Pillars of Eternity Reviews

It's been quite a while since we've last checked what reviewers think of Pillars of Eternity, and since then quite a few reviews from websites that specialize in role-playing games have been published, so I thought we might as well do another review round-up that focuses on their opinions. In truth, most of the reviews rounded up in this post ended up coming from one website, the RPG Codex. They decided to review the game four times.

The first review published by the RPG Codex was penned by user Darth Roxor. It's a very negative piece that finds almost nothing to praise in the game except for the environmental art:

Let's get one thing straight. When Obsidian were touting how this was their (ultimate) game, over which they'd finally have (full creative jurisdiction) that wouldn't be (blocked by publishers), I had many things in mind. I had a vision of another Mask of the Betrayer, I thought of a throwback to Icewind Dale, I also hoped for something completely new. What I got instead was a very badly done cargo-cult clone of Baldur's Gate 1 that mindlessly copies all its flaws while actually dropping the things that made it work, and completely disregarding the 17 years of cRPG history that happened in the meantime. (But Darth Roxor, BG1 wasn't that much of a good game either, it was only BG2 that was really gud!), I hear you say. And you are right. Then let me ask you back why did Obsidian decide to clone BG1 instead of the clearly superior BG2? Why settle for blatant mediocrity instead of aiming for supremacy?

Even further, I don't know if I could call Pillars of Eternity an outright (bad) game. It's just painfully generic, with nothing that ever stands out, but I would also say that any sufficiently mediocre game is indistinguishable from a bad one. To be honest, I would say it's rather insulting that Obsidian, with all their creative freedom for PoE, have decided not to experiment even a little bit. Everything in this game is textbook, safe and derivative, there are no risks involved anywhere, the game practically plays itself with barely any input from the player. The only emotion PoE evoked from me during the 41 hours it took me to finish it was a feeling of ennui that kept telling me, '˜maybe I should play IWD again'. I doubt that should be your objective when you make the ultimate' IE homage. Obsidian promised the story of PS:T, combat of IWD and the exploration of BG, but somewhere along the road they got confused, and what they gave us instead was the story of BG, the combat of PS:T and the exploration of Gothic 4.

This is literally the worst Obsidian game I've played to date. That's right, I even had more fun with Dungeon Siege 3 - at least it was a fun beat .m up, as opposed to this lifeless, uninspired husk. Disappointment, thy name is Pillars of Eternity.

The second was penned by user Decado. It still contains a fair share of complaints about the game, but the tone is more positive:

It is a testament to what Obsidian has made that most of the time, I'm playing a game I really like, sometimes in spite of itself. I spent a good portion of this review complaining, but I still like the game, and am playing it again. Which, if you really think about it, mirrors the experience of playing IE games almost perfectly. All of the IE games had problems, some of them glaring: Torment had lousy combat; BGII had a goofy combination of DnD rules, was often too easy, and the rest mechanic allowed for unlimited cheese; IWD could be underwhelming or even boring at spots, etc. I said before that going nostalgic, as Obsidian has done here, often results in friendly fire, that whatever was good in the old games could be better, but whatever is bad could be worse. With that in mind, one thing you cannot say about PoE is that it fails to accurately mimic playing an IE game back in the late 1990s. If you think PoE isn't a real spiritual successor to the IE games, there is a good chance you are misremembering how the IE games actually played.

I get the sense that main point of disagreement among players has to do with how hardcore the game is, and this hearkens back to what I wrote about in the very beginning. I used to think that it was possible to make a game appeal, within common sense limitations, to players of all skill levels. PoE seems to be the living point of proof that this is impossible, or at least the task is more difficult than it is worth. I have no doubt that, much like DA:O, the game will inspire a contentious and vigorous love/hate debate among the more hardcore RPGers that make up the Codex's user base. But even though the most hardcore player will get a lot out of the game, I imagine the people most impressed will be the ones who are less invested.

Because overall we're talking about a pretty damned good game that, were there no attachment to the IE legacy, would still easily stand on its own. This is the irony of creating art based on nostalgia, at least as far as I can tell. It is easier to get started, but the stakes are higher. You can't just copy what came before, because that is lazy and cheap. But neither can you deviate from the core formula, because pretty soon you're talking about a (different) game. I might be letting Obsidian off the hook a little bit, perhaps bamboozled by the trip down memory lane. But none of their errors seem unforgivable and anyway, I don't know how you can create a game based on memory and get it all right. Nostalgia is always lurking the background, ready to smooth over the rough edges of your memory with the pleasant experience of going back in time.

