Review In Progress: Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire

Pillars Of Eternity II is seemingly infinity hours long. Despite a week of playing, I’m still going, so here’s my in-depth thoughts about the game excluding the impact of its ending. I will update later.

What a lot Pillars Of Eternity II feels like it has to do. It needs to be a completely new dozens-of-hours-long RPG, while it also needs to be a sequel to 2015’s stunning first outing, while it needs to feel like it’s evolved from then, while it needs to feel like it’s faithful, while it… In many ways, it succeeds despite being tugged in all these directions. And in others, it feels wearily stretched from the process.

Such is the nature of this sequel that to explain its opening plot is to impose upon the ending of the last. There’s no real way around that. You’ll perhaps remember that PoE1 was about, amongst other things, a blight of soulless children on a region shortly after a god, who took on human form, had been killed. That god, Eothas, is back, and bigger. In a giant form, he erupts from the ground under your castle in Dyrwood, destroying it, and then strides off toward the archipelago of Deadfire, stamping on all sorts on his way.

The destruction of Caed Nua also destroys you, The Watcher, whoever you might have been in the first game, and sees you in the In-Between, confronted by Berath, the god of death. (Now, if you finished PoE1 you’ll be thinking, “But hang on…” and yes, it does address that rather sticky issue of deities, while at the same time rather fudging around it.) She wants you reborn, to tackle Eothas, and in the process gives you the chance to import an end-game save from the last game to bring over all your decisions, re-decide everything again in meticulous detail, and most of all, reroll your character entirely afresh.

However, despite being able to import your choices, for some reason you can’t import your actual Watcher. Which makes it a giant pain for anyone wanting their previous avatar. I wanted Ambree, my paladin from before, and had to load up PoE1 and copy all the minutiae of who she was to get it all right. Either way, your stats are scrapped and you start from level 1 again.

You awaken on a ship, your ship, to find that most aged of Bioware-inherited traditions in place: the most bland whitebread character possible first to join you. And it’s Eder, Mr Meh from the first game. Quickly you gather up rogue wizard Aloth. Then you bump into Pallegina, and… well, it becomes a little concerning this is going to feel like a band reuniting long after they should have retired. Thankfully, while there are more familiar faces to come, you can pull together a new team of new characters reasonably quickly.

This opening feels incredibly rushed. You wake up from death in a hand-drawn cutscene that obliterates your castle, and then you’re fleeing by ship to another land, bam. The impact of this almost incidental establishing lasts for a really long time, in a game that’s already extraordinarily open and loose, meaning that you’re going to have to do a lot of work yourself to let the events feel like they’re of any particular import or impact.

The counter to this, of course, is you’ve got an extraordinarily open and loose RPG, with a vast network of islands to explore, at your own pace, while introducing a whole new set of mechanics around owning and operating a ship, a crew, and indeed, the matter of ship combat.

I think at this point how you receive the game will very much be determined by what you love most about this old-school model of RPG. If you play for the tight stories, propelled down a main quest by an urge to save the day, torn away to side quests because of the personalities of your adored gang, then PoE1 met your needs splendidly. If, however, you prefer to amble, to get lost down a quest line completely separate to the main reason you’re there, to get embroiled in the politics and matters of new communities and peoples, to pick and choose and just occasionally get back to the main quest as and when, the PoE2 has this in spades.

I am, undeniably, in the former camp, and have struggled with Deadfire’s sprawling nature. I’m not sure, though, that this is entirely on me. I suspect rather strongly that the big issue with what is, unquestionably, an astoundingly vast and intricate and often pleasing role-playing game, is that it fails to get across to me why anything that’s happening really matters.

It all appears to be a look at colonialism, at the spread of various trading companies around the 17th century, along with the piracy and seafare that accompanied this. As such, you can start to align yourself with one company over another, become a menace to the lot of them, or just try to keep out of it entirely.

Alongside this, there are many new cultures to discover, whose lives are heavily impacted by this colonialism. For example, there’s an exploration of a caste system, interestingly applied to an allegedly socialist society of the Huana. Wealth is redistributed, but based on a notion of a meritocracy, that in reality is an outdated hierarchy of class. The lowest caste, the Roparu, are essentially Dalits, patronised by the two tiers above (a working-middle class, and a royal upper class, the Mataru) as needing to be looked after, and then supposedly having grown too numerous to be cared for. Which is of course to say, never given adequate opportunity, and then grown in number such that to redistribute wealth fairly would mean the higher castes would get less… You can see the level of detail that is going in to such things, and this applies absolutely everywhere.

And as a part of an archipelago so strongly under the thrall of finances, money is a much more important factor this time around. In PoE1, I think the aspect of employing staff at Caed Nua, and paying them regular wages, was a little undercooked. You never really needed to think about it at all. In PoE2 it’s much more crucial, especially early on when cash is tight.

