Going on an Adventure!
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a direct continuation of the first Pillars of Eternity and takes place about five years after the events of the preceding game. After resolving the Hollowborn Crisis and slaying Thaos, the Watcher settles into the stronghold of Caed Nua. Deadfire opens up with the titanic form of Eothas (God of light and rebirth) exploding up from the ground underneath the keep. Caed Nua is destroyed in the process and hundreds of people in the surrounding area die; their souls drained by the newly-risen god. The Watcher included.
Well damn. That’s a jarring way to begin a new game. A little death and destruction wouldn’t put our plucky Watcher down, anyhow. Lucky for him (I guess) he only had a part of his soul stolen. After a quick jaunt to the In-Between, Berath the goddess of Death makes you her herald and then tasks you with a mission to track down Eothas and find out his plans. After branding you as her chosen, you set off back to the real world with the purpose of tracking down Eothas, retrieving your missing soul piece, and to hopefully put a stop to whatever schemes he has in mind. The titan Eothas is stomping his way to the Deadfire Archipelago, an entirely fresh setting for this new adventure. Before you can leave, Berath says you must “remember who you were”, opening up one of the most robust character creation systems in the genre.
Unless you want to jump in quickly by choosing a premade adventurer, you’ll have the chance to fully customize one to your liking. First off, you must choose your legacy. Your legacy is how you conducted yourself from the first Pillars game since the saves do not cross over. You can select one of six premade options, or, you can manually create your own. This goes deeper than I would have first expected. Manual legacy creation brings up a list of major events (even including events from the DLC), which are then broken down into another list of event choices and actions to choose from pertaining to the previously selected event. These choices can be tuned to your liking, although if you haven’t played the first Pillars game you may want to just choose from the prefabricated options since the events won’t mean anything to you at first. On that note, first-time players of the series should probably start with the first game in the series to help really flesh out the rich lore and events that will be often mentioned in Deadfire. From my perspective, I don’t think it would be too much of a hindrance if you just jumped into Deadfire, however. The game does a decent job of slowly parceling out information from the previous entry’s pertinent events so you’ll never feel lost in the plot.
After taking care of your legacy, we move on to the physical aspects of your new character. After choosing the sex and race, you can then select a subrace, which specifies what part of Eoras your race comes from and grants a unique passive boon. Next up, you will be choosing from one of eleven classes (unless you chose to multi-class) each with their own ability tree and starting bonus to skills. On top of choosing a class, you can also opt to choose from one of four or more subclass options unique to each individual main class. These options give you an extra boon at the cost of a penalty. Let’s use the Chanter class as an example. Selecting the Beckoner subclass allows you to summon twice the number of creatures for your invocations, but they are smaller and have reduced health and durations. You can forgo selecting a subclass if you so choose. Curiously, the Paladin subclasses are the only ones that come with no penalization. After choosing your class starting ability and spending your attribute points, you’ll further flesh out your character’s history by defining your culture by selecting where you came from and what your job was. This simply grants you starting bonus points for certain attributes and skills.
Okay, thanks for hanging in there: we’re almost done with our adventurer. Now you’ll need to choose a weapon proficiency. There are 31 to choose from; ranging from the differing types of guns and bows to a plethora of melee weaponry and three types of shields. A character doesn’t have to be proficient in order to use a weapon, but being proficient gives you access to a unique modal ability to be used in combat. After that, you put the finishing touches on your character by customizing his physical appearance and selecting a voice. Now we’re ready to rock and roll!
Now that the remainder of your soul has been crammed back into your body, the Watcher awakens in a ship newly arrived in the Deadfire Archipelago. This time around your boat will serve as your main source of transportation/stronghold as a heavy emphasis is placed on sea exploration while you trek across the many islands in the Deadfire in your search for Eothas. I love the feeling of clearing the fog from the map as you explore from island to island, not knowing what you’ll uncover. It could be a new town with quests to uncover. Or maybe a small island with some old abandoned villages and ruins to plunder. If you’re unlucky, you may just run into the lair of an extremely challenging hidden boss or two.
