Wot I Think: Pillars Of Eternity – The White March Part 1

It’s been nearly half a year since we devoured Pillars Of Eternity. Now Obsidian are back with another great big chunk, in the form of the first half of The White March [official site]. Does the expansion give good reason to return to the Dyrwood? Here’s wot I think.

Expansion packs that take place before the end of a game always sit a little uneasily with me. Loading an old save, and then heading off on a diversion from the game I’ve already finished, feels like an invasion of the narrative – do I then continue on and finish the game again with this extra chapter in the lives of my characters? Or is it a pocket of alternative reality that I play for the sake of its existing, then quit with the party just stood there with new loot, new skills, new levels, and nowhere to go?

That awkwardness set aside, The White March does the job of diverting you with a pile-on of new quests and side-quests in the snowy climes to the North. Invited up there once you’re in or past Act 2 of the main game, the village of Stalwart is under attack by a cornucopia of threats, most pressingly some angry ogres who are presently smashing shit up. Once you’ve bopped them each on the head, the villagers stand in an orderly queue to tell you their woes, lost property concerns and musings on the abandoned forge that once produced the wonders of Durgan steel. And with an armful of things to do, you’re pulled back in once more.

Beyond that, yes, it’s a lot more Pillars Of Eternity, and how much you want that depends upon your feelings toward the main game. For me, it’s my game of the year, so another stretching jaunt in its realms could be a huge treat. But if you’re the sort who laments that it’s not as action-packed as The Witcher 3, then this new content will do little to change your mind.

Stalwart is a rather dull village, and features no interesting buildings nor characters – but for one in a barrel of fish – sadly. It’s a bland hub from which the rest of your adventures begin, and fortunately these are far more fun. With your quest list stuffed with new challenges, you can begin de-mist-ifying the local maps, battling an array of new enemy types, and stumbling upon more side-quests, loot and caves. It’s comfortingly familiar.

That fish-barrel man – that’s Zahua. A masochist, in the name of self-awareness, he’s a deeply peculiar old Savannah Folk Monk, well equipped for dual-handed combat and making deeply strange remarks about the importance of self-denial. The other new party member you can recruit is a Construct – a metal golem with the soul of a psychopath – called Devil Of Caroc. Oh gosh, could it be – an HK47? That’s just what the game needed! Well, no. Instead she’s a rather under-written, over-justified mass killer, neither entertaining sociopath nor misunderstood antihero. Both new characters appear like they should be packed with fun, but proved to be entirely unenigmatic.

The larger story itself is self-contained despite this being Part One of a two-part DLC. But having finished it, I’m perplexed as to why it was picked to feature at the centre of the first big addition six months later. While it would have proven a perfectly acceptable diversion if included in the game at launch, there’s nothing here that struck me as outstanding. I had imagined they’d want to say something, or pull the game in a surprising direction. At least have some sense of a dramatic tale to tell. But it really is as it first appears – about trying to find some old forge in a mountain. The motif of its being haunted by the spirits who once worked there is achingly unoriginal, and offers no twists or unexpected moments at all.

None of it is bad. It’s essential that this be clear. It does a perfectly fine job of adding a bit more content to Pillars, new characters to talk to, new things to kill, and potentially new weapons to craft. But, well, if you’re going to wait half a year and then charge a premium, I’d expect it to be something… more. More than ordinary.

If you found the combat in the main game to be a touch unnecessarily difficult (no, stop you – you, the person who says it was too easy on the hardest setting – first, no one believes you, second, shush), then I’m afraid you won’t be less frustrated here. I couldn’t help think that the original Pillars would have been a twenty hour RPG if it didn’t make every encounter with a group of indentikit bads into a painstaking battle. This is the case here too, and while for the most part the uninterested can switch the difficulty down to Easy to let such fights become matter-of-fact, there are some encounters that are way out of proportion.

I am not ashamed to admit I picked to let my team remained over-specced for The White March, purely because I wanted to let my emphasis fall on story and dialogue. I very much enjoy the process of stabbing at the spacebar, flinging instructions to my team, then unpausing to let it briefly play out. But only so many times an hour. Those times are ideally the tougher fights, more intricate battles, rather than the constant minion encounters. Unfortunately, in this DLC there’s a side-quest where my level 12 team were being wiped out in two turns, even when I’d switched the game difficulty down to Easy.

