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Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition (PlayStation 4) artwork

Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition (PlayStation 4) review

"Personally, I'm just amazed I played all the way through one of these really complex RPGs. "

As someone who’s been a lifelong RPG fan, I feel I should have more love for those really complex ones with their roots in Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing. But that’s not really the case, as I oftentimes struggle to maintain patience with their complexity. I loved the NES port of Pool of Radiance in large part due to it being a somewhat simpler version of the computer original that did away with certain unnecessary elements such as enemies dropping all their equipment upon death, forcing players to scroll through a lengthy list hoping that something actually worth picking up was scattered amongst all the vendor trash. I also have developed a great appreciation for the output of Spiderweb Software, as their offerings feel like more accessible versions of these games.

On the other hand, such widely respected titles such as Baldur’s Gate II and Divinity: Original Sin have been abandoned and unfinished. I start them up, all excited and stuff, and get completely sucked into their worlds, only to eventually get bogged down and frustrated by one thing or another until I decide to pull the plug and pick up something capable of providing me with a more immediate sort of satisfaction.

And now that I’ve finished Pillars of Eternity, I can say that one thing probably saved that game from meeting that same fate: The fact this Obsidian Entertainment Kickstarter-funded offering gives players enough control over its difficulty that advancing through it can be as simple or grueling as one wishes it to be. Yes, that is me saying that I beat a very deep and involving sort of RPG because I was able to dumb it down enough that “Tactics for Dummies” was able to get the job done. If I still had a sense of shame, I would likely feel that emotion.

But that’s me — the guy who feels he should be WAY into this sort of game and has off-and-on tried to force that connection over the past few decades no matter how many times things haven’t worked out. Now, if you’re a person who actually does love these games, Pillars of Eternity has a lot to offer. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to call it a “new” Baldur’s Gate, but it definitely seems designed to play upon the nostalgia fans of that game have for it and it does a fine job of living up to the expectations that nostalgia would cause those fans to have.

The appearance of Pillars is quite similar to that of Baldur’s, with the camera being set far away from the action so that your party, which can number up to six active participants, can fit on the screen along with a fair amount of the local scenery. You’ll have cities divided into multiple districts, various sorts outdoor regions to explore, as well as several castles and ruins. To go along with the main plot, you’ll obtain large numbers of side quests and find out that many of them have multiple ways in which they can be completed. And you’ll find out that the manner in which you choose to handle those quests can have an impact on other things, as people will respond to you differently based on their perception of your honesty or whether you prefer to solve problems with diplomacy or the pointy end of your sword.

As expected, there is a pretty complicated plot attached to this game. To simplify it as much as possible, after creating your main character, you’ll have a strange encounter at the end of the obligatory tutorial dungeon that winds up, uh, ending the companionship you shared with your obligatory tutorial dungeon allies and gives you the abilities of a Watcher. This sort of thing is a mixed blessing. On one hand, you’ll be able to get clues from restless spirits that only you can see. On the other, you’re regularly besieged by memories of a past life in which you worked for an Inquisition and did all sorts of shady things in its name. And guess what? There are a few really bad things going on in the game’s world and the leader of that Inquisition has a big hand in all that, so all your searching and questing seems likely to result in a less-than-happy reunion of sorts.

You’ll start out in the village of Gilded Vale, where you’ll be expected to gain a few allies and do something about the local tyrant and his love of hanging people from a largest tree in town for whatever reasons enter his head. From there, you’ll be able to clear out an abandoned keep and take it as your own stronghold, look for help in a large city and pursue Thaos, the head of that Inquisition, to the ends of the planet and beyond. And if you get the expanded edition that includes its DLC packs, you’ll also get to visit another land to solve its problems concerning a long-abandoned forge.

Between the base game and DLC, you’ll be able to acquire around 10 potential allies, who provide a pretty inclusive look at the game’s races and character classes and make it easy to eventually form a well-balanced party consisting of melee attackers, spell-casters and folk with the necessary skills to buff allies and debuff foes when necessary. Each of these characters also has his or her own personal quest — some of which are very easy to complete and others which involve a lot of work and/or conversation to get through.

Generally speaking, the more effort you put into learning your characters and their abilities, the better you’ll do in battle, especially when dealing with the game’s trickier foes and their ability to do things like knock characters down, charm them or simply decimate their health with powerful magical attacks. Using a chanter to regularly summon monstrous allies often can be pretty helpful, as can a spell that temporarily petrifies a foe or two or one of the many magical attacks capable of jumping from one foe to the next upon being cast. As this game allows you to adjust when (or if) combat automatically pauses, you’ll be able to have as much or little direct control over your party members as you desire. If you want, you can set up a basic script for characters to utilize in combat or you can constantly pause and unpause the game in order to regularly give your team orders.

Obviously, the difficulty setting will play a role in how much of a micro-manager you need to be. Play on a low setting and you’ll only need to really work for your wins occasionally. Things can be pretty tough in the early going, as you won’t have a full party and your small assortment of low-level characters won’t have many abilities or much durability backing them up; while a few late-game optional encounters can be brutal under any situation. Bump it up, though, and you’ll regularly encounter larger groups of foes that can be noticeably tougher to bring down. Or you can simply alter the difficulty so that all encounters scale to your level — something that might even be advisable if you plan to also play through the DLC, as those additional quests and battles, combined with an increase in the game’s level cap, can dramatically shift the balance of power in your favor.

While I might not be able to get into these complex RPGs to the degree that my brain regularly tells me that I should be able to, it was easy for me to appreciate Pillars of Eternity simply because it’s a game that can be customized in order to be appreciated by diehard fans of this genre, as well as by more casual players who might not want to painstakingly weigh the pros and cons of every single Level Six wizard spell in order to ensure they select the one most beneficial to the way they’re planning to use that character. Maybe I didn’t play through this one in the manner of a challenge-seeking diehard (or have any real desire to), but I was able to glean sufficient enjoyment out of the way I did venture through its world that I was able to see it through from beginning to end, while completing nearly every quest made available to me. And with my track record with these more in-depth and complex RPGs, that is a major victory in itself!

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 22, 2024)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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