Title: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition
Available on: Xbox One, PS4
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment, Red Cerberus
Publisher: Versus Evil, THQ Nordic
Genre: Roleplaying Game
Official Site: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition
Release Date: January 28, 2020
Where to Buy: PSN, Xbox Live
At more than 200+ hours full of lore, fights, and dynamic worldbuilding, Pillars of Eternity II is an absolute joy to play. It has that classic feel of Dungeons and Dragons and gives players the freedom to travel the seas with a rogue band of adventurers. As a port from the PC version, it’s a nearly flawless transition but there are a few issues with mechanics and gameplay that slow the whole game down. However, it makes up for these flaws in its suburb storytelling and stunning sights.
Before diving into Deadfire you will be asked about your knowledge from the first game. While you don’t by any means have to have played Pillars of Eternity, you must choose a destiny before getting started in Deadfire. Your destiny will help shape how other factions and characters view your character the Watcher.
The Watcher has the power to speak with the souls of the dead. It’s a blessing/curse received in the first game that plays a major role in the sequel. In Pillars 2 you are tasked with tracking down the god Eothas after he destroyed your castle and stole a part of your soul. He is now walking across the Deadfire, an archipelago, seeking power by siphoning energy from Adra, magical stones that act as batteries for a number of things. From climatic battles to entertaining social encounters, Deadfire is a game of passion, heart, and history.
You control up to five characters unless you’re a ranger with an animal companion. Each character comes with six attributes chosen at the beginning of the game: might, dexterity, constitution, perception, intellect, and resolve. These aid you both in social situations with NPCs and during combat. They also come in handy while exploring the Deadfire’s many islands.
Leveling up is simple to do and each character can reach level 20. Characters level up by gaining experience points after fights, encounters, and exploration. You could go throughout the game avoiding as many fights as possible while still gaining the proper experience to level up. It’s this structure that makes Deadfire unique and rewarding.
When a character reaches a new level they can choose to boost certain skills and gain new abilities and spells. You can even choose to multiclass a character to make them a wizard/rogue or barbarian/ranger. Altogether there are 55 combinations of multiclassing so you can replay Deadfire several times to fully explore them all. Plus, each multiclass comes with a cool name when the two classes are combined.
As far as skills go, characters can place points into seven active skills and nine passive ones. Ative abilities can be used in certain situations whereas passive ones are always in effect. For instance, stealth can be used to completely avoid a fight if you put enough points into the skill.
Whereas attribute’s like the ones mentioned above are ones you choose before you start the adventure. Perception is perhaps the most useful in getting around as it lets you see traps before you step on them. The only way to improve attributes is to find special items to equip your characters so it’s a learning process you have to figure out in the moment. If you ever need a character with a specific set of attributes, you can always create them yourself at a tavern.
Exploring the Deadfire is a dangerous place and along the way, characters will receive a wound. These reduce skills and make you less effective in battle but you can quickly fix them by resting. As long as you have food and drink you can hit the campfire button and enjoy a short cutscene before hopping right back into the action.
You control the party by highlighting everyone or anyone you want with the left and right bumpers. You can bring along all five members of the party or choose one if you need to focus on stealth. While it is quick to select a different party member, selecting everyone took a bit longer at times. The controls aren’t the most responsive and I sometimes had to cycle through the characters in order to select them all.
The Deadfire is vast and full of the most despicable people ever, honestly, it was difficult to find anyone who was remotely pleasant. So, when you run into trouble and you fail a conversation skill check you will need to prepare to fight. Combat is a mixture of pleasure and immense pain – both in losing hit points and mental frustration. Maneuvering around the battlefield feels like steering a pirate ship in the middle of a thunderstorm. If you have a melee fighter you want to hit an enemy with their massive great sword you have to select a precise spot on the screen or they won’t move an inch. I can’t tell you how many times my character would say, “I can’t do that” when I attempted to move them around to flank an enemy. However, aside from mobility being a challenge, the combat is fast-paced and challenging.
There are two ways to go about combat in Pillars II and you can choose the style you want at the beginning of the game. You can choose the classic route and select real-time-with-pause (RTwP) like Pillars 1, or go for the more effective choice with turn-based-mode. Once done so, however, you cannot change it back.
Fights aren’t just for individual characters though. Deadfire introduces ship battles and they are challenging yet rewarding once figured out. You can choose from a number of ships to captain as the Watcher and each one needs a crew. Once you have a full crew you can engage in naval combat.
As the captain, you issue commands to your crew and they respond to the best of their abilities. Once in range of an enemy vessel, you can have the cannoneers fire a burst of cannonballs to weaken their hull or sails. Once the hull is knocked to zero hit points, the ship sinks and you can claim your booty. However, figuring this out at first can be difficult so you may want to opt for boarding the enemy ship to fight deck-to-deck.
