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  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Eothas. Did he really set out to become a conqueror? Or was his invasion of the Dyrwood a desperate gambit on his part to end the plan of Woedica? (The answer is revealed in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire.)
  • Base-Breaking Character: Durance. Some players find him to be an interesting and morally-complicated individual with a very sordid past that ties in well with the main plot of the game. Others see him as a thoroughly unpleasant and downright repulsive human being who's leaped well past the Moral Event Horizon. The fact that his personal quest is structured differently than everyone else's (requiring you to either put him in your party and talk to him over the course of the game or else just sit in your castle and sleep whenever he tells you he's done talking if you don't want to use him) doesn't help.
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  • Broken Base: A backer-submitted poem about a man who was Driven to Suicide after discovering that the woman he slept with was actually a man due to getting pissed drunk the night before was changed after getting the backer's approval and edit. Some applaud the developers for being sensitive towards transgender fans and removing a poem based in a stereotype often used to attack trans people, while others see this as an example of Political Correctness Gone Mad, with some people pointing out that this is a Crapsack World where such a thing is common anyway. This was further complicated with the revised poem being a Take That! from the user to the people who complained, which only led to more arguments in the fanbase.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Your dealings with Gordy, the boy in Defiance Bay that wants the dagger, can be this. If you've already found the secret he tells you about, he offers another one - namely that his dad often visits the Salty Mast. A possible response is to tell him that his father doesn't love him or his mom, resulting in the kid breaking down into tears. Then, spotting him later shows that his dad is confronting him about the dagger, thinking he'd stolen it - the player can cheerfully deny having purchased the dagger for him, resulting in Gordy getting punished.
  • Demonic Spiders:
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    • Shadows, made worst by the fact that they show up early in the game. They deal a surprising amount of endurance damage, have a chance to stun on hit, and, perhaps most annoyingly, love to ignore your frontline fighters in favor of teleporting right to your squishier long range characters. And then there's Shades, which spawn Shadows. Fortunately, once the summoning Shade is gone, summoned Shadows dissipate as well.
    • Fampyrs, who spam Charm willy-nilly as soon as combat begins. Any fight involving them (especially if there's more than one) devolves into a chaotic mess, as half your carefully selected and placed group begins attacking the other half.
    • Perhaps surprisingly, the Mercenary Brawlers and Drunken Orlans in the Cragholdt Bluffs can be some of the toughest enemies in the game, thanks to a combination of their ability to duplicate themselves, other mobs in the area supporting them (such as mercs with ranged weapon stun abilities), and having the ability to teleport, which they use to attack your squishiest party members.
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    • Cean Gwla are also an example of this: they have a spell which paralyzes anything in the near vicinity, and they have a tendency to use it repeatedly during the course of a fight.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Adaryc Cendamyr from The White March — Part II expansion has proven to be a quite popular character. That he is literally a kindred spirit of the Watcher — that is, being a Watcher himself — along with the fact that he can potentially become one of the Watcher's most friendly inclined allies outside of the companions, has endeared him to many a player.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Waidwen's Legacy has been going on for fifteen years at the game's start. Backing the goddess Hylea returns the missing souls to these children, and the game treats this as a problem only for those who thought killing the soulless children was a mercy. This ignores teenagers with the minds of infants. Also, the thousands of wichts (children with the souls of ravenous animals grafted into their bodies) roaming the countryside.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple: Eder is easily the most popular companion of the series, winning every Obsidian companion poll by a wide margin. When Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire added romances, naturally most fans wanted to romance him, only to be crushed when he wasn't available. Cue Eder romance mods within weeks of the game's release.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: In Aloth's personal quest, a sanitarium consultant cheerfully asks Aloth to slip into a soul-measuring machine that looks like a rusty medieval torture device. Naturally, Aloth declines. This is hilarious until one reads Aloth's short story, which reveals that while at the academy some classmates illegally acquired one and tried to test it on him. He narrowly avoided being the test subject, while the one who did became a drooling vegetable. No wonder he doesn't want to get anywhere near that thing.
  • Game-Breaker:
    • The Cipher's Mental Binding spell. It's a paralysis spell that's fast, fairly cheap for a Cipher spell, and most importantly, available by third level. This is the absolutely earliest one can inflict paralysis, allowing Ciphers to shut down plenty of enemies right from the start. Considering one can be only a few hundred experience short of level three before they even reach Gilded Vale...
    • Some combinations of spells can quickly lead to the demise of your enemies. The Wizard in particular has Chill Fog which deals Freeze damage but, more importantly, blind your targets (which reduce their Accurancy and Deflection by a whooping 25 and 20 respectively!), Expose Vulnerabilities, which lower damage reduction, deflection and concentration of your foes (and there is no risk of friendly fire while using it) and Call to Slumber, which make characters prone, preventing them from taking any actions and reducing once again their deflection.
