Pillars of Eternity Review - More Than Homage

Clive Howlitzer

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Jan 27, 2011
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I was very excited for this game but my first impressions of it were very poor. I only played it for about 90 minutes but between the annoying and overly looping music tracks, the lack of any AI; which would be fine except you can't hotkey skills to certain keys(including number keys) and you can't queue up commands of any sort.

The technical aspects quickly grated on me and I found I couldn't enjoy much of it. It felt like one of those situations where they kept things that didn't work just because of nostalgia, as if poor controls and an obtuse UI were somehow 'classic'

A shame because I was really looking forward to the game.
 

Fat Hippo

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I've been playing it for probably about 5 hours now, and I'm loving it so far. The review is pretty much spot on, from the angle of a Baldur's Gate fan anyway.

You see Bioware, this is how you should do party based combat! Not your Dragon Age: Inquisition nonsense.
 

Voltano

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So, I'm confused.

This game will reward little or no experience to help with leveling up and customizing your character after combat, but will reward loot (procedural or predetermined?) that is meant to help with combat? And the player is meant to do tasks for X NPCs because they need XP?
 

Kahani

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May 25, 2011
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Yep, this is pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be. Similar to the old IE games, but with a modern look, new setting, new story and characters, and new mechanics. I especially like how moving away from D&D has allowed them to fix some of the ways that the mechanics in IE games just didn't quite work. Healing, magic, and resting are now much better; you can no longer just spam the rest button after every encounter to heal up and recharge your wizards, but it's nicely balanced and allows enough flexibility that you don't actually feel any need to do so. Magic is also greatly improved - it's a mix of Vancian and sorcerer-type magic, wizards can use weapons and armour, and the addition of "per encounter" abilities means even if you've used everything up there's always something you can do in a fight. No longer do level 1 wizards stand around looking useless before getting instantly killed by the first goblin they see.

Voltano said:
This game will reward little or no experience to help with leveling up and customizing your character after combat, but will reward loot (procedural or predetermined?) that is meant to help with combat? And the player is meant to do tasks for X NPCs because they need XP?
The point is that it doesn't simply reward experience for killing lots of random mooks, but rather gives experience for actually doing meaningful things - exploring, finding secrets, completing quests, and so on. Beating a boss at the end of a dungeon or fighting your way out of an ambush might give experience, but you can't grind up your levels by just wandering around killing wolves and goblins. The idea is that you get experience for finishing meaningful encounters rather than just killing as much as you can, so you're encouraged to actually explore and play the game rather than look for opportunities to grind. For example, where Baldur's Gate might give you 100xp for killing a bear, PoE will give you 50xp for discovering the cave a bear lives in and another 50xp for acquiring the gem hidden at the back of its lair; whether you actually kill a bear or not is largely irrelevant - sneaking past it, putting it to sleep, finding a hidden back entrance or having a ranger befriend it could all give exactly the same result. In BG, even if you found a way around it you'd be objectively worse off if you decided not to kill the bear, in PoE, combat is just one possible way to solve an encounter (although there are still times where combat is the only choice).

It may not be for everyone - fans of MMOs and Final Fantasy-type games where grinding your character to a high enough level to tackle a particular area or boss is a large part of the game might not like it. But people who enjoy story and exploring more, and want to play around with different characters without being punished for, for example, being stealthy and not killing everything on their way past, will probably like it.
 

Voltano

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Kahani said:
Voltano said:
This game will reward little or no experience to help with leveling up and customizing your character after combat, but will reward loot (procedural or predetermined?) that is meant to help with combat? And the player is meant to do tasks for X NPCs because they need XP?
The point is that it doesn't simply reward experience for killing lots of random mooks, but rather gives experience for actually doing meaningful things - exploring, finding secrets, completing quests, and so on. Beating a boss at the end of a dungeon or fighting your way out of an ambush might give experience, but you can't grind up your levels by just wandering around killing wolves and goblins. The idea is that you get experience for finishing meaningful encounters rather than just killing as much as you can, so you're encouraged to actually explore and play the game rather than look for opportunities to grind. For example, where Baldur's Gate might give you 100xp for killing a bear, PoE will give you 50xp for discovering the cave a bear lives in and another 50xp for acquiring the gem hidden at the back of its lair; whether you actually kill a bear or not is largely irrelevant - sneaking past it, putting it to sleep, finding a hidden back entrance or having a ranger befriend it could all give exactly the same result. In BG, even if you found a way around it you'd be objectively worse off if you decided not to kill the bear, in PoE, combat is just one possible way to solve an encounter (although there are still times where combat is the only choice).

