I have to admit, I’m not the best at every video game, but I’m just awful at Western RPGs. I never wrapped my head around Neverwinter Nights’ D&D style of play. I built my character incorrectly in Knights of the Old Republic and it made my playthrough excruciatingly difficult.
I’ve passed on playing other popular WRPGs like Planescape: Torment just for the fear of having to deal with difficult to understand battle systems and poorly explained skill systems. Having grown up with JRPGs, I can easily figure out how to dispatch a sentient pile of thunder goo, but understanding the damage calculations on a Magic Missile was beyond me. But Pillars of Eternity is different.
Like any other WRPG, I was initially worried about getting tripped up by the game’s combat system. A love letter to the famous Infinity Engine games like Baldur’s Gate, Obsidian do clean up some of the more obtuse elements of those older titles, but Pillars Of Eternity still has a complex core. Battles were manageable with one or two characters, but as I gathered more party members, and found they each had their own quirks, I started to struggle.
Playing on Normal, the game started to become overwhelming. Figuring out how to properly position my characters, learn the right moves, and just survive as enemies bore down on me became an increasingly frustrating ordeal. I hadn’t even finished the first act, and with so much left of the game to go, I was close to giving up. But Pillars Of Eternity is lauded for its wonderful plot, and I wanted to see it to the end. Suddenly, I remembered: you could change the difficulty in this RPG at any time! My mouse hovered over the Easy difficulty option, but I decided to throw caution to the winds. I took it even further down, all the way to Story Time mode.
Pillars Of Eternity’s Story Time is the easiest mode you can choose. It skews the game’s background battle calculations and other behind-the-scenes bits in the player’s favour, which helps cut down on the micromanagement a lot. Story Time doesn’t make the game a walk in the park -- if you stray into an area that’s too far above your level, you’ll still get killed -- but the unlimited use of camping supplies in Story Time allows your party to be in tip-top shape at all times. Mistakes are no longer deadly and most normal enemy mobs can be knocked down without any issues.
Story Time was a breath of fresh air for my playthrough. Battles were no longer a constant struggle against Pillars Of Eternity’s own design. Normal enemies were taken down with ease, and boss battles were no longer insurmountable gauntlets. If I ran up against higher level foes, it wasn’t daunting to go do some sidequests. Without the fear of being randomly beaten down by a spider, I was able to fully enjoy what Pillars Of Eternity has to offer.
I realize that to some people, that might miss the point of Obsidian making a spiritual successor to those Infinity Engine games. To some, juggling the complex combat is the point, and makes a satisfying tactical RPG to play over and over again. But had Obsidian only catered to the veteran Infinity Engine audience, many gamers would have missed out on this delightful WRPG. I am glad that Pillars Of Eternity has Story Time, as well as its hardest difficulty, Path of the Damned. The ability for anyone to play with a difficulty that’s comfortable to them is invaluable, and doesn’t negatively affect a game’s success; Divinity: Original Sin 2 added a Story Mode, a step easier than the previous lowest difficulty Explorer Mode. It’s a lesson even more developers can learn from.