    • The almighty Devotions of the Faithful priest spell, which not only dramatically increase your character's accuracy (+20 for both melee and ranged), but also decreases your enemy's accuracy by the same amount, while improving your Might by 4 and decreasing your enemy's Might by 10. This one spell can absolutely cripple your opponent while buffing significantly your allies.
    • Gaze of Adragan, a 6th level wizard spell, can petrify multiples foes. It comes pretty late, but once you can cast it, every single encounter of the game becomes a joke if your targets are petrified, since not only are they stunned, but they also completly lose their damage reduction, and the effect lasts for 20 very long seconds (and since Wizards usually have high Intelligence - which prolongs the duration of any status effects -, your foes can be petrified for over 30 seconds quite easily, leaving you ample time to kill them). Scrolls of Petrification have a similar effect and can be crafted from relatively common ingredients.
      • Really, anything that petrifies the enemy counts, since petrification doubles any and all damage they receive. And that is after it was heavily nerfed: it used to quadruplicate the damage received by the petrified target. Even after the nerf, it is enough to trivialize any and all fights, up to and including the Adra Dragon, Thaos and the Sky Dragon.
    • Also the Cipher spell Amplified Wave. It's a level 6 spell, so you'll get it only very late but boy is it ever powerful. It's targetted on a friendly and inflicts an enormous foe-only AoE, dealing a substantial amount of crush damage and knocking prone. Encounters that would have been challenging like Banshees and Shades become an absolute joke as they'll be knocked down for basically the whole time. And this being a Cipher spell you can cast it every encounter multiple times if you wish, there's no limit on daily usage.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • This game is basically Also sprach Zarathustra: The Game. The overarching plot is that the ancient Engwithans used animancy to create the "gods" so that folk would have something to believe in that would give their lives order and meaning. They also used animancy to grant a form of immortality to Thaos so that he could make sure that the lie would never be uncovered. Iovara, however, discovered the secret and tried to reveal it to the world, believing that people would still be good, and that life would still have meaning, even if the truth were exposed. This was, in essence, Nietzsche's view of religion: a handful of ancient visionary heroes had created religion to give humanity something to believe in that would give our lives order and meaning. Without that, humanity would slowly go extinct unless a new visionary hero could somehow create values that people would live and die for without any belief in a higher power.
    • The Orlans are like a sort of hybrid between hobbits and cat people, and have been constantly enslaved and victimized by all the larger kith races, to the point that they've been driven further into the wild or resorted to guerrilla warfare. This is as likely as not inspired by an interview by Tolkien, where he denied The Lord of the Rings being a direct allegory to WWII because, among other reasons, both the humans on Aragorn's side and Sauron's side would have enslaved the hobbits since they were so small and easily dominated.
    • The Chanter class is basically The Bard, but powered by necromancy; chanting stirs whatever ghosts are nearby to aid the Chanter's allies and hinder their enemies. While they still have the popular Summon Magic trope, as a whole the class is much closer to mythological necromancers than the classic goth-flavored Mook Maker. Bonus points if you make your Watcher a Chanter, for the full suite of white and black necromancy.
  • He's Just Hiding!: The game makes it clear that Eothas was nuked and destroyed. Indeed, he is the only god you can't speak with during act 3 and 4; even the ones who refuse you at Teir Evron, Wael and Woedica, prove themselves quite alive at other times. Many believe that he somehow survived, that he is bidding his time, or that his resurrection just takes a while. Some little details also reinforce the possibility that he is not quite dead, since the candles in his temple never stopped burning and he is actually the second god to be killed while in Eora, and Abydon did come back eventually (if somewhat diminished). Also, the Watcher can be a priest of Eothas, and still cast spells; while spells are explicitly cast from intense belief in a god's philosophies rather than directly derived from gods, it's ambiguous whether or not it's possible to be a priest without any god to at least provide the "spark". Eventually, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire confirms that Eothas is indeed still very alive.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Thaos Ix Arkannon, the immortal grandmaster of the Leaden Key. Millenia ago, Thaos led an Inquisition that tortured and executed anyone who refused to worship Thaos's gods. When one heretic named Iovara led a rebellion against Thaos, he convinced a close acquaintance of Iovara to lead her into a trap so she could be tortured and executed. Thaos later formed the Leaden Key, a secret society dedicated to hiding the gods' secrets. Thaos manipulated the entire world for millenia, with only a handful of people being aware that he exists. When the animancers in the Dyrwood come close to learning the gods' secrets, Thaos resolves to discredit and ban animancy. He uses soul manipulating machines to cause nearly all children in the Dyrwood to be Hollowborn, making it appear to be divine retribution for the death of the god Eothas. He prepares to feed the stolen souls to the godess Woedica, so she can use the new power to hide the gods' secrets. He sabotages high profile animancy experiments, in one case causing a zombie outbreak in a major city. Eventually, Duc Aevar, ruler of the Dyrwood holds a hearing to discuss banning animancy. The Watcher takes the opportunity to expose Thaos and the Leaden Key. However, Thaos possesses an animancer into murdering Aevar, causing horrific anti-animancy riots to break out. This usually ends with animancy banned in the Dyrwood.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • All the gods, to some extent, and technically there's one other very brief scene, but Wael in particular tries to convince you to cast the thousands of Hollowborn souls to parts unknown. It's very bizarre, has no reward and there's no actual reason to do so other than because you can. And to Wael's credit, their proposal is tempting.
