Adding to a game that’s already full of content is a mammoth task that Obsidian have decided to take on with no regard to themselves or anyone caught up in the cannon fire. The philosophy behind this particular expansion seems to be one of focus rather than scale; where other DLC tend to add in huge new areas in the form of a sprawling metropolis or a brand new island, Beast of Winter instead adds a single point to your map in which you can get lost.
Harbingers’ Watch is effectively an iceberg in the centre of a tropical archipelago. Think of it like the dark horse of the family, like a goth in The Brady Bunch. You are summoned to this place by a letter from the followers of Rymrgand, who is the titular Beast of Winter, and also a God of famine, plague, and entropy. A lovely fellow no doubt and one who tends to take the form of a minotaur. You’ve been chosen by them because chaos tends to follow you around, and with chaos comes destruction, which is what they really, really want to befall them.
Upon arriving on this strange little cult-infested island you have to seek out the one who summoned you, a priest of Rymrgand named Vatnir. He doesn’t seem quite as invested as the rest of the inhabitants, but you don’t get much time to dwell on that before the messenger comes to town. This messenger happens to be a big old undead dragon who proceeds to lay waste to many of the villagers, much to their glee.
It’s at this point that Beast Of Winter shows itself for the brilliant little narrative creation that it is. The story here is full of dark humour that’s so intensely morbid and full of strange little jokes that will make you laugh like nothing else in the main game. Not only is the island removed from the aesthetic of the main game, even the writing itself feels separate.
The world goes beyond just this island, but not via the seas. Oh no, you’re heading through other realms. You will find your way into The Beyond, The White Void specifically. This is a realm torn asunder by the unnatural things both around, and within it. It is fractured beyond reason and truly feels otherworldly; nothing works quite as it should in the living world and it makes for some fantastic puzzles.
The Beast Of Winter does a fantastic job of subverting the natural flow of the game. By being set at a single point in the map, it allows for a deeper dive than many of the areas in Pillars of Eternity II. In The White Void things don’t flow forwards, but backwards or not at all, and they often shift and stir in ways that really do make the area a standout point.
One of the best puzzles has you messing around with time when it has stopped. At the point of a truly devastating event, time has come to a complete standstill, and while you are granted the ability to move around by a few seconds, time itself never actually moves. The views offered in these different freeze frames are glorious, walking over a collapsed horizontal tower as it falls is an incredibly nice touch, and the background is almost entirely an inhuman fire that even the Gods would tread lightly around.
In each event your companions will have their own thoughts and feelings depending on how much it affects them personally. The bridge hits one of them particularly hard and the way they handle it, or the way you help them handle it, makes the interactions really stick in your mind. The added depth to both the lore of the world and the individuals involved truly makes this a great addition to the main game itself. This is no standalone piece of DLC that is simply stapled on to the original game, but one that slots in nicely as though it had always been there.
Beast Of Winter is a fantastic slice of everything that Pillars of Eternity does well. The world building and the writing are so good it can make you interested, even if you have fallen out of love with it before. Rymrgand is the most obnoxious and arrogant being in existence and it fits the idea of a god of death so well, it is almost unreasonable. The humour is perfect, but at no point does a joke go to far, nor are they too frequent. Each one is timed brilliantly and it makes the experience a genuine pleasure to see through. If you’ve enjoyed Pillars so far then this is a great reason to get back into the world and just let yourself stew in it.