It may not be for everyone - fans of MMOs and Final Fantasy-type games where grinding your character to a high enough level to tackle a particular area or boss is a large part of the game might not like it. But people who enjoy story and exploring more, and want to play around with different characters without being punished for, for example, being stealthy and not killing everything on their way past, will probably like it.
I'm not sure this is a game meant for me anyways, but some of the design choices for this game seems weird -- for "role playing" purposes, to me.

The claim of "doing meaningful things" seems subjective as the game only chooses to reward the player for doing X but not Y -- kind of like how a modern military shooter will punish a player for stepping out of line. Except in reverse of a modern military shooter game by rewarding instead of punishing. So the player is rewarded for looking around, experimenting with their skills, doing certain tasks for a random NPC (that cannot do it themselves because 'reasons'), and finding non-combat means of solving a problem -- except they are hardly rewarded for solving a problem through combat. On top of that, they get loot that, from my understanding, seems specifically designed to help with combat. Isn't that confusing?
 

Scars Unseen

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May 7, 2009
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Voltano said:
Kahani said:
Voltano said:
This game will reward little or no experience to help with leveling up and customizing your character after combat, but will reward loot (procedural or predetermined?) that is meant to help with combat? And the player is meant to do tasks for X NPCs because they need XP?
The point is that it doesn't simply reward experience for killing lots of random mooks, but rather gives experience for actually doing meaningful things - exploring, finding secrets, completing quests, and so on. Beating a boss at the end of a dungeon or fighting your way out of an ambush might give experience, but you can't grind up your levels by just wandering around killing wolves and goblins. The idea is that you get experience for finishing meaningful encounters rather than just killing as much as you can, so you're encouraged to actually explore and play the game rather than look for opportunities to grind. For example, where Baldur's Gate might give you 100xp for killing a bear, PoE will give you 50xp for discovering the cave a bear lives in and another 50xp for acquiring the gem hidden at the back of its lair; whether you actually kill a bear or not is largely irrelevant - sneaking past it, putting it to sleep, finding a hidden back entrance or having a ranger befriend it could all give exactly the same result. In BG, even if you found a way around it you'd be objectively worse off if you decided not to kill the bear, in PoE, combat is just one possible way to solve an encounter (although there are still times where combat is the only choice).

It may not be for everyone - fans of MMOs and Final Fantasy-type games where grinding your character to a high enough level to tackle a particular area or boss is a large part of the game might not like it. But people who enjoy story and exploring more, and want to play around with different characters without being punished for, for example, being stealthy and not killing everything on their way past, will probably like it.
I'm not sure this is a game meant for me anyways, but some of the design choices for this game seems weird -- for "role playing" purposes, to me.

The claim of "doing meaningful things" seems subjective as the game only chooses to reward the player for doing X but not Y -- kind of like how a modern military shooter will punish a player for stepping out of line. Except in reverse of a modern military shooter game by rewarding instead of punishing. So the player is rewarded for looking around, experimenting with their skills, doing certain tasks for a random NPC (that cannot do it themselves because 'reasons'), and finding non-combat means of solving a problem -- except they are hardly rewarded for solving a problem through combat. On top of that, they get loot that, from my understanding, seems specifically designed to help with combat. Isn't that confusing?
Not at all. You are getting experience for accomplishment rather than taking an action. Fighting monsters just for the sake of fighting monsters doesn't accomplish any goals set. Even if you were given a quest to clear a path of monsters, killing one wolf or even a dozen doesn't achieve the set goal; clearing the path does, which is what you are rewarded for. On the other hand, if the quest was to retrieve an item, and you can do that while avoiding fights(full stealth party perhaps?), then you still accomplished the set goal.

And it's not like you get no experience for fights. It's just a comparatively inconsequential amount. Basically, if you want to barrel through a dungeon eliminating every creature in your way, you can. If you want to find clever or sneaky ways to accomplish your goals while minimizing the number of battles you get into, that's fine too. Fighting nets you a marginal amount of extra experience, while avoiding combat potentially decreases the amount of consumable resources you expend. That's about as fair and balanced as your likely to get in a class/experience based RPG.
 

Rad Party God

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Feb 23, 2010
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First Shadowrun Returns, then Divinity: Original Sin, then Wasteland 2, then Xenonauts (to some extent) and now this.

It's like the very best PC gaming had to offer in the mid to late 90's is making a huge comeback.

And I like it :)

Now I'll see myself out before those RPG snobs come flocking like crows to the comments.
 

DementedSheep

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Jan 8, 2010
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WANT! I don't think I'm going to wait till it's under $20 for this one. While I'm not going to run out and buy it right now because I still have other games to play and don't need another time sink it's on my list for next holidays.
 

Denamic

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I have played this game for 24 hours now. Literally 24 hours. I'm only on act 2. I can't stop playing it.
 

