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The Infinity Engine’s Back

William Murphy Posted:
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Pillars of Eternity’s crowdfunded development by Obsidian shows just how much people love their 90s RPGs. The Infinity Engine was the base of classics RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, and with Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian hopes to recapture the make of that golden era. But is there such a thing as going too old school with your design? In my book, it depends on who you are as a gamer.

If you hold titles like Baldur’s Gate as dearly as Nintendo fans hold onto Ocarina of Time, then chances are you’ll really enjoy Pillars of Eternity’s throwback style.  If, on the other hand, you’re of the mind that games like the Witcher 3, Dragon Age, and recent Bethesda RPGs are the real direction the RPG should be headed, you might be less than impressed. Pillars of Eternity brings back the hand-drawn vistas, the bird’s eye view, and the mixture of paused and real-time combat.

In fact, I’m half-tempted to say that early on, Pillars of Eternity is pretty much Baldur’s Gate and leave it at that. But that would be a half-truth. Obsidian’s crafted a wholly new IP to wrap around the PoE tale, and its rule-set certainly isn’t the same as your daddy’s D&D.  Rogues can be forces to be reckoned with, rather than just handy trap-disarmers, and the races are definitely atypical (especially the Godlike). That doesn’t mean Pillars of Eternity doesn’t feel like Dungeons & Dragons (because it does). It’s just a sort of off-shoot that makes PoE feel just unique enough to stand on its own.

The Backer’s Beta currently tosses you into the game sometime after its opening segment, full generic party in tow alongside your own created character.  In the full game you’ll make your own hero, and then come upon party members through your adventures much like old Infinity Engine games.  You’ll spend a good deal of time exploring, talking to townsfolk, and trying to solve puzzles which are less about switches and levers and more about manipulating NPCs.  See the video embedded in this article for an early example.

I’ll admit that without a proper tutorial, I was a little lost in combat at first. But thanks to the pausing and ability to plot attacks, it becomes pretty clear who does what. You can pause it often, directing every move or just set up a few attacks and let the auto-attack and AI do some work as well. Within no time, you’ll fall back on old Baldur’s Gate habits, but you’d be missing out if this is all you do… and chances are you’ll die as well.  Pillars of Eternity makes sure that even the most basic of classes like the Fighter have plenty of useful skills. Not being tied down to D&D rules has its perks after all.

The visuals are a bit of a mixed bag, if I’m being honest. Yes, I get that PoE is a throwback, and the environments are gorgeous. But looking at the character models of the similar Divinity: Original Sin and then looking at my dwarf in PoE makes me sad. They look fine enough from afar and that’s the default viewing distance after all. But they also look somewhat “blobby” and nondescript, making it difficult to tell who is who and who is where in tight combat.  All that said, PoE is still far prettier than the games its hearkening back to, and that’s a good thing.

I hope there’s going to be a fair bit more voiceover in the final product, but the written dialog is tight, funny, and interesting as it stands. Old school or not, I’m down with the gameplay of Pillars of Eternity. It brought me right back to the games of old, as was no doubt intended. With dozens of hours of gameplay promised, and the more fast-paced combat I might wind up liking it even more than Divinity. It’s not quite as technologically advanced as Lariat’s recent epic RPG, but it might wind up being more charming.

The final launch date for Pillars of Eternity is still on track for winter of this year, and the game’s looking pretty solid in this backer beta period. If you fondly remember countless hours with BG and IWD, or any games built on the Infinity Engine, I’d definitely be keeping a close eye on Pillars of Eternity from Obsidian and published by Paradox.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.