There’s something special about old-school RPGs. Maybe that’s why so many developers are attempting to bring back that same kind of feeling with modern games. One project that ultimately managed to successfully bring back an old-school aesthetic is Pillars of Eternity, a game that wouldn’t have felt out of place twenty years ago. The question, then, is whether appealing to nostalgia is all the game has going for it. This Pillars of Eternity review seeks to answer that question by looking at its atmosphere, main characters, and plot to figure out if it’s worth playing.
|Type of game:||RPG|
|Total Play Time:||93 hours|
|System Requirements:||CPU: Intel Core i3-2100T @ 2.50 GHz / AMD Phenom II X3 B73
GPU:ATI Radeon HD 4850 or NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT
RAM: 4 GB
OS: 64-bit Windows 7 or better
HDD Space: 16 GB
The World of Pillars of Eternity
Pillars of Eternity is a relatively well-received game, especially among its target audience. To understand how well it performed, though, it’s necessary to take a deeper look at the world of the game. This means not only diving deeply into the game’s lore and characters but also taking a look at the setting itself.
Atmosphere & Location
If you are familiar with the role-playing games of the mid-to-late 1990s, you’ll see a lot of familiarity within Pillars of Eternity. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, if you look at the development team. Created by Obsidian Entertainment, the game was made by a team composed of individuals of games who worked on games like Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment. A tremendous amount of that design influence came through not only in terms of the story, but also in terms of the setting.
It’s not a slight against the game to say that the setting feels a bit like one of those in an old D&D game. It’s a very Renaissance-era world, though with a few nice twists that help make it feel unique. If anything, Pillars of Eternity feels incredibly lived in – you can easily imagine that it’s the latest in a longer series of games. There are a decent number of different landscapes and settings, though none feel terribly unfamiliar.
In short, the game’s setting is generic enough to tap into nostalgia, but still unique enough to feel special. Exploring the twists and turns of the world is a joy, even if you might see some of the surprises coming a bit earlier than the developers expected.
As with most characters in this type of game, the main character is a bit of a cipher. He or she can be customized from the beginning, with a variety of different racial and class options. He or she will generally be known as The Watcher in the course of the game, and of course he or she will end up having a particularly special destiny. While this works as a driving force for the game, it’s not actually the main plot. It’s nice, then, to have the main character be somewhat of a stand-in for the player because he or she will see the world in much the same way.
In the grand tradition of this genre, the really great characters are all companions. The main character is given the ability to recruit up to eight optional companions, each of whom has a unique back story and his or her own motivations. While the characters themselves might not be quite as memorable as some of those from classic games, they are nonetheless quite a bit of fun. They are a bit deeper than those seen back in the 90s, largely due to building on the success of some of those older characters. They’re very much worth getting to know, and not just because doing so advances the plot.
Development is probably the key term when it comes to all of the main characters. With few exceptions, they’re going to end up in very different places than where they started. What happens with most is largely a part of how well relationships are developed, so it is recommended that players really spend some time with the companions. Many of the conversations are memorable and you’ll eventually grow quite attached to some of your companions in the game.
Pillars of Eternity begins with a player journeying in from foreign lands, quickly becoming the sole survivor of a caravan after a major storm. Describing any more of the main plot quickly veers into spoiler territory, but it can be said that this is a game of magic, souls, gods, and identity. There is arcane technology at play here, but also a lot of metaphysical pondering on the nature of what it means to be alive and have a soul. It’s absolutely as deep as one would expect from a game of this sort, and it will be up to the player to sort most things out.
If you’ve played a game from the 90s, you probably know how this story is going to work. You’ll encounter a number of characters along the way and perform various quests. Some of them involve fetching items, while others involve killing monsters. Breaking things down into their component parts really lessons the impact each mission, though, as relatively few of them are designed with anything less than the utmost care. It almost feels like this game is made of some of the greatest hits of past games. While none of the quests are quite as memorable, they are nonetheless very well made.
The main quest in general does end with a very nice twist, which really needs to be experienced to be enjoyed. Suffice to say that it’s something truly original and something worth seeing at least once. Once the game ends, it feels very much over – though a sequel is coming, so it will be interesting to see exactly what happens next. This is a solid story that should appeal to those who tend to be attracted to similar games.
DLC & Expansion Packs
Pillars of Eternity does feature DLC, though to keep with the old-school theme they are more properly referred to as expansion packs. The expansion is a two-part adventure called The White March, and each adds a bit to the game. It’s mostly a series of new quests with a new companion, though there is also a fantastic new difficulty called Story Time that is well-worth playing if you just like this kind of game for the plot.
If you’re a fan of the base game, you absolutely need to pick up the DLC. The first part is a bit too heavily focused on combat, but the second part really evens things out. If you have the chance, pick up the game in one bundle complete edition to get the main game and all of the downloadable content at once. It really does help to complete the game and will give you at least enough of the story to tide you over until you are able to play the sequel. This is one of the few games that manages to do DLC completely right.
Pillars of Eternity is a very good game, even without tapping into the nostalgia market. It’s a throwback to an older type of storytelling, one that’s been lost less to the evolution of the medium and more to shorter attention spans and a bit of corporate greed. If you are looking for a game that will take you back to gaming’s good old days without sacrificing quality, this will be a good fit for you.
What did you think of Pillars of Eternity? Does it stand up to games like Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale, or is it just a pale imitator? Let us know by sharing your thoughts!