March 26, 2015. Less than 5 days. Get hyped. Pillars of Eternity is coming.
After decades of waiting we’re finally seeing a rebirth of isometric party-based RPGs full of good ol’ writing. Games like Baldur’s Gate 2 or the original Fallout were amazing and quite influential gaming experiences in my early teenage years, but thanks to the forces of business that kind of game seemed as dead as classic click-and-point adventure games.
But we’re now in a sort of post-modern era of video games. The drive for more cinematic experiences and higher fidelity graphics is slowing down. A generation of gamers raised on Call of Duty and Mass Effect is now discovering a more thoughtful, more complex kind of gaming. We see innovation in adventures lead by Telltale, we see great remakes like XCOM and now we’re seeing a rebirth of classic CRPGs with Wasteland 2, Divinity Original Sin and now Pillars of Eternity.
Here’s some things I hope Pillars of Eternity will bring to the table.
Beautiful, evocative 2D isometric background art as far as the eye can see
This is a no-brainer and it’s evident from everything shown of the game up to now. Pillars of Eternity is beautiful and knows what it wants to be. One thing I find great about this direction is that it serves the same purpose that amazing art found in pen & paper RPG rulebooks does. CRPGs are largely about imagination. It’s not about literally putting you into a world and showing you everything in excruciating detail. Skyrim does it. Dragon Age does it too. For them it’s about show, don’t tell. But there is real value in the CRPG approach. The art is great to look at, but it’s also largely static, and most of all, it must be evocative. It’s there to spurn on your imagination. It’s like cover art for a fantasy novel. It serves as a reference point for your imagination to work from.
Good writing is the perfect partner for beautiful background art. You see the place you’re going to some extent, but when the writing’s right, it’ll direct your imagination further. There will be colorful dialog with all kinds of people, as well as the capacity to explore complex thought worlds. Obsidian made one of the best games I ever played, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. That game was great because of the writing, which discussed the philosophical aspects of the force and other lofty themes. That alone elevated it above the original game, so I’ve all the confidence in the world that Pillars of Eternity won’t disappoint.
It’s like the good old days, but better
Now, I can’t give a definitive judgement, but from the looks of it and the backer beta, there is a lot of thought put into the usability and combat design. We can’t act like the ~15 years since Baldur’s Gate 2 didn’t happen. There have been advancements in UI design, and so we’ll see a much more convenient UI in Pillars of Eternity. Things like being able to distribute loot to party members in one convenient window for example, or like the action bar at the bottom where you can see spells and abilities at one glance.
Then there is combat. This game is going to have the realtime-with-pause (RTwP) system, so it’ll be able to deliver quick skirmishes with random mobs as well as epic, tactically demanding battles against high level opponents. What’s great to see is that gameplay mechanics for rogue characters seems more fun. There is even a UI indicator for visibility, similar to what you’d see in a stealth game.
A completely new thing that’s just amazing to see is the inclusion of storybook style sequences. You’d be able to interact with preset spots in the environment and choose actions to perform like in a choose-your-own-adventure book, with those actions bound to skill checks. The drawings in those sequences are just wonderful. It totally fits the nature of the game and is a genuine evolution of it.
This is Obsidian’s big chance
Sure, Obsidian has made many great games before, such as the aforementioned KotoR 2. They’re also the guys behind Fallout New Vegas and the overlooked Alpha Protocol. One thing that’s always hurt their reputation is problems with publishers. With KotoR 2, they had a really ambitious vision but they were screwed over because the publisher decided that they’d have to ship by Christmas even though they were promised more time. The result was a bug ridden, circumcised game that seriously hurt Obsidian’s reputation.
Or look at Fallout New Vegas, a game churned out far less time than Fallout 3, even though they built a more complex world and improved on the writing and gameplay mechanics. They had to make do with the limitations of Bethesda’s engine and then were screwed over because any royalties were dependent on the game’s metacritic score of all things. They didn’t reach the score set by Bethesda by 2 points and thus lost out to a whole lot of money. It’s bullshit.
So this is their big break, their big chance to go and make their own baby and show that they’re the best studio in the business when it comes to Western RPGs. This is their chance to show the world what the REAL Obsidian is capable of. And it’s yet another chance to show the world that games funded directly by gamers can rival the old model.
We’ll all see on March 26, 2015.