Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 30, 2015
Pillars of Eternity - First Impressions

I've played Pillars of Eternity for 16 hours now, which is longer than some other games are long, but short on the time-scale of this game. I'm still in Act 1! So this isn't a review yet, but just some first impressions.

Pillars of Eternity is most definitively and old school game. Gameplay is very similar to Baldur's Gate, but the world and story is original, and not licensed from Dungeons & Dragons. There are a few modern comfort functions added, but mostly the game offers very little in terms of handholding or even just tutorials. You are supposed to find out things on your own.

Sometimes the modern touches clash with the old stuff. For example you have a modern 3D character creation tool where you can make your character look as you want him to look. But then you need to choose one of only 66 2D character portraits, and of course none of them even remotely fits the character you just created in 3D. You might as well not bother, as most of the time you only see the 2D portrait anyway, unless you zoom in a lot.

In Pillars of Eternity you control a party of up to 6 characters. You create one character at the start, the other 5 are companions which you can either pick up during the adventure, or create yourself if you have the money. *Spoiler* The first three companions you meet are a wizard, a fighter, and a priest, but you don't know that when you create your main character. What works very well is making a rogue as your main character, so you get your companions with their stories and have all the basic classes covered. If you insist on let's say making a wizard, you end up with two wizards in the group, or miss out on that free companion. Plus you have to spend money on hiring a rogue companion to open locks and disarm traps, and the created companions don't have a background story and have less dialogue and interaction.

Personally I like Pillars of Eternity a lot, but it is not the most accessible game, designed more for veterans than for new players. Combat takes a while to get the hang of, as it is in real-time, with optional pauses. You have various auto-pause settings, or can pause the game with the space bar whenever you want. What is very helpful in combat is the option to zoom in very close, as you need to be precise. The game allows friendly fire, and my rogue once managed to backstab one of his companions because that companion was too close to the enemy and I mis-clicked. Area effect spells are rather tricky, because combatants tend to move while the spell is cast, and you can easily burn your own party with a fireball. At least path-finding has much improved since Baldur's Gate, although sometimes characters still get stuck and can't find a way to melee the enemy.

Pillars of Eternity is a very big game, and I can see myself spending many hours playing it through. Being an explorer at heart I'll probably just play it once, but if you want you can play through the game at different difficulties, including very hard settings with permadeath and reduced access to comfort functions like the stash. But there is also an easy setting with a reduced number of monsters for those who are mainly interested in playing through the story and exploring the world.

Highly recommend playing larger or tougher battles at the slower speed setting (hit S); it makes seeing what is actually happening easier without the need to always hit pause between every spell/ability.

As for the need for a rogue; I felt like this as well for a bit, but other than combat-specific stuff that the rogue can do (which admittedly are pretty cool), any character with an increased mechanic skill accomplishes the most important part of the rogue; finding traps and secrets, picking locks.
Two of my D&D regulars are playing Pillars of Eternity and love it, and after reading this it sounds like I may have to cave and pick this one up.
I'm betting they will work on the pathfinding. Using doorways as choke points in particular has proven less than 100% effective for me, when I have more than one melee character.

This isn't a solution so much as a workaround, but you can add additional portraits to the 66. I may get around to that, but I mostly don't care.
I started as a monk and the 1st 3 companions I found were wizard, priest, and chanter. Haven't seen a fighter anywhere that I can recall. I've also picked up a ranger, a cipher, and a druid, so I've got 1 sitting idle in my stronghold, even. I'd love to have another melee though, so I guess I'll have to keep looking for that fighter....
@Magson: Try going back to the first village and talking to everybody under the hanging tree.
Anyone can learn Mechanics and pick the locks, so there is no best class for the main character.

There are portrait packs already circulating on the net.
I'd like to point out that while it is technically correct to say that every class can learn any skill, the system is skewed towards you learning your class skills. Every additional skill level costs more, but the starting skill level from your class isn't counted in that. So for the amount of points it costs a paladin to learn mechanics to 6, the rogue will learn it to 8 and be able to open the doors in Raedric's castle.
I was thinking of checking this game out as I have a few friends playing it on Steam but I don't like the idea of friendly fire. Also I'm done with buying $50-$60 games, I'll wait awhile for it to drop in price. I just picked up Torchlight II for $21 and am enjoying the crap out of that game. So much better than Diablo III
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