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The RPG Files: Pillars of Eternity 2: The Lore with Josh Sawyer

By Garrett Fuller on February 08, 2017 | Interviews | Comments

Pillars of Eternity 2: The Lore with Josh Sawyer

Pillars of Eternity has built a rich world for RPG fans. IN this next chapter the team at Obsidian has taken things even further. Offering up new ideas on gods and locations that we have never seen before. Josh Sawyer sat down with us to describe the story and background behind this fantastic sequel. 

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MMORPG: Pillars of Eternity 2 offers players the next chapter in the story, where do you begin in the game?

Josh Sawyer: The game begins at the Watcher's stronghold, Caed Nua.  Several years after the ending of the Hollowborn crisis, the Watcher receives a rude visitor in the form of the dead god, Eothas. The god of light and rebirth occupies the massive adra statue beneath Caed Nua and animates it, tearing his way out of the ground, destroying the fortress, and killing almost everyone nearby in the process. The Watcher barely survives the event and quickly learns that their life is connected to the resurrected god. The Watcher pursues Eothas out of the Eastern Reach and into the vast and perilous Deadfire Archipelago.

MMORPG: You reached your funding goal in one day, obviously players are excited, what can they expect in this new Eora?

Josh Sawyer: The Deadfire looks a lot different from the Dyrwood.  The Dyrwood was intentionally based quite heavily on areas like The Sword Coast and the Dalelands in The Forgotten Realms. The emphasis was always on temperate forests and western European cultures.

Deadfire Archipleago is a vast chain of volcanic (mostly dormant) islands containing tropical, sub-tropical, desert, and even sub-arctic environments. The weather is quite volatile and the native Huana culture is much different from the Dyrwood.

MMORPG: Deadfire is coming with brand new cultures and environments? Specifically islands, what is it like to design these ideas and voyage across the seas in POE2?

Josh Sawyer: One of the appealing things about RPGs is seeing a wide variety of environments. Setting the sequel in the Deadfire gives us the opportunity to build out a lot of wild ideas. Because the islands cover such a huge area of ocean, it's easy to justify even large shifts in climate and mood from place to place.

MMORPG: Storytelling is at Obsidian’s core, almost built into your DNA, what is your secret?

Josh Sawyer: I don't think it's a secret, really.  We've always treated storytelling as an integral part of the game design process. When I started at Black Isle in the late 90s, all of the designers treated story, dialogue, and player reactivity as essential to the games we made. All of our tools and processes reflect that.

I think our collective background as tabletop gamers also influences how we look at CRPGs.  We want to capture some of the spirit we find when we're sitting around a table playing through our campaigns.  It's not the same experience, of course, but we're striving for more of that feeling.

Story isn't something you whip together at the beginning or end of a project and forget about for all of the time in-between. It's essential to the player's experience and it has to be a part of the entire development process. That's the only way you'll create a culture that respects storytelling as well as the developers' and players' roles in it.

MMORPG: Everyone has deep expectations on the companion system. How does the team weave these characters into the player’s journey? What is most important in bringing them to life?

Josh Sawyer: The process of writing companions is a long one that starts in pre-production and runs all the way through the release of the game. Companions have to serve many functions in a game like Deadfire.  They have to fill certain mechanical roles in the game system, provide variety in terms of race and gender combinations, help represent the viewpoints of important factions in the world, create a broad and interesting spectrum of personalities, be strongly connected to the core plot and themes, react meaningfully to the choices that the player makes, and have character arcs that the player helps progress and complete over the course of the story.

All of these elements are important when creating companions, but it all starts with finding a distinctive voice for them in the world. A character's voice can be elusive, but when it's established, it makes the writing process much easier and can help players quickly form a strong emotional attachment to them.

MMORPG: Because you have an ocean setting will we see events like the Lover’s Tide take place in the game?

Josh Sawyer: Weather, including severe weather, is a big part of Deadfire, but I wouldn't want to spoil what disasters are heading the Watcher's way.

MMORPG: Paladins play a large part in the game with orders and factions alike, what makes these characters so important in the world?

Josh Sawyer: Paladins are more the fervent, less nuanced siblings to priests. A priest's beliefs may be deeply-seated and quite profound, but those beliefs are often tempered by a philosophical and theological grounding that gives them a more objective view of their faith. Paladins are, as a rule, extremely zealous in their beliefs. Their dedication is stricter, less open to debate, and often upheld with little to no hesitation.

Paladins in Eora also differ from priests in that the focus of their devotion need not be a deity.  Pallegina is dedicated to the Vailian Republics as a whole, a spirit that transcends individual ducs and city-states, but which represents (in her view) the best and greatest promise of the world's cultures.

The Bleak Walkers embody the idea that total war, merciless and implacable, is the purest and most honest way to conduct warfare. They dedicate themselves to unyielding savagery as a means to bring the swiftest end to any conflict. For as long as the world believes that a Bleak Walker cannot be turned from the destruction of their enemies, monarchs and generals alike know that the only way to avoid facing the Bleak Walkers on the battlefield is to capitulate before they are called forth.

MMORPG: There are so many elements of fantasy, what makes Pillars so unique among its fans? 

Josh Sawyer: I think you'd have to ask our fans, but I've tried to make Eora a familiar fantasy setting with a lot of small details to make it distinct on closer examination.  There are certainly much more experimental and fantastic settings for fantasy RPGs, but our goal was never really to make something that broke the mold. Our Kickstarter was driven by nostalgia for a style of game that hadn't been seen in almost fifteen years. When someone loaded up Pillars of Eternity for the first time, we really just wanted them to feel like they were coming home.