Beyond Infinity: Obsidian on modernising the art of the isometric RPG

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When Obsidian Entertainment started work on Pillars of Eternity [Official Site], the studio had two goals in mind. First, it wanted to recreate the style and tone of the classic Black Isle RPGs – particularly Baldur’s Gate. Second, it wanted to modernise that style, taking advantage of today’s technology, and avoiding mistakes made the first time around.

In both cases, the visual representation of Pillars’ fantasy world was crucial to the success of the project. Baldur’s Gate’s distinctive pre-rendered backgrounds have become synonymous with isometric RPGs, and as a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, Pillars needed to evoke that look. But Obsidian also wanted to bring those static backdrops to life using modern graphical techniques: dynamic lighting, particle effects, 3D character models. It would be a blend of old and new, fusing the visual style of Black Isle with modern techniques.

To help promote the Kickstarter campaign, Obsidian released a concept image of what they intended the final game to look like. It’s a gorgeous picture, depicting an idyllic pastoral landscape with verdant foliage, a lichen-covered bridge, ancient marble statues and a crystalline waterfall. It sold the fantasy brilliantly, helping to raise almost four times the funding Obsidian originally asked for.

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There was just one small problem. Obsidian didn’t know how to make the game look like that.

“We had no idea how the tech would even work at the time,” says Adam Brennecke, executive producer on Pillars of Eternity. “The next eight months of development was trying to figure out how to actually make a game that still looked like the Infinity Engine.”

Recreating the aesthetic of a fifteen-year-old, two dimensional RPG sounds like it should be easy, especially with the technology available to today’s developers. But Baldur’s Gate was built on a unique and highly idiosyncratic engine, using a rendering technique that has been somewhat lost to the ages. The problem revolved around Baldur’s Gate’s use of pre-rendered backdrops. Pre-rendering was a clever way of creating detailed, high-resolution environments at a low cost to performance, as the static image means the computer doesn’t have to redraw it with each new frame.

Today, there’s no need for pre-rendering because games can render stunning 3D environments in real-time. Nevertheless, this was the approach Baldur’s Gate used and Obsidian needed to mimic that to live up to their promise. But to look good on a modern PC screen, a pre-rendered image needs to be many times sharper and more detailed than back in 1999.

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In theory, this isn’t a problem. In fact with today’s computers you can potentially render an image with an infinite number of polygons, something that Obsidian had a lot of fun experimenting with. “Our backgrounds, they have millions and millions of really high poly, highly dense geometry, and the art-team just go wild with it.”

The problem is that rendering these images at such detail takes a lot of time. “It takes days to render these images out, because they’re so high-res, they’re 10,000 by 10,000 pixels,” says Brennecke. “It’s more like how a movie is made, where you need a fat renderer farm with a lot of computers churning out these really highly dense, really crazy images all night and all day….that was a big learning process for us, how to hit that balance and figure out how to render things offline.”

Alongside the brute-force of rendering these images, Obsidian needed to adapt the Baldur’s Gate style to suit these sharper images. For inspiration, the art team looked to the Hudson River School, a 19th Century American art movement which produced pastoral landscapes heavily influenced by romanticism. Meanwhile, one of Obsidian’s engineers, Michael Edwards, created a pixel shader that accurately mimicked the Infinity Engine’s approach to rendering. “It was a very accurate representation of how the Infinity engine kind of did their rendering pipeline,” Brennecke says.

hudson river school

With the basics in place, Obsidian created their first dungeon, only to find it looked nothing like Baldur’s Gate. So they went back to Baldur’s Gate and re-examined that game’s aesthetic from every possible angle. “There were a lot of little tricks that they learned how to present the image. For example, especially for interior areas, the front-facing walls are all not there. You don’t draw those at all.” Brennecke says. “The tops of the walls are all black. So it makes, like, where this image is sitting in a black void. Our first prototype dungeons didn’t look anything like that.”

Obsidian’s art team also struggled adjusting to drawing isometric backdrops in general, not only making environments look nice, but also appear proportionally correct from that perspective. “For any height difference, you need a ramp to connect those heights, and whenever you have a ramp that is sloping away from you, it ceases to read as a ramp in our mind because there is no perspective, there is no sense of depth,” says Kaz Aruga, concept artist on Pillars of Eternity and lead artist for Pillars 2. “As you go up the image, you want to make sure it’s increasing in height, not decreasing.”

