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Codex Review RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Pillars of Eternity Revisited

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Pillars of Eternity: The White March

Over two years ago, Obsidian released Pillars of Eternity, their crowdfunded spiritual successor to the beloved Infinity Engine games. It was a release that would ignite a months-long flamewar on the Codex and result in an unprecedented four dueling front page reviews. Yet as traumatic as those events were, today things on the forums feel very different. It would be an exaggeration to say that Pillars is a universally popular game here now, but the rage has definitely died down, the fierce critics of 2015 no longer so sure of themselves. It's hard to argue with success, after all. In a world of Torments and Tyrannys, with 900,000 copies sold and a successfully crowdfunded sequel on the way, Josh Sawyer suddenly looks like one of the more competent people in the room. But that's not the entire story. One of the reasons critical opinion of Pillars of Eternity has improved is that the game itself has improved, with a year of continuous patching and the release of a two part expansion pack - Pillars of Eternity: The White March.

We never got around to reviewing the White March when it was new. The wars that followed Pillars of Eternity's initial release had taken their toll, and both the fans and the haters just wanted to move on. It would take a while for the expansion's impact on the game to fully sink in. One of the first people who made me realize that things had changed was Grunker, abortive co-author of one of our negative reviews of Pillars, who informed me one day that with the expansion and its accompanying improvements, he now considered it one of his favorite RPGs. As that shift in mood continued, it became clear to me that we had to review The White March, and the perfect person to do it was Grunker. It's taken him a long time to come through, but the wait has been worth it. What we have for you this July 4th is not just a review of the expansion, but also an Infinity Engine retrospective and a redo of the base game review that Grunker never got to finish back in 2015. As we await the coming of Deadfire, let this be our truly final word on Pillars of Eternity. Here's an excerpt:

'The White March', Pillars of Eternity's expansion, is a testimony to what iteration and continued passion for a project can do for quality. Its narrative removes the tiresome focus from the player's role as the writer-imparted chosen one, except when it uses that gimmick for the explicit purpose of clarifying details about the story and resolving the conundrums of its main plot step by step. The story is simpler this time, less ambitious and more connected to Pillars' roleplaying roots. In many ways, Stalwart and its surroundings take the lessons learned from Gilded Vale and blows them up to fit an entire expansion. We meet believable characters with clear motives here and more importantly: we keep pushing to reveal the secrets of the ominous Durgan's Battery, secrets that are exposed to us in satisfying bits, each bit both feeding us information and deepening the wider mystery. Rather than every step bringing us another nonsensical flashback, we instead meet characters with something on the line; people, monsters and artifacts that each give us a piece to the puzzle.

[...] While the story is an improvement in its restrained simplicity, booting up The White March on patch 3.0 after playing Pillars in its original state is like playing a different game altogether. Iteration is often neglected and rushed in an industry where gamers demand to play even before games are released and publishers push for short deadlines. Even so, Josh Sawyer and his team managed to not only iterate on the systems and gameplay of Pillars of Eternity – they went at the task of updating the game with an almost autistic fervor. News of the latest patch surfaced this month.

In terms of gameplay, the constant updates, tuning and tweaking have paid dividends.

In a display of intellectual honesty that few designers can boast of, Josh Sawyer recognized his mistake and reintroduced counters as a larger part of the gameplay to incentivize tactics-switching. Obsidian's team refined the character system and made many talents more build-defining, while simultaneously diversifying abilities and nerfing strategies that were too efficient. The White March also features encounters that feel like Obsidian had a whole team of people who did nothing but plan out, test and re-test battles, filling areas with monsters placed in innovative and annoying combinations – especially on Path of the Damned difficulty – to encourage even further planning on the part of the player. Spamming the same abilities fight after fight is no longer an option, not only due to enemy resistances, but because of the placement, attack type and abilities of your opponents. Even a few, basic trash fights in difficult areas such as Longwatch Falls demand diverse tactics.

[...] There are dragon fights that feature attacks patterns so diverse you will struggle between learning them and focusing on your own actions during combat. There are avalanches of dwarven tank fighters that whittle down your party's health and ability uses. You will face high level kobold (sorry, 'Xaurip') ambushes that engage you on three levels of the same area while you struggle to control the important enemies. One encounter features a massive, 20+ enemy skirmish with human mercenaries being mind-controlled by the Mind Flayer-like Vithracks. This encounter in particular will test your crowd-control capabilities and understanding of the Engangement system as enemy berserkers launch into the air and drop on your casters. It will also test your ability to focus on the correct enemies, which, by the way, may not be what they seem at first. Groups of ghosts will strain your reliance on your characters' abilities complementing each other as they take turns being paralyzed and thus taken out of the combat equation. Monks will play racket ball with your guys, spreading them over the entirety of the battlefield while you struggle to rally your troops and push back the onslaught. Impressively coded mages will sling a multitude of spells that change dynamically depending on your own combat actions and, if you are good enough, you will face off against two dragons AND an archmage (I had to give up on that one and solve it through dialogue – making it the only fight in Pillars I have not beat).