You get between the many islands by boat, always, and on the way you could run into watery trouble. To be able to outrun, out-cannon, or out-fight another boat’s crew, you need people on board. You can hire workers at ports, and pick them up through side quests, each with a set of starting skills. Perhaps they know a bit of cooking, or their way around the rigging. Assign them to the appropriate space on your ship layout, and then they start to gain levels in their abilities through practice. Also, they may get injured, which means taking them off duty for a few days, and ideally in the care of your hired ship’s surgeon. So you may want back-up crew for such times. Oh, and they’re all going to not only need paying, but also food, drink, and medical supplies, which can be bought, scavenged and stolen on your journey. And all of these aspects, alongside victories and failures in naval battles, as well as little adventures, affect your crew’s morale. Let it get to low and they will be far less effective. Let it get very low and they may mutiny.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s all well implemented, and once you’ve gotten the hang of it it really doesn’t interrupt the flow. It’s just the getting the hang of it part that’s a problem, with the game woefully bad at explaining it all to you. I spent so long not understanding why crew weren’t getting healed by the surgeon, for instance, and really couldn’t get to grips with how to recover morale. This is not helped by a very peculiar decision, in a game that wears the rest of its stats ridiculously loudly, to hide all the numbers for your crew. Instead there’s a really very silly system of unexplained studs and stars on their pop-up tooltip, that fails to properly communicate at any point the standard of your ship and crew.

Ship combat is then a whole other learning experience, and you may be surprise/relieved to learn, isn’t about a little arcade game in the midst of RPGing. It is, in fact, entirely text based. It all plays out like a little Twine game. I’ll go into more detail about this in a separate piece tomorrow, but it’s a superbly implemented choose-your-own-ship-battle, where your crew’s experience and the equipment on board play out in a series of turn-based decisions of tactical positioning, cannon firing, and crew maintenance.

Ship fights can end either by sinking the enemy boat, or by boarding it and having a fight back in the main game engine. But rather tragically, the two don’t integrate at all meaningfully, meaning hopes that deliberate using cannon shot that takes out crew members to thin down for an eventual fisticuffs battle isn’t even a thing. It’s such an obvious thing to have included, and really hugely disappointing to discover isn’t there. Instead if you board they magically have a full crew again to fight you. Sigh.

More ridiculously, by the time your own team is of a decent level, it’s far quicker to eschew the splendid Twine-like section, and just whomp them in a 30 second fight, and that way you get more loot for your efforts. A real mess of balancing, and a really sad way to mess up one of the best new features.

On dry land, things play out much as you might expect from an Obsidian RPG, a collection of enormous towns packed with NPCs, mini-quests, taverns and plot-critical estates and temples, alongside single-use dungeons and infiltrated strongholds. Although to get to them, there’s a larger map view for each island, your team moved around as an icon, with time passing as you travel long distances.

As for combat, in many ways it’s similar to PoE1, and indeed the current vogue for pausable real-time RPG combat – each of your characters’ turns is on a timer dependent upon ability and equipment, and you can meticulously manage every action of all five in your present team, or let it play itself out with its AI if you’ve the difficulty low enough/the encounter is simple enough. Most of the time it’s a combination of the two.

However, there have been some attempts to streamline aspects of it, and complicate others. Wizards can restore spells without resting now, while there’s a new ability called Empower that allows you to either restore half of any character’s spent resources, or soup up a specific spell or ability for the duration of that battle, once per encounter. I played on “Classic”, which is the game’s version of Normal, and there’s a Relaxed below that for battles where you can mostly leave them to it, and a Story even lower than that for making fights immaterial.

Then of course there’s Veteran for those looking for a challenge, and beyond that the madness that is Path of the Damned. I suspect for those who enjoy the minutiae of such combat, it’s here that the min-maxing complexity that’s available will shine. And there’s the Expert mode for masochists who want all the useful on-screen information obfuscated. For those of us who prefer to just choose when to lob a fireball, and when to heal a chum, Classic makes this just a bit too simplistic this time out, while higher than that becomes too much of a fiddle.

Saying this, they’ve made the very odd choice to let you change difficulty at any point, but it only affects areas you’ve yet to visit. So if you meet an encounter you can’t get through, er, tough.

More strange, lowering the difficulty to Relaxed also strips the game down entirely of its level gating, and levels every part of the game to your team. This perhaps seems like it’s helping the player not get into scrapes that are too difficult, but it also has the effect of making the entire world simultaneously accessible, in a way that muddles the storytelling.

And wow is the storytelling muddled. The game has so, so many quests open at once, and makes so little effort to make clear what’s happening where and why, that I more often accidentally completed them than deliberately. You can sort quests by the order you received them, or by location, but neither is helpful. The latter especially because sometimes it sorts them by the location where you received them, not where they actually take place, other times only one of multiple locations, and often fails to include key information about where to report them back when completed. With nineteen or twenty open quests at any time, this is dreadful. And even more so when there’s no way to track missions on the map, nor even assign one as your primary focus.

But more important is the lack of weight to most things happenings. When a game’s main plot is that a vast god is stamping entire cities into the ground with each step, you’d imagine there’d be a notion of urgency about this. Yet the Eothas story feels so, so far in the background for so much of the game. It is at once too big and too incidental. The game is for so long far more interested in the astoundingly dull political machinations of a collection of rival trading companies, and the pirates that frustrate them. Petty personal rivalries seem to be the centre of all disagreements, so you do the usual of taking sides, negotiating, or just killing everyone involved.

There’s such a vast amount to do here, and doing much of it is absorbing and entertaining, but ultimately it feels so loose and wayward. Far too much is about being pulled back and forth by the gods, which was last time’s story, and here takes place far too often in long-winded conversation cards that offer you little real choice.

I’ve really enjoyed playing through some of the vignettes, multi-layered dungeons with secrets and multi-part quests, ending with a decent fight. But when they’re done, it’s hard to remember what it was about, and harder to fathom how it connects to anything else that’s happening.

A world where children are being born without souls, scarring generations, while warring factions of a terrifying god attempt to take control: great story, lots of impact. That was PoE1. A world where some giant is stamping somewhere else you can’t see, and there’s a trade war going on that endlessly suggests the complicity of the natives? Yeah, it’s not exactly gripping.

