotation combat, but it does require a shifting of expectations.

3) Create Compelling NPCs

The most interesting characters in Pillars are all of the NPC companions that you meet in your travels (Durance is awesome, by the way) but they don’t have to be dedicated followers to be interesting. Maybe if Trahearne wasn’t so lame, people would have actually enjoyed fighting for him in Guild Wars 2. Perhaps if all of the main NPCs in Final Fantasy XIV were as awesome as the NPCs in Pillars, people would talk about them and that world more.

Granted, the folks over at Obsidian have a lot of experience in this kind of stuff, but that’s not a very good excuse. Single player games do afford the dev team with a bit more freedom in terms of how to develop characters and deliver those performances to the player, but MMOs don’t really have any limitations in that regard anymore. Star Wars: The Old Republic proves that you can create compelling characters and stories in an MMO, so it’s a trend that more developers should embrace.

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