Video games and tabletop games are two sides of the same doubloon, sharing the common ground of creating something around base mechanics to present a story, idea or even thesis. As video games came up through the years, they borrowed appropriately from their tabletop counterparts, while adding their own unique flavor. With the ability to digitally render any world imaginable only getting exponentially better over time (besides just visually), the obvious marriage of both tabletop and video games came to fruition, and isometric dungeon crawlers like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate were born. What looked to be a dying breed of game for the industry in the early aughts quickly turned around to show it wasn’t done yet.
Pillars of Eternity was released in 2015 by developer Obsidian Entertainment through Kickstarter funding, far exceeding its initial development goal. Not only was Pillars of Eternity a success in shining a spotlight in the direction of isometric dungeon crawlers, but also wildly successful as a brand-new IP. Obsidian had delivered. Now, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is set to sail April 3, once more bringing a quality dungeon-crawling RPG to both PC and consoles.
One of Obsidian’s key visions in creating Pillars of Eternity was to present a unique memorable fantasy world that players couldn’t help but fall in love with. A world that would make players feel like they were right there at the table playing Dungeons & Dragons. With Deadfire that ambition is not only more focused, but plays into that feeling of being at the table. Deadfire isn’t just an isometric title trying to mimic tabletop games, it wants to be the tabletop game.
The short preview build of the game sees our adventure through what could be a session of D&D, as Deadfire is just that good at pacing. Deadfire is focused around a rogue god who is causing all sorts of problems for the world, in which players will chase them across land and sea trying to put a stop to malevolent magic, power hungry cults and other such baddies.
Deadfire takes the rich lore of the first Pillars of Eternity, expounding upon it in the best of ways. Ask any dungeon master or game master and they will say that creating a unique memorable world can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences for a game. Obsidian Entertainment are masters of their craft for creating not only a fantastical world, but one that makes sense. Obviously, most dungeon masters won’t have a team of developers behind them, but even still Obsidian shows that the people working on Deadfire know what makes a campaign come to life, not falling flat with convoluted narrative or blown-out characters.
Besides the base game of isometric dungeon crawling, Deadfire is wrapped in cushy D&D references that will make any table top fan feel right at home. The first step in starting any new table top campaign is character creation, and while character creators have come a long way, they’re nothing like Deadfire. It’s trying to be the tabletop game, which means character creation doesn’t just present a physical representation, but also a massive amount of lore and backstory set out for the hero. It’s the first step in taking an excellent system from the first Pillars of Eternity and adding the perfect amount of polish. Even better, this theme of filling out the world as much as possible is everywhere, being a must read, because why bother creating a unique world if it’s just going to be a copy of something with a different name on it? This is not Pillars of Eternity.
After a full 24 hours of character creation, the preview sees our adventure and accompanying mercenary hires in the village of Tikawara, one of the many settlements in the mysterious archipelago of Deadfire. The preview is around the mid-point in the campaign, giving a perfect view into the many intricacy’s in place. It will be noticeable to those who have played the first game that many of the systems have been overhauled giving way to more freedom of control for anyone’s play style. Maybe you like to have a party with full autonomy — fantastic, Deadfire can do it. Maybe you like to pre-program exactly what each member of the party will be doing for every encounter — perfect, Deadfire has it covered. The takeaway is, Obsidian looked at the systems in place, listened intently to fan feedback and created an overhauled system that is even more player friendly while maintaining its core mechanics.
After talking with the leader of Tikawara, the player will set sail on the high-seas, to investigate the dungeon of Poko Kohara. This is where the preview introduces something entirely new to Pillars of Eternity: ships! In Deadfire players will have full access to their own sea-fairing vessels that can be fully upgraded and filled with a crew of rascally scoundrels as they loot and battle in the high-seas of fantasy.
Anyone who likes a good management sim will find the ship management of Deadfire particularly attractive. It will be up to the player to make sure they hire the best crew for sailing putting them in the proper areas on the ship in their field of expertise. It will also be important watching ship resources; the crew needs things such as food and payment. Of course, it isn’t all smooth sailing. Encountering enemy vessels can go one of two ways; either engagement in ship-to-ship combat or if feeling a more personal touch, boarding the enemy ship to use steel and magic. Ship combat is turn based with a building of actions to outgun and maneuver the enemy vessel. Beware more experienced captains, though, with more experienced gained comes more actions in combat. If boarding the enemy ship, Deadfire will switch to the games baked in RTwP system with the bonus of fighting on the deck of a ship to live out ones’ wildest fantasy pirate dreams.
The dungeon of Poko Kohara is located on small desert island. When the player with party arrives, after investigating the initial area gaining insight through the examining of clues, Poko Kohara awaits. While Poko Kohara is a standard dungeon for a game, it’s the world of Deadfire that brings it to life. The quest proves to have an interesting conclusion, but it’s the journey through that shows of Deadfire’s exploration and combat systems. Deadfire emulates the best of tabletop games through freedom of play. A standard room in a dungeon might have more than a few secrets. It becomes about utilizing party members to the best of their abilities. Having such freedom of systems for exploration and combat means getting the most bang for your buck. It means either having a casual adventure where the story can be enjoyed or micro-managing every little detail of play.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is meeting all expectations set by itself and its dedicated fans. For newcomers to the game it will be a fine introduction to a fantasy world that seems to be just getting started. Ship management and combat is an excellent addition to the Pillars of Eternity, even if it can be little janky for the moment, but that’s what betas are for. As for every system that has been overhauled and added, Deadfire streamlines them while adding depth. Everything about Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is looking to be in shipshape. If looking for a complex fantasy with a world of its own, look no further than Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire will release April 3 on PC and will come to PS4, Xbox One and Switch later this year.