Including games like Baldur’s Gate and Ultima, the CRPG was a powerhouse genre for over two decades, the combination of incredibly deep lore and mechanics and the flowing stories make for some of the most gripping games around. The genre faded from view for a while, but now it’s back as games like Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin II and Tyranny are helping to really bring the genre up to date with better graphics, even larger worlds and increasingly complex options for classes and combat. These games are becoming some of the best around.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is rightly a highly anticipated game for all of these reasons and more. Building on the story from the first game, Deadfire takes you to a whole new landscape chasing a God who is wreaking havoc amongst the titular archipelago as they stride forwards for motives that you can’t grasp.
Along with the continuation of the story comes the excellence in the gameplay itself. As is often the way, the game starts with some story, followed by you customising your character to look and play how you want – you can also import your character from the first game. Along with getting to choose your class, you can now further your unique avatar by choosing a subclass which offers you a bonus as well as a disadvantage. For example, the Ranger can have a subclass that gives both you and your pet a stat boost when you are near each other, but the trade off for this is lowered stats when you are too far apart. Deadfire is full of little tweaks like this that make every decision feel impactful when building your character, every single choice can give you some slight advantage until you perfect your build, although don’t worry if you mess up, you can always re-spec later.
You can also choose to be a hybrid class in exchange for the highest skills from each, this gives you even more ways to really choose how you want to play the game. These decisions aren’t just linked to you character either; whenever someone new joins your motley crew you will get to choose from amongst three options for their class, meaning that each new comrade can be built to fit the party you have and add to it.
In order to traverse between the various land masses in Deadfire you need a vessel, and so you are granted a boat to travel around. You start with The Defiant, but as you go you can upgrade and tweak the boat as well. With all the customisation options for characters it should be no surprise that they continue here. In order to get your ship running at all you will need a crew, and you can naturally customise this as you go, hiring new members and managing their needs as a result.
You will need to keep stocked up on medicine, food and water in order to keep things running smoothly, and even here there are plenty of choices. You can get water for the crew which will quench their thirst but not much else, or you can choose to get ale or rum, which will make them happy but affect their performance in battles later on. The sheer depth of the options throughout the game is staggering. Everything can be micromanaged to get the most of it, and everything can be min-maxed if you so desire.
If you fancy yourself a true pirate then you can engage in ship-to-ship combat, which takes an unusual book-like form. It plays out in a turn-based fashion, giving you a number of different decisions each turn and letting you consider every action you can take and your position in relation to the enemy vessel. Your decisions can lead you to a cannon based slug fest or you can ram them to board their ship and take the fight to a melee upon the sea, which reverts to the regular character combat system.
Deadfire is full of little tweaks like this that make every decision feel impactful when building your character, every single choice can give you some slight advantage until you perfect your build, although don’t worry if you mess up, you can always re-spec later.
The story is incredibly well written with numerous twists and turns leading you along whether through a side quest or the main story itself. Each character has their own voice and personality, with motives and reactions differing from person to person. The dialogue options are a particular highlight and you should pay attention to each conversations as everything you say can impact the options available to you or the attitude of your party or the quest givers. You may well risk offending someone by choosing your words poorly and end up starting a fight you didn’t mean to.
The voice acting is stellar as well and really brings all of this to life. You go through countless regional accents and the inter-party chat as you adventure is funny and charming. You can almost forget you are hunting down monsters and Gods when listening to jokes being told or the little arguments that can occur. It constantly adds to the charm, or lack thereof, of the people you encounter and makes them all feel so much more real.
Combat carries plenty of options too, building on the original’s ‘real time with pause’ combat system. At the beginning of each fight the game pauses automatically so you can issue commands to each party member individually, or if you are unfazed by the enemies, you can just carry on and let your party decide what to do for themselves. The AI customisation options are plentiful, so you can choose how your characters will react to certain things, make sure that your healers do plenty of healing and your tanks do a good job of drawing aggro. You can basically let all of the fights play themselves out if you want, only stepping in when something unexpected happens, or you can pause combat regularly and issue commands if you prefer. As with everything else in Deadfire, the name of the game is customisation and choice, letting you micromanage or take a more hands off approach.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a game about choices and epic story lines, grounding itself with the unique characters you find and the fact that your ultimate aim is to get the rest of your soul back. Having such a personal quest at the centre of such a fantastical plot really keeps you invested in both the people and the world, whether you’re carrying on your adventure from the first game or starting afresh. Either way there’s a genuinely likeable cast, both personal and global stories and the pleasure of mastering all its systems. A genuine joy of a game and one which is simultaneously approachable and impossibly deep, Deadfire is a fantastic sequel and one which you will be thinking even when you are away from its world.
Version tested: PC – Coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch later this year