Although, oddly, had I high enough conversation skills, it should have been possible to talk my way out of it. God knows how. I especially focused on such skills when I played the full game, yet an incredible number of conversation options were redded out throughout the expansion. Since the zone is designed for half that level number, it’s really odd just how much couldn’t be picked. And indeed, despite seemingly having at least one set of options unlocked for that particular scene, it wouldn’t let me reach any other conclusion than an entirely impossible fight scene. Sadly I just walked away from that chain.

There are a couple of moments of sloppiness. Poor voice direction means intonation is off (the worst example being, “…on account of those dwarves having a row” pronouncing “row” as if with an oar), and the pathfinding seems worse than before. For so many encounters I had to hold characters by the hand to have them hit the open foe, rather than just spin on the spot. That could just be my noticing it more, of course.

However, AI is improved, whether you get the expansion or not. The 2.0 patch introduces the ability to give basic behavioural guides to your crew, including – thank goodness – the ability to use their per-rest abilities of their own accord. If when you heard about AI options being added in you were thinking of something like Dragon Age’s incredible system, you’ll be disappointed. This is far more crude, just letting you choose whether they’re aggressive or placid, defensive or offensive. Great additions to have, of course.

There’s a good couple of days’ play here, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of it. Those fearing it would just stop unfinished need not worry, as while it teases more to come, the story is self-contained. The issue is, it’s just so unremarkable. There’s no great depth, no interesting meta-narrative, no unique pull. It’s just a bit more Pillars – a section you’d not have minded in the main game, but never remembered a while after. Which makes it hard to get particularly excited about – especially at £11. Once it’s over, well, yes – there I was back at the end of the game, this time with a level 13 team, and a vague feeling about whether I should just finish it again for the closure.

55 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Bah – having only just finished Pillars this has come out two weeks two late to fit into my play through. I seem to have been given the expansion for free (I guess from a Kickstarter award?), so it would have gone nicely into my run.

    I’ve not the energy to jump back in so quickly, may wait for Part 2 if I ever fancy going back into that world.

  2. WiggumEsquilax says:

    Wasn’t Pillars was originally designed, at least in part, as a tactical RPG? That tank & spank worked at all always seemed to me a failure of the A.I, a failure now resolved. Pillars was never meant to emulate the ease provided by MMO combat, the difficulty is half the fun!

    “Unfortunately, in this DLC there’s a side-quest where my level 12 team were being wiped out in two turns, even when I’d switched the game difficulty down to Easy”
    You’re not supposed to confront the end-game content level 14 optional enemies until just before the end. The devs may have erred slightly in not signposting the fire you threw yourself into; others have also had this problem. But hey, fair warning to everyone else.

    • WiggumEsquilax says:

      I apologize for accidental, mildly insulting MMO combat strawman. Cursed lack of edit function.

    • obemufol says:

      Thanks for the tank & spank news. I wonder how that works now – do they go for the wizards first?

      • WiggumEsquilax says:

        Some do. Enemies actually use their abilities, so if they’re skilled at ducking interdiction attacks, you can reasonably expect them to blow past your front line. Opponents now use their modal abilities, they never did so before. This game is no longer content to feed you kills; it’s trying to win outright, and in every battle.

        Creating a stable front no longer means wearing the heaviest armor, strapping the biggest shield, but only swinging a longsword. All the while your casters in the back are only wearing clothes, because they never come under fire. As of Pillars combat A.I. 2.0, coming under fire is everyone’s problem.

        Try replacing the sword & board with a poleaxe, to add a credible threat to interdiction fire. Your mage should consider more adventurous fashions, I hear that chainmail is always stylish.

        • obemufol says:

          thx, yeah will have to check figure out the “Engagement” mechanics. But I think they powered up the Arcane Veil in one of the previous patches, after I’d quit at level 6. Anyway, I see now that one of my 6-level mages had medium armor for DR 9.

        • blastaz says:

          The problem with that is if the enemy ignores tanks then they are pointless…

          • obemufol says:

            I don’t remember much (it’s been half a year), but I suppose there aren’t so many enemies who are able to ignore tank-engagement.

          • suibhne says:

            If enemies are “engaged”, they can’t ignore the tank – they’re forced into combat with the tank. The Engagement system works pretty well and is actually quite powerful when you invest into it. It’s been my impression that most people complaining about PoE’s Engagement system (and there have been many…) haven’t actually explored how it works at higher levels.

