Lots of Pillars of Eternity spoilers in this post.
I’m a bad person. At least, you wouldn’t want to be part of my adventuring party in an RPG. Sometimes I choose the virtuous path, sometimes the diplomatic — and sometimes I just go, “Huh, I wonder what would happen if I pushed this button labeled ‘EVIL — DO NOT TOUCH.'” Push.
Despite my initial noble intentions, Pillars of Eternity has taken me on a journey where my heroine has become flawed and fantastic in different ways. There are more surprising and unexpected choices that pop up, and some of those have left scars on all of the characters under my employ.
To speak to “unexpected,” the other day I was exploring through Dyrford Village and making sure I went to all the homes. I was speaking with the tanner and found a key that went into his back room. Interesting… so I used the key and he got really upset and started attacking me. I wasn’t trying to get in a fight, but we ended up killing him and his assistant even so. I contemplated reloading to avoid that, but I’m trying this thing where I’m living with the consequences of my actions instead of save-scrumming the best option.
This actually turned out OK — the tanner was hiding a passageway in the back that led down into a huge dungeon full of some sort of scary cult that he was a part of. I wasn’t even prepared for a full-on dungeon crawl, but there I was, fighting tooth-and-nail for every room and seeing if I couldn’t find this missing girl that had the whole village in an uproar.
So we find this one room that has a pool of blood in it, and since I can sort of talk to dead spirits, the whole thing is whispering like mad to me. And then it tells me that I could choose to sacrifice one of my companions and draw permanent power from that action. Normally I wouldn’t. Normally that’s beyond the pale. But… you know… I wanted to see what would happen.
And to its credit, the game DOES NOT SOFTEN this act. The companion I chose suddenly bled out in this horrifying way and my entire party reacts to the inexplicable death that happens in their midst. They didn’t know it was me, they just freak out — except for the priest, who looks hard at me and pretty much knows I was the culprit.
I’m a bad person.
But then it gets worse. Soon afterward, we find the missing girl and she’s being infected with this sort of Manchurian Candidate spell that will turn her into a terminator for her immediate family. The cult leader tells me that she’s the niece of this lord who got her pregnant and bear the son that his wife couldn’t give him, and that he was trying to force her into marriage. So this noble is despicable, yet she’s going to kill him, the wife, the aunt, the uncle, every dang person in the family. She starts walking out the door…
…and the game gives me a choice. Snap her neck or let her go. Kill an innocent pregnant girl (and thwart the cult’s intentions) or let her go kill off her entire family against her will.
I… I didn’t know what to do. I really didn’t. Like, this was the most agonizing decision a video game has ever forced on me, and I had no idea it was coming and no way to talk my way out of it. I think it was a bit of a cheat that we couldn’t restrain the girl and kill the cultists, but that option wasn’t available.
I couldn’t bring myself to kill her, so I let her go. She was perhaps the only real innocent in all of this, although she wouldn’t be for long. Maybe there were other options, but I didn’t have access to them.
When we limped our way up out of that dungeon, a part of us was missing. I felt raw and shaken, but in that kind of good way when I know that a game made me actually care about the narrative. That’s pretty impressive.