The new ship feature comes with its own set of mechanics and gameplay systems. As captain, you’re in charge of keeping your ship afloat and your crew in line. The ship is easy enough: make sure you keep plenty of repair lumber to patch it up after a battle, keep your supply of cannonballs topped up, and make sure to purchase upgrades to increase your health and speed. Some more powerful cannons wouldn’t hurt, either. You start off with a fairly small ship. There are bigger, badder ships to purchase but they can be very expensive. I found myself sticking with the starter ship for most of the game, didn’t change it until I beat the main campaign. It got tough sometimes but enemy ships are shown on the screen and it’s usually easy to avoid them if you see them coming first. Getting a bigger ship won’t be the end of all your problems, though. You’ll need to hire a bigger crew to handle it properly.
And what is a captain without a crew? Throughout the game, you will be able to recruit crew members by either hiring them at the local taverns when you make a port call or by finding unique characters during exploration and side questing. They can be assigned to specific areas of the ship, such as the helmsman, cannoneers, deckhands and whatnot. Earning sailor experience by completing open sea events and naval battles allows them to level up in the positions they are assigned to, making them more proficient in their chosen duties. Crew members can get injured during battles and special events, so it’s important to have a few extra members on standby so they can rest and heal up. There is a morale system in play here as well. Time passes when sailing and each day your crew will need to eat, drink, and get paid. There are many different kinds of food and drink (and tons of booze, of course!), but not all are created equal. The cheapest provisions will lessen crew morale each day, while the finer goods provide a bonus gain. If the crew morale drops too low, the scallywags will revolt and you’ll have a mutiny to deal with.
The Heroes Gallery
You won’t be journeying alone. Aside from the crew, you’ll have a group of steadfast companions at your side, some old and some new. I like that you are given the option of choosing from a pair of classes (or a multiclass combining them both) upon receiving a new companion. It’s nice to have a little wiggle room instead of having your characters set in stone. As is the popular tradition with CRPGS and RPGS in general, there is a relationship system in place that is affected by your dialogue choices and how you deal with dialogue situations. Each character has their own set of likes/dislikes and reputation levels with each of their allies, but I’m honestly not really sure how this affects the gameplay as the repercussions are never described in a concrete way. I suppose if they get angry enough at you, they’ll pack up and leave. The Watcher has a more detailed reputation screen, which informs you of your current reputation with the various factions, and also details how people view you due to the actions you chose. This is displayed by ratings for traits such as; aggressiveness, stoic, generosity, etc. Now the factions, on the other hand, are fairly obvious. There are multiple factions vying for supremacy in the Deadfire, and they all want help from the mythical Watcher of Caed Nua. Keep interfering with their business and they become openly hostile, cutting off your questlines for them and attacking you on the open sea. There are other special characters you can find and recruit, referred to as “allies”. They are just like your companions except they do not take part in the relationship/reputation system and do not offer special personal quests to partake in. And if you manage to either kill or drive everyone away, you can create and hire new adventurers from the taverns.
There are two different types of battles in Deadfire: ship-to-ship and hand-to-hand. Ship battles are unique and have a bit of a learning curve to them. It’s weird but I’ll do my best to describe it. The battles play out in a sort of turn-based text adventure style. You have a selection of options for moving your ship into an advantageous position. Both ships’ pertinent stats are displayed. Hull health, sail health, and crew size are the most important. Your cannons’ damage, range and reload speed are dependent on their type. You’re going to want to jockey into a good position and sink the enemy. If the battle isn’t going your way, you can always try and retreat by putting enough distance between each other. Or if you are feeling frisky, you could always head towards the enemy in order to ram him and board. Boarding transitions into a regular encounter, with both companions and crew members joining the fray. It never gets old seeing people jump from ship to ship and engaging in wanton melee combat! Of course, there is a good chance you may be outnumbered, slaughtered, and sent down to Davey Jones, but hey, pirates gonna pirate.
The regular encounters that make up the rest of the game should be familiar to anyone who has played other popular CRPGS like Baldur’s Gate or the first Pillars of Eternity. The combat is deep as heck, just as deep as the tabletop adventures it was inspired by. If you are playing on the lowest difficulty, you should be fine with just jumping in and letting loose on the enemy, but on any other difficulty and you will need to pay attention to positions and strategies, lest ye be torn asunder with ease. For people who like to tinker, there is a robust AI setting to customize each party member’s behavior to react to whatever situation you lay out. You can easily spend hours here messing around if you so choose unless you prefer a more hands-on manual approach during battle.
