Going into this review, I have to clarify that I’m not really a fan of what you’d call ‘story-driven games’. I like a good story and it helps immerse me, but if I’m spending all my time on the story, it feels a bit slow. This was tricky for me, but I decided to be patient and try and see what Deadfire is about.
First of all, Deadfire is the sequel to Pillars of Eternity, a story-driven RPG from Obsidian. As I mentioned in my preview, Obsidian knows their stuff when it comes to RPGs, and they have an impressive list of credits to their name. Pillars of Eternity was a cRPG (computer RPG) for the modern age, and it actually landed well. The isometric RPG took players into the chaotic fantasy world of Eora, a vast world with a multitude of creatures and races. In this game, you travel to the far reaches of Eora, specifically the deadfire archipelago, which is basically at the edge of it. What prompted the trip?
Welp, you’re what they call a watcher, a superbeing who can see into souls. You’re chilling, minding your own business one day when the big statue near your pad starts shaking, and out emerges Eothas, the god of light, death, destruction, and a bunch of other things that spell trouble for you. Eothas tears through your spot, leaving you for dead. And so, you need to put on your swim trunks and go find the deity to settle a score.
Of course, Pillars II is so much more than a simple revenge quest. It’s the story of Deadfire, a tropical paradise filled with volcanoes, monsters, loyal tribal warriors, and a mysterious glowing rock that big businesses wanna harvest. Like many fantasy stories, Deadfire uses its outlandish world to discuss our own world, specifically colonialism. Neketaka, the capital city of Deadfire, is a sprawling paradise, and you immediately witness the push and pull of colonizers and natives. The game offers a ton of character dialogue options, and you can choose to side with the natives Avatar style or exploit them (also Avatar style I guess) or quite possibly just do your own thing.
I think Pillars II deserves a round of applause for finally bringing something new to the table. It boasts a world which is totally different for anyone who is used to the usual fantasy fare; it’s an island setting with a strong Polynesian/Samoan aesthetic. You first encounter the indigenous Huana people, and when you arrive they’re in the midst of a struggle due to lack of resources. The Huana are incredibly well-designed, and I feel like they manage to have their own identity and presence without devolving into a Pocahontas caricature.
However, the characters you spend way more time with are the companions. There are seven total, and in true RPG fashion they have their own personalities and traits. My favorite two were Eder (the fighty dude) and the paladin Pallegina. They all have their own unique strengths, however, and you need to mix and match to get the right fighting force. Besides that there’s sailing (of course there is) and there is ship management, which was a fun little aspect of the game. But of course, most of your gameplay is still gonna be in combat.
That brings us to combat. For those of you who are unfamiliar, cRPGs take a ton of cues from a tabletop in terms of their structure. The beauty of tabletop in my opinion has always been the insane customizability. Rpgs have trained us (falsely) that you can either swing a sword or wave a wand, but a true RPG really lets you spread your wings
The first thing to note is that Pillars is super customizable. This is par for the course with cRPGs; pretty much every little thing can be changed around and tinkered with. You choose from 6 different races with their own attributes, choose your place of origin, choose your class (you can multi-class if you want) and you can also choose how the enemies will scale up as you level. So far, so cRPG. Now, the game makes every effort to explain to you how all these systems work, but the long story short is that unless you’re a fan already, you’re gonna need to do a little reading to work out what each one does. I ended up putting together my rogue godlike character after shopping around a bit, and I was ready to jump in.
Like many other new age Kickstarter cRPG revivals, Pillars II has tried to keep the combat fresh without simply remaking Baldur’s Gate or whatever. As such, your combat mixes in turn-based combat with rapid action. It’s most reminiscent of the first Dragon Age for me. You have combat in real-time, but you can pause and line up attacks in the midst of things. Of course, attacks have cooldowns and special waiting periods, so you get used to timing it. The companion AI is pretty clever (as is the enemy AI, much to my chagrin), so you can take a backseat and just remind them to heal or get out of the fray when they need to.
The game starts off slogging you right in the stomach, I feel. You need to focus a ton and you’re probably gonna take a few L’s before you really get a sense of the system. The benefit of this was that I was much more prepared by the midgame, and I had customized my team really efficiently. The game scales amazingly, of course, so you’ll get less soft but you won’t ever be overpowered.
As with Pillars I, however, I feel like the combat took a bit of a backseat to the story. However, I was fine with that. Pillars II really learned from its predecessor in terms of pacing, and I really feel like they resisted a lot of the classic urges that plague fantasy RPGs. What I really liked was seeing the factions really take on their own defined roles mid-game. I won’t spoil what happened, but suffice to say, I feel like there was a real character arc.
Pillars II manages to deliver a satisfying RPG experience that refines its predecessor’s formula and makes something a good deal more immersive.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the full game provided by Obsidian Entertainment. The game was tested on a PC running Windows 10, with an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is also set to release at a later time in the year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published (click here for more information about our review policy).
• Innovative tropical setting
• Tons of variety in character creation
• Factions and side characters feel fleshed out
• Satisfying ending
• Early fights are challenging
• Still lots of reading