The White March Part One Review
Pillars of Eternity, as you might remember from our original review, is an excellent CRPG that hearkens back to the days of Black Isle’s best games. With staff from said revered studio and with Obsidian being veteran of the RPG genre, it only makes sense that PoE was so widely anticipated and adored. But can the studio continue the magic with its first major expansion, The White March?
The simple answer is yes. If you’re wanting more of the same awesome Infinity Engine-like gameplay of the games from the 90s you hold dear, The White March is bound to deliver. The longer answer is that while the expansion offers some truly memorable story moments and fantastic new core game features, it’s not a runaway bit of perfection. But then, what game is? The simple truth is that The White March Part One is a really good expansion to an already excellent RPG.
With a second part due out in just a few more months, I won’t spoil too much of the story for you. But, just in case you’ve not finished the main game, don’t fret. You can experience most of TWM’s content by just getting to the 2nd act or so. A little bit after you unlock Cad Nua (your stronghold) in the main campaign, you’ll get a notice to return to the keep and then you’ll be given missions to head north to The White March. One area, Cragholdt Bluffs is another part of the expansion altogether, and is meant for the higher level players. Luckily the Steward of Cad Nua warns you pretty well of this, but if you’re keen to die with lower level saves, feel free to go there.
The main bulk of the story takes place in The White March itself, a frozen northern area (as the name implies) rife with ogres, fish-like people, ice trolls, and loads more new monsters to take on. While Obsidian insists that the content scales down to meet you if you try the White March content early, I will let you know that it’s actually been excruciatingly hard with my own lower level save. I’ve had to enable god mode on more than a few occasions just to progress. It’s not unlike the fight players grumbled over when first taking Cad Nua for themselves. But then Pillars of Eternity has never been about being an easy RPG. Its combat takes planning, positioning, and loads of planning… these are things I gave up on in interest of progressing the story, but the more hardcore will likely have more patience than I do.
Speaking of difficulty, Pillars now sports a snazzy new per-character AI system that allows you to have your party behave and fight on their own accord, but sadly it doesn’t seem to work as well as it should. Not only is it somewhat hidden in the character sheets, but the options don’t seem to work as they’re intended. I set up Durance to play support, so I don’t have to constantly have him casting endurance spells, but he never once seemed to cast them on his own. Even after I’d turned to cheating to get past a few fights, when I turned all characters on aggressive and damage settings, they still needed my nudging to start fighting and continue fighting when their targets fell. In short, don’t get too excited for the party AI. It’s not quite working yet.
The rest of the game’s new features are stellar though. The new companions, especially the Devil of Caroc, are excellent additions. The monk Zahua is fantastic too, especially because of his drug-addled personality, but the Devil of Caroc seems to be more useful, at least in my experience. Zahua’s skills are more impressive to watch, but the rogue has more utility for my tastes.
Another new feature is the addition of Soulbound Weapons. You’ll find pieces of these throughout the expansion content, and a spirit that once wielded the weapon will guide you towards finding the other parts and completing its reconstruction. Or you may get lucky and just find one completely whole. Either way, they add huge bonuses to the character that wields them based on their class. They even level up as you use them, getting more beneficial affects the more you fight with them. With the increased level cap from 12 to 14, this is a welcome reason to do a lot of the content you might have not finished in the main game as well, since all of the items in TWM can be taken back to the main game.
Overall, The White March adds a lot of new awesome to an already excellent CRPG experience. Original Kickstarter backers get The White March part one (and eventually part two) for free, while it’s only $15 on Steam for non-backers. For the 20 or so hours you’ll get at that price, if you liked Pillars to begin with, this purchase is a no-brainer. Even if just for the excellent story of Durgan’s Battery alone, it’s worth every penny. Just be ready to fight, because this content isn’t a stroll in the park and I don’t think Obsidian would want it any other way.