Pillars Of Eternity’s White March Improves As Well As Expanding

Pillars of Eternity is a big game. Enormous might be the right word, actually. Gigantic. Sprawling. Obsidian don’t think it’s quite large enough, however, so they’ll be adding new everything with the upcoming White March expansion. I spoke with lead designer Josh Sawyer at Gamescom and he explained that the studio has created so many new things – from companions and spells to quests and locations – that they’ll be splitting the expansion into two parts. “The first part ends cleanly, there’s no cliffhanger”, he said, “and part two will introduce even more new areas.” It looks superb, improving the game for those who haven’t finished as well as those who have. Part one is out August 25th.

Ignore the entirety of the new White March area and there are still reasons to be excited. In a move that instantly makes me far more eager to revisit the game, Obsidian have created AI combat behaviours for companions. That means less micromanagement (unless you really want the micromanagement, in which case you never have to enable the automatic behaviours) and also means the improvements in AI will carry across to enemies, who will enjoy improved teamwork and use their abilities more effectively. Companions will be able to take on various roles depending on class and you’ll still be responsible for assigning those roles, so you can roleplay as the leader of the party rather than an omnipotent puppeteer.

There are two new companions and one of them is an artificial construct called the Devil of Caroc. She can’t wear armour because she is armour but her body can be upgraded. She is my favourite character and I haven’t even met her yet. There’s also Zahua, a monk who you first encounter while he’s concealed in a barrel of dead fish. He’s my second favourite character.

Obsidian’s approach to the expansion can be seen in the treatment of these new characters. The original set of companions have new dialogue to allow for interactions with the new folks, and those new folks will comment on locations and quests in the base game setting. Everything in The White March plugs into Pillars rather than being stapled on the end.

And that means you’ll be able to start a new game (perhaps even for the first time) and enjoy all of the new content. There’s a new high level area in the Dyrwood for those who already have a tough party and cold of The White March will have dangers all of its own. It contains over a dozen new maps.

There’s also a semblance of multi-classing (through wands and abilities), a retraining option, plenty of new abilities, oodles of new scripted encounters and a new item class in the form of Soulbound weapons, which are upgraded in a unique fashion.

What’s most pleasing is that Obsidian aren’t just throwing a heap of new content at the game. Throughout our brief conversation, Sawyer critiqued aspects of the original and it’s clear that The White March is intended to work on the areas that the studio and players found lacking. It’s a chance to improve rather than simply to add bulk, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it so that I can start all over again (and probably fail to finish all over again). It’s out August 25th.

51 Comments

  1. Infinitron says:

    Multi-classing? Not quite. You can take a weaker version of one ability from any other class.

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      Adam Smith says:

      Edited slightly to reflect that it’s not a thorough D&D-ish implementation :)

    • Trum says:

      So it’s exactly like D&D 4E multiclass feats? Great! I always thought that PoE rpg-mechanics are very similar to 4E. Really, It’s a shame we never got a true 4E PC game, but at least we have great PoE!

      • Brinx says:

        Tried reading this several times. Still sounds sarcastic in my head.

        • Phantom_Renegade says:

          The problem with 4E was that it was perfect for a videogame and too rigid for tabletop. 4E played like a western version of Fire Emblem or FF Tactics. It meant a shitton less work for the DM. As a DM, I loved it at the same time I didn’t because while managing encounters was a lot easier, you really needed maps to set-up.

          An online 4E game which allowed a DM to run it and make their own maps etc would have been perfect. As for table-top, Edge of the Empire is where it’s at yo. Custom dice that improve and even insist on RP over mechanics. Can’t get better then that.

        • anHorse says:

          4E’s fantastic as a game, it’s just a bit rubbish as a system for roleplay heavy gaming

          • Disgruntled Goat says:

            Yes, 4E was a decent game, it just shouldn’t have been called “Dungeons and Dragons”.

        • Trum says:

          As you wish, but I’m completely sincere on both accounts.

  2. Paul B says:

    Makes me glad I backed this expansion on the last day of PoE crowd-funding. Actually I’m 100% happy that I backed this game on kickstarter, now I’ve played the finished article.

    Also, was a retraining option mentioned? I so needed this in the original game, so I’m looking forward to re-speccing my characters in the expansion.

