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Pillars of Eternity: A Review

February 23, 2016

Dear Reader,

As usual, my review of Pillars of Eternity appears in an untimely fashion, partially due to my cheapness and waiting for a sale and partially due to the long backlog of games that I work through to get to particular games to play.  That said, I was very excited to get to Pillars of Eternity as I’d heard good things about its difficulty and its depth.

I played on the hardest difficulty with a ranged rogue main character, since I do like to stealth.  I noticed there was an achievement for finishing the game while killing less than a certain number of monsters, which was initially very appealing to me, but that idea quickly vanished into gore-dripped piles of viscera.

I enjoyed the game quite a lot, but like Fallout 4, I was quite ready for it to be over when I finally finished.  I did, I believe, every quest with few exceptions – for one, even though I kept the priest with me the entire game, I never finished his character quest.  I’m not sure if there was a trigger I missed or if I chose a wrong conversation option, but he never finally got ready to open up to me – or whatever happens.

I also didn’t finish Od Nua.  I got to floor 13 and, frankly, just got tired of grinding through it.  I had a realization a few levels before that shook me to my foundation – a fact about the game that I consider to be one of its biggest shortcomings: a very low level cap.

The game operates in an RPG system with which I’m totally unfamiliar.  The system has an oddity I don’t like: your initial stats can never be improved except by items.  No amount of leveling can increase your starting strength, for example.  This is the first time I’ve come across that in a system; in D&D, for instance, depending on the edition, you gain a stat point every 4 or so levels.  In Fallout, there were perks you could take to increase your SPECIAL stats.

But in Pillars of Eternity, if you made yourself somewhat specialized but not a one-trick-pony, there was no way to improve.  Some of the checks, too, were quite high – a 19 perception, for instance (10 being “average”), perception being an okay stat but certainly not a core one.

But that’s just a design decision that the RPG makers chose to limit character power.  Fine.  It’s just a feature of the system, and while I may not like it, I don’t disagree with its existence.  However, the actual video game makers added a level cap to the game, a level cap not mentioned anywhere within the game and, in fact, somewhat hidden behind a misleading menu in the game: the spell book.

When you open your spell book, you can see that the highest level spells are darkened out, indicating that you will not achieve that level.  But the next levels down are not darkened out, and in fact have little circles in which to assign spells later in the game.  But those levels are never achieved, because the level cap cuts in much earlier.

Yes, I know the level cap was increased in the expansion pack.  I somewhat assume that the spell book in the core game was expanded for that very reason, like a pre-expansion patch in WoW that changes all the mechanics into their new post-expansion systems.  Nonetheless, I assumed I would be getting a lot more levels than I did, and when leveling started to really “slow down” at level 12 – the cap – I didn’t realize for several hours of game play what had happened.  I had level capped myself about 75% of the way through the game.

Overall, that’s a rather minor complaint embedded within an otherwise interesting game. I enjoyed the stories, the characters, their development, and the combat for the majority of the experience, though as I said before I started to get a bit tired of it towards the end.  There was just so much repetitive trash and so few unique fights.  But those unique fights – wow.  Early and mid-way through the game, those unique fights took a lot of consideration and reloading, a bit of luck and a lot of strategy.  There were a few I had to stop playing and walk away from for a few days while I played something else and the combat strategies simmered.  I was eventually able to overcome them all through thinking and practice, but some of them had to go on the backburner for a few levels.

So overall it was an enjoyable experience and definitely worth a sale purchase.  I’d recommend playing the rogue, too, as it was a class I didn’t find an NPC of throughout.  If not a rogue, play a tank of some sort, as those are in somewhat shortish supply and make playing the game so much easier.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and Shakespearean, at the moment)

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