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The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 14th: Pillars Of Eternity

2015's best RPG.

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What is the best RPG of 2015? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today’s door is…

Pillars of Eternity!

Adam: Last year, Divinity: Original Sin brought me back into the RPG fold. I play loads of games that are somewhere within the genre but it had been a long time since a studio released an RPG that seemed to be tailored to my personal tastes, and that was built on the kind of systemic design that I enjoy in every genre.

Pillars of Eternity was always going to have a harder time earning my love. While I’ve played and enjoyed the Infinity engine RPGs that are a rich part of its heritage – most notably the two Baldur’s Gate games – but they’re games that I’ve always appreciated rather than adored. Where Divinity was built on systems and mechanics that relied on computer simulation, keeping track of hundreds of variables within the world and creating unexpected interactions as elements and play-driven events overlapped, Pillars appeared to be much more focused on the creation of a pen and paper style roleplaying system, and a world to fit snugly around that system.

I thought I’d play for a few hours, nod appreciatively, then head for fresh pastures. Instead, Obsidian’s latest owned my evenings for weeks after release.

John goes into some details about the story and world-building below, and that’s the key to the game’s appeal as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to the obvious inspirations and the history of the genre, it’s no surprise that Pillars of Eternity looks like it might be a very traditional ‘fetch the treasure, grab the MacGuffin, resuce the prisoner, save the world’ kind of deal. Instead, it’s a story made out of interwoven parts; many shorter stories and backstories working together to create something grand. And it’s steeped in a fictional theology that presupposes the existence of a pantheon and then explores the consequences of that fact.

I’d love to see more of the world and characters, and the recent update that added companion AI means that I’m even enjoying combat on my second playthrough, which will involve my first look at the expansion.

The release of Fallout 4 has caused an overly enthusiastic appraisal of New Vegas in some quarters. It’s a great game and my favourite 3d Fallout game but it isn’t my favourite Obsidian game. This time last year, Alpha Protocol was, bugs and all, simply because it felt like a game that nobody else could or would have made. Pillars of Eternity looks like a game that many studios might have made but if you spend enough time with it, and can at least tolerate its stacks of stats and text, you’ll find rare depths and complications.

John: I love it when a game exists in my brain not as a memory of mechanics or moments, but of a place I’ve been. Pillars feels like a crazy holiday I went on.

The effort to create an RPG in the style of BioWare/Black Isle was a complete success, providing something that echoed the ethos and storytelling of a Baldur’s Gate, but with the common sense that’s been added to the genre since. Borrowing heavily from AD&D, but with a completely fresh and original ruleset, this is 60 hours of purist and purest RPG yum.

A god is dead, another appears to be rising up rather too powerfully, and some animancers are learning that raising the dead has consequences. Meanwhile, you seem to suddenly be able to perceive the past lives of inhabitants of the world, and rather more troublingly, children are being born without souls.

It’s into this mix that you become embroiled, alongside far more local and familial matters regarding companions you gather, people you bump into, and personal exploration through a neat little system that lets you select which memories you’re having.

What’s so apparent here is how much love and care has gone into every aspect. The faithful modernisation of the Infinity Engine is done with a delicate hand, the writing is frequently exquisite, the multitude of sidequests interesting and worthwhile. Companions take their time to become meaningful, but when they do, they really do.

It’s smart, tough, interesting and involved, while telling you a story you’ll want to hear. And it contains lines as great as, ““Trouble with having all these gods is you’ve got support no matter how dumb your ideas are. Maybe we had the right idea blowing some of ‘em up. Less of them to hide behind.”

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.

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