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Pillars of Eternity: The White March Part I is the first DLC for Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian Entertainment's homage to the Infinity Engine classics of yesteryear -- that is, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. The DLC includes new enemies to battle, new companions to recruit, new quests to complete, new maps to explore, new equipment to wear, and more, and it works as a nice 10- to 15-hour addition to the main game.
The White March Part I triggers during Act II of the main campaign, when you learn that you've received a message from the mayor of Stalwart Village in the White March to the north. However, when you travel to the village, you discover that the place is being attacked by ogres and wolves -- a hint perhaps that you weren't invited for your diplomacy skills.
When you're finally able to speak with the mayor, she tells you that her village and the White March in general have dwindled in importance over the last 200 years, ever since the doors of Durgan's Battery mysteriously closed, and the dwarves who lived there disappeared. The Battery was where Durgan Steel was crafted, and the mayor will speculate that if you can figure out how to enter the Battery and get the White Forge inside running again, then people will once again flock to Stalwart Village to purchase whatever version of Durgan Steel the villagers can create.
So can you save the village? Can you breach the walls of the Battery? Those are your goals in the DLC, and the characters and storylines support them pretty well. Better yet, even though this DLC is only Part I, the story comes to an acceptable conclusion. You're not left hanging like you often see in multi-part movies these days, and you're even given some hints about things to come, so you have some reasons to anticipate Part 2, which is scheduled for release in January.
The White March Part I contains a little bit of everything. Let me start with the new maps. There are 11 of them, and they split time between showing the wintry climes of the White March and setting the stage for the ruined and abandoned -- of dwarves anyway -- halls of Durgan's Battery. As was the case in the main game, the new maps are detailed and well-constructed, and they give you room so you can maneuver your party around during battles.
There are also over 20 new quests. Many of them give you options for how to solve them. They're also more complicated than simple fetch or assassination quests. For example, in Stalwart Village a layabout asks you to steal some wine from the local inn. If you accept this quest and retrieve the bottle (which only requires you to disarm some traps), then things go sideways when you hand it over, and that leads to a humorous second stage where you have to do something else.
Along with the quests, there are also numerous new environmental interactions, but they're much more complicated than the interactions from the main game. As an example, after defeating the ogres in Stalwart Village, you learn that a house is on fire and that two people are trapped inside. To rescue them, you have to go through a "choose your own adventure" sequence, filled with checks on your attributes, spells, and equipment. So if you have enough Perception, then you can detect a dangerous passageway; if you have a Prybar, then you can move a beam out of the way; if you have the spell Winter Wind, then you can put some flames out; and so forth. The only downside to the interactions is that they have minimal effect on the world. If you rescue the two people from the burning house, then they don't give you a reward, and they don't play much of a role during the rest of the DLC, so it doesn't really matter if you notice the house at all.
The DLC also adds two new companions -- a rogue and a monk -- which makes sense since those classes weren't covered by any companions in the main game (and if Part 2 contains a barbarian, then the companions will be complete). The rogue is a construct who loves killing -- but who is sort of a sad reminder of how fun HK-47 was in the KOTOR games. The monk kept making me think of Johnny Depp's Tonto in The Lone Ranger, and he didn't fit in with anything going on. That is, I didn't really care for the new companions. Only the rogue adds anything to the game storywise (since she has ties to Stalwart Village), but her quest isn't exactly fulfilling, and she's annoying because she has to wear heavy armor, which is less than optimal for DPS characters. But luckily, as was the case in the main game, you don't have to use any of the companions. You can just build your own.
As you would guess, you can also find lots of new equipment in the DLC. The most notable thing here is that Obsidian added five soulbound weapons. These weapons have to be bound to a particular character, but they can become more powerful as you complete tasks for them. The tasks mostly require the bound characters to kill things, and this leads to some tedious micromanagement during battles -- to make sure that the right characters get the kills -- but otherwise the soulbound weapons are fun, and they're nicely powerful for the mid-level parties the DLC was designed for.
Because the DLC adds new quests to complete and creatures to kill, Obsidian raised the level cap from 12 to 14, which means they also added a bunch of new talents, spells, and abilities. So now all characters can select a sneak attack talent (which allows them to deal 15% extra damage when they have the right sort of advantage over their opponent), rogues can learn to Sap (which stuns their opponent), Wizards can cast Concelhaut's Crushing Doom (which causes a hammer to beat on their foes), and more. The additions are effective, and they give you new ways to build characters, which is always good.
Difficulty and Extras
The main questline for The White Match Part I was designed for mid-level parties. I happened to have a save from early in Act II when one of my parties was level 6, and they were able to make it through all of the encounters except for an optional dragon fight. But that party struggled mightily at times, so you'd probably be better off starting the White March quests around level 8.
However, if you don't want to go back to an old save, then you can also play a high level version of the White March quests. For this version, the enemies are tougher but the rewards are the same. This might not sound like a lot of fun, but I tried it with a level 12 party, and it worked out pretty well. Most of the battles were reasonably easy, but the dragon fight still caused some problems.
Along with the White March part of the DLC, there is also an optional quest starting at the Cragholdt Bluffs. This part of the DLC doesn't have much in the way of a story, but it contains several tough fights designed for high level parties only. I played through it twice. My level 14 post White March party didn't have any trouble, but a level 12 pre White March party couldn't beat the boss fight at the end.
So The White March Part I should work for you whether you're new to the game and you're playing through it for the first time, or if you've already beaten it once and you're looking for a new challenge. And since my level 6 party ended up level 10 after completing the White March quests, I'm guessing Part II will be high level only, complete with more tough fights to come.
Along with the DLC, Obsidian has also been releasing patches. These patches have fixed many of the bugs and things people didn't like about the game. For example, you can now have individual characters sneak. You can also have characters use AI (including setting how aggressive they are and what kinds of abilities and spells they use), and it's easy to turn it on or off. The interface is clearer in battles, showing what characters are doing and what the range is for their spells and attacks. A lot of the spell descriptions got overhauled, making it clearer what they do. Your stronghold got improved, making it more worthwhile to build it up. You're allowed to re-spec your characters for a minor cost. And the loading times got reduced. Obsidian claims they went down by like 20% but I can only report they dropped from being "mind-bogglingly long" to "extremely long." The loading screen times are still my least favorite part of the game, but at least they're showing improvement.
Overall, The White March Part I is a nice addition to Pillars of Eternity. The writing is solid, the quests are interesting, and there are numerous additions to try out and explore. Basically, it gives you lots of new things to do and new ways to do them, which is about all you can ask from a DLC. So it's easy for me to recommend The White March Part I to anybody who enjoyed Pillars of Eternity. Hopefully Part II turns out as well.