  3. Yhamm says:

    I’m a bit annoyed wit the 2 parted expansion. Should I start a new game with part 1 or wait for part 2? if each expansion modifies everything that already existed, I should just wait for the last part, because I don’t really want to play this game 3 times, even if I liked it a lot

    • Cinek says:

      You don’t have to play the game 3 times. Just continue since the point you stopped last time. ;)

    • Zenicetus says:

      It doesn’t annoy me, because I can be patient and just wait for part 2 to drop. Otherwise I spend too much time re-learning how everything works after an interval away from the game.

      Especially with something like this, which has fairly complicated mechanics for all the party members. I’d rather just play the whole thing in one shot, where there is just one re-learning phase to go through.

  4. FCA says:

    Enlighten me: if you own the base game, but have not bought/kickstarted the expansion, will you get the updated AI and such?

    • Infinitron says:

      Yes.

      • FCA says:

        Thanks! Somehow, that information doesn’t seem to be mentioned much.

        I still need to complete the base game (left it a few weeks ago when I got to the main (?) city, got a bit of option paralysis with the number of quests), I’ll wait with buying the expansion when I at least get somewhere close to the end, but happy to know I get all the improvements nonetheless.

        I just hope that any rebalancing won’t be too upsetting for my current party balance.

  5. Morlock says:

    I finished the campaign yesterday. Had to cheat because I ran out of camping supplies and had to go into the final battle with a pretty spent party. This reminds me of Baldur’s Gate 1, where I also had to cheat to win the final battle :)

    Anyway, I want to raise a point that may sound strange given who worked on PoE. Does anyone else think that the writing is actually a bit bad? It is so heavy, so weighed down by attempting to be great literature, and at the same time often bland and generic. They were going for Torment, but failed. Throwing more words into your text doesn’t make it good. I very much preferred Baldur’s Gate 2’s light, but effective writing.

    PoE’s NPCs also failed to win me over. Does every party member need to have a dark past? I am tired of this. Can’t I just have a bunch of cool pals, like I had in the Ultimas?

    • Sly-Lupin says:

      I kind of agree on the writing. A lot of it I liked, a lot of it I didn’t. Mostly it was the companion stuff I didn’t like–which is all Avellone’s fault. His companions are basically just exposition factories. Apparently he was really ambitious when he designed them, but they didn’t have the budget to do any of the stuff he wanted, so he had to cram all his ideas into heavy-handed expository dialog.

      And, of course, all of the companions suffer from Bioware-style motivations. They don’t join you because they like you or because they want your help to do something… They join up because youre the CHOSEN ONE.

      Of course, even with those flaws PoE is still one of the greatest CRPGs of all time.

      • Morlock says:

        I have to say that I like how the world is constructed. The main fiction about souls is very cool. I also enjoy the engine and like the combat, even though I would have appreciated fewer encounters on some maps. But in a game that shoves its writing so much into your face, the quality of the writing diminished the game for me. So no, the game does not enter my list of the greatest RPGs of all time.

        • csbear says:

          I am really enjoying the game and agree there are a lot of good things being done in PoE, so can’t wait for the expansion. I agree some of the writing can be tidied up, but overall, and especially the aesthetics of the game (which I love), Obsidian did a great job. I felt it was a beautiful looking game and that in itself is a big draw for me in terms of immersion.

          Planescape:Torment is terrible in some ways. Combat and gameplay are pretty bad, but of course, the writing is top notch. However, it is still regarded as a masterpiece by many.

          If PIllars had the same quality of writing as Planescape, but had bad combat and gameplay, very few would put it in the top RPGs ever made. My point being, nostalgia plays too much of a factor in games unfortunately. So many old games are overrated for what they are while many new games are underrated.

      • Choca says:

        Yeah, the companions did love their one way information-spouting “dialogue”, which you can’t really call dialogue when there is no actual exchange.

      • RQH says:

        {Spoilers Ahoy!}

        I love Pillars of Eternity, but I agree about the companions. The thing that bothered me most is that they all basically have the same story. They devoted themselves to a god or gods and then had nothing to show for it, except life experience. I got the point the first time!

        I was also underwhelmed by the big reveal. The player options told me that I was supposed to feel either betrayed or pious, but I was just like–why are you trying to impose traditional Abrahamic monotheistic attitudes toward God on a polytheistic world? Where is the option to embrace the fatalism of the ancient Greeks, for example?

        • NathanH says:

          I think you’re being a bit harsh on the companions. It’s true that all their stories basically follow the central theme: what does one do when the foundations of one’s world are removed? I think if you want to make such a strong theme for a game you either have to spell it out very explicitly so nobody misses it, or you have to reinforce it again and again throughout. They chose the second option, and did it fairly well. I don’t generally like stories devoted to a really strong single theme like this, but I rather liked what they did in this game.

