Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire artwork showing the main companion characters

I realized Pillars of Eternity 2 was going to be right up my alley when I recruited one of my most useful companions at the furthest, least-interesting corner of a local tavern. He wasn't any sort of powerful mage or mighty warrior boasting of his conquests, not even an important character to the story, but rather a simple masseur with dreams of adventure.

There was no sidequest pointing me to where he's located, or a even rumor telling me he might be willing to join my cause. Instead, to find him I had to explore the world and talk to all of the interesting people I saw along the way. Sometimes these people would have relevance to the main storyline, and other times they would just be random individuals that are completely oblivious to what's happening in the world at large, but just about every single one of them was well worth talking to.

All of this helps create a world that is truly a wonder to explore, and one that I've spent more than 50 hours in without feeling like I've experiencing everything it has to offer. So if you're interested in seeing what Pillars of Eternity 2 does right, as well as what sort of problems lie hidden beneath the surface, allow me to share my thoughts after a rather eventful playthrough.

Pillars of Eternity 2 screenshot of Eothas stepping on the player's house

Like any good story, it all starts with a god stepping on your head

Since Pillars of Eternity 2 is a direct sequel, I'm sure many of your are wondering whether you need to play the original in order to understand what's going on. The answer to this question is thankfully a resounding no since Pillars of Eternity 2 does an excellent job of introducing you to its world, its characters and what has happened so far. You'll get a bit more out of the story if you import your Pillars of Eternity 1 save file and continue on from your previous adventure, naturally, but its nothing so major that you will feel like you're missing out by simply diving into Pillars of Eternity 2.

Besides the above-mentioned introduction, the main reason Pillars of Eternity 2's story is so accessible is the presence of an in-game encyclopedia that gives you some much-needed details if you hover over certain keywords in conversations. So if you're like me and you constantly keep forgetting who each god is and what they represent, worry not as you're only one flick of a mouse away from the answers you seek. It's a fairly simple system, but it really goes a long way towards keeping you in the loop, especially when the story throws dozens of factions at you early on.

Pillars of Eternity 2 in-game encyclopedia explaining the various factions

Every RPG should have an easily accessible in-game encyclopedia

The one big difference between Pillars of Eternity 2 and its predecessor is that you now have the option to explore a rather gigantic world map in any way you wish. If you're like me, you can completely ignore the main storyline and deal with all of the side-content first, or you can opt to go for a more linear adventure instead and simply travel from island to island as the quests direct you. No matter which option you choose, you'll have plenty of chances for adventure, decision-making, and as is tradition for RPGs, looting!

Some of these islands you can visit will be completely deserted and you'll be lucky if you leave with a couple of extra bananas, while other ones will have major encounters with their own unique areas, dungeons to explore, and even boss-like characters to beat. There is no easy way to tell which island will be worth you time, so exploration and risk-taking is highly encouraged. 

The storylines in most of these minor islands pale in comparison to some of the more involved quests, but they offer enough dialogue and background lore to make the world just a bit more fleshed out and interesting. That said, if you don't really care for exploration and prefer to follow a pre-set storyline, you can safely ignore all of minor islands and still have a great time. They're a fun little distraction and I definitely enjoyed rummaging through them, but it's obvious they're just there as bite-sized content for you to snack on as you move between the major quests.

Pillars of Eternity 2 screenshot of a very sassy sword

You can look forward to being personally insulted by a sassy, talking sword!

Since you can't exactly run between the islands, this is where Pillars of Eternity 2's newly introduced and player-controlled ships come into play. You can purchase different types of ships, outfit them with a variety of things ranging from cannons to improved sails, and even magical lanterns or an entire section dedicated to housing hundreds of little pets you uncover throughout your journey. Not only that, but you will also have to purchase or recruit a rather considerable number of sailors, sailors that will need a constant flow of food, grog and money in order to stay loyal.

In many ways this system harkens back to Pillars of Eternity 1 and how you had to manage your personal keep, though obviously a lot less intense since you're only worried about your crew and the state of your ship. All of it is relatively simple once you strip away all of the fluff and start looking at the numbers behind everything, but even so I can't deny that slowly building up your ship and its crew is an immensely enjoyable process. 