Eventually, the art-team focussed on developing one area, a tavern interior, with a mind to replicating the Infinity style as accurately as possible. “When we got it into the game, we were like ‘Hey that looks good, we hit the mark with that.’ Then we designed our dungeons with all that in mind,” Brennecke says.

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Like many developers, Obsidian’s design team had spent years working with real-time 3D graphics. Hence, trying to create 2D, pre-rendered, isometric visuals was like forcing a modern textile manufacturer to work with a spinning jenny. When Obsidian began the process of introducing more modern elements like 3D models to Pillars of Eternity, the process became considerably easier.

“The decision to go 3D with the characters was pretty much a no-brainer for us,” says Aruga. “If you go pure 2D you’re making everything, and everything is raw data at that point. So you’re losing a lot of flexibility, like a hat that got rendered out for a set of sprites may not work for a slightly larger character and that’s a unique asset you have to create. Whereas 3D, you just make the abstract hat asset once, and it pops onto the various different rigs.”

The same goes for lighting and shading. Back in the early isometric days with games like Fallout, all of the lighting and shading information had to be detailed manually, a painstaking process undertaken at the time by a designer named of Scott Everts. “He had to paint into the tint information for every single map, for every location,” Aruga says. “So imagine like a fiery, reddish-lit temple interior or something. He would have to go in and define how the character sprites would be tinted.” In Pillars of Eternity, all that information is calculated by the lighting engine, so all the artists have to do is place the lights and define colour, intensity and other variables to create the desired effect.

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Replicating the look and vibe of Baldur’s Gate applied not only to the general aesthetic of Pillars of Eternity but also to the fantasy world Obsidian was building. Given that the game was crowdfunded, Obsidian was aware that backers would have certain expectations of what the experience would be like. Consequently, Obsidian focussed on making the fantasy world grounded and believable over unique and unusual.

At the same time, however, they didn’t want to fall too deeply into cliché. “We base everything in sixteenth-century, central medieval Europe, or medieval time-period, in between medieval and renaissance,” says Brennecke. “And when we introduce fantasy elements, we try to introduce them where it’s like, you kind of know what it is right off the bat, but there’s a unique twist to it, or something that’s unusual about it.”

The key thing with Pillars, however, was to get the game out the door. To get the art-style right, to get the tech working, to meet the expectations of the Kickstarer backers. Yet while Obsidian worked on Pillars, it was also developing another isometric RPG, one with goals at the opposite end of the fantasy spectrum.

Tyranny

Where Pillars of Eternity was designed to meet the expectations of Black Isle fans, in many ways Tyranny was designed to subvert them. It’s an RPG where the evil overlord has won, where your character gets to decide not how to save the world, but how to subjugate it to their will. Even the game’s development cycle was markedly different from Pillars. Where with Pillars a lot of the time was spent getting the tech to work, Tyranny didn’t have to worry about any of that. Indeed, there was a period towards the end of Pillars’ development where the Tyranny team consisted solely of artists, because as game director Brian Heins jokes, “at one point they stole all of our programmers for several months.”

With Tyranny, Henis deliberately wanted to move away from the traditional style that Pillars embraced. This was partly because of the darker, more modern themes that Tyranny was exploring, but also so that people didn’t confuse Tyranny as a sequel or spiritual successor to Pillars. “We wanted to make sure that the game didn’t feel like it was, uh, Pillars 1.5, or was trying to step on the toes of the Pillars franchise,” Henis says. “It was like ‘Well if you have screenshots side-by-side of the two games, and they don’t look like each other. People aren’t going to expect that they are sequels of each others, or set in the same world.”

tyranny2

For Tyranny’s art, the designers deliberately moved away from the grounded fantasy of Pillars, shifting toward something more surreal and stylised. “We tend to have much more simplified forms,” Henis explains. “Like with the characters, if you open the paper doll, you can see they have much more sharply defined lines than a realistic approach would. And we had the same approach to the environment. Even our textures, we went much more low-detail on the texture. Probably [an] even more painted look to the textures than even Pillars 1 did.”

