Pillars of Eternity (incl. The White March Pt. 1&2)
There's so much I could write about it that I don't know where to start and where to stop. Basically, I found that there's a bit of truth in almost everything I've read in other reviews, regardless of whether they praise or criticize the game. I think I can agree with both sides. Pillars has this reputation system where your words and deeds can gain you the sympathy and the antagonism of certain groups, and you can please and piss off these groups at the same time, those sympathy and antipathy points won't offset or cancel each other out, but just co-exist and result in a mixed reception. That's kind of how I feel about Pillars itself. It managed to please me, surprise me, engage me, annoy me, bore me, leave me indifferent and ultimately confused about what I think of it. It's both awesome and disappointing.
I really liked the engine and presentation, and I was surprised that the game managed to make me enjoy myself again in the very same way I enjoyed playing the Infinity Engine games back in the days, even after almost 20 years. I also loved the little improvements that made it a bit different from them, like the endurance before health system that removes some of the oldschool frustration, the new "per encounter" abilities and the cypher class that reduce the constant need to rest, the more flexible spellcasting, the option to increase or decrease the game speed, the unlimited inventory etc. etc. Making progress on the overland map, exploring the areas, and freely travelling between them at will, BG2 style, was a lot of fun as well, especially in the beginning when maps offer much variety and many surprises. Later on unfortunately there were a few lackluster maps as well that were stuffed with the same groups of tedious opponents (not that this is anything surprising for such a long RPG, but still disappointing compared to the better maps Pillars has to offer).
In certain situations there's also the introduction of a new, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type of game mechanic based on text displays, illustrations and decisions, to simulate the flexibility of pen and paper RPGs. I found it to be a cool and welcome addition in concept, but a bit hit or miss in execution. It was great when all worked out somehow, when even your failures resulted in a worthwhile adventure tale. But it was very frustrating when I had no option but to give up on it or when the outcome was devastating (e.g. costing the lives of NPCs, instead of just causing minor injuries and disadvantages to my party), just because my character and noone in my current party met the expected requirements (e.g. DEX 18). Sometimes the game has different options for all kinds of different character builds, which is great, but other times the options were restricted to e.g. "either you invested in Survival or you're screwed here". I did not like that very much.
With regard to story, setting and characters the game has its moments but on the whole I found all of that a bit underwhelming. Despite the impressive work they put in building a whole new world, for my taste it felt too close to D&D's Forgotten Realms and everything I've seen before. Whenever there was something seemingly new, I could at once identify it as something I already knew, just under a different name and with slight modification to appearance and lore. All the usual suspects of your average fantasy game, and lots of deja vu moments reminding me of Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment and Neverwinter Nights 2 / MotB. Not in a good way though, I perceived that as lack of inspiration, playing it safe and trying to draw on past successes. The wordiness and imagery in the writing (especially of Chris Avellone) that had gripped me in Planescape made me wince, yawn and skim over the text here in Pillars. Too much of it just doesn't really fit together, is not enough on point, and all in all I thought the game was too long, and the story-telling is a bit disparate and confusing. That being said there were some pretty awesome scripted scenes and some good stories among all those countless words. A shorter game with better coordinated story-telling could have made them shine.
As a slow completionist, it took me over 120 hours to play through the game and its expansions, and while I was very enthusiastic in the beginning, I kind of lost interest nearing the finish line, and even switched to cheating with godmode or reducing difficulty to story mode in White March Pt. 2, in order to speed up the parts I did not enjoy. That's not good, but I have to give the devs credit for implementing these options, so that I was able to finish the game nevertheless (story mode is preferable to cheating, btw, since there is no kill button like in BG, so the combat will be just as tedious in godmode, you just can't die in it, while story mode not only makes everything easy but also over quickly). I would have preferred the game to be shorter, the story more original, the writing more on point and a better balance sometimes (the finale of WM2 was much harder than the finale of the main campaign, although you're supposed to play WM2 first), and less filler content at the end (although there are much worse offenders in the genre in this regard). There's still a lot of fun to be had with it if you don't expect it to be the next Planescape Torment or something equally original. Personally, I hope that this is Obsidian's Shadowrun Returns that promises a much better, Dragonfall-like game drawing on the strengths of its predecessor and improving what wasn't so great about it, in order to create a real classic.
At the same time awesome and disappointing. Many fun parts, some exciting scenes, some great new concepts, but still room for improvement. I'm hoping for another game like this, with the same engine, but a shorter gamelength and more originality in story and setting, and with less of the things I found frustrating or boring. Let's see whether Tyranny or a second PoE game will manage to pull that off.
Post edited September 04, 2016 by Leroux