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Pillars of Eternity brings back the RPG style of Baldur's Gate and Planescape

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Fans of the old-school Infinity Engine role-playing games — Planescape, Icewind Dale and the venerated Baldur's Gate — will feel right at home with Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian Entertainment's crowd-funded love letter to the genre.

All the markers of those spiritual ancestors were seen in an eyes-only preview at E3 last week, from the isometric camera with blinking circles under the characters' feet to the illustrated text cards, instead of animated cut scenes, that impart a fantasy-novel motif to the exploits. Those who backed the game — to the tune of $4 million — should see exactly what they hoped for when the game arrives.

Polygon was shown the game's first two missions in a press screening last week. Obsidian is promising large wildernesses and numerous, loot-packed dungeons; we saw a glimpse of the surface world and a single dungeon with a level one mage. The character creation process, which also figures to be deep with 11 classes across six races, was not shown in the interest of time. But, in keeping with modern treatment of fantasy RPGs, there are no racial or equipment limitations in character creation. Some do offer advantages, but play as the class you want in the race you want.

Here, executive producer and lead programmer Adam Brennecke showed us a human mage. In character creation, players will also have the chance to give their characters a life story preceding the events of the game. In this case, the mage had been a sheriff in his village, but had joined a caravan into a realm called The Eastern Reach, a frontier province of the main empire in this world.

The caravan was stopped by a fallen tree and the first mission, to find water for the group, was a basic pretext for being ambushed and learning to fight. Combat in Pillars of Eternity will proceed in real time but users may stop time by going into a pause menu to assess the opposition and issue orders to others in the party.

Combat and other interactions appeared to be resolved by a background dice roll but the system behind it is one built from scratch by Obsidian. The encounters we saw were low-level - fending off wolves here, defeating enraged aggressors there. Some concluded with dialogue options that informed the ongoing makeup of your character, such as trying to resolve disputes with diplomacy, or mercy-killing a mortally wounded foe.

The party proceeded into a dungeon to get away from a magical storm that could rip away the player's soul. Inside, two party members had differing opinions of how to proceed — camp or press ahead. The player's decision would also affect future interactions with that NPC. Resting, Brennecke noted, could only be accomplished with camping gear, which the party didn't have, so they moved on through a basic dungeon. Brennecke promised a "15-level mega dungeon" would feature into the game. The demonstration level finished with the party battling through some dungeon creatures and emerging to find a mysterious machine outside.

As for role playing, the game will incorporate relationships that other Obsidian RPGs have used, but there won't be any romantic options. Players may have up to six companions in their party at one time, whether human or animal. The realm, Eora, will include two very large cities in addition to the vast wilderness.

Pillars of Eternity, originally projected for a release this spring, doesn't have a launch date set yet but Obsidian expects to complete the game this year, Brennecke said. It release  on Linux, Mac OS, and Windows PC. Paradox Interactive is the publisher.

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