When it comes to choosing new weapons and gear for your party, finding it isn’t a problem. You will gain your fair amount of loot that you can either equip to your characters or sell at one of the game’s many shops. Making sure you’re crew is fed and happy is also something you must keep in mind when sailing. Each day you spend on the seas or in a town reduces your overall resources. If you don’t have any food or water, your crew will lose morale and that can cause them to leave your ship.
Resupplying is as simple as going to a major port and buying everything you need again. Mundane resources are cheap and unending but better resources that boost morale are more expensive and are more difficult to find. Also, if you ever find yourself in need of money, you can sell just about anything and everything as long as it isn’t a quest item. The downside to this is it takes quite a bit of time. You can’t select bundles of items and instantly sell them. Each one must be brought down to the seller menu in order to get rid of it.
Sound Design and Graphics
Pillars of Eternity II is one of the most stunning games to run on consoles. From beautiful town vistas to gorgeous blue waters with several islands to seek out and explore, it’s a blast to explore. Birds chirp as you sail nearby coastal towns and waves crash against the shores pulling you deeper in the world. Each line of dialogue is voiced as well so you get a richer world full of living and breathing characters.
There were only a few times I encountered lag issues when turning on the fast-mode in towns. Screens would fail to load while I ran through town squares and birds would still be tweeting as I explored caves deep beneath the ground. You will also be waiting a bit between areas as the load times can be lengthy.
What really brings Pillars together is the soundtrack by Justin E. Bell. His emotional score sets the tone for the game and Pillars features some of the best-written songs of all time. Twin Elms is a calming piece that helps soothe and calms you after a difficult fight or challenging social encounter. Deadfire also introduces sea shanties while you sail and they are always entertaining and pulled from real-life songs.
The cast of characters is rich and deep in Pillars of Eternity II. Players travel with and control a band of five adventurers. These can be from the central cast of characters in the game, ones hired from a tavern, or even ones players create themselves from scratch.
The central cast includes returning characters from the first Pillars of Eternity game, such as the wizard Aloth and the fighter Edér – both voiced by the talented Matthew Mercer. These adventurers all come with their own personal side quests, alliances, and advice they can offer players as they navigate the Deadfire.
There is also the option to create your own companions. It is quite fun to detail their appearances, their class, and even choose a personality that shines throughout the game, even if they are no romance options with them. An exceptionally fun addition is the ability to create the heroes of Vox Machina from Critical Role. The entire cast lent their voices to this game, and there are even portraits of each character from Critical Role to assign to the party.
Players can recruit additional characters to serve on their ship in a variety of roles. While much simpler in terms of plots that can branch from them, they do each have personality traits that impact dialogue options on the ship, cut scenes, and how they participate in the ship to ship combat.
There are multiple NPC’s throughout the game that players can have a variety of relationships with. They can be cultivated to form alliances and steer quests. Or they can become enemies and stop certain quests from being available. It is a bit annoying that the majority of the central NPCs in the game are extremely unfriendly, amoral, and fond of murder. It can make it hard to really want to help out anyone and thus forge alliances.
The main quest of the Pillars of Eternity II is, by itself, short and simple. But the main attraction of the game is in the extensive and in-depth side quest system. It’s quite easy to log over 200 hours playing this game, and still not have completed every quest.
The main story arc revolves around chasing a god, Eothas (voiced by Taliesin Jaffe), who has occupied a towering Adra statue and is crossing the Deadfire Archipelago in his attempt to right what he feels is inherently wrong with the world. Eothas has taken part in the main character’s soul, and the central quest is focused on retrieving it and attempting to dissuade Eothas from this course of action.
There are a few different endings to the game depending on certain circumstances and conversation points. However, all of them are depressing. While this opens the door for an interesting beginning to the third game, it does leave players feeling like they didn’t accomplish anything. The main character, the Watcher, could easily be removed from the game and the outcome wouldn’t be impacted. In the end, you aren’t really a hero. And that is a letdown.
But what redeems this point is the extremely fun side quest system. Everything is so detailed and well-thought-out that each small quest feels like its own story. Players don’t even have to get assigned quests from NPCs. Just sailing around the Deadfire, hopping from island to island, will have players stumbling upon quests. From delving into trap-riddled dungeons, fighting giant monstrosities, and toppling cults, it’s endlessly entertaining and engaging.
Verdict: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition is a solid example of what future roleplaying games should be. It’s full of detailed lore, challenging combat, and engaging and thoughtful social interactions. While it could use some finetuning on controls, they don’t take away from the gameplay and story.
(Review by Ashley and Scott Roepel)
- Detailed lore
- Engaging combat and social encounters
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Controls need finetuning
- Lag issues and screen tearing
- Weak story