A few years ago, Obsidian designer Josh Sawyer flipped a map of the Forgotten Realms’ Dalelands, stuck some different labels on it and named it the Dyrwood. One record-smashing Kickstarter later, he and his team had revived the spirit of the Baldur’s Gate games, with the wilderness exploration and spacebar-thwacking tactical combat intact.
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Fresh from another isometric RPG, Obsidian now intend to fold some of Tyranny’s reactivity and unfamiliarity into Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - a sequel as ambitious as Baldur’s Gate II was.
When is the Pillars of Eternity 2 release date?
That's the multi-million crowdfunded dollar question.
“Most of the people who worked on [Pillars expansion] The White March have rolled over,” says Sawyer of the Pillars 2 dev team.
The White March Part II shipped in March 2016 - from which we can extrapolate that the sequel team have been at full strength a little under a year.
Obsidian's Deadfire Fig campaign estimates they'll be done by Q1 2018.
What’s the story in Pillars of Eternity 2?
We’re going god-hunting. Eothas, the Eoran deity of light and rebirth, has inhabited the stone titan buried beneath the player stronghold Caed Nua for millennia. But now he’s awoken, tearing up through the earth, destroying the keep and half-killing you in the process.
The story of Deadfire, then, is a personal quest: to chase down Eothas, save your soul and find answers - answers which could “throw mortals and the gods themselves into chaos,” according to Obsidian.
Where is Pillars of Eternity 2's setting?
“If you’ve gotten tired of seeing temperate forests and meadows for 80 hours,” Josh Sawyer tells PCGamesN, “Let’s take a look at something else.”
Pillars 2 takes place in the Deadfire Archipelago - a smattering of small volcanic islands far to the south of the Dyrwood. Where Pillars 1 had a Middle Ages European vibe, the Deadfire more closely resembles the southern Pacific island chains of Asia.
“It has more of a Polynesian flavour, overall,” confirms Sawyer. “The climate is much different, the foliage you see is much different.”
The archipelago is in the process of being colonised, however - it’s the only known location of luminous adra, which holds much larger amounts of soul energy than the Dyrwood variety. So you will see familiar faces and races - the humans and dwarves of Vailia, plus the Aumaua of Rauatai.
Here be monsters, too: deadly beetles, grubs, imps, dragons and snakelike naga - while out on the ocean to the east, terrible sea creatures cut short any explorative excursions. Not that players are likely to want for space to wander.
“It's a big archipelago,” notes Sawyer. “It’s full of sea monsters, pirates and volcanoes, all sorts of crazy, crazy stuff.”
What factions are in Pillars of Eternity 2?
The oldest humanoid culture on the islands are the Huana, a semi-nomadic set of aumaua tribes spread thinly throughout Deadfire. The tribes have shared traditions, and a caste system that forefronts warriors and priests.
But the Huana have few permanent settlements. Naasitaq, made up mostly of Boreal Dwarves and Aumaua, is the largest and most stable nation in the Deadfire islands. And a number of empires are at loggerheads over the archipelago, presenting Obsidian with plenty of opportunities to ask the player to take sides.
The pirates are a faction too, of course. A centuries-old dwarven lighthouse fortress that the locals call Balefire Beacon is now the keep of Captain Furrante - the spot from which he schemes and leads his crew in the Príncipi sen Patrena.
As for what form faction decisions will take, the dev team are looking toward the example set by last year’s Tyranny.
“In Pillars 1, we dropped the factions at the end of Act 2, and so [players] didn't really feel like their choices were super significant,” admits Sawyer. “Something that I think Tyranny did much better, and something that we want to do for Pillars 2, is really establish the factions much more clearly - give the player clearer choices, and let them know when they’re approaching consequences for the choices they made.”
Who are the Pillars of Eternity 2 companions?
There will be companions, that much we know. So far Obsidian have confirmed Edér, Aloth and Pallegina to return, and three newcomers - a harvest-wielding priestess of Gaun named Xoti, a bird-taming aumaua ranger called Maia, and an orlan pirate by the name of Serafen.
“A lot of people have speculated that if Edér came back, how would he fit into the story? It works very well. The story makes sense for him to be there,” says Sawyer.
It’s very possible he’s not going to be there in your playthrough, however. Should you import a save in which Edér was killed, that consequence will remain in Pillars 2. By the same token, all returning companions will have different starting states depending on how you treated them in the original game.
As Sawyer puts it: “If you made certain choices with them that took them in a bad direction, when they come back, they’re kind of screwed up.”
This time around, Obsidian are cognisant of the need to allow companions time to develop - giving them a longer stretch of the game to mature in their characters and relationships. At the beginning of production, Sawyer came up with a system to tag certain types of behaviour and attitudes in conversation - so that companions can react to them in the moment and over lengthier periods.
It’s that system we’ll be interacting with throughout Pillars 2, watching the evolution (or devolution) of companions’ relationships with the player and each other on the reputation screen. Some will build to break points, and those confrontations can be both good and bad for the party. You can read more about all of that in our Pillars of Eternity 2 companion guide.
Of course, players still have the ability to forego scripted chums and build out their own party from scratch, should they fancy some peace and quiet.
On the combat front, Pillars 2 won’t make use of the party combos that featured so heavily in Tyranny combat. There’s a reason for that: while Tyranny introduced a small number of companions who interlocked in very specific ways, Pillars will instead encourage players to experiment with its 11-class spread of abilities.