Alongside helping to distinguish Tyranny from Pillars at-a-glance, this more stylised form also acted as a buffer between the player and the subject-matter. Depicting Tyranny’s downtrodden and decaying realm was a difficult balancing act for the team, as they didn’t want to make it so grim and depressing that nobody wanted to play. “We had to kind of find this balance of straddling the line between something that looked beautiful, but not so beautiful that it felt like it was a happy fantasy-land,” Heins says.

The more abstract, surreal style was one approach to doing this, but the designers coupled this with small yet frequent reminders of the long and bloody war for which the player is tasked with swinging the final blow. “Every armour piece that you find has dents and nicks and corrosion, nothing’s brand new and shiny. Everything has been through the war. Every detail you look at, canvas tarps are mended and patched. Nothing is pristine,” Henis says.

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Within a year Obsidian had released two very different isometric RPGs, one a classic, grounded fantasy, the other dark, twisted and unconventional. Now they’re working on a third – Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. For the sequel, Obsidian has taken cues from both previous projects, retaining that link to the classic Infinity RPGs, but setting their story in a new, and far more exotic location. “Deadfire is a place where it is very different from the Dyrwood,” Brennecke says. “The cultures that you’ll find there, the look of the buildings, the architecture, the cities are all completely new and different.”

To complement this, Obsidian is working on a much more complex blend of pre-rendered and real-time elements. This includes reflection probes – so the pre-rendered backgrounds will be reflected in metallic objects such as 3D armour worn by your party. In addition, characters will be lit by indirect lighting from the pre-rendered scene. “So for example, if you have a red light, and it bounces down the hallway, our characters are actually lit properly with that bounce-light,” Brennecke adds.

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Perhaps most intriguingly of all, in response to criticisms that the’ environments were too static, Obsidian has reworked the tech so that these pre-rendered background will, somehow, cast real-time shadows. “The pre-rendered elements in the background scene will actually cast a shadow, so you can calculate cast-shadows from a cliff-side that is pre-rendered, casting a shadow onto the 3D characters who are overlaid in front. Kind of twists your mind a little bit,” Aruga says.

Obsidian is so pleased with the way the lighting and the backgrounds react with one-another that they’ve partially built a party character around the effect to show it off. “One of the characters that you get fairly early-on is a character named Xoti, and Xoti has a lantern that she holds. There’s a narrative reason why she has a lantern. But it’s really cool because you get her early on and you can adventure with her.” Aruga says. “Walking down very dimly lit dungeons, you can see how all the materials react with one another, how the light bounces off walls and stuff like that. It looks amazing.”

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With Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian knew what kind of game they wanted to make, but didn’t know how to make it. With the sequel, both these potential problems have already been solved, and Obsidian can simply focus on making the game they want to make. “We did the heavy lifting in the base game,” Aruga concludes. “If the base game was like a rollercoaster, where we’re fixing the coaster as it was going up the hill, it feels like Pillars 2, the production feels like riding a Lamborghini or something. It’s so much smoother.”

50 Comments

  1. Infinitron says:

    “Deerwood”

    Oh no you didn’t.

    • Infinitron says:

      Also “Shodi” = Xoti.

      • LexW1 says:

        Oh god, I know where I’ve seen errors like this before. From secretaries but particularly from document processing at the firm where I used to work. They’d get a dictation, and whilst the secretaries would often have the fee-earner available to ask about the spelling of a strange word, document production wouldn’t, so would often make a lot of these quasi-errors/phonetic transcriptions.

        I wonder if RPS has started using dictations, or has got a new “document processing” equivalent, and is perhaps just not going over their articles quite precisely enough.

  2. Zenicetus says:

    And for all of that research and experimenting, they still managed to make isometric room and dungeon interiors in Pillars where your characters could be completely hidden inside the black shadowed wall areas. In an isometric RPG you’re supposed to block movement paths so that doesn’t happen. Maybe they fixed that later on, I dunno. I didn’t buy the DLC or Tyranny.

    I did manage to finish Pillars and it was okay. Next time I hope the writing is a bit less turgid, and there is less filler combat.

    • tormeh says:

      Tyranny’s writing is a lot better, if that does it for you. I thought it was the better game, but that’s an unpopular opinion.

      • ashleys_ears says:

        Agreed. Though by contrast, the combat feels, if anything, more repetitious and filler-y.

