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Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Review: Sailing Into Superiority

The first Pillars elevated Obsidian, a developer with understood pedigree, to an even higher-echelon with a classic-style RPG experience that established an exciting world. The game hooked players with gameplay and writing that stayed true to the clear tabletop RPG and Infinity engine RPG influences and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is an attempt to expand upon these influences.

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire executes on every level and brings those influences even closer to home with the naval combat mechanic. It polishes an already great foundation and, as I mentioned in my hands-on impression, establishes a quality series with an incredible sequel. [SPOILER ALERT] There may be light spoilers in the text or images in this review.

Writing, Sound Design, & Graphics

The first Pillars has incredible writing, but was a chore at times trying to get through it all. There were voiced elements scattered about, but Deadfire improves in that department with fully voiced dialog top to bottom. Having that volume of content is a feat and the performances are top-notch as well.

There weren’t many times that I wanted to skip a conversation because of an annoying voice or one that broke the immersion, so cheers to that. Often, I wanted more. For instance, some of the major narration is voiced in Deadfire. It’s so well done, that it’s disappointing that not every bit of narration is voiced by this voice actor.. There were also a couple of strange, isolated moments where voice dialog was absent, but I feel it was an error with queuing up versus not having any at all.

As far as music, somehow the composer for Pillars of Eternity 2 found a way to make things even better than before. There’s more diversity in the combat music, which got repetitive in the first game.

There’s no drastic change in graphics when it comes to Pillars 2 environments over the original game, but the design is a lot more vibrant. This is partly due to the focus on water in the sequel but largely due to the presence of more moving parts on the screen. The environments are accented by more diverse animations for NPCs, who more realistically go about their days in Deadfire. The areas feel more “alive” because of this and the new dynamic weather adds to this sense of immersion.

Where there is a significant leap in visuals, though, is the magic and weapon effects. The smoke from the fire and impact of a blunderbuss is impressive and a constant barrage of these impressive effects only resulted in a few hiccups. The most annoying issues involve transforming characters or enemies, and hopefully, this will be addressed quickly by the devs.

Combat & Exploration

Combat is much more manageable and flexible in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire for a couple reasons. First, party size has been reduced from six to five. This let me focus my party member’s roles more without concerns for overlap and made an already hectic battlefield more manageable. The improved AI customization helped with this as well, giving individual characters plenty contextual moves to make if I got distracted focusing on another conflict. It’s a deep tool for the hardcore and intrigued, but more than serviceable enough for those not interesting in tinkering in that fashion.

Dungeon exploration already featured some stealth elements and traps in the original, but that is improved with new tools to distract enemies of items in the battlefield you can use to even the odds. I’ve used a sound to get enemies to huddle near a barrel of gunpowder, for instance, and then blew them all to bits. The game isn’t as flexible in this sense as Divinity: Original Sin or its sequel, but the options I had made the dungeon crawl more exciting.

With the game spread across a gigantic body of water with many charted and uncharted islands, it’s safe to say the sequel is a great deal bigger than its predecessor. With this larger playground comes additional depth of content. There a plenty of off-path places to explore, like dangerous ruined temples on uncharted islands and scattered caves. There’s an understood path to follow in the form of a giant statue’s wake as he strolls across the land, but I was able to take my ship to whatever place I wished at the start of the game. If you play on a difficulty that scales based on your party, you can explore to your heart's content. If it doesn’t scale, you must tread carefully, or you’ll end up in very dangerous territory.

One inconsistency on the difficulty scaling lies with the ship combat. While fighting on the ground, I always felt like I had a chance and the enemies were scaled to my party level. On the sea, I regularly ran into ships that vastly overpowered me. If not for the surrender option, this imbalance would have been more devastating to my playthrough.

Naval Combat

Ship combat is a major addition to the sequel and, despite the fact that’s it’s relegated to a parchment paper-like text adventure like the game’s skill-check events, it’s very engaging. The strategic layer of getting into the correct range to attack and defend against enemy ships is improved by quality sound design. While I only see static art to represent the battle itself, the sound effects bring those images to life in my mind. With this series being heavily inspired by tabletop RPGs, this mode’s design makes it feel like the middle ground between that and a video game.

Unfortunately, the ship combat’s immersion is broken when you decide to ram and/or board. If boarding is the first move, there are no problems. If you engage in ship-to-ship combat a bit before boarding, the damage inflicted up until then isn’t reflected. The hull and sail damage wasn’t a concern for me, but I can do direct damage to crew with my canons and I hoped to see that reflected when I boarded.

The original Pillars of Eternity is a tough act to follow, but Obsidian has knocked it out of the park once again. In addition to a layer of polish that permeates across the entire experience, the new naval aspect, larger world, advanced custom combat AI, and fully voiced dialog make this a must-have sequel. There are hitches here and there in the performance, like a regular stutter every time my Druid shifted into her spirit form, but those hiccups don’t come close to breaking the experience and are certainly things that can be fixed in future patches.

If you're ready to leap into the world of Eora again, be sure to bookmark out Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire guide and walkthrough and check back for regular updates.


This review is based on a PC digital code provided by the publisher. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is available now on Steam and GOG.

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Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

9
great
  • More vibrant environments
  • Fully voiced dialogue
  • Great writing
  • Manageable and engaging combat
  • Impressive weapon/magic effects
  • Table-top-RPG-influenced ship combat mode
  • Hiccups due to effects like character/enemy transformations
  • Ship boarding inconsistency