What's not enjoyable, however, is the actual ship battles. They play like an extremely simplistic and completely textual turn-based RPG with very few viable strategies for each encounter. Once I figured this out I outfitted my ship with the slowest and most powerful cannons on both sides, and then spent each combat encounter spinning my ship in circles like a ballerina, just constantly firing overwhelming amounts of cannonballs at my often helpless opponents.

This might've still been a bit of fun if there was any sort of visual feedback to make things feel more intense and realistic, but since most of the combat is text-based there was absolutely nothing for me to cling to. And so I just ended up mashing my way through the text options as quickly as possible, only occasionally changing my strategy if the enemy got super-lucky and somehow breached my hull and flooded the lower parts. A real shame since the ship combat could've been something truly special, a great way to complement the already enjoyable exploration, but much like my opponents it's unfortunately so full of holes it can barely stay afloat. 

Pillars of Eternity 2 screenshot of the ship combat

There is potential here, but that potential has sadly not been utilized

As for the ground-based combat, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to hear that it's a slightly improved version of Pillars of Eternity 1's system. Like before, you have an absolute ton of classes and talents to choose from, both of which give you the opportunity to customize your characters in whichever way you please. My benchmark for customization in these types of games is whether or not they allow me to create a melee focused Wizard, so I am very glad to say that Pillars of Eternity 2 not only allowed me do so, but that is also features plenty of spells that go hand-in-hand with that kind of build!

In fact, there are so many spells available to each of the classes that I'm willing to wager you can make any sort of build work. Some are a going to be a bit harder to properly optimize since multi-classing is tricky business, but the important thing here is that you are able to handle fights in whichever way you choose. You can use stealth, you can use magic, you can use summoning items or scrolls, you can use traps or explosives, and the list goes on for a while. The end result, as you might imagine, is a visually pleasing and fairly enjoyable combat system.

The only real problem is that you have so many choices available to you, it's surprisingly easy to create an unbeatable combination of heroes, even on the hardest difficulty setting. In my case I managed to achieve this through a combination of summoned creatures holding the front, and high-powered damage-dealers obliterating enemies in only a couple of strikes.

I don't expect this too be a much of an issue for you if you're just in it for the story and the occasional thrill of battle, but if you're specifically looking for a challenge you're going to have to heavily handicap yourself in order to achieve it. This goes doubly so in the late-game when you have enough money to purchase and enchant some of the best gear out there, gear that is so deliciously overpowered you might even feel pity for the poor bandits that decide to jump you.

Pillars of Eternity 2 screenshot of a dungeon battle

Visually interesting, but a bit too easy to exploit

While the combat is enjoyable enough, it is by no means the focus in Pillars of Eternity 2. Instead, it is the stories and characters that drive the whole experience. I won't discuss the main storyline in-depth in an effort to avoid spoilers, but what I will say is that it's neither as bleak nor omnipresent as it was in the original Pillars of Eternity. While the plot itself follows a fairly linear progression of events, the actual main quest is constructed in such a way that you will frequently find yourself enveloped in various side-quests, some with far-reaching consequences for the Deadfire archipelago.

This is both a good and bad thing. On one hand I can greatly appreciate the freedom to explore and immerse myself into the world for as long as I wish, but on the other hand I can't help but be disappointed by how disconnected the main quest feels from the rest of the world. You occasionally see its impact manifest in some of the side-areas, but most of the time you'll be so wrapped up in trading company politics and squabbles that you'll completely forget there's a world-ending threat looming on the horizon.

As for the linearity of the main quest, I feel it's greatly at odds with the rest of Pillars of Eternity 2. I generally don't mind linear games so in theory this shouldn't have bothered me either, but given how many outcomes some of the relatively minor side quests can have it just felt truly bizarre to see the main quest so narrow. In the end it felt like most of my decisions didn't matter, I just had to choose from a couple of pre-determined options and that was it. A real shame since I found the story itself to be an interesting one, at least as far as excuses for adventuring are concerned. There are some plot hooks for future DLC present, however, so I do hope we'll get to expand upon the story in a much more compelling fashion.

Pillars of Eternity 2 screenshot of the various gods

Expect to be frequently bossed around by the various gods

Unsurprisingly, the writing is quite good and the quests themselves are often so engaging I found it difficult to stop playing once I hit a particularly juicy one. There are a bunch of filler quests as well, mostly revolving around ship-combat or exploration, but just about every single 'serious' quest has an intriguing storyline and plenty of different choices to make. I usually play my RPGs as a paragon of virtue and kindness, but even so I found myself completing far more piracy-related quests than I could possibly recall, all because the characters and storylines contained within were just that gripping!