          • Zenicetus says:

            The engagement mechanic, once you understand it, makes for a very pleasurable Rogue main character. It was the build I used to finish the game. So much fun, flanking and stabbing while dancing around the battlefield. Not the same as Infinity Engine Rogues, but still fun, once I got used to the differences.

            It only got old when the campaign started feeding filler content into the party meat grinder, between the main battles in the later game. Then the party just switched to guns for a quick resolution.

          • obemufol says:

            Which types of enemy, besides rogues, have the ability to break engagement without penalty? And do they actually use it (e.g. in order to attack a more vulnerable damage dealer)?

          • InternetBatman says:

            Barbarians get an optional power (that I love) that lets them run fast and gives them defenses against engagement.

  3. Fry says:

    Bought the full expansion on sight, but won’t have time to play it for a bit. Probably not a bad thing as it appears it will benefit from a few rounds of patching.

  4. BluePencil says:

    What’s happened to the hourly article upload schedule? I used to refresh the front page after the hour and see what’s new.

  5. Tuco says:

    ” including – thank goodness – the ability to use their per-rest abilities of their own accord.”

    That’s exactly the last thing I would want them to do. Then again, since you are speaking of it as an option, I assume that means you can also prevent it.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    “There are a couple of moments of sloppiness. Poor voice direction means intonation is off (the worst example being, “…on account of those dwarves having a row” pronouncing “row” as if with an oar)”

    I’m not entirely sure this is an error. It’s not really spoken much in the States, but when it is that’s a common pronunciation.

    • Kentauroi says:

      I was wondering about that as well. Whenever I’ve heard that expression used in Canada (admittedly not often) that’s how it was pronounced.

    • vahnn says:

      I’ve noticed that a TON with various British accents. Words that would end with an ‘-a’ (pronounced like ‘-uh’) are pronounced with ‘-er’ sound instead.

    • blastaz says:

      You have no idea how much confusion this caused with my school song when I pointed out that “Harrow may make more row” was meant to be row as in shouting rather than row because it was a boating song.

      I only convinced him when I pointed out the rhyme was “steady from stroke to bow” and as it was a boating song there was only one way to pronounce that…

    • Kitsunin says:

      Oh my, that word is a heteronym? I never knew, the handful of times I’ve heard it, it was pronounced as if to row a boat.

    • flibbidy says:

      i mean.. surely it can’t be.

      I can’t find any evidence of it. maybe there are just a lot of morons.

      • Phrumptious Bandersnatch says:

        What is this madness of only pronouncing “row” as in “row your boat” even when you mean to have an argument… Heretics all!!

  7. suibhne says:

    “…the pathfinding seems worse than before”? Ugh. It was atrocious in the original game – compounded by the fact that, outside of combat, characters can move through friendly spaces without issue, but those become 20-foot-tall-10-foot-diameter concrete pillars as soon as combat begins.

    • mgardner says:

      Well, the name of the game IS Pillars of Eternity, after all.

  8. Jane Doe says:

    Hm, well, PoE is one of those games of which you can’t trust any review except your own. For me, it was the most overhyped game of the year.

    – unremarkable PC (I don’t need to be a god-child, but in PoE you’re “just there”. Nobody needs you. Nobody wants you. Not even yourself.)
    – very slow introduction to the lore and story (I had to force myself to move forward)
    – flawed combat system (and I prefer realtime combat over arbitrary action points)
    – outright boring and extremly lethargic followers (except for the singing Shrek, ugh, I miss Morte)
    – no romances (not a biggie, but I like having the option)
    – non-existant party AI (slightly fixed with 2.0, but still far from modern script customizations alá Dragon Age, Durance happily buffs against Sickening attacks while letting party members die from melee blows, etc. They also fire very slow. My paladins Lay on Hands takes 10-15sec to activate once a party member has fallen below 50%. That’s usually too late then.)
    – loading screens, loading screens, loading screens (even on SSD with excessive loading times)
    – pre-school level crafting system (although I rarely craft in singleplayer games, so I didn’t really mind, just found it silly)
    – extremly arbitrary camping system (running back to the inn every 30min is no fun when the game takes 5min to load in total)

    Speaking of the camping system. I wonder if we ever get a somewhat immersive rest mechanic. Its really not that hard: Let the party rest anywhere as often as they like, but make it uncomfortable over time depending on the location (green meadow vs spider-infested cave) and constitution. Characters with low constitution suffer skill losses first, strong fighters a bit later. Camping in the wilds takes its toll on people, especially if you spent the day fighting monsters and have to sleep with one eye open, but it shouldn’t be limited by a single arbitrary number decided by the developer … sorry, dungeon master. Immersion comes from values that are tied to character stats, like constitution in this case.

