When I got my first computer back in 1998 and decided to jump into the realm of PC gaming, one of THE games to have was Baldur’s Gate. It was the first in a series of games released by Black Isle based on the Dungeons and Dragons license. Baldur’s Gate continues to be one of my favourite CRPGs of all time. Needless to say I was excited when I learned of a crowd funding campaign to finance a “spiritual successor” to this to be based on an original role playing system. Does it live up to the legacy of the its spiritual predecessor? Due to a combination of college-related thing and a desire to get this review out before the game’s release was too far behind, I didn’t get the opportunity to spend as much time with it as I would like. However, I’ve gotten enough of a feel for the combat system and character development to offer a bit of an opinion of it.
Let’s start with the aesthetics. The original Baldur’s Gate was praised for its 2.5D isometric visuals that brought stunning detail to the Sword Coast region of Faerun. Pillars of eternity definitely lives up to this. While the 2D pre-rendered backgrounds are not as impressive in this day of fully rendered 3D roleplaying games, they still look good, and offer enough detail for you not to miss the lack of 3D rendering. Unlike Baldur’s Gate, character models are rendered in 3D. This affords more options when it comes to customizing your character cosmetically. Spell effects look great, as does the grisly cloud of blood and body parts that accompanies a critical kill. Aesthetics alone, however, do not define a game, so let’s move on.
The roleplaying system, while not bearing the D&D license, is not all that dissimilar from Baldur’s Gate. Of course, what can one really do in terms of a roleplaying system that isn’t just a slight refinement on what has come before? Combat is tactical and party based. It plays out using a pause and play mechanic that feels nearly identical to the old Infinity Engine games. This means that each enemy can be targeted separately by a different party member, allowing the player to keep enemies from ganging up and systematically overpowering each party member. For veterans of the the genre, it is a welcome change from the manner of senseless hack and slash button mashing that has come to dominate even party based roleplaying titles over the years. Are you watching, BioWare? As I previously mentioned in my review of Dragon Age: Inquisition, I generally prefer to play an elven rogue. Given this, another refinement I noticed was in the stealth mechanic. Upon entering what is referred to as “scouting mode,” the character crouches and becomes semi transparent. When in danger of being spotted an circle with an eye in the center of it appears beneath the character’s feet and begins to fill in yellow, indicating suspicion. After becoming yellow, the circle begins to turn red, indicating detection. This makes navigating corridors without being seen much easier than it was in Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, etc. The difficulty was also a welcome factor. Many game developers these days have seemingly dumbed down the difficulty of their games in an effort to ensnare casual gamers. This is not the case with Pillars of Eternity, which proved to present a challenge even on the easiest difficulty settings.
Pillars of Eternity does not really break any new ground in its presentation or approach. Hell, you could easily dismiss it as a nostalgia trip, but it’s a nostalgia trip that is more than worth going on. In fact, once I can find the time, I’ll be diving back in.