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Eyes-on with Pillars of Eternity: The White March - Part 1, a world of bloodstained snow

The group of battle-hardened adventurers enter the cave, prepared for the evil inside.

Outside is the old kingdom, ringed by mountain ranges, covered in snow, marbled red with blood. In the distances, villages dot the tundra.

Their destination, Durgan's Battery, is not in sight. But what they do here, they know, will bring them one step closer. But every step until then is brought with peril. Monsters appear out of nowhere, and battles ensue, even the new companions — the monk and the construct, a human soul fused to a bronze body — unleash their might.

They explore the tunnels, take a branching path that leads to the icy depths below the entrance. A member of their team, too beefy for the job he's assigned, slips, falls and nearly takes the fellowship with him. They fight at almost every turn, but they survive.

In the deepest depths, gallons of blood and battle behind them, they find what they came for: The clan leader, who possesses part of what they need to unlock the key to the ancient fortress. They have a choice, and they try diplomacy. They fail. They get what they came for, anyway. They survive.

The adventurers leave the cave, black and blue and scarred, and beat the bloodstained snowy path to Durgan's Battery.

This is The White March - Part 1, the first part of the first expansion to developer Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity role-playing game, and we saw it in action at E3 2015 last week. Our guided tour was only the tiniest slice of the expansion, but its world is easy to understand, simple to grasp. Foreboding. But that's just the outside, heavily inspired by developer Black Isle Studios' Icewind Dale, the 2000 RPG. The White March - Part 1 is also changing the game under the hood.

Each of Pillars of Eternity's 11 classes will see their levels caps raised from 12 to 14. And will increased levels comes new abilities, spells and talents. The White March will also introduce a new type of offense, Soulbound weapons, which are bound to classes and characters and increase their deadliness over time.

Perhaps most significantly, since fighting is such a core part of the RPG, The White March will also bring a bit of scripting to combat. Players will be able to set scripts for their party, telling their companions what to do when confronted with battle. This kind of optional automation is something that players have been clamoring for, and they've listened.

Obsidian is also using the expansion as an opportunity to tweak some of its nagging issues with the RPG, including changes to the user interface. Some of those things trickle into the game with patches, but making them part of an expansion imbues them with bigger priorities, makes them better.

Pillars of Eternity: The White March - Part 1 will be released "soon" for Linux, Mac and Windows PC, they say, but don't offer a concrete release date. Some of the game's Kickstarter backers will receive it and its second part for free. For the rest, it'll be available at an undisclosed price.

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