Pillars of Eternity: Completed!

At the beginning of December, I set for myself a goal to stop pussyfooting around and finish Pillars of Eternity — a title I had been slowly progressing through all year — by the end of the month. And on the evening of Christmas I realized I was actually pretty close to the end of the game, so in one three-hour session, I fought valiantly to the resolution.

And so it was done.

The problem with going through modern single-player RPGs is the sheer time commitment that each takes. That was terrific back before I got into MMOs and family and had a lot of spare time to fill up. These days, a 60, 100, or 200-hour game is a daunting prospect compared to a breezy two-hour adventure title. But it’s still something I want to do, even if these completions come at the rate of one per year, because I enjoy the mechanics, world, and story. Plus, they’re perfect to add gaming variety alongside MMOs so that I get a bit of the best of both worlds.

In any case, lets talk Pillars. This was Obsidian’s 2015 RPG that sought to bring back the style of Baldur’s Gate-era games with a more modern update. It takes place in a new fantasy world in which babies are being born without souls and the main character is imbued with the power of a “Watcher” who can investigate souls to see the past.

I’ll admit that, while serviceable, the main plot was not as compelling as the shorter side stories and the companions’ tales. I suppose this is true of most RPGs, as bigger storylines tend to lose us after a while and we enjoy the full resolution of a short story instead. What if there was a single-player RPG where everything was a side story, just a whole bunch of them? I’d be down with that.

Probably my highest praise for Pillars is that the game mechanics are really well done. There’s a bit of choose-your-own-adventure segments from time to time, understandable stats, and a very flexible character system that lets you mold and roleplay your team as you see fit. By the end my main character was a lightning-fast twin-rapier fighter who was surprisingly tough even though she only wore light armor.

I was torn on using preset companions for a party (which wasn’t mandated, as you can create a full customizable team). But the fact that each of them had personalities, was voiced, and had developing stories won the day. Plus they talked amongst each other and even bickered and joked. I liked that.

What I liked even more was the fact that in the back third of the game, it mostly took place in elvish territory. And the game let me get up in each of the clans’ faces and often wiped them out without any dire consequences. I’m not here to bring peace to the elves, but the blade.

It’s such a good feeling to have the game done and know where it went. Of course, now that presents a huge quandry — what now for my single-player RPG time? As I see it, there are three strong options:

  1. Buy and play through the Pillars of Eternity expansion
  2. Skip ahead and start Pillars of Eternity 2 (and its DLC) for that “fresh start” feel
  3. Or change things up with a different title sitting in my library (Wasteland 2, The Witcher 3, and Divinity Original Sin 2)

Kind of wish I could do all of them simultaneously! That’s a good problem to have.

Pillars of Eternity: When we emerged, we were not all here

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.

Pillars of Eternity draws me into moral quandries

Over the past week, I’ve set a daily goal to boot up Pillars of Eternity and play through one mission, zone, or 30 minutes — whatever comes first. For as long as I’ve played and reloaded this game, I’ve never beaten it. But I’m closer right now than I ever have been before, and I’m serious about finishing it before the new year.

I think my gaming diet needs some single-player RPG in it, and this one scratches a great itch. It’s so comfortable to slip back into, especially coming from the old Baldur’s Gate days, and I appreciate the addition of the party AI that helps out in combat. This mostly frees me up to concentrate on the story and exploration of new areas, and I think I’m starting to make headway on all of the quests that opened up in Defiance Bay.

Without making much of a stink about it, Pillars of Eternity threw in an awful lot in the way of choices. Quests can be resolved — and even failed — based on actions and dialogue, and I find that these choices draw me much deeper into the story.

One side mission in particular that stuck out at me involved the disappearances of three locals. The first part of the quest was all footpad detective work, tracking down friends and extracting details. All of them pointed to a local theater troupe, and when I made the right inquiries (backed by a full investigation), I was led to a secret underground theater. It was here, apparently (and full spoilers ahead) that rich and influential patrons would pay to watch the show — which always ended with the very real death of an unsuspecting actor or actress.

For anyone but a psychopath, this situation calls for justice. But the game gives a lot of leeway as to how that justice can be extracted. The theater operators can be killed, of course, but they can also be convinced to shut it down if a wealthy benefactor is put away. Additionally, I got to confront the benefactor (who committed suicide when I threatened to turn him in) and a stagehand who was trying to flee. There’s a lot of pull between the desire to see justice done and accepting de facto bribes from the game — extra money if a player doesn’t extract justice. It’s not *real*, so you can justify taking the money for that reason, but I couldn’t do that.

Anyway, my team is starting to gel together as a real fighting unit. I’ve structured it so that there are two frontline fighters and four ranged attackers who plug away with the slowest, hardest-hitting weapons in the game. It gives me a very good alpha strike, and I’ve been able to put away drakes in the first few seconds.

I am wondering whether or not I should get the expansions after finishing this game or move on to another title (there are so many in my backlog, including this game’s sequel). I guess that answer will be “depends on the GOG winter sale.”

Pillars of Eternity: A new beginning

pil1

Pillars of Eternity was a darn fun RPG when I played it last year, although at some point I lost momentum and didn’t finish out the story. I think I was waiting on the big 2.0 patch with party AI improvements and whatnot. In any case, I reloaded and rerolled for a new adventure, and wanted to periodically blog about it along the way!

pil2

Having played once before, I feel more on solid footing creating a character that will fit the playstyle I prefer. This time around I go with a Ranger, for two reasons: because pets are awesome and because I want to be a crack shot with a rifle.

Syppi the Ranger chooses to be a Hearth Orlan — smaller races rule! — and selects an antelope as her companion animal. I was tempted by the wolf, as I’m sure 85% of Ranger players are, but didn’t want to go the obvious Game of Thrones route. Besides, how often do you get an antelope to hang out with you? I’m down with that. I called him Lopp in honor of WildStar.

I gave her fairly high perception and dexterity, with a dash of athletics thrown in for good measure. I just need her to shoot fair, shoot fast, and not be a slouch physically.

pil3

And there’s Lopp the antelope as we start the game!

So what am I looking forward to this time around? Here’s a quick list:

  1. Developer commentary — I love the bonus audio tracks that give you some insight as to why the devs made the places and stories they did.
  2. More enjoyable combat with better AI
  3. Actually seeing the story through (knock on wood)
  4. A different main character experience (Chanter was fun, but I get one of those as a companion anyway)
  5. Cool RPG touches, such as text asides, in-depth dialogue, and environmental interaction
  6. Playing it on a computer that’s much newer than my three-year-old laptop