It’s been a while since I wrote my last review, as it’s been a while since I last played a single-player game. However, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire recently released, and as a fan of the first game, I picked it up, and here’s my unofficial review on it.
This game is a sequel to the original Pillars of Eternity, but you do not have to play the first game to play this one as the introduction sums up the events of the first game so you do not miss out on much (I still recommend playing it as it’s a fantastic game though). That said, if you did play the first one, you have the option to import your save, which remembers all the important decisions you made in that game. If you don’t want to import or can’t, you can simply choose the decisions yourself to set your character up. As an extremely brief summary, you are what’s known as a Watcher, an individual with the ability to see into the souls of others, and you were the ruler of a fortress called Caed Nua (you claim it in the first game) until a god called Eothas who was supposedly dead seemingly comes back to life and destroys the place, including you. You’re saved by a god (if I’m not mistaken the god’s identity is dependent on your decisions or your save file import) and are tasked with finding Eothas. You meet many characters on the way, and have the option of recruiting some of them into your party, each of them with their own abilities and backstories.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a computer RPG that’s reminiscent of some older classics like Baldur’s Gate in terms of writing and gameplay. It’s isometric in nature, and you click on the map to direct your characters to go where you want them to go (think Dota 2 or League of Legends). The combat features a “real-time-with-pause” system, which means it takes place during real time, though you have the option of pausing the combat to give commands to your party. You also have the option of slowing/speeding up the pace to tailor the experience in a way you want, which is a nice quality-of-life feature. Abilities in this game have a wide range of effects, from applying buffs/de-buffs to inflicting various status effects on your enemies. Overall, the combat feels really smooth, and being able to pause really lets you dictate the course of the battles you fight. It’s a big improvement from the first game, which had a good concept but the combat looked and felt a bit clunky, so this game did an excellent job of improving it.
Character customization is also great, a pretty big step up from the first game. Deadfire introduces the concept of multi-classes, which lets your character delve into two different skill trees instead of focusing on one, at the disadvantage of slower progression. The amount of class combos are vast and the game gives you a lot of freedom to experiment. That said, such flexibility comes at the cost of not being very beginner-friendly. For veterans of the first game, it’s a pretty easy transition, however if you’re new to the genre then I recommend spending some time on the Internet to learn more about different character builds and how to use them more effectively. This also applies to your other party members as well, though if you’re using the game’s “official” companions instead of blank slate hired adventurers, you’re restricted to choosing classes that are pre-defined for each companion, which makes sense from a writing standpoint. Deadfire’s character building system is definitely one of its highlights, and adds a lot of replayability.
Another big gameplay feature they added that was not in the first game is ocean exploration/combat. You are the captain of a ship called the Defiant, and a big part of the game is sailing around Deadfire Archipelago exploring and completing quests. With exploration also comes the possibility of conflict with other ships on the sea, and you can do battle with them. As far as ship combat goes, I have a pretty mixed opinion. If you’re trying to re-enact an actual ship battle and fire cannons at the other ship trying to sink them, you’re probably going to have a bad time. The turn-based system is pretty difficult for me to get into, and since it’s all text-based you do not really have any visual indicators to help you with anything. However, it is possible to cheese ship combat, and that’s a lot more fun. Every ship battle you come across, just sail full speed towards them, and when you’re close enough, you can board their ship without taking a lot of damage that you would normally take when boarding from the start. Now your crew gets into an actual battle with the other ship’s crew, and you also get your crew mates and companions to join you. You also get more loot doing this, so honestly there is no real incentive to slog through the text-based ship combat when you can just rush the other ship and board.
The only major criticism I have of the gameplay is the difficulty. Now most “classic” RPG’s generally have a reverse difficulty curve, where the game is the hardest at the beginning but becomes easier once your character gets increasingly stronger. Deadfire is no different. Now I don’t mind that; there’s something enjoyable about seeing your character progress and become a walking god at the end of the game. My issue with this game in particular is that it gets easy too quickly. Level 20 is the max level in this game, so one can reasonably expect to become unstoppable some time in the late teens. However, I found myself steamrolling encounters and auto-piloting fights after only hitting around level 10–11. I’m becoming too powerful too soon. Part of the problem is that it is way too easy to find end-game gear early, either through shops or through exploration. My characters were decked out in powerful gear at around that level, which normally shouldn’t be a thing until my characters themselves were higher level. It’s understandable that something like that might happen considering the open-world nature of the game, but it does take a lot of the challenge out of the combat when my party is overpowered only halfway through the game.
As far as writing is concerned, there are both strengths and weaknesses. Going into the flaws first, I personally thought the main story was relatively too short. The premise is interesting, but it definitely could’ve used more time and fleshing out. The game felt longer due to exploration and completing side/faction quests, but if you just look at the main story, it’s not long at all. Approaching some spoiler territory, but the basic plot of the main story can be summed up as you traveling to an island to find Eothas, and then talking to him while being annoyed by the other gods. That doesn’t sound very long, because it’s not. I also thought the quests associated with the companions you recruit were also fairly lackluster, though that’s only true of the companions I played through the game with (you can only bring four other party members, and there are more than four companions so you have to make choices).
Concerning the writing’s strengths, I thought the world-building and the characters were excellent. The different factions that exist in the Deadfire world are all pretty well-designed, with each faction having their own goals and motives, and each faction has a pretty well-written quest line, which definitely makes up for the short main story. The companions and other characters you interact with are also pretty well-written, and it was a pretty difficult decision to decide who was going into my final party set-up. Your companions also interact with other members in your party, which makes your group much more lively and organic, which is also something I appreciate. The enjoyment I got out of just having the companions I chose in my party made up for the relatively forgettable quests associated with them. While I was not the biggest fan of the main story (mainly for how short it was), I did appreciate how it attempts to explore the relationship between people and the gods they worship. Your character is the only mortal that knows the “truth” about the gods, and that puts you in a unique position. What if the gods aren’t as all-powerful and all-good religions make them out to be? Would you still revere them the same?
Overall, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is an excellent RPG that hits a lot of right notes. It has a few flaws, but not anything that I wouldn’t consider un-fixable (combat and difficulty balance is something the developer team is actively looking into, and DLC’s/expansions will likely add a lot more to the game/story if we’re to judge from how the first game went). If you like RPG’s, play this game, though hopefully after you’ve finished the first one.
Rating: Worth it at retail price.