I’ll admit, I’ve never played Pillars of Eternity. In fact I hadn’t even heard of it prior to its announcement for console. I did some digging when the announcement was unleashed and found that many regarded the game to rival that of Diablo, hell, some even stated that it was better. I love me a good RPG, so you can imagine how wide my eyes were and how low my jaw dropped when reading such critical acclaim, now knowing that this supposedly perfect gem was inbound for console. That’s not to say that I wasn’t somewhat sceptical too, seeing as how many RPG games tend to come with some issues in one form or another. The prime example being that keyboard and mouse controls just don’t map well with the controller, as was the case with the other fantastic Divinity Original Sin. Despite a few of my predicted concerns being accurate, I can safely say that Pillars of Eternity is an amazing game, so much so that I myself now regard it as one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.
Let’s get the gripes out of the way first. This game is certainly one that’s better suited for PC, and at the same time, a prime example as to why Microsoft should add keyboard and mouse support for the Xbox One. According to Mike Ybarra, Microsoft still want to implement this support, but due to controller vs keyboard and mouse for online play, there’s still a few wrinkles that need ironing out. Nevertheless, having this support in place for games like Pillars of Eternity is simply essential. Not only will it improve the user experience, but it will add more appeal for those that avoid these games on console due to the lack of the aforementioned support. In any case, Pillars of Eternity does well with the tools that it has.
Despite the best (and valiant) efforts of Obsidian, the game suffers with an overcrowded user interface, with wheels of options and actions now tethered to the limited controller layout. There’s just far too much information and far too many commands crammed into the game, that it actually hurts the experience to some degree. Even swapping back and forth between characters feels like chore, when it should be straight forward, fluid, and well paced. It makes the game instantly annoying and I can easily see this being the make or break point for many that pick it up, however I highly advise that you endure the hardship and bear with it, because once you gel with the controls, you’re in for one heck of a treat.
As with most RPG games, you begin the adventure by creating your character, and Pillars of Eternity spares no effort on this front. Going further than simply enabling you to alter facial features and hair colour, you’ll also be cherry picking the lore of your character. This includes a whole host of options, such as race, sub-race, class, talents, history, and so on and so forth. Picking your desired hero isn’t something you want to rush through, you’ll want to pay close attention to see where your pros and cons will sit, and then find the ground that you’re comfortable with before being thrown into the story. In any case, the options to hand pick your character are by no means exhaustive, and massively impressive as a result.
You take on the role of a foreigner who after a series of unfortunate events, finds themselves with a magical ability that enables them to read souls. The plot thickens when you find out that you’re soon going to become insane, which inevitably leads you down a multi-branching story path that sees you biting off far more than you can chew. If that wasn’t bad enough, it appears as though newborns are coming into the world without souls, which (in-game) makes them “Hollowborn”, leading you to investigate the source of the mystery as you juggle your own issues, as well as the issues that your party members have. I’m trying to dance around the plot as much as I can without giving much away outside of the premise, whilst still detailing how intriguing and inviting Pillars of Eternity truly is. Needless to say, this RPG is ridiculously in-depth in the story department, bolstered further by flawless writing, energetic combat, and a world that’s full to the brim with that all important juicy lore.
A good RPG knows how to offer up a solid journey. It’s not just about the story, it’s about how you move through the adventure. RPG games tend to be quite lengthy, so it’s vital that you have a good portion of content to sink up that never drops the ball or becomes boring and stale. Pillars of Eternity once again excels, being that every decision you make will ultimately have knock-on effect in one way or another. Not only will these decisions impact on how people perceive you, but acting in a certain way will either make the game harder or easier. Take for example if you choose to be a Jack the Ripper wannabe and butcher everyone in sight, you’re going to have a tough job finding accommodation that will house you or goods that you can trade with someone stupid enough to talk to you.
The same level of consequence is also present depending on what race or class you select, meaning that even from the character creation phase, you’re shaping your very own world from the get go. On top of all of this, how you decide to complete additional quests will also modify individual stories that are found within cities and villages, which will in-turn affect your reputation depending on how you concluded the task. Depth, people, Pillars of Eternity has heaps of depth. It’s an experience that’s constantly moulded by everything that you do, either big or small. Each location that you visit typically has a tavern that you can visit, all of which are rife quests and information. It helps that your newfound powers enables you to read the souls of those that you come into contact with, which throws yet another layer of depth into the mix. You can use this feature to get some backstory from whoever you’re engaged in conversation with, and much like everything else in Pillars of Eternity, the writing is simply excellent.
When you’re not neck deep in story based encounters, chances are you’ll be immersed in the combat. The combat in Pillars of Eternity is real-time turn-based, and offers the ability to pause the action at any given moment so that you can hand out commands and consider your options. This is especially useful, seeing as you’ll be sifting through multi-tiered options as you navigate through your abilities, spells, and other important resources that are necessary to best your opponents. Drawing back to my criticism about the UI, it’s quite a dominant issue during combat, more so when you factor in the dials for each of your party members.
Need I again point out how imperative keyboard and mouse support is on console? No, but thanks to the lack of support, Pillars of Eternity will suffer from criticism for something that the game simply cannot avoid. Microsoft, get your act together. I recall Phil Spencer stating back during E3 2016 that the feature was “months away”… We’re still waiting Spencer, we’re still waiting. In any event, it pays off to approach each scuffle with a tactical mindset. Place your long ranged party members as far from the heat of the battle as possible, whilst sending in the brutes to get up close and personal. This should at least soothe the frustrating issues with the UI to some small degree and give you back an added sense of control.
There’s plenty of secrets to unearth in Pillars of Eternity too, which pushes you towards searching every nook and cranny within the sizeable world that you take to. You’ll also unlock a Keep early in the game, which can be upgraded and built upon as you make money. It’s hardly a game changer, but it does add a good sense of progression and gives you something else to focus on as you soak up the already impressive content that Pillars of Eternity has in store for you. When you add in the fact that you’re also getting the DLC content known as The White March Parts I and II, which collectively (on top of the core experience) sums up to about 70 hours of gameplay, it’s hard to scoff at the overall package, despite its few issues.
Pillars of Eternity is easily one of the best RPG games available on the Xbox Store. Despite some issues with the UI, the devs have clearly gone to great lengths to ensure that they cram every feature into the game, which is something that Pillars of Eternity brings to the table, content. The core game is roughly 50 hours in length, and when you throw in the DLC, you’re looking at 70 hours worth of gameplay which more than justifies the price point. The depth to the gameplay will ensure that players can mould their own adventure, thanks to choice vs consequence mechanics via everything that you do, which is something you see unfold alongside the story. Pillars of Eternity is slick, stunning, and damn near perfect.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.