When the gods are looking down upon you, the Watcher of Caed Nua, arguing about the fate of the world and themselves, you feel Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire’s weight. Your actions and decisions are all that’s keeping an arisen deity from destroying Eora’s soul cycle of birth-death-rebirth. Your next choice may decide if thousands die … or millions perish.
Then you realize you must plunder a tomb to open up a quest line to the endgame because another of your decisions alienated an arrogant queen’s faction, slamming the door shut on the path you had chosen. You denied her a chance to beat her political enemies, and she refuses to help you save the world. So then I turn to … bloodthirsty pirates settling old scores to determine Eora’s fate.
In Obsidian Entertainment’s Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, politics and factions matter more than they did in your traipse across the Dyrwood in the role-playing game series’ 2015 debut. You parlay with queens and chieftains, merchant lords and pirate scum, all as you deal with the god Eothas’ march through the Deadfire archipelago. You explore islands, blast ships to splinters in naval combat, and make friends and enemies as you complete quests.
Oh, and you bicker with the gods, too (and as we know from the first game, Eora’s gods weren’t always so godly). Pillars of Eternity II, which launches today on PC, asks you how you’re going to save the souls not just of your fellow mortals but of the deities as well. Though at times, you do feel like you’re running errands and dealing with power-hungry characters who care more about what’s good for them than stopping Eothas.
Even 36 hours in, I found myself marveling at my interactions with the great powers while at the same time bickering with those in power, and while I did find this frustrating at times, I do appreciate and enjoy how Obsidian shows how the arguments of the regular folk reflect the disagreement of the gods (or vice-versa). Yet as I took this all in, I wasn’t sure if I could save everyone … or anyone.
What you’ll like
The deities of Deadfire are in a pickle. Seems one of their lot, Eothas, isn’t as dead as everyone thought he was. Well, duh, he is the god of renewal, after all, so Pillars of Eternity II starts with his return. It comes with a complication; he stages his comeback tour right under your castle, Caed Nua, as a colossus of luminous adra (a crystalline substance that’s connecting to Pillars of Eternity’s soul motiff), wrecking it and killing many in the process, turning bodies to ash as he consumes their souls.
Like Eothas, you make your own comeback, thanks to another member of Eora’s meddlesome pantheon. But they give you a mission: Stop Eothas. The behemoth is moving through the Deadfire, making for more luminous adra and leaving a trail of ashen husks in his wake.
As you make progress on your quest, the gods butt in to check on your progress, offer guidance, and most important, bicker at one another. This is where I enjoyed Pillars of Eternity II the most: seeing the deities interact. It all happens against a beautiful, toned-down backdrop of the gods involved in the argument, and when each talks, they pop out of the scene in color.
As I made my way through the Deadfire, I lived for these scenes, talking to the gods and watching them argue among themselves, unsure as to what was the best path to save themselves … and I guess Eora, too.
You have other encounters with the gods as well. I ended up helping an animancer (these are scientists who use technology to manipulate soul energy) with a pet project, and later on, I got into a row with one, using an alliance with one of his fellow deities to keep him from killing me as I mocked him.
Always mock the almighty.
Defiant may not be the most original name for a tough little ship, but I came to adore this sloop. Since Pillars of Eternity II takes place in a chain of islands, you end up spending a great deal of time at sea. You hop islands more often than the U.S. Army did in its march toward Japan in World War II. Some of these offer places to explore, monsters to fight and bounties to claim, or just caches of food and water to resupply your vessel.
You also kit out your ship as well. You can swap out cannons, strengthen your hull, add a place to store your pets, and acquire new crew members. As you accomplish deeds on the high seas, such as sinking pirates, your sailors become more experienced as well, giving you performance boosts to navigation, speed, and combat. As you acquire more cash, you can buy better ships, too, and assemble a fleet.
Crewing your ship is about more than just putting sailors into slots and heading out of port. You have to feed and provide water for them, too. Food and drink can give a morale boost; grumpy sailors are ineffective sailors.
You can take more than one class in Pillars of Eternity II. I kept to my love of magic, playing a Wizard, though I could’ve paired this with a fighter (or specialized in a school of magic). But some of my companions did — a fighter/rogue is a Swashbuckler, and a mix of Cipher (think mind mage or psionicist from Dungeons & Dragons) and rogue became a Mind Stalker.
