Pillars of Eternity – Game Review
It took less than sixty minutes for Pillars of Eternity to turn on me, with a jab to the heart that made me sit up and pay attention. I had spent the best part of an hour roaming a rich fantasy landscape with a ragtag bunch of companions, only to fall asleep after a mysterious ritual and find them all dead.
I am not afraid to admit that it was a punch to the gut.
As a savvy gamer, I used a strategic save slot to go back and have another go, so convinced was I that I must have done something wrong. There has to be a way to prevent such a devastating massacre, right? It turns out that Pillars of Eternity is not your average RPG, and it does not play by the rules.
These days, video games are defined by control. You only have to look at a series like Grand Theft Auto to realise how much stock we put in being able to change things, to influence our surroundings and the people within them. The clever thing about Pillars of Eternity is that it turns this notion on its head.
Whilst there is a huge amount of freedom within this vast open world, there are events and circumstances that you will not be able to control. In order to master the game, and traverse its scores of side quests, missions, and characters, players need to not only accept this, but work alongside it.
Time to Get Retro
For fans of old school RPG games, Pillars of Eternity is sure to provide a thrill. In many ways, it is a throwback to the darker style and graphics of older releases like Planescape. In the days before The Elder Scrolls came along and overhauled the look and feel of RGP landscapes, first person open world environments had a depth and mystery that is often missing from modern releases.
The artwork, locations, and characters within this game are beautifully designed. They interact seamlessly, and the results are remarkable. However, the slightly murkier graphics are not the only homage to older RPG games, and a few of the other throwbacks can get a little clunky. It utilises real time combat, which can be fun, but requires a huge amount of micromanagement.
This might not frustrate older gamers, but it is likely to cause a lot of players a lot of anxiety during combat missions – just try to resist the temptation to throw your keyboard across the room. The good news is that once characters defeat a target, they almost always move on to the next without specific direction, which makes things a little easier.
A Cracking Narrative
Whilst Pillars of Eternity does have a few minor downsides, it more than makes up for them with an amazing narrative. I spent hours and hours roaming the landscapes of Dyrwood, and I never once got bored of interacting with the NPCs. They are extremely well written, beautifully designed, and give the game a richness which can be a tad overwhelming at first.
I particularly loved the ‘special’ NPCs, which had their own back story. It had no real impact on the main narrative, yet it was every bit as compelling. The game is filled with genuinely surprising twists and story arcs, which will have you on the edge of your seat in no time.
If you find yourself scoffing at critics who constantly talk about games eclipsing films as an emerging narrative, take a chance on Pillars of Eternity, and get back to me on that. In Dyrwood, you do forge your own destiny. The people that you meet, the conversations that you have, and the quests that you choose to take on, all have an impact on how your story will end.
Yet, for me, it is the irony of this freedom being intermingled with a loss of control which makes Pillars of Eternity something special. Yes, you are the master of your own destiny, but only up to a certain point. As in real life, the people and environments around you have their own free will, and the ability to alter your path. In this game, free will and fate are not bitter rivals, but intimate bosom buddies.
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