Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire E3 2017 Coverage Roundup

Obsidian's Josh Sawyer and Adam Brennecke went to E3 where they've shown some Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire pre-Alpha gameplay footage and spoke to a number of journalists.

First off, an IGN video with roughly 10 minutes of gameplay and an audio interview on top of it. And while the interview mostly goes over the basic stuff those of us who followed the game's development already know, the footage is quite interesting. We get to see some sailing, exploration, a preview of stealth mechanics, and some dungeoneering. Check it out:

Then, GameSpot offers a condensed version of the same footage, sans the commentary:

And an article featuring some quotes from Adam Brennecke. An excerpt from there:

"It's a pretty big deal for us," said Adam Brennecke. "We usually do sequels for other developers games, so it's refreshing to work on a sequel to our own thing. We learned a lot from the first game, all the stuff learned we implemented here in Deadfire. We rewrote a lot of the systems from the ground up, and just looking at the game you can see we improved it visually. [...] The technology has been improved hands down from the last game, it's so much better and we're using state of the art technology."

In keeping with the original's focus on storytelling and role-playing, Deadfire will continue on with The Watcher's story, and also marks the first time that Obsidian is developing a save import system, which will carry over all decisions, faction choices, and companion set-ups. However, if you're interested in just jumping into Deadfire--or wanting to start fresh--the game will allow players to essentially make decisions on what happened in the last adventure, essentially filling out the story on the quick so you'll be able to jump into the new adventure.

While many of the same systems and mechanics are returning, the one thing that Obsidian wanted to add in for the next title was more freedom in how you explore the space. With your new ship, which also doubles as your base of operations, the Watcher and their crew will be able to move freely around the seas, either following the main story, or checking out every opportunity they could find elsewhere. This level of freedom in exploration was important for the developers, and they even used past experiences on games like Fallout to help design the world traversal gameplay.

"With the open world, we'r using a lot of our experience from working on Fallout: New Vegas," said Brennecke. "In Pillars I, we realized that it wasn't one of our strengths, specifically the factions, so we have four factions you can ally with or betray, so you either go it alone or team up with others. That's a big part of the narrative story for Pillars II."

PCGamesN spoke with Josh Sawyer in a video interview. The main topic there is Deadfire's grand scale, and how it outdoes the original Pillars. Josh also talks about the increased importance of skills in the upcoming game, and the party assist system, where companions can contribute their skills to a combined roll. Have a look:

Bleeding Cool offers a write-up, featuring quotes from both Josh and Adam. We get some neat insights into Obsidian's design philosophies when it comes to Deadfire. The article also offers some encouraging news that the game in now roughly two months away from alpha testing. An excerpt:

And while we will have ship combat, for the most part, that’s made of random encounters and strategic playing, so no real steering of the ship is involved, though you do have to navigate between islands. You won’t always be able to go in a straight line between islands on a chain, you’ll have to navigate through the shallows and around to landing points. If you don’t have a beach to land on, you can’t land your boat there. Pretty simple in theory, right?

The development team, including the artists, have taken their time researching ships, terminology, different forms of ships to fit in with the different factions in Deadfire, and they have a field trip planned for research. According to Brennecke, several members of the art team are headed to San Diego in a month because “they have a pirate ship you can go out for a ride on.”

Most of the interview focused on the exploration aspects of Pillars II as well as the gameplay balance the team is working on. Sawyer’s favorite aspect of Pillars II was the size of the world, how open things are, and how customizable the game can be. Speedrunners will be happy to know that there are large parts of Pillars II that can be skipped. “When it comes down to it, we looked at the critical path and wanted to make sure we didn’t impede the player unless there was a good reason to, and generally there really isn’t,” Sawyer said. Meanwhile, as the game focuses on exploration, like the original Fallout games and the Elder Scrolls series, most of the exploration is left up to the player. You have a fog of war on your game map that only covers the areas you have yet to explore, but as you go by islands, a question mark will appear that’ll lead you to dungeons or treasure or quests, and it is up to you if you go chasing them down or keep focusing on the game’s main questline.

