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Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:

What a joy itís been to watch the classic computer role-playing subgenre dabble around on other platforms. Games once thought to only function properly with a mouse and keyboard are transitioning and thriving in new environments. From the relatively action-focused simplicity of Diablo III and Path of Exile to the comprehensive narrative and tactical pleasures of Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, and Torment: Tides of Numenera, these transitions have been largely successful. Paradox Interactive chalks up another big win for computer RPGs on console with a spot-on delivery of Obsidian Entertainmentís most recent love-letter to fans of the subgenre, 2015ís Pillars of Eternity. A deliberate throwback to the days of Baldurís Gate and Icewind Dale, Pillars of Eternity is a curious case: a game that is more than content to rest in the shadows of the giants that preceded it, providing an experience that wistfully cleaves to the memories of its subgenreís golden age while applying touches of modernity only where necessary.

Pillars of Eternity is pure show-and-tell, in that intoxicating style that only its subgenre can provide. Its clear reverence for the staples of fantasy visuals may fool you into thinking that it feels a bit mundane and overly familiar. As your investment deepens, however, youíll come to understand and appreciate how the blend of text and subtle visuals work hand-in-hand with the writing to produce a masterful synergy that blurs the line between storytelling and gameplay. Visuals can indeed impact gameplay when it comes to role-playing experiences of this particular type, for better and for worse. Thankfully, the standard interface is attractive and slick enough that you will spend far more time adventuring than you will micromanaging. I personally love this kind of stuff; the large, comprehensive box that takes up a portion of the screen lends a distinctly Dungeons & Dragons feel to the proceedings. And thatís exactly what the developers are going for.

Sound design is superb across the board, with the exception of areas in which it doesnít (but should) apply. I have to add that qualifier because, of all the amazing writing and dialogue in Pillars of Eternity, only a fraction of it is actually spoken. Luckily, that fraction generally pertains to the most important lines in the game, and I understand that this is the result of a crowdfunding campaign, so it would be unreasonable to wish for voice work to accompany every bit of applicable storytelling. Naturally, my desire for such a degree of consistency only exists because whatís on hand is just so damned good. There isnít a single phoned-in performance in this game; everyone involved clearly cares and knows that theyíre participating in something special.


Pillars of Eternity starts simply enough, with a caravan slowly plodding through territory thatís hostile at best. Youíve fallen ill with an easily-treatable, but potentially deadly contagion. Youíre sent off to grab some berries from a nearby bush, when your entire caravan is almost casually slaughtered. And then, a devastating, immensely portentous wind storm shows up. Taking shelter in a cave and eventually running afoul of a group of cultists, you end up the recipient of an incredible gift that, given enough time, will become a life-ending curse. You have become a Watcher, a reader of souls. However, the constant onslaught of visions and incurable insomnia will eventually break your mind. So you do what feels natural: you pursue the ones who did this to you, in the hopes of reversing it.

From there, itís a veritable odyssey that takes you and your companions to all the ends of the world and back. Conflicts are introduced and resolved as you go, but you never lose track of why youíre doing any of it in the first place. Yes, Pillars of Eternity delves into metaphysics from time to time, but it never forgets that itís set in a world that draws its inspiration from classic high fantasy. While very little of it may be truly original in concept, it is universally high in quality; this is a masterclass in game lore, worldbuilding, and the linguistic expression of both. This is an exceptionally well-written game, on par with some of the best the subgenre has to offer. It sows its creative seeds early on and proceeds to nurture them at every step, allowing your imagination to fill in where it can.

I can only gush about Pillars of Eternityís storytelling for so long before someone who hasnít played a game like it gets fed up. How exactly does a game like this play? Ultimately, thatís a somewhat complicated answer, as the story is (in parts) intrinsically woven into what constitutes the gameplay. Thereís an awful lot of reading in Pillars of Eternity: so much reading, in fact, that anyone who flat out hates to read should avoid it. Itís a matter of preference, and I have opinions on that particular preference, but I didnít come here to insult the plebs.

