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Pillars of Eternity

26 March 2015
Pillars of Eternity - cover art
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285 Ratings / 4 Reviews
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Pillars of Eternity Complete Edition
2017 Obsidian Paradox Arctic  
Blu-ray
XNA 8 12872 01950 5
Pillars of Eternity Complete Edition
2017 Obsidian Paradox Arctic  
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XNA 8 12872 01948 2 CUSA-06915
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Pillars of Eternity Complete Edition
2017 Obsidian Paradox Arctic  
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XNA 8 12872 01949 9
Pillars of Eternity Complete Edition
2017 Obsidian Paradox Arctic  
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2017 Obsidian Paradox Arctic  
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*WARNING: the following review will contain spoilers*

September 2012 saw a flip in fortune for the then-declining developer Obsidian Entertainment: with the studio threatening bankruptcy following the cancellation of their latest project codenamed “North Carolina”, a crowdfunding campaign proposed by Fallout: New Vegas creative director Josh Sawyer was launched in hopes to stymy the company’s downwards decline; in the following two months the campaign would see a record-breaking U$S 4 million from over 73.000 donators for a then-titled Project Eternity. In early 2015 it would see the light of day as Pillars of Eternity, a new isometric RPG in the style of the old Infinity Engine games that first gave the team their fame back in the late 90s and early 00s, and which echoing much more their 2007 Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion Mask of the Betrayer, seems to likewise turn these familiar elements, aesthetic and setting on its head to deliver an experience that feels wholly fresh, memorable and unique, eluding a slavishness to its roots that so many games sold primarily on nostalgia are victims of and which is willing to follow and expand on its own concept and ideas, at times with an approach so detailed and nuanced so as to bring new and interesting perspectives into the discussion, at others so blunt and direct so as to stunt these same altogether.

I’ll attempt to outline the premise next. On your journey to a new land, you stumble across a cult performing a ritual on an ancient and unknown machine, which triggers a memory from a life your soul had formerly lived: your soul has been 'awakened' to the experiences of a past life, you are seeing things before you that have happened centuries ago as if they were happening in a present time, and soon you find out that unless you can resolve the why to this 'awakening', you will be driven mad by these visions, memories and irresolute conflicts. All the while this is happening the region you’ve reached is undergoing an almost apocalyptic crisis: for over a decade every child has been born soulless, in a completely unresponsive and vegetated state; every solution has failed, and desperation and hopelessness only grows amidst the country’s inhabitants. Many see in this a form of divine punishment following the country’s response to the crusade led by a saint seen by its followers as the reincarnation of their god – this same saint and his war meeting their demise with a bomb engineered by twelve priests from the now-afflicted region.

I mentioned before that I feel Pillars of Eternity echoes Mask of the Betrayer over the actual Infinity Engine games, and to me the parallels start with the above: as we’re introduced to the world and our part in the story we’re about to play through, we first understand the conflict on a scale that is much more personal and involved with ourselves: whereas in Mask of the Betrayer we soon learn we’ve been possessed by a soul-eating affliction that obliges us to feed on others’ spirits lest we are consumed by that hunger ourselves, here we are awoken to memories of a past life and are thus forced to face the threat of insanity. These matters are directly pertinent to our characters and they define above all else why they, and by extension we, should care about the journey we are to face. In the meantime the conflict that affects the world on a grander scale first makes itself aware to us as part of the background or context our characters inhabit, and it is not until later in the story, when we slowly piece together more of these issues and contexts and how we come to play inside them, that we realize they are not just mere colour for the overall journey but in fact the hearts of the conflicts to each story: in Mask of the Betrayer we learn that our affliction is all that remains of the “Betrayer” Akachi and we are to take over his part in the Crusade to bring down the Wall of the Faithless, and likewise in Pillars of Eternity the reasons to the Hollowborn plague are intrinsically tied to the answers and the 'truth' that disturbed us from our awakened past. Whether a deliberate choice on behalf of the authors, a byproduct of their instinct for a satisfying narrative pace, or simply a similarity and observation that is only curious to me, this confluent narrative structure is something I find immediately satisfying: it is not uncommon in games of this genre and scope that the grander ambitions neglect the reason to why we on a personal level should care so much about resolving them; on the other hand, by framing them first as personal conflicts that then slowly tie into a grander, more impersonal arc, we have a much stronger reason to why our character should be involved in this overall arc beyond carrying or being the McGuffin. It also helps to ease the player into very lore-heavy conflicts, allowing one to absorb the information pertaining to the history driving to a certain issue at a gentler pace, and so that by the time one is forced to take action in it one is reasonably aware of how things came to be. We are thus spared of any immediate information dumps in the form of an overlong and cumbersome introductory narration, if some characters later in the game are nevertheless a tad too expositional. A common complaint I have heard across several reviews is that the story is 'weak'. I cannot agree with this remark myself but I can understand what may lead to such an impression, given that a structure like this can take its time to reveal the exact ultimate goal; it is not something I mind however, and I am willing to embrace the mystery and see where it leads me.

