Further Thoughts On Pillars Of Eternity: Animancy & Faith

Now that people have had a weekend to spend with Pillars Of Eternity, it feels a bit more appropriate to offer thoughts on parts of the game that would otherwise have been spoiling revelations or moments within the opening few hours. Not core plot events, or twists that may occur, but just the basics – basics I wanted to leave out of my review because it felt like stealing. Stealing the blank slate experience I had from you, in my effort to describe the game.

So here are a first couple of extended chunks I would have liked to have included when expressing and explaining my enthusiasm. Assume big spoilers for themes of the game.

Animancy

It’s certainly a repeated trope of RPG worlds to have magic, or some variety of magic, feared or condemned. But Pillars takes a more interesting approach. Where we’ve seen games with religious organisations persecute mages, or everyone fearful of those who turn to blood magic, here it’s the merging of magic with science that leads to fear.

Animancy is the rather peculiar combination of the understanding of theological matters like souls, and pragmatic, evidence-based scientific research. With its being widely understood that souls enter bodies at birth, and leave at death, Animancers wish to understand this process better, experiment with it, and perform research. Which of course means meddling with souls – something that’s perhaps more understandably problematic to the religiously inclined. With the phenomenon of the ‘Hollowborn’ – children being born without souls, existing as barely sentient shells – Animancy’s role has come to the forefront once again, perhaps offering the most likely source of a solution.

This theme allows the game to subtly prod at real-world subjects, such as the role genetic science is increasingly playing in fertility medicine, putting forward arguments from those who see the benefit in the advancement of understanding how souls transfer between lives, and arguments from those who believe it “playing god”. Or indeed gods. It asks broad questions such as, “Is a child without a soul still alive?”, allowing the player to interpret the topic as they will, perhaps even raising questions about mental illness and eugenics.

People’s fear of Animancy feels somehow far more recognisable than the more traditional revulsion at magic. Sure, it’s understandable that the ability of a certain group to cast fire out of their hands, or control the minds of others, could cause some amount of concern. But there’s not a direct comparison of this to be made within our existence. Fear of science, however, is all too familiar.

Animancy’s stepping into the territory of “playing god” earns direct correlation with all manner of media-led scares regarding scientific advancement. Science has had a miserable couple of decades in its attempts to usefully communicate with the public, from the disastrous misunderstanding of genetic modification that has led to terrible dents in progress when it comes to better feeding two-thirds of the world, to the monstrous misinformation spread about vaccination that has led to losses in herd immunity and horrible numbers of utterly avoidable deaths. People walk about with images of ears grafted onto the backs of mice, and beliefs that at any moment parents will be selecting their unborn child’s tastes in wine, and no depth of understanding of what progress is being made.

Drywood’s inhabitants know about the disastrous attempts to put animal souls into the body’s of Hollowborn children, but nothing of the calm, methodical research into how it is that souls enter new lives, how they move on, and in one particular case, how they stay attached to a life for the time they do. As you experience Animancy within the game, you see both sides. I think Pillars trips up rather badly, here, as it happens. Animancy is far better argued for by individuals practising it, than it’s visually presented to the player. What could have been far more nuanced is made very clumsy by the presence of a ghastly, medieval dungeon in which the mentally ill are experimented upon by cruel lunatics. There’s a cack-handed attempt to suggest that some denizens of the institute aren’t aware of the experiments going on downstairs, but since any of them could pop down and look at any time (with the exception of one statue, it’s fair to point out), it doesn’t feel realistic that they’re blissfully ignorant in their libraries above.

Since the game asks you to think about the ethics of Animancy, and indeed to make significant decisions regarding it, I do wish the reality of what you see could have better matched the often excellent arguments being made by its practitioners. There are equally excellent arguments being made against, and they don’t rely on the existence of torture chambers. I chose to make my decisions based on the intellectual offering, which made it far more morally intriguing to think through.

Faith

The nature of Drywood’s predicament means many of the conversations you’ll have with people will relate to the causes of the Hollowborn. As the people of Dyrwood worship many different gods, there is a confused mix of theologies backing people’s understanding and interpretation of the events. More nihilistic gods like Magran or Skaen might lead someone to believe it a necessary death of humanity. Worshippers of Berath might find it far more challenging, interrupting as it does the cyclical nature of a soul’s existence. Others more fatalistic believe to it to tie into the death of a god, Eothas, a curse left behind after his destruction. Others still see it as based on the actions of certain people in power. Superstition is rife, and the consequences of such superstition can be horrendous.