Leveling up grants you ability points, skill points, and occasionally a new weapon proficiency to assign as you wish. Abilities are class-specific and contain a mix of passive and battle-activated skills. A character’s power level increases every few levels, granting you access to a higher tier of abilities while increasing the strength of the lower tier to help them stay useful at any level.
Every class has access to the same set of skills. These are very useful for a number of things, from skills with practical applications such as lockpicking and stealth, to dialogue checks with skills like bluff, intimidate, and street smarts. There are other skills worth mentioning, like metaphysics, history, and religion. These can help you in ways that may not be apparent right off the bat, like using your knowledge of metaphysics to help undo an ancient barrier, for example. Party members can provide a bonus to the one doing the skill check if they have some skills in common.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, unfortunately. PoE II has some minor issues, some more annoying than most. The most glaring issue I’ve encountered is that sometimes the controls just stop working. I’ll be trying to interact with objects, like the button prompt to leave an area or to speak to a character, and it simply will not activate. In these situations, I would need to close the game and restart it to solve the issue. This has only happened to me a handful of times towards the end. Another grievous sin is that almost every time I did some extensive enchanting on my items, the game would crash. I avoided this by saving and then enchanting a few items at a time. One less serious issue is when I would be controlling the entire party and it would deselect them all when examining bodies for loot. You have two methods of controlling your party: a classic point and click cursor or a console-friendly mode of movement tied to the analog sticks, with button prompts popping up automatically for you to activate when in range. The problem here is that they don’t always pop, forcing me to swap to point and click in order to manually activate them. My final complaint is with the loading times. Damn loading screens take 20 seconds to upwards of a minute. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering how the game will need to load between areas like when you’re in town going from house to house, floor to floor, even! It really adds up and makes exploring the bigger cities a test of patience.
Who doesn’t like options? There are plenty of ways to trick out your experience, but let’s take a look at some of the more unique ones that you don’t really see in CRPGS. CRPGS, for those of you who don’t normally play them, rely on a real-time combat system that allows you to pause the game in order to issue your battle commands. PoE II is no different in this regard. However, upon starting a new game you can choose to set the combat to turn-based battles, effectively aligning your gaming experience from a CRPG to an SRPG, completely changing the experience. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this, and I think it goes a long way to making this title more accessible to players who prefer a slower-paced combat experience. Speaking of speed, another great function is the ability to easily increase the gameplay speed by tapping a button on the directional pad. It’s perfect for getting through already explored areas or speeding up some of the more mundane encounters.
There are five difficulties to choose from, ranging from the super-simple Story to the rage-quitting Path of the Damned mode. You can also click the Expert Mode option to disable some of the helpful features you would otherwise normally receive. An interesting feature included is Berath’s Blessing. Earning achievements grants you points, which can then be spent on special bonuses next time you start a new game. It’s a nice incentive for players to play through again to mop up whatever achievements they missed out on.
I think players with vision problems would also like to know that there is a colorblind mode and font scaling option available, which is great because we all know that the writing can sometimes be fairly small in these types of games. And a big shoutout to the Bighead Mode (what the hell, Josh?) that can be found in the Game Options menu, because why not?
PoE II: Deadfire is a huge game. The developers say that it clocks out at around 100+ hours and I believe them. This is the Ultimate Edition of the game that includes all the content updates and expansion DLC from the earlier released PC version, after all. As of this writing, I’ve sunk around 90 hours into it, finishing the main campaign, a ton of side quests, and explored the entire map. I still have some sidequests to clean up and some DLC to complete: I’d estimate I have about another 10-20 hours of gameplay at least to 100% it. Add in the fact that Obsidian has chosen to voice almost every line of dialogue and you’re in for a hell of an epic adventure. I would gladly recommend Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire to anyone looking to get lost in an expansive, lore-filled world of sword-swiping, swashbuckling, spell-flinging CRPG action.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10