Themes and ideas likewise find certain parallels between both games: these two deal with cyclical and rhyming motifs in their respective histories, seeing in their protagonists characters who are retracing and reliving a life or journey that has been lived before by another, a former incarnation of theirs either in a literal or figurative sense (in this regard Mask of the Betrayer makes a point in recognizing Campbell’s monomyth at play, and seeing in its protagonist another “mask” that walks the same path all heroes do; this repetition is made less evident in Pillars of Eternity, but there’s still some ground to it, not least when understanding that most belief systems that involve the concept of reincarnation have a cyclical understanding of time, and thus these new lives lived by each soul are nothing if not a reiteration of the same within new time cycles – a motif that is also repeated in the game by Ondra, a goddess who in Shaivist fashion brings forth the world's destruction to start it anew).

But perhaps more relevant are their respective humanistic concerns surrounding religion. With Mask of the Betrayer we’d seen Obsidian tackle the issue of a religion’s rejection of the non-believer’s place in the 'Afterlife'. It’s a small and succinct idea that nevertheless gave plenty of room with which to develop an interesting, thought-provoking and ultimately very engrossing story. Pillars of Eternity is more ambitious in its reach, but seems to also carry on in the spirit of what we’ve seen in the aforementioned game, taking the chance with a new original intellectual property to recreate a Renaissance in a fictional setting, and in it portray a cultural turning point away from a more theocentric conception of the world, into a more humanist and anthropocentric one instead. To this extent it is interesting to note the role that genre expectations play in the development and portrayal of these themes, and why above all else the same would likely not have worked with a stricter historical context. Now, I’ll have to make a general assumption here, but I would guess that in the context of high fantasy it is not strange for people to accept the existence of gods and the potential of their power at work, so long as deities are mentioned within the diegesis and so on; therefore as the game first presents us with the world of Eora, and mentions the likes of Eothas and Berath, we assume these gods are real entities and not just product of a faith that may be questioned or assumed to be mythical/metaphorical, and thus also accept that the gods govern the laws of nature and existence, physical or otherwise, and by consequence also the lives of 'kith' (i.e. the civilized species). We understand how, in this context, a pandemic (especially one dealing with soul-related ailments) threatens a region because “a god wills it”, and how in appeasing the gods may 'They' put an end to the affliction. In a fictional world where things we usually categorize as fantasy or supernatural are an everyday occurrence, we are as unfamiliar as to the laws that truly govern this context as its people are, and whereas with a historical setting we’d likely understand what drives people to assume an otherworldly reason for the bubonic plague but at the same time know better, here we can probably assume divine punishment to be as true a cause as any. It is only later in the game, and heard first from a very questionable source of information in the shape of a mad 'scientist' (animancer, in this context seen as the people who study matters relating to the soul) that’s been reanimating corpses to and fro, that the cause to this plague may not be a matter pertaining to gods, but to a much earthlier one instead.

Animancy becomes the primary stand-in for a science in its fledgling, flourishing states, at once guilty of many cruel and unethical experiments in the name of progress and enlightenment, but showing in that same ambition a desire to stray away from an understanding of the world gated by religious dogma and see for humanity a new agency and value within the world they inhabit: they are the ones who are first offering a mortal solution to what is perceived to be divine retribution, and thus meeting the “will of the gods” with their own human means. As we reach into the second act, the conflicts surrounding animancy begin to play a major part in the story, as the study finds itself at odds with the masses for reasons ranging from ethical, to historical, to outright superstitious: in light of the Hollowborn plague, animancy’s quickest reaction was to attempt to “revitalize” the soulless babies by infusing them with animal souls – this leading to disastrous consequences as the children grew to become rabid and beastlike. The repeated failures and atrocities committed for the sake of finding a cure to the plague is only fuel to the fire, to an increasingly hostile opposition that affirms that not only are their acts monstrous, but are also likely helping the plague to proliferate. The main argument, though not the only one, centres on the perceived fields of kith and gods alike, and to what extent are the animancers dabbling with things they should not; but this is not a subject I find all that interesting myself, as seeing this conflict from a largely rationalist perspective I find myself immediately at odds with the more zealous and superstitious arguments at play here, whereas the no-holds-barred approach to experimentation on behalf of the animancers feels like a somewhat flimsy attempt at evening the field in an argument that, to my mind, is clearly more sensible from one of both sides. The game also does not entirely avoid the trap of presenting its antagonistic force, led primarily by religious motivations, as fundamentalist and fanatical (we’ll come to this later); however, it does a great job at painting a much greater and more rounded argument than I’ve seen practically any other game do, so as to not make of the conflict between progress and tradition, or reason and superstition, one that entirely (or correctly) encompasses the divide between science and religion.

