Pillars of Eternity II Review: A Swashbuckling Good Time

Deck to Deck Combat

Pillars of Eternity II represents Obsidian Entertainment’s follow-up to its successful 2015 role-playing game, Pillars of Eternity. While its story is a continuation of sorts from where the original left off, it is by no means a necessity to be familiar with past events. In fact, I never personally played the first game, so I went into this experience blind. I’m happy to report that I’m no worse for wear, though I did spend significant hours immersed in the world of the Deadfire Archipelago, something I really can’t complain about.

I’m the Captain now!

While Pillars of Eternity took place in Dyrwood, the sequel takes place in the Deadfire Archipelago, a large sea-bound region filled with plenty of islands. Of course, that means that ships and sailing play a key role and, in fact, you practically begin the game in the water. That’s not entirely true, as the first thing you’re presented with after creating your character is a realm somewhere between reality and the beyond where you learn of what’s happened and what you’re about to be asked to do. You reprise your role as the Watcher, a character with special talents and skills that extend into the paranormal. You know, you see ghosts and souls and that kind of thing. But don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal and you’ll get used to it.

Should you have played the previous iteration, you’ll be given the opportunity to import your saved game, which will then integrate key decisions you’ve made in the past into Pillars of Eternity II. If this is your first foray into this series, you’ll be asked a few questions about how you would have reacted during those events. This helps establish your character, and it’s not just for show. The world around you and its inhabitants will react to you based on your reputation. Part of that is gathered from decisions you’ve made in the past, and even more is based on how you treat others this time around. Many games boast decision making, but in Pillars of Eternity II, your choices really do matter. You may experience a vastly different narrative depending on your play style. This obviously leads to a lot of variety between each run and offers opportunities to replay for a new experience.

But back to the ship. Not only are you in charge of your group of characters, which you add to throughout the story, but you’re also in charge of your ship. In fact, most of your time between visiting islands in order to solve quests or pursues foes is spent on the water. This means you have to manage your crew, provide rations and drink, and generally keep everyone happy. If you stock fancy meats and alcohol, your crew’s morale is likely to go up. Run out of the essentials or get beat up by pirates too much and your crew will naturally grow weary and grumpy. An unhappy crew doesn’t lend itself well to success in your pursuit to save the world.

Chase the Big Bad

Speaking of saving the world… it turns out that your special skills are needed to reign in a colossus of sorts that has risen up and appears to be on a mysterious mission. Like most evil colossi might do, it’s leaving a trail of destruction along the way and it’s up to you to stop him. It’s not entirely your choice, and you didn’t ask for this responsibility, but it’s yours nonetheless. While the core story is compelling enough on its own, you’ll quickly learn not to avoid the myriad of side quests that are offered to you. Merely striking out and trying to finish the core campaign missions will promptly land you in trouble as you’ll find the challenge to be too steep. Fortunately, the side quests in Pillars of Eternity II are some of the best I’ve encountered.

Side missions are not merely fetch missions, but rather help to build the immersive world that Obsidian has created. There’s a lot going on here, with everything from rival pirate factions to general human suffering and class warfare between other races. Since you’re the hero in this story, it falls upon you to solve many of the world’s inhabitants’ problems. Doing so will not only reward you handsomely with loot and valuable experience, it will also help you become one with the world. You’ll learn to understand the complex political relationships, and you’ll have to choose sides on more than one occasion. As I stated earlier, your decisions matter, whether your choice is as small as pleasing one member of your group while annoying another, or flat out ignoring grave injustices in favor of riches.

Many of the characters you encounter on your journey have fully fleshed out backstories. The members you recruit into your band of heroes all have personal ambitions, desires, secrets, and favors to ask of you. Pillars of Eternity II lets you dive deep into your relationships between your companions, the factions of the world, and even your general reputation. There’s no shortage of information for you to consume. Everything from lore books to historical references that relate back to Obsidian’s first title is on display here. Don’t be surprised if you get so stuck in this game that you’ll lose track of time. Frankly, some of the interplay between the characters on your team are the most entertaining. Any time one of your companions wants to talk to you, you can choose to be flirtatious, gruff, patronizing, or dismissive, among many other options. Seeing other teammates react to your failed attempts at flirting with a ranger is both humbling and hilarious.

Hold My Beer

I’m admittedly not a connoisseur of in-depth strategy and tactical gameplay in titles such as Pillars of Eternity II. I play these type of games for the atmosphere they create and the stories of its heroes and universes. So if you’re looking for my advice on the best build for your Ranger-Paladin build, I’ll likely just give you a blank stare. Fortunately, Obsidian not only provides a variety of difficulty settings so you can cater combat to your liking, but you can also choose exactly how much control you want over combat.

Of course, the main principle in this type of game still holds true: encounter enemy, pause game, queue up attacks, spells, boons, and hope for the best. Well, ideally you’ll readjust as the fight goes on, of course. Some people will enjoy micro-managing their way through each battle, and Pillars of Eternity II certainly accommodates that. For those looking for a less intense experience, there are many smart tasks that are pre-defined and can be customized in great detail. Want your priest to ensure everyone stays alive during the fight? Chances are he or she is already programmed to do so, but if you want to fine-tune exactly what spells to cast in what type of situation, you can do that. For me, I enjoyed watching my team wreck enemies like nobody’s business. I am leading a band of heroes that are going to save the world, after all.