If I were to point out one major flaw with the whole questing system, it would be the fact that some areas are ridiculously quest heavy. This might sound like a bit of an odd complaint, I mean how stupid do I have to be to whinge about a game having too much content, but areas like the city of Neketaka have dozens upon dozens of quests that all take place in the same (although fairly large) region.

Just to put things into perspective, once I entered Neketaka I spent the next 10-15 hours solving a wide variety of quests and tasks for its inhabitants. That is a truly impressive number, and I am genuinely glad there's so many interesting quests to undertake, but it would've been better for some of them to get spread out to the less interesting islands instead. Not only would it alleviate some of the quest fatigue I started feeling towards the end of Neketaka, but it would've also made the world just that much more interesting to explore. I mean, wouldn't it be awesome if there were basically no filler islands, all of them replaced with minor quest hubs that would provide bite-sized pieces of content in between all of the main quests?

Neketaka screenshot from the world map

Neketaka seems so small on the world map, but when you enter...

A similar story applies to both your companions and the random characters you meet throughout the world. Even the least plot-relevant characters have something interesting to say, so if you're as eager as I am to annoy everyone you meet with endless questions, you will find plenty of background lore and hidden quests to help you immerse yourself into the world. To be perfectly honest I expected to see all of that given that this is an Obsidian RPG we're talking about, but what I couldn't possibly have predicted is that Pillars of Eternity 2 would not only be fully voice acted, but that the voice acting would be this good!

While there is the occasional character that sounds like they're being forced to speak by someone right behind them, the vast, vast majority of the people you'll meet are genuinely believable. The drunkard pirates sound exactly like you would expect, the Valiant Trading Company employees all have the telltale accent that sometimes even lets you distinguish an impostor or new arrival, all the while your main companion characters all sound like they're all having a blast recording their lines, especially when they're humorous in nature. Perhaps the best piece of praise I can offer Pillars of Eternity 2's voice acting is the that I didn't skip through any of the important dialogues, something that is highly unusual for me given that I tend to read many times faster than the pace of the voiced dialogue.

As for their personality, it again won't come as much of a surprise to hear that the companions you can recruit (both new and old) are a charming and lovable bunch. I won't spoil any of their names or storylines as I want you to discover them for yourself, but what I will say is that I'm rather impressed with how Pillars of Eternity 2 managed to make me care about a pirate. By all accounts the character should be completely insufferable given that his 'job' is to ruthlessly hunt down trade ships and that he throws out quips at every opportunity, yet the writing and voice acting are so compelling that I found it incredibly difficult not to fall for his charms. At the end of the campaign I still greatly disliked his methods, but I really felt like I had a deeper understanding of who he was and why he acted like he did, which went a long way in making him a relatable anti-hero of sorts.

The final little flaw I want to cover is an incredibly petty one, but also one that I find particularly important. You see, instead of the usual relationship progression you would expect from RPGs, the companions in Pillars of Eternity 2 fall madly in love with you after a single conversation! I wouldn't even know their name yet, let alone what their personality is like, and already they would be asking if I want to bump uglies. I am fully aware this is as minor as complaints go, but the whole thing feels so 'videogamey' that it just kept breaking my immersion every time it happened. I don't mind relationships in video games, in fact I find that they can often add a great deal of depth to the side-characters involved, but it's something that has to feel earned through both actions and dialogue - something that Pillars of Eternity 2 has unfortunately failed to do.

Pillars of Eternity 2 screenshot of romance happening too soon

I just met you five minutes ago!

Closing Thoughts

Pillars of Eternity 2 may occasionally stumble, but I can't say I regret spending even a single hour with it. The Deadfire archipelago is a joy to explore, and some of the quests I've undertaken throughout it are likely to remain in my memory for many years to come, all because of a combination of quality writing and voice acting.

So if you're a fan of RPGs , and you're not afraid of vast quantities of text, then I feel I can comfortably recommend Pillars of Eternity 2. It may not have revolutionized the genre, but it's still a pretty darn solid entry, as well as a worthy sequel to the original Pillars of Eternity!