Pillars of Eternity is a big game. Enormous might be the right word, actually. Gigantic. Sprawling. Obsidian don't think it's quite large enough, however, so they'll be adding new everything with the upcoming White March expansion. I spoke with lead designer Josh Sawyer at Gamescom and he explained that the studio has created so many new things - from companions and spells to quests and locations - that they'll be splitting the expansion into two parts. "The first part ends cleanly, there's no cliffhanger", he said, "and part two will introduce even more new areas." It looks superb, improving the game for those who haven't finished as well as those who have. Part one is out August 25th.
Ignore the entirety of the new White March area and there are still reasons to be excited. In a move that instantly makes me far more eager to revisit the game, Obsidian have created AI combat behaviours for companions. That means less micromanagement (unless you really want the micromanagement, in which case you never have to enable the automatic behaviours) and also means the improvements in AI will carry across to enemies, who will enjoy improved teamwork and use their abilities more effectively. Companions will be able to take on various roles depending on class and you'll still be responsible for assigning those roles, so you can roleplay as the leader of the party rather than an omnipotent puppeteer.
There are two new companions and one of them is an artificial construct called the Devil of Caroc. She can't wear armour because she is armour but her body can be upgraded. She is my favourite character and I haven't even met her yet. There's also Zahua, a monk who you first encounter while he's concealed in a barrel of dead fish. He's my second favourite character.
Obsidian's approach to the expansion can be seen in the treatment of these new characters. The original set of companions have new dialogue to allow for interactions with the new folks, and those new folks will comment on locations and quests in the base game setting. Everything in The White March plugs into Pillars rather than being stapled on the end.
And that means you'll be able to start a new game (perhaps even for the first time) and enjoy all of the new content. There's a new high level area in the Dyrwood for those who already have a tough party and cold of The White March will have dangers all of its own. It contains over a dozen new maps.
There's also a semblance of multi-classing (through wands and abilities), a retraining option, plenty of new abilities, oodles of new scripted encounters and a new item class in the form of Soulbound weapons, which are upgraded in a unique fashion.
What's most pleasing is that Obsidian aren't just throwing a heap of new content at the game. Throughout our brief conversation, Sawyer critiqued aspects of the original and it's clear that The White March is intended to work on the areas that the studio and players found lacking. It's a chance to improve rather than simply to add bulk, and I can't wait to get my hands on it so that I can start all over again (and probably fail to finish all over again). It's out August 25th.