Pil­lars Of Eter­nity

PC a

EDGE - - GAMES -

Will the cir­cle be un­bro­ken? It’s the ques­tion that haunts Pil­lars Of Eter­nity’s Dyr­wood, where chil­dren are be­ing born with­out souls af­ter a fate­ful war with a god in­car­nate, but it’s also the one that hov­ered over this Kick­starter-funded CRPG. We won’t spoil how the birthing com­pli­ca­tion turns out, but the lat­ter is met with a re­sound­ing yes: Ob­sid­ian has de­liv­ered ex­actly what was promised, a game that re­vives the spirit of In­fin­ity En­gine RPGs such as Bal­dur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. It’s a rev­er­ent suc­ces­sor to that blood­line, of­fer­ing an ex­pan­sive new realm, Eora, and a new rule­set for real­time com­bat while still pin­ning down the essence of those videogame trans­la­tions of Dun­geons & Dragons-style ad­ven­tur­ing.

What that means here is a cap­ti­vat­ing trek through a pain­terly iso­met­ric land­scape along­side a party of up to six NPCs. Some are en­ter­tain­ing, some sym­pa­thetic, and one is vile to women, but all need to be mi­cro­man­aged in oft-paused real­time com­bat, since there’s no party AI to speak of. Early on, the char­ac­ter you build will have their soul awak­ened as a Watcher, able to com­mune with the spirit realm, and the quest to come to terms with this power is driven by branch­ing con­ver­sa­tions as much as spell fling­ing. All this floats atop a sea of lore, and the reams of text are well crafted by Ob­sid­ian’s learned hand. The de­scrip­tions can wax pur­ple at times, but the pow­er­ful scene set­ting and deft tale weav­ing are for­giv­ing of a few over­wrought pas­sages, the in­fre­quent mo­ments where choice be­comes il­lu­sory to serve story beats, and NPCs only too will­ing to choke up back­story.

But for all the craft poured into it, Eora feels very safe. Per­haps a project fu­elled by nos­tal­gia dic­tates that, but de­spite the three new races – the God­like, marked by the touch of a de­ity and os­ten­ta­tious head growths; the Or­lan, furry halflings with a bonus to in­tel­lect; and the Au­maua, gi­ants in stature and com­bat – this land of Me­dieval vil­lages, cas­tle towns, grungy dun­geons and base­ment-dwelling cults is of­ten highly familiar. Still, enough mem­o­rable mo­ments do crop up as the main plot builds pace, and when Ob­sid­ian touches on less usual themes, such as one early sid­e­quest that nods to the placebo ef­fect, or an­other that deals in drug crime.

The more wide-sweep­ing up­dates are me­chan­i­cal, how­ever. Grant­ing you limited camp­ing sup­plies in­tro­duces some tangy new considerations to party man­age­ment, es­pe­cially when com­bined with abil­i­ties ra­tioned to a num­ber of uses per rest and the threat of grave in­jury or per­madeath for those who run out of health. You can take the pres­sure off by rest­ing at inns for a few shekels, of course, but an ale­house can be hard to come by deep in a skele­ton-in­fested cat­a­comb. Health, once lost, is gone un­til the next nap, but party mem­bers have a more tran­sient dam­age tracker too, En­durance, which gov­erns their abil­ity to keep fight­ing in each en­counter. It’s the lat­ter you man­age with po­tions and abil­i­ties, but be wary: if every­body is knocked out or the Watcher dies, you’ll need to restart.

And you’ll be see­ing those screens a lot, since even on Nor­mal, Pil­lars is a chal­leng­ing game. Par­tially, that’s down to the nu­anced, op­tion-rich com­bat sys­tem, which re­wards care­ful po­si­tion­ing and ef­fec­tive abil­ity blan­ket­ing, but pun­ishes with­draw­ing from fights and catch­ing your own party mem­bers in of­fen­sive ar­eas of ef­fect. Par­tially, it’s due to a lack of sign­post­ing on mobs. While we ap­pre­ci­ate not be­ing mol­ly­cod­dled, it’s too of­ten the case that the only warn­ing that your party isn’t yet ready for an area is be­ing sum­mar­ily flat­tened. Dou­bly so since that means back­track­ing. Ex­pe­ri­ence is re­warded not for com­bat, but find­ing new maps, pick­ing locks, dis­arm­ing traps and com­plet­ing quests. It’s a di­vi­sive change, but one gen­er­ally for the bet­ter, elim­i­nat­ing a lot of te­dium and grind­ing, and dou­bling down on your in­vest­ment in Eora’s tales. It only chafes when you have to aban­don a track you’ve al­ready sunk time into to seek more power else­where.

The com­bat sys­tem more than makes up for this, mi­cro­scopic at­ten­tion to the de­tails of enemies’ four dif­fer­ent types of dam­age mit­i­ga­tion and your spell queue am­ply re­warded in fizzing showers of death. And a few breaks from tra­di­tion, slight as they are, do much to keep fights fresh deep into a quest that can eas­ily ab­sorb up­wards of 40 hours. Spell­cast­ers needn’t be squishy robe fanciers, but can tote pis­tols or chain­mail, heav­ier ar­mour re­strict­ing only their re­cov­ery time. Chanters and Ciphers are magic users with a dif­fer­ence, one singing buff­ing songs to build up to mighty pow­ers, the other gain­ing Fo­cus by si­phon­ing it from enemies to spend on dev­as­tat­ing at­tacks. And any hole in your party can be filled with a mail-or­der ad­ven­turer, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing frus­tra­tion in the open­ing hours.

Sadly, Ob­sid­ian’s QA fail­ings oc­ca­sion­ally step in to fill that void. We’ve seen char­ac­ter at­tributes dis­ap­pear, or­ders ig­nored and party mem­bers take the odd­est routes to con­trive to run into the path of deadly magic. We’ve seen spells last a frac­tion of the time they should, and vibrating text on tooltips. Tight spa­ces can be a night­mare, and it’s hor­ri­ble when a door­way presents a greater chal­lenge than your foe. And while Pil­lars would not ex­ist with­out its com­mu­nity, the backer nods are im­mer­sion-shat­ter­ingly in­tru­sive: me­mo­rial walls full of In­ter­net inanity have no place in this world.

Nonethe­less, Pil­lars is one of the bet­ter relics of yes­ter­year to be re­vived through crowd­fund­ing. Viewed with a fond eye on the past, many of its im­per­fec­tions melt away into in­signif­i­cance. Even with­out that lens, this is a deep RPG that aims to ad­dress some of the genre’s clichés and flaws. At times it hews too close to con­ven­tion to fully achieve that goal, but there’s no deny­ing that Ob­sid­ian’s soul was in the ef­fort.

You can take the pres­sure off by rest­ing at inns, but an ale­house can be hard to come by in a skele­ton-in­fested cat­a­comb

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