Eternal RPG

There's something timeless and almost eternal about CRPGs. These character-driven roleplaying games, with deep systems and a plethora of character builds have been few and far between on console - the PC has always been the prime place to experience such wonders as Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, or the legendary Planescape: Torment.

Thanks to Obsidian we got the first taste of a deep/sprawling CRPG with the somewhat brilliant, but obtuse Pillars of Eternity. Well, they're back on the Xbox One with the Pillars of Eternity sequel I'd hoped for and it comes complete with all the bells/whistles/DLC of the PC release.

Welcome to Deadfire, now let's try and get our soul-shard back shall we?

Bigger and Better

It's often hit and miss with a sequel, but with my hours spent playing PoE 2 I can tell you right now this game is bigger, better, and more accessible in every single way. Many of the obtuse systems in PoE have been reworked, expanded, and smoothed out from the previous game to ensure this outing into dark fantasy RPG-land is a fun experience across all the game's many and expansive maps.

The Plot?

I'm not going to spoil the story, even though there are a bunch of story spoilers in the main blurb for the game. Suffice it to say that PoE 2 picks up from where 1 left off, and slaps you right in the middle of a very personal quest to reclaim something you lost. Your castle is gone, a piece of your soul is in the hands of Eothas (the dead god, now awakened) and you're damn well going to try and get it back.

Systems old and new

If you love deep, well-acted, fun and visceral fantasy adventures with lots of things to prod and poke in terms of mechanics, well, you're going to pretty-much adore PoE 2. Before you even get into the actual game itself, there's the character generation, which lets you customise your character - their class - their abilities and attributes, and so on. It's what you'd expect from this kind of RPG and it delivers in spades.

For example, here's the wiki on the classes - the reason I'm linking to the wiki is that if I explained all the classes, you'd likely be bored, and we'd be here for hundreds of words.

https://pillarsofeternity.gamepedia.com/Classes

You can have a single class, a sub-class, and if you're feeling adventurous and you know the ins/outs of the game you can dabble with multi-class characters. Warning, mc characters are more complex than their single class counterparts and take a longer time to achieve any kind of potential.

Beyond this there is the option to import your previous PoE save into PoE 2. Or you can import a pre-gen character rather than making your own.

You can also choose a difficulty amongst the number of options/GUI elements to tailor the game to how you want it.

Story, Relaxed, Classic, Veteran, and Path of the Damned are on offer - each one explains what the difficulty brings to the game and as long as you haven't chosen PotD you can change it at any time. Plus you can add in Trial of Iron (one save slot, sort of a hardcore mode), Expert Mode (removes a lot of the assists and information, a raw experience for pure discoverers), and Level Scaling (this can be toggled to main quests or off, or always scaled. If you want to keep a constant level of challenge in combat).

Once you're happy you can progress through the first prologue bit and eventually start the game proper.

Gameplay of Eternity 2

The first set of quests will teach you the game's mechanics and depending on your difficulty and settings, it will be easier than some of the later encounters. You move your character and party in third person, against beautiful high-def backdrops and locations with a classic Baldur's Gate/PST feel to them. Objects that can be interacted with can be highlighted using the d-pad and the control scheme might take a little getting used to, using the triggers to open menus etc.

There is an option to activate a cursor mode too, so you can precisely activate objects and interactives in the game's world.

For the most part you'll be exploring huge maps, and encountering various locations either on the location map, or the world map where you can direct your party of characters and explore for resources and clues. Sometimes you'll get a story-driven encounter that plays out like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, Fighting Fantasy, or Lone Wolf style adventure. These short vignettes can bring to bear some character's abilities or attributes and it always shows you who has the best possible score to test against.

Perhaps it's a negotiation with bandits, or a swim through a narrow treacherous underwater cavern. Either way, you'll get a new location, or some loot if you succeed.

Then there are dialogue trees to explore, and a wide (diverse) array of characters to encounter. Some of these will become party members, some of these are returning favourites from PoE and some and brand-new.

Some are just different encounters that'll lead to interesting exchanges, or a way to gain the upper hand. You can avoid conflict, or start it. If you can use a skill in dialogue, the game will tell you. It's very transparent.

Fight for the Right to Party

Eventually (like right at the start of the game) you're going to come to blows with bad folks, and monsters. Unlike PoE, the combat system and various skills are a lot easier to use in PoE 2. It feels like night and day, and with two modes of combat on offer there's sure to be something here to please the action RPG crowd or the turn-based purists - perhaps even a hybrid of the two.

You can either order your party in action mode, pausing when you need to, changing their AI to fit the situation or leave them to their own devices. You can activate your abilities, choose targets, and trigger various skills based on the fight. It's very well done, the GUI is easy to navigate and there's a great deal of fun to be had in the classic action-pause mode from PoE.

However, if you're like me, and you adore Divinity Original Sin 2... then you might want to check out PoE 2's turn-based mode where you can play a similar style of battles to DoS 2 or X-Com if you prefer. Taking control of each character's turn down to the finest detail, then watching it play out in real time - rinse repeat.

Again, it's all put together in a solid and engaging way which does not overwhelm the player.

Manage your Stuff

Equipment and inventory management is much easier in PoE 2 thankfully. You can assign weapon sets and equip various arms/armour quickly and easily. Moving goods between party members and ensuring they're kitted out.

A Captain's Life for Me

I'm not going to go too deep on this, but Deadfire has a distinctly nautical theme and well... later on you're going to get a ship you can use to sail to new shores. This replaces Caed Nua from PoE and is just as interesting as the castle/keep. Here you'll hire crew, manage them, upgrade and restock the ship... plus much more ... but I'll leave that to you to discover!

The Beauty of Deadfire

This is a detailed and pretty game, really pretty in places and with a serious detail level boost from the first title. It looks gorgeous on the Xbox One X and runs smoothly and cleanly. The various locations are full of tiny details and the places you visit can be downright breath-taking. The animation is excellent and full of character.

A Musical Journey

Justin E. Bell manages to evoke the same kind of haunting melodies that many of the early forays into CRPGs were able to do. The score here is excellent and some of the tracks provide perfect chill-out music. Parts solemn, and parts bombastic epic, this is some great fantasy music right here.

The Sound of the Voice

Sound design in the game is solid, but the true stars of the show here are the cast of voice actors who deliver their lines in a rich manner. The narrator who takes over from time to time, the various party members, and the whole crew are having fun with this and it shows.

Worthy Successor

For a long time, nostalgia held Planescape: Torment as one of the finest CRPG games of my lifetime in my heart. Along with Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 and a few others. Now though, I have a new favourite in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire and I have loved every minute of my journey through this game's expansive and interesting locations.

It builds on the first game and smooths out old mechanics, adds new ones. It is a worthy successor to the CRPGs of yore and well worth checking out.

Until next time, may the wind be in your sails Captain.