Pillars of Eternity review impressions: The Baldur’s Gate spiritual successor you …

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bloodborne, Pillars of Eternity, Planescape: Torment and Knights of the Old Republic 2, Game of Thrones coming this week.

Let’s be clear: The only context in which that statement is bad is in the context of writing a review. Obsidian Entertainment’s kickstarted story-based isometric RPG, , surely needs no introduction to an astute PC gaming audience, particularly now that the hype train has well and truly gone steaming off into the distance.You shouldn’t have to put in hours of study to roll up a great character, and games shouldn’t hinge on your ability to guess what combination of skills designers thought make the most powerful archetypes.

Game of Thrones and Dontnod’s Life is Strange all are coming this week with a bang and developers hoped for big response from the gamers in this regard. As one of the first major Kickstarted projects to see fruition, there will be an abnormally large percentage of you that don’t need me to tell you whether to buy it or not – you’re already receiving a copy as a backer reward. With mere hours to go until release and the dropping of every coverage embargo, we sat down with project lead Josh Sawyer to talk community Q&A, big bad publishers, design process and Obsidian’s reputation with buggy games. If you backed , chances are you grew up on the original Infinity Engine RPGs — Planescape: Torment, Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale II — that type of thing. I forget where exactly, but it was after dozens of hours of play that my party ended up in the bowels of a dilapidated building somewhere in the wasteland trying to bust through a locked door.

All week I’ve inhabited this zone where I’d wake up at like, six in the morning and think, “Would it be weird for me to get out of bed right now and immediately start playing Pillars? Obsidian Entertainment is most well known for games such as Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

Josh Sawyer: Being able to talk to people right away and show them what we’re working on without going through the filter of a third party, like a publisher. Because I really want to play Pillars.” There’s no doubt in my mind that if the second half of this game is as good as the first, this is one of 2015’s best games. Our audience is diverse enough – a lot of people are divided on certain features and aesthetics or whatever – that we have to do a lot of internal discussion on that. My only option was to grind that party for four or five whole levels, dumping all of my earned experience fighting radscorpions and bandits into lock picking. It is a little jarring, perhaps, to be in an unknown setting, with unknown rules, rather than the familiar comfort of the Forgotten Realms and D&D 2E, but the setting is vibrant and interesting — I won’t say “realistic” because magic — and the rules more similar than you’d think.

You kind of get in this three way tug of war between what the fans seem to be wanting, what you interpret is going to be best for that audience, and what the publisher thinks is going to be best in terms of release schedule and branding and all this other stuff. So without publishers it did allow us to focus a lot more on the back and forth between us and the audience; just getting feedback directly from them.

Like, “Oh, they dumbed it all down.” But this time it quite literally just means taking away all the things that didn’t quite work in those games, or made them intimidating or boring or not fun to play. They seemed to be putting so much detail into the world and its politics and its magic and flora and fauna and everything you could dream of, that all I could imagine was finally getting the play the game and being bored out of my brain by each NPC telling me minutiae about things I don’t care about.

Throughout the first video in the series, it becomes abundantly clear that if Pillars had not been successfully crowd-funded, Obsidian Entertainment would probably no longer exist. In 2012 Obsidian was working on a “next-generation console game” that got canceled, and according to Pillars of Eternity director Josh Sawyer,”With these larger budgets, when you crash, you crash hard. Sure, there are history books everywhere and you can ask anyone for more information (about almost anything!), but the extensive lore they’ve come up with is never forced down your throat. And for a company the size of Obsidian to have a project canceled like that, it had a big impact on us financially.” Obsidian ended up having to layoff a good chunk of their staff due to their financial woes. You can pore over every piece of esoteric knowledge in a library, you can just read the books that interest you… or you can ignore the nuances of political and theological history altogether.

