Pillars of Eternity E3 Previews

Now that the embargo has finally been lifted we can round up a fair number of E3 previews for Obsidian's Infinity Engine-inspired Pillars of Eternity, which was funded through a (very successful) crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and Paypal.


Here, executive producer and lead programmer Adam Brennecke showed us a human mage. In character creation, players will also have the chance to give their characters a life story preceding the events of the game. In this case, the mage had been a sheriff in his village, but had joined a caravan into a realm called The Eastern Reach, a frontier province of the main empire in this world.

The caravan was stopped by a fallen tree and the first mission, to find water for the group, was a basic pretext for being ambushed and learning to fight. Combat in Pillars of Eternity will proceed in real time but users may stop time by going into a pause menu to assess the opposition and issue orders to others in the party.

Combat and other interactions appeared to be resolved by a background dice roll but the system behind it is one built from scratch by Obsidian. The encounters we saw were low-level - fending off wolves here, defeating enraged aggressors there. Some concluded with dialogue options that informed the ongoing makeup of your character, such as trying to resolve disputes with diplomacy, or mercy-killing a mortally wounded foe.

PC Gamer:

Obsidian skipped through most of the story in the demo, but I spotted the long blocks of dialogue, descriptive flavor text and multiple dialogue options that defined Infinity Engine RPGs. The big storytelling addition for Pillars are "scripted interactions" that play out like storybook sequences. Instead of animating small plot points in-engine, Obsidian paired illustrations with narrative text to tell short vignettes. The parchment background and flat presentation surprised me, at first, but I immediately liked it it's a great callback to pen-and-paper RPGs more expressive than the engine's pulled-back isometric camera.

"Whenever we want to really emphasize something in the story we do one of these," said Adler. "It's very similar to [a choose your own adventure book]." One scripted interaction towards the end of the demo presented the party with a damaged stone wall. It was an ability check: with the right items or party skills, it was possible to break through the wall and take a shortcut.

I saw a few scripted interactions in the short 20 minute demo of Pillars, so I expect they'll be common in the full game. Pivotal story moments will still mostly be presented in-engine.

PC World:

When you walk off to collect berries, another member of your group accompanies you. She starts asking you about your past, about what you did before you fell in with the group. The answers you give whether you were a soldier or a doctor may play into the story later on, but more importantly they give you, the player, a better idea of the character you've created and his or her role in the world. Your answers are taken and inscribed into your character's biography for the rest of the game.

It actually reminded me a lot of the different backstories you could choose for your character in Dragon Age: Origins funny, since Dragon Age was so clearly influenced by the old Infinity Engine games in its own way.

One other nice touch since November: characters now have a bar above their heads that shows when their next turn comes, based on their stats. If you remember from the old Infinity Engine games, combat is an "active-pause" system, meaning that it's technically turn-based but can be played in real time if you want. In Pillars of Eternity, the yellow-orange bar slowly fills up until it's time for a character to take another action, providing welcome mechanical feedback for a modern games crowd that might not be used to active turn-based combat.


Pillars of Eternity makes a strong first impression: 3D character models move about on pre-rendered 3D backgrounds, which are themselves colored and animated so that they appear hand-painted. Watching a hands-off alpha demo at E3, I couldn't help but be reminded of Diablo 2. A torch lit the night with a bright, dancing hue of orange and yellow, and the hero's movement looked just a touch stiffer than you'd expect from a game in 2014.

The game also hearkens back to its Dungeons and Dragons roots via a narrator who speaks in second-person. This disembodied voice helps set up scenes and gives pertinent background information, much like a virtual Dungeon Master. As Pillars of Eternity opens, you're told that you are part of a traveling caravan. Unfortunately, you've decided to make camp in the wrong part of the woods, and soon your party is ambushed.

Combat lies somewhere between real-time and turn-based, with an option to pause at any time. Character actions operate on timers, which you can see as a depleting bar over their head. Again, the influence of DnD shows; the bar is a visual representation of what would be a round of combat if the game were played pen-and-paper style, and watching how fast each ally and enemy's bar moves is a quick way to know the flow of battle.