In doing so, the game touches on a subject that is far more fascinating to me, which is more about the views under which religion and science (as understood in the modern sense) were conceived, and the extent to which one does not act as a replacement for the other. This, perhaps, opens a can of worms which I’m in no way qualified to address, but all the same I can’t help thinking of the matter: what is religion, and what is its function in society? Some view it as superstition, some as philosophy, as ideology, as a collection of traditions, beliefs and values, as a system of rites and customs, as a moral code, as a cosmogony and way of perceiving natural order, and more… Were one to look it up on Wikipedia, the way it describes it is as a cultural system that relates humanity to an “order of existence”. Whether or not this description may be viewed as accurate in the realms of theology, anthropology and else, I like it all the same because it observes religion as a multifaceted thing that cannot be easily categorized largely for the sheer ubiquity of its presence in our culture, for matters of faith, morality, philosophy or otherwise. But why categorize it, or look for a concrete definition at all? The need to pigeonhole religion into a greater category, or to define its boundaries and limits, are largely a symptom of the modern era, and it too is not the only means by which our approach to the subject is affected: so has our reading and understanding of scripture changed, to become more literal, or alternatively as straight-up allegorical. It is a mistake to disregard the historical intention behind, say, the events as depicted in the Bible, but the concept and approach to history back then was not a rationalist one, or one aimed at outlining facts. It aimed, nevertheless, at outlining truths; yet the question of how 'true' these myths and parables are is up to each respective reader, and their nature differs greatly to the rational understanding of what is true (in these, value plays a greater part than accuracy or authenticity when defining what is true); all the same, in that difference, and in the distinction between truth and fact, lies the root to the conflict that exists today between both areas and their respective accounts. Hiravias alludes to this strongly in a number of occasions: it is frequent that he’ll interject in a conversation involving the gods where he’ll say that it is futile to make sense of what they think, for they do not think like kith do. This may be seen as an affirmation on his part that the gods’ plans and logic are out of the reach of mortal understanding, thus supporting the notion that they are superior; but personally I like to read it with regards to what is explained above, seeing in the gods an older logic that differs greatly to our modern, rational one, and that frequently fails to make sense because they respond to pure ideals and values instead (this is also echoed by Iovara in our encounter with her near the end).

Deferring to religion for the literal and factual understanding of history or science is a mistake, and in time we’ve learned to see the value within scripture more in forms that are divorced from truth or fact, hence our modern understanding of these as myths and parables. With the Renaissance came new questions, concerns and anxieties to which religion could not offer a satisfactory answer; but the value of their knowledge and therefore its existence, though changed, remains. I enjoy the touch of having the gods themselves be some of the greatest advocates in the game for science and secularity, arguing that it is the destiny of humanity to carve its own path and not live in the shadow of the gods. This to me speaks of the need for independence and coexistence between both elements, in a way that is all too often ignored, either by way of religious fundamentalism or militant atheism.

Our journey to 'Enlightenment' concludes with a revelation that shatters all previous conceptions of Eora’s natural order and great chain of being: from the mouth of Iovara we learn that the gods aren’t 'real', and that they were created by a now-defunct culture so as to fill the void they found when looking for them. Upon reaching this moment, I have to admit I was not all too convinced by it – in fact, in my first run through the game I felt the remainder entirely soured by it. In retrospect I’m still in two minds about it, but I feel I’ve grown to appreciate it more, and the reason is this: tying into the shift towards modernism and humanism that is at the heart of Pillars of Eternity’s themes, the acknowledgement that the gods were created by kith marks a rotund inversion in power, where Man is no longer made in the likeness of God but vice versa. With this, kith are truly independent to forge their own path and reach their own understanding of the world, no longer requiring 'permission' from the gods to do so. It’s a fitting conclusion to the central conceit, but I can’t help feel it goes about it in a manner that isn’t particularly elegant, nor does it leave much room for interpretation and differing points of view. For starters, Iovara is all too eager to serve these revelations to us in very expositional fashion, going to great detail about the way things happened and what led to the gods being created; we are also left with little choice but to accept this as is told, despite having interacted with the gods before and having empirical evidence in-game to their existence (if not their origin as such). To the best of my memory I also cannot recall any indication prior to our meeting her that what she speaks of might be thus. Her words are absolute, and backed by little more than a martyr's fallacy: her suffering in the face of an age-old Inquisition, her death in defense of her ideals, and the seeming selflessness of her actions all readily make her an authority of truth that I can’t help question in the same way I would the usual zealot. Likewise it threatens to simplify and reduce the more nuanced depiction of religion as seen above to an almost villainous ploy whose function is only to act as a deliberate mantle from a truth that is perceived to be dangerous; in turn I can’t help feel the theme outlined in the above paragraphs loses much of its strength, or is invalidated altogether.

