If You Like RPGs, You Must Play Pillars Of Eternity

If You Like RPGs, You Must Play Pillars Of Eternity

Back in September of 2012, when I first heard that Obsidian was launching a Kickstarter for a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, I got a little… uh… too excited.

I was ecstatic. I called it my dream RPG. In retrospect that was a bit premature, especially as the years went by and we saw a decent number of successful Kickstarters either disappoint fans or disappear entirely. But the prospect was just so damn exciting. A new isometric RPG in the style of all those old Infinity Engine games I had spent hundreds of hours living in back in the early 2000s? Yes. Please.

Today, having spent the past week sinking my teeth into the game now called Pillars of Eternity, it’s safe to say that I was right. This is my dream RPG. The developers at Obsidian have successfully emulated the atmosphere and top-notch writing that so many people loved in those old D&D games, adding their own unique systems and rules to make an RPG that feels both delightfully old-school and quite thoroughly modern. If they launch a Kickstarter for another one, they have got my money.

I’ve spent about 25 hours with Pillars so far, and although that’s not enough time to give it an Official Kotaku Review, I feel quite comfortable saying that it’s a stellar game, one I’d recommend to anyone who likes RPGs in any way.

Let me give you a quick breakdown.

Are you a fan of old Infinity Engine games like Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate? You should play Pillars of Eternity.

Are you a fan of RPGs at all? You should play Pillars of Eternity.

Do you like exploring a fascinating brand new fantasy world with its own lore and history? You should play Pillars of Eternity.

Do you like interesting, flawed character companions? You should play Pillars of Eternity.

Do you like questing, adventuring, and romping around having a grand ol’ time? You should play Pillars of Eternity.

Do you like video games? You should play Pillars of Eternity.


Do you hate reading? You probably shouldn’t play Pillars of Eternity.

If video games were sandwiches, Pillars of Eternity would be a 12-foot party sub, with vinegar and oil and all sorts of meats and cheeses. This is not a game you can swallow in one night — it’s one you’ll want to savour for days, weeks, maybe months. It’s an RPG for RPG nerds, for those of us who love discovering new items, reading lore books, and exploring every building for new treasure and quests. Like Baldur’s Gate before it, Pillars drops you into a strange fantasy world and lets you do what you want, nudging you along the way with quests and a main plot that you can follow or avoid at your own discretion. Also like Baldur’s Gate before it, Pillars has such good writing, it’s tough to resist talking to every NPC and going through every dialogue option, while stopping every few minutes to see if any of your party members has something new to say.

In case for some reason you haven’t played Baldur’s Gate or other Infinity Engine games, let me give you a quick breakdown. Games in that style, which sort of faded out after Interplay closed Black Isle Studios back in 2003 (which led founder Feargus Urquhart and crew to found Obsidian), were hardcore RPGs that revolved around building a balanced party, collecting equipment, and powering your way through all sorts of interesting quests. There was Icewind Dale, for hardcore dungeon-crawling; Planescape: Torment, a narrative designer’s wet dream; and Baldur’s Gate, which struck a balance between the two. (Pillars is closest to the latter.)

These Infinity Engine games all followed strict D&D rulesets, slamming players over the head with systems like THAC0, which was dated even back then. But still, playing them was a pleasure. IE games offered big, sprawling worlds that could be explored over and over again. They had interesting stories, characters, settings. They used a fixed camera with an isometric viewpoint and pre-rendered backgrounds, creating some beautiful visual effects that could make for richer environments than even the most realistic 3D graphics engine.

Pillars of Eternity tries its absolute hardest to re-create these old-school RPGs in a lot of ways, from the major (the cursor, interface, and dialogue options look exactly like an IE game) to the minor (enemy health stats are assigned brief descriptions like “near death” and “badly injured” — the same ones used for Baldur’s Gate and its kin). There are some significant changes, though. Anyone used to resting their way through dungeons might be shocked to find that Pillars of Eternity has a hard limit on how often you can recharge your party — resting now requires an item called “camping supplies” that’s capped out based on your difficulty setting. (On Normal, you can only carry four at once.)

There’s also no D&D in Pillars of Eternity, so you’ll have to wrap your head around a whole new set of stats, spells, and skills, which might seem overwhelming but is totally worth it if you have the time and inclination to dig in. Gone are traditional elves and orcs, replaced by new races like “orlan” and “aumaua”. The Forgotten Realms have been replaced by a surreal new world in which soul reincarnation is an Accepted Thing and gods sometimes hang out and walk among the humans (at least until they’re blown up).

Really, there’d be nothing worth discussing here if not for the writing, which is stellar both on a macro and micro level. The lore is fascinating, the main story is intriguing, and it’s always a lovely little surprise to click on a new object and discover yourself in a text-based cut-scene where you’ll have to decide how you want to proceed, choose-your-own-adventure style.