Aiddon_v1legacy

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Definitely a very well done game so far (I just got the keep and recruited my fifth companion). At times combat can be a bit of a mess as it has a tendency to turn into a mosh pit of limbs with everyone hacking and slashing and you being unsure of who's hitting who.
 

murrayb67

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Your review is spot on. I'm so happy, especially after my huge disappointment with DA:I. I had to play through the whole BG series + IWD to get that taste of that out of my mouth. Take note Bioware - this is what you used to do. I'm hoping this is successful enough to get us more games like this.
 

f1r2a3n4k5

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baconmaster said:
These games are kind of daunting to me. But reading this makes me want to play that copy of Planescape: Torment I bought on GOG ages ago and never touched. Or maybe I'll start with the new Shadowrun since that's supposedly much shorter. Hopefully that can get me invested in the genre
The old-school isometric cRPGs are a bit daunting, but they are immersive unlike any other game I've played. Every little scrap of paper and bauble has some sort of awesome back-story to it.

Now I haven't played this one yet, but if you're looking to get into one of the older ones, I recommend BG2. It has the kind of story that just grabs you from the start.

Planescape is awesome too. Don't get me wrong. (It's not held up as the pinnacle of video game writing for nothing.) But it does have quite a few fundamental gameplay flaws. (One of the major ones being that it is almost closer to a novel than a game.)

OT: My fellow Black Isle fans, how does the voice-acting and soundtrack compare? I couldn't get a good handle on that from the review, but for me that held a huge amount of the charm from the golden era.

Also, how frequently do you have to gather your party before venturing forth?
 

Dwarfman

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Played 8 hours worth and loved every moment. So far all is good with only one bug that I've noticed - an annoying audio glitch with the tutorial scroll. Easily fixed by disabling the tutorial scroll.
 

Denamic

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f1r2a3n4k5 said:
Also, how frequently do you have to gather your party before venturing forth?
The pathing is not one of the things brought over from the infinity engine era, which is good. And you can speed the game up to cover distance more quickly. In addition, even if you only have one character selected, if you click on an area transition, all your dudes will move to it. And the game will just silently wait for all characters to arrive before transitioning. In short, it's all but removed. Except it isn't. If one of your characters arrive at the transition before the others and you click on the transition again, you must gather your party before venturing forth.
 

Kahani

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Voltano said:
I'm not sure this is a game meant for me anyways, but some of the design choices for this game seems weird -- for "role playing" purposes, to me.

The claim of "doing meaningful things" seems subjective as the game only chooses to reward the player for doing X but not Y -- kind of like how a modern military shooter will punish a player for stepping out of line. Except in reverse of a modern military shooter game by rewarding instead of punishing. So the player is rewarded for looking around, experimenting with their skills, doing certain tasks for a random NPC (that cannot do it themselves because 'reasons'), and finding non-combat means of solving a problem -- except they are hardly rewarded for solving a problem through combat. On top of that, they get loot that, from my understanding, seems specifically designed to help with combat. Isn't that confusing?
As Scars Unseen says, the idea is that you are rewarded for the outcome, not the means of reaching it. If you complete a quest by killing everything in your way and collecting the magic beans for the farmer, you get a certain amount of XP. If you sneak in the back door and steal the beans without anyone ever seeing you, you still get exactly the same amount of XP. If you use your high intellect to persuade the farmer that he's an idiot and the beans aren't really magic anyway, you get the same amount of XP. The point is to complete the quest, not to worry that you may not have chosen the optimal way of doing so. This is in contrast with previous IE games, as well as modern D&D and similar games such as Dragon Age, in which you will usually be much better off if you do kill everything, even if it means completing the quest another way and then going back to kill everything for no reason.

On top of that, they get loot that, from my understanding, seems specifically designed to help with combat.
I'm really not sure where you're getting this from. Loot is designed specifically to help with all parts of the game. Combat is still a large part of the game, and obviously your choice of sword and armour are going to be more relevant in combat than they are in conversations, but all stats and skills have use outside of combat - far more so than in the IE games - so your gear is still important outside combat as well.

So really, I'm confused what it is you're confused about. You seem to have the impression that they're trying to prevent you from getting in to combat and reward you less if you do. That's not the case at all, it's simply that combat doesn't give more rewards than other options as it generally did with previous games. It does exactly the same with the good/evil dichotomy of D&D. Where IE games rewarded you for being good and punished you for being evil, PoE doesn't say anything about either and instead allows you to be benevolent, aggressive, logical, honest, passionate, and so on. Different people will react to you in different ways depending on which dispositions you focus on most, but the game doesn't push you towards one as the "best" and allows you to decide what is actually right in a given situation. Basically, Baldur's Gate and similar games wanted you to be a good character who killed lots of monsters, and punished you for avoiding fights and not helping people. PoE allows you to be a good character who kills monsters, but also allows you to be a bit of a dick who avoids fights as much as possible, or a diplomat who occasionally punches people, and gives all those play styles and more the same rewards. It's still a computer game and a lot of the choice is still illusory, but it's a more convincing illusion with more real choices mixed in.
 

