Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Previews - Ship Combat, AI, and More

Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is shaping up to be quite an expansive seafaring adventure - an exotic setting, a story about giant statues possessed by gods, plenty of multiclassing options, and a great number of islands to explore at your leisure. And while we'll have to wait until April 3, 2018 to get our hands on Obsidian's latest cRPG, a number of media outlets have recently got a chance to check out a preview build of Deadfire. The resulting articles are mostly focused on the game's ship-to-ship action but there's also a lot of general info there as well.

PCGamesN leads the charge with this video interview featuring Josh Sawyer:

And this gameplay-filled video that lists some of Deadfire's standout features:

And on the text side of things, PCGamesN also offers this article that brings us up to speed with the game's seafaring elements:

“Hi, I’m Ser Guybrush Threepwood, +6 mighty pirate!” is not quite the way your character introduces themselves in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, but if that was an option it would certainly be in character.

The sequel to Obsidian’s homage to Baldur’s Gate is leaping as far away from traditional fantasy as it can, washing players ashore in the colonial Deadfire Archipelago region. These volcanic islands are populated by diverse indigenous groups and invading corporations, while the seas are dominated by ruthless pirates and explorers. If you are to survive Deadfire, you will need to become the captain of your very own ship.

Ships and seafaring are, on both a mechanical and lore level, what sets Deadfire and the original Pillars of Eternity apart. The ocean and islands provide a true shift in atmosphere for the series, and provide a whole host of new problems to be solved. Problems like:
  • Customising your fully modular ship to ensure it is fit for combat.
  • Recruiting a crew that possess the right naval skills and personality traits.
  • Keeping the crew happy by resolving their arguments and preventing mutinies.
  • Avoiding or engaging the villains of the ocean, be that one of many unique enemy ships or deadly sea monsters.
  • Achieving victory in the new turn-based ship combat system.

And another one that praises its companion AI:

Manually rewire the AI

In Deadfire you have complete control of every one of your companion’s AI routines. Using the system’s three layers of logic as a framework, you can dictate, for example, that when an ally suffers a poison status effect your party’s caster automatically performs a curative spell. That is the system at its most basic, as it comprises countless conditions which, when threaded together with companion abilities, creates a web of almost impenetrable intelligence. Create an AI plan for every eventuality and your team can become a self-sufficient combat unit. “We have great in-depth options, you can do lots of wild and crazy stuff,” Sawyer promises.

The system has two very strong influences. “If you really like stuff like the Final Fantasy Gambit system or the AI settings from Dragon Age: Origins, those are the games we used as inspiration for Deadfire’s AI,” Sawyer says.

For anyone not looking to spend hours rewiring the brains of each of their companions, a series of AI presets allows you a comprehensive but simpler method of governing AI behaviour. Each character has a primary and secondary set of rules, so should they be unable to do their most important actions, perhaps due to a status affliction, they will always have back-up procedures to fall back on.

Then, we have a PC Gamer preview that tells us about Deadfire's naval combat:

The lawless Deadfire Archipelago is like a watery Wild West, and someone is always looking to scrap. Pirates roam the seas, looking for passing ships to plunder or just blow out of the water for sport. And this is the thing that really sets Deadfire apart from its predecessor. As well as the traditional RPG stuff you’d expect from a Pillars game, you’ll also be spending a lot of time at sea, exploring, travelling, and trying not to end up as a pile of smouldering driftwood.

Freedom of expression is a big part of the Infinity Engine lineage of RPGs, and Deadfire is no different. The Watcher doesn’t have to be a hero, and there are plenty of ways to cause trouble in the archipelago. As well as pirates you’ll see defenceless merchant ships on the world map, and you can attack and loot them if your black heart desires it. But repeatedly sinking civilian ships will give you a bad reputation, and people you meet can react to it.

Ship combat, which is turn-based, takes place on a separate screen with its own dedicated interface. There’s a circle showing you which way your ship is facing relative to the enemy, and you command your crew by selecting items on a menu. You can use a turn to reposition your ship, speed up to get closer to your opponent, slow down to create some distance, or fire your weapons. Your cannons are only effective at specific ranges, however, which makes positioning important. If you’re trading paint with the enemy, your long range guns will be useless. An illustration showing the enemy ship, its distance, and its current level of damage is an at-a-glance way to see how the battle is going.

This is an elegant way of representing naval combat, rather than trying to make it occur in real-time, which Pillars’ engine just wasn’t designed for. Wind was originally going to be a factor, but Obsidian decided it simply wasn’t fun having to manage that on top of everything else. The studio is still refining the system and it may change again before release, but what’s in place now is a fine way of getting across the idea of fighting at sea.

And this IGN article that, apart from telling us a bit about the game, features a number of fresh screenshots:

The coastal waters of the Deadfire Archipelago are dotted with challenges and points of interest that have nothing to do with the main story, and discovering them was one of my favorite parts of the exploration process. At one point, we came across a derelict ship flying a flag that my knowledgeable crew was able to identify as meaning those onboard had been stricken by a plague. We wisely elected to sink it (at the cost of some of our limited supply of cannonballs), but a less astute skipper could easily have missed the warning signs and attempted to board and investigate. It’s clear that skilled sailors are going to be worth their wage in situations like this.