Perhaps more damningly, I just didn’t care about any of the companions. Aloth and Eder didn’t do much for me last time, and just the bare minimum effort has gone into advancing either as people – they feel like a band lazily relying on their old hits. Of the new crowd, I quite liked Maia, and her pet parrot Ishi. But mostly because she didn’t complain as much as the others. They’re a dreary group.

Exploring the nautical map, finding all the undiscovered islands, taking on pirates, or indulging in some piracy, looting shipwrecks, it all sounds like it should be so much more fun. But in execution it’s mostly an elaborate menu. Find a battle on an island and you’ll be in a single location, and when the fight’s over, there’s nowhere to explore, no hidden treats, no dungeons to deep dive. There’s really nothing to be gained, beyond easily bought resources, from exploration, which is such a miss.

I think that describes a lot of what I’ve seen so far: swings and misses. The naval battles are beautifully delivered, but almost immediately redundant, and don’t meaningfully impact a boarding raid. The story is enormous and intricate, but doesn’t feel weighty or important. The combat is astonishingly detailed, but played at the standard setting rarely requires you to use its many mechanisms.

And yet the depth and wealth of effort that’s gone into its world building does have an impact on me. The sense of a place is unquestionably wonderful, and goodness me, there’s so much writing and voice acting in here (gone are PoE1’s awkward half-voiced conversations, with every NPC line spoken aloud). There is a vast amount to do, and it’s undeniably absorbing to busily bustle about the waters, ticking off quest after quest.

I’ve yet to finish it, in a large part because a colleague warned me that by following the main quest too early, he inadvertently locked himself out of a lot of the side quests, with the game offering no warning. My feelings may change as I see the story to its end, and I will write again to say.

There’s no doubt that a new player could play PoE2 without having played the original. But they’d be a person not really understanding an awful lot of what was going on. And, frankly, if you’re interested in playing this game, then you’re interested in playing the original, and should. It’s the better game. And this is very much a sequel that, despite a new setting, many new characters, and a new overarching plot, relies heavily on the enormous volumes of lore and history that the original taught. Often with the most peculiar assumption that you’ll have remembered every detail of a sixty hour, three year old game, or be as in the dark as to who this character that recognises you might be as anyone approaching this game first. Wirtan? No clue. Chatted to me like an old friend.

I wish PoE2 had had more to say, more it wanted to express. I think that would have covered over a multitude of its other sins. Half-ideas about colonialism mixed with exploitation of natural resources by trading companies don’t really deliver the goods here. (That is the best joke.) As it is, despite having spent dozens of hours playing this, I’ve always felt at arm’s length.

Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire is out now on Windows, Mac and Linux for £33/$49/46€ via Steam and GOG.

81 Comments

  1. lordcooper says:

    Yay, spoilers right on the front page.

    • John Walker says:

      What spoiler do you think you’ve seen?

      • Someoldguy says:

        Spoilers I can see in the opening paragraph: You’ve been playing it a lot and it is taking you more than a week to finish.

      • lordcooper says:

        The bit where you describe the ending? Gods coming back and stomping all over your castle etc

        I started playing PoE 1 this morning, wouldn’t have clicked the article if the whole thing wasn’t viewable on your landing page.

        • Drinking with Skeletons says:

          A) It’s a five-year-old game.
          B) That’s not the ending of the first game but the beginning of the second. The ending of the first game is not a cliffhanger and involves no gods or stomping.

          EDIT: OK, it *does* involve gods. But nothing like the scenario that kicks of the new game.

        • John Walker says:

          – None of that appears on the front page of the site.

          – The article itself states clearly that there will be spoilers for the end of the first game before it incredibly vaguely alludes to them, and you read beyond that by your own choice.

          – I described the opening situation of the game I was reviewing, after warning the reader I was about to.

          I think you may have misdirected your ire.

          • lordcooper says:

            The *entire* article briefly appeared on the front page of the site (this has obviously been rectified now), my eye caught that section while scrolling to find the previous article.

          • John Walker says:

            Apologies for the technical error. But I maintain if you read at random from a review of a sequel to a game you’ve just started, and ignore a spoiler warning, then it’s entirely on you.

            You should be pleased to learn that I in fact did not spoil the end of PoE1 anyway.

        • Someoldguy says:

          It must be different formatting because that’s below the expansion link on RPS and Facebook on my PC.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      That’s what I thought of the first paragraph but I figured it’s just about the opening or so.

  2. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I’m curious to see how they “fudge around” the issue of the gods. Because it seems to me the reality of the setting is that the gods are gods, regardless of anything else about them. It’s sort of like someone saying to a dictator that they aren’t a *real* president because they rigged the vote; that may be true, but it doesn’t change the power dynamics of the situation.

    • Hoot says:

      The idea from the first game *SPOILERS* is that the Gods are not Gods in a traditional sense of the word, i.e. celestial all powerful entities, but rather they are constructs created from the souls of the people of Engwith (using adra as a channeling/focusing/creation machine) to embody certain ideals, and thus give people “Gods”, something to believe in and also something that has power of a sort.

      This was done by the cult of Thaos, who himself was an Engwithan, after they discovered that there were no real Gods in order to prevent the world embracing full on nihilism and anarchy.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still, functionally, gods. They can still exert influence just as any traditional god can.

        • Hoot says:

          But because they are constructs linked to the adra of the world, they can be manipulated and even destroyed. “True” Gods cannot.

