Pillars of Eternity: The White March Part II Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Paradox Interactive
Developer:Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date:2016-02-16
Genre:
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Introduction

The White March Part II is the second and final DLC for Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity.  It concludes the storyline introduced in The White March Part I, and it requires that DLC in order to play.  As was the case in Part I, Part II adds a little bit of everything -- new maps, new quests, new boss battles, new soulbound items, a new companion, and even new enchantments so you can make your equipment "legendary."

In The White March Part I, you learned about Durgan's Battery, where dwarves once made exceptional Durgan Steel -- before mysteriously disappearing.  At the end of that DLC, you got some hints about what happened to the dwarves, how some sort of large, enchanted creatures wiped them out.  In Part II, you learn who sent the creatures and why, and you make sure that it can never happen again.

New Content

A lot of the new content in Part II is about what you'd expect.  For example, there are a dozen new maps in the DLC, including The Abbey of the Fallen Moon, where Ondra's disciples help people to forget the bad things in their life.  The maps are detailed and well crafted, and about half of them are tied to the main storyline.  The other half are optional and show how the White March has changed since Part I.  For example, with Durgan's Battery open and its White Forge operational, people have been flocking to the nearby Stalwart Village, and so it and the Battery are much more populated than they were before, which has caused some problems.

Along with the new locations, there are also 18 new quests.  Four of these are for the main storyline, and the rest are optional.  As is always the case for Obsidian games, the quests are well-written and they give you lots of options for how to solve them.  For example, the new companion in the DLC is a barbarian named Maneha (who is gay but not transgender, thus saving Obsidian some controversy).  Maneha's soul has Awakened, which means she can remember some things she did in previous lives -- including one terrible thing she did during a war hundreds of years ago -- and so she asks you to take her to Ondra's abbey so she can forget about it.  However, once there, she starts having second thoughts, and you can convince her to go on with it or not, and she changes as a result of your decision.

The DLC also includes some new soulbound items, which grow stronger as you complete tasks for them.  In Part I, there were only soulbound weapons, but in Part II there are weapons, a breastplate, and a shield.  Nicely, while in Part I the item tasks were often tied to characters landing killing blows, which required a lot of micromanagement, in Part II the tasks are more about dealing damage, and so the items are less tedious to advance.  The items are also tied in well with the quests and storylines, making them fine additions. My only pet peeve with the new soulbound items is that the shield can only be used by fighters and barbarians -- does anybody actually run sword and board barbarians? -- and not paladins, which would make more sense.  My paladin was miffed.

Where Part II is sort of disappointing is in the new boss fights.  The DLC contains seven major fights, including yet another dragon fight and four more bounty fights, but three of them are total cupcakes.  For one of the bounties, I thought the fight was just a regular trash fight until I looted the bodies and got a quest update.  And then there's a spot where you have to fight a kraken -- this might seem like a spoiler, except that the new "legendary" enchantments require kraken eyes or bog dragon scales, and so it's obvious right from the start that you have to fight them -- but the kraken is just a big punching bag.  It looks fearsome, and it has lots of tentacles, but I just sent my party at it, and it died in about 10 seconds.  I'm not sure if it even made an attack, and this was on "hard."  Too many fights in the DLC feel like they're just placeholders for the real events.


Because of the new content, Obsidian once again raised the level cap, this time from 14 to 16.  But even so, the low-level party I sent into the DLCs reached the level cap during Part II, and so if I were to continue on with them, they'd have to play all of Act III in the main campaign while capped, which is less fun than otherwise.  So Obsidian really should try to balance the quest experience better, to prevent this sort of thing from happening.  But in better news, Obsidian added new abilities and spells for high-level characters to play with, so there are more things for you to try out when you're playing the game.

Finally, the new content isn't just restricted to the DLC quests and locations.  The new companions can share banter with the original companions, and they can comment on some of the events from the main campaign as well.  Even the new equipment can play a role outside the DLCs.  For example, in one quest in Part II you can acquire a round diving helmet, and then in Act II you can use it while swimming in a stream instead of having to pass a Constitution check.  So the DLCs give you a reason to try out the entire campaign again.

Patches

Along with The White March Part II DLC, Obsidian has also released some free patches with new content.  These patches have made a lot of changes.  For example, the Athletics and Survival skills received an upgrade, so the former now gives you the Second Wind ability, which you can use to heal in combat, and the latter gives you some bonuses to choose from when camping out in the wild.  Getting knocked out in combat now means you take an injury (with some sort of associated debuff), which can only be healed by resting.  And there is a new "Story Time" difficulty, so you can play the game without worrying about tough fights.

But probably the best changes from the patches revolve around Caed Nua, which is your fortress in the game.  The patches released around The White March Part I improved the camping bonuses at Caed Nua, which made it more useful to repair and build up.  Now the latest patches have improved how Caed Nua fits into the campaign.  The fortress was sort of uninvolved and unconnected previously, but now there's a new questline where a noble family challenges your right to control the fortress, which helps to tie it in.  You also get interesting petitioners showing up every so often, and your choices with them can improve or reduce your prestige.  And finally, instead of just sending your unused companions on "major" or "minor" adventures (so they can earn some experience and keep up with you), the adventures now have names and storylines and fixed, unique  rewards, which make them more interesting.

Conclusion

Overall, Pillars of Eternity: The White March Part II is a competent DLC worth purchasing.  It adds a lot of new things for you to see and do in the game, and it is generally well made.  But for me, the set-up from Part I was way more interesting than the payoff in Part II, and combined with some of the balance issues, the DLC was less enjoyable than it might have been otherwise.

But Obsidian is nothing if not a tinkerer.  They've been adjusting and re-adjusting the power of spells and abilities since the game came out (to the point where you might need some new strategies if you haven't played it in a while), so they shouldn't have any trouble managing experience gains and upping the challenge factor of a few boss fights.  So if you enjoyed Pillars of Eternity, there isn't any reason not to try out its two DLCs.