Homage to the old Infinity Engine games. A perfect love letter to traditional RPG.
I bought Pillars of Eternity, or should I say, pre-purchased it at Steam earlier this year, around February, a month before the March 26, 2015, release date; the first time I ever pre-purchased anything and I have no regrets… AND YES, I have been writing this post since I started playing it last March, 2015.
Let me tell you a story of my love affair with Pillars of Eternity.
At 1998, when I first saw Baldur’s Gate, I was intrigued; I was already a RPG fan thanks to Final Fantasy VII, but when I then started playing Baldur’s Gate, it cemented me as one of the most die hard RPG fans among my peers. It was also at this time where I started to switch to PC gaming exclusively.
Then out of nowhere, such RPG’s, now called Traditional RPG’s, disappeared. Replaced with third person or first person perspective, foregoing the tactical isometric views, mostly without a party based system replaced with a one man army, and without the strategic real-time with pause or turn base system being replaced with twitch happy affairs.
Don’t get me wrong, I love The Elder Scrolls series, it is a great RPG, but sometimes I would want a party; the idea of traversing the unknown world with your trusted companions, a la Lord of the Rings, and managing each one as a specialized member of the party, not this OP character. Again, before I transition to the next paragraph, I will reiterate, I love The Elder Scrolls, I have all games… Yes, even the DOS games. I love this series to bits, that I mod it to death and replay it over and over through the years… but it wasn’t enough.
I needed some party based, tactical RPG…
The closest one that was developed and released prior to Pillars of Eternity was BioWare’s own Dragon Age: Origins; it was third person for the most part, you can change the perspective, either use WASD, or the mouse to move around, so, it has the best for both worlds, I guess. But what I really love about it was the party based system and the real-time with pause to issue commands, like IE games. The story and the rich world, coupled with memorable characters, makes me remember staying up playing IE games. Sadly, the series for me took a 180 degree turn with Dragon Age 2; Dragon Age: Inquisition was alright for the most part, it is a great RPG no less, but the controls for the PC were clunky, not meant for keyboard and mouse, and I never really felt that I was in command of my party. I loved the large areas to explore (it is not open world, rather, large areas to explore), the graphics were great, wonderful voice acting, but I really can’t get into it if I feel separated from my character and the party.
But even before the announcement of Dragon Age: Inquisition (development began 2011, but was announced at 2013), around 2012, as I was looking for new mods to try out for my Baldur’s Gate I and II re-play through, I ran into Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition. Of course, I was stoked! But later found out that it was nearly the same game, plus new character and several new quests, and the mods that I used to make the original games look better included… for twenty bucks! I was like… nope! No way am I paying twenty bucks for the same game I already own with mods I can get for free. And to show Beamdog’s laziness in “enhancing” this game, their cutscenes, the audio were ripped from the original game, slightly modified, and had this animated like cutscene that I hate seeing in games (see video below). I don’t know about you, but the original beats the “Enhanced Edition” in my opinion.
I am not a game developer, but surely, they could have done something to really “enhance” the game.
Anyways, prior to having my bubble burst with Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, I just kept on searching for other games in the vein of IE, and I did. Come September 2012, a Kickstarter video for a new campaign showed up… and it was…
I was immediately enthralled, charmed, entranced, by the video on how Obsidian attempts to recapture traditional high fantasy RPG’s in the vien of, none other than, the IE games. Specifically the IE games.
I was comforted by the fact the studio was Obsidian, the studio founded by Feargus Urquhart and Chris Avellone, both of whom are from Black Isle Studios, in 2003 after the collapse of Black Isle, the former being the founder of the studio, the developers of games so close to my heart that is now the cornerstone to my being a RPG fan, namely, Baldur’s Gate series, Icewind Dale series, Planescape: Torment, and Fallout 2.
As mentioned, Feargus Urquhart was also the founder of Black Isle studios; mostly a producer and designer of games, he also was part of the narrative team such as in BioWare’s Shattered Steal game, where he wrote most of the dialogue.
Chris Avellone, like I need anymore introduction, is a narrative and design genius; wrote and designed for games such as Fallout 2, Fallout New Vegas, and of course, Planescape: Torment… the masterpiece.
