After proving that Kickstarting an old-school RPG is definitely doable, Obsidian Entertainment returns to the source for a very different, sea-faring sequel. We talk to JOSH SAWYER, Design Director at Obsidian Entertainment and Game Director of Pillars of
With Pillars of Eternity, a niche, crowdfunded title, Obsidian Entertainment sought to recapture the glory days of the Infinity Engine games. If you’re not familiar with the term, the Infinity Engine was the core of a number of isometric PC RPGs, including Baldur’s Gate II, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment, lauded as some of the best RPGs of all time. Initially asking for $1.1 million, the Kickstarter for Pillars of Eternity wound up raking in around $3.9 million. The resultant game was critically lauded and commercially successful, blending the style of the Infinity Engine games with modern storytelling and a campaign that was at once intimate and epic. A sequel was all but inevitable.
“We had made enough from Pillars that we could have made a sequel that was relevantly modest”, says Josh Sawyer, Design Director at Obsidian Entertainment and Game Director for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.
“It would have been a good game but it would have been smaller in scope in a lot of ways. It wouldn’t have had quite as much revision to core features and things like that. With our crowdfunding, it allowed us the potential to raise more funds to add more features, make the game much larger in a lot of different ways.
“There’s a question of whether to go with Kickstarter and Fig. Ultimately, Fig seemed like it was more likely to allow us to raise more funds because it allowed investment in the actual project. There was a lot of speculation among us, again, as with the first game, about where things would wind up in terms of funding.
“We really can’t take crowdfunding for granted. We always hope for the best but we can’t assume that that’s always going to go well, which is why we set a $1,100,000 goal. It all worked out very well.”
“Very well” is a bit of an understatement. The Deadfire crowdfunding campaign was even more successful than that of the original game, with pledges totalling around $4.4 million when the campaign closed. The story is a continuation of the original game but even though it starts right where the other left off, Deadfire is a very different beast. Pillars of Eternity was centred around a keep – upgrading it, protecting it, discovering its secrets and excavating the ruins beneath, One of the secrets uncovered (thanks in part to stretch goals in the first crowdfunding campaign) was a giant statue buried beneath the keep, Caed Nua. Acting as both something of a home base and a way of keeping the story grounded, Caed Nua was a place of refuge and safety – at least until the beginning of Pillars of Eternity 2. Eothas, a god long thought dead possesses the statue titanic statue under the keep, breaking free and absorbing the souls of all nearby. It’s up to the player to follow the awakened god, discover his plans and decide whether to help him or lay him to rest once and for all.
As a result, from the first moment, Deadfire feels larger and more epic than Pillars 1. “We wanted to start with something that felt a little smaller, a little personal, and then raise the stakes and the scope and the scale so that it felt like from Pillars I to Pillars
the boat is home, transport and protector, and can be upgraded to sail more dangerous waters
II, you really were moving up in terms of importance in the world and scope of impact. Even the scale of the antagonist that you’re following has become much larger,” says Sawyer. Even though the plan was always to raise the stakes and scale of the second season, the catalyst for that change of scale was something that grew out of some artwork from the original Kickstarter.
“Rob Nesler is the art director of Obsidian. He was doing a lot of early concepting and Kickstarter artwork. He was drawing and doodling the layers of the Endless Paths,” explains Sawyer. “He started putting this crazy statue in it, and I was like, ‘Rob, what is this?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, just some guy, and as we add more levels we’ll show other parts of his body, and I’m like, ‘Okay, that looks pretty cool.’ It’s certainly a way where we can generate visual interest as we continue to add levels to the Kickstarter campaign.
” When it came time to think about Deadfire I don’t know where I got the idea but I did say half-joking but half-serious, ‘ What if Eothas came back and he just occupied that statue and just destroyed everything that you built in the first game and just stomped off into the ocean?’ Some people were like ‘Awesome!’ while others were like ‘That sounds lame as hell’ and so I’m like ‘ We’re doing it!” What could have been a copout proves to be a fascinating start to the game. Thanks to the protagonist’s ability to communicate with the dead and see souls, they aren’t killed outright, but are instead left with only a small sliver of their soul remaining. Another god gives the protagonist the option to either pass on to the next life or go back to stop Eothas, and after the second option is chosen they awaken on a boat following the statue as it strides through the sea. The boat is home, transport and protector, and throughout the adventure players will be able to upgrade the ship to sail more dangerous waters, hire new crew and even wage ship-to-ship battles against pirates and other nautical nasties.
Even though we haven’t been able to play too much of Deadfire as yet, the change of pace and the emphasis placed on travel and exploration make Deadfire feel like a grander, more perilous adventure than the first Pillars of Eternity. We don’t have long to wait until we can track down Eothas and reclaim our souls, as Deadfire is due to launch in the first week of April.