Blog 645: Pillars of Eternity

Ah yes, another Kickstarter darling, and another monstrous RPG with more than a little dose of throwback (but I’m still of the mind that we need to go back before we can go forwards so let’s continue doing that). Larian’s Divinity: Original Sin was a wonderful romp and a roaring success. Is Pillars of Eternity going to survive the inevitable but unwarranted comparisons?

Pillars of Eternity

Hello Baldur’s Gate, my old friend. Pillars of Eternity seems to have gone out of its way to be like Baldur’s Gate — I mean, even beyond the shared genre of fantasy epic party-management top-down real-time-with-pause. The brownish interface, the mock parchment and illuminated first letters, the deep descriptions of mundane medieval weaponry accompanied by pencil drawings — it’s all there.

On the other hand, it’s not the now effortlessly familiar Forgotten Realms setting, and nor is it D&D or anything like it. By any book these should surely be good things, but…

Pillars of Eternity's time-to-spider is abysmal. (Its time-to-crate is also 0, you start in a camp with crates visible.)

Pillars of Eternity’s time-to-spider is abysmal. (Its time-to-crate is also 0, you start in a camp with crates visible.)

The health and endurance system is a bit confusing. During combat, damage is dealt to endurance, which regenerates during combat and zeroes at its end; but sometimes damage is also done to health, which doesn’t regenerate unless you rest. Lose all your endurance and you get knocked out and lose some health, lose all your health and you die or get maimed or… something depending on your difficulty?

I’m not sure if it was strictly necessary to muddle this up so much; the old 2nd edition D&D rules had some flaws but at least a big red line meant only one thing. Now there’s a big red line and a little yellow one at the side and…

Drakensang‘s knock-out-guarantees-a-permanent-injury system seems to me like a better compromise, to avoid accidental permadeath but still punish character loss. I’m assuming that they’ve done it because it’s more realistic — actual medieval combat was more about enduring and deflecting blows rather than hacking bloody lumps off people until they fell apart, but it’s confusing because the weight of historical game abstractions has made these two words… well, their opposites?

Flashing lights seem to work better from a fixed perspective and the painted backgrounds are effortlessly detailed.

Flashing lights seem to work better from a fixed perspective and the painted backgrounds are effortlessly detailed.

It does overall feel like there is a lot more going on in combat than there was in Baldur’s Gate, but I’m not sure if I’m just getting too old for this or if it’s actually more confusing. I think it’s maybe a matter of presenting too much too soon — Baldur’s Gate never hit you with enemies your weapons couldn’t damage until very late on, but in PoE if your accuracy is just a mite too low then you immediately become a dead weight.

There are other ways to be useless; some enemies are more resistant to, say, crushing than slashing, but again, it seems like these finer nuances are unloaded far too quickly. Baldur’s Gate had the weight of decades of pen and paper rules behind it and yet I managed to muddle through as a teenager who was mostly bewildered — the basics of “hit things” and “cast all the spells” did carry me through the early stages of the game while I got my bearings and learned that half the spell effects only hung around for two turns. Pillars of Eternity seems to ramp up just a little bit too fast.

This is on Normal mode, of course, and it’s not necessarily difficult — it’s just annoying. I really really don’t like mechanics that remove characters from the action; just like Magic Immunity is a massive ass-pull any time it is deployed in any game ever.

Just like Baldur's Gate, there is good banter hidden in some item descriptions and bestiary entries.

Just like Baldur’s Gate, there is good banter hidden in some item descriptions and bestiary entries.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just an open world game and I’ve gone off the beaten path too early. I play games far more thoroughly than I ever used to, and I won’t leave an area until I’ve wandered across all of it.

Contrast that with when I first played Baldur’s Gate: I followed the path to the Friendly Arm Inn and met Khalid and Jaheira and then went to Nashkel like a good little boy; I didn’t deviate and try to go places I wasn’t ready to reach. Thinking about that, Baldur’s Gate had a different kind of difficulty — even minor deviations from the road were usually met with a one-hit kill. Baldur’s Gate gave you a very obvious path of least (or at least lesser) resistance, whereas Pillars seems more content to sort-of let you muddle through but is a bit annoying about it.

Is it better to know you can’t make it through a brick wall than to see a stream and have a very slow time wading across it? Hmm.

To add variety and spice to environmental interaction without cinematics, there are occasional conversation trees of narrated challenges rather than dialogue. Quick-time events without the quick-time.

To add variety and spice to environmental interaction without cinematics, there are occasional conversation trees of narrated challenges rather than dialogue. Quick-time events without the quick-time.

Maybe I am just old, though. If I played Baldur’s Gate fresh with these eyes now, would I enjoy it the same? Can I only love it now having got over the hump as a child?

What I am trying to say, ultimately, is that Pillars of Eternity isn’t really grabbing me and I’m not sure why. It’s enough like Baldur’s Gate for that to be a draw, and enough of its own thing to bring many good features and refinements to the table, both mechanically and interfacially. Is it just that the lore isn’t quite working for me? Is it that I haven’t met my Ajantis yet?

I am intrigued enough to continue, for now. I will give it the time, if only so that I can work out if whether it’s me or it at fault; or maybe it’ll build up after a slow start.

I didn’t back the game, so I can’t say I’m disappointed or ragequit or anything — I read a few reviews and paid my money to a real shop based on the knowledge available to me. There’s definitely something amiss here, I just need to find out what that is…

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2 thoughts on “Blog 645: Pillars of Eternity

  1. I remember when this came came out and everyone jizzed all over it for about 9.5 seconds and then I never heard anything about it ever again…

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    • They’re making an expansion pack or two around now, but I’m no longer that fussed that I have missed them by not waiting for a GOTYE. On the other hand, maybe by GOTYE time they will have solved… whatever is wrong. Well, maybe it’ll warm up once I get into it (I am well aware of how masochistic that sounds).

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