CEO Feargus Urquhart admitted that the layoffs were “A public statement of failure.” He continued, “Having this happen makes it even harder to go get the next thing so that I can keep on paying the people and keep everybody employed that’s still at the company even after the layoff.” Executive producer Adam Brennecke remembers, “We were all kind of just coming to work just to come to work, we weren’t actually working on anything.” Josh Sawyer added, “We were trying to get back into the rhythm of pitching to publishers and going and talking to publishers, but we had just been burned really badly, and it made it really difficult to go out and have high hopes for what we were going to do.” Not all hope was lost at the company though. The parts of the lore and the background that are directly story-related are impressively interesting — although I guess that’s a completely subjective call to make — and presented in a really organic, “this is something you should already know because you live in this world” kind of way.

Back in the Baldur’s Gate days, if you did good things for good people, your reputation would improve and party members would decide whether they would keep adventuring with you based on that 1-20 number. Their staff includes team members that worked on Fallout and Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Arcanum, Temple of Elemental Evil and Neverwinter Nights 2. Not just a 15% difference, but like, ‘whoa, this guy is totally screwed.’ Those are things which experienced RPGers usually spot a mile away. ‘I’m going to make sure I’ve got a 13 in this state because then I’m going to take this “feat” and that’ll raise it’ and so on. Make no mistake: It still feels distinctively like an Infinity Engine game, in ways the other two CRPG revivals last year (Divinity: Original Sin and Wasteland 2) did not. In just about every conversation, your dialogue options have descriptors at the end like ‘Cruel’ or ‘Benevolent’, ‘Deceptive’ or ‘Honest’, ‘Passionate’ or ‘Stoic’. and the more you say things that are, say, honest, the more of a reputation for honesty you will earn, and people will treat you differently based on it – in good and bad ways.

It’s such a tiny thing, but for example, at one point I find a man locked in his own attic by thugs for uncounted days or weeks but somehow he’s heard of me and my reputation for benevolence, despite the fact I’d only walked into town today. To eliminate that problem we just try to raise the floor, so to speak. ‘Look… the worst you can make this character is still pretty decent.’ We don’t have stat requirements on the talents, most stats are pretty good on any class as long as you play to the strengths of that character. What I also find interesting is that if you’re trying to build a certain reputation and always picking the passionate option, for example, it doesn’t always match up with the quest or conversation outcome you wanted.

If you don’t have good system mastery, or if you don’t plan your character out very well in advance, it’s really easy to make a character where you don’t get to take the feats you want when you want, or you don’t get to take the prestige class at the level you want, which might offset your party by two or three levels, stuff like that. Your characters each have a per-encounter stat termed “Endurance” and then a larger, overall stat termed “Health.” For instance, if a character has 80 Endurance and 240 Health, that character will get knocked out if Endurance hits zero but will only die if, say, knocked out in three subsequent encounters without resting. You might be in a situation where, ideally you’d like to take a wrongdoer to the guards for a reward or for interrogation, but if you want to make the passionate response, well, you’ll just have to stab him right here. Disclaimer: I don’t know the extent of what other ‘helper’ hints Expert Mode turns off, so if you take this advice, don’t come crawling back to me saying it’s too hard! Conversations and scripted events also take all of your attributes and skill into consideration, blocking out the ones that you don’t have enough points in.

IG: You mentioned the difficulty settings… it’s already been said that the hardest difficult settings are fiendishly difficult, to the point that no-one in testing has been able to beat them. Scripted events — little events that are sort of like action-based conversations — take your whole party’s skills into account, so I’ve found it most helpful to have someone specialise in each skill and a couple that are kind of average in all of them. The review guide we got from Obsidian straight-up recommended playing on Easy, and I understand why. is punishing, in the same way Baldur’s Gate was—anyone who left Candlekeep and immediately died at the hands of a wolf will know what I mean. You might have a few options — someone with exceptional constitution might be able to brute force their way up the wall, keep climbing no matter how long it takes. JS: Because we had a backer beta, we had people giving their impressions and it wasn’t just what they thought from watching something it was actually something that they did.

