Well over the last month or so I haven’t been playing too much WHFB which is a bummer. The upside though is discovering new ways to spend my time and rediscovering old passions. I’ve already written about X-Wing, which has almost completely replaced WHFB as my game of choice and is likely to remain in that spot until 9th edition drops on us. Furthermore I’ve posted about painting up my Space Wolves (who will get a post later this evening showing off my dreadnought). In truth though there has still been a surplus of spare time (it turns out fantasy is time consuming) and to fill away the hours I’ve gotten back into playing Computer Roleplaying games.
Now for me GW games were not my introduction to sci fi/fantasy gaming as I’m just young enough to have grown up with computers and computer games in my life as long as I can remember. Most of these early games were pretty forgettable or I was too young to appreciate and remember them, but the perfect game did come along at the perfect time and has realistically had a pretty profound impact on how I’ve spent my free time for most of my life. Baldur’s Gate.
My Dad got Baldur’s gate for me sometime in 1998 and I was instantly hooked. The game was graphically light years ahead of other games I owned, seemed to offer limitless options to explore and create characters, and had a complex maths based combat system. The game also kicked my pre-teen ass mercilessly. Nevertheless I loved everything about it, I would pore over the manual, reading the fluff ( I liked Volo’s commentary quite a bit), trying to figure out how to make the best characters and ogling high level spells that I didn’t think I’d ever get to be able to actually use.
It was years before I actually put Sarevok down (minor spoiler), having matured enough to really get my head around the combat system and the synergy required to beat what is a very hard game. Hugely rewarding though and conveniently this meant that upon arriving in NZ in 2001 I discovered to my joy that Baldur’s Gate 2 and a range of other similar Infinity Engine RPGs existed. I was hooked, coincidentally at the same time that I discovered the GW hobby. I think looking back the two are linked by a love of fantasy and an open imagination combined with an appreciation for how probability based combat systems worked.
Cut forward a few years and I’ve played all of the Infinity Engine games and virtually everything put out by the now lamed Bioware and their brilliant but sometimes flawed cousin Obsidian. I’ve loved nearly all these titles despite their flaws untiil Dragon Age 2 and the rise of the console perverted the old complex combat systems in favour of button mashing.
That is until Pillars of Eternity came along. Inspired by the success of Wasteland 2′s kickstarter campaign, Obsidian undertook a Kickstarter to create a CRPG that would be a homage or spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate and the other Infinity Engine games. At the time, due to my unfamiliarity with Kickstarter I didn’t join in, but I watched it’s progress eagerly and pre-ordered it earlier this year. So how is it?
Incredible. Obsidian has absolutely nailed it in my humble opinion. They have successfully created a vibrant new world and combat system for their fantasy game, created a visually stunning game (given the desired art style) and overlaid it with the usual high calibre of writing one expects in an Obsidian game. So without any more rambling I’m going to briefly touch on the combat/character creation, audiovisual and story aspects of the game.
Fans of Baldur’s Gate will instantly feel familiar when it comes time to make a character. There are a wide range of classes available all of whom seem to have useful roles in a party. What’s more is that these classes are more flexible than the classic D&D varieties due to no restrictions on the wearing of armour or the use of weapons by certain classes. It’s much easier to make that heavily armoured battle-mage you’ve always wanted. That being said your party still requires most of the classic roles established by CRPGs (Tank, DPS, Healer etc…) The combat itself is the same challenging start/stop combat that you had in the Baldur’s Gate series with most of the same strengths and weaknesses. Having a party with a high amount of synergy is crucially important, second only to positioning. That being said, just like the Infinity Engine games, good positioning tends to mean making sure you fight in confined spaces where you can focus the enemy on your tanks, also you have the same massive incentive for everyone to carry ranged weapons for the opening alpha strike just like it’s spiritual predecessors. That said combat is challenging and fun. One of the coolest aspects of the combat system is that (unless you chear) you don’t know the strengths and weaknesses of enemies until you’ve fought them a few times, at which time when you scroll over them you’ll see what they’re vulnerable to. Having this knowledge is often the difference between victory and defeat.
This game isn’t a photorealistic first person shooter, and it’s not meant to be. The use of an isometric view definitely limits how much awesome the visuals can technically achieve, but that’s where this thing called art design comes in. The developers have brought the game to life with crisply modelled characters and beautiful maps that pay homage to Baldur’s Gate while using technological advancements to add in water, lighting, weather and shadow effects that the original creators of the Infinity Engine games could only have dreamed of. The sound is excellent throughout, with a suitable fantasy score, good effects and superb voice acting.
Your possible party companions are all well done and interesting, though perhaps they don’t reach the high bar set by Baldur’s Gate. That is mostly because none of them are Minsc and none of them have a miniature giant space hamster named Boo. There are also no romance options, which doesn’t bother me but some other nerds find upsetting. I recommend they just mod up Skyrim if that’s what they’re after though. The game world is interesting but feels a tad sparse. That said that seems to be a result of the developer’s decision not to overpopulate towns with NPCs who say nothing. Quests are generally pretty well designed and offer multiple ways to solve problems, with non-violence being an option most of the time if you have a character that is charismatic/smart enough to pull it off. What’s more is that there is no experience given directly for combat so the usual penalty for peaceful options is much reduced (it’s still there though as you can’t loot people who are still alive…) The main story itself is solid and you feel as if you are playing a major part in the events of the world and making meaningful decisions. No complaints here.
If you’re a fan of computer roleplaying games then Pillars of Eternity is an absolute must. Even to wargamers who don’t usually play pc games I’d encourage you to try it out. It’s genuinely the best pc game I’ve played in the past few years.