"Gamers constantly complain that modern games aren't as deep as they used to be or that player agency has disappeared in favor of streamlined gameplay and this is why PoE may be just the game for old farts like me. "
We're finally starting to get some of the major Kickstarter products into our hands, bringing this grand experiment in crowdfunding to dramatic fruition. One of the more exciting titles is Pillars of Eternity, an old-school RPG from Obsidian that brings to mind aspects of classic PC RPGs like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale. Gamers constantly complain that modern games aren't as deep as they used to be or that player agency has disappeared in favor of streamlined gameplay and this is why PoE may be just the game for old farts like me.
The ability to customize a main character fully at the start of the adventure is a hallmark of the old Infinity engine games, and Obsidian made sure to highlight this feature at the start of our E3 hands-off demo. Character customization plays a larger role in the story, however, as it's not just confined to combat scenarios. Unique cinematic moments play out in a storybook-style fashion, with strong writing describing the actions players can execute. This helps make each party feel unique given the constraints of the world. A strong warrior character, for example, may be able to knock down a door blocking the group's path, while the roguish sort could circumvent it with the careful pick of a lock. These types of interactions are what have me truly excited for PoE. I love it when a game gives me a lot of options for different character types, as it adds a great deal of replayability. With six playable races and eleven classes, it looks like PoE will keep players busy for a long time. In addition, every class can use every piece of equipment, though some will obviously work better with certain armaments. I expect we'll see some crazy class and party combinations (I like the idea of a magic user using a war hammer, but that's just me).
Just about every preview I've written from E3 has the word "painterly" associated with the art style, which probably says something about current trends in the industry. Thankfully, PoE stands out with a very dramatic high fantasy style. You feel the high concept book covers for dramatic Dungeons and Dragons campaigns or books flowing through the environment and characters, allowing the game to transcend the more derivative style found in many other fantasy games. Color explodes on the screen, further elevating PoE from the pack.
Combat takes place in real time from an isometric perspective with the ability to pause and plan out attacks with your six person party. We got to see some pretty devastating area of effect spells, but nothing that truly broke the mold of various other vintage RPGs or the latest effort from BioWare. One thing younger gamers will have to get used to is the fact your party's health doesn't return at the end of combat. You're required to rest at an inn or use supplies in order to recuperate, adding a layer of depth that's been severely lacking in many modern games. Maybe your party can only make it through one more scenario, or perhaps you pushed the party a bit further than you should have. It adds a level of risk and reward that more and more indie developers are toying around with these days, and I gladly welcome its addition. Dungeons will, apparently, have puzzles and multiple points of interaction, but our demo driver quickly passed through these sections without giving them much attention.
Player decision seems to play a big part in most of the narrative interactions. At one point, the player has to make a delicate decision during a hostage crisis. We saw a more direct approach than I would have probably taken, as the main character chose to engage the enemy in combat rather than seek a more diplomatic solution. One can only guess what ramifications these decisions may have, but the choose-your-own-adventure style story sections have me intrigued and ready to start my journey.
Pillars of Eternity is due out some time this winter.