As I sailed, I would occasionally come across an anchorage point where I could go ashore and explore most of the islands individually. This sometimes simply involved moving my party over a resource deposit at the overworld level to collect it, but I’d occasionally also uncover a point of interest that could be explored in detail as its own, fully-rendered map. While ashore, your crew can forage for themselves and thus won’t consume food or water from your hold, but will still have to be paid wages for each day that passes. Overall, I had the strong sense that I was operating a mobile, floating business venture and not just a gang of traveling adventurers.

Aside from the self-guided exploration of smaller, less story-heavy islands are hub towns and quest areas that look and play very similarly to Pillars 1. Talking to townsfolk, bartering for equipment and supplies, fighting monsters, and exploring dungeons will all feel very familiar if you played the first game. In some ways, I found myself wishing they had pushed those boundaries a bit further.

And in case you're interested in some more general previews, here's one from GameSpace:

The beta was a bit rough around the edges and due to certain technical problems with it, I was unable to sufficiently test the combat system as the game won’t give me the option to leave the starting friendly hub. But even the couple hours I have spent fighting with the local fauna of Poko Kohara island have really shown me how much I needed that skipped tutorial without even realizing it. The companions’ behavior can be set up according to your wishes (the behavior redactor is insanely deep and can rival that of Dragon Age: Origins), each character has quick slots for items such as grenades or potions. Additionally, each character has multiple “tiers” of spells and abilities and different sets of weaponry that come with its own skills. Add to it all the buffs, debuffs, conditions, injuries, empowerments, resistances to certain types of weapon or magic… The system is incredibly deep even at the first glance (or poke), and I am sure will prove to be only deeper when you actually have a chance to see it for yourself and test it at length.

To sum it up: even the couple hours long slice of the game shows incredible potential and no small amount of love the developers have put into the project. Each system from character creation to combat proved to be much deeper than it initially seemed, filled with nuances and opportunities. With the release on April 3, the team still has time to work out all technical kinks and present the world with the next CRPG classics that follows the best old schools traditions.

One from Shacknews:

There was a lot to take in narratively even in this small chunk of the game that I was told equates to about 5% of the game. The souls of individuals were a major focus in the original and they seem to play an even bigger role this time around. Without giving away any specific spoilers beyond the image above, the tail end of the main quest in this preview build opened the world of Eora up in an unexpected way and added a new layer that is sure to supply some significant events in the full game.

This particular preview build gave us a solid glimpse into quest structure, character creation, combat with the help of mercenary characters, and travel, but we'll have to wait for launch to see how the story expands when it comes to the new main characters and returning faces. There are still some small bugs to be ironed out, but there's a good amount of time before launch in April. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is an improvement on an already fantastic formula with some expected and unexpected changes that bring this RPG even closer to perfection.

And one from MMORPG.com:

For folks who really like to get down to the nitty gritty, characters can be customized in a wide variety of ways:
  • races each have sub-races to choose from that provide a different aesthetic look as well as stat bonuses and other boons including a location-based background
  • Single and Multi class options allow you to refine your character's fighting style immensely. Single class characters are recommended to new players, while multi class characters can truly refine who you are. Classes include: Barbarian, Chanter, Cipher, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Priest, Ranger, Rogue and Wizard
  • Each class has a number of sub-classes to choose from with enough distinction between them to make them interesting on subsequent playthroughs. Should you choose to multi class, you'll also choose a sub-class with its attendant bonus or focus
  • Attribute points are fairly typical of most cRPGs and are spread in Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Perception, Intellect and Resolve
  • Culture offers you several choices for where your character originated. Some have additional attribute bonuses. This is where you can really get a feel for the lore of each race and location throughout the Deadfire Archipelago
  • After Culture, you'll choose you character's background: Colonist, Drifter, Explorer, Hunter, Laborer, Mercenary, Merchant, Scientist. Each of these come with secondary attribute bonuses to things like Athletics, Intimidation, Streetwise and more
  • Weapon proficiencies fall into Bows, Firearms, Magical Implements, One-Handed, Two-Handed and Shields with several choices in each
  • Lastly, you'll customize your character's look through portrait, "colors" (i.e. clothing primary/secondary, skin, hair primary/secondary), face, hair (including facial hair for males), voice, pose and name

And finally, there's this GameIndustry.biz interview with Josh Sawyer that touches on the intricacies of building an IP of your own:

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz Josh Sawyer, creative director for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, explored the challenges and advantages of working on a sequel to your own IP.

"The pressure is sort of the same in that I know what the expectations of people who like the Infinity Engine games are, and it's why I can design for them," he says. "But working on someone elses' IP you also have preconceived expectations. Working on Star Wars, for example, there is certainly no shortage of fans that have opinions on how everything should be in the universe.

"It's more nerve-wracking [working on Pillars of Eternity] in the sense that it's all our responsibility, but there's no pressure in the sense that I feel like I can do a good a job on this as someone elses' IP. So from that perspective I feel totally fine working on it, it's just knowing that I don't want to let the company down, I don't want to squander the chance I've been given to make something for the fans.

"Because this is an intellectual property that Obsidian wants to continue to develop, both in games like this and potentially other spin-off games, we want to make sure that it remains very healthy and popular and continues to grow over time. Because for an indie developer, being able to own your own IP is a blessing, and if your IP actually gets traction that's a double-blessing so we can't squander this."