        • ThinkMcFlyThink says:

          But substantially less frequent, which I greatly appreciated. Combat has always been the least interesting part of isometric RPGs to me, but in Pillars it seemed to be the main attraction.

      • LexW1 says:

        To be fair, Pillars’ DLC also features better writing, but yes, Tyranny is a lot less dry in its writing, in part due to the introduction of this system where you can hover over a word/phrase to have it explained, instead of them having to exposit about it. Thankfully Pillars 2 is incorporating this, which should hopefully allow for less exposition, and more character writing.

    • milligna says:

      The DLC was the best part, really.

  3. Michael Fogg says:

    I wonder if this art-heavy approach is worth it in the end, given the alternative of a tile-based engine where environment assets could be reused. Maybe that could save time to work on game balance more ;)

    • DrazharLn says:

      Why is it better to spend less on art and more on “game balance”?

      • Michael Fogg says:

        The art in question is a static digital painting, essentially unchanging, and you can only see a fragment any given time. And despite all this work I can’t really recall any of the game’s areas, and I finished it just a few months ago.

        • Booker says:

          Maybe it’s just you. It’s been years since I played Pillars and I remember countless areas very well.

          • onodera says:

            I remember the endless warrens of Skaven cultists under Dyrwood. I guess every game must have a dungeon that is too fucking long.

    • RuySan says:

      It’s a single player game, so fuck balance, seriously.

      One of the joys of old RPGs was finding what were the overpowered skills, and which ones we could abuse. Even newer games like Morrowind let you create your spells, which was unbanlanced af, but lots of fun. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible in Skyrim, possible because younger players are obssessed with “balance”.

    • LexW1 says:

      Funny you say that re: game balance. A frequent complaint about Pillars is that it is far too balanced, that they spent far too much effort balancing the game (lots of slightly-strange reasoning was tossed around, usually focusing on “single-player games shouldn’t be balanced” or “People who select Ranger WANT a harder game!” (they don’t).

      And yeah, if you look at how cheap, ugly and generic most tile-based games look, I think we can firmly say it is worth it. Even the absolute peak tile-based isometric games (Path of Exile, for example) look pretty “meh” compared to Pillars 2. Even the mighty Diablo 3, by the masters of visual design at Blizzard, looks pretty cheap and generic compared to Pillars or Tyranny, if you actually watch each game for say, a few hours.

  4. Lars Westergren says:

    Great article.

    That’s something like 6-8 articles about Obsidian the last week on RPS, Eurogamer, USGamer. Bastard’s Wounds expansion to Tyranny about to launch, but this feels like something more. Another Kickstarter? Revealing the secret RPG project they’ve been working on for years with Tim Cain et al? (Pls yes!) Obsidian getting bought? (Pls no!)

    • ravenshrike says:

      A good Fallout game?

      • Lars Westergren says:

        If an established franchise, I’d put my money on Vampire/World of Darkness, or Alpha Protocol 2/Beta Scenario – The Trademark Avoidening looong ahead of Beth letting anyone touch their stuff again.

        • Herring says:

          “Alpha Protocol 2”

          Get thee behind me, Satan.

        • LexW1 says:

          I think that’s the most likely. I believe they implied it wasn’t an IP they’d previously worked on as a company, though, which would rule out Alpha Protocol 2. Given the people involved, a World of Darkness game is highly likely, and could be totally amazing. I would be happy with a new IP, especially a modern-day one (whatever genre – spy, urban fantasy, cop, etc.) or a sci-fi one (preferably not another “wasteland”-y deal though).

          It’s a pity re: Alpha Protocol 2, though, because AP was certainly one of the smartest, sharpest and best-written CRPGs, of well, ever. Why is it so many well-written CRPGs have horrible gameplay problems? DA2 had better writing than most Bioware stuff until the end-of-game railroad and idiocy fest, but horrible gameplay. New Vegas, well, the bugs… and it didn’t play great even after they got fixed. It almost seems like if you have great gameplay (ME2, for example), you must have a serious writing flaw (it had snappy character writing and fun dialogue – if a tad action movie – no bad thing in the context, but a terrible overarching plot and lost a lot of the “space mystery” of ME1, despite being about solving a space mystery…).