          Actually I thought the companion stories put across the theme better than the main plot. I’m not sufficiently invested or familiar with the setting to really understand or care what the main revelation means or how I should feel about it. But the companions, I can broadly relate to their stories.

          I guess one other problem with the companions was that most of them are putting the foundations of their faith into things that I guess I think are quite silly. It’s probably unsurprising that the character I liked the most, and was most interested in following the story of, was Eder, whose faith was in his idolisation of his brother. This is a very plausible faith to have that I can easily relate to. Perhaps they needed companions whose faith was in reason, or decency, to better resonate with many of the players.

          • RQH says:

            I agree that it would have been interesting had the game cast a wider net regarding what the companions put their faith in. And in a broad sense, I agree that showing variations on a central theme is a good way to tell a story. I disagree that Pillars had to be quite so redundant to get their point across, or that a story must embrace and hammer home only one (narrowly-defined) theme.

            I grew tired of playing the religious counselor to my companions. I did not create a priest character. I was a ruthless pirate trying to leave behind a life of violence and finally do some good in a wicked, wicked world. This was easy for me to roleplay at the beginning, but as the game’s multiple plots and subplots resolved into one very simple point, I felt my options for engaging with the world and the story also became more constricted.

            I don’t mean this in the sense of player choices only. Those naturally become fewer as the content runs out. I mean that instead of feeling like I’d been left with a lot to think about, I felt as if I’d been told exactly what I should think. All of the other elements that gave texture to the world were pushed to the background. I am looking forward to beginning another story in this world, but I am not particularly hopeful about its conclusion.

    • Dicehuge says:

      Yeah I tended to think the main problem with the writing was the sheer quantity of it. Everything felt a bit overwritten, which is understandable given that it’s a whole new world that needs to be created, but dealing
      with centuries of lore early in the game can be bewildering. The NPCs were interesting, but overly elaborate backstories meant they felt more like novels than characters.

    • NathanH says:

      Probably the dialogue needed some serious and critical editing, for both clarity and efficiency. I think they were trying too hard, and didn’t have anyone tell tell them “you’re trying too hard”.

      • NathanH says:

        Also, no need to describe the dude’s mask in great detail when I can see a picture of the dude’s mask.

        • Morlock says:

          Ugh, I noticed that too. Also, the voice acting did not include narration which often made me skip narration when dialogue was spoken.

      • Samuel. R says:

        Pretty much. Plenty of good characters, ideas, scenarios, etc. but the writing of the game really did need a lot more editing.

    • Choca says:

      Yeah the writing did not always work as well as they thought it would, a lot of it felt overwritten and I did feel like they were trying too hard in many an occasion. I did like the fact that some of the major characters late game had such pompous dialogue though, it helped define them as what they were: complete lunatics with delusions of grandeur.

      The companion were one of the game’s biggest failures in my opinion and, if I were to start it over today, I would do so with a full party of cutsom characters.

      • Samuel. R says:

        I feel like Durance and the Grieving Mother’s dramatic dialogues worked in particular for those characters, but a lot of the other companions (and characters in general) just didn’t really suit the style.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        The companions – besides the two mentioned by Samuel, above – really failed to land for me too. They weren’t bad concepts, but as people they were never really given the opportunity to bond with the player emotionally. They had their own quests, their own friends, their own lives, and when it was all over, they all went their own ways.

        Some of it may be a matter of style. There’s a real nihilistic tinge to the writing in general, and I’d say it often made me feel a little uneasy. If that’s what the writers were aiming for when they created companions that didn’t form lasting bonds with the protagonist, I’d call it an artistic success, though not necessarily one that left me feeling content.

    • Samuel. R says:

      I wouldn’t call it bad, but it definitely could have been better. The lore they set-up I liked, that was all good and interesting, but the actual story of the game I felt was unfocused and somewhat bland. The companion’s stories (literally every single one of their stories) and the ending of the game all served a particular theme well, but I don’t think the majority of the main quest and story in the game really connected well enough to it. The writing felt a bit underdeveloped in that regard, like a draft before the more coherent final version.

    • Disgruntled Goat says:

      PoE was certainly far more concerned with building a new fantasy IP than it was in telling an interesting story.

      It felt to me like all the important events in the game had happened 20 years earlier, and all my character was doing was cleaning up. All I was doing was learning history instead of, you know, having my own adventure.

