Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire finds itself in the comfortable yet arguably inconvenient position of having to fulfill the duties of a sequel, meaning field improvements, to a game that was already near perfect. Pillars of Eternity, released in 2015, is widely considered to be one of the greatest RPGs in the past few years, and with good reason. Being in the position that it is in, Deadfire opted to focus more on adding, and less on improving.
That, of course, isn’t to say that work has gone into ironing out some of Pillars’ creases. While the previous game looked fantastic, Deadfire looks fantastic-er. Naturally, they kept the 2.5D faux-infinity engine visuals, and if someone were to transition directly from gameplay-to-gameplay between the two they might not even notice some of the improvements, and just attribute them to the vastly different setting. The water is probably where changes are most visible, which is understandable, considering you’ll be seeing lots of it in Deadfire.
Like visuals (and just about everything else) combat is very much like it was in Pillars. There are a few alterations to specific abilities, such as the Cipher’s mind wave, and a host of minor balance tweaks. To players, there are two major elements of combat that are noticeably changed. First of all, there is an “empower” ability. It has limited charges per rest and per encounter, and dual use. You can either spend an empowerment to restore much of the given character’s resource, or you can apply it to an ability, then cast that ability in a buffed up form. This can be used for strong openings, emergency finishers or bursts of massive healing.
Look at the size of this lad. Absolute unit.
The second, much more prominent change, is that of multiclassing. Players familiar with RPGs don’t need much of an introduction to the concept - your character can select more than one class. In Deadfire, multiclassing is binary and the tradeoff for having access to the abilities of two classes is that the final two tiers of abilities won’t be available to you. The fantastic writing in the game shines through here, as every single existing class combination has its own, unique name.
The format of combat is still real-time with pause, and while this type of gameplay is divisive, I myself am partial to it. Battles seem to flow better than they did in the previous title, likely a result of myriad under-the-hood tweaks to the overall system. Many abilities had their visual effects updated as well, though in the chaos of battle it’s hard to make these out, usually.
Where combat takes a whole other turn, however, is with ship to ship battles. While in some cases you’ll have regular combat with the decks of the two vessels lined up, in terms of mechanics, ship combat takes place in a completely different environment compared to the rest of the game. In Deadfire, when you’re in between locations, instead of a pretty painted map with some clickable points of interest, you physically move across what looks like an actual map-map. Here, you’ll travel between points of interest, and sometimes encounter resources. Out at sea, you’ll sometimes encounter other ships, which at times are hostile.
You'll often be sailing between islands
Ship combat itself is a turn-based affair, and a lot of micromanagement is involved. Speed, direction, orientation, positioning, which weapons to use when, and so on. Ships also carry cargo, allowing you to plunder goods when emerging victorious. Your own ship can be upgraded and customized, and acts as your HQ much like the Stronghold was your main base in Pillars. Little commemorative flags added to ropes connecting masts (these probably have some specific term, but I don’t speak boat) indicate your naval successes.
However, in my eyes at least, any RPG is made or broken by its writing. I can wade through the absolute worst visuals and least intuitive design as long as the story and writing hold up, but shoddy writing will damn a game regardless of its virtues in other areas. Luckily, Deadfire doesn’t need to worry about being saved by its writing, as everything else in it is fantastic - so it should come as no surprise that the writing is also fantastic, much like it was in the previous game.
Foreign languages are woven into dialogues naturally and don’t feel forced, the vocabulary used isn’t pedestrian but still conveys meaning efficiently. Complexity alone isn’t the mark of good writing, as often overdone writing with a dozen twists in meaning and archaic vocabulary is a chore to chew through, and this is something the writing team at Obsidian knows. Deadfire’s writing is possibly best described as elegant. Dialogues were never dreaded, I never felt like “when will this be over already”, nor were they at all hard to follow.
Coastal towns, ports, and the like will be the usual kind of settlement you run into
The setting of the Deadfire Archipelago is quite different from the rather generic standard fantasy setting of Pillars. The game takes place across a large group of islands which can be somewhat freely explored as you progress, and while all of them carry the markers of tropical islands, there are varied biomes. While there are typical lush jungles aplenty, you’ll also find islands dominated by desert, for example. The game draws heavily from the Maori culture of New Zealand in terms of names, languages, and even some elements of in-game mythos.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire will be released on the 3rd of April, 2018, and can be pre-ordered on Steam already.
Those who know me well enough will also know that I’m likely a tad biased in favor of Deadfire due to its setting. I mentioned above that the game is set in an Archipelago with tropical islands while still having multiple biomes and draws lots of inspiration from Maori culture. Another IP, though not a one in gaming (though games have been made), which has a thing for Maori culture and tropical islands and I happen to be a huge fan of, is Bionicle. Clearly, it’s the shared source of inspiration which spawned similarities between the two, as I highly doubt anyone at Obsidian took inspiration from Bionicle, but nonetheless, those similarities really endear the game’s setting and characters to me. For example, tribal leaders in Deadfire are called “Ranga Nui”, which roughly translates to “great leader”, whereas in Bionicle, the name “Mata Nui” refers to “great spirit”.
Most Anticipated Feature
Exploring the vast Deadfire Archipelago on my ship.