Joining them is fellow Black Isle Studios employee, Josh Sawyer, a game designer who worked on games in the Icewind Dale series while in Black Isle.
Being a division of Interplay, it was only fitting that Tim Cain joined the boys of Black Isle in creating a new team, known as Obsidian. Tim does producer, programmer, and designer duties. He is a an all-star, known for Fallout 1 and 2 and is credited as the creator of that series.
And the lead programmer for Pillars, Adam Brennecki, who has developed nearly all the games in Obsidian, so that add another heft to the team.
Together in Obsidian they created great games as well, mostly sequels to games from other studios…
But that doesn’t stop them from being great; I enjoyed Star Wars : Knights of the Old Republic II more than the first from BioWare; I enjoyed Neverwinter Nights 2; Fallout: New Vegas, considered the best Fallout game ever; and they even co-developed Wasteland 2, a game primarily developed by inXile (another one of my favorite studios).
That’s why I was relieved when it was that studio, those experienced game designers that I respected growing up.
When I saw it is going to be isometric, party based, high fantasy settings, a true traditional RPG. I couldn’t contain myself and thought to myself, “if only I had a credit card, I will back them up!”, sadly, I had no job as I was still in medical school.
This was the first game that I was following intently; once the game was backed and eventually they made a website for the game and its updates, I was there every week, watching updates from Josh Sawyer like this one:
I’d replay this over and over just to get my fix…
They announced the backer beta; oh woe is me, as I can only watch people play it on YouTube, complain about certain parts in the forum, etc. But it was alright, because all those complaints came from people similar to me… Infinity Engine fans. So they echoed what was in my mind. They were the same people that hold the likes of Minsc and Boo so close to their hearts; they were the same people that modded the crap out of their games; heck, they were even the ones that turned a blind eye on the so called “Enhanced Editions”. They are like-minded. My people.
It comes to no surprise that the backer beta, the demo if you will, gave a lot of buggy impressions, but this is a two way process; 1) people get to play the game early, have a taste of it 2) have the devs know of the bugs the players encountered. It is a nice process, and when the game did release, it was less buggy and doesn’t need that FIRST DAY PATCH (AKA Our publisher didn’t give us enough time, so we will release it FULL price, that is lacking content, only to have it download the patch for hours before even starting the game). With the bugs known to the devs, they had to delay the game’s release.
But it is better that way, have the game suck upon release and wait for those patches, or have it as good enough and wait a while and have no evil bugs that will rage quit… I chose the latter.
And when they announced the preorders in Steam, oh you bet, I wanted to get it, risk it all, on this game. I never bought any games on preorder, because I am the skeptic, I never know if it will really be that good or if the hype is real, as they say. But this was so close to my childhood that I can’t pass it up and I trusted Obsidian.
Sure, I didn’t preorder or pre-purchase it until February of this year, a few months from the initial announcement of the preorders and just a month away from actual release, I was still able to get the items on preorder: A giant miniature space piglet (a homage to the giant miniature space hamster, named BOO!) and Gaun’s Pledge (an bracelet or trinket of sorts that gives the user the ability to regenerate his endurance).
But on the eve of March 26th, 2015, I was hospitalized with high grade fever. Imagine that, one day away from the release, I pre-purchased the game, I should have been home to at least download as soon as 12am strikes, then play when I get back home from work. NOPE. I was hospitalized. But in many ways, that was a blessing, I got a week off from work and I got to play this game for that whole week!
The little things…
Upon booting up the game, I spent HOURS just making my character…
It brought me back to the days when I first played Baldur’s Gate, choosing the right race, the right class, re-rolling the stats, getting the right color pallet, and making an intriguing biography of the character. Then do it all over again for the next four hours until I am finally satisfied.
It was just the character creation and it felt like I was sent back in time… I knew I was in for a great experience.
So journey off I went… same things I experience in the IE games; ransack every thing, check every nook and cranny for a weapon, a trinket, an armor, or currency. Keeping all the potions or health/endurance related items “for when I really need it”, but in the end, I will never use them because I would eventually meet a priest or have my own healing spells, maybe just spam an Inn or something.
