Pillars of Eternity 2 Hands On Preview - It May Be Obsidian's Best RPG Yet
Over the course of the last several days, I've had a chance to sit down to play Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, the latest in a stellar line up of cRPGs that have taken gaming by storm over the last couple of years. Taking note of the original game and expanding on nearly every aspect from the technical to the aesthetics to the story itself, the game moves the Pillars IP forward in fantastic new ways.
Character Creation - It's an A+ Feature
As with all great cRPGs, you'll start Pillars 2 with a robust character creation feature. But before that, you'll select game options. There are five available (Story, Relaxed, Classic, Veteran and Path of the Damned, each increasingly difficult over the last. There are also two additional, yet separate, game features: Trial of Iron which is essentially hardcore mode with a single game file and permadeath; and Expert Mode that scales enemies to meet your party level no matter where you are adventuring.
In character creation, you'll be offered a ton of choices, each designed to drill down to precisely what type of game experience you want to have. There are nuances to every choice you make.
After gender selection, you'll be able to choose from six available races: Aumaua, Dwarf, Elf, Godlike, Human and Orlan. Honestly, there's something for everybody here from the dangerously cute and furry Orlan to the typical Human and each one with its own bonus to the character.
For folks who really like to get down to the nitty gritty, characters can be customized in a wide variety of ways:
- races each have sub-races to choose from that provide a different aesthetic look as well as stat bonuses and other boons including a location-based background
- Single and Multi class options allow you to refine your character's fighting style immensely. Single class characters are recommended to new players, while multi class characters can truly refine who you are. Classes include: Barbarian, Chanter, Cipher, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Priest, Ranger, Rogue and Wizard
- Each class has a number of sub-classes to choose from with enough distinction between them to make them interesting on subsequent playthroughs. Should you choose to multi class, you'll also choose a sub-class with its attendant bonus or focus
- Attribute points are fairly typical of most cRPGs and are spread in Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Perception, Intellect and Resolve
- Culture offers you several choices for where your character originated. Some have additional attribute bonuses. This is where you can really get a feel for the lore of each race and location throughout the Deadfire Archipelago
- After Culture, you'll choose you character's background: Colonist, Drifter, Explorer, Hunter, Laborer, Mercenary, Merchant, Scientist. Each of these come with secondary attribute bonuses to things like Athletics, Intimidation, Streetwise and more
- Weapon proficiencies fall into Bows, Firearms, Magical Implements, One-Handed, Two-Handed and Shields with several choices in each
- Lastly, you'll customize your character's look through portrait, "colors" (i.e. clothing primary/secondary, skin, hair primary/secondary), face, hair (including facial hair for males), voice, pose and name
Honestly, if you're not exhausted by the time you finish all that, you've got better stamina than me! All kidding aside, however, it's a fantastic creation scheme and heralds the start of a worthy cRPG. I really felt as if I made the character for me.
Starting the Adventure - and What an Adventure It Is!
The first steps in the press beta began on a small island called Tikawara where a tribe of Huana (native to the Deadfire Archipelago) is in trouble with little or no food available. The Vailian Trading Company has settled in as well and is hoping to work with native inhabitants "to find high-value goods".
If I have a quibble about the preview build it's that I was started at level 6, obviously bypassing some sort of tutorial / introduction phase that might have streamlined my experience. I literally spent the first hour playing and got a point where I needed to leave Tikawara but couldn't. I pickpocketed everyone. I looted everything. I spoke with everybody. But when I went to my ship to sail away to Poko Kohara...no dice. Doing it again...and again...yielded the same result. It all came down to a bug in the graphics resolution that somehow defaulted the map to such a large resolution that the keys to board the ship and sail away were not visible. Choosing and applying a resolution fixed the issue and I was off.
In addition to that, the companions I traveled with were default mercs rather than named characters and I could not interact with them. The party was fairly typical with a Cleric, Wizard, Fighter and Rogue by my side. Going through the interface, I found that I could let the AI take control of the default fighting behaviors of party members, or I could nail down exactly how I wanted them to behave via the management screen. It's very nuanced and perfect for people who love to micromanage the party in a multitude of ways, yet it's simple enough for rank amateurs, cRPG newbs or those who simply don't want to deal with it. Obviously, the harder your game difficulty, the more you'll want to play with party behavior. You'll also be able to switch party formation on the fly as you maneuver around.
Of course, with any cRPG, your primary goals are to talk to everyone, take quests and make choices along the way. Decisions matter and that's key. Without going into detail, I managed to make at least one villager pretty unhappy with me when I opened a cage in town. At the same time, however, someone else on the island was pretty happy about it. It's all checks and balances. Obsidian has also promised that decisions will influence how your companions develop as well, though with default mercs, I didn't get to see that.