  • I won't spoil everything that happens in the demo, but the folks at Obsidian like talking about how encounters will have multiple solutions, both on a macro and micro level. At one point, for example, you're approached by a sickly enemy, and you can decide between killing him, trying to talk him out of fighting, feeding him, and other options. In the bigger-picture, the first dungeon lets you decide whether to solve a giant floor puzzle or find an alternative route.
  • As you interact with people in the world of Pillars, you can develop a reputation for yourself. It goes way beyond good and evil we saw a dialogue tree in which the PC could increase traits like Honest, Diplomatic, Passionate, and Rational. Presumably some characters will treat you differently depending on how the world perceives you.
  • They're still targeting late 2014 for release. I asked Brennecke if he was concerned about launching close to Dragon Age: Inquisition, the big-budget BioWare RPG that's out in October. He said he wasn't worried different audiences. Though the first Dragon Age felt in some ways like a new Baldur's Gate, BioWare's games have evolved in a totally different direction. Pillars is going back to those BG-style roots.

The Sixth Axis:

Pillars of Eternity is a fantasy RPG that recalls a golden age of the genre on PC. It's a pre-rendered world of beautiful scenery, dark dungeons and unexplored lands in which you'll make decisions with consequences as you squad up and explore the setting.

There are six races, five core skills and eleven classes to choose from. Races include traditional types like Dwarf, Human and Elf, alongside more exotic races like Godlike, Orlan and Aumaua. The five core skills are fairly traditional too Stealth, Athletics, Lore, Mechanics and Survival. You'll develop those as you play the game and mastery of certain skills will allow different solutions to the many problems you face in the game. Add the eleven classes to your customisation options and you have a vast array of nuanced ways to approach the adventure. Those classes including traditional stalwarts like Barbarian, Wizard and Rogue but also less common types like Paladin, Cipher and Druid.

Your reputation is your key to success in Pillars of Eternity. You'll earn it based on the decisions you make and your actions in certain situations. Your reputation will determine the factions you can side with and the interactions you have with certain characters so that the game can be quite different on multiple playthroughs, based on the decisions you've been making early in the unfolding narrative.


The demo we were shown (playing live on a PC Rob and I tried to steal) gave us a taste of the beginning of the story. We skipped the character creation because Obsidian wasn't ready to show it, but you start in a caravan with other travelers. The world of Eora is based on 16th Century Europe, but with an obvious air of magic permeating everything. You're working your way through the Eastern Reach, when your caravan must stop for the night. The leader, Heodan warns you and the rest of the caravan of the locals, who will do anything they can to protect the sacred ruins nearby, so you're supposed to stick close to camp in order to stay safe.

Of course, that's not what happens, and when one of your fellow caravan-era gets himself killed, all hell breaks loose. When you head back to camp, you rescue Heodan and something called a Soultstorm comes along to sweep all the dead away into the ether. The thing is, if you're caught in this, it will rip your soul too. You make your way into the only area that seems to be safe: the ruins, along with Heodan and a badass female fighter. This intro servers as a way for your character to choose his or her bio, rather than picking or writing a few random things at creation. As you progress, your companions will tell you some of their stories, and ask you some of your own. POE's multiple-path dialog gives you many options and the choices you make will affect everything that happens to you later in Eora.

Combat and formations are a lot like what can be found in IWD and BG, or even The Temple of Elemental Evil. You can choose from set formations or create your own and combat can be carried out in real time, slowed time, or with pauses between turns (allowing you to direct every move of your party). As we fought our way through the ruins, we found out that the Rogue in Pillars is not the weakling he's typically cast as in D&D. Instead, he's the offensive melee powerhouse, just with not-so-great defenses. Watching the team play Pillars of Eternity was like stepping back into a glorious time machine to when RPGs were tactical and not about mashing buttons.

The Escapist:

In the old RPGs based on D&D rules, players familiar with the tabletop experience could identify a monster the minute it appeared in the game, usually able to spout abilities, immunities and modifiers with ease. However, the monsters in Pillars of Eternity will be all new and created from scratch. Abilities won't be known until players encounter them for the first time, but once encountered, the creatures will be added to the player's bestiary for later reference if encountered again, Brennecke said. And if a monster displays a new ability later in the game in a separate encounter, that will be tacked on to the bestiary entry for that creature.

The game is currently in alpha, with all maps done and all content currently in the game. The narrative team is in the final stages of fleshing out companions and the finishing touches are being placed on the game's two large cities, player strongholds and numerous dungeons. Oh, and let's not forget the 15-level mega dungeon that only got bigger with the more Kickstarter donations and stretch goals that were achieved.

If you were one of the backers of the project, then you have probably been keeping up with Obsidian's frequent updates on the game. However, while Brennecke was excited to show off what they have at E3, he said the company walks a fine line with what they show publicly and letting supporters play what we saw. "We want to do more polish before we show the backers," he said. "We'll also show off other game play to the backers that has no spoilers. But backers can expect a beta later in the summer." He added that backers will get an update on the Kickstarter page after the show with more screenshots and details.