f1r2a3n4k5

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Denamic said:
f1r2a3n4k5 said:
Also, how frequently do you have to gather your party before venturing forth?
The pathing is not one of the things brought over from the infinity engine era, which is good. And you can speed the game up to cover distance more quickly. In addition, even if you only have one character selected, if you click on an area transition, all your dudes will move to it. And the game will just silently wait for all characters to arrive before transitioning. In short, it's all but removed. Except it isn't. If one of your characters arrive at the transition before the others and you click on the transition again, you must gather your party before venturing forth.
Haha, I knew someone would get that reference! Thank you! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXOpjgYMISw)

It didn't help that they used the same soundbyte for all Infinity era games.

That actually sounds like a major improvement. It used to be worth it to have everyone "Haste'd" all the time just to make the walking speed faster. Damn. Now I just need time to play it.
 

Juan Regular

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Clive Howlitzer said:
I was very excited for this game but my first impressions of it were very poor. I only played it for about 90 minutes but between the annoying and overly looping music tracks, the lack of any AI; which would be fine except you can't hotkey skills to certain keys(including number keys) and you can't queue up commands of any sort.
There's some AI. After the first attack command they keep auto-attacking foes until all are dead. I'm quite happy about it, since it means companions won't constantly go places that screw up my tactics, but yeah, some proper AI options would be great and I hope they patch that option in at some point.
You can use hotkeys, but the game never tells you how. Just hover over your spells and press the key you want. Numbers are reserved for character selection but everything else works. You can queue too. Hold shift and select abilities in order.
 

awdrifter

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Apr 1, 2011
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I'm probably not the target audience for this game. It looked interesting until the part about pausing every 5 seconds and not gaining exp from killing enemies. If they want to make it where you have to pause the game all the time then just make it turn based, I'm perfectly happy with a completely turn based system like Divinity Original Sin. Or if they want to make a real time battle system then program the party member with some AI so they can at least do the common attacks for their class. Not being able to grind for exp is also bad imo, because if I mess up a build then I have to start over. I'm glad fans of this game is happy with the product though, hopefully there will be more isometric RPGs made, since they are lower cost, we should see much more variety.
 

Kross

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awdrifter said:
I'm probably not the target audience for this game. It looked interesting until the part about pausing every 5 seconds and not gaining exp from killing enemies. If they want to make it where you have to pause the game all the time then just make it turn based, I'm perfectly happy with a completely turn based system like Divinity Original Sin. Or if they want to make a real time battle system then program the party member with some AI so they can at least do the common attacks for their class. Not being able to grind for exp is also bad imo, because if I mess up a build then I have to start over. I'm glad fans of this game is happy with the product though, hopefully there will be more isometric RPGs made, since they are lower cost, we should see much more variety.
Real time is certainly stressful, but it's mostly to let the enemy take simultaneous turns rather then wait for their spot in the rotation. You can set it to only pause after actions are completed or when someone is about to die, and then play it mostly in real time, pausing manually only to read spells. I do wish there was a way to automate combat a bit for common sense things like the first Dragon Age, but as I think about it, there's very few useful things that can be done outside of switching to shields at low armor/bows at range (which you'd still have to override constantly), or auto casting heals/Withdraw. Automating positioning is even worse with attacks of opportunity and the fact that "towards/away from the enemy" isn't always the best decision.

As far as gimping your build and needing *XP, you can hire whatever party you want and custom make them at 1 level under your character. It doesn't matter what your main character is (they can sit in the back and do nothing during fights), as you can make 5 custom characters that will do just fine if they're built even moderately cohesively. I'd actually suggest building your character with high perception/int/resolve, which'll be a tank build that can handle almost every conversation check in the game. You can make that work with almost any class (pick CC/tank talents rather then damage), and will open enough doors (esp if you take lots of Mechanics) where you'll have the money to buy a bunch of rogues and barbarians with passive auto attack builds that can murderize everything. I took a Chanter, who just hangs out and talks to people / politely opens doors until SUDDENLY A STUNNING SPECTRE - while using a hireling Rogue to sneak around and disintegrate meanies with a blunderbuss.

You get a decent amount of money in the game, enough where you can change up your party quite a bit. Most gear works on most classes, made (unexpectedly) easier by the fact that bonuses don't stack, so you won't have a single character hogging all the Might gear.

*If you stay on the main quest, the end of the game is around level 8, mayybe closer to 11 with doing all the side stuff - you get a decent percentage for doing anything other then beating up all the deer. Grinding XP not being available is for a similar reason most healing isn't there, it encourages tedious gameplay habits.