I’ll confess I’m kind of cheating with this one. Though the arbitrary label of “Triple AAA” doesn’t really fit Obsidian Entertainment’s Pillars of Eternity, it still had a publisher in the form of Paradox Interactive (one of the few publishers I don’t hate with a seething passion). Still, Pillars of Eternity was ultimately Obsidian’s passion project and as one of Kickstarter’s shining successes, I feel its worth talking about here.
Released in March 2015, Pillars of Eternity was met with near universal praise as a return to form for a genre neglected by the Triple-AAA side of the industry and its not hard to see why. Pillars of Eternity was directed by ex-Black Isle Studios luminary Josh Sawyer and the game wears its CRPG influences on its sleeve.
Party members are brilliantly written and work wonders in bringing the world of Eora to life
Like games such as Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, Pillars Eternity is an Isometric RPG that centres on managing a party of adventurers and one’s own skills and abilities. And like its predecessors, the game predicates its combat heavily on strategy, though as it occurs in real time the player must pause frequently in order to issue orders to party members. It’s a clever system but I like how the game’s made it a bit more user friendly. Though magic users can only cast a certain number of spells per day as in Baldur’s Gate, they have a few more abilities to fall back on, plus they no longer die in two fucking hits. Some might argue this dilutes the original formula but I think its little improvements like these that are perfect for bringing this classic formula into the modern age.
But as with any decent RPG, it’s in the story where Pillars of Eternity truly shines. The world of Eora might seem like another impenetrable D&D fantasy rip-off, but this belies a deep, lore-rich universe that rivals the likes of Mass Effect or The Elder Scrolls. I particularly liked how the soul and reincarnation were a pivotal aspect of the plot, and lay at the centre of the world’s social and religious conflicts.
Similarly, the party members are (for the most part) brilliantly written and work wonders in bringing the world of Eora to life. My personal favourite was Edér, a former soldier who obfuscates his internal struggles over his faith with a wry sense of humour that somehow doesn’t become annoying. Admittedly much of the story is told through pretty dense layers of text but the reading’s worth it for the beautifully constructed story.
Wasteland 2, Undertale and Pillars of Eternity are all evidence that crowdfunding can work
Kickstarter’s acquired something of a dubious reputation thanks to the many failures its produced. But for all the disappointments, its equally important to remember the brilliant games the platform’s made possible.
Wasteland 2, Undertale and Pillars of Eternity are all evidence that crowdfunding can work, and indeed might be necessary as the “Triple-AAA” space becomes increasingly homogenous at the expense of other genres. Its sequel, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire will be out by the time this is published and I only hope it manages to live up to its predecessor.