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Pillars of Eternity review

Tom Morgan
8 Apr 2015
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Pillars of Eternity lead image
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
35
inc VAT

A beautifully crafted RPG that not only harks back to genre classics but stands out in its own right

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Specifications

Available formats: PC, Mac

It's fair to say the traditional PC role playing game has fallen by the wayside in recent years, in favour of MMOs like World of Warcraft and action-oriented adventures like Dragon Age, but there's clearly still a demand for something unashamedly old-school. Pillars of Eternity is developer Obsidian's love letter to the genre, funded with help from over 70,000 Kickstarter backers and built around a Dungeons and Dragons framework that fans of classic RPGs like Baldur's Gate are sure to fall in love with.

It's clear from the outset that RPG fans will feel right at home, as players are presented with a robust character creator. Beyond the familiar humans, elves and dwarves, you can also choose from the rabbit-like Orlan, mysterious Godlike and blue-skinned Aumaua, who are more than a little reminiscent of Avatar's Na'vi. Each race has a set of passive bonuses that will give you an edge in combat, and you aren't restricted to a particular character class based on which one you choose.

^ Almost every character has a story to tell, or better yet, a quest for you to complete

It's a similar story when it comes to picking your character's profession. You could opt for the traditional fighter, druid, mage, paladin or thief, but Obsidian's new additions create completely different play styles to anything we remember from classics like Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale.

The Chanter is a bit like a Bard, reciting phrases during battles that either provide bonuses for your party or debuff your enemies. You pick the verses to recite, and as each phrase is uttered, the Chanter gains more power until they are able to cast signature spells. Unlike traditional mages, you don't need to rest between battles in order to use the spell a second time, meaning you'll always have some magic to fall back on if a battle drags on long enough.

The Cipher, meanwhile, draws their latent power from enemies during combat. When first entering a battle, they need to get up close and personal with melee weapons to charge up their Focus; once full, they can retreat and cast powerful spells from a distance. It's a refreshing change of pace that makes you rethink your combat strategies and how best to assign your gear.

^ A balance of front-line fighters, archers and magic users should give you the edge in combat

Pillars of Eternity doesn't follow the traditional Dungeons and Dragons rule set to the letter, either,  which is a major benefit to a party filled with mages, thieves and priests. You aren't restricted to class-specific weapons or armour, meaning you can equip heavy plate mail and give spellcasters the same level of protection as your front-line warriors.

Combat is familiar yet different, as each character now has two health bars. The first, called Endurance, depletes much faster than total health and, once empty, knocks that character out for the duration of the battle. Survive with at least one party member still standing, however, and they will spring back up and recover their Endurance. Get knocked out multiple times and your character becomes maimed; only able to recover a small portion of their total health and in danger of permanent death if they fall again before resting at an inn or camp fire. It means you're much less reliant on healing spells to bring your party back up to fighting strength between encounters, so you can concentrate on offensive magic and stat-boosting potions instead.

You can pause the action at any time, which you'll quickly rely on in order to assign orders to your party. Try to issue commands in real time and you'll quickly get overwhelmed by enemies. This is particularly true of the opening few hours, when you have yet to fill out your party, but thankfully you don't have to wait to find Obsidian's lovingly crafted NPCs to reach full strength. You can hire adventurers from any inn, customising their class and attributes as you did your own at the outset, in order to create a well-rounded party that can hold its own against a varied and lethal bestiary.

^ Battles are frequently hectic and you're usually outnumbered - pausing the action gives you time to strategise

Keep these mercenaries in your party for the length of the campaign, however, and you'll miss out on hours of scripted interactions, fully voiced conversations and rewarding side missions that comes with hiring one of the game's eight NPC companions. This is on top of the main storyline, which is as involving and in-depth as anything we remember from Black Isle's finest.

After surviving a magical storm known as a bîaŵac, your character's soul 'awakens' and you develop the powers of the Watchers – beings that can use soul energy to see people's past lives. This happens to coincide with a curse afflicting the region of Dyrwood, which is causing babies to be born without souls. Your quest to discover what caused your awakening quickly develops into an epic adventure to end the curse for good.

^ There's a huge amount of exposition and background lore to uncover by using your talents as a Watcher

Along the way you'll take over a Stronghold, which opens up a meta-game where you hire serfs, upgrade the tower's defences, send recruited party members on quests and defend against bandit attacks. Once you've completed the main quest, a 15-level dungeon hidden beneath the Stronghold's catacombs holds some of the best gear – and toughest battles – Pillars of Eternity has to offer.

With well over 100 hours of gameplay, there's simply too much in Pillars of Eternity to cover in detail here. It's a brilliantly realised game, packed with locations to explore, characters to meet and epic battles to fight. It's delightfully true to the old-school gameplay of RPGs gone by, yet adds some much-needed tweaks and improvements that bring the formula up to date. If you're at all interested in role playing games, this is a must-buy.

Availability
Available formatsPC, Mac
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows 7, Windows 8.1 64-bit, Mac OS X
Minimum CPU2.5GHz dual-core Intel / 2.8GHz dual-core AMD
Minimum GPUAMD Radeon HD 4870, Nvidia GeForce GTX 8800GT
Minimum RAM4GB
Hard disk space14GB

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