Users Grunker and Vault Dweller (one of the developers behind The Age of Decadence) also reviewed the game. It's another negative piece of the game, that takes issue of the implementation of almost every design element, and also criticizes the game for being "leftist":

Obsidian is the most experienced and talented RPG developer out there, yet the game doesn't reflect it at all. I see the effort that went into the setting, quest design, character system, combat, etc, but in each and every case the delivery is lacking.

The setting is well thought through but presented via infodumps and hidden behind the generic familiar. The lore is unique and interesting but disconnected from the gameworld. The story has potential that was never realized. Sawyer put a lot of thoughts and clever things into the combat system but the encounter design is non-existent and 'thou shalt not fail' design fucks up everything. The game has a good item system but most items are crap that clutters the inventory. Quests have multiple solutions and occasional consequences but the premise is often idiotic or downright leftist. As Grunker said, "the strengths of the game are undercut by its own deficiencies."

There isn't much to analyze there (unless one's a rabid RTwP fan which I'm not) or even talk about. The only interesting topic to explore is how promising too much on Kickstarter (another city! a mega dungeon! moar races, classes, companions, moar ziets! stronghold!) can easily result in a very shallow design, but it has nothing to do with the game itself.

Finally, PrimeJunta penned the latest and for now last Pillars of Eternity review from the Codex. It's a remarkably positive piece, though it still finds many flaws in the game. A snippet:

Under the hood, Obsidian has created a robust system of combat and character mechanics though not without its problems. Regrettably, that system is let down by poor overall balancing. Most status effects have been nerfed to insignificance, and the difficulty, for veteran players, encourages boring play. The magic system has similar problems. It works well enough especially in the early part of the game, but towards the late game, the cracks start showing. It gets the job done just for Pillars, but an overhaul for higher-level sequels would be most welcome.

Even with its flaws, Pillars of Eternity is a remarkable game. It was made in a short time with limited resources, yet it is as big, sprawling, complex, and detailed as the games it references. The world is deep, fully-realised, and more believable than Forgotten Realms or most other swords-and-sorcery settings. The gameplay is rich and varied, with massive scope for experimentation and creativity, and if you crank it up to Path of the Damned, challenging enough to keep you on your toes for most of the ride. The writing is up to Obsidian's usually high standard. And there's a lot of it: masses of quests, monsters, maps, dialogues, items, abilities, and much more.

Baldur's Gate would likely have been forgotten had it not been for Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment. If Obsidian can build on Pillars' success, improve on the areas that need improvement while maintaining its strengths, Path of the Damned can point the way to Path of the Incline. Pillars is a first, somewhat faltering step to reviving a near-stagnant genre. A few years ago, the very idea of a Baldur's Gate 2-scope, top-down, isometric, party-based cRPG from a major studio seemed like a pipe dream. Whether this new flowering can survive between the siren song of a mass market and the grumbling of the grognards let alone come close to making both groups happy hangs on the followup. For some of us, Pillars delivered. Others are still waiting. The space it and the other big-ticket Kickstarters has helped clear benefits us all.

RPGWatch's critique of the game was penned by David "Corwin" Yarwood. It awards 4 stars out of 5 to the game:

Some of my comments on this game may seem overly harsh, however, the bottom line is that I really liked and enjoyed this game. It accomplished what it set out to do, was relatively bug free, and hopefully showed the '˜Big Time Developers/Publishers' that there is still a market for these Old School games. It may not be perfect and there are definitely a number of design decisions I did not care for, but the overall package was greater than the sum of its parts. Bring on the sequel.

Finally, RPGamer concludes our round-up with their own review, which awards the game a 3.5/5 score.

This game exists solely because of nostalgia goggles intersecting with crowdfunders' wallets. As a throwback it successfully evokes the best sensations of a ten-year-old style of game while making a few modern improvements and leaving the worst the genres old hindrances behind. It's also worth noting as the first Obsidian where game I haven't encountered a single glitch during play. Pillars is a title that should make old-schoolers happy while still offering a solid core game, story, and a rich setting for new-schoolers.