Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a follow up to the 2016 Kickstarter success story Pillars of Eternity, which launched on PC and Consoles in recent years. The sequel features tons of improvements from its predecessor and expands upon some of the most beloved features of the first title in order to expand upon what the series has to offer.
+Heavily improves upon the class system from the very first game
+Ship-based battles are an absolute delight for fans of tactical RPG elements
+Character creation is deeper than before
+The Deadfire region feels like a natural and lived in area within a fictional world
-Some side-quests and stories do feel like a slog from time to time
-Tutorials, at times, can feel long-winded or too short for how complex the game can actually be.
For the longest time, it seemed that the cRPG genre was slowly phasing out and moving on with the rest of the RPG genre into the action RPG scene. Franchises like Fallout, Final Fantasy, and even Star Ocean had seemingly forgotten the roots whence they game. However, it seems that Pillars of Eternity when it launched would herald in the second golden age of classic role-playing games, one where franchises such as Divinity II, Blackguards 2, Torment Tides of Numenera, and Wasteland do exist because of its success.
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But that doesn’t take into count that some franchises have even seen reboots, re-issues, and even second comings as of late. Titles like Baldur’s Gate have been given a once over, a few bug fixes, and a shove out the door onto the digital shelves of gaming enthusiasts once again. Luckily for Pillars of Eternity, this works, and it worked in Obsidian’s favor. During this period, the standards for the genre have changed, but not enough to make Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire becomes set apart from its contemporaries.
Just like its predecessor, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire doesn’t deviate from the formulas that happen to work. Character creation is just as deep and as complex as before, designed to mimic the franchises that came before it by giving us a digital representation of a tabletop RPG such as Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun. For those familiar with the cRPG genre, the game is cut and dry, character creation is simple, immersive, and allows for fans to take to their adventure how they prefer.
This means combat is paced to how you want during your half real-time, half turn-based adventure, where exploration takes place completely in real time until enemies are encountered, which sees the game take a dramatic shift to the latter of the two styles. Just as you would hope, PoE II manages to get things right. It takes every element we love from the first title, sets it down, and expands upon it while removing anything that was problematic or limiting from its predecessor title.
Character creation is certainly one of those areas that Pillars of Eternity II decided to improve upon by add more to it and become something of an amazing experience when said and done. Character setup is quite intriguing, allowing you to choose from more classes, more skills, more specializations, new items, and even more levels to earn as you play. Multi-classing in its own is an absolute blast but does bring with it a unique challenge of its own as you will need to know your classes rather well, stats needed to improve your abilities, and what kind of approach you’ll be taking when heading into combat.
Exploration has even been improved upon, allowing you to explore the world as you please, and even allowing you to navigate the deadly sees around the Deadfire Archipelago with your ship. On this ship, you’ll assign members of your crew jobs, allowing them to improve upon nuanced roles and even allow you to take to the enjoyment of ship-to-ship combat. Even with all of this being said, the best part of the game isn’t getting to use ships to travel, building your crew, or even messing around with multi-classing.
Rather, the real value in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is how it sets up the ever-spanning branches for new stories and tales to unfold, ones that will send you out to explore the world before you, face down unimaginable foes, and take on a grand adventure that will last many hours more than you may expect. The Archipelago itself has been settled throughout, leaving you to explore its hidden secrets, eldritch horrors that lie in wait and even pair up with denizens of the island you may have once called foe.
While the ship itself does play a massive role – seeing as this is your mobile base of operations – you still have a lot to work through such as repairing it, keeping damage to it to a minimal and doing whatever you can in order to keep your ship intact. Now you may be wondering, what’s the point in all of this? What is the primary reason you are wondering along the Deadfire Archipelago and what purpose does your ship serve outside of an added feature?
Your entire adventure is simple as far as a single-focus goes in your overarching stories: track down the god Eothas who has possessed a stone colossus. Do whatever you can to stop him from destroying the Deadfire region, but also, keep him from destroying anything in his path, which includes the world around you. As you must already be connecting the dots, the story isn’t just a simple “here is how it has happened and why”. There’s plenty of overlapping stories, ones that help build up our grand journey, ones that give us the background behind the world about us, but also give us reason to veer off to the left to the path less traveled.