    They could have at least tied the resting supplies to the strength of the party, … but oh wait! That wouldn’t work, since we get a bag, … sorry, box of endless extraplanar space at the beginning of the game. In that regard PoE is very much like Witcher 3 with its excessive vacuum cleaning behavior.

    Anyway, congrats to anyone who likes this game. To me it was a huge disappointment. I will wait until both expansions are at 5€ together on GoG.

    • Elgarion says:

      I agree…

    • Oozo says:

      I, for one, really liked the camping system in the Dark Eye games. Granted, there were more of a “medevial fantasy hero sim” than what is nowadays called RPG, but if you were up to the simulation aspects, it was great. Travels really felt like travels, and when the night drew near, you could force your party into a march (risking health, not only health points, mind you, but also risk to get weak enough to catch one of several illnesses), or find a suitable place to camp. The quality of the place did depend on locaton and “wilderness” skills — a skill that is all but useless in Pillars, by the way. Once you had found a place to rest, you could send out party members trying to find food/water, or plants used for alchemy. (Again, depending on their skills.) Before you went to sleep, you could apoint party members to stand guard — which would decrease the quality of their sleep, but had the important advantage of them being awake should you get attacked during the night. Which could happen pretty regularly and would force you into a battle.
      Also, how much health points you would regenerate during your rest would depend on a variety of factors, for example your equipment (sleeping rolls are better than blankets, but to weigh more, and so on). What’s important, too, is that you did not have to rest all that regularly while being in a dungeon — spell points would decrease, but not as arbirtarily as in a low level D&D game or Pillars. It felt more like something you would do because people need to sleep sometimes, and not because an arbitrary counter reached zero.

      I mean, I guess that a lot of people would find all this cumbersome, but maybe one could find a half-way point between such a detailed system and one where a lot of skills do feel like people just had to put them into the game because that’s what players expect, even though they are not of much use and could be called basically by any other name. (I really fought that in Pillars you just had to invest a minimum of points in a few specific skills for any class, but other than that, those skills were really not relevant enough to warrant being in the game at all.)

      • JFS says:

        I just hope they don’t introduce the shoe breaking of the Dark Eye games. You actually had to carry spares or risk never making it out of the wilderness!

      • Niko says:

        I’ve only played Realms of Arkania, not the tabletop ones, but I loved all that – that every part member had to have cutlery, sleeping bags, blankets on them. It was very personal, and I felt so sad when one of them would catch a cold after getting in a cold brook.

      • SanguineAngel says:

        this sounds superb! you may have sold me on it

    • lemartes says:

      i agree with the points you mentioned.
      i rarely skip any text in the games, but at the start of the game, especially at the first town, i was so overwhelmed with all those wall of texts(past lives of souless ones).
      Putting all that information to first 10 mins while players dont feel any attachment to the game was just plain bad story telling/planning.

      • Paul B says:

        Frankly, after a while, I just started skipping all those past souls texts – especially after I learnt they were created in part by kickstarter backers. I don’t feel I missed anything by doing this.

    • Ejmir says:

      I agree too.
      PoE is rather a good game, but certainly not one of the best.

      For me it’s like, in an other genre, Endless Legend. The devs say they revolutionnized a genre with a new game system and inventive characters and world, but it’s completely wrong, as their game systems are not better (and probably even wind-broken), and their new races are just arrogant parodies of the traditional elves, dwarves and other orcs.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      I disagree with much of your comment (not that you should /alter/ your tastes!) but wanted to say that I love your idea about rest and losing access to skills as characters become tired.

    • Phrumptious Bandersnatch says:

      I kind of agree with this. I wanted to really like this so much, and indeed had a decent-ish time with it. But overtime it become boring, with repetitive combat and endless walls of non-consequential texts. I bounced off it and haven’t had any inkling to return. Maybe this is more of a reflection of my changing tastes and ability to not get bored and commit time to games, who knows… maybe the the me of 15 years ago would have adored this game.