This also comes in conflict with a theme that links all of our companions and their respective arcs, which is to do with the inaccessibility of the past, with its immutability, and having to face things that cannot be changed, or that cannot be known. Edér hopes to find a reason to his brother’s enlisting to Waidwen’s army, Kana hopes to find an ancient piece of scripture valuable to his culture, the Grieving Mother hopes to find peace in the denial of the past… Every character eventually faces a moment of impossibility in their quest, and they have to come to terms that things won't be as they want them to be. Whether Edér’s inability to know what his brother thought at the time, Kana’s discovery that the tablet he was after has been destroyed, the Grieving Mother’s request for her memory to be erased not changing the events that happened, these and more all mark a sensation of bittersweet dissatisfaction that links all of their stories, and they are much more interesting for it: with every uncertainty and impossibility, what matters is ultimately the approach each character takes and the way they deal with these instances. The conclusions that each character, and the protagonist, arrive to are worthier than the answers that would have otherwise been given, and it is what in the end makes each of these quests fulfilling, and enriching. Why, then, is it that when every character is denied of an answer and comes out all the wiser for it, we, the protagonist, get to find the answer we seek? How much more interesting would it have been for me if the answer had been implied instead: maybe Iovara, despite all her selflessness, could have resented in her dying hour and in the eternity spent in that adra prison the man that handed her over to her fate, and ended her quest to enlighten the world; if so, maybe she could have *denied* the answer from the protagonist, and left him to his suffering. Maybe we’d have to make do with what we could gather from the vision that followed Thaos’ demise, and seen at that moment the suggestion to the gods not being real. The question here is more important, the seed of doubt as powerful as the statement of the gods’ falsehood; the conclusions and questions we make to ourselves after the fact, likewise, more personal and lingering than the answers served to us.

There is one exception to all of the above in our encounter with Iovara, if somewhat obscure: with a high enough perception attribute we point out to Iovara that she too has stayed behind all this time waiting for confirmation on her claims. This could be enough to shed some ambiguity to her words, and with it make her words less a statement than yet another facet to the ways in which the game can be read. Unfortunately, they are confirmed once more through Thaos, the leader of the cult we’re after, in a scene where we see him pretty blatantly admitting it all to our protagonist’s former self. I dislike this for a number of reasons, the first being that I’m not too sure why someone as cunning and determined on his mission, who’s kept the secret hidden for centuries, would suddenly reveal it all to a conflicted follower, a fault made worse if said knowledge would outright deny the basic motives and beliefs of his cult, and his person. In admitting to it, Thaos loses much of his power and intrigue: he becomes the stereotypical videogame cult leader, the one in charge of fooling the world with lies to keep them from a knowledge that would “threaten civilization”, all readily revealed in his villain’s monologue; the secret that he hides and the truth that he protects us from feel disappointingly banal, and in some way so does our quest and the conflict the game set us out for.

With all this in mind there’s perhaps some grounds to say that the ending is handled a little clumsily and feels as if it had been rushed to a close, with characters being introduced or acting out of their ways so as to funnel the plot into one big reveal that might scrappily tie things together in some form of conclusion. This, however, hardly accounts for the fact that through the nine tenths’ worth of content prior to this point, the game was anything but rushed or simple-minded, and was in fact a very detailed, nuanced and multifaceted experience, gently and carefully fleshed out so as to best work on all the above themes as well as creating a living, breathing setting in which it may all play out. As with the Infinity Engine games, the world is vast, the conflicts numerous and frequently more than the customary fetch/slay quest; a lot of attention has gone into fleshing out this region as a place with its own culture and lifestyle, itself backed by a lore and history that never feel gratuitous, like a set of names and events that exist only as the most superficial imitation of an actual mythos and cosmogony, but which act instead as a discourse and narrative built upon an actual philosophy or ideology. At the heart of the events that transcur through the game is the death of the reincarnated god Eothas at the hands of the inhabitants of the Dyrwood: the Hollowborn plague is widely seen as a reaction to this event, while the stories of characters like Edér and Durance revolve strongly around this war; but once again relevant to all the above themes is the fact that this could very well mark the first time that kith act against the will of a god, or respond to a god’s wrath in kind. In a game so related to the shift towards humanism, the act of mortals killing a god holds its own special significance.

