Come quest with the best.

Kickstarter games are a lot like UFC fights. For the most part they end up being a tiresome, wriggling mess, but if you watch enough of them you may just witness the spectacle of the decade.

The developers at Obsidian Entertainment (makers of South Park: Stick of Truth and Fallout: New Vegas to name a few) stuck their necks out when they decided to put “Project Eternity” up on Kickstarter back in September 2012, promising to deliver the most in depth, refined and authentic Infinity Engine experience since classics like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. Thirty-two days later, almost 77,000 backers and donors had laid down $4 million, making it one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history. After a brief delay from last year, Pillars of Eternity  is now upon us.

The finding a matching mail suit to her skin was proving difficult

Finding chainmail to suit her skin tone was proving difficult.

With that ludicrous amount of budget for a modestly-sized developer team, the pressure was on to deliver. Having that many people believe in the project, however, didn’t automatically make it a great game. Obsidian had to follow through in order to preserve not only their own reputation, but that of Kickstarter itself (not to mention the trust of 77,000 devoted backers).

Sound Investment

First things first, if you’re going to buy Pillars of Eternity (and yes, you should), set aside at least three hours for your first game session. I’ve created a lot of RPG characters in my time and don’t find it strange to fuss over my elven hairstyle and nose shape for longer than it takes me to take a shower in the real world. But the character creation in Pillars of Eternity doesn’t worry too much about what your character looks like, as much as building their story – that’s before you even start making decisions. Six races, eleven classes and many cultures to choose from saw me sift through each and every option, diligently reading thousands of words of background of the different nations, religions and societal classes in the world of Eora. About half an hour later I actually began playing the opening act.

The townsfolk were infuriated with wagons passing through and spinning doughnuts in the town square

The townsfolk were infuriated with wagons passing through and spinning doughnuts in the town square.

Like most classics of the Infinity Engine persuasion, the proverbial feces hits the fan for you and your party straight out of the gate. You’re part of a caravan enroute to the Guilded Vale, a settlement in Dyrwood popular with travelling adventurers and immigrants looking for a new start. You’re not feeling the best after being on the road for so long, and after fetching some water and berries to cure your ailment, the caravan suddenly gets attacked by nomads emerging from nearby ruins. These nomads seem to be protecting a ritual that channels souls from willing participants, the consequence of which you are not aware of, just yet. Children in the kingdom are being delivered as “hollowborn,” an affliction of arriving into the world as soul-less bodies and this ritual is somehow connected. After finding some like-minded companions, you set out to discover more about the horrible affliction and what is causing it.

Infinitely Complex

The combat system seems routine enough in the opening minutes, but once you’ve stacked your party with an extra couple of classes, it doesn’t take long to see the near-infinite number of ways you can approach combat encounters with weapons, spells, chants and every other type of buff, charm and more sinister tools like poisons.

It wasn’t long before I was able to drop foes without taking a single hit.

It had been a good couple of years since I played with the Infinity Engine mechanics in Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, with which I felt overwhelmed by the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition dice-roll rules. The first few hours of Pillars of Eternity were similarly overwhelming, just look at how many different attacks are calculated: slash, pierce, crush, burn, shock, corrode, freeze and raw. To resolve those attacks you defend with deflection, fortitude, reflex and will. This is about as far from the flow of a fast-paced hack and slash as you can get, but despite a frustrating couple of hours figuring out what attacks and spells work against what enemies, it wasn’t long before I was able to drop foes without taking a single hit.

This is not a game for those looking for the accessible simplicity of Diablo III, but if you can bear with it, make some notes while you’re playing and stomach turning the difficulty to ‘Easy,’ it won’t be long before you feel like you’re owning the battlefield. Bear in mind, though, you’ll be reloading the big battles even on Easy mode. There’s just no way to just click your way through this game without paying close attention to the combat rules.

He knew the scepter was made of metal when...

He knew the scepter was made of metal when…

Fetch Me My Silver

Quests, quests, and more quests is how you cut your teeth in Eora. Experience is not gained through grinding in the woods, so to level up your party for that tough encounter you’ve put on the backburner you’ll have to seek out the hundreds of little side quests that litter every corner of each and every town.

The heavily text-based story will be a large draw for fans of the genre. Dialogue has many trees and lines of conversation that affect your reputation and options that are available should you have the required amount of resolve, intellect or might. Cleverness can outwit and avoid dangerous encounters, as can intimidation. Small storylets occasionally pop up during dramatic events, where you’ll likely spend minutes deliberating over the next decision. The anticipation in these forks in the road will get your heart racing, as much – if not more – than BioWare’s best. And yes, I’m aware of the boldness of that statement.

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There’s so much to Pillars of Eternity that it would take a volumes to just describe the choices available to you – like the ability to explore the Stronghold base, where your party is based, and pursue even more special quests. For any fan of the BioWare classics of old, this game is a no-brainer.

But what about the newcomers that have only the experience of say Dungeon Siege III or Dragon Age, or neither? Is a game that was made for its 77,000 vehement Kickstarter backers accessible to mainstream gaming audience? Given that this is PC only, its already reaching out to core gamers that know the value of investment in a title of this much depth. You could spend hundreds of hours rummaging through chests and exploring dungeons in this world, but the main storyline is estimated at about 50-60 hours of very eventful gameplay. That’s what Obsidian promised its backers and that’s what they’ve delivered.

A review code of Pillars of Eternity was provided courtesy of Paradox Interactive. 

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