      The “finding the mysteries of the past” thing worked in Planescape: Torment because it was the entire point of your character’s journey. Pillars of Eternity felt like sitting through a 60 hour history lecture.

      • NathanH says:

        It was interesting. I was mostly not bothered about what was going on, generally uninterested in the lore, and basically a bit confused by everything that was going on, until about half way through the big city. Then suddenly I was like “Oh! I *get* this setting now!” and suddenly I really enjoyed the non-gameplay side of the game immediately.

    • animlboogy says:

      I didn’t get the impression it was trying to be great literature at all. It was trying to be a great history lecture.

      That still isn’t a great method of storytelling for a game like this (unless you’re one of those creeps who actually likes the fact that all the cool things about the Elder Scrolls games are sitting on shelves rather than happening to the player). But I think it’s worth the distinction. I didn’t find PoE pretentious in that… English lit major sort of way.

  6. Koshelkin says:

    Enormous? I was rather disappointed with it’s length. Looking forward alot to the expansion, tho.

    This article had just one catch… I forgot to backup my saves of my original playthrough. q.q

    • Arehandoro says:

      Did you get it through GOG? I thought they did cloud savegames as Steam does. If they don’t, I’m also screwed.

      • Koshelkin says:

        You just saved my day. I didn’t think about the cloud saves. I got it through Steam. Not sure bout GoG, tho. =/

  7. Skull says:

    Really sorry if this is a stupid question but I am currently playing the game and finishing off Act 2. Will I be able to complete the game and still go on to the expansion or does this White March take place in a period before the end-game, therefore players who have completed it need to start a new game?

  8. Freud says:

    I’ll wait until they’re done and buy a GOTY edition of the whole thing.

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    sicanshu says:

    Couldn’t agree more. For about the first third of PoE, I read everything carefully, but by the end I was just skimming. Eventually I just ignored all the NPCs they threw in (I think as maybe a kickstarter incentive?) that were nothing but little walls of text. They had no bearing on any mission or character, and having them standing around all the cities like mannequins with short stories pinned on their shirts kind of sucked me out of the world (which is sad, because I really like the world itself). Not sure if I’ll be coming back for the expansion.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Yup. They were written by Kickstarter backers, which explains why so many of them were hot lesbians in another life (I’m not even kidding).

      • Samuel. R says:

        I remember the moment I started noticing a lot of…specific recurring themes in those golden-dialogue NPCs. Learning that they were written from kickstarter backer’s ideas made a lot of sense, and I quit reading them after that (they weren’t all terrible or anything – there were a few in Gilded Vale I actually quite liked -, but I didn’t really want to spend hours reading text not even truly connected to the game world).

    • csbear says:

      Agree, this was my biggest gripe about the game, the NPCs and how they were just walls of text. That was not implemented very well. As a player, you don’t have any connection to these people because there is nothing you can do to progress a particular quest or task. Still, a fun game for me, and the expansions improvements has me excited.

  10. Rumpelstilskin says:

    Love robots in RPGs. Someone (might as well be me) should make a dedicated RPGs about robots.

  11. badmothergamer says:

    Can someone explain why this game is described as being so big? This was the first time I ever played and finished an isometric RPG so I have no basis of comparison but I felt the world was rather small compared to the first/third person RPGs I’m used to. I enjoyed the story and writing but was surprised it ended so quickly. I had assumed there was at least another map of equal size with more towns to visit.

  12. jonfitt says:

    Will all of the free patch/updates and the expansion slot into an existing in-progress game? It sounds like it will. There’s no way I’m starting again, but it would be nice to augment a game in progress.

    I’m waiting to play Wasteland 2 until after the 2.0 version is out. I don’t have time to play these RPGs more than once. It’s the reason I tend to wait for Bethesda/Bioware RPGS to have finished releasing their DLCs (maybe in a GOTY edition) before jumping in.

    • Paul B says:

      I noticed that the patches that came out while I was still playing PoE slotted into my existing games with no problems, so I’m hoping that 2.0 will follow this tradition. I’m waiting for 2.0 to get released so I can go back to act III and get some of the better endings (I’m not happy with Gilded Vale being ruled by a Zombie King) before the expansion is released.

