Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release: May 8, 2018
Three years ago I reviewed the first Pillars of Eternity, a fun isometric RPG in the style of Baldur’s Gate that I was never able to complete because the computer I was playing it on melted (don’t game on a laptop, boys and girls). Given the success that Obsidian enjoyed with the game, and the continued success of these crowdfunded isometric roleplaying games more generally, it was only inevitable that the game would get a sequel.
Being a direct sequel to the first game, Deadfire allows for the continuation of your character from the first game. If you start from scratch, however, you go through a short prologue sequence where you get to choose various dialogue options outlining how you completed the first game. It’s sort of analogous to the intro of the second Mass Effect. Character generation plays out much the same as the first game, with the player being given a choice between six different races, and each one having two or more subraces. The eleven classes from the previous game return, but Deadfire sees the introduction of various subclasses as well as the ability to multiclass. It takes the first game’s “I can’t believe it’s not AD&D” tendencies even further in that direction. Unlike it’s obvious tabletop forebear, however, Deadfire does not use a per rest system with regard to special abilities and spells, rather it uses a per encounter system. It’s a bit more challenging than the standard cooldown time mechanic in many modern roleplaying games, as it prevents spamming one or two things over and over again. Combat in Deadfire utilizes the same tried and true pause and play real time system as its immediate predecessor, so combat should be eminently familiar to anyone who played the first game, Baldur’s Gate, or Dragon Age: Origins.
For my fellow thieves, assassins, and rangers, the stealth system sees a bit of a revamp. This time, going into a crouching position brings up a circle around nearby NPCs indicating the extent of their audible range, and a red triangle indicating their field of vision. It makes thieving and killing from the shadows much more point and click friendly than it usually is in games of this nature. I find lock picking to be a touch stupid, however. Picking a lock requires two things: a level in the mechanics skill that corresponds to or exceeds the level of the lock you are trying to pick and a certain number of lock picks. Inventory management dispenses with encumbrance in favor of giving each character a small personal inventory and access to a, as far as I can tell at this point, bottomless “party storage” chest. It does strike me as slightly stupid and “casualized,” but since you have a ship this time around, it does help from the angle of upgrading and resupplying the ship. Carrying around new canons, sails, hull upgrades, as well as crew supplies until you return to your trusty vessel.
The ship itself is a fun new mechanic. In addition to serving as a transport between the various islands that make up Deadfire’s setting, you also have the ability to hunt down pirates or attack merchant vessels at sea. This is done through a text based, turn taking battle system. It’s not particularly complex or aesthetically impressive, but it does serve as an amusing little diversion. You can also board enemy ships, which plays out in the same isometric, 2.5D manner as the rest of the game’s battles.
Aesthetically, Deadfire moves away from the typical high middle ages sort of setting and toward sort of a combination of a Caribbean renaissance look. Puffy sleeves, bright colours, pseudo Spanish colonial architecture, and lots of pirates and black powder firearms. The graphics are a bit crisper this time out, but the system requirements are still light enough that the game could potentially be run on a potato.
Now for the problems. Deadfire hiccups quite a bit, by which I mean at random points the game will stop moving for several seconds and then lurch forward. It’s little more than an annoyance when you’re just walking around exploring, but in battle it can quickly spell death. I have also run into a persistent repeatable crash point in an encounter zone near one of the games cities which has rendered any further progress impossible. It’s quite possibly the most annoying glitch I’ve encountered in an Obsidian game since the inevitable save game corruption in the unpatched version of Fallout: New Vegas. I both of these issues get fixed with a patch in the near future, but until they are fixed, I’m afraid the latter issue is going to cause me to have to deduct several points off of the score of this otherwise quite enjoyable game.