The strength of these encounters is thanks in no small part to a continually updated AI. At launch, enemies in Pillars of Eternity would beeline towards the first character that provoked them into action, using repetitive attack patterns and a small array of skills while you wailed on them with whatever rote strategy first worked for you. Multiple patches corrected enemy behaviour, added abilities and defenses to boring enemies and padded out encounter diversity. Here, too, the obvious Sword Coast Stratagems-inspiration becomes apparant, as difficulty in White March arises from clever enemy targeting and ability selection just as much as from raw power.

[...] Itemization is another area of the game that has moved from simple sufficiency to elegant beauty. The amount of variety on display both in terms of basic gear types but also in unique equipment and item abilities has not been rivaled since Shadows of Amn. Everything from basic abilities like giving your characters another chance when they are reduced to 0 hit points to granting unique spells that can only be cast through that specific item to granting conditional immunities or buffing your character while prone. Choosing between these items is rarely a simple problem of just picking the one with the highest stats, but rather demands you factor in which enemies you are fighting, what your character build is and how your gear can become an extension of your character's abilities. Agonizing over which of all these items you are actually going to equip nevermind on which character is pure, clean RPG fun, and once you have played through the game once or twice, you will definitely have found items which inspire you to craft entire characters around them. To add to this diversity, new and very rare crafting ingredients dropped by bosses or given as quest rewards allow you to add unique enchantments on top of your favourite items.

It bears repeating that with patch 3.0 and The White March, combat and character customization in Pillars of Eternity has been iterated from a great idea with mediocre execution to something resembling flawless implementation. Excepting further games in the series, it is undoubtedly the closest you will ever come to playing Baldur's Gate II with the full Sword Coast Stratagems package – and, in many ways, it is superior. Some will find the sluggish control less appealing – it is for me – but there is no denying that the strategic variety is greater in all encounters save the most well-designed mage- and boss-battles in the Infinity Engine games. That The White March also features the most indulgent trip down D&D memory lane you are likely to play on a computer in a long time in the form of dungeon delving, lich battling and loot hunting makes the experience all the sweeter.

The lesson is that iteration is as important as having a good idea to begin with. In this regard, The White March mirrors the extensive patching and modding cycle of Baldur's Gate. Today, no die hard fan would play the Infinity Engine games without Sword Coast Stratagems, which represents one of the most detailed, iterative processes in RPG history.

Likewise, Pillars of Eternity without the latest patch, The White March and Path of the Damned difficulty is a shadow of itself, unworthy of your attention. But the full game, polished and perfected as it is, is simply a joy to play - glorious in all its complexity, sprawling wealth of content and diverse challenges. The final product after two years of patching bodes well for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, should the lessons be carried over. In terms of gameplay, Baldur's Gate II was a clear improvement on the original and if the same is the case with the sequal to Obsidian's first, Kickstarted game, some of the IE games might finally be knocked off their perch as my favourite games.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Pillars of Eternity Revisited
 

SausageInYourFace

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Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Bubbles In Memoria A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. My team has the sexiest and deadliest waifus you can recruit. Pathfinder: Wrath
are you guys for fucking real

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Lacrymas

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You are getting out the frying pans while the fish are still in the sea. I think it's a bit early for a "retrospective".
 

markec

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Codex 2012 Strap Yourselves In Codex Year of the Donut Codex+ Now Streaming! Dead State Project: Eternity Codex USB, 2014 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. Pathfinder: Wrath
Might as well rename this site to PoECodex.

Dont give Obsidiantards any ideas.


Likewise, Pillars of Eternity without the latest patch, The White March and Path of the Damned difficulty is a shadow of itself, unworthy of your attention. But the full game, polished and perfected as it is, is simply a joy to play - glorious in all its complexity, sprawling wealth of content and diverse challenges.

But according to you fanboys vanilla PoE was a great game.

Also this must be first time in history that someone makes the Rybicki Maneuver in order to take a dump on and praise the same game.
 

ArchAngel

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Mar 16, 2015
Messages
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Nobody (except cuck Grunker) here changed their opinion on PoE.
People just got tired beating on a dead horse. Every shitty part of the game was brought to light and discussed, no need to repeat same shit for 2 years.
Of course only fangirls then kept on talking about it.
 

Lhynn

Arcane
Joined
Aug 28, 2013
Messages
9,671
Another retarded piece of gaming journalism no one asked for and no one wanted. Game is as shit today as it was on release (probably worse, because after the embarrasing amount of patches and iterations they still didnt manage to get it right), can we give it a fucking rest already?

Infinitron, the final word was given back then on roxors neutral positive review.
 

Maxie

Guest
This review is pointless and you are perfectly aware of that, Roxor has exhausted the topic with what I don't hesitate to call his opus magnum - the game was already thoroughly dissected and the vast majority of three digit IQ Codexians already know the game is at best a lukewarm rehash of Baulders, at worst a pile of horseshit. The only reason why you'd put something like this on the front page is an indolent attempt at changing the opinion of casual Codex visitors (like myself not that long ago) before the release of PoE2. I will refrain from inferring who and how profits on this review out of my respect for the Semitic race.
 

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