Eventually finding an “awesome” weapon/armor, try it out, change color pallet… stare at your character a bit longer and smile.
Find a jewel thinking it will be used for something later, but might as well sell it… Heck, maybe finding a new pet to follow you around in your adventures…
And gathering your party before venturing forth…
It was everything I wanted from the IE games and it was ramp up to 11! It brought back memories of the IE games but having an identity of its own. It is a perfect blend of what made the past games so charming, so loved, and mixed it with what we love of the newer generation.
People may talk about the “Intentionally Dated Graphics” (Hold me back, I’m gonna punch them in the face!!), but it was designed to be a homage to the older isometric games. In fact, look at the IE games and how it still stood the test of time in comparison to let’s say Tomb Raider I, where everyone was amazed by the 3D graphics at the time… But did it stand the test of time? I don’t think so. I can still look at IE games, especially if modded right, in such beauty and simplicity, this Pillars of Eternity, without making a bad pun, will also stand for eternity.
I will admit though, there were a few quirks I didn’t like… Like the walk toggle being non-existent; sure the past there wasn’t any walk toggle, but we are trying to mix the past with the new… And the environment is beautiful, I would like to walk sometimes to further immerse my self, to further, ROLE PLAY, as the genre aims.
Luckily there are mods. And you only really need one mod… aptly named the IE MOD.
Now I will not go into details on what you can, lest I drag this post any longer, you can easily check what it does here. But for my purposes, it adds a walk toggle. I was sold. You have no idea how it adds to the immersion. And there are people like me, we don’t only play the games… we immerse ourselves in it. Get our money’s worth. ROLE PLAY.
Even if I love the environment art, the closer you zoom (especially if you use the command to zoom in really close), it starts to blur up… big time. Just go back to my photo with the Wurg Hatchling… look at the ground and how blurry it is. It was how it was designed, I know, especially with what Josh said in the video above, but surely, there must be a mod or SweetFX setting to get it to look sharper… and there was. Now I won’t give you the link to the settings, just Google it, and find the settings that tickle your fancy and maybe edit it to further tickle your fancy.
Ask me if I had finished it? No. Due to my senior medical internship, I got a bit busy… Also, when I wanted to resume the game, my saves were corrupted (Thanks Steam). But now, since my medical board exam is still next February, and I got my new VTX3D Radeon R9 390 (it doesn’t need that much to run by the way…), I decided to start over. And you know what? I still get the same thrills I had when I first played it. The story is so large, the side quests numerous, that I still get surprised by them.
And by next week I will get a 3rd Dell 23″ 2340L IPS monitor so I can run triple monitor Eyefinity for my other games, I will surely try it on Pillars of Eternity to have a wider view… for no other reason than “just because”.
Then just last month, as if they knew I am replaying it, they announced the first expansion for Pillars named The White March Part 1. The title is literally giving me shivers because it is now like a homage to Icewind Dale and the “Part 1” means that Part 2 is definitely in the works… and it also should be soon!
Now as I end this love letter I would like to say that yes, maybe this post is unstructured for the most part, grammatical errors here and there, punctuation out of place, etc. But that’s how love letters are really made… from the heart, regardless of how illiterate one may be, it is driven by emotion, no matter how ill the words string together. And that’s how I approached this… it was straight from my emotions.
This September or October I will move in the country’s capital to attend reviews for the my board exams, I fear not, because as the name implies, this game is timeless, and I will always love it unconditionally, feeling the same highs and lows, as I first played it. I can easily come back, start anew, or continue where I left of… and still feel excited, shocked, etc.
So, Feargus Urquhart, Chris Avellone, Josh Sawyer, Adam Brennecki, Tim Cain, everyone at Obsidian, and the backers (I wish I were one of you), as well as Kickstarter, thank you for making this traditional RPG’er happy… thank you for taking me back in time to the IE games and still making something so unique on its own. As it is its own experience… far greater than the IE games can give me.
I am looking forward for this to become a great franchise.
Chan AKA Cirrus (My old Baldur’s Gate character)
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