Again, multiple gods is nothing new to RPGs, and especially not those based on various D&D licenses. But what’s intriguing here is the blank slate of a new ruleset means you don’t arrive with your previous knowledge of D&D or AD&D understandings of gods. Creators? Ascended beings? You’ve no idea.

It does, as I pointed out in my review, touch on the troubling nature of your character’s peculiar lack of awareness of the world they’ve grown up in. Play as a priest and you’ll be asked to pick from six of the deities to worship before you start, but you’ll still go in ignorant of why people follow different gods, and how they conflict. However, as daft as it is that the individual you’ve rolled might not know, it’s reasonable that you don’t, and exploring the pantheistic system is interesting.

It’s interesting, especially, as it’s not forced down your throat. While the fate of Eothas is significant to the plot from the very beginning, and indeed the possibility that non-deific beings could have killed a god asks enormous questions, their role in the story is extremely well delivered. Atheism doesn’t really play a role, but certainly agnosticism seems a viable approach for citizens of this world, even though they may nominally identify themselves as aligned to one particular god.

In fact, only one possible party member is specifically zealous in their faith, another finding themselves in crisis at the collapse of their own. Faith is always important in Pillars, but in a way that feels more organic than the manner in which such matters are usually delivered. Rather than two people standing in the street shouting about whose god is better, people believe in each other’s, but follow the philosophy of their own. There is little exclusion of others based on this preference presented to you as you play, despite allusions to wars having been fought over such things at various points. Such an ontology makes for a much more subtle game.

Give it a month or so, when people can be expected to have finished the game, and we can have a whole other discussion about this topic.

I’ve other chopped chunks I want to write about, but this piece is already long enough, so we’ll save them for another day. But hopefully this gives a sense of the deeper nature of Pillars that I didn’t feel able to usefully convey in the original review, but rather opted for saying, “Look, it’s just there, okay.” There’s enough lore and history provided or suggested to create a universe that feels far bigger than the story you experience in the 50-60 hours of the game. Hopefully it will be successful enough that one day we’ll get to hear a lot more of it.

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44 Comments

  1. Thurgret says:

    There was an instance where I came across a lost and frightened soul. I have the tags up for [Stoic], [Benevolent] etc. The option given to me to reassure this lost soul that all would be well and that the gods would treat him kindly for having been good and such was marked with the Benevolent tag; it struck me at the time that Deceptive may have been more apt, well intentioned as the comment may have been. It’s all a bit bleak, though for people like me that like to play heroic sorts, I guess that just makes our characters shine all the brighter (aside from the myriad moral quandaries they end up facing).

    • fdisk says:

      Well, it wasn’t tagged [Honest]; benevolent doesn’t mean you have to tell the truth, it means you are trying to make the person feel better, ease their pain, show compassion, etc.

      • Dinoflaw says:

        This kind of observation was handled well in Planescape Torment. In quite a few quandaries of faith or morality you had the option to give the same answer in multiple forms, such as honestly or as a lie. So depending on your personal outlook and philosophy you could choose to interpret your actions as a well meaning platitude or baseless claim. It may have been an inelegant implementation but it was one that the game could recognise and use to trigger certain game events.

  2. Monggerel says:

    The game makes it explicit that your character is a complete newcomer to Dyrwood (tee-hee). The priest class is at least familiar with their own god – and as *spoiler character* points out, different nations and cultures have wildly different interpretaions of the exact same deity. Magran being the prime example (used specifically as such by the spoiler character).

    Aaaanyways. On a general note, I have to say, I’d agree with the game being surprisingly “topical”, and not just on general matters of science and faith and other big words. Extremely specific real-world events get their similarly-significant fantasy counterpart in the game. There’s one bit about what a certain god-posessed saint was killed with that had me doing a double take, for instance.
    I dunno. Maybe that’s bad.

  3. RagePoon says:

    I loved how much this story relates to on going issues in the real world while also being an entertaining story in itself. It wasn’t as epic as Baldur’s Gate 2 but Obsidian had a lot less to work with and they wrote the source material themselves, for the amount of people on the project and the amount of money they had I think they did an excellent job! I cannot wait for the expansion in September!