The way this task is carried out is not to be overlooked either: with the help of war goddess Magran, twelve engineers craft a bomb powerful enough that it would kill a god. The imagery here is tinged by a much more contemporary event - that of the atom bomb - and its association, however loose, is hard to ignore. For decades since its invention and use, the atom bomb has been the symbol to the destructive – and self-destructive – power of mankind, evidenced at its purest in the many post-apocalyptic scenarios that have emerged in fiction since; and despite the quasi-historical look of the setting in Pillars of Eternity, here too we sense a distinct dystopian feel that is further supported by such touches in its diegetic history. Whether a product of these elements or just my mood at the time of playing the game, the tone exhibited through the early stages of the game couldn’t help reminding me of the more spiritual brand of apocalyptic science fiction the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Children of Men, as it too shares some themes and motifs with these, whilst indulging in some metaphysical conundrums of its own, courtesy of the role souls play in the game as well as the protagonist’s ability to read into them, their history and the “between”. At the later stages of the game, the god Rymrgand presents itself to us as the Beast of Winter, a massive aurochs that that trudges the world of Eora relentlessly, bringing with it cold and bitter winds, all life withering around it; in the game he represents the ongoing and unstoppable process of entropy, the decaying of souls as they split apart into tinier, weaker fragments of what they once were, until eventually they’ll altogether cease to be. There will likewise come a time when the last remaining consciousness will consign itself to the void, and if so, what will be left in the Universe but giant masses slowly drifting in a vacuum towards a Great Attractor?

All of the above may paint a picture of the game as grim and impersonal, food for thought but not for the soul, but I would disagree. Sure enough, the game’s a serious experience with few moments of levity scattered across, but throughout it are also many scenes that have awed me, that have touched me and moved me in ways I haven’t felt for the medium in a long time. Much of this relates to the companions that eventually join us in our travels: some may respond to the themes above in a more interesting yet impersonal fashion, as with Durance, one of the twelve engineers of the Godhammer bomb, or the Grieving Mother, a midwife and cipher (a kind of psychic) who has to come to terms with her actions upon first encountering the Hollowborn plague; yet others, like Edér and Sagani, are treated with a worldliness and naturalness seldom seen in such games, and come across as the emotional anchors that so perfectly complement the 'freaks' that accompany us. Touches like Edér’s love for animals or Sagani’s casual, maternal insight offer a break of relatability in what may otherwise be a very grey-mattered affair: a lovely moment comes when, upon being asked of her people (the Naasitaqi, a loose equivalent to the Eskimo in this setting) and her past, Sagani says she’s up to answering anything and adds that if she doesn’t know an answer, she’ll “make something up”. It is this relatability to her that lends her quest such gravitas, so that by the almost Miyazaki-like revelation at its end I was subjected to one of the most hard-hitting, memorable and devastating moments in any game I’ve so far played.

We’ve mentioned above the events, concerns and quasi-anachronisms that contribute to lending the region of the Dyrwood such a unique and unexpected atmosphere, but we have yet to touch on the other half of its overarching tone that contributes to making this world so engrossing. As per all of the above, we can expect a world that feels at times bleak and somewhat desolate, particularly in the less urbanized areas; however, running alongside this is a sense of longing that pervades this region, not in the most classical form of nostalgia that one would expect from a game ostensibly inspired in nearly two-decades-old material, but as a yearning for a brighter future. Of course, a future is what is being denied of the Dyrwood, but as with Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, a condition of global infertility manifests itself not only as the fear of humanity’s extinction (or that of a country’s population at least), but as a growing feeling of stagnation that comes alongside an aging society, devoid of the presence of youth (and as with Children of Men, this infertility is not physical but spiritual and ideological - it is not out of chance that it ends with the Enlightenment). Though this issue is portrayed to an extreme by the Hollowborn plague, it too is echoed to a much earthlier degree in the community of Stalwart, part of the White March DLCs: here we too see a stagnation and longing emerging not from a supernatural plague but from the exodus of the younger generations to what are perceived to be more prosperous communities, perhaps in the shape of other larger cities. The village’s mayor urges the protagonist to find a way into the forge not out of an appeal for riches or a threat looming on the horizon, but for a desire to stop that stagnation and see a waning community once again in motion. Key to all of this is Justin Bell’s wonderful musical score: in a time where incessant and characterless drones of orchestral (and pseudo-orchestral) clusters seem to be the norm in fantasy epics, Bell’s soundtrack seems almost chamber-like beside them, dynamic and nuanced and lending the world an intimacy that would have lacked with a grander, more pompous approach.

