REVIEW: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition
With the gaming release calendar being very light so far into 2020, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition could well be the masterpiece you’ve been searching for to keep you busy for a few weeks or months.
The original Pillars of Eternity that launched in 2015, was a love letter to the Baldur’s Gate school of classic isometric RPG, presented in the classic sword-and-sorcery style: a dark and thought-provoking adventure with elves, dwarves, plate mail, and fireballs.
And now Obsidian Entertainment is taking us to another corner of that fantastic world: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, in contrast to the original strikes a bold difference and ditches most of the firsts tropes for a less common style, the dangerous and exotic Deadfire Archipelago.
By minimizing castles and forests in favor of a beautiful ocean and boats, and the sword-and-shield aesthetic for sabers and blunderbusses, Deadfire’s 40-plus hour campaign almost feels like it takes place in a completely different world from the original despite the fact that it stars the same Watcher of Caed Nua character we originally played as.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire was first released on PC in 2018. The game received rave reviews, and those who played it generally loved its continued use of traditional RPG gameplay alongside the further expansion of wider Pillars of Eternity lore. So now the game has made the jump from PC to consoles, this Ultimate Edition is the perfect chance to pick it up – with some caveats.
You play as The Watcher, the lead from the previous game who has the ability to speak to the dead. While previous knowledge of the game’s past is helpful, you absolutely don’t need to have played the original, and while you play as a specific character, there’s huge variance in class choice, loadouts and personality traits.
If you didn’t play the first Pillars of Eternity, that’s totally fine. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire not only neatly and succinctly summarises the events of the original game in the intro, but gives you the chance to create a history for your character, essentially simulating an imported save. The sheer number of choices and decisions you can make is daunting, however, which is where Obsidian’s selection of pre-made histories might come in handy. These let you quickly decide whether your character was benevolent, tyrannical, or something in between. There’s even one history that supposes you got every companion killed and the worst outcome of every quest. And you’ll know when your history, whether it was created or imported from an old save, affects something in the new game by a symbol that appears next to certain lines of dialogue.
Combat & Spell Slinging
Combat is also a mixed bag with two different styles of play. The first is the original style, which is real-time but offers you the ability to pause in order to select actions and abilities. It gives you a great feeling of maintaining the battlefield, but can often become overwhelming with the limited control options on a controller. With certain menu shortcuts being sacrificed, keeping a steady foot in the fight can be a repetitive and long-winded process of using the ring menu to navigate the UI. Luckily, certain abilities can be quick mapped on a toolbar, easily accessed by the left trigger. But it’s easily a system that yearns for more fluidity in its movement; something that a controller just can’t withstand.
The other option is to play the game’s turn-based mode. It completely eradicates the stress of keeping up with the battle in real-time, but battles do become significantly longer. The two options come down to certain preferences from the player and how they respond to the control system. Unfortunately, there is no ability to change mid-game, so the decision you’ll make is the one you’ll stick with.
What A Voice…
Beyond combat, those familiar with the genre will know the score. You click around the environments to move about, and almost all quests and moments of importance arise from conversations. The music helps make the world of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition come to life. The voice-over acting brings the characters to life and your interaction with them by selecting what you wish to say to them helps draw you into the story.
Obsidian has consistently proven itself as operators at the highest level of the game when it comes to branching dialogue and strong, character-driven writing – and this is some of the studio’s finest work.
It would take over a hundred hours to find every possible conversation across this huge archipelago, but it’s worth the investment. Every interaction enforces the world or the story (you’re on the hunt for a giant, by the way), or proves so interesting that you’ll actually forget about the main quest and become utterly enraptured by whatever you’re being asked to do.
While I didn’t have too many issues with Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, one of the hurdles during my playthrough was the obscene amount of loading times. They’re bad. Like, really bad. I started timing them, and they were well over a minute, sometimes hitting over a minute and a half. This happened with me playing on an Xbox One X, so I don’t know what the load times are on a regular PS4 or Xbox One. Unfortunately this issue while not making the game unplayable just ruins all of the immersion which is such a shame since so much time has been spent meticulously crafting this world.
The console version of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire comes with all of the expansion packs from the PC version of the game, which means that the game has an incredible amount of content for its asking price.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire improves upon the Pillars of Eternity formula in nearly every way and is another fine RPG from Obsidian, brilliantly showcasing the studio’s knack for strong world-building, intelligent, expressive writing, and varied quest design. If you have the strength to deal with the incredible long loading times – and the time – then you’ll discover one of the deepest, densest and most rewarding RPG on consoles in years.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, and will be coming to the Nintendo Switch in 2020.