  4. DeusExBrockina says:

    I haven’t completed the game yet, so I can’t speak to the sort of overall impression it leaves you with by the end in regards to the topics of animancy and religion, but I actually appreciated the North Ward in the Sanitarium. To me it implied a sort of willful neglect by the other resident animancers upstairs who were happy to cater to the nobles for funding and engage in the more savory sorts of research without having to deal with the difficult patients locked away below.

    Experiments on unwilling patients in a seedy dungeon as the example of the possible pitfalls of animancy definitely falls on the ham-fisted side of trying to relate to modern scientific issues. On the other hand, I think it might still be at least a little bit more true to the sorts of scientific and medical practices/treatment of asylum patients that are said to have happened in the Late Medieval/Early Modern times that Pillars seems to take some of its influences from.

    • Cinek says:

      Experiments on unwilling patients in a seedy dungeon as the example of the possible pitfalls of animancy” – interesting part though was that even these experiments were done in a good intention, wanting to save thousands of people. It could be viewed as a pitfall, but also as the only way to solve the problem that requires urgent solution – desperate times call for desperate measures.

      I re-played that part good 4 times before making my decision on how I want to proceed, having mixed thoughts each time I went through these dialogues with different people out there. Eventually I didn’t kill the animancer, but… since The Witcher 2 I haven’t played any other game that would make me think so much about decisions made.

      • DeusExBrockina says:

        True — as unseemly as it all seems at the time, there is the possibility that his work will help many more people than it hurt. I let him go in the end too, though it’s not a choice I was entirely comfortable with, since it also seemed to me that it was implied that the apparent success of his earlier experiments was all a fluke, and maybe there really isn’t any chance of success for him (or even animancy as a whole?)

        I think the Witcher 2 is a good comparison. I think it’s the last RPG that made me agonize over my decisions this much as well, although the themes and tone were fairly different — that felt much more Game of Thrones, political maneuvering and fates of kings and nations and all that.

        • suibhne says:

          [OBVIOUS SPOILERS] There was no way I’d let him go, but I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to attack him. I wanted to see the Sanitarium clean up its own house. I was disappointed that Obsidian forced an obviously idiotic combat, with him going up against a well-equipped party of 6 adventurers who literally gibbed him in a single combat round. I’d have preferred that he just hang himself, or maybe set up himself as an experimental subject when all else failed. But I found this a rare misstep among the game’s quest design, and I appreciated the fact that several folks referenced the basement as a place that only took less privileged patients – the nobility were all upstairs. This contrast could’ve been clearer, but it was definitely there. [/OBVIOUS SPOILERS]

        • SheepOFDOOM says:

          (SPOILERS commenting on spoilers) See, this an interesting interpretation of how to look at it. From my read (this is the sanitarium, correct?) his work was getting tweaked to SABOTAGE it. He’d been lead astray from his actual findings, if they weren’t headed anywhere why sabotage it? He was making progress, and has now done some really horrid things out of desperation.

          Which just goes back to how poorly this otherwise great world-building gets handled on occasion. To me, the obvious choice was to tell him “hey, you were being manipulated, go back and do it all over.” And there’s great potential for that guy to have a moment of realization, be ashamed for his actions, have some sort of insight, reward you with a properly working experiment, commit suicide for what he ended up doing, SOMETHING.

          Instead, nope, he’s just staying a self-important stereotype. The overseer *kind* of lets you handle it in an appropriate way, but just barely. There’s some really obvious implications there that, considering this is a sizeable main-plot-point, could have lead to more emotional/story payoff and could have used more fleshing out. But I guess they didn’t have enough writing time for that. Like John said, a bit of a cack-handed stumble in handling what is otherwise some really intriguing world building. Most of the writing/ideas have been thought out better so far.

    • Zallgrin says:

      The Guidebook has a lot more to say about Animancer experiments, some of which were more ambigious, while others were quite horrifying.

      Once story was about a woman that suffered from a cacaphony of Awakened souls and had serious trouble getting along with her life. The animancers put a copperband on her head and did some weird stuff, after which she lost her memories and no longer heard any voices. This experiment was deemed a success (you don’t wanna hear what failures looks like).