And while you might get a slight bonus going for a multi-class build, that’ll wear off quickly and you progress much slower through the skills of both classes. “You’ll never be as good at a single thing as someone who single-classed that skill, but you do get access to both skill sets right from the start.” And while there are some limitations, you can’t be a Paladin for one god and a priest for another, that is mostly because the bonuses don’t match up. Other than specific cases, you are free to multi-class and sub-class to your hearts content. Even if that heart is a ghost one.

And when it comes to Sawyer and Brennecke’s favorite multi-class and sub-class combinations, one of highlights was the corpse-eater barbarian, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As a corpse-eater barbarian, you have less rage to start with, which is one of the key aspects of being a Barbarian, but then “once an enemy is killed, you just sort of get in there and start digging in,” which boosts that rage counter pretty well. “It’s not an Obsidian game without cannibals, slaves, and dead children,” Brennecke joked.

Additionally, PCWorld brings us a relatively concise overview of the new stuff shown at E3. If watching videos isn't your thing, you can read their article and be pretty much up to speed with the latest Deadfire developments (thanks, Infinitron). An excerpt:

The increased scope should be obvious though. Taking place in the titular Deadfire Archipelago, Pillars of Eternity II has your party exploring this heretofore-unseen part of the world by land and, more importantly, by ship.

There’s a glimpse of the new world map in the video, which should give you an idea how it all works. Obsidian told me though that it’s not just a fancy skin stretched across an old Infinity Engine-type map. There will be some actual exploration, some spots unmarked on your map that you’ll be able to find by sailing around to different islands. I’m picturing something like Wasteland 2’s dynamic Arizona desert, locations popping up as you travel, though this wasn’t demoed to us.

The Deadfire Archipelago seems quite a bit more diverse than the original Pillars of Eternity’s dour Western Europe-style forests and fantasy, too. In this brief five-minute look at the game there’s your ship headquarters, surrounded by cerulean ocean waves, an island town full of rocky shoals and beach huts, and a desert ruin beset by a sandstorm. Again, I’m feeling Baldur’s Gate II vibes, as that game also had a stunning breadth of environments.


And there have been some tweaks to both the 20-year-old formula and the Pillars ruleset. You’ll notice for instance that you only have five members in your party this time instead of the traditional six. Obsidian told me the resized party is to make the standard real-time-with-pause combat more manageable and readable. Along those lines, classes like the Druid and Priest who received all their spells in one big dump upon leveling up in Pillars will now receive spells a few at a time.

Obsidian tweaked enemy AI too, both to look more dynamic and to present a greater challenge. A giant metal statue guarding a sandstone temple may pick your characters up and slam them into the ground for instance, while a group of imps will teleport around a room and prevent your party from getting a bead on them.

And finally, only tangentially related to E3, Josh Sawyer on his personal blog responded to Jeff Vogel's recent criticisms of Pillars' character creation screens. The response mirrors my own thoughts on the matter, where it agrees with the general premise that there are too many words and not enough editing, but disagrees with some of the details. Having sub-races is a good thing, after all. A snippet:

I think his general criticism (that Pillars of Eternity is too wordy) is correct and it’s one that both I and Eric Fenstermaker (I feel comfortable speaking for him in this respect) noted internally before the game was released. We didn’t really have time to do serious editing passes on anything outside of a few major dialogues. Both at Black Isle and Obsidian, the designers have had a tendency to overwrite. Overwriting in itself is not bad, but only if editing is a normal part of the development process that follows the overwriting. Not enough time was allocated to editing on Pillars of Eternity.

More time has been allocated to review and editing on Deadfire and we’re devoting more of our tool development time to making the editing process easier for everyone involved in the future. In the context of dialogue, a lot of my review comments focus on development of the character, their voice, and their conflict(s); the use of prose to convey meaningful action and details that are not visible to the player’s eye; and giving the player a range of responses that seems appropriate to the moment, builds off of the player’s choices, and leads to entertaining outcomes.