After their hugely successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012, and with the critical acclaim that followed, it would be safe to assume that keeping Pillars of Eternity solely on PC is something that Obsidian Entertainment would be more than content with. A spiritual successor to the classic Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale series, Pillars of Eternity is a challenging, old-school role-playing game; the sheer complexity that is on offer is why we don’t see this type of genre more on consoles. Obsidian have risked a lot, so much could have gone wrong, the Pillars of Eternity they are remembered by in years to come may not have been the PC version but the half-hearted console port. Yet, fortunately, this will not be the case, Obsidian have managed to climb the seemingly impossible mountain, and console gamers are now able to enjoy all that Eora has to offer.
Starting off in an extensive character creation screen gives us our first glimpse of all Pillars of Eternity has to offer. You can choose to play as one of six races: familiar ones such as Humans, Elves and Dwarves but also far more exotic choices being Aumaua, Orlan and Godlike. A sub-race selection is next: If you choose Godlike, you have the options of Death, Fire, Moon or Nature; select Human and have the choice of Meadow, Ocean or Savannah. You have the same difficulties when deciding on which of the eleven classes you want, the attributes you would like your character to have, their culture, their background and finally their appearance, portrait, voice and name. Each option includes a detailed description and can provide bonuses to a specific attribute. The choices you end up making will impact you both inside and outside of battles. Your race and background may open up additional dialogue choices and missions depending on which NPC you speak to. Even before the game properly starts, Obsidian wants the character creation to be the first step into their game, a lesson, to ensure time and consideration is to be made with any decision, big or small; otherwise, it may result in consequences to both you and the world around you.
Pillars of Eternity is so rich and deep with lore that it can seem overwhelming. Throughout my travels I came across a diverse range of characters each with fascinating backstories, opinions of their region and world, and different turmoil or events that are affecting their lives. The world and its tales are so wonderfully detailed, and with its excellent writing, I found myself at times thinking I had a fantasy novel in my hands rather than a controller. You are not simply reading a lot of text and accepting what is said, the stories and characters evolve organically and are heavily influenced by your dialogue choices, your character’s race and background, and the actions you take and subsequently the reputation you receive.
Pillars of Eternity’s believable world does come at a price, however, it is believable in a way that almost anything can happen, and as such, characters will die. Over the course of the adventure, you can recruit up to eight characters to join you as companions, my personal favourites being Hiravias, a druid who has been banished from his tribe and Pallegina, a paladin who works for the Vailian Republics; their interactions with each other are very entertaining. The affection you develop for a character may all be in vain, a companion can die permanently and at any time. A wrong dialogue choice or not planning a battle properly could spell the end for them.
After all the influences that you can make in the world, slightly disappointingly, the main story remains largely the same. Taking place in the fantasy world of Eora, you arrive as a foreigner in the nation of Dyrwood seeking a better life. You are part of a caravan that is hit by a magical storm known as Bîaŵac, and after being exposed to the supernatural event, your character’s soul has awakened and you are known as a “Watcher” with the power to see past lives and interact with souls. It is revealed that Dyrwood is plagued by a mysterious curse causing babies to be born without souls, becoming “hollowborn”, so you elect to investigate and solve the mystery.
The world is navigated with an isometric camera; its distinctive old school, 2D art style and overall presentation pay homage to its roots. Rather than one huge, open map, the world is split into a vast array of environments, including towns, dungeons, forests, caves and lairs. As you explore, you will come across countless characters such as those providing you with side-quests, useful information or they just enlighten you with their general ramblings. Most of these side-quests are not your traditional “fetch quests” but rather fully-fleshed out missions with multiple outcomes, adopting further interesting characters. Blacksmiths and merchants are dotted around, allowing you to purchase a wide array of weapons, armour and items. Of course, friendly folk aren’t the only things you will encounter during your journey, you will need to contend with monsters, wild animals and mythical beasts; once you kill an enemy, its stats, including strengths and weaknesses, will be uploaded to your bestiary.
Combat is surprisingly in-depth and punishing, regardless of which difficulty setting you are playing on. When a battle starts, the game auto-pauses, allowing you to access your tactical interface. None of your party are led by battle AI, so it is down to the player to organise each member and put serious consideration into where they should stand, which enemy to attack and with what weapon/move. As with most RPGs, it is recommended to have a range of abilities within your party, you may come across an enemy that is immune to a certain attack, and if that attack is all you have, you’re not going to bode well.
What makes the combat and exploration so enjoyable is the impressive transition of the controls from PC to consoles. If you’ve played Pillars of Eternity on PC, the number of controls, menus and mouse clicks would seem daunting and confusing if brought to a controller; however, Paradox Arctic, the team actually behind the console port, have put those fears to rest. On the PlayStation 4, L2 opens up the menu for your inventory, map, quest log, etc., and R2 brings you all your combat abilities. It seems simple enough, but there has clearly been a lot of effort into ensuring the UI and all those controls are easy to use and navigate through, bearing in mind a controller’s obvious limitations when compared with a keyboard and mouse. I encountered almost no technical issues whilst playing, the only thing I did notice were its loading times, which weren’t substantial but were certainly noticeable.
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 29th August 2017