          • malkav11 says:

            I’d offer ME2 as an example of writing over gameplay, personally. I hated basically everything about the game from a mechanical perspective, but the companions and their associated quests are some of the strongest writing in the franchise (though, admittedly, the main quest is terrible and there are plenty of continuity errors).

      • BobbyDylan says:

        I would back a fallout 2-esque game from obsidian. I can’t get excited for another Fantasy RPG tho. Pillars was great but I felt it was a bit of a chore at the end there.

      • Carra says:

        Wasteland 3 is being developed.

    • Vilos Cohaagen says:

      Their PR team is certainly working overtime.

    • Fade2Gray says:

      Come on Arcanum 2!

      I can wish, OK.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Big Dunc says:

    Being a massive fan of the Baldur’s Gate series, I absolutely love the art in Pillars of Eternity. However, I just can’t bring myself to actually like the game, no matter how hard I try, and I just can’t put my finger on exactly what the problem is.

    • ThinkMcFlyThink says:

      Have you tried Tyranny? I wanted to love PoE (I was an early backer), but ultimately never enjoyed it. I didn’t like the combat, and the combat was frequent, and I wasn’t really hooked by the world. I loved Tyranny though, and look forward to playing again when the expansion releases.

      • Premium User Badge

        Big Dunc says:

        Yeah, maybe it was the combat that put me off… I remember it being quite frequent and having to micromanage every encounter as there was a lack of even the most basic scripting on release.

        I guess one day I might go back and give it another go, but for the moment, a lack of time and motivation and too many other games to play will keep me away from it.

        • LexW1 says:

          That’s fair enough. It’s a huge game, very very long, longer with the DLC (which is actually better than the main game), and unless you actually like the combat, can be rather frustrating.

          And I say that having finished it three times… >.>

          I will say, if you do give another go, set the difficulty to Normal, and turn the AI up to maximum, that’s probably your best bet for a positive experience in combat. Or just wait for Pillars 2. You don’t need to import from Pillars 1 or anything.

          • Cederic says:

            That doesn’t fix the killer flaw though: All these “once per sleep” skills, so you keep them in reserve, then find out you have to sleep anyway because you need to heal, and then you run out of sticks to make a campfire..

            I’m about to enter a fight. Let me fight. Let me unleash eternal torment on my pitiful enemies. Let me finish that fight and a few seconds later be ready for the next one.

            All that artificial delay and resource constraint is not fun, is not needed and makes the game frankly boring.

        • Fade2Gray says:

          I don’t know if you played after they released some of the later patches, but they toned down the filler fights. The game can still be fairly micromanage-y, but they also put out a “story mode” difficulty that makes combat a bit easier so you don’t have to constantly pause and issue orders if you don’t want to.

    • RuySan says:

      Same here, but i know what the problems are, at least for me. An inconsequential character system and overly-convulted writing. For me the best fantasy stories are the ones that are personal, like in The Witcher 3, specially in side-quests. PoE tried to be overly epic, and completely failed to connect in the process. Also because in developing a new world, the creators were overly enthusiastic about showing it, and mentioning places that meant nothing to us. It would be a much better idea to start small, and expand the universe in the sequels.

      But yes, it looks great and it’s a shame there’s no better game underneath it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Big Dunc says:

        The ironic thing for me, is that I was so excited about PoE prior to it’s release, which makes my overall disappointment with it even more annoying. Conversely, I had absolutely no interest in the Witcher series, as it looked like a generic RPG with uninteresting characters. It wasn’t until I picked the first one up in a Steam sale last year for about £2 that I finally played it. I then ploughed my way through all three games (plus DLC) and have to say that the Witcher 3 is one of the best games I have ever played.

  6. Foosnark says:

    search for: Henis
    replace with: Heins

    I worked with Brian on DragonRealms, ages ago. Seeing his name misspelled multiple times is like that scene where Lisa Simpson keeps poking Bart’s fresh tattoo.

  7. Unsheep says:

    They are not ‘modernizing’ a style though. They are simply applying modern technology to a highly orthodox RPG style. There’s technical innovation in what they do, but that’s the extent of their work. They have not created a unique style of their own.

    In contrast, the game Transistor did in fact modernize the isometric RPG style. To a lesser extent, X-Com Enemy Unknown did that as well.