      In another case they put a patient in a coffer made of copper and buried them for three days. There was air supply through a tube and they put food and water inside the coffer, so the patient would survive the stay in there. Yet when they buried out the coffer, it was empty. A nurse later said that she saw his spectre and he was smiling radiantly.

      And there two stories are the least horrific ones. In other cases people lost their minds, died or suffered for their entire lives. Animancy is interesting indeed, but there are far too many ways to do something horrible with it.

      • Cinek says:

        If we’re on that topic – anyone can explain me what’s up with copper being used in animancy? I seen copperbands, but this story with a copper coffin makes me wonder what’s the story behind it.

        (Defiance Bay SPOILER) “And there two stories are the least horrific ones.” – no doubt, you stumble upon various failures of animancy in pretty much every city and village. That said though – it has it’s advantages and when controlled it gives a huge potential, not only by understanding a nature of beings, but also giving a chance for immortality. Look what happened to the lady inhabiting house in north-western part of the Heritage Hill. She not only kept her memories but also could communicate with normal people and control her hunger. Yes, she was fed with humans she betrayed and imprisoned in a room, but other than that? It worked, it really worked!

        • Zallgrin says:

          There is no story behind copper. It just happens to be a good conductor for souls, which is one of the reasons why all enchant recipes also use copper. I doubt we will hear a proper explanation for it, and I don’t think we need one anyway.

      • gorice says:

        Sounds a lot like psychiatric medicine. Actually, I’m yet to play the game, but I’m reminded a lot of Foucault reading peoples’ takes on the game. I don’t think it’s actually ham-fisted to depict medical science, especially in its early days, behaving in ways that seem like gratuitous cruelty. The sanitarium-as-dungeon cliche exists for a reason.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I got an echo there of Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, where evil experiments are done on children to explore the nature of ” dæmons” (physical manifestation of souls). Including separating the soul from the body and leaving a hollow (but still alive) shell of a person behind. It’s not exactly an anti-science perspective, more an observation about ethical limits.

    • arisian says:

      Part of what I find interesting (and troubling) about the portrayal of Animancy is that it gets at one of the problems that science, and medical science in particular, has long had, which is that it’s so easy to confuse understanding with application, and means with ends. There are *lots* of examples of un-ethical medical research, even quite recently; there’s a whole field now called “bio-ethics” that’s basically devoted to the study of how to avoid such things. Knowledge and understanding are, in and of themselves, good things, but that good end shouldn’t be used to justify unethical means of obtaining it. Likewise, just because the understanding is good, doesn’t mean you’re use of it is good; genetic engineering is a great example. In principle, it’s a great idea, and I’m all for more study of it. In practice, Monsanto scares the crap out of me, not because there’s anything unhealthy about the food produced from their products, but because the methods used to produce it get more extreme and unsustainable every year, all enabled by clever genetic engineering. If their main product was, say, crops that were tolerant of extreme weather, instead of just making them tolerant of insane concentrations of pesticide/herbicide, there wouldn’t be any problem; it’s not science, it’s the application that’s problematic. In the real world, pretty much all science and technology produces both desirable and un-desirable applications, which is one of the things that makes the subject so difficult and uncomfortable (and important!) to deal with.

      The real problem in the game, however, is that the only practical application anyone uses animancy for is creating flesh-eating ghouls (and that’s when things go well!). I fully support the pursuit of knowledge, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass for whatever you use that knowledge to do. Want to understand more about how souls work? Great! Want to use that knowledge to raise an undead army? Sorry, can’t let you do that.

      The game does an alright job of presenting some of these issues, but it doesn’t really let the player engage with them fully; the fact that we’re given binary “support/stop” options in so many of these situations really undermines the otherwise nuanced approach. In so, so many video game conflicts like this, I just want to shout “you’re both wrong!” at the opposing sides, bang their heads together, and then make them actually sit down and work together along some reasonable middle path.

      Though it may just be symptomatic of the larger video-game problem which is the misunderstanding of “hard moral choices.” The choice between two obviously unethical actions (or the choice of which of two morally bankrupt factions to support) is not an “interesting moral dilemma”. If you’re going to present moral choices, especially in an interactive medium like this, you really need to make sure that there is *some* choice available which is actually ethically defensible. To fail to do so is, I would argue, an ethical failure on the part of the creator, since it actually tends to encourage un-ethical behavior (since those are the only behaviors presented as even being possible). You can throw around words like “mature,” “adult,” or “edgy” all you want; it doesn’t make “choose which of these populations to help commit genocide on the other” an excusable thing to present as a binary choice.