To my eyes Pillars of Eternity isn’t perfect: the stronghold could have been implemented differently so as to make it more personal to the player and more relevant to the overall story; some voice acting, particularly involving a few of the less relevant characters (Urgeat, some of the Glanfathans and Dozens for example), is middling or outright poor; and as with my complaints about the ending, some encounters and dialogues can feel overly expositional and rob a scene of its impact (see our exchange with Wymund at the end of the Blood Legacy quest as another notable example); but for all its flaws none appear to come from a lack of trying, and that is something I can admire greatly even in the game’s creakiest moments. Originally pitched as a throwback to the Infinity Engine games of old, this could have limited itself to being a nostalgia vehicle following some familiar beats in the style the Black Isle fanbase were long yearning for, and would have likely met moderate success all the same; the game outright refuses to be just that, however, and to see it only as a throwback would be to seriously underappreciate the content within and ignore a set of themes that are entirely divorced from these inspirations. Even the top-down isometric aesthetic chosen for the project, to my knowledge exceedingly rare for games of its ilk at the time the project was crowdfunded, is not approached in the form of aesthetic revisionism or primitivism, utilizing the visual language consequent of the system limitations of the time as a stylish and nostalgic throwback to a bygone era, but instead as an alternative every bit as legitimate and contemporary as the far more common (to my awareness at least) third-person three-dimensional approach. The latter aesthetic is a subject of much controversy between my friends and I: coming from a background of film and television, the third-person perspective holds a great appeal for myself and my peers in its inherent cinematic qualities, in no small part for the innate appeal of the tracking and sequence shot and the means in which this perspective largely functions as this very technique; but as it is so cinematic, and cinema is the dominant audiovisual artform as well as the one we are most attuned to, it (as well as the first-person three-dimensional perspective) is seen as the superior video-game aesthetic and the one-and-only way 'ahead' for the medium, all stemming from a notion that the game will inevitably be better the more cinematic it is. All other aesthetic approaches are irrelevant. This attitude irritates me to no end for the reasons that, firstly, I see value in all styles and approaches regardless of their proximity to cinema or photorealism (I for one disagree to seeing either as the goal of all visual or audiovisual expression); and secondly because just as I’ve seen cinema still fight the stigma to this day of being a “lesser” art form to literature or theatre, and see the value in a film that finds a way to approach its subject that is entirely personal to its medium, so do I think that a game that does the same for its own medium is just as worthy of praise. Now, it is undeniable that games employing a third-person perspective and aiming for a photorealistic aesthetic can be masterful (one doesn’t need to look further than the likes of Fumito Ueda’s games to find an immediate example), and Pillars of Eternity may at times rely more heavily on text than the usual game to approach a subject or illustrate a scene; but it is all the same a strength to the game that it can be so arresting as an audiovisual experience, filled with beautiful and awe-inspiring sights and locales, whilst conserving an aesthetic and approach that is unique of the videogame medium.

Even the tool of cinematic cutscenes, also present in the original Infinity Engine games, are here replaced by scripted interactions that further cement the complete divorce between the aesthetic in this game and film: these instead occur as a series of lithographies accompanied with text, sound effects and music, all to illustrate the scene or action to a very essential degree. In their apparent simplicity, these sequences not only present an elegant solution to many complex scenes and interactions with the environment that would have otherwise often been portrayed in the form of another conversation, but also seem often strategically placed so as to enhance the mood of a particular quest or sequence, their minimal use of sound effects frequently capturing the emotional ‘accent’ of the scene (another expression may exist for this, but I refer to a moment in a scene or sequence where the tone, rhythm or idea either peaks in intensity, becomes clear or faces a sudden or unexpected change as an accent – this point may come in any form within any medium and be as big and important as a turning point or as small and irrelevant as a random object moving at the edge of the screen). A case in point to this may be the very first scripted interaction we witness, where the hunter Sparfel’s death is illustrated by the sounds of his irregular footsteps, his heavy breath and eventual collapse, revealing the arrow on his back; likewise, in The White March, the sound of Abydon’s hammer falling onto the giant anvil as he gives shape to the Eyeless is itself a striking aural image; but also very appealing to me are the more familiar and frequent sounds of vines stretching and tightening as we attempt to climb them, grapple hooks finding a rock to latch onto, or the sound of a hammer and chisle against a wall as we attempt to weaken it, as well as its eventual collapse. To me it is with details like these that the game shows it is not just attempting to ape the isometric RPGs of old, but instead actively expanding on that language and seeking to be the next step forward in the subgenre’s evolution. The end experience is, to me, incredibly rich, detailed and dynamic, where every aspect to the game – mechanical, aesthetic or else - seems to want to add its own unique twist to its preceding iterations.