    • The Master Below when you finally encounter them. Despite the hints that the Master is Od Nua, it turns out the master is really a female adra dragon who turns out to be one of the most difficult opponents in the game.
  • Scrappy Mechanic: When managing the player's fortress, some events (tax raising, length of companions offscreen adventures, and various random events) are related to a special ingame clock refered as "turns" instead of using the normal calendar; one turn passes each time the party completes a quest. While it forces to move in the game instead of allowing to exploit the system to gain free gains (i.e. rest somewhere for an indeterminate time and amass infinite money and resources generated form the keep), linking this feature to quest completion has some bad consequences. You can gain several turns in a row then none for a long time, depending on how fast you complete quests, and it eventually is stopped when you completed all the quests. Also, to benefit most from the keep, you need to rush to Caed Nua with a low level partynote  while completing as little quests as possible, which is especially counterintuitive because Caed Nua's courtyard and dungeon are filled with Demonic Spiders.
  • Slow-Paced Beginning: The first act of the game is both the hardest and most linear part of the game. You're restricted to the town of Gilded Vale and surrounding wilderness, with less than a handful of companions to choose from, a small selection of sidequests to gain experience from, and the Shadow enemies encountered can be immensely difficult given your low level. Only after meeting the master of Caed Nua does the game open up and become a lot more sandbox: the stronghold feature is unlocked as are the Bounties, all the companions can be recruited, the Bonus Dungeon of Od Nua is available, the Broken Bridge to Defiance Bay and Dyrford Town is repaired and the White March expansion can finally be accessed.
  • Strawman Has a Point: Pallegina often criticizes the Valian Republics' Council of Ducs as being too short-sighted, to the point where she considers going against their orders to end trade deals with the Dyrwood in favor of the Glanfathans. However, the Dyrwood's problems are so dire that only an act of a very specific god will actually allow her plan to work. The ducs can hardly be blamed for not considering that possibility, and looking at how most of the endings play out, their plan appears pretty sound by all appearances, and Pallagena herself ends up looking like the one who's short-sighted.
  • That One Attack:
    • Charm and Dominate spells are vicious, especially considering how common they are in the late game.
    • Any of the above listed spells when used against your party, for obvious reasons.
  • That One Level:
    • Related to the Demonic Spiders entry, the Temple of Eothas in Gilded Vale can be this, depending on how early in the game you take it on—its second level is absolutely filled with Shadows. Still, this can be mitigated by building up a full party, or a bit of leveling and returning later.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Some players were disappointed to find out the prologue's companions were killed in a cutscene once you leave the ruins, especially after discovering that Heodan is the only pregenerated Rogue of the game (prior to The White March).
  • The Woobie: Aloth's entire life was a never-ending ball of pure suck before he met the Watcher. His father was a drunken abuser who beat him black and blue over every little mistake until the day a particularly traumatic beating caused a previous personality to Awaken, who broke his father's arm. Aloth's mother (who was largely absent before and after) then encouraged him to hide Iselmyr lest he be shunned as a criminal or madman. Aloth then spent years living in terror of discovery, and his short story reveals that his mother did jack all to help him find a patron apart from the abusive noble his father served as he neared graduation from the Academy. In desperation, he turned to a group of aspiring (illegal) animancers, who acquired an illegal soul-reading machine that he narrowly avoided being the test subject for by manipulating his bully into testing it instead, and said bully was rendered a drooling vegetable. Aloth was then picked up by the Leaden Key, who manipulated his guilt, dislike of animancy, and desire to get away from his father by posting him in Dyrwood. When the Watcher finds him, he's been deserted by his contact for months, separated from everything he's ever known, and harassed by a number of Dyrwoodans who hate him for being an Aedyran Elf. He's so scared, alone, and desperate for any kind of direction that he jumps at the chance to travel with you. It can still be even that, if the Watcher opts to be cruel to him and/or reject him at a critical moment, causing him to commit suicide.

Alternative Title(s): Project Eternity

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