Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: THQ Nordic (EU), Versus Evil (US)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: May 8, 2018


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PC Review - 'Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire'

by Rhi "StormyDawn" Mitera on May 8, 2018 @ 10:00 a.m. PDT

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is an isometric, party-based RPG, that improves upon the rich narrative, beautiful environments, and intricate, tactical combat from the original.

Buy Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Lately, it feels like there's a lack of single-player RPGs. It seems like every big, highly anticipated game is multiplayer-only or at least has a multiplayer option, and single-player games are high-action, combat-driven affairs. I recognize that they're very popular, that there's a big market for those, but it leaves me longing for more games like Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Shadowrun.

Pillars of Eternity was a breath of fresh air for me. After the extreme success of the fig.co campaign for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire in February 2017, it's obvious I'm not alone. I've been closely following its development, and I'm so excited to review it and share this great series with others.

Deadfire takes place five years after the first Pillars of Eternity. You step back into the shoes of the Watcher as Caed Nua, the keep you earned in the first game, is destroyed. Adra, a huge titan made of the living stone and possessed by a dead god, has stomped all over your house and stolen a piece of your soul, and you've chased him to the Deadfire Archipelago to get it back.

When the dead god Eothas steals a portion of your soul, he also steals your power and renders you back to a level 1 weakling instead of the level 16 powerhouse you were before. It presents the opportunity — not unlike Shepard's death at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 — of rebuilding your Watcher from the ground up.

This also gives you the opportunity to multiclass, a new option in Pillars II. Multiclassing lets you choose skills and abilities from two separate classes instead of just one. While you don't get the most powerful abilities of either class and you gain abilities more slowly, their combined might can still stand toe-to-toe with any pure single-class choices. They also get cool names: a Druid-Barbarian is a Tempest, a Rogue-Fighter is Swashbuckler, and a Wizard-Ranger is a Geomancer, just to name a few.

Once your choices are made, you're thrown into the action, and it's quickly apparent that the Deadfire Archipelago is different from the Dyrwood, where the previous game was set. Pirates and worse roam the waters, and all would use the Watcher and their abilities to their own ends.

You're not alone in your quest, of course. You're joined by a half-dozen companions from different parts of the Deadfire, all with their own motives for joining you but willing to help you chase down Eothas. This includes four new companions — Maia Rua, Serafen, Tekēhu and Xoti — as well as Aloth, Edér and Pallegina, who are returning friends from the first game.

There are also four sidekicks: Fassina, Konstanten, Rekke and Ydwin. Sidekicks are sort of like a companion-lite. They look and sound different, but beyond their introduction, they don't have much to say, they have no personal quests, and they don't participate in the relationships mechanic.

The companion relationships are perhaps the most anticipated new feature in Deadfire. Where party banter has been a staple of the Pillars series and the genre as a whole, the relationships mechanic expands on it further.

As the Watcher travels through the world, companions form opinions of them based on how they interact with other people. An interesting aspect of Deadfire's relationships is that they also form opinions about each other as they travel together. As the relationships build, they can develop into strong friendships, lead to confrontations or fights, or possibly even romances with the Watcher — or with each other.

You'll have plenty of time to build these relationships because the Deadfire Archipelago is huge. My "perfect" save for Pillars of Eternity, in which I did every side-quest and fully explored every area, was around 112 hours, and Deadfire is much, much bigger.

It's a beautiful world, too. Isometric RPGs aren't known for their graphics, but they should be. The lighting and spell effects are beautiful, the world is colorful and dynamic, and the environments are interesting and memorable. It's full of movement and people going about their business, and they're not affected by a Watcher in their midst.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of islands to explore. Some are small and uninhabited, and you can name the islands once they've been fully explored. Others have settlements or cities that could use the Watcher's help.

The biggest is the capital city of Neketaka, which is a huge, multi-tiered metropolis in which you learn about life in the Deadfire Archipelago. You meet the four main factions that are vying for control of the islands and natural riches in the Deadfire: the native Huana, the pirates of the Principi sen Patrena, the Rauataian Royal Deadfire Company and the Vailian Trading Company. You choose which ones to help and to what degree, or can work to build compromises between them all. All four groups have both good and bad points, but the choices you make determine the direction of the archipelago's future.

I can't say much about the plot without spoiling it, but the folks at Obsidian really took advantage of the freedom granted them by this sequel. Pillars of Eternity took several standard fantasy tropes and turned them on their heads, but Deadfire skips past "Dungeons and Dragons" and gives you "Pirates and Wizards." It isn't something I'd considered before, but I now wonder where it's been all my life.

Of course, you can't have a pirate game without pirate ships. The ship system is surprisingly deep. You start on a small ship called The Defiant with a skeleton crew and some basic supplies, and you can upgrade to a bigger ship and better sailors. You can customize everything, from colors to the style of the sails. You can hire crew members at inns throughout the world, but you also can find them through quests and exploration.