As one last example there’s the introduction of soul-bound items with the White March expansions, these being the equivalent to the “legendary” items of old, and instead of being merely powerful weapons involve objectives of their own that would allow these to grow in power as you reach each goal. Possibly my favorite amidst these comes in the shape of the Unlaboured Blade, a seemingly ordinary but decent dagger which loses power with each damage milestone reached, right until the very last objective, where its full stats are unlocked and the phrase “weather, die, and be born anew, free of old labours” appears etched on its side – a concept that to my mind recalls the process of nigredo in alchemy, whereby all things must reach a state of blackness before attaining a transcendent, wholesome or enlightened state. ‘Passion’ is a term I hate to use when discussing art, as it is usually meaningless and vague and serves only a purpose to emphasize how good the piece in question happens to be. Defining just what is meant by passion and where one can see it in action is a dicey subject, but if I were to take the plunge and find the quality closest to how I understand the term, it is that of the affinity for detail and the ambition to take one’s work a step beyond what is deemed satisfactory. I mention the term because whilst playing the game, this is the word that kept popping to my mind, and the above two reasons are largely why: with every encounter, with every scripted interaction and detail to the themes and aesthetic I couldn’t help but find it a game that felt almost enthusiastic about what it was doing, always willing to do more and share more than what was necessary. Despite the game’s considerable length and amount of content, it never feels like it is sacrificing depth or settling for base expectations in its place. Pillars of Eternity isn’t perfect, but in the end I can only appreciate a game that feels ambitious in all the right ways.
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algroth_89 2017-07-21T20:08:17Z
2017-07-21T20:08:17Z
4.0
3
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I backed this game's Kickstarter campaign with the expectation that it would deliver a fresh, innovative, and progressive take on the classic Infinity Engine CRPG's of the late 90's (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, etc.) Unfortunately, Obsidian's ambitions for the game were considerably lower.

Pillars of Eternity is the dullest CRPG I've ever played. It's a devolutionary step backwards in classic CRPG design and I can find nothing positive to say about it. I have issues with every aspect of its design from its depthless combat to its ineffectual narrative, from its homogenous class system to its witless AI, from its repetitive encounter staging to its desultory pacing, from its feeble lore and insipid setting to its broken stealth mechanics, from its rudimentary crafting and enchanting elements to its otiose philosophical explorations, from its shambolic inventory system to the time-wasting inconsequentiality of its entire stronghold module.

The primary philosophy that shaped PoE's design seems to have been one of "balance", which is a worthy objective. Unfortunately, Obsidian seems to have mistaken uniformity, monotony, and redundancy for "balance".

It's not enough to say that Pillar's of Eternity is a disappointment; I'm genuinely shocked by how lackluster, un-engaging, and flawed this game turned out to be.
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CSly 2016-04-03T01:44:59Z
2016-04-03T01:44:59Z
2.0
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Demasiado combate poco interesante para mí gusto. Hay un enemigo esperándote cada paso que das, lo cuál es contraproducente porque el juego exige dedicación y planificación incluso para el oponente más nimio, haciendo la experiencia repetitiva y/o desgastante. La historia tampoco parecía despegar, aunque los diálogos y los personajes sí se veían rescatables, el lore juega tan seguro como puede jugar. Visualmente tiene momentos muy bellos.
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FouDiamant 2017-12-07T17:44:32Z
2017-12-07T17:44:32Z
2.5
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Back to the glory days
Its such a brilliant WRPG from start to end. Visually it provides some of the best pre rendered backgrounds i have seen. i really enjoy the overal grim tone and bright magical effects during battles. Music is neat, it tends to stick in the background but it does its job well enough. Its gameplay very well handled, even for someone who has never really had any experience with the infinity engine. During the first half of the game i wished there was someway to make the actions more automated, something similar to what Dragon Age does. Fortunatly after i learned more about how finely crafted the combat system is and how you can make so many cool things by combining abilities the fights both became more fun and more easy to overcome. Obsidian created a whole new believable universe with this game, and placed a whole lot of effort in writing lore 90% of the players wont even bother reading. For those who do, the quality of the writing makes it worth the effort. There is also room for comedic banter between party members, and some quests all together which are hilarious if you pay attention to whats happening. Like any good cRPG, the quests are open ended and allow multiple solutions to them. The way you go about them will affect loot, reputations and even the ending of the game. They all are there for some reason, they dont feel like time wasters even if some could be categorically be called fetch quests. The combat is real time with pause, and feels very responsive for the most part. It takes some time to learn its rules, but once you do you can manage to do so much in a small time span. The amount of items, party members and skills to experiment with is huge, and always fun to try new things. There are some issues in the game like being too easy to be blocked off by a door, long load times and somewhat unbalanced difficulty curve (i played it on easy and it was hard at the beginning of the game and it got easy at the end. Not sure if this was because i actually learned how to play the game or an issue of the game and in particular the main quest being too accessible).