  8. majek says:

    I just had to register to say that IMO Icewind Dale series had far more memorable backgrounds than anything in Baldur’s Gate. And since BIS actually made that the connection is even more prominent than with Baldur’s Gate series.

  9. Disgruntled Goat says:

    I’d say Larian is doing a better job than Obsidian in the isometric RPG space.

    The Divinity: Original Sin games are more dynamic visually, contain better writing, and the turn-based combat is actually fun and tactical.

    • Fry says:

      Better writing?? Good lord. The writing in D:OS is awful.

      RTwP vs turn-based is an eye of the beholder thing, but I can enjoy both. On higher difficulty levels, I find Pillars combat to be a deeper experience requiring more comprehensive knowledge of status effects and positioning.

      • dmastri says:

        The writing in D:OS is purposefully cheeky and at the same time has serious overtones. It does, far & away, a much better job of conveying world than Pillars. And echoing earlier sentiment, this is coming from an old school fan who really, really, really wanted to get into POE, but couldn’t.

        To me the combat in POE fell flat. Their whole character system didn’t do it for me, too many steps removed from the classic systems of yore. I don’t want incremental improvements and percentages, etc. I want cool abilities and weird class stuff that exists in the PnP world.

        Here’s hoping POE2 can be the true BG2 successor we’ve all wanted.

        • malkav11 says:

          Funny, I thought Pillars was an excellent example of cool abilities and weird class stuff, let down by hyper-busy real-time combat making it overly difficult to parse the flow enough to make interesting tactical use of those abilities and class features. (Well, and a few too many incremental status effects, I’ll grant you.)

        • Mongward says:

          While I have tremendous respect for Larian for making cool and creative games, D:OS went off the hook. Divinity always had some tongue-in-cheek content, but D:OS felt like “Monty Python the RPG”. The sheer absurd of much of the game did little to portait a coherent and functional setting. It did great to be a background to player shenanigans, but if Fallout 2 gets flak for *ekhm* immersion breaking due to encounters, then D:OS should too. Rivellon felt like a joke there.
          I have high hopes for D:OS2 because it’s been said that the story is more serious, though.

        • onodera says:

          I agree about the percentages. The characters required multiple levels of investment before their strong and weak sides could be made visible. I know it’s what Josh wanted, but the end result was kinda unsatisfying.

          When I add one point to the character’s strength, I want their attacks to go from “whup, whup” to “WHAM, WHAM”, especially since the level-ups in PoE happen much rarer than in NV or DA:O.

          I guess a system with very discrete power levels is much harder to balance than a smoother system of PoE.

    • RuySan says:

      D:OS has better writing for what’s trying to achieve. It’s supposed to be a silly world, and while the writing isn’t great, it partially achieves its goal. PoE writing and plot on the other hand…wasn’t any good.

  10. NarrowCentury says:

    I’m hyped as hell for Pillars 2.

    I really dug the grounded approach to worldbuilding in Pillars 1. A lot of people found it boring, but I’m of the opinion that engaging originality has more to do with the details than the broad strokes, and the Dyrwood was packed with little lively flourishes that let the lives of the characters inhabiting it feel incredibly vivid. The well considered political and anthropological backdrop went a long way to lending the whole thing a sense of historicity that let the fantastic elements “pop” even more than usual. I loved the twist about the pantheon, the ultimate questions raised by the final decisions, just about everything about the story. I liked how “crisp” the voiced dialogue was, though I’m not sure how much of that was a result of the vocal performances and how much was in the audio processing.

    And I even really liked the combat! I don’t really understand the argument that it had too much “filler combat.” Yeah, there were a lot of fights, but they usually had interesting environmental or tactical do-dads, and no particular kind of combat dragged on for too long, especially when compared to the genre’s antecedents. For my money, Dragon Age Origins had a much worse and more repetitive grind than even the OG infinity engine games, and MUCH worse than pillars, so I have a hard time following why Pillars gets so much hate.

    For whatever reason, Tyranny’s combat left me a good deal cooler. I hate juggling cooldowns, especially since the basic attacks always felt limp wristed and useless, so I was compelled to babysit the hot-bars on four party members, and the anxiety of needing to be as efficient as possible in the fights that I hated in order to not have my skills penalized in the role-playing sections is what ultimately killed the game for me. Fascinating world, richly realized, too much of a pain to get through.

