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The RPG Files: Pillars of Eternity - The White March Packs a Punch

By Christopher Coke on August 28, 2015 | Columns | Comments

Pillars of Eternity - The White March Packs a Punch

It’s no secret that I adored Pillars of Eternity. When I reviewed the game, I called it a modern classic and gave it one of my highest scores ever with a 9.0 out of 10. After five more months with the game, and a heaping helping of other RPGs, I stand by that score and believe even more than ever that this is a game players will remember as fueling the CRPG revolution. With The White March expansion looming on the horizon, I’ve been shifting in my seat eagerly awaiting logging into the game for my next great adventure. This week I did, and it hurt. A lot.

One of the most exciting aspects of this two-part expansion is that it opens up midway through the game. If you have unlocked your stronghold and completed Act 1 (you should be about level 5), you’ll receive a message from your steward inviting you back to check the mail. From there, you venture forth into either The White March or Cragholdt Keep, which is aimed at high level players.

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I loaded up a save that was right on the cusp of the second act, finished, and made my way to the March.

Things open with a bang. Following a bit of scene setting for the zone itself, you come upon the town Stalwart and find it in flames. Ogres are overrunning the town. You can’t quicksave or rest, so once you’re in, you need to make it to the end. I made it to the final warchief with my tank at half health. He was flanked by three other ogres and a wolf. I didn’t stand a chance. I reloaded and repeated about four more times before throwing up my hands and enabling god mode for the fight.

This was the theme for my first two hours in The White March, dying, reloading, and dying again. By the time the expansion opens, players have been challenged with tough fights, but nothing of the sort found here. I was often outnumbered and always outgunned, dying without a good way to save myself. I emailed Bill, who reviewed the expansion for us, to make sure I wasn’t crazy. He was running into the same thing. I wasn’t crazy or bad!

After a bit of Google-fu, it seems that The White March is designed for level 7 or above, but the information wasn’t easy to find. It’s certainly not in the game. In fact, the only thing “official” I can find is an interview answer hidden halfway through an E3 video on GameReactor.eu. In PoE, two levels is huge! It’s a bit baffling to me that they would open the content so much sooner than it was intended. There’s also no easy way to tell just by looking at mobs. That said, I went back out to the normal campaign and had a much better time once I’d reached even level 6.

So what did I think? Let’s go over some of the features.

Party AI is a nice addition that removes some of the micromanagement players complained about in the original game. It’s turned off by default, and it’s worth taking the time to set up, because it may not match your playstyle out of the box. Just don’t expect Dragon Age levels of customization here. It’s really two drop-down menus. Between the three AI settings, (aggressive, defend self, and defensive) I went for defensive first because I didn’t want my characters running off and picking fights with stray wolves. Fortunately, all aggressive really means is that they’ll switch targets on their own, not start fights, so it was an easy change to get things up and running.

The world and writing are excellent as always. Right away you’re meeting interesting characters and digging into their relationships through deep dialogue trees. My early favorite was the bartender and lush. Before you know it, you’re stealing liquor and cutting out troll hearts. Ulfric and Renengild, your main quest givers so to speak, also have this great back and forth of the most entertaining long-married couples. The White March continues PoE’s habit of letting you see both sides of even small quest lines and then deciding for yourself who you would rather side with.

In my two hours with the game, I only explored two of the expansions four zones, Stalwart and Russetwood. Stalwart is a standard town, full of people to talk to and lore to unfold. Russetwood was frozen, beautiful, and had no less than three major encounters with excellent rewards. Two were possible to talk your way out of, if your stats were high enough.

I haven’t seen any soulbound weapons yet, but virtually every piece I got was an upgrade, and most of it major. Experience rewards were also big, so I could see myself walking out of the expansion at a far higher level than I am currently, or should be to complete the rest of the game. I’m a bit concerned that completing The White March now will make the rest of the game easier than it should be without bumping the difficulty.

I also haven’t encountered either of the two new companions added with the expansion; however, you can now respec any character at any vendor in the game, provided you have the coin. This is incredibly nice for customizing the characters you meet along the way. It also gives you a chance to apply some of the multi-class talents Obsidian added to the game. The ability to apply a caster like Aloth is a great addition to the game.

Overall, the first part of the White March expansion looks like a great addition to the game. It is more of what everyone fell in love with in the beginning taken to the next level. Just don’t do what I did and take it on two levels early. I’m still bruised.

Quick Hits

Divinity: Original Sin 2 launched its Kickstarter this week and is already closing in on $700K of its $500K goal. Larian is expanding the world by writing each NPC to react differently to each of your four party members. In multiplayer, this means that each person can have their own goals and interactions with characters in the world, and even sabotage one another to meet their end. In single-player -- which is really what it’s all about -- you’ll have a whole new set of choices to make as you go through. Do you send in the mage or the warrior? Party members will also have origins and backstories which will play into the game. Original Sin 2 is due in December 2016.

The Witcher 3 is breaking records at CD Projekt Red. The company announced that it’s sold six million copies in the six weeks since launch. Studio head Adam Badowski shared the news with a very genuine open letter that is well worth the read. It’s obvious they’re moved by our support. Congrats to them.

MMORPG’s Rob Lashley sat down with Paulo Gomes of BIGMOON to discuss their upcoming isometric RPG Demons Age. The game takes inspiration from heavy-hitters like Baldur’s Gate, the Lord of the Rings, and pen-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons, and makes use of a turn-based combat system. My questions for BIGMOON: How do demons age? Is it like dogs? Sea tortoises? Do they hate apostrophes?

Finally, the saga of Derek Smart and Star Citizen continues. In a lengthy blog post, Smart itemizes each of the false claims from the game’s Kickstarter campaign and made public the letter his legal team has sent to Cloud Imperium Games. He has stated on social media that he has decided not to wait the initial 30 days for a response and will be moving forward with an injunction against the firm. More to come as the story develops.

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.