Its an amazing game, the finest this year after Bloodborne. Replaying it on hard difficulty increase my appreciation for its combat system.
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Threntall 2016-12-29T22:42:20Z
2016-12-29T22:42:20Z
4.5
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Catalog

Melancholie Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-27T00:55:11Z
2022-09-27T00:55:11Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Kaph_h Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-24T10:01:39Z
2022-09-24T10:01:39Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
anderd0504 Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-19T21:45:30Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-09-19T21:45:30Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
MCallay Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-18T19:31:22Z
2022-09-18T19:31:22Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Tarlemagne Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-18T12:24:33Z
2022-09-18T12:24:33Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Tumpp1zon3 Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-12T16:16:27Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-09-12T16:16:27Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Boris_Bezdar Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-12T07:10:27Z
2022-09-12T07:10:27Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Adalwolf Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-07T16:46:39Z
2022-09-07T16:46:39Z
4.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Perennial_Quest Pillars of Eternity 2022-09-01T22:21:30Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-09-01T22:21:30Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Epic Games
boolus Pillars of Eternity 2022-08-28T12:18:21Z
2022-08-28T12:18:21Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
donotcomment Pillars of Eternity 2022-08-26T19:26:36Z
2022-08-26T19:26:36Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
sigurn Pillars of Eternity 2022-08-26T11:18:26Z
2022-08-26T11:18:26Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  

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  • Previous comments (3) Loading...
  • travisBickle2004 2021-02-20 23:54:13.258227+00
    Too many easy fights with mindless creatures and ultra hard ones with parties of enemies and very little in between. Even the writing -supposedly the game`s strength- didnt do it for me. Dissappointed.
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  • Runciter 2021-04-15 22:40:15.934265+00
    Obsidian is the most overrated developer. They don't make bad games, they make mediocre games and they are full of themselves.
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    • algroth_89 2021-06-29 15:27:08.20372+00
      Massively disagree. If anything they're one of the few game developers consistently making games with actual thematic meat to them and generally elevating the medium above a lot of its peers - and not getting their due recognition in response. An absolutely superb catalogue of games to their name, to this day.
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  • GrayMouser 2021-05-08 21:34:40.817375+00
    I liked it overall, but I'm struggling to even remember what the plot is about. Even with games with bad stories, I usually at least remember the story.

    I also don't like how no weapons or armor feel truly unique like the ones in the Bioware/Black Isle D&D games. It's all like "extra slashing damage" and stuff along those lines.

    Really good music, though, especially the ones that were meant as Baldur's Gate throwbacks Decent monster variety as well, which is important to me in fantasy RPGs.
    reply
    • algroth_89 2021-06-29 15:48:06.912049+00
      There's plenty of unique weapons here with a few properties specific to them - especially when you start delving into the expansion's contents and post-launch DLCs. But I also reckon the inventory layout does a really poor job conveying that uniqueness and the bog-standard crafting/enchanting system only helped further homogenize items. This is something the sequel deals with a lot better, I think, from offering a vider variety of unique items to also conveying that information and adding unique enchanting options for each, to further customize in unique ways.
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  • alliterativeAlpinist 2021-10-06 10:08:51.225097+00
    Likely the best crowdfunded isometric western RPG that's named after a Down song
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  • Morgenholt 2021-10-22 03:01:37.57574+00
    agree with GrayMouser. excellent world-building, really fun combat, but the plot itself is just kind of there. it feels very scant for a game i put like 95 hours into.
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  • blurforweebs 2022-06-05 03:19:21.262468+00
    it's ok i guess
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  • MiseryBusiness 2022-07-08 21:45:49.877947+00
    I get the loot concerns but I’m not sure how you play this game and don’t remember the plot. Thought the payoff of the flashbacks with Thaos was really superb.
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