I was among the fortunate to have lived during the nice stretch of years when companies were pumping out classic RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and to a lesser extent Diablo. These games all had a similar look and feel to them that complimented the flavor of the game. The camera was fixed in an isometric view looking down upon the ground from above. It was built more as 2.5 dimensional where things could walk behind other things but you couldn’t rotate the camera to see the other side of anything. All items were built in 3D but rendered as a 2D object that faced the camera. The result gave a nice illusion of depth while limiting the need of high computer resources.
We are seeing a nice resurgence of genres of yesteryear with reboots, remakes, and sequels of games that are 15-25 years old, much to the thanks of crowdfunding websites. Most recently, Pillars of Eternity was released that commemorates that style of gameplay much like that of Baldur’s Gate.
Pillars of Eternity is a spot on nostalgic trip back 20 years ago as the graphic style and gameplay are nearly identical. Character creation has a similar feeling to the Dungeons & Dragons systems of before as Baldur’s Gate was. However, to avoid licensing/copyright issues, PoE altered a bit of the stats, abilities and skill names. The veterans of D&D will recognize Cat’s Grace, Bull’s Strength, and Owl’s Wisdom among others now renamed.
Unlike 20 years ago, technology has allowed more voice recordings for the dialogue beyond just the few choice words that games like Baldur’s once had. Unfortunately there are simply too many lines of dialogue for the entire game to be recorded (BioWare did just that for The Old Republic MMO, but the amount of dialogue is a bit less). But reading line after line is expected for this type of game. Even back in the 80s when there was nothing but text-based RPGs, the entire game was without visuals. The only element that could be considered a visual was maybe a map, which would be created using keyboard characters. These RPGs are going to immerse you partially from the dialogue by making the game feel like enjoying a good book.
Although if you were to put the Baldur’s Gate II side by side with PoE, there still is a clear distinction of quality that tricks the mind into believing the older of the two games has similar graphic levels.
Skills tend to be more important in this game than they were in BG and Icewind Dale. In the past, with the exception of rogue abilities, skills came up just in dialogue. If your Lore was high enough, for example, you could choose an additional response to the conversation that reflected that skill. Although perhaps 10 or so hours into the game has yielded very little skill-based choices, the actual skills have come in handy. Instead of having a plethora to choose from like you would from 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, you have just a few that are much broader: might, athletics, lore, mechanical and survival. Just five skills are used that cover a great area though they do miss a few that just don’t come up in the game (or the closest skill just takes over in an even broader spectrum).
The story does get you started off fairly quickly with action. It puts you into the start of the over arcing campaign story right off the bat with a side quest to boot. There doesn’t seem to be quite as many side quests as have been in some more modern RPGs like Skyrim (mercy the number of quests….you never got around to finishing). There are quests that have multiple outcomes: any choice you pick will result in completing the quest. The result itself will be different than another choice, good or bad. You may help a criminal escape which a woman who lost a cow to the thief goes without justice, but later the criminal gets you out of a bind when certain death is imminent (for example, this is not from the game).
They did a fantastic job with storing items. You are given an enormous traveling case that you are able to put anything you pick up into it. The downside is that you must either be in a city or resting for a while before you can access it. However, the chest’s huge size carries over for each of the 6 some odd categories of items. This means that the weapon tab can hold 50+ weapons, the armor tab can hold 50+ pieces of armor, etc. Potions are in one along with their ingredients. Miscellaneous tab for the millions of books you can read for weeks (just about every RPG has this). It’s easy to get to what you want quickly, and you can take a quick nap to access something you really need right now.
Camping is a bit better than it used to be in Baldur’s Gate. Now you are required to carry with you firewood. You use up one for every time you rest. Resting restores all health to max and relearns any spent spells. In the past, you could click rest at any time in areas where monsters were not present as much as you wanted. Time would pass, but otherwise there was no consequence to doing so. Potions and healing spells were only needed during combat to keep you alive to the end so you could click rest and recover. Those games had chances of you being interrupted in the middle of the night with monsters, which was a nice feature, but they didn’t happen too often depending on where you were. I have camped a few times, but I have not been interrupted. There is an option to stay in the cities for free, which was nice, and there is now incentive to choose the rooms that cost money in that your party receives skill bonuses that last quite a while. I have found enough campfire wood to keep things comfortably moving, but it is not to the point where I have to put them in the stash just because I don’t have enough room for them.
The game offers numerous levels of difficulty that range from easy to hard. Monster frequency and number in each encounter are affected by difficulty, and there is also a hardcore version where you cannot make multiple saves of the same game along with perma death.
Your characters have both Endurance and Health. From what I can tell, Endurance is simply like stamina that can go down as you are wounded, but it automatically restores back to full at the end of combat. Your health, however, does not. Depending on the attack and amount of damage determines if you lose just a few Endurance points or dip into your health.
There is obviously nostalgia for me as I play the game and reminisce about my younger years. However, as with many nostalgic things of our past, that feeling subsides rather quickly after we have experienced it. Picking up a He-Man toy in the flea market may excite memories of your childhood, making you think about buying it, but after a few minutes the excitement is gone as we realize it’s just a part of our past. Pillars of Eternity helps pick up when the nostalgia wears thin by delivering a solid game. It offers itself as a strategy game, a role playing game, and a story-driven game. All the while pushing you to explore more to see what the developers thought up next. If you’re still hesitant because you aren’t familiar with this type of game, put it on a wish list somewhere and hold off on an upcoming sale before picking it up. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much you find yourself wandering around the game’s world.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.