    • dajt says:

      Plenty of that went on during the 20th century though. The Nazis, Japanese, and US all indulged in it.

  5. derbefrier says:

    I have gotten to the point were I unlocked the stronghold. And have been going back through the beginning areas talking to people and doing quests I missed. MILD SPOIlERS past this point. Even in the first town (I forget the name of it not enough cofee in me yet). You have the mother who is afraid her unborn child will be born without a soul and the towns leader will kill the child when he finds out. So she asks you to seek out someone to help. This person gives you some medicine but basically asks you to lie to the mother to make her feel better.

    The whole setting has a fairly creepy vibe to it and I wasn’t sure what to make of the herbalists attitude towards the situation. Even though it was a simple side quest quest it really helps paints the fear and desperation some in this world are feeling. Also it seems after doing a few quests in this town a mysterious stranger took notice of my deeds and has sent me on a quest to kill the person responsible for the towns suffering.

    You know I played this all weekend and never made the connections John did but now that I think about it in those terms it starts to make sense why. The story was giving me that uneasy feeling.

  6. Arren says:

    […] the disastrous misunderstanding of genetic modification that has led to terrible dents in progress when it comes to better feeding two-thirds of the world, to the monstrous misinformation spread about vaccination that has led to losses in herd immunity and horrible numbers of utterly avoidable deaths.

    Bravo, John. It’s a delight to see this needful sentiment expressed in such refreshingly unequivocal terms — its surfeit of adjectives is well-earned.

    • Ionic says:

      Better feeding two-thirds of the world does not require GM foods – they are however required to make already rich executives at GM companies richer still. Oxfam: “Feeding the world’s hungry people requires huge social, political, economic and cultural changes, not a simple technological fix.”

      • ssh83 says:

        Yup. Misunderstanding works both way. People make up their mind whenever they FEEL they know enough, and the worse is when they are stubbornly stuck to their opinion and selectively choose which evidence to admit and which to reject (based mostly on which ones help them feel more confident about their opinion). This kind of behavior is EXACTLY why human technology barely moved forward for several thousands of years even though brilliant people existed in ancient time. They just keep fighting each other for eternity based on their gut feelings, rather than pure, objective, evidence analysis.

      • airmikee says:

        Pure hogwash.

        From the words of Earth’s only ever mass-life giver, someone credited with saving one billion lives, Dr. Norman Borlaug:

        “Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

        19 years after the first GMO crops were mass cultivated and still not one single death that can be attributed to them. Penn & Teller did a series that was kinda like Mythbusters, but with more nudity and swearing. I dare you to watch their episode about GMO’s and stop believing the bullshit that has been spoonfed to you by people that are not hungry. link to youtube.com

    • LostInDaJungle says:

      In all fairness, science also gave us Thalidomide babies. Phrenology was a science. In the 1910, the dark spots on the moon were “herds of insects” and there was definitely life on Mars. (The John Carter books were inspired by a Harvard professor’s descriptions of such.) Radiation was good for you. Remember when Pluto was a planet?

      It was a scientist that said Vaccines cause Autism first.

      Every fad diet has been based on some sort of “science”. Carbs make you fat… No, fat makes you fat… No, salt makes you fat… Acai berries will melt the pounds off you.

      Really, when you get down to it… Is your belief in evolution any more factually grounded than another’s belief in creation? Someone in authority told you. You haven’t examined fossils, etc… For all you know the missing link is just a Photoshop. You trust (have faith) in science.

      Reasons…. Blah, blah, blah…
      A) The media likes to make studies sound conclusive even if they aren’t
      B) In their push to get the “Wow” factor, the most unproven studies get unfairly promoted as fact
      C) All of the proof for these studies lies in the hands of some “Expert”. An “only the pigs can read” scenario
      D) Since science is competitive, many prominent papers have been found to be outright falsehoods (Climategate)
      E) When those studies are proven wrong, no one takes responsibility. Bring up Climategate with your favorite Global Warming zealot. I’m guessing you’re going to get a whole lot of hostility instead of an apology. You’ll find they’re as fact challenged as the guy who tells you we’ve found Noah’s Ark.

