Obsidian Entertainment envisioned the Pillars of Eternity RPG series as a spiritual successor to classic games such as Baldur’s Gate. They wanted to take players back to a time of strategic combat and absorbing stories. With the first game in the series receiving widespread critical acclaim, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire certainly had a lot to live up to when it came out in 2018.
As a direct sequel to the original, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire takes place five years later in the world of Eora. The player takes on the role of the Watcher. You are forced to become a herald of the god of death when another deity reawakens and brings destruction to the world.
This quest leads you to the area of Deadfire where four different factions are battling each other to control the archipelago. Much of the action takes place around a group of islands. So, you can also expect plenty of pirates and ship-to-ship combat.
The overarching plot is so intriguing and well done. It pushes you to keep going through the campaign to see it to the conclusion. It is an excellent script that is better than the vast majority of role-playing games out there.
There are also literally dozens of subplots and mini-stories to explore in every location that you come across. They explore everything from slavery to power struggles of political factions. What is impressive is how they don’t seem completely separated from the main plot. Rather, somehow they intertwine with the main narrative.
Furthermore the story can be experienced in a far more accessible manner than the original’s. The first game battered the player with walls of (admittedly very good) writing. But Pillars of Eternity II takes a more immersive approach. Dialogue is now almost entirely done through voice acting. This is a far better solution than the bombardment of text. It helps you to actually feel more a part of the world in which you find yourself.
Another major difference in Pillars of Eternity II is the new home base you launch your adventures from. This is a ship known as The Defiant. You can use it to traverse the waters surrounding the many islands that make up the area of Deadfire.
It’s a fitting way to travel around when this land is so full of pirates. Your vessel proves to be more than just a vehicle, though. You have to carefully manage supplies and keep your crew happy in order to be a successful captain. This adds strategic depth.
This brings us to the issue naval warfare. Obsidian obviously wanted to bring ship-to-ship combat to this game with their choice of setting. It is a brand new addition to the franchise and has obvious differences to normal combat.
Battles take place in a text-based interface that looks very much like a text adventure game. You choose your option, whether it is moving your ship, firing your broadside cannons, or attempting to board the enemy vessel. Although it can be engaging to an extent, it isn’t as intuitive or strategic as it could have been.
The actual proper combat still takes most of its pointers from the classic RPGs that Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire takes inspiration from. Nothing drastic has changed, but the party number has been reduced from six to five, allowing you to keep a better handle on everything that you are doing during fights.
This combat system can seem dated at times, especially during encounters when there are a large number of enemies. Pausing the game and managing everyone’s actions just becomes a chaotic mess at times. It is still functional, it just doesn’t offer a way for you to come away from a battle feeling as if you won totally because of your own ability.
In terms of presentation, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a big improvement over its predecessor. The setting of a vibrant archipelago allows it to be far more colorful, while keeping the gorgeous visuals that helped make the first game look so good.
There have also been a number of improvements to the game engine that enhance the action on screen. New visual and particle effects mean that magical attacks appear with greater impact. Elemental objects, such as fire and water, now have an extra layer of realism — something that is very important considering the sheer amount of ocean you will come across.
All of this is topped off with a beautiful musical score that elevates everything that you can see with drama, tension, and excitement.
These modifications to the game engine have also given the developers the chance to make additions in other areas. Compared with the original title, there can be a lot more characters on screen at the same time and each of these seem to have a bigger arsenal of animations that they can utilize.
Furthermore, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire has a proper day and night schedule as well a dynamic weather system. Characters now don’t just stand around all day but have their own routines according to the time of day. It all adds up to make the world feel alive and engrossing.
It was always going to be difficult for Obsidian to match what they had achieved with the original Pillars of Eternity. However, with Deadfire they managed to improve on some of the flaws of their first effort. They also introduced a number of elements that add extra depth to the gameplay.
Sure, Pillars of Eternity II can stretch itself too thin at times. And the main quest might be a little bit shorter than you would like. But, it is still a fascinating RPG that features brilliant writing and an expertly-crafted world.