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Pillars of Eternity 2 feels great as a turn-based game, update arrives this week

Battles feel more tactical, while the overall pace of the game is slowed down quite a bit

Combat in the new turn-based mode for Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. Note the initiative tracker at the top of the screen.
Obsidian Entertainment
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, the sequel to the hit role-playing title from Obsidian Entertainment, is getting a turn-based mode. Previously the isometric game has only been playable in pausable real-time. This free update, which arrives Jan. 24 for PC, presents an entirely new way to play the game.

I spent a few hours with the mode earlier this week. While it does tend to slow things down to a snail’s pace, it also makes it a lot easier to digest what’s going on in combat and plan accordingly. Most importantly, it provides a much easier ramp-up for the game’s notoriously difficult learning curve.

I fired up the original Pillars of Eternity with the best of intentions. Released in 2015, the crowdfunded title promised to reinvigorate the entire CRPG genre. Here was a modern-day Baldur’s Gate, but with all the graphical bells and whistles and the narrative chops of the team that made Fallout: New Vegas.

Getting into and out of close quarters combat in the new turn-based mode is a much more deliberate affair. Protecting spellcasters and setting up flanking positions feels much more deliberate and satisfying.
Obsidian Entertainment

Eventually, the game wore me down. Part of the issue for me were its endless asides: tiny, personalized Easter eggs manufactured by and for its thousands of Kickstarter backers. They made it terribly difficult to separate the real, meaty quests from the tacked-on, indulgent narrative chaff. But my main issue was the combat. There’s simply so much shit flying around in a Pillars game that it’s difficult to keep track of it all. Once my party had grown to three members, simply maneuvering around the battlefield was an exercise in frustration. Every battle ended up in a deadly scrum, with beloved characters dropping like flies.

Pillars of Eternity 2’s new turn-based mode enforces a kind of calm that the franchise has been missing all this time.

For the majority of the time, the turn-based mode plays just like the original. You’re free to move around the map in real time, dragging party members behind. Once you get close enough to the enemy, everyone rolls initiative and, just like a traditional game of Dungeons & Dragons, every character on the map gets to take their turn one at a time. There’s even a button to delay your actions, effectively moving that character down in the initiative order. Used correctly, it allowed me to set up hasty ambushes and stack spell effects for maximum damage.

Of course, the byproduct of this new turn-based mode is that every combat encounter drags on and on, regardless of how powerful the enemy actually is. There’s a time dilation slider, but you can only crank it up so high before the game drops so many frames that the action no longer makes any sense.

Obsidian Entertainment

Overall, the turn-based mode is an excellent addition. There are some limitations, however. Not all of the game’s encounters feel like they’ve been optimized for this new mode, so expect to have a few lengthy fights against utterly harmless mobs, especially at lower levels. Conspicuously, there’s no way to switch between real-time and turn-based mode in the same game. It’s an option that must be selected before you create your character, and once you pick turn-based there’s no going back.

That means if you’re in the middle of a game right now, you’ll need to start over to take advantage of it.

While this new game mode lacks the kind of subtlety and refinement that makes Firaxis’ XCOM games such an elegant experience, it also makes Pillars’ complex combat mechanics a lot easier to grok. Rather than enduring repeated total party kills and bludgeoning my way through the game, as I did with the original, I think this new mode could be just the thing to get me through to the end.

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