      When the facts don’t fit the narrative, so much the worse for facts.

      On a more personal level, there are many small scale ways that “science” and “authority” lets us down. My Dad went in for a routine procedure, 2 years later he had had three separate amputations because they gave him the wrong medicine. An aunt went in for a routine procedure and found out she had cancer.

      One was the doctor’s fault, one was the doc doing my Aunt a solid and probably saving her life… They both resent the a-holes in lab coats that took away their leg/told them they were sick. They LOVE the church who showed up and comforted them in their hour of need.

      I’m not anti-science, but I do think that the average guy has a very good reason to be distrustful. I find the other extreme far too trusting with a zealotry that would rival the most dedicated of Christians. Most people can’t explain to you how the jet stream affects weather, but they’ll shout you down that they’re SURE global warming is happening… It was hot last summer. That’s no different to me than the guy who tells me a banana is proof of God’s existence.

  7. Roxton says:

    What could have been far more nuanced is made very clumsy by the presence of a ghastly, medieval dungeon in which the mentally ill are experimented upon by cruel lunatics.

    While it’s hardly subtle, I don’t see this inclusion as being that damaging to the overall handling of ‘fear of science’. Sadly, medical abuse and inhumane ‘research’ projects are hardly unheard-of, even within the last century, and some really terrible things have been done by madmen in the name of ‘progress’ and science. Similarly, while the anti-vaccination movement is obviously idiotic and dangerous, I imagine that at some of its adherents are motivated in part by memories of the thalidomide disaster and other failures of the medical establishment. People can be scared or nervous of ‘science’ for reasons other than politics or irrationality, and it does the game no harm to acknowledge that.

    (Hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: I am not ‘anti-science’ or any such nonsense.)

    • ssh83 says:

      It wasn’t too long ago that LOBOTOMY and ELECTROCUTION were acceptable ways of handling psychiatric patients in the real world. While animancy extends beyond psychiatry, the “ward” we go to is primarily psychiatry-themed.

      • NotGodot says:

        Lobotomy doesn’t get a fair shake.

        No, really, it doesn’t. Walter Freeman was a scary creep, but a lot of people did get very positive results out of his transorbital procedure in an era when there weren’t many options when it came to treatment. I think that a lot of sane people are just especially squeamish about it because they have the luxury of thinking of themselves and their minds as inviolate.

        One of the NPCs in the sanitarium actually makes a similar point quite well: yes, the Sanitarium is not a great place, but being in that environment with at least some modicum of care for the crippling depression brought on by her awakening is better than trying (and totally failing) to function.

        Living in confinement while people try in a clumsy way to help you sucks. But lacking any kind of support sucks more, and the sanitarium is modernizing. Like you said– progress happens, and things get better.

  8. Horg says:

    ”Science has had a miserable couple of decades in its attempts to usefully communicate with the public”

    This is less the fault of contemporary scientists as it is the fault of the tabloid media. Scare stories sell papers. The MMR vaccine and the false links to autism is a great example of the media misinformation machine in action. Dr. Wakefield was the man responsible, and looking back on the evidence we can clearly see he deliberately manufactured a scare story. At the time, his work and methodology were heavily criticised by the scientific community, and to date no one has been able to replicate his research. The media, however, gave the quack a platform to spread his lies, and little time to those trying to refute his claims. Despite loosing his medical license and being thoroughly humiliated in the scientific community, his legacy will be the anti-vax movement, which still has traction even today. If scientists had control over how their work was delivered to the public, this would likely never have happened. I think Pillars is doing a great job of tackling how people perceive and react to a changing world they don’t fully understand, but there is an avenue here for them to explore a new dimension to that theme; how people manipulate and disseminate information for their own profit.

