First of all, some full disclosure. I don’t play a lot of isometric RPG’s, it’s not a genre I’m intimately familiar with and this colours my view of new games I play in the genre. The last of which was Divinity: Original Sin 2, which is still one of the best games I’ve ever played. And so when I heard people touting this as D:OS 2‘s biggest contender, you can imagine that caught my attention straight away and I had to see what all the fuss was about.
I think the best way to describe it is someone who casually enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, only to have their well meaning friend find out and decide to introduce them to an advanced version of a previous edition. They mean well, they want you to have fun, you can understand it’s all very solid but you can’t wrap your head around it.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire comes to us from Obsidian Entertainment, masters of the immersive RPG, and continues the story of the first game. You pick up the same character, a Watcher who can talk to spirits and does the bidding of the various Gods of the setting. One of those Gods you’ve killed has, however, recently come back to life, ruined your fancy castle, punched your soul out of your body and all the way back to level 1, and then trudged off to some islands, presumably not for a nice vacation.
Your being a spirit provides the opening of the game, which allows you to reset your character in a way that feels natural to the setting and, in a sense, reminded me of the opening of Mass Effect 2. You’re given a little exposition of the last game, though not enough, I felt, to help out those who hadn’t played it like myself. It was more of a refresher course on who you were, your major achievements, and what you’re going to do next. You’re given the opportunity to import your save file from the previous game, or choose the options through either an all encompassing ‘you were a good/bad/absolutely terrible kind of person’ or a more detailed option of choosing each path the first game offered individually.
From there, you can set up your character’s class, background, appearance, skills, traits, all the traditional RPG sort of things. The game also offers multi-classing, but suggests new players avoid this. Which is fair enough, but at the same time, I can’t feel as though the game is holding back the meat of the battle and character system behind a sort of beefgate and simply saying ‘don’t try this if you’re new’ instead of giving me a proper tutorial on the subject. Which is another big issue I found playing through the game. It offers very little in the way of tutorials, perhaps assuming players will be familiar with isometric RPG’s and how they work. The game offers a paragraph at best per tutorial and lets the player figure out the rest. Which, perhaps, isn’t entirely a bad thing because it allows me to play around, but I can’t help but feel I’ll reach the end not even noticing half of the mechanics. Which is a shame, because all the mechanics in terms of battle I’ve come across so far have been a lot of fun and made for varied battles.
The game shines as a traditional RPG, offering up dialogue options that require skill checks for almost every situation, characters and scenarios full of depth that invite the player to explore not only the characters, but their histories, the cultures of the various islands and every nook and cranny it has to offer. This is helped by not having a traditional open world, but instead a beautifully laid out story book with a point and click interface. The overworld has various points of interest that lead to different scenarios which involve skill checks, and can allow the player to gain items, experience, or a world of hurt. Once the player obtains their ship and is allowed to traverse the islands, there are also pirate events that play out in a similar point and click manner which provides a fun little minigame.
The more I play of this game, the more it draws me in. Even if I don’t fully understand the mechanics, the interest the world creates makes me want to, and makes me want to stick around to the end. While I feel confused and lost every now and then, the fact it’s a new setting allows me to put my focus elsewhere while tooltips provide the essentials of the lore so I at least know the basics of what’s being discussed.
While Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is that friend who wants to make you play the advanced Dungeons and Dragons and dumps a rulebook the size of a phonebook on you and doesn’t offer too much explanation, they’re also the friend who wants you to have fun and wants you to experience an amazing, beautiful world. And if, like me, you’re new to all this, it’s worth sticking it out just to see what it has to offer.