          Either way, I’m sure to enjoy the game as the first was one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. I love John’s writing but I also disagree with him from time to time. I think this might be one of those cases as from what I’ve seen on Twitch, Deadfire is going to be awesome.

          • Drinking with Skeletons says:

            Depends on your cosmology. In lots of ancient religions–including Norse, Greek, and Egyptian–gods were both all-powerful and absolutely capable of being manipulated and killed. I think it’s pretty clear from the way the POE pantheon is described that they fit into this tradition rather than the Abrahamic “omniscient, omnipotent being utterly beyond full human understanding.”

          • aepervius says:

            By qualifying it as “true” god you actually betray on which religion you are actually thinking of ;). Frankly, I will betray mine by stating there is no such a thing as “true gods”. There are mythological gods to which you *assign* some properties, and you see it/them as the one/ones which you revere, but it is self evident by now that the one/ones you revere are solely linked to where and when you were born, not by the attribute of the deities you revere.

            As such some gods in some mythology are indeed mortal, and sometime even resurrect (some even do resurrect seasonally…). Some other are immortal, and some are defined as not even caring a bit of the human/universe. Again it is a question *mostly* of the culture you were immersed in – conversion from a major religion to another is in all scheme of thing rather rare (far more often it is a conversion from a sub-sect of that religion to another sub-sect). .

            Within the game though, there is no such a thing as a god. only powerful adra based entities. By the end of the first game it should be relatively clear.

          • Hoot says:

            I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, mate. I meant “true” as in a celestial/otherworldly being, not “true” as in correct.

            That your response to this was to go straight to imagined reverences tells me more about your character than my statements tell you about mine.

            For the record, I’m closer to an agnostic than anything else.

            As far as the game is concerned, your final paragraph is correct and basically what I have conveyed in my previous statements.

  3. Someoldguy says:

    I rather expected PoE2 to be too sprawling to make a really great game when they were boasting of how much bigger it was going to be than PoE1. The inadequacies of its quest tracking are really going to make that annoying when you can’t devote 60 hours in 2 weeks to get it done but have to rely on snatched evenings here and there. I’m definitely still looking forward to playing this, but don’t feel any urgency to plug in my backer key and get playing until I’ve had my fill of Battletech.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Big Dunc says:

    “Review in Progress”??!!! This isn’t PC Gamer, dontcherknow!

  5. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    “Far too much is about being pulled back and forth by the gods, which was last time’s story”

    The story last time was that you had been made a Watcher after stumbling upon a mysterious ritual and you needed to address it before you went mad. The gods were involved, but it was almost tangential.

    • John Walker says:

      I really strongly disagree.

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        Now that I’ve had a chance to play the game, I think it backs me up on this. The recap of PoE1 focuses on the Watcher angle, with just a brief mention that you needed the help of the gods and the twist about them. And later, Eder says (paraphrased), “You help the gods *one* time and they expect you to work for them whenever they want.”

        So I don’t think it’s just me that thinks the first game wasn’t all that focused on the issue of the gods.

      • Tikigod says:

        You definitely need to revisit the first game John. Having spent the last week going through the game again so it’s fresh in memory before I fire up Deadfire, the gods in Pillars of Eternity 1 play little to no direct role in the overall game.

        It’s literally in the last 4 hours of the game (Even less if you don’t do side missions) that the gods even get a proper place in the story at all, the previous 45+ hours the gods are just backstory references referred to the same way as people talk about other cultures within the game world… and the whole “The god’s aren’t real” philosophical twist drops itself in the final 30 minutes of the game in the 2nd to last conversation you’ll ever have (The last being Thaos).

        Before that point, the entire core narrative of the game is very much about souls and the wheel. Everything else like Animancy, watchers, awakened souls and such just provide insight into the nature of souls and the endless cycle they go through, some fragmenting and pieces merging with others whilst others remain relatively intact with each turn through the wheel.

        Heck at the end of the day, with what information is provided right at the end when it’s revealed how the Engwithan and their social experiment created ‘The Gods’ having discovered there were none, even ‘The Gods’ are actually just an extension of ‘the nature of souls’ narrative that drives the game, as it’s through their mastery of animancy that they were able to build the adra network that all connects to the master machine you encounter in the end, extract the souls of much of what remained of the Engwithan people (Excluding Thaos of course) and shape their souls into a single cohesive mass that was then fed into the machine and then fed through the network to birth ‘The gods’.

  6. MiniMatt says:

    The economics of games journalism always amazes me. With modern “epic” RPGs taking 80+ hours to complete and get a fair picture of, you realise that’s two weeks work for the reviewer.

    Free Doritos notwithstanding, journalist pay is likely not great, but even at minimum wage, 80 hours for one review has got to result in some wafer thin margins. I think I end up clicking about one RPS-hosted advert a year. I’m getting one helluva bargain.

  7. Tern1010 says:

    How are the loading times between areas and loading saves? I ended up not finishing the first game because after 30 or so hours, the loading times became so long and so frequent I found the game unplayable. Is it any better this time around?

    • John Walker says:

      They’re better, but still annoying.

    • Fishslap says:

      That’s why I’m giving this a miss tbh. I didn’t like the combat and was completely uninterested in most of the NPCs in the first one. But it was the endless loading screens every time you moved from one room to another that made me quit, uninstall and never finish it.
      And it was the same in Tyranny. Not falling for this amateurish publisher a third time.