Combat is pretty cool and all takes place in real time rather than turn-based. However, like Dragon Age: Inquisition, you can pause the game and issue orders, queue up abilities and so forth before un-pausing the game to see how it all plays out. For casters, there's an additional and very welcome feature. If you begin casting a spell, an AoE ability for instance, and your target moves out of the cast zone, you can freely toggle a new location/enemy/ally. Pretty handy given that cast times can feel pretty long.
Enemy AI is pretty good too. They don't just stand there and move around the battlefield to flank your characters or to try to get to the back row to take on your foofy casters and ranged characters. They also have a wide range of abilities and resistances that make every fight thought-provoking. For instance, I came up against a large stone statue that was immune to any type of cutting damage. I had to have my front line fighters switch to an alternate weapon set that brought bludgeoning damage to bear.
Of course, battle and exploration yield experience that allows your character and party to level up. You'll apply attribute points and then be able to choose different abilities that fall into Passive, Active and Modal types. The interface for doing so is quite nice in that you can see exactly what skills will evolve into further down the line.
Ship Combat - Ahoy, Matey!
One of the big new features in PoE 2: Deadfire is the addition of ship-based combat. In a sense, your ship is your fortress and it can be customized and improved to make it more successful as you sail the seas between the islands. You'll have a crew, each with their own prowess aboard the ship. Some will be better at one job than another, so checking what they're good at and assigning them to the proper place aboard the ship is key and can be done via the special interface. Of course, as you take on other ships in combat (turn-based by the way), your crew will level up as well.
There are a variety of ships available throughout the game that have to be discovered. Each can be customized with a variety of cannons, hulls and sails to make them stronger. To do so, there will be a "number of different ways to find and acquire new equipment for the ship".
As you work through the game and establish your reputation and perhaps either gain favor with or are at odds with other factions, your ship will come under attack from those who take umbrage with you for one reason or another. Unlike the rest of the game, ship combat is turn-based with all action taking place in rounds and actions. There is a behind-the-scenes dice roll at every turn to decide which ship gets to act first and it's incumbent on you as the captain to properly position your ship to attack the enemy. I only took part in one battle with not-too-disastrous results and even managed to get close enough to board and take part in hand-to-hand combat with the scurvy wretches!
You'll also be able to travel to other islands where you can disembark to find items, learn lore and even run into encounters with denizens living there. When you get a look at the map, you understand just how massive the game world is in Deadfire.
Graphics & Sound
Honestly, I really, really love how Deadfire looks. Obsidian has really stepped up their game since the first game and it shows. Deadfire is drop-dead gorgeous. There is so much detail that it's well worth the time to zoom in as close as you can to see. Every character has his or her own look; ocean waves crashing to the beach look real; sand swirling in Poko Kohara makes you want to reach for your water; trees swaying in the breeze add the perfect touch to any scene; on and on. Visually, I couldn't ask for more in Deadfire.
Ambient sounds are fantastic too with birds chirping, waves crashing, wind "luffing" in the sails. Wherever you go, you are surrounded by the sights and sounds of an island culture.
The only regret I have is that the conversations, at least the interactions on the primary quest line, are not voiced. I don't know if this is something that just wasn't included in the preview build and is coming or if it's the way it will be. I hope it's something that was omitted from this build because it would really add a new dimension to immersion.
As for lore, consider that the game is in the hands of the eminently qualified Josh Sawyer as Game Director. The story covers a relatively unexplored theme in cRPGs and has a very Polynesian feel to it. As a result, there are a lot of words that could make the experience rough, but Obsidian has you covered. Like Tyranny before it, Deadfire has a handy highlight on unfamiliar words that brings up additional information and / or a definition of the word. It is incredibly helpful.
All in all, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire looks like another amazing cRPG in a world filled with great ones. Not only does it continue the epic story and lore from the first game, but it brings some fantastic new mechanics into a genre that sometimes relies on "more of the same". Obsidian has expanded the IP with an amazing story, detailed and nuanced customization that will appeal to both the hardcore cRPG fanatic and new players to the series and genre. It is literally the best of all worlds. And with two months yet to go until launch, Obsidian will be putting a high polish on the game and getting the bugs worked out in order to release what is sure to be a huge hit.
I'll admit that I've not been following the development of PoE2:D that closely, but after this weekend's taste of what Obsidian has in mind, consider me a convert. I can't wait to get my hands on the full game to play all the way through Obsidian's latest and perhaps greatest cRPG.
What about you? Are you looking forward to Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.