    • Karomsir says:

      It is the age old problem of the less educated wanting to be smarter then the more educated without working for that education. It’s an Ego thing. People do not feel comfortable admitting their own shortcomings and such self forginving honesty is not really part of the western culture anyway. Especially not the more individualist US (not bashing them just thinking in terms of the American and European dreams I heard compared somewhere).
      That said there is another part of this story that is gently touched upon by PoE as well, when you talk to Edér about his village after the war. (spoiler) He tells you how the idea of the eothosians being responsible for the war started to spread geographically, (spoiler off) It is also part of the problem you and the writer mentioned. People who connect to a group can and will push out their own in front of the tiger of their emotions so to speak, if those threaten to destroy the cohesion of said group. It is kind of a sacrifice and has deep roots in human social behavior. The origin of the term scapegoat comes to mind.
      So when you talk about the people against vaccination you have to keep in mind that this kind of social pressure is not one concrete persons fault, rather the simptom of something that might not have anything to do with the result. Think about this: The villagers in PoE felt that they are swept away from their norm, with their beliefs betrayed by their god (who had a temple there) everyone looked at them cross eyed for their lack of standing in front of a marching army and they wanted a scapegoat. Now those people against vaccination are swept away – in a modern world they do not understand – by people who do not care to enlighten them why that vaccination will help, and want to stab their baby with a badass needle, who are also uppity, easily frustrated by stupid (think MDs) and just from another world. The reaction is understandable.
      I really rather like this game for these paralells and the fact that it made me write in english for the first time in years. :-)

    • ssh83 says:

      Exactly. Money is the root of all evil (except for the psychos of course). THough a lot of time, it’s because the journalists are just… dumb. For example, NASA scientists tells reporter that judging from satellite, california lakes have about 1-year worth of water in them. Then reporter reports it as california will run out of water in 1 year, because she’s too ignorant to know and too lazy to research the water sources of the state he/she is reporting on.

  9. Dale Winton says:

    Loving this game. Not too heavy on the text as I was a bit worried about that. I think it’s much better than wasteland and divinity

  10. smisk says:

    Great article, I’d love to see more thoughtful analysis of this type. I’m about a dozen hours in so hopefully I can keep pace with you guys.
    I also think it’d be interesting to see an in-depth comparison between the D&D RPG mechanics from the late ’90s with this game. I only have a few hours of experience with Baldurs Gate 1 and it never grabbed me the way this game has.

  11. shuttlevvorth says:

    This was a great article and I’m looking forward to what else you have to say on PoE. On another note, you seem to have misspelled ‘Dyrwood’ as ‘Drywood’ a couple times in the article, which caused me quite a chuckle. Just a heads up!

  12. DrManhatten says:

    Well here is my thoughts on Pillars of Eternity. As a disclaimer I should say I was a backer of this and also Divinity Original Sin. I both started them playing the weekend when they were finally released so I didn’t play any beta or whatever before. DoS I played 12 hours on that weekend. Pillars of Eternity I put a side after 2 hours.

    What I am saying so far this game doesn’t really seem to work for me so I have a bit of trouble to understand all the praise it is receiving.. Btw I played the first Baldur;s Gate as well back in the days. Maybe I am suffering from fantasy fatigue or I don’t know

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      basilisk says:

      If it’s any consolation, I put about 9 hours into PoE before putting it aside, presumably forever. I found it a very dull experience that is deeply harmed by its slavish devotion to the BG series; unable to surprise or to engage, mechanically conservative and needlessly verbose. So you’re not the only one (though we do seem to be a tiny minority).

      • DrManhatten says:

        Thanks! Hmm guess that’s the trouble, the setting, the characters, the story to that point didn’t intrigue me didn’t engage me and it felt like I’ve seen it many times before. Maybe I was trying to hard maybe I expected too much but I give it more time maybe it gets better after more hours. But there is definitely no spark so far. Divinity I enjoyed right away maybe because it has quirky humour, but the characters and the world engaged me more and also the combat is more strategic not as hectic. I am afraid of The Witcher 3 now. Maybe there is simple too much fantasy themed games at the moment which all start to feels all a bit the same. Same as too many horror/zombie themed games.

        • ssh83 says:

          People like to pigeonhole “fantasy,” but you have to self-examine and know what kinds of fantasy suit your taste. PoE’s style is closer to BG and pre-EA Bioware games (but distinctively Obsidian). Slow and subtle with a lot of fine details, but rarely overly dramatic or instant gratifications. A lot of things you remember is one word, one feeling, or one sentence that a character says, and rarely “i nuked the starting town,” or “I collected 20 nude cards from f-ing girls.” Personally, I like all of them equally, but many people definitely have specific preferences and they don’t realize it (because they only think in “genre” since they never learned that genre just means a series of clones to a successful original, and our primitive desire to typecast thing to help us comprehend something new)
          Also one big thing that differentiates Obsidian with pre-EA Bioware is that Obsidian is more likely to go crazy on companion design. Girl with bird feather for hair? druid with half of his face gnawed off? priest who refers to his goddess of war as “whore?” all check. though they still go about their story telling in that slow, subtle way for the most part (except when they suddenly hit you on the head with something).

