Developed by Obsidian Entertainment. Published by Paradox Interactive. March 26, 2015. Available on PC, OSX, Linux. Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by Publisher.
Most of us are familiar with that saying about something being 'right up your alley'. Well Pillars of Eternity is the little Italian restaurant down the street from my alley where the wait staff knows me so well "the usual order" can be brought out on memory. Those that have listened to the The Escapist Podcast or follow me on Twitter will know that I'm a diehard fan of isometric RPGs, and the Baldur's Gate series in particular. I have a lot of fond memories of just paging through the massive Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn manual, not to mention playing the games. Does anyone else remember that thing? It was basically a primer on 2nd Edition D&D. Hell, it was so big that it had to be wire bound. So, it's probably not a huge surprise that back at the height of the Kickstarter craze I was just a bit excited about the prospect of Project Eternity. Full disclosure, I pitched in $20 to the Kickstarter back in the day. Without diverging into too much of a tangent about Kickstarter, Pillars of Eternity is the most pleased I've been with the final crowd-funded product matching up to the original presented visions. While Obsidian Entertainment has made some changes to the formula, Pillars of Eternity is a perfect homage to the isometric RPGs of yesteryear that manages to go beyond just replicating those experiences.
It's this sense of familiarity mixed with new concepts that is Pillars of Eternity's secret strength. There's just enough of the trappings from Baldur's Gate, Dungeons and Dragons, and the like that you're not going to get confused or feel lost playing it for the first time. Fighters still smack enemies, Wizards sling spells, Priests heal, and Rogues pilfer everything that isn't nailed down. But there are enough subtle differences to give you a feeling of accomplishment for trying something new or thinking outside the norm. Many of these concepts come to the fore in character creation. Besides a few setting-specific races and classes, many of the options are as you would expect - if you want to make a spry Elven Ranger or a burly Dwarven Fighter you can.
Where things start to get interesting is when you're asked to assign stats. Might, Constitution, Intellect, Dexterity, Perception, and Resolve are certainly similar to the tried and true D&D stats, but there are some key differences. The major overhaul is an attempt to make every stat matter. No more dump stats or idiot savants. Might, for instance, is not simply physical prowess. It affects damage across the board, and healing as well. Other stats are similarly useful for all character types. Dexterity increases action speed and Intellect makes all your areas of effect larger. While this does lead to some generalization of stat distribution, it also means you're not stuck allocating the same way for each character type or jamming away on the random button until you got all 18s. Admit it. You did it too.
Once you're finished with character creation, you'll be tossed into Pillars of Eternity's tutorial section which serves to impart your main character's driving goal and introduce the gameplay. There is a huge amount of backstory and lore for the setting, and Pillars of Eternity is more than willing to throw them at you without tons of exposition. You'll eventually pick up on the gist of it all, but if you want the full experience you'll need to exhaust the dialogue options and obsessively grab and read all the in-game literature. Even reading the details on magic items is worthwhile.