Individual dialogue is enhanced by sharp, vivid character descriptions, some of which have actually made me pause and think “wow, that’s really good writing,” which is a rare if not extinct trait for a video game in 2015. Playing Pillars of Eternity is in many ways like playing through an interactive fantasy novel — not Yet Another Tolkien Ripoff but a great fantasy novel, like Game of Thrones or Locke Lamora, one where you’ll feel like investing in unfamiliar lore and proper nouns is worth the effort.

So if you’re in the mood for a big ol’ RPG, one that will convince you that learning words like “anamfath” and “estramorek” is a valuable use of your time, check out Pillars of Eternity. It’s quite good.


  • I played Baldur’s Gate 2 on PS2 way back in the day and thought it was ok, but it didn’t tickle my fancy overly much.

    However, when Neverwinter Nights first came out for PC, that game hooked its tendrils into me and never let me go. I LOVED IT! NWN 2 was less stellar and a departure from the true isometric style.

    My question is: is this similar to NWN. Is it like D20 rolls and things like that, or is it click-to-strike like Diablo?

    • Whoa.. are you speaking about Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 2? If so, that is not Baldur’s Gate at all, it was a spinoff game in a totally different vein to the base games.

      Baldur’s Gate was far more like NWN and you can expect the combat mechanics in Pillars of Eternity to work similar to NWN, not Diablo.

      As a side note, Obsidian (who made PoE) also made NWN2, back in the day – if that’s any comfort.

    • Dark Alliance is a stain on the Baldurs Gate name. If so do yourself a massive favour, block out the next 150 hours of your calendar and go get BG2 enhanced edition off GOG.

      • It was certainly no Baldur’s Gate, but I do recall enjoying burning through both games in bro-op with a mate of mine… vaguely.

        • Yeah it was good fun co-op. Not really much like baldurs gate on pc, but good fun none-the-less
          There was that other one too that was basically the same……
          trying to remember the name….

          edit; thanks google – Champions Of Norrath

  • I don’t know why, but the thing that stuck with me the most after reading this was “12-foot party sub”. I’m super hungry now…

    • This.

      Already organised with the missus that Subway is on for dinner tonight. Perhaps I will get 12 foot longs.

  • Totally forgot about this. Another one to add to the list. I haven’t loaded up Wasteland 2 yet though so I should probably give that a go before buying any more RPGs

    • Highly recommend WL2. If you are like me and replay Fallout 1+2 annually, you will love WL2.
      If you like Isometric games, you’ll probably love WL2 anyway =P

      • I did give the beta a quick spin but just haven’t started a fresh game up yet. It’s ready to go, just need time. Easter weekend might be a good time to have a few good RPG sessions 😀

        • They are working on a enhanced edition of wasteland 2 (free upgrade for W2 owners).
          Iif you did not play W2 until now, I would recommend wait for the upgrade and Easter play PoE.

  • Ohh no DND and no forgotten realms…..im guessing theres no Drizzt like character either ?

  • I’m glad Obsidian made the game – I am however really pissed you media guys got to play it a whole week before backers.

    Would have been nice to have had Media and Backers both playing it together before the game launched – but you media guys sure do Blackmail them into giving you first dibs or no coverage.

  • I made a mistake. I installed this to the SSD and now I can’t read any of the loading screen tips. Those tips have been pointed out in some reviews as actually being quite useful at explaining certain game mechanics.

  • I’d love to play, but my craptop is a piece if shit & “it can’t be done on console” 🙁

    • Its not exactly a graphical powerhouse, most laptops made in the last few years should be able to handle it.

      The minimum specs match a mid range graphics card from 2008 so I can only imagine what kind of potato you would need not to run it.

      • My craptop is coming up to a decade old.

        Wifey says I can upgrade as soon as it dies, Damn thing just keeps going! Having the same issue with my iPod, although that does it’s job well still.

        • I had that issue with my monitor, I bought a Dell 24 inch IPS in 2005 and I kept saying, I will wait till it dies before I get a new one.

          The damn thing was immortal so I ended up giving it away this year. Perhaps you could lend your laptop to some irresponsible friend and hope for the best!

  • Looks great, will get.
    Any word on how multiplayer works?

    edit; nvm, i see single player only, and i, for one, am perfectly fine with that 😛

    • Ctrl-F’d to find if there was any mention of multiplayer. Thanks for the info. Real shame to hear there isn’t; playing BG2 multiplayer is one of my fonder memories (at least when that wasn’t causing crashes).
      I might still check it out though.

  • It’s fucking fantastic. If you are willing to be immersed and play a character in a “infinity engine style” game then you are in for a treat. Typing this at 5 in the morning, only reason I’m going to bed is to do the game justice!

  • I guess I’ve been spoiled by modern gaming graphics because I really don’t like the looks of this game. I mean, it’s great aesthetically but the models and textures are just plain bad.

    Secondly, I don’t like the voice acting and I actually prefer reading in old school RPGs.

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