Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire PC Review

Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire is a gorgeous, meaty beast undermined by a short main quest and unimpressive naval combat.

By Woozie, Posted 08 May 2018

The first time I arrived in Neketaka, the Deadfire Archipelago’s largest city, I spent hours lost among its districts, caverns and narrow streets, picking up quests and discovering its inhabitants. Although belonging to the native Huana, a tribal society organized in a strict caste system, the foreign powers stretching their grasp across the archipelago make their presence known, as architectural styles clash in the city’s beautifully rendered districts. The dutiful rauataians seek to expand in spite of their reluctant native cousins. The resourceful Valian Trading Company aims to exploit Luminous Adra for their own benefit, while the Huana aim to reclaim their lands, staying true to their culture. As with any seafaring adventure, plotting pirates couldn’t miss the party. While there’s less novelty than with the original, each faction’s quests delve deeper into their philosophies, showcasing very different people, each with their own linguistic quirks, agendas and particularities. This new, exotic slice of Eora that Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire takes place in looks and feels very different from the Dyrwood, inviting exploration.

Themes of isolationism, colonization and cultural identity run through the title’s side quests, while the main quest mainly deals with the affairs of gods. The chase for Eothas, who now embodies a colossus made of solid adra is complemented by quality writing and absolutely mesmerizing art which spur you on. It maintains a steady momentum and a shell of mystery that is gradually peeled away uncovering the god’s intentions and offering glimpses into the other deities’ attitudes. Then, it suddenly ends with a rushed final sequence that gives a little too much weight to a Watcher that was largely just a passive observer until that point. It offers closure, but not without a feeling that much more could have been explored and said.

Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire, Screenshot, PC, Review

The eleven available classes translate to a wide pallete of choice in terms of building characters, with subclasses allowing for a degree of specialization. Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire, also adds multiclassing, giving players the option of using skills from two classes, at the cost of slower progress through the skill trees and the ability to use spells of the highest tiers. The revamped level up screen which includes all obtainable abilities facilitates planning out builds. The level cap has also been raised to 20, which means skills are more evenly distributed over the entire course of the game. Combat unravels in a familiar fashion sporting the real-time-with-pause system of the original. If a pesky enemy decides to get out of the way or protect themselves against a queued spell, it can be retargeted so that it won’t go to waste. Characters have access to a limited-use Empower ability which makes attacks more potent or refills the resource used in casting spells. Overall, Deadfire boasts slightly more dynamic combat than its predecessor, but this becomes almost null when considering how, at least on Normal difficulty and without level scaling, approaching level-appropriate encounters absolutely trivializes them. Even when switching up to Veteran, I can only remember one particular fight against a group of Fampyrs which kicked my butt. A modicum of challenge only waited with encounters that were one level or more above the party’s current level, which happen to be conveniently marked with skulls in the Journal.

The reduced party size of five (down from the previous six) doesn’t hurt the game in any way. Companion skills now contribute in dialogue and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style events. Aside from moments  when companions  can participate in specific actions, an amount of their skill in, say, intimidation or history will come into play, thus getting rid of those awkward situations when the expert historian in your party never chimed in because he wasn’t being directly talked to. Resting requires actual food instead of resting supplies, imparting different bonuses based on food type to characters. There’s also a robust party AI system to play around with, which comes with a few preset choices but also allows for setting up of custom behaviors – a great addition if actively focusing on one or fewer characters is your preference.

Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire, Screenshot, PC, Review

Edér, Aloth and Pallegina are the three returning faces among the game’s seven companions. Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire also offers the ability to recruit sidekicks boasting their own personality, which expand the pool of available classes but don’t come with a personal quest line. Just like they react differently to your actions, companions should react to their peers, depending on their likes and dislikes. I say should, because aside from one heated exchange between the religious Xoti and skeptical Pallegina, I didn’t notice the system coming into play very often. Eder and Xoti found a common bond in their favoring of Eothas, but after a while the relationship stopped going anywhere. Aloth chided me for being clever all the time, but we ended up being chums, despite me continuously cracking jokes. Whether it requires constant extreme behavior or not, it turned out to be a system that’s promising in theory, but which ultimately failed to birth any significant relationship shifts.

There’s an uneven amount of character development when it comes to companions which develops in sudden spikes, rather than taking advantage of the title’s entire length. Their quests are short, hit or miss affairs which at their best do succeed in making characters doubt their beliefs, while risking being a bit too subtle. The moments when I learned something new about my companions were small dots on the long stretch of canvas that was my Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire adventure. Thankfully, they come equipped with strong, distinguishable personalities complemented by excellent voice acting that does help with forging unique characters. The progress from the first game can be imported although, except for one moment when an angry god stole all my scrolls, all it adds are a few casual lines of dialogue which remind you that you’ve met that one NPC at one point in your past travels.

Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire, Screenshot, PC, Review

A larger amount of expressive, well-done voice overs brings Obsidian’s quality writing to life. Most actions and environmental descriptions remain only in text form, giving further insight into a character’s behavior, or further describing areas where the gorgeous visuals do not reach. Talking to an admiral might draw focus towards their prosthetic hand or the way they carry themselves, shining a light on small peculiarities of theirs. Attention to small details such as these isn’t truly necessary, but their inclusion makes scenes feel more complete and the world more alive. Soul reading – the ability setting Watchers apart from the rest – is still present, although it does take a backseat in Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire.

The Watcher now captains a ship, which they must look after, as it is the only means of travelling between the Deadfire Archipelago’s many islands. That includes keeping the crew fed, hydrated and healthy while assigning them to the proper posts, equipping it with weapons, stronger hulls and sails, while also keeping stock of ammo, medical and repair supplies. The management aspect basically involves purchasing various items and moving them into their appropriate slots, never standing out as something notable, as money isn’t exactly a problem. Other ships also travel the archipelago’s waters but avoiding them is easy, essentially allowing you to pick fights at your leisure. The crew members argue over things, play games and react to certain events, like choosing to let a whale pass by in peace instead of hunting it, which does establish a rather brittle bond between captain and crew, but I can’t say I truly felt like a sailor, nor did my two ships feel anywhere as close to home as Caed Nua did in the original. I did, however, love giving uncharted islands silly names, as the witty and absolutely inspired explorer that I am, all while listening to the occasional sea shanty.

Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire, Screenshot, PC, Review

Travel in between islands involves manually directing a miniature ship across the water. Aside from the large ports, smaller islands can contain anything from a simple harvest of fresh fruits to merchants or forgotten tombs that hide secrets and foes. If you ever need money for an upgrade or a new ship, a couple of NPCs offer Bounties which involve hunting down enemy ships and convincing the captain that their current life is scheduled to end then and there. This portion suffers from bland presentation, with washed out, similar landmasses ultimately contrasting heavily with the gorgeous locations in cities and dungeons. The optional encounters spread across the islands follow one pattern which involves felling a handful of foes found in openings. I’ve killed a lot of kith and creatures this way, but I can’t say any of the fights were anywhere close to being memorable. Dungeon crawling, on the other hand, avoids these pitfalls since it benefits from a better established atmosphere and context.  A forgotten temple might house a lost crew turned cannibal or lead to a powerful weapon with history behind it, while also throwing a trap or ten your way.

Although The Watcher is a captain now, the naval combat in Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire isn’t one of its strong points. Boarding an enemy ship initiates regular fights that quickly devolve into a mess of bodies where area of effect spells reign supreme, while also murdering the frame rate. Luckily, cannon fodder makes up most enemy crews, making these thoroughly unimpressive fights brief. On the other hand, ranged battles happen exclusively in text form. An icon at the bottom shows your distance and position relative to the enemy’s. Both sides have a set number of actions per turn where they move or turn the ship around, fire cannons, assign crew to different positions or brace for impact to reduce injury chance. It’s far from a thoughtless affair. Damaged sails affect movement, cannons need time to reload, while stray shots can crack the hull, putting your ship in danger of sinking unless you conclude combat in a set amount of turns. But just like the island encounters, naval battles don’t feel very different from one another. The writing, which otherwise brings locations to life, falls flat as you’re stuck repeatedly reading how your ship is faster than the enemy’s upon executing a successful turn, or how your crew is more experienced. They’re sterile moments regardless of ship type or number of cannons, which ultimately made boarding straight away the preferable choice. The ship management interface also had some small UI bugs, like items disappearing until I reopened the menu and splitting stacks not working properly unless the item was in the very first slot.

Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire, Screenshot, PC, Review

Where the original title was a triumphant return to Infinity Engine-style cRPGs, there are many moments when Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire feels like it’s just going through the motions. It’s a better looking beast, with more voice acting done by a band of actors who’re able to infuse life into the different characters. Small but helpful additions to combat, alongside factions led by charming pirates and dutiful military men do call for pushing their quest lines further. But the moments when the game truly shines are few. A lot of the explorable islands feature almost identical encounters and naval battles fail to impress due to repetition and messy boarding engagements. The main quest starts promisingly, only to end in disappointment because of its brevity, while the difficulty of level-appropriate fights leans too much towards the easier end, sucking any semblance of challenge out of most of them. For all the times I stopped to look at beautiful architecture, outwitted a foe with a clever remark, or pondered upon an NPCs life views, I was ultimately left with the feeling of having played an adventure which, while sprawling and donning the intricate cloth that’s expected of it, burns like a lukewarm flame, dwarfed by the one that came before it.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Versus Evil
Developer(s): Obsidian Entertainment
Genres: cRPG
Themes: Fantasy
Release Date: 2018-05-08

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