I’m 60 hours into Pillars of Eternity and it seems like it’s going to stretch on forever. Part of me is saying “Duh, ‘eternity’ is right there in the title.”
The “Western RPG” genre has changed significantly several times since its inception, and is probably almost as old as video games themselves. The isometric, hybrid pausable realtime, D&D style RPG had its day in the sun in the late 90’s and early 00’s, with seminal titles like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. The genre largely moved on, with games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age being their evolutionary successors.
Pillars of Eternity is what you’d get if, instead of letting the genre evolve, we collectively “pressed B” and kept the Western RPG the way it was 10 years ago. There’s not really any other way to describe Pillars - it’s Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights without the D&D license and with a fresh coat of paint.
It’s good for what it is - it thoroughly checks all the “classic Western RPG” boxes. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are nostalgic for this particular chunk of history, but from my perspective there are a lot of game concepts here that should have stayed forgotten.
I found as the Pillars of Eternity wore on, I had less and less interest in the combat. It’s clunky and loaded down with micromangement. My characters often end up stuck in doors or flipping out on small outcroppings. Even with custom formations, I can’t keep them organized and ready for combat. Having to pause constantly to issue orders, and then the long delay between order and action caused much frustration.
Games like Victor Vran have sort of a clear loot curve and upgrade path that makes you feel more and more badass as the game progresses. I never really feel like a badass in Pillars of Eternity. The loot I find is often just “meh,” and I’m still concerned that I might bite it with every new encounter.
The overall difficulty curve of the combat also caused me issues. There were times when I was honestly not sure where I was supposed to go, since most enemy encounters ended with my entrails splattered all over the walls. I finally took the combat down to easy, which helped somewhat.
Really, what I remember and love most about the old WRPGs is the characters and the dialog. Those memories are what convinced me to take a stab at this new entry. Pillars of Eternity delivers here - I really liked the dialog and the options to convince with words rather than with steel.
There are also some cool puzzles, most of which are told through these “storybook” segments that I found interesting. Usually these will challenge your party’s skills in neat, non-combat ways.
Still, here again, there are a few things I wish had evolved. Mostly what bothers me is the unpredictability of dialog. I feel like I need to quicksave before every conversation so that I can roll back if someone flies off the handle and starts stabbing me when I’m trying to have a polite discussion.
One new “Lore” addition is the backer reward NPCs and gravestones - they’re practically everywhere. There are so many, and they often break the fourth wall or add nothing to the game, so I found them to be more of a distraction than a draw.
I can’t really fault Pillars of Eternity, though. I keep having these “I don’t know what I expected” moments. All of this stuff is basically the DNA of the genre circa the year 2000, and I backed this game knowing what I was getting into. It’s not you, Pillars of Eternity - it’s me. I’ve changed, I’ve grown, I’ve... moved on. I’m sorry, but... it’s time for us to see other programs.
(Cult of the Fiver is my somewhat-monthly series on great games that can be found in our collective back catalog. Want to stay on top of all our recommendations? We have a Steam Curation Page! In Pre-Cult articles, I collect my thoughts about a game I plan to feature in this month’s entry.)