When your eyes are not glued to the interface that holds the textual portions of the grand adventure, theyíll be fixed on your party of traveling companions. You go where the story dictates that you go, solving problems that crop up as you see fit. Choice figures heavily into the affair, from simple dialogue and text-based action responses, to the way you actually interact with the world, be it with the weapons at hand, your guile and charm, some arcane blend of both, or none of the above. Itís a role-playing game, so you alone have the final say in what your character does. Itís your story, and the telling of it is capable of far more than the standard "murderhobo" adventure.


Pillars of Eternity features a difficulty curve that lies on a very specific gradient, and itís the same one featured by the games I mentioned in the first paragraph of this review. Your history with computer role-playing games will have a direct impact on how you view this gameís difficulty. Its gameplay concepts are traditional, but the manner in which they are presented is different from that of most thoroughly modern games. Statistics matter, and youíll need to have a good idea of where you want your character to go, lest you become spread too thin and ultimately ineffectual against the many challenges that Pillars of Eternity has to offer.

So learning how to play the game is one thing: how difficult is the combat? Again, common sense planning and a thorough familiarity with the systems that govern the flow of battle will see you through to the end. But a variable level of difficulty lets you choose between a casual forum by which you can simply lose yourself in the artistry of the narrative and an unforgiving adventure with some real teeth to it that surprises you every time you survive even the most mundane enemy encounter. Itís all about options.

Game Mechanics:

Pillars of Eternity is generally content to be a creature of comfort throughout the grand majority of its runtime. After all, the reason for its massive Kickstarter success is doubtlessly rooted in the fact that it's an obvious, deliberate throwback to the days of Baldur's Gate II and Neverwinter Nights. Things that you would expect to exist in a modern computer role-playing game are not just present, but front and center.

If you have no experience with the subgenre to which Pillars of Eternity belongs, the previous paragraph surely confused you. (I would also suggest that you're in for a real treat, but you've probably guessed that already.) You take control of a party of adventurers; starting small and growing in size as you make new acquaintances and build your strength in numbers. Action and exploration are generally mapped to simple, one-button mechanics, though skills do come into play at specific junctures.

Combat in particular is the major element that identifies this particular breed of role-playing game. It unfolds in real-time, but can and should be paused at any given moment. Normal combat encounters have your party members auto-attacking with whatever weapons they've got equipped, but it won't be long before you'll have to start pausing and making use of the game's intelligently-implemented radial wheel system to queue up special attacks that only certain characters and archetypes are capable of unleashing. There's a certain special something that seals the deal and renders the experience truly special, and Pillars of Eternity absolutely captures it.

Fast and true, Pillars of Eternity holds to the precepts upon which its subgenre was founded. When you level up, you allocate points to the areas that best correspond to how you wish to develop your characters. You'll do some looting and outfitting to maximize your preparedness and overall survivability. It's all classic, intuitive stuff that will really speak to you if you've got a nostalgic yearning for the golden era, and if you don't, it'll probably hook you anyway.

Some key differences help Pillars of Eternity stand out from its contemporaries. Of course, there's your Watcher powers, which do more for the narrative component than anything else, but are worth mentioning anyway. Mechanically, the game dabbles in one particularly unique diversion from the norm: two major resource pools combine to represent each player's true measure of vitality: endurance and health. Managing both is crucial to success, and the punishment for losing sight of either can be costly, devastating, and horrifyingly final. Endurance is a short-term measure, health a long-term one. Losing your endurance in combat is inevitable, but reversible. Take too much damage to this pool at once, and the long-term damage will set in. Lose all your Endurance, and your character will be knocked unconscious -- rendered unable to move or perform actions. Lose all your health, and your character will be maimed. Take even more damage, and your character will die. Permanently. Sounds intimidating, I know, but if you make smart use of the resources you have on hand and choose the most ideal times to rest your party, you should be fine.

Pick up Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition and you'll receive not only the excellent core game, but the two expansion releases that comprise a singular whole, titled The White March. It's a true blue expansion that deepens and enriches the experience beyond its impressive debut.

Obsidian Entertainment is in their element with games like Pillars of Eternity, and it shows. This is their bread and butter, and it's a thing of beauty to see such a labor of love reflected in the finished product's overall quality. If you consider yourself a fan of role-playing games and haven't already played Pillars of Eternity, you should either pick it up now or rethink that self-description.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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