  8. bramble says:

    I was afraid of this. I liked the first game, the nostalgia of my gaming infancy with the Infinity Engine notwithstanding. The combat was chunky and detailed and you could really get into the nitty-gritty. The world was interesting, if a bit staid. The classes and balance felt good… But I couldn’t LOVE PoE the way I LOVE Baldur’s Gate, and it came down to the writing. The writing, especially it’s pacing, was so uneven.

    Eder was a low-key and amusing companion with a penchant for hilarious one liners. And then Durance was a wall of text that collapsed on you after saying hello, and you didn’t really understand what his deal or motivation was when you’d dug yourself out. The sense of urgency came and went with the wind, one moment the bells tolling meant the baron’s men were en route to massacre the village, and the next it becomes clear you’ll need to wrap up several lengthy side quests before you’re ready to deal with the baron in the first place. The writing was also often confusing. I spent a good deal of the game thinking my caravan-halting indigestion was the “problem” everyone said I had, not the magical insights getting knocked unconscious in the ruins gave me. Maerwald was a mess that I still don’t really get. My character’s reason for saving the day and not just hopping on the next boat to somewhere sunny never seemed very clear.

    Overall, PoE1 felt like the work of a handful of powerful creative forces who never quite shared the same vision and never organized themselves into a truly coherent vision. It sounds like PoE2 is some more of the same. I’ll probably play it anyway.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Eder was the funny but deepsad guy and everyone else had their special quirk and they were ok but no comparison to Imoen or Minsk or Jaheira (actual hatelove for her) or dumb Edwin.

    • Jimbo says:

      Maerwald exists to show you what you will become if you don’t address your developing mental issues, and why you can’t simply sail away. Your character doesn’t know that finding the robed guy you saw outside the ruins at the start (Thaos) will cure it, but you know that seeing him is what triggered your visions so he’s the best lead you have.

      Uncovering the cause of the Hollowborn crisis is arguably the meat of the story, but trying to prevent your descent into madness is the prime motivation which your character is locked into.

      I agree that the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining what’s going on in the beginning. It doesn’t help that you become both ‘Awakened’ (becoming aware of your past lives) and a ‘Watcher’ (able to see the past lives of others) at the exact same time but for two different reasons. It muddies the water between what are two distinct -if occasionally related- states.

    • g948ng says:

      I had a problem with the pacing of the PoE1 main quest, too. So had (a totally representative) 3 of 3 friends I spoke to. The tribal town you visit near the end felt like detention. Uninspired filler you had already done once or twice in the game.
      On the other hand there seemed to be too few fleshed-out side-quests. And all of us loved the endless dungeon below your citadel. It was honest, opt-in dungeon crawling and not pretending anything else.

      The weird main plot pacing underlined the uneven quality and the sense of disjointed, mashed-together content. Like the seeming overlap of the kickstarter stories and the main quest. When I realized not a single one of them came to anything I was quite disappointed.
      And confused. Because as, Jimbo rightly points out, becoming a Watcher and awakened at the same time is not helpful at all. It gets even murkier when playing that class that actually utilizes souls.

      Long story short, I agree. While enjoyable, PoE1 suffered from a lack of overarching direction. Letting a couple of people crank out content and then trying to mash it together afterwards produces adequate, if not outstanding games.
      The way I read John´s PoE2 review, he seems to imply each of these content creators was given their own playground and leave it up to the player. Instead of trying to enforce common ground or tone. So, a workaround basically. I can´t say if that works for me, yet.

  9. Neurotic says:

    I’ve yet to finish PoE 1, and I fear I got so far into it before leaving it, that starting from scratch would be insufferable, and carrying on from where I left off too confusing. :D

  10. Rulin says:

    No mention of backtracking… So has this improved? I found the constant back and forth in the first game pretty annoying after a while. Back then I missed comfort-features like teleportation etc.

    • aepervius says:

      It greatly improved to the point you can click on a location or a sub location to directly go into that building. At least on the first map it is so.

      To the reviewer “More strange, lowering the difficulty to Relaxed also strips the game down entirely of its level gating, and levels every part of the game to your team” are you sure of that ? On my screen gaming option it was an option below difficulty “level up enemy” always/never/on new area (or something in that direction).

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    Drib says:

    I only played POE1 for maybe an hour or two, it felt weird unfocused to me after the recent years of handholding through everything.

    This sounds… worse.

    Well, I’ll wait for the final review. At the least it sounds like some people probably enjoy it, and so I can maybe hear people talking happily about the game. Living vicariously.

  12. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I’m not getting too excited. And the ability to lower the difficulty is… fair for all I guess but not selling the game to me. Maybe the deeper strategic layer will.
    It would help if not 3/4 NPCs were like bad fanfic placeholders for gold backers again though. Or at least make them look different from actual NPCs so I can skip them altogether.

    Axing everything you did and got in POE1? Butchers and voids the impact of that ending.
    Being nerfed back to level 1 is such a trope, too. I’d rather play a new character or other storyline.

  13. Justin says:

    Question for John or anyone else who knows: Does the game do much to remind you of the previous title’s major events? I really enjoyed the first (so much so that I bought and installed the expansions during my play through, so to not miss a thing) and was very engaged by the story and my choices at the time. I just don’t remember any of it. Am I better off looking for a recap video online or reading a wiki? Or not necessary? I remember a baron, cultists, and a sad farmer. Not much else.

  14. Sin Vega says:

    I was going to make a joke about how we can blame Adam for any flaws, but then I realised his lot do Divinity, not Pillocks of Eternity, so now I insist we do because it’s even funnier.

