Role-playing games have changed. In recent years, there has been a trend away from the traditional top-down or isometric style. Everything has gone polygonal 3D. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and the popularity of the occasional old-style dungeon crawlers has given all of us older PC gamers a little bit of heart.
Now one of the past masters is coming home, fresh from their success with Fallout: New Vegas and South Park: Stick of Truth, Obsidian Entertainment is lifting the camera, painting the backdrops and working on their storyline. Pillars of Eternity is a proper RPG and it looks quite exciting.
The game is the result of a Kickstarter campaign which raised almost $4 million and has instilled a sense of responsibility into the team. These guys used to be Black Isle Studios, the company that made Fallout 2 and published BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate. Nobody has better pedigree for this kind of game than the people currently at Obsidian Entertainment.
During the behind-closed-doors presentation at this year’s E3, they repeatedly stressed that much of the thinking behind the directions they’re taking with Pillars of Eternity was a direct result of knowing exactly what their fans – and backers – wanted from the game. The level of feedback they have been able to garner during the pledging process is unprecedented.
That’s something of a double-edged sword, of course. On the one hand, they know what their audience wants and they can shape the game to fit that perfectly. On the other, they’re restricted by a desire to do right by their backers which, in many ways, could stifle the risk-taking that often leads to innovation. They know what their audience wants but they also know that their audience expects something quite specific. Happily, Obsidian is a team that knows how to deliver exactly what their backers want.
Pillars of Eternity is a fantasy RPG that recalls a golden age of the genre on PC. It’s a pre-rendered world of beautiful scenery, dark dungeons and unexplored lands in which you’ll make decisions with consequences as you squad up and explore the setting.
There are six races, five core skills and eleven classes to choose from. Races include traditional types like Dwarf, Human and Elf, alongside more exotic races like Godlike, Orlan and Aumaua. The five core skills are fairly traditional too – Stealth, Athletics, Lore, Mechanics and Survival. You’ll develop those as you play the game and mastery of certain skills will allow different solutions to the many problems you face in the game. Add the eleven classes to your customisation options and you have a vast array of nuanced ways to approach the adventure. Those classes including traditional stalwarts like Barbarian, Wizard and Rogue but also less common types like Paladin, Cipher and Druid.
Your reputation is your key to success in Pillars of Eternity. You’ll earn it based on the decisions you make and your actions in certain situations. Your reputation will determine the factions you can side with and the interactions you have with certain characters so that the game can be quite different on multiple playthroughs, based on the decisions you’ve been making early in the unfolding narrative.
That narrative is delivered via interstitial text screens that deliver the story alongside some pen-and-ink style artwork. It’s a low-budget approach indicative of the size of this project – $4 million isn’t really enough to invest in epic CGI cinematics. It’s also perfectly in keeping with the style of game. Pillars of Eternity is proudly text-heavy and the team understands the power of leaving some of the drama to the imagination of the player. This is a proper role-playing game where you’re expected to immerse yourself and play the role, using your imagination and visualisation skills in conjunction with the presented narrative.
The demonstration at E3 was strictly hands-off, with one of the developers playing through the game while another presented it. For a game due out later this year to be hands-off would sometimes be cause for concern but in this case, there’s reason to believe that allowing press to play the game would simply result in a section of gameplay taking an hour, rather than 20 minutes and that is obviously less than ideal for the busy schedule at E3.
What we saw certainly looked finished and, although it’s set to be a game with many hours of gameplay, it’s clear that the team at Obsidian is deep into developing the game that their many crowd funding backers want. More than that, though, it’s a game that harks back to a golden era and it’s something that a great many of us – especially those of a certain age – will also want. Pillars of Eternity could be set for great success and it’s all down to a receptive and respectful relationship between a talented studio and its dedicated fans.