    • iucounu says:

      I liked Pillars a lot, but I haven’t yet bothered to finish it, unlike the superior Divinity: Original Sin.

  9. surethingbud says:

    lol john walker is my favourite, his face is so handsome. win. why aren’t I aware of his editing powers?

    • Iajawl says:

      It his clear dismissal of anyone who has a different experience that bothers me.

    • Incanus says:

      Ok, boy, why don’t you calm out a bit and try to express yourself in a polite and sensible way, for starter?

      It would allow us to take you a bit seriously, right now, we are just wondering if you are bothered by hemorrhoids or a rash of grumpiness.

  10. Iajawl says:

    (no, stop you – you, the person who says it was too easy on the hardest setting – first, no one believes you, second, shush)

    That is tripe. There are post limit threads on the official forums talking about the game being too easy. If you are brave enough to use rpgcodex (and I don’t blame anyone who wont) then you will find that at least half of the players there think it is a walk in the park.

    The game is way easier than it should be. For anyone who is really into this kind of game and understands the mechanics and how to make good characters etc…. the game is too easy.
    The competent players I know who enjoy the game run with parties of 3 or 4 while using mods to limit their xp so that they can enjoy some challenge.

    Not really impressed with you letting your personal bias simply proclaim that no such people exist. I actually came to read this review in the vain hope that maybe someone had tuned up the combat to make the game interesting. I never bothered finishing the main game and rated it a Diablo3 out of 10 on the failure to live up to its hype scale.
    Idc whether others enjoy the game and its combat or not, I don’t think it is fair for those of us which wanted meaningful tactical combat to be thrown under the bus and marginalized.

    • Zekiel says:

      That is a bit scary. I’m currently playing on Normal and finding it a challenge (though I’m not min-maxing or anything). But given there are several difficulty options above what I’m playing with it does surprise me that there’s any general perception of it being too easy.

    • inf says:

      I was about to link a dozen youtube playthroughs and forum posts on path of the damned / trial of iron, showing people steamrolling the game, but your post is elaborate enough. But careful, now they could get all argumentative and just call you a liar :’).

  11. OmNomNom says:

    Good to hear the difficulty has ramped up. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to replay this game!
    I am one of those needing-to-be-shushed who didn’t find it much of a challenge on hardest once you had say 4+ people in the party which was a shame as it made the later part of the game fly by. But i did cut my teeth on games like Baldurs Gate 2 along with many others.
    That said i haven’t played since it has had lots of fancy patches so i plan to see how far i can get solo druid and maybe expand my party size to 3 before game end if it gets a bit silly hard.

  12. Wulfram says:

    I wish Dragon Age would get Dragon Age’s incredible system back

  13. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Regarding difficulty. Haven’t yet played PoE, waiting for the “final” version.
    But I remember BG1&2 plus add-on. It wasn’t hyped as being hard and wasn’t considered hard back then. Of course when stingy and someone died you reloaded but wipes were uncommon. On first playthrough yeah you wander into powerful enemies and reload the area before and get better equipment.
    After hundreds of hours experience it’s pretty much a walk in the park. I wonder how that compares to PoE in this regard. It looks pretty much like old infinity games on screenshots.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Of course some enemies were optional and meant to kill you like the demilich so you needed certain equipment and strategy much like say emerald weapon in FF7.

    • inf says:

      If you played the IE games for ages back in the day, prepare to cheeseroll even easyer through this. This game is the epitome of Sawyerism(tm), there are no wrong choices in character building, and the combat is a non stop borefest of trash mobs and uninspired encounters.

  14. Cyrus says:

    Why does a game that is not focused on combat get a expansion that is precisely that?! Read from other sources.
    Plus you don’t get xp from combat, doesn’t
    add up really.

    • inf says:

      What? Just because the game also features substantial amounts of written dialogue doesn’t mean that it is story driven. This game features so much chunks of non-stop (grindy) combat that it rivals even Icewind Dale. The general consensus is that it is very much a combat driven game.

  15. Phantus says:

    I felt the same way as the reviewer. Loved the base game. The patch fixed and added a lot but the DLC is lack luster, mid game content that should have been released altogether, not in two parts and certainly nowhere near $25. The only other DLC that looks like it’s going to be more out of touch with reality this year is Rising Tide for Beyond Earth.