  15. kagechikara says:

    I scrolled through the review because I bought the game and am looking to playing it as soon as I get home, so I don’t really want to know too much about it.

    The muddled writing and never knowing what was going on are basically how I felt about the first game, as well as the companion’s characterization being weak, so I’m sad to hear that that continues, but I’m not shocked. It seems to be a weakness of the series.

    I really wish there were more games like this coming out, because I’m a huge sucker for huge infinity engine type RPGs.

  16. CelestialSlayer says:

    Thanks for the review. I will pass on this game. I don’t need to have a unstructured quest fest rpg in my life. Ain’t no one got time for dat!

  17. biggergun says:

    Should I buy it if I found PoE lore painfully unoriginal and its’ combat supremely uninspired (compared to, say, Temple of Elemental Evil)? Does the sequel improve these two areas at all?

    • magogjack says:

      It really sounds as if you have answered your own question.

    • onodera says:

      Can’t say anything about the combat (although with Josh at the wheel you shouldn’t expect a game where +1 to anything provides a meaningful change), but the lore has improved, since instead of exploring totally-not-Forgotten-Realms you’re exploring mega-Hawaii.

  18. sege says:

    I’m confused with myself. I was a kickstarter (or whatever crowd funding the original employed) backer of PoE1 as i was a huge fan of Obsidian and just wanted to support them but two separate attempts, and according to steam 83 hours later, i gave up on playing it. It was just sooo boring. This sounds like more of the same only worse. I think it must be me.

  19. Sly-Lupin says:

    Hm… sounds like a mixed bag. Disappointing, even, just a little, considering my expectations were already (I’d thought) rather tempered. I expected PoE2 to to be, like, 2/3rds of a BG2, largely owing to the budget and PoE1 being about 1/3rd of a BG2 (or 4/3rds of a BG1). While I’m bummed that, evidently, trade wars are a major focus w/ the main plot serving more as an afterthought (echoes of Dragon Age abound) I do like, in theory, that they took the Dragon Quest approach of breaking the world stories into mostly-independent-but-also-related vignettes. In practice, who knows, as Deadfire is routinely crashing on me during the intro cinematic.

    Personally I’m also really disappointed to hear the early parts of the game are so.. scattered. Sounds like they tried to do an in media res thing, but gave up halfway to “get to the action,” which is a shame because I’m a huge fan of slow burn intros in my RPGs. Ya’ gotta have lots of buildup if you want the payoff to matter, after all. Sadly it sounds like Deadfire botched both.

  20. Asocialite says:

    Thanks for the extremely thorough, thought-out review. You take the time to explain, in-detail, each problem you had with the game and explained exactly why you thought it was a problem without giving too many spoiler-y details away. Great stuff. I doubt I’ll pick this up, coming off Divinity 2. There’s a new high bar in the CRPG world, and Obsidian have yet to meet it.

  21. qrter says:

    I enjoyed PoE1 up to a point, but I never could get over the feeling that the world felt strangely lifeless and unconvincing. I never finished it.

    I did really like Tyranny, which felt more pointed and specific, and it offered something relatively new, I thought.

  22. Heggman says:

    A kind reminder to everyone that this is a John Walker review. Take it with a bucket of salt.

    • DoctorDaddy says:

      It’s called a Wot I Think.

      Besides, EVERY review should be taken with a grain of salt. Nobody’s perfect.

    • AlperTheCaglar says:

      His beta male opinions on how colonialism should be addressed in Pillars II according to his political views gave many gamers cancer.

  23. BobbyDylan says:

    I think I’m getting a little tired of these bizzare swords an sorcery games. I used to love them, Balders Gates, Niverwinter nights, Torment. But I got half way through POE1 (ok probably closer to 75% through) and stopped playing. I didn’t get even that far in D:OS and haven played Tyranny, D:OS2 and Torment:TON.
    I just don;’t have the time to learn the entire history of a new world just to understand the average conversion I have with a Party member. I remember rolling my eyes at the opening scene of POE1 when it starts dumping religious fluff on you before you’ve even finished lacing up your sandals. FFS, let me get settled first.

    I really hope Obsidian take a break from the Swords&Sorcery setting and make a Post-Apocalyptic, or even Sci-Fi RPG.

    • bacon seeker says:

      I get you, as I thought PoE1 was too lifeless and D:OS was too immature, and didn’t finish either, but Divinity Original Sin 2 is a masterpiece and you’re doing yourself a disservice by avoiding it.

    • AlperTheCaglar says:

      Please never play a PC RPG ever again.

    • Kinsky says:

      You should try Shadowrun: Dragonfall. It’s a very meaty CRPG with an excellent story, and light on the swords and sorcery.

  24. Subject 706 says:

    Hey! I though Eder was well written and funny! Leave Eder alone!

  25. Premium User Badge

    Sihoiba says:

    Questions based on my issues with the first game (having played and completed it all):

    Is the combat still visually confusing? too many spell effects with too much bloom/particles/etc too see what’s actually happening.

    Do the non party NPCs have personality this time or are they primarily lore dump conversation trees?