Everything on the ship can be upgraded as well, from the hull and cannons to the captain's quarters. You can even add a menagerie for your pet collection. Your crew needs food and drink to stay alive and supplies to keep healthy and afloat. High morale keeps spirits up and the crew working well together and singing sea shanties.

If you aren't interested in micromanaging a pirate crew, you can stick with the Defiant and your starting crew and, beyond keeping supplies stocked, you can ignore the ships entirely. If you get into it, the system is interesting and fun, and it can also make ship-to-ship combat go more smoothly.

Combat in Deadfire is tactical and difficult — if you're me. I try, but I've never had much of a tactical mind, unless "throw fireballs until it dies" counts as a tactic. If you're good at it, the combat can be fun and rewarding, and you can pause as often as you need to micromanage and control the battlefield. Flanking, angle of attack, and damage types can all play an important role in fights.

If you don't want to worry about your companions' actions, the combat AI is advanced and can be customized. The Watcher has a battle AI, so you can let them auto-attack and step in when necessary. Whatever your desired challenge level, there's a difficulty setting for it — from Story Mode, which is for those who want to enjoy the story without combat, to Path of the Damned, which is fairly self-explanatory.

There are a few new fun combat options. The stealth mechanic has been redone, making it easier to set up ambushes even if you don't have a high stealth score. Bombs and traps are more useful and do more damage. Other effects, like sparkcrackers, can be thrown to distract enemies while you sneak past them.

Empowering is a new combat ability, too. Everyone can empower their spells and abilities to increase the damage, healing, or duration. You have a limited number of uses between rests, but you earn more as you level up.

As someone who gravitates to playing wizards, there are a couple of changes that stand out. You can retarget spells before they finish casting, and you can even set the game to auto-pause before the spell ends so you can retarget at the last possible second.

Wizard grimoires have also been reimagined. In Pillars of Eternity, wizards had the potential to learn every spell in the game, but they could write a limited number in their grimoire to use — only 32 out of 94 possible spells. They could have multiple grimoires prepared, but switching required a cooldown before they became available, making the wizard temporarily vulnerable.

In Deadfire, you learn one or two spells every time you level up, and they're always available from that point on. Grimoires grant you use of additional spells. You cannot rewrite the spells in a grimoire, and they only offer two additional spells per caster level, but they're bonus spells instead of your only options.

There are lots of other, smaller features added to Deadfire. The ability to hide your cloaks and helms is nice. Skill checks, whether in conversations or events, allow the Watcher to be assisted by their party members. I'm not sure what the math is on it, but the Watcher gains a portion of their companion's skills (such as Streetwise or Alchemy) when a skill check is made. This makes it easier to keep your skills balanced and lets  the Watcher focus on something.

Food and pets also serve more of a purpose. Food allows you to gain a bonus while camping, similar to the bonuses gained by sleeping at inns, and it removes all injuries from the person who's eating. This is very important because if anyone gains more than three injuries, they die permanently.

Pets in Pillars of Eternity were didn't do anything besides follow you around, but many players — myself included — collected as big of a menagerie as we could carry. In Deadfire, the equipped pet provides a party-wide skill bonus. Some pets increase your armor rating or give you a +1 to your Intelligence or Might.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the official partnership with Critical Role, a DnD web series featuring several voice actors. Most of the actors lend their voice talents to companions or sidekicks in Deadfire.

In addition, the characters from Critical Role's first campaign, the party called Vox Machina, have portraits and voice sets added in a free DLC, which are useable for either the Watcher or player-made party members. As a huge fan of both franchises, this is something like a best-case scenario: the actors are all very talented and bring their full skill to bear in Deadfire, and the community response on both sides has been nothing short of amazing.

The Critical Role content is the first free DLC, set to be released on launch day, but they've also announced three story DLC. The first, entitled Beast of Winter, involves hunting a doomsday cult and comes out in July. The second, coming out in September, is Seeker, Slayer, Survivor and is focused on combat, possibly featuring a fighting pit or arena of sorts. The third is The Forgotten Sanctum, scheduled for release in November, and it seems to revolve around the realm's archmages, who are mad with power. There may be other small or free DLC, as there were for the first game, but it seems these are the only planned additions at this time.

Overall, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire feels like the game of my dreams. It features an epic story that still manages to feel personal, with the right amount of humor and the occasional eerie atmosphere. Also pirates. It should feel scattered, but it takes the best parts of the settings and blends them into something new. If you're a fan of isometric RPGs, I would highly recommend you check out Deadfire, which may end up being a new favorite. It certainly is for me.

Score: 9.5/10

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