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Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Hands-On: Establishing A Series

Obsidian flirted with the brink of financial death, but rose to a new level on the back of the critically acclaimed and crowd-funded cRPG Pillars of Eternity. The development team known for Fallout: New Vegas and, unfortunately, Alpha Protocol established a fresh identity in the genre and even followed up Pillars with the well-received Tyranny, and is nearing the launch of the Pillars of Eternity sequel: Deadfire.

The sequel was founded upon a different crowd-funding platform and raised $4.4 million, a stout increase over the original's $3.9 million, and we've gotten a chance to check out the expanded world of Eora. With changes small and large, Obsidian is headed in the right direction with their original IP.

With a larger world to explore in the sequel comes the addition of new ways to travel. There's a canvas-like map that you'll move your character across, no longer just choosing a major space and automatically heading there. There's a fog over undiscovered places, resources the find, and smaller spaces to enter in order to gain access to other parts of a continent, but you're no longer limited to land. Deadfire introduces sailing, ship crew management, and ship combat. This new addition is so significant, it will be receiving a preview of its own. In short, it is a very welcome addition.

Your land party has been streamlined a bit in Deadfire, going down to five party members from six. Tyranny utilized four party members, which made for a more fluid and less chaotic experience in combat, but limited your crew capabilities and took away the opportunity to spend more time with lesser-loved characters in one playthrough. Five just may be the sweet spot for Obsidian going forward, as the combat experience was smooth as butter this time around. 

At a glimpse, combat in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire can seem overwhelming. Even on the "Story" difficulty, where combat engagements are lesser obstacles to experiencing Deadfire to completion, you can certainly be defeated if you don't take care. If you're not one to micromanage in combat, party AI has improved enough that they'll hold their own. As long as you target the right enemies in the right order, you won't have any problems. If you desire a deeper, true role-playing experience, there's an ocean's worth for you to dive into.

Meticulous players will appreciate the spell/action retargeting improvement to combat that allows you to be more fluid as the situation changes and those that still wish to use party AI in addition to manual control will be able to set high-level, specific behaviors for each character. The attributes and ability systems have been improved as well, influencing your squad makeup and the many events you'll come across in Deadfire. The developers have shaped the game in a way that avoids any "bad" builds, so players are encouraged to experiment heavily.

There was a lot to take in narratively even in this small chunk of the game that I was told equates to about 5% of the game. The souls of individuals were a major focus in the original and they seem to play an even bigger role this time around. Without giving away any specific spoilers beyond the image above, the tail end of the main quest in this preview build opened the world of Eora up in an unexpected way and added a new layer that is sure to supply some significant events in the full game.

This particular preview build gave us a solid glimpse into quest structure, character creation, combat with the help of mercenary characters, and travel, but we'll have to wait for launch to see how the story expands when it comes to the new main characters and returning faces. There are still some small bugs to be ironed out, but there's a good amount of time before launch in April. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is an improvement on an already fantastic formula with some expected and unexpected changes that bring this RPG even closer to perfection.


This preview is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Pillars of Eternity launches on April 3 on PC exclusively and preorders are available now.

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