For all of the years of experience Obsidian has across a multitude of platforms and IPs, they’ve never once created a sequel to one of their own original properties. That is, until now. Last week, Obsidian took the time to show me how Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire takes what worked in the original, dramatically expands it, and aims to establish the franchise at the top of the pile among the industry’s elite roleplaying series.
The first and most immediately obvious change is a big one: Deadfire is a legitimate open-world game this time around. In the first Pillars of Eternity, the world was split into a handful of regions that could be openly explored, but for the most part it was a relatively linear affair. But even as an open-world game, Deadfire maintains that hand-crafted feel. There is zero random or procedural generation as each and every combat encounter is hand-placed by the designers. In fact, every single NPC has voiced dialogue and a hand-drawn portrait to really lend a sense of intimacy to every situation.
Quests can be resolved in a multitude of ways, both in and out of combat.
True to Obsidian’s lineage, Deadfire – which is due out on May 8 on PC before eventually finding its way to PS4, Xbox One, and Switch as well – is all about giving players choices. This means that quests can be resolved in a multitude of ways, both in and out of combat, and each of your companions is written to be a unique character with their own drives and motivations. In the first Pillars of Eternity, companions would exist for little reason other than to drive the main story forward and offer a bit of nuance to some conversations. They’d often have their own personal storylines, but those narrative beats were far removed from the goings-on of the realm as a whole.
Some other areas of the Pillars formula have been streamlined to smooth out gameplay without hindering what allowed for so much depth and complexity before. For example, there are no longer both per encounter and per rest abilities. Instead of per rest abilities, every character has “Empower” points instead. Using an Empower point allows a character to augment and dramatically enhance a skill to make it even more powerful. During my demo, the developers used Magic Missile as an example. Empower took the ability from only shooting about four missiles to shooting close to a dozen all at once.
You can even pickpocket enemies now to grab important items like keys even more easily.
By eliminating the per rest abilities, it takes the shackles off of the combat system in a way. Now, you’re no longer saving up your best abilities just to use against the boss at the end of a quest and can instead experiment and have fun during all of the game’s encounters. And now that the designers know you won’t hold back in any fight since everything resets when the fight is over (other than your health and resources, that is) they can more creatively design encounters to encourage a riskier play style.
One area that was significantly lacking in the first Pillars of Eternity was stealth. In Deadfire, this aspect of the game has been significantly improved with the inclusion of vision cones for NPC enemies as well as noise objects that can be thrown to distract enemies away from your location. You can even pickpocket enemies now to grab important items like keys even more easily.
Environments even have destructible objects this time around, like exploding barrels.
Without looking at each game running side-by-side or running off of the same machine it’s hard to say for sure, but based on my brief demo with the near-final build of the game I’d say it’s underwent a dramatic visual overhaul as well. The hand-painted aesthetic is still there, but everything is just of a much higher fidelity. Environments even have destructible objects this time around, like exploding barrels, to increase the amount of interactivity.
The biggest new area of Deadfire though, hands down, has got to be the pirate theme and ship management system. When you’re out sailing the high seas you’re free to explore the world however you see fit, and the intricate floating stronghold mechanics replace the castle-themed keep from the previous game. But if you’re not a big fan of the ship and don’t care to engage in the boat combat, which plays out like a text-based adventure game, you don’t have to do any of it. In fact, Obsidian confirmed to me that as long as you don’t mind the occasional difficulty spike, the entire game is completable without ever engaging in ship combat.
David Jagneaux plays a lot of PC RPGs. Talk turkey with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.