    Does the character creation still have so many contextless words? e.g. link to gamebanshee.com

  26. Kinsky says:

    This is definitely counter to my experience with the game. I’ve not found it to be deficient in any regard, actually. The story picks up faster and has stronger beats and a more consistent rhythm; combat pace is more deliberate and coherent without sacrificing the difficulty; the overworld is much more developed and stuffed to the gills with explorable things of varying significance/depth; ship management and combat are well-designed and well-implemented (although I agree crew damage should carry over to boarding combat, but it’s worth noting that crew damage does not actually kill the people on board, but injure them badly enough to make it difficult for them to perform their jobs, to the point where injuring the entire crew renders the vessel essentially useless in combat but not vacant); mechanics are more deeply developed across the board; the character writing remains superb. I disagree that Edér is a boring white bread character. Both in this game and the previous, each member of the cast is meant to give insight and a personal perspective on a portion of the world; in the original, Edér was an ex-militiaman with firsthand experience of the Saints’ War, and in this one, he’s an Eothasian with a more mature perspective that regularly brings him into contrast with Xoti. He’s a simple farmer at heart, but one that’s seen far more than the average Dyrwoodan provincial. Similarly, Aloth in the first game was a showcase of the oddities of anima mechanics, as well as a look into Aedyran culture; in this game, his connection with the Leaden Key is leveraged heavily.

    The side quest buffet may be a bit overwhelming at times, and it can distract from the consistency and timeliness of the main quest, but in my opinion this is a well-considered decision. This franchise’s side quests are very rarely ill-developed or trivial, with a handful of exceptions (the bounty quests in the first game, for example, which were mostly just boss fights for extra XP and loot). And while it may be disenchantingly videogames to put a supposedly time-critical objective on hold for indeterminate periods of game time while you run around doing errands for strangers, being forced to bow to a time limit or being too tied to linear story progression can also detract from the experience. It’s a common compromise and I don’t feel such a thing necessarily undermines the narrative. PoE’s genre is naturally expansive and ends up playing a little loose with such things as a result.

    • AlperTheCaglar says:

      Ditto.

      But trying to argue with Walker’s review is like trying to tell a creationist that Evolution isn’t a theory. RPGs are supposed to be overwhelming with side quests so the player gets IMMERSED and feels the suspension of disbelief in the Game World freedom they have.

      Spoon fed, console era RPGers like Walker over here, will never truly truly grasp this. They think the main quest is sacrosanct. They think it should aways harangue and prod the player into the “forced” path of the story. These people think a good story and a good nonlinear experience are mutually exclusive (it ain’t Sherlock). They will never understand that you shouldn’t finish all quests. They will never understand why anybody would create a 1 intelligence buffoon in Fallout 2 for the experience. They are minmaxers who make achievement runs and consider Mass Effect 3 a freeform RPG.

      They’d probably have a stroke if you made them play Daggerfall for the first time. We are living through the Dark Ages, and I am grateful to Obsidian and similar developers for keeping the torch of grand nonlinear RPGs alive.

      • Kinsky says:

        That’s not really fair to John. He has his own perspective on things, and naturally I don’t always agree with it, but I find he often provides a unique line of commentary. If anything, he’s the writer I identify with most on this site – I myself often bear what would be considered contrarian opinions, and the inexplicable lashing that ensues because of it (I once wrote a Steam review for Ori and the Blind Forest that pissed internet randos off so much they bombed it with downvotes, reports, and multiple essays in the comment section accusing me of being an idiot, a troll, tasteless, or some combination of the three). I think RPS is unique among gaming sites in that it cares to maintain a diversity of opinion, whereas writers for most sites are interchangeable or even brazen mouthpieces for moneyed publishers. How long has IGN been the butt of jokes in that regard? I say more power to John Walker, and I hope he continues to post here for a long time in spite of the hate train that seems to follow him so relentlessly.

      • Kinsky says:

        I also wouldn’t accuse John of being a console baby given his affinity for 90s shooters, which is extremely rare these days and something I share with him. I also wouldn’t say that the RPG genre demands a side quest buffet as a standard part of the design, or that it must be nonlinear, or that it must have side quests in order to be nonlinear, or that linear RPGs are necessarily a symptom of the console market simplifying genres to market them to normies (Temple of Elemental Evil comes to mind). These are not invalid criticisms to make.

  27. AlperTheCaglar says:

    John Walker represents all that is wrong with dumbed down gaming and their panderers in the modern gaming world. In this review he tried shunning freeform, nonlinear gameplay. Which is exactly what RPGs in our era need. The reason we don’t get new Baldur’s Gate 2’s and Fallout 2’s is because isometric freeform RPGs are not deemed “simple or straightforward” enough for the millennial gamer. Not only is this reviewer enabling the mistake but he’s trying to mob PoEII for trying to ascend the current status quo of dumb RPGs. I would just go ahead and tell John to never play role playing games again, but thats like saying the flu virus to cease being contagious. Having played the game a substantial number of hours, I can honestly say Deadfire is better to the first iteration in EVERY SINGLE WAY. Bigger cities, numerous redundant characters and quests (giving the player the liberty to develop their character’s behavior in their minds eye), and most importantly a far more tactical and immersive combat experience. This is the first game in years that I have felt engaging in magical combat. It reminded me of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate 2 era magical dueling where your spells have heft and consequence. If you want a child friendly RPG, go back to Divinity drivel John. Or better yet, just buy a console and stay away from old school RPG gems.

    For the summary-inclined:

    – Pillars II is a 9/10
    – Pillars II crushes and improved every little fault in Pillars I.
    – Pillars II has perfect magical combat.
    – Pillars II is nonlinear in the Fallout 2 feel, and will make 90’s SSI and Black Isle gamers ecstatic.
    – Pillars II can only get better with DLCs and tweaks, easily pushing a 9.5/10
    – Pillars II WILL impress ANYONE who loved BGII, Fallout II, or even Dark Sun: Shattered Lands era tabletop aficionados.