  13. Necrourgist says:

    Fun Fact: -mancer/-mancy means divination or seeing, prophetic in nature, while -urgist/-urgy and -magi/-magik means use of/manipulation of/creation of. Necrourgist for example is that which a Necromancer WANTS to be: A Mage who summons the Dead, creates Minions of Dead Bodies and Body Parts and uses life energy to inflict damage (turn your own life energy against your body like rapid aging or simply *snap* and dead-spells). A Pyrourgist or Pyromagi would be what a Pyromancer WANTS to be: A Mage who creates or summons fire or flames on his body, the body of others or in his surrounding enviroment (set others aflame, create flame in hand, summon wall of flame, those types of spells), while a Pyromancer is simply someone who divines from Flames, either thru looking into the flames or thru burning herbs or items in the flames used to divine and then gazing into’em. Just a FYI :)

    • ssh83 says:

      and Abysmal means bottomless until the masses decide it should mean messy. Same with -mancy.

      • Necrourgist says:

        If i want to say that something is messy i just say that it is messy. I for one use Abysmal only if i mean to say that something is very deep or bottomless. But that’s because i actually have an interest in words and their meaning outside of mainstream adaption. Misnomers like whatevermancy don’t piss me off, it’s just that I for one know what the different suffixes mean. That is why i choose to use the proper suffix instead of the mainstream misnomer. I may come off as a smartass that way but hey, i don’t care xD In my own fantasy setting for my stories, i use the right and proper pre- and suffixes for example. Enfore change, i must ;)

  14. Necrourgist says:

    Edit: “from dead bodies” not “of dead bodies”.

  15. drygear says:

    Obsidian is good at telling stories about religion/faith. Mask of the Betrayer in particular was great with how it used the religion of its setting.
    They even bring it to the Fallout setting in the New Vegas DLC Honest Hearts. The conflict between Joshua Graham and Daniel, two missionaries with very different agendas, is just a background story but it’s really good.
    I’m only a little ways in (just arrived at Caed Nua) and I’m loving the uncertainty about what happened with Eothas and how that ties in with Eder’s story.

  16. ssh83 says:

    I think one big reason for the success of Pillars of Eternity is that they did a remarkable thing keeping things similar enough to trigger nostalgia/familiarity, yet different/original enough to also bring a sense of discovery. If they introduce animancy into D&D, people would’ve just yawn “it’s just necromancy with new propaganda,” but because this is a new world, new magic system (no weave), new ethos, etc. we can guess but never be certain of what it is. That kept the mystery alive.

    Though this is also why the sequel will have a tough time repeating that success.

  17. drokkwit says:

    I dunno. I’ve read all the amazingly similar reviews of this game and I just don’t get it. Apparently It’s got brilliant writing so I read. I’ve just finished the quest where I’m supposed to choose between the chap who’s hanged 17/18/19 innocent villagers and as it turns out has also just knifed his wife, against his cousin who to be honest I don’t know from Adam from the paragraph or two I read whilst encountering him and thus I’m supposed to believe that just because I’ve chosen the chap who i don’t know Jack about there may be dangerous consequences?
    Where was the speech choice that says “You know what? I don’t care that you may be a fine ruler, you’ve murdered these villagers and your innocent wife, and employed a person that seems just to be conjuring undead (that I’ve also killed) so have some of this? (splat)”. Instead you get a generic “attack” option that makes you look like the loony.
    That quest has sort of put me off playing the rest of the game.
    Similarly with Divinity Original Sin, apparently you are supposed to side with human barbarians against Orks in a certain quest, even though they were similarly to blame. So I killed all of them. But at no point is this acknowledged, and why wasn’t the village repopulated afterwards?

    • that_guy_strife says:

      The game isn’t that crude, and that’s why it stands out. The evil monster explains why he did what he did, and rationally tries to get you on his side. Every character you meet in that first quest is questionable, except maybe that old priest with a lifetime of good deeds confirmed by others.