    My favorite Obsidian moment! Fallout New Vegas, Freeside. I was actually watching my brother play, he’d decided he’d had enough of the filth-covered bastards in Freeside and had killed the Garretts and the Van Graffs, so his reputation was terrible. One of the muggers ran up to him, like they do, and said “Hey! You! Hand over all your… your… Oh crap. I’m s-s-sorry, I didn’t realize it was you! Oh, god, here, take all my money, just don’t hurt me!” and then turned and ran away. Loved that so so much. A little thing that probably didn’t take very long to add, but it did so much for immersion.

    • Mongward says:

      I think the rpoblem people had with PoE, just as I did, was that it did more to “tell” us the world rather than “show us”. I know the boundaries are blurred in a text-first type of game, but we hardly ever see any of the things we’re told about in flavour text, in tool-tips etc. We’re being told the world is this and that, but what we’re experiencing on the basic level is a D&D-like setting filtered through some mild Renaissance features.
      As a result PoE reads like one huge exposition dump, and it’s not even written especially well, sacrificing clarity of concept to more wordy phrasing. Tyranny also introduces a new setting, but manages to do it much more reasonably, in small chunks at the time, and there is a lot of the world’s specificity that we experience first hand.
      As for combat and mechanics, I think Pillars botched their attempt to be both familiar to D&D players and something new. The hybrid we got was something of a mess, with utterly nonsensical attributes (who knew a high-damage wizard could double as a bodybuilder?) and only slight, yet confusing or unwieldy changes to familiar D&D classes.

  11. fdel says:

    Modernized? Really. If by modernizing the author means applying another kind of tint, or various at the same time. Sure. But this is far from modernizing in my dictionary.
    Imho:
    Modernizing would be have a world or at least a patch of it, and not some pretty small drawns as map that doensn t fit of transmit any world like feeling. It feels old and unsatisfying.
    Modernizing would be stopping to do straightforward tales of good VS evil, you being necessarily the good. (Tyranny is not about being evil, its about rooting evil while choosing the lesser evil. This was written all over and thats why i never bought it. (i also was pissed on how they freaking inserted the DLC in pillars, so i wasn t willing t give them my money.) Better shades of grey and less black and white would be refreshing as hell. As sidequest that entangle with the main quest. Too many quest that feels: its there for you to level up.
    The 2 points above entangle and make the major step for modernization: Freedom of playing. In Obsidian games you feel like cattle being guided to the abatoir. Be of level or die. Do as we want or die. Freedom with maybe 2 or 3 possibles ending, and, various beginning, so you don t have to suffer always the same beginning when you wan t to replay, that would be what i consider a huge step forward, real progress.

    I was relatively hiped for Pillars o eternity, and didn t regret buying it. I wasn t for Tyranny, and still isn t (waiting some mega sale to acquire it) I can t say i don t have a penchant for Pillars 2, but i m skeptic. I will probably acquire it simply because there s no competition, but i expect more of the same, no surprises and this make me sad.

    Imho internal daemons consume Obsidian:
    – Selling more than what they can bargain for.
    – Willing to make things too complex with no apparent final results.(combat is a good example – how many time did you ever switched a weapon because it was cutting and ennemy required blunt? – such feature are killed by weapon specialization and enchantments. Imho waste of time, or not enought time thinkering it)
    – Lacking the courage to take the next big step. One would think that with P I and TYR they had enought money to take…but no.
    With games like Skyrim MMOs, that offer worlds to explore (not judging quality here) one would think they would step up. Damn even 2D on comodore 64: Curse of the azure bonds, Pool of radiance, even Neverwinternights felt more like a world than Pillars.

    I don t know about you people, but i don t remember Pillars for gorgeous cenários or tale background, great game mechanics or whatever. i remember it because its the only recent isometric real old school RPG on the market.

  12. jeremyalexander says:

    I have to be honest, I didn’t look at POE as a modern version of the Infinity engine. I looked at it as a clunky imitation with worse combat, pathfinding, and even in some respects, worse graphics. The sequel looks promising, but many of the old Infinity engine games were far superior to POE.