To the untrained eye, the addition of turn-based combat in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is just a different way to play. Beneath the surface, though, this addition is a red carpet rollout for a community of players that may not have given similar RPGs a chance. A few hours into a fresh campaign, it almost feels like the ideal way to play.
I’ve only started one Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire campaign with turn-based combat enabled, so know that other character builds will influence how things start out for everyone. In my run, I created a monk. The very early segment of the game features only my monk and I chose rogue for Eder. In a real-time campaign, my two warriors probably would have made quick work of earlier enemies, but there were a couple of moments where I actually died. With every character or creature being given an opportunity to make a move, the dynamic shifted. This is not a bad thing, at all.
The Pillars series is built on real-time combat with pause, meaning enemies and the player’s party will jump right into the conflict and players can pause to asses what is or isn’t working and dish out assignments however they see fit. There’s a pretty robust mechanic that allows players to tinker with party member AI, lightening the micro-management load a bit. Nevertheless, the playstyle may be daunting to some. I don’t know if this specifically was in mind when a couple Obsidian Entertainment devs started working on turn-based combat, but it will certainly impact those overwhelmed players.
I’ve been one of those overwhelmed players, by the way. Even at my current level of experience, I am by no means an expert. I’ve learned to set up real-time combat to pause whenever a critical hit is landed on one of my characters, when attacks against a specific enemy are completely useless, and for a handful of other criteria. It slows down the game, for sure, but allows me to comfortably experience a very good series of games.
Turn-based combat adopts this slower pace from the jump, forcing me to manage every single step and pay attention to every single interaction. There’s a lot that can be missed in real-time and I would have to look at the combat log to catch all of the happenings. With turn-based, I can focus on every action and the effects of them naturally.
One element that frustrated me early on is the use of abilities that take time to cast. In one particular instance, I targeted an enemy and wasn’t given an option to switch to a different target after the enemy died. In another instance, I cast an area-of-effect ability to a spot that enemies had vacated by the time the move was activated. Over time, though, I realized I could somewhat manage the later of these two concerns by looking at the "current round" layout to see when the ability would cast. In real-time, both of things are easily managed and/or predicted, by the turn-based needs an adjustment in that regard.
Deployable items were a concern as well. I would throw grenades and they only exploded when the character that threw it got another turn. It'd make more sense for each to have their own timer. I have other concerns, like the quickly depleting health of some characters with enemies completely focus on them, but this is something I think can be addressed by managing items and abilities a bit differently than I would in real-time. I’ll circle back on the campaign either in a future article or on one of our Twitch livestreams.
There are certainly some adjustments that will have to be made to make turn-based a fully realized experience for Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, but the team isn’t very far off. This is an incredible option for seasoned and inexperienced Pillars players, even in its beta stage, and is certainly something I hope is maintained for future cRPGs from Obsidian. Better yet, I’d love to see other developers flirt with having both real-time w/ pause and turn-based included if they have the resources to make it happen. RPG fans could be missing out on something sweet because of the intimidation of real-time and turn-based would be a nice bridge to those fans.
Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is available now on PC and the team is planning to release on PS4 and Xbox One sometime this year. If you'd like to know more about the team behind the Pillars series and more about the games that inspired Deadfire, read Beneath a Starless Sky: Pillars of Eternity and the Infinity Engine Era of RPGs. Stay tuned to Shacknews for more!
Charles Singletary Jr posted a new article, Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire turn-based combat impressions
Sounds like they haven't gotten it right quite yet. The grenades and spell casting delays would be frustrating.