Obsidian warns that just experienced players should try multiclass characters, but I found it wasn’t too hard to deal with. You have two sets of skill trees, and the points you allot to each are discrete. You aren’t going to mess up and put points in one class and not another (though some may want to do so).
One of the draws of Pillars of Eternity are your companions. Obsidian’s sequel builds on some of my favorites from the first game … if they survived. You can import your save, or you can replicate the decisions you made when you start.
In my game, Edér is back. The farmboy fighter remains the conscience of my party, though his role feels even more important considering his god, one he thought was dead, is not just alive but also at the center of the story. Aoth’s introduction had me in stitches.
New folks show up. Xoti is a priest of Gaun, an aspect of Eothas that focuses more at putting souls to rest than other parts of his faith. She has a lantern that she uses to harvest souls, and she’s a true believer. A little too much, which can lead to some fun interactions between her and Edér. She’s even more of a homespun soul than the farmboy fighter, with a tongue that’s a better fit for a bar than a temple.
Then we have Tekēhu. Ah, shark boy. He’s a watershaper, a druid whose focus is water, and he’s a marine godlike aumaua (Eora’s tallest, strongest species). The ocean goddess Ondra takes a special interest in this young man. Tekēhu has a reputation around the Deadfire, and I enjoyed seeing how his renown factors into the new people and places I visited. And from time to time, Ondra will pop in and talk to you about her favored child. Just as the gods have taken a special interest in you, it’s nice to see other party members draw their attention as well.
And it’s a hoot to watch him shapeshift into a man-shark and charge into combat.
What you won’t like
Too much intrigue
When a god is trampling through your turf and threatening the souls of all your subjects, employees, what have you, you might want to set aside the political plotting and work together to stop the threat.
Closing in on 32 hours in, I thought I was about to charge down the final set of quests. I annihilated a den of slavers and set up a key political alliance for one faction, but when I refused to eliminate their rivals (one of whom was a key member of my adventuring party), they turned their back on me and cut me off from further assistance.
I admit: This cheesed me off. I was ready to take the next step toward dealing with Eothas. I didn’t want to run more errands for this or any faction.
Combat can get muddled
When several characters are engaged in a large melee, it can be hard to tell who is where, even when zooming in. I hope this is more a problem for my old-man eyes and that others will have fewer issues determining which character is attacking which enemy and why you are having issues seeing your paladin when they’re taking on three slaver guards.
Part of this is the engagement system — little dotted paths connect combatants, showing who is engaged in melee combat. Maybe I just need to be playing at a larger resolution — while I have a 24-inch, 2,560p-by-1080p monitor, I like to play role-playing games in smaller windows so I can swap windows and write out notes while still seeing what’s going on onscreen.
I fear these Infinity Engine-style games will forever face pathfinding problems. Obsidian is getting better at this, and I found that my party by-and-large went where I wanted them to, in the way I directed them to, most of the time. A few times stood out, such as when in a combat, my Swashbuckler took an obtuse path to a scrum, leading to my Paladin getting KO’d. In another, four members of my party took the path I directed in a crypt, while my Wizard went the long-way around.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire puts the gods, warts and all, at the forefront of the story, and at this point, it shines when it focuses on your interactions with these powerful-but-flawed beings. When Obsidian is showing you Eora, filling in gaps from its first game and introducing new characters, locations, and traditions, you feel a vibrancy lacking in its previous game, Tyranny (which is, to be fair, a game about evil winning over good).
But when you’re bantering with the gods, thinking about running the more mundane errands of mortals and dealing with their political squabbles, their attempts to gain power even when facing a dire threat do come off as tedious.
In Tyranny, evil wins because good is dumb. In Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, good is too busy plotting and scheming to realize what the right thing is to do — whether in the halls of the gods or the dens, warrens, and courts of the kith. It’s at its best when you’re in these conversations, making choices like you’re in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, drinking in the results and reckoning with each decision you make.
Even when you’re mocking the gods.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is out May 8 on PC. Publisher Versus Evil gave GamesBeat a Steam PC digital code for the purposes of this review.