The approach Obsidian took isn’t just one to bash your eyelashes at. It’s admirable, in all truth. Everything feels as if it has meaning, all the quests you will partake in also feel as if they are there to help build small, intimate stories and offer clues as to where Eothas has managed to wander off to. After all, he’s huge and moves rather quickly, which does make it rather difficult to keep up with him as he moves about. Each of these quests, each of these story arcs, if you wish to call them that, help flesh out the world. They make it feel lived in and rather natural compared to many games within the cRPG genre.
The other bright side to these quests is clear: gear, experience, and a chance to gain critical information in order to progress your story. Plus, the characters aren’t just your typical “Aye, they went that way” kind of characters. They feel alive, natural, bright, and filled with unique personalities. But let’s talk the biggest addition to the series: ship-based combat.
This is where the biggest changes the series has seen to date (even though we are only two games in). Surprisingly enough, this newly added feature is well constructed and plays rather well in a turn-based combat scenario. Ship-to-ship combat isn’t like most games where you wander in and have a chance to win during every single encounter based on your skill and combat capabilities. Instead, everything regarding your ship, your crew, their abilities, their experience, all of it matters. The tactical choices you make can also determine how fast your encounter comes to an end.
The position of your ship itself plays a massive role, which one can only imagine why. When attacking or defending, your position can quickly determine how much damage you will take, where you will take it, and how fast you can limit your foes in their assault in order to turn the odds in your favor. Every vessel you encounter will have different types of cannons, combat skills, and perks that lean combat in their favor or your own. This is where learning the combat systems comes into play and becomes experienced with ship-to-ship encounters becomes important.
Choosing when to distance your ship from your enemies and repositioning yourself is extremely important when encounters get underway. Doing this also allows you to angle your ship so you can set up the best shots possible and at the right time so that your foes take massive amounts of damage. Another integral piece of ship-based combat is the boarding of enemy ships or your ship being boarded. However, the combat here works more or less the same as any other combat in the game. You’re on the ship, your combat plays out as you would expect. Select your targets, let your party attack the designated targets, and making the strategic calls needed in order to push your way through.
But there is a very important key role you need to consider when doing all your pirating and dungeoneering: your crew’s morale. This needs to be kept in check and kept high at all times. If not, you face the possibility of mutiny, which does mean that you will be taking on your very own crew and fighting back against the possibility of your ship being taken over. While it does seem like this could be a major factor in the game, it seems that it’s mostly for show-and-tell at this point as we haven’t faced the threats of mutiny just yet.
But with all of this aside, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is nothing to bat your lashes at. It’s a game that is rich, it’s detailed at every angle you look at it from, and its atmosphere is a one-of-a-kind experience that can only be understood by playing the game yourself. It’s character’s are, as stated, bright, lively, and unique from any I’ve met in games before. Combine this all together under a single banner and you have a game that is beautiful, rich, and alive. It’s a game that feels genuinely lived in and unique. Sure, it does have a few shortcomings as any game will.
The isometric view can be offputting to some, understanding the cross-classing system can be a tad overwhelming to newcomers of cRPGs, text can be a bit hard to read, and even some of the sections within the game, just don’t hit their stride and feel as if they are slacking a bit. But even then, that doesn’t hurt the overall game, it just leaves a small bit of room for improvement with just a bit more time. The real charm, however, is in the artwork, the writing, and the visual details that we are given to enjoy as a form of eye candy.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – PC
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release Date: Now Available
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire isn’t a game, as I’ve said before, to bat your eyelashes at. It’s huge, it’s amazing, and it’s actually quite beautiful. Areas such as the Caed Nua are beautiful examples of creativity and even sets itself apart from the rest of the genre. It’s one that doesn’t shy away from the use of seaside shacks, exotic beaches filled to the brim with visual treats, caves teaming to life with sunshafts beaming in through crevices in the cave ceiling, or small splashes of water as you walk along the beach.
It’s these small details that bring Deadfire back to life, these small details that help us really enjoy and appreciate the game as we should. Even now, I’m still finding things to do and my save file for the game is already approaching more time played than I’d care to imagine. Still, this game is worth taking the time to enjoy. It’s rich with lore, its characters are fantastic and the settings that Obsidian has created set themselves apart from many of the games we’ve come to know and live in recent years.
Our review is based on a retail version that was provided to us by the game’s publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPGs, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.