  13. annij says:

    So, Pillars of Eternity. . . overall I didn’t find it a very good game. This what I mean: I love Isometric games, played all the classics: Baldur’s Gates, Planescape Torment, Fallout I&II, and I do like these sorts of games. Though truthfully, I don’t know the jargon, I really don’t care about the jargon for naming different parts of a games. For example, I suppose “turn based” combat, versus whatevertheheckelse type of combat Dragon Age III, or Mass Effect uses. Anyhow, there is much I liked about the game, but there are some MAJOR, major problems.
    What I liked: the turn based combat, the combat strategics, naming the weapons, the setting, the food, the keep, the different cities, the different sorts of characters, cultures, even the place names (clearly Celtic/Germanic–maybe Finnish in origin), the pets, and most importantly–FRIENDS. I really don’t like games where I, the player, cannot interact with the other characters.
    But, you see all of what I’ve mentioned really only has to do with setting. When we think about some of the best Science Fiction stories, setting is incidental to the themes, the character development and the adventure of the plot. Readers have an opportunity to “own” the story, because he/she (the reading audience) can located themselves in the story.
    By the time I got to the boss battle, I had to look up on a walkthrough, “who is Thaos?”, “Am I entering into the final battle?”.
    The problem with the game is the writing. There is almost no foreshadowing, no character development (everyone’s story is just sort of thrown on the table), and the theme is dogmatic and condescending: Don’t be religious. Religion is baaad. Bad things happen when religion is around, bad, bad, bad. The theme doesn’t even offer up debate around the tremendous good religion has provided for most societies, healthcare, education, charity, human rights etc. It is just one dogmatic: religion bad, bad, bad.
    And the story’s main conflict: what’s wrong with being able to know a strangers life history without asking? That’s sort of a cool superpower, it wasn’t even bringing harm to my main character at least not noticeably.
    With the “friends” you find out almost everything right away–so there’s no character development or revelation. Remember Viconia? You really didn’t know anything about her, other than she was a dark elf, and done with the darkness. One had to “interact, and negotiate” with her character before learning anything about her. Also, any of the character “reveals” which were few and far between such as illnesses have no connection, no location to the player’s world. For instance, what is Aloth’s problem? Two spirited, Capgras syndrome (where you think your wife is an alien), three faces of Eve? Like, I have no idea, and cannot connect it to any reference I can relate to. Also, you never see his “other” personality–other than the first time. So, we know that he speaks in a girlish voice sometimes, but so what?
    Really, we don’t care, no one cares about these characters. Maybe we care about Eder because he’s so upset about his brother, but I don’t get why? His bother betrayed their faith I guess?
    And then there is the story itself, why does the main character have a problem with being a “Watcher,” because he/she was an Inquisitor in another life time–a religious Inquisitor? Who cares; what if she/he was a giant land sloth in another life–Again, who cares?
    The story, even the descriptions when characters are talking, gives away too much information. The player does not have an opportunity to own the character, or this world–it is too much in the head of the writer. Too many of the dots are filled in. For the most part, one can’t related to the problems, or the sufferings of the characters in the story, because they don’t seem to be all that bothered by them, themselves. And hollow born? What is that? A child that doesn’t cry? Isn’t that a good thing? And babies sleep sixteen to eighteen hours a day anyway, so why is hollow born a problem? They’re cross-eyed?, they’ve got shrunken heads? Beats me.
    So, everything about the story itself is terrible–but hey, the setting’s great! Great setting.

  14. annij says:

    I did want to make a quick amendment to my first rant on Pillars of Eternity. Perhaps “terrible” doesn’t really explain why I played it to the very end. So for me, if I think a game is terrible I stop playing, and I didn’t stop playing it. So I obviously didn’t think it was that terrible. I think rather the feeling I have is “disappointment”. The on-line professional reviews were terrible, and didn’t really touch on the main draw backs of the game–mainly the overly didactic theme “religion is bad” (telling us rather than showing us). Though I did think the scene where my Watcher is in that Vikingish sort of city/town, and there are those–I want to say blood dwarfs–and they participate in human sacrifice. That was a “showing religion is bad”, that I wish was more of the practice in the game.
    So, PofE would most likely benefit most from story updates, much like Mass Effect III was much better with the story amendments added later.
    Thank you for reading.
    I probably won’t get a chance to read anyone’s response to my opinion, if anyone does. I don’t really frequent post my gaming opinions, but this story–Pillars of Eternity, I felt like I needed to.
    Also, what the heck is ARDA? Aside from the giant statue in my Watcher’s basement, and it being used as large garden ornaments, or magic keys, I really didn’t get its significance.