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The RPG Files: It's Time to Come Back to Pillars of Eternity

Columns By Christopher Coke on February 26, 2016

It's Time to Come Back to Pillars of Eternity

It’s no secret that I loved the original Pillars of Eternity. In that first review, I concluded that it was a modern classic, and that wasn’t hyperbole. Pillars harkened back to another era of roleplaying games and reminded a whole new generation of gamers how much they missed if they weren’t PC gamers in the early 2000s. The same vintage stripe that made it special, however - the challenge and lack of party AI -- is also what kept many players away. If you’ve held back until now, wait no more. The White March expansion has concluded (read the review), and with all of the patches and feature updates that have come along with it, there has never been a better time to dive in for one of the best RPGs so far this decade.

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I’ll admit that the first time I played vanilla Pillars, I was a little nervous. I had played few isometric RPGs before, and never seriously beyond Neverwinter Nights. I did far too much research before even trying it and rather psyched myself out. Play on easy, they said. And be ready to die a lot. What I found, however, was that old guard CRPG players really like to overstate how difficult walking both ways in the snow actually was. It wasn’t really that bad.

Still, Pillars required you to play smart, and there was a narrative already being built about how unforgiving it was and how no party AI “broke the game.” I’ve become convinced that many of these complaints are from people who’ve never even played Pillars of Eternity. In the build up to Dragon Age 2 in 2010, players weren’t just unhappy, they were fearful about the de-emphasis of pause-and-play combat. Here, Pillars demands it, and some players still cry foul. But I digress.

But Obsidian is nothing if not receptive. Over the last eleven months, they’ve embarked on a forward march of adding features that players are asking for, while also lowering the barrier to entry. Party AI was one of the marquee additions of The White March Part One, and it worked well! Don’t expect Bioware levels of customizability, but party members can now be given roles from the standard assortment of tank, support, and damage dealer. On higher difficulties, you’ll still want to set your own actions, but in normal play, it gets the job done handily.

The White March Part Two also added a new difficulty mode to the game in the form of Story Mode. Story Mode isn’t exactly what it sounds like, but it’s close. Rather than just knock combat down into meaninglessness, Story Mode still demands you pay attention and strategize. Behind the scenes, it’s skewing dice rolls in your favor, making it more likely that you’ll Hit instead of Graze and deflect more damage than you’d take normally. It’s not a catch-all, though, and you will still be giving your best impression of a wet-mop if you’re not careful. But really, it’s a nice middle-ground that makes for the perfect entry point for players who were nervous before.

Those problems keeping people away? Obsidian pretty much made an option for all of them. And if you prefer a harder difficulty, well, the game has never had a problem with that.

But onto the new stuff. Part Two of the White March is absolutely the better half of the expansion (and we thought Part One was pretty good!). I’m not finished yet, but the flow feels so much better. It’s hard to place the accolades on any one element because everything really ties together to make an all-around better experience. Part Two feels directed, but not linear, with less of the back to town stuff that often tired you out in the first.

The story also ticks up considerably, taking place months after the events of Part One, this expansion feels, well, more vital. It is classic epic fantasy, where you alone can save the world, and, I’m told, there are some wrenching decisions in the final moments that really make you question how much you’re willing to sacrifice to succeed. The frozen atmosphere so far has also been amazing, but that’s nothing new for Pillars of Eternity. Both the main campaign and the first half of The White March also featured some of the most beautiful and ominous settings I’ve encountered in roleplaying games.

Hesitant RPG Fan, this is an easy choice. If you haven’t played Pillars of Eternity, you owe it to yourself to give in. Throw off those reservations because chances are Obsidian has an option to fix whatever it was held you off in the first place. Pillars is an education of classic RPG design but also good RPG design, and that alone makes it worth the (often on sale) buy-in price.

Quick Hits

The Division beta was a hit! More than 6.4 million players took part in the open beta. The average player spent around two hours in the PVP Dark Zone with more than half going rogue and attacking other players. Buzz still seems to be positive, but if Destiny taught us anything about this type of game, it’s don’t pre-order without reviews.

Then again, Bandai Namco completely disagrees and really hopes you pre-order Dark Souls 3, especially that $85 digital deluxe version.

The other big news of the week was Valve’s VR solution, the HTC Vive finally had its price leak-- er, revealed. Two controllers, the headset, and wall mounted sensor units to keep you from walking straight into your desk, will run you a steep $799. Considering how much more comes packed-in with the headset, the high cost only seems slightly more appalling than the Oculus Rift.

Would you play a Dragon Age Tactics game? Bioware wants to know! Executive Producer Mark Darrah sent out a tweet this week asking just that. 12k votes later, the answer is a resounding YES. If anything will come of it is yet to be seen.

Far Cry: Primal is out and the reviews are mostly positive. It may not be revolutionary, but it looks like a fun new addition that builds upon what made the series so addicting in the first place. Read our review here.

Lastly, just because I love it, Ark: Survival Evolved has added giant beavers to the game. Why make a dam yourself when you can hop on your gigantic beaver and have him do it for you? Why indeed, Studio Wildcard. Why, indeed.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.