It’s like, ‘I played this and I did this, watch what I did.’ and we’d be like, ‘oh… that’s not good.’ or ‘I didn’t think of that combination’ or ‘…that someone would do it that way.’ That was a great amount of feedback. Like Wasteland 2, Obsidian proves that world-builders and story-tellers can do some of their best work when freed from the shackles of voice-acting budgets and facial tech that doesn’t quite work and “cinematic” camera angles. Obsidian’s Josh Sawyer was not kidding when he told me that is a game “for people who like to read,” and honestly if you played the Infinity Engine games you probably already knew that. But that reading allows for some incredible detail that other games simply can’t afford—rooms, people, places, quests, everything is imbued with enough lore as to be overwhelming if you try to take it all in. The nice thing about fan QA is that they’re going to go and do whatever they want to do, which is unfocused but other times it’s something that we just wouldn’t have found because the structure of how we’re looking at things makes it difficult to see.

You want a higher might. “A popular build is actually the high-intellect barbarian, because barbarians have an area of effect skill called ‘carnage’ … and the higher your intellect is, the bigger your area of effect gets. Sawyer says those kinds of organic, divergent skill sets are all over his game — strong but clumsy rogues, dumb but mighty wizards — and they’re all viable. This is getting long-winded and I could tell you all about all the great things does all day — and there are just so many little things, but I don’t want to bore you with each tiny detail. More importantly, Sawyer said, these builds aren’t obscure classes buried in expansions or the many “splatbooks” that follow the launch of traditional tabletop role-playing games.

Or, they can have babies, but every child birthed in the realm lately is “Hollowborn”—a baby without a soul, or without the spark of life that gives it true consciousness. In addition to adding named NPCs to your party — additional characters that can be found and hired through the course of play — at any time parties in Pillars can run off to the nearest tavern and hire a brand new mercenary. Anyway, I had a bad time. (Also there was this hilarious beta bug where the corpses of things I’d killed followed me everywhere, sliding eerily along the ground. JS: Once we’ve narrowed the scope so we know what we’re talking about, we would start to ask questions when people had ideas for how to work things in. Like, ‘how do you feel this fits in?’ And if that didn’t pass the initial snip test, then we’d decide that’s not something which fits with what we’re doing right now.

You have the opposite issue—your soul has “Awakened.” Each soul in is subject to strict rules of reincarnation, so when a person dies his or her soul finds itself in another body, though without any memory of its past selves…except when Awakened, like you. Some of the designers early on had some ideas for this cool-sounding invasion plot, it was cool and elaborate and could go into all sorts of different directions. It’s not a case of, “Well, even if you don’t like military shooters, give this game a go because it’s different and interesting.” It’s pretty simple: If you liked the cRPGs of old, you’ll like this too.

I guess you’re right.’ We shelved that and we could revisit that in the future, because if this game’s successful we can come back and explore other stories. For the young ‘uns new to the genre, is a stunning example of a story-based RPG where your choices matter, your character matters, your friends matter and the events happening around you are on an epic scale. You can play that character in a way that maximizes the benefit of these stats. “Role-playing-wise, when you’re using those stats in conversations, it feels like a natural extension of what you built. Sure, much of it can reduce down to the age-old “random person saves the world” trope, but it’s really the amount of care put into presenting the world that sets apart. These characters can’t do these things as well as others, but you can still play them and there’s still something that you do very well that other classes don’t.

You can clearly see shades of debates about stem cells or the role of religion in government or “Has science gone too far?” in Obsidian’s world, albeit couched safely in fantasy. That’s been our philosophy — to give players the sort of style and appearance of a traditional D&D game, with much more forgiving mechanics for how you build and use them in the game.”

The story is bolstered by fascinating party members: The priest who looks so insane he scares people walking down the road, for instance, and the hulking Aumaua (a race) who, despite his size and strength, is mostly at your side so he can continue his scholarly pursuits. Basically, we’re ready so that when people find things, we’re going to turn around and fix them as soon as possible; come out with a patch as soon as possible; fix anything big.

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