Title: Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition
Available On: PS4, XBO
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Isometric RPG
Official Site: http://eternity.obsidian.net/
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Pillars of Eternity, which began as a 2012 Kickstarter project by South Park: Stick of Truth developers Obsidian Entertainment, did what many old-school isometric RPG fans didn’t think was possible: They made a new one. And it was good. Releasing originally on PC in 2015, Pillars of Eternity gave fans of the genre’s classics like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale a new entry that wasn’t tied to the lore of Dungeon & Dragon’s Forgotten Realm settings with a world just as interesting.
Now two years after the PC release, Pillars of Eternity has come to PS4 and Xbox One with the Complete Edition, a version of the game that includes all published content since the game’s launch plus controls fine-tuned for use on consoles.
It’s odd to feel nostalgic playing a new game. There is something that feels very… ancestral about PoE. BioWare took these kinds of games into the modern era from Neverwinter Nights to Knights of the Old Republic to Mass Effect. There have been a few indie iso RPGs here and there, but nothing coming close to the depth of Pillars of Eternity.
The setting of PoE is high fantasy in a world where humans fight with the gods themselves in a land pierced through by enormous glowing crystals called Arda that are legendary in their connection to the souls of the living. Every inch of the game world is packed with story. Books, scrolls, parchment, long long dialog chains. It’s as much an interactive novel as it is a game, assuming you’re willing to slow down from the monster-killing to read a book or two.
PoE sticks to the classic RPG conventions, with their versions of race, class, stats, feats, and abilities. Things feel pretty close to a stripped down version of 3rd Edition D&D mechanics-wise. You have basic weapon attacks, a small set of high-concept skills like Survival and Athletics that impact attack speeds and the benefits you get from resting. The similarities to D&D can actually make things pretty frustrating for casters as spells are limited to leveled spell slots per day as opposed to mana or refresh timers. To truly get your party up to fighting shape, you have to make camp and rest. This consumes a limited resource camping gear, so you can only do it so often before making the long and often perilous trek back to the nearest shop for more gear.
While a beautiful homage to isometric classics like Planescape: Torment or Fallout 2, there are some things that those newer conventions fixed. Such as camera rotation. Using the adapted control wheels and cursors controlled with analog controller sticks is already a little rough compared to the PC version, doing so when a character or target is behind some, albeit gorgeous, chunk of scenery, it can be frustrating and occasionally perilous to deal with the inability to interact with things.
Frustrations aside, Pillars of Eternity does what other RPGs refuse to do. There is no hand-holding, no training wheels. If you don’t micro-manage even low level combat, a well-equipped party could get wiped out. Even if you ace every battle, level progression isn’t a matter of grinding enemies. XP is gained from quest completion and exploration. Sneaking past enemies to snag quest items nets just as much progress as killing everything that moves. This often has to be the way to go because, even on normal difficulty, the game is brutally difficult.
You have to watch that area of effect spells don’t hit allies. You have to watch that your enemies aren’t resistant to the type of damage you’re dealing. You have to make sure your armor isn’t tanking your damage output. There is so much data flying around with every encounter. Abilities with timers, classes that need to power up, class mechanics that conflict with other class mechanics. This is a game that you have to pay 100% attention to.
Thankfully, Pillars rewards that attention with fantastically-written characters and layers of dialog options that drastically change the course of your adventure. It’s not the simple light/dark or paragon/renegade level branching. Pillars really lets you get into the head of your character and direct their story as they unlock their mystical potential and wander around this fascinatingly dark fantasy world.
Verdict: If what you’re looking for is a fresh take on the classic Baldur’s Gate-style isometric RPG, you will adore this game. If you’re used to more fast-paced RPGs, you might get frustrated with Pillars of Eternity. This game exists to scratch a very specific itch and is unapologetic to those who don’t know what they’re getting into. For fans of the genre, Pillars is a rewarding fantasy epic.
- Great writing and audio
- Complex character creation and party composition
- Classic Baldur's Gate-style gameplay
- Slow game made slower with long load times
- Menus and abilities can be hard to navigate