Pillars of Eternity 2 gameplay
Remember the promises of Oblivion’s Radiant AI? We’re getting flashbacks. Obsidian say the people of Deadfire will have their own lives to live, jobs to carry out and appointments to keep - whether you’re there to precipitate events or not. Most intriguingly, they suggest that some quests will play out differently, depending on when and where their principal characters are approached.
Combat-wise, Pillars II is set to offer a little more tactical challenge than its predecessor - which was, frankly, more than tough enough for anyone without a solid grounding in the Infinity Engine games of old. Newcomers need not fear, though, since Obsidian plan to do a better job of communicating and tutorialising combat mechanics.
“With tabletop-style rule systems like this, there are so many layers of mechanics going on that are not visible by looking at the screen,” Sawyer explains. “It can be very hard for players to understand what is going on.
“We're trying to make it easier to understand: clearer, better language. We're just focusing on making sure that if you're not familiar with this type of game, we'll introduce concepts that are easy to absorb.”
In fact, those who really can’t stomach the battles can always retreat to the gentler Story Time mode, which makes a return for the sequel. That said, the team have no intention of reducing the statistical complexity that experienced Icewind Dale tacticians so love to sink their teeth into.
One shift that will be immediately noticeable to everyone is the pace of combat. Pillars 1 included an option to slow down time to fight through some of the more intricate scenarios - and Obsidian have now made that the default speed, deeming it “more natural”. Players will, however, be able to toggle faster speeds for any battles they deem to be foregone conclusions.
Pillars of Eternity 2 classes
Pillars of Eternity embraced a maximalist vision of role-playing, stuffing 11 classes into its combat system. That system is set to be complicated further by the delicious possibilities of subclassing and multiclassing.
If you’ve played any Baldur’s Gate 2, you’ll be familiar with how subclasses work - you can pick just one, optionally, and it makes you even further specialised. In each case, there’s a benefit and a trade-off.
The Ghost Heart Lodge ranger, for instance, has a deceased animal companion who shows up as a spirit during combat. The furry spook is immune to druid spells, but susceptible to banishment by paladins. Monks of the Nalpazca, meanwhile, are drug-addled philosophers who benefit more from the effects of stimulants, but suffer increased wound thresholds while high.
Multiclassing also functions in a manner not too far removed from Baldur’s Gate-era D&D - allowing you to select an additional class from second level onwards, gaining a new title in the process. A fighter who takes a couple of levels in wizardry, for example, becomes a battlemage. From there you can alternate between classes whenever you level.
“We want to keep the relative power of the multiclass character at about 75%-85% what a single class character would have at any given level,” says Sawyer. “In our experience, that’s the sweet spot where multiclass characters feel powerful and effective, but don't clearly outshine the single class characters.”
Finally, it’s worth noting that every companion can now be one of two base classes.
“That way you don’t have redundancies where you want to play a fighter, and right away you get a fighter [companion],” furthers Sawyer. “You can say, ‘No, I want you to be a rogue. Complement me, don’t replicate me.’”
Pillars of Eternity 2 stronghold
A stretch goal for the Project Eternity Kickstarter promised a stronghold that players could take control of as a part-time baron. And while that did appear in Pillars, the team felt frustrated they didn’t have more resources to dedicate to that corner of the game.
Obsidian have chosen to blow up that stronghold in the prelude to Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, and come up with a mysterious new equivalent instead.
“We do have something to replace the Stronghold that I think people are going to enjoy,” says Sawyer. “It has a lot more customisation and it’s very fitting for the setting of the game. It’s going to be really nice.”
Although the details remain secret, the studio say we’ll travel around the islands “by land and sea”. Could we be getting our very own pirate ship?
Pillars of Eternity graphics
Pillars of Eternity found the Black Isle veterans at Obsidian relearning the art of 2D backgrounds - much like Disney, digging out the mothballed tools of traditional animation for The Princess and the Frog. Now, though, they’ve hit their stride.
“There’s so much stuff we're pushing in terms of new 3D stuff within that 2D space,” Sawyer expands. “It’s crazy sometimes now to go back and look at the stuff in Pillars 1, which I still think looks nice, but looking at Pillars II and the technological jumps that we’ve done is pretty incredible. We’re just doing stuff that no one else is doing.”
Obsidian artists have put together a new dynamic weather system, parallax backgrounds, antialiasing and “various fancy shaders” - meaning better-looking water, ice, and crystalline adra. Character lighting and reflection is far more advanced, too, which will pay off in those dense jungles.
It’s all folded into the game in sensible and subtle fashion.
“VFX in PoE1 often dominated the screen and made it difficult to assess the battlefield,” admits lead artist Kaz Aruga. “For Deadfire we are being mindful of this fact and developing our spell effects in a way that minimizes this issue.”
Pillars of Eternity 2 level cap
Pillars of Eternity 1, with its White March expansions, topped off at level 16. Deadfire will raise that to 20, which is high enough to grant extra levels of abilities for all classes.
Although it’s worth importing your saves to see the knock-on effects of the choices you made in the Dyrwood, none of your levelling will come with you. In Deadfire, the player character begins again at level 1.
“Eothas is very hungry and your soul is delicious,” explains Sawyer.
No grumbling, now - it means you get to experiment from scratch with the subclass and multiclass systems new to the sequel.
Intriguingly, Obsidian are implementing a New Game+ feature called ‘Berath's Blessings’, which gives players bonuses when they start a new playthrough, based on achievements in previous saves.
The Blessings take the form of points which can be spent on a variety of unlocks - better starting gear, higher attributes, more cash, that sort of thing. The unlocks also cover more specific options like beginning with a favourite companion, or bonus faction reputation - letting veterans skip past parts of the game they can’t be bothered with a second time.