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This is the most polished and best playing Real Time with Pause game ever made. It is fun just to click and move round and doubly fun to fight things.
But if Obsidian normally make unpolished cult classics that deserved to be remembered decades later, Po E is the opposite of that.
The core problem is everything feels bland, restrictive and unmemorable.
There is a lot of reactivity and choice, but its formed in a way that doesn't stay with you. You can decide peoples fates, but the people themselves aren't interesting and they don't feel like a huge part of the world around them. The choices just don't feel like an act of self expression, they're simply the option you took because you had a high enough stat A.
For example, midway through the game you choose a faction to belong to. But if you've already done two quests with a faction (and they're available long before you know that you need to choose a faction), none of the other factions will let you in. And moreover, no-one behaves differently depending on the faction you're involved in. There's a lack of feedback, the game doesn't highlight the things that could have gone differently.
One of the only memorable sequences in the game is the court sequence. You get to debate the central theme of the game, express complex views on the issue, try to persuade people, reference events that you've uncovered and use your statistics to make things happen.
And then you don't even get to see the judge make his decision.
The companions are all well written, but only Magren and Grieving Mother have stories that are really going somewhere. Eder is very likeable, mostly thanks to voicework, but his big quest line actually ends in a dead end. The companions don't comment on the world enough, and it's not clear what triggers quest progression, making it feel like its a Bioware arbitrary-time-limit thing.
Finally the last 30 minutes of the game are really poorly written. It will only bother you if you have a certain viewpoint, because the problem is there's a big thematic twist where the writer was incapable of imagining the thoughts of people who disagreed with him.
It feels weird seeing your companions act like dolls, but the worst is, this is a roleplaying game and yet the writer isn't smart enough to even understand that you could have a point of view.
The term "RPG" has become so broad that most game designers and players alike can't agree on what constitutes an RPG, let alone a "real one." Obsidian doesn't pretend that this game is a "real RPG," but it does harken back to a specific genre of RPG genre long thought to be "dead."
Pillars of Eternity is a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate and other Infinity Engine cRPGs from the late 1990's/early 2000's. It is a Tolkien-esque European fantasy game similar to D&D, but is its own IP so the developers can put in their own creative spins and explore themes and concepts less possible when someone else holds the copyright.
For example, the standard “Medieval European” fantasy setting is given a fresh twist of entering a Renaissance, so the game can explore the growing pains of a society quickly jumping forward. Mechanically, the “social skills” of old (Charisma stat and the Persuade skill) only available to some classes (usually the priestly or spellcasting class) has been replaced with various stats that can work for any class. Intelligence, Perception, and Resolution stats and Survival or Lore skills can all be maxed by any class, so players can enjoy flavorful conversations (and “persuade” dialogue options) whether they’re an uncouth barbarian or a charismatic paladin.
In an age where RP Gs place an emphasis on cinematic 3D graphics and cutscenes, solidly defined or pre-written protagonists (like Shepard from Mass Effect), and an often binary "Illusion of Choice,” Pillars places an emphasis on GORGEOUS (seemingly) 2D backgrounds with Isometric View, an extensively detailed character creator, and actual choices. Every encounter allows the player to give several responses per conversation round (most of which changes the outcome of said conversations), and almost every quest can be solved no less than several different ways. The game keeps track of your decisions too, as many earlier-game choices affect the late game, and late-game choices contribute to vastly different endings.
The story is solid, though it is not perfect, the themes are thought-provoking, and the companions are very fun and likable.
If you are a fan of, or are open to, "old-school" cRPGs like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment, and so on (but don't expect it to be an exact copy) then it is a very fun, very solid game.
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