    • N'Al says:

      Cry more.

    • Minglefingler says:

      Gobshite.

    • Kinsky says:

      I agree that Pillars II is an amazing game. But I wonder why you would reference Divinity as an example of a dumbed-down linear RPG when nearly every entry in the series, particularly the Original Sin titles, are anything but. If anything, they’re closer to the Fallout spirit than PoE, and with beautiful combat besides.

    • bacon seeker says:

      No need to get so worked up, it’s just a review of a game

    • klops says:

      Nonsense.

      I’m millennial. That means I’m closer to 40 than 30. That often means 90’s SSI and Black Isle gamer. Check what the word means.

      Do I even need to mention the rest? Or did I miss the sarcasm?

    • jlibster says:

      Folks, I signed up just to reply to the remark by AlperTheCaglar. John Walker’s reviews, while I may not always agree, are unique and often hit the nail on valid points many of us had never considered. This review especially. I haven’t played it yet but this points on PoE 1 I found most insightful and especially with the White March. Condemning a different view point is what is wrong with some member of the community. We may not all agree (and generally disagree with about 10-15% of Walker’s points) but this reviews are the unique detailed prospective we need to keep the RPG genre getting consistently better. So please, AlperTheCaglar, get a grip. Agree, dis agree, but be objective. The blind fanboys with condemn moderate differences of opinion is what is wrong with many forums and even governments in this day and age.

  28. Christina says:

    Agreed. I’m 36 and considered a millennial. I played every isometric crpg I could get my hands on in the 90s. I think AlpertheCaglar should be looking to complain about post-millenials, if they must complain. Although my daughter is 12 and loves crpgs, so I’m not sure what to tell you.

  29. piesmagicos says:

    I really tried to love PoE. But after awhile the combat just was…pointless? I can’t figure out the word I want to use here, but I felt the combat had no weight. It was really just a distraction. Does that carry over with the second game? I was hoping they would fix it…Basically I felt PoE combat was like a dozen BG2 Imp fights back to back for every Cowled Wizard encounter.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Lo says:

    I was put off PoE 1 some five minutes in, after a tooltip tells you “You don’t have to fight! Not everyone is out to get you in this our Innovative Game” and then something like 3 people appear that will literally ignore very obvious, imminent death just to murder you, and you can do nothing other than murder them first or quit the game.

    • Booker says:

      So? It’s literally true, that not every confrontation has to end in a fight – many can be avoided in conversation or circumvented entirely by making different choices. The reason why this confrontation had to happen, is obviously that this whole intro-sequence, did everything to confront the player with as many parts of the game as possible. The game never promised that there weren’t any fights. Just that not everything has to turn into one. All true.

  31. Ravel says:

    I had a completely different experience so far with this game. I loved PoE1 (including the expansion) and I also enjoyed Torment: Tides of Numenera. But PoE2 is BY FAR the very best the new “oldschool rpg”-movement so far has produced. In fact, I’d go so far as to compare it to BG2.

    Only by playing PoE2 I realized how much PoE1 left to be desired. While the main story is nice, it’s the world and the numerous, NUMEROUS side quests that had me hooked after the first hour. I’ve been playing PoE2 every free minute since then, there’s always so much interesting stuff to do. An Old City below the main city to explore (easily 5-6 hours by just doing one side quest there); pimping my ship to hunt dangerous ships, exploring uncharted islands with long forgotten ruins holding untold secrets; becoming part of a council of pirates, turning the council members against them to secure my seat; helping a trading company turn huge profits; interfering and manipulating a family feud; discovering temples of the gods, who are scattered around the whole archipelago; helping my companions with their personal quests; figuring out how animancy can be used for teleportation; etc. etc.

    There’s so much exciting stuff to do all the time and it’s all combined so well, it’s absolutely amazing and truly captivating. I was worried a bit after Chris Avellone left, but imo the writing hasn’t deteriorated one bit, if anything it’s paced much better now without being dumbed down.

  32. Premium User Badge

    It's not me it's you says:

    Obviously everyone gets to have their Own Opinion(tm) in bideo james but I just wanted to register that I’m having an incredible time with Pillars 2. I did like the first one (went back to finish it a few days ago in preparation for this game) so discard my take happily if you hated Pillars 1.

    Pillars 2, for me, is an improvement on the original in every way. I don’t usually care too much about the combat in these games (going all the way back to BG1 – I’d muddle through but wouldn’t go out of my way to find the hard fights or learn the ins and outs of the various magic effects and whatnot) but here the systems finally manage to be simultaneously intricate enough to be worth studying but approachable enough that I care to.

    I’m liking the returning companions as well as the new ones, after a little bit of acclimatisation (I’m terrible with names and two maritime factions have three word names that to my eyes were similar enough I kept confusing them – I suspect this is more on me than the game) the story stuff is all super satisfying. I’m not really going in on the piracy angle much but am very much enjoying finding little bite sized islands to explore and punch some dudes.

    Game’s got a tight grip on me as I come up to the ~40 hr mark, meaning roughly every spare minute of my days since release have been spent on this thing. Can’t wait to wrap work for the day and go back!

    • Premium User Badge

      It's not me it's you says:

      Oh, in the interest of Full Disclosure(tm): I did back both PoE1 and 2 at signed collector’s edition levels. Nothing I say can be trusted.

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