We’re huge fans here at Punk of Lizard of anything remotely retro. We love to re-live our days as fledgling gamers right here on the PS4, and there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – better than an old school RPG. As much as we adore robot dinosaurs and baseball-hat-wearing hackers, going back to something distinctly old school is like curling up with a favourite teddy bear. Pillars of Eternity is an old-fashioned action RPG with tactical stop-start combat and a huge amount of story. Designed in the spirit of old classics such as Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, Pillars of Eternity looks to satisfy anyone with a taste for epic fantasy stories and those who want to choose their own path, playstyle and moral stance.
The Dyrwood is in dire trouble. Woman are giving birth to children without souls – Hollowborn. The population are scared, outcast and living on the edge of death thanks to a desperate ruler. Then along comes you…
The fun starts in the character creation screen. Where are you from? What race are you? What class? What religion? You can even choose your character’s voice and assign Intelligence, Lore and Survival stats. I spent a good hour building my perfect character and eventually settled on an Intelligent Pale Elf Eothas priest from The White that Wends. Your character will affect your experience in the game, and not just in combat, which we’ll get into later. Races or religions are welcomed by some and feared and despised by others. As I had decided my priest would be a gentle but spiritual character, true to his religion, I more than once chose to utter words of holy reverence, only to be urgently hushed by the character I was in dialogue with. Likewise, my place of birth caused exclamations and wonder that I had travelled so far. Coming across another character from The White that Wends can likewise cause an affinity dialogue option which could appease a character and help avoid a combat situation.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the story because, well, that’s a pet hate, but your character is intimately tied up in the plight of the Hollowborn. He or she has a special ability and part of your quest is to find out what that is. The story starts at the beginning of a literal journey away from your home. You get to decide why you are there and as things start to go awry your true destiny begins to emerge. As you go about your travels you will embark on a variety of quests ranging from the dramatic to avenging some little piggies. There’s plenty of variety to keep you occupied and to help you level up, and it can all be accessed from your journal. Keep your eye on that journal because this game drops a lot of knowledge.
I hope you like your fantasy novels because Pillars of Eternity reads like one. From the pop up descriptions to the dialogue, everything is incredibly in-depth and beautifully written. Every side character has a personality, quirks and a history. Every quest paints a new layer of discovery. And every new location opens up a new understanding of the world you’re in. It’s beautiful storytelling with the tiniest but most magnificent details. Pillars of Eternity feels like an interactive story book. Don’t expect a fast-paced game. This is ye olde RPG where world building and story is king. Many combat situations can even be avoided if you have the right stats or the right affiliations in the right places. Some enemies can be friended and will join your ranks. The moral of this story: don’t put an arrow in an ogre until you’ve tried to sweet talk him.
As you level up you earn points that can weight your character in different ways. Some are handy for combat, some for dialogue and some, very helpfully, for both. Although Pillars of Eternity is big on story, there is still plenty of combat to enjoy and you’ll need to be prepared for it. Along your journey you’ll pick up a wealth of interesting characters who can join your party. My favourite is Aloth, the aristocratic wizard Elf with a split personality. Wizards can conjure powerful offensive, defensive and healing spells. My priest is also pretty good at bolstering other party members with his holy radiance, but both of us suck on the front line. You can also pick up rangers, barbarians, hired fighters, characters with offensive animals, and Chanters who can raise skeletons from the ground and phantoms from the ether.
You can have up to six party members with you at any time and you have the option to control everything they do or just let them loose and see what happens. That’s not advisable if you’re playing on the higher difficulty levels. Utilising your character’s strongest skills is a much better option. The combat employs a stop-start system so you can pause the game, assign an action to each character and then unpause and watch the destruction. You can also set AI behaviours to aggressive or defensive or to stand stock still until you give a specific command. It’s a try-it-and-see approach with plenty of variety depending on how you like to play. As your characters fight and get injured, they will get tired, and this will affect their HP in the next battle. When you get a free moment you’ll need to rest up. This can be done at inns or with camping supplies if you’re out in the open.
Part way through the game you’ll get the opportunity to fulfil your wildest dreams and own your own run-down old stronghold. As its new Lord, you will be responsible for using your hard-earned (and stolen) cash to upgrade and fortify it. Stronghold upgrades have all sorts of various benefits to your characters so it’s absolutely worth your time and money. Having your own base you can return to for a quick kip is also highly beneficial!
Combat actions, inventory, journal, character pages, camping, stronghold access and a whole lot more are all accessible from the pop up radial menus. Pretty much everything can be controlled from here. It’s quick and efficient and perfect for such intricate functions on a console. Pillars of Eternity has been out for a while on PC, but it’s taken to console like a duck takes to water and I take to pizza. We didn’t pick up on any bugs and although the framerate dipped on a few occasions, it otherwise behaved itself nicely. It’s a really pretty game and its isometric style and stat and inventory pages feel beautifully old-school in design.
Included in the Complete Edition is The White March expansion, which is entirely optional, but can be played alongside the rest of the game at any time. Just make sure that if you want to take it on (and why wouldn’t you?) that you play it before the end of the game. Once the game is over it’s over and if you want to keep playing you’ll either have to go back to an old save or start a whole new game. The reason for this is that once you’ve finished the main story, the game takes into account all your actions (and non-actions) and reads out the fate of the lands and people around you. There’s a lot here that can end badly, so all the more reason to play as many side quests and character quests as possible. This is a 30-40 hour game minimum, and it’s packed tight with content that can easily add another 20 hours. It’s certainly worth using all that time to absorb every drop of story and try to shape the world the way you want it.
Pillars of Eternity is an impressive RPG with buckets of content, solid combat mechanics and a massively deep world. This game is all about its story; it’s beautifully written with an intriguing plot that leaves you with some hefty decisions to make by the end. Forty wonderful hours.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10
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