Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Ultimate Edition Review

March 4, 2020
Also on: Xbox One
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Pillars of Eternity 2, at its best, is like playing a massive choose-your-own-adventure Monkey Island game. You’ll find yourself having drinking contests with buccaneers, tricking people out of collecting money that you owe, and engaging in drunk arguments about thinly veiled racism.

However, the main story arc of Deadfire is deadly serious in tone and a story that puts lore, spirituality, and religion at the forefront. You play as a Watcher, which is a being that is able to communicate with the dead and guide their souls. You also function like an empath from Star Trek where you can feel the thoughts of others and experience traumatic situations from their past. You’re told by one god from the get-go to pursue another massive god, Eothas - the villain of the previous game - who is walking around Deadfire. You must figure out what his plan is and stop it. The lore is rich and comprehensive, but it can be overwhelming, especially when many of the names sound similar. 

I love dying. Sign me up!

I found myself more intrigued by individual characters and conversations than the main story, and if I picked up an interesting side quest I would try to complete it before returning to the main stretch because these side quests were often detailed and satisfying and I didn’t want to disrupt the continuity. The bigger side quests give some truly memorable and hilarious options to end them, and these grounded moments were more gripping than learning about some new god or having yet another discussion on lost souls. It’s Obsidian, so you know the character dialogue is sharp as a tack. The speeches in the main quest can come off sounding more like a lecture at the player. Most quests give you less nuanced options which can boil down to being a shameless prick or to being nice. Many stats add even more conversation options, which I imagine adds quite a bit of replay value to the game. My character was heavily levelled in perception, which allowed me to tell when someone I was talking to was lying. Each of your companions also has a beefy personal quest that you can’t really sabotage. The world-building and artwork in cities is imaginative and detailed, and the player is always rewarded for exploring nooks and crannies.

Don’t mind us. We’re just casually breaking in.

You navigate an oceanic overworld on your boat, which must be micromanaged lest you risk being boarded by scallywag bullies or allow one of your recently hired deckhands to perish due to lack of food and water. While I have nothing against the salt-and-brine-filled journeys, I found the naval combat and ship management portion of the game jarringly time-consuming and extraneous. When you run into an enemy ship, you have the option to do the somewhat text based naval combat, flee altogether, or be boarded. If you choose to be boarded, the game switches to the normal on-foot combat system. You then have to sit through a loading screen and start fighting with all of your party members clumped together in the middle of your ship - not exactly optimal fighting tactics. I played as a rangey character with low defense and health, and many times when the game would load in for a ship battle they would just be immediately murdered. I started planning my boat fights with that in mind, and ended up figuring out a strategy where I paused at the exact moment the loading screen ended, and put a shield on my character as quickly as possible. The naval combat option is a bit more reliant on your resources at hand and how much you’ve invested in your ship’s cannons, deckhands, and parts. For most of my run, I found myself panicking whenever I was being encroached upon by faster ships, and tried to avoid this segment of the game altogether. 

"Oh great, more boats."

It’s a shame, because the traditional on-foot combat feels like it gives the player a lot more leeway and customisation in deciding how to approach each battle. The ultimate edition adds a completely turn-based version of the game, but since I hadn’t played the original, and the game advises the classic version as the way to play, I chose that option. While you can play the game purely in real time, I can’t imagine that to be a viable option on console. The analog stick and party controls simply can’t move fast enough. Rather, you’ll be in the pause menu quite often planning the next stage of your attack. You pick a race and a class, master abilities, and use your party’s other classes to mix up your tactics. POE 2’s RPG customisation is meaty and gives the player the reins at the outset. One thing I thought the game pulled off very well was being accessible for someone who isn’t particularly great at RPGs. I am not someone who obsessively gets into stat-building and buffs, and I was able to plan out battles successfully while mainly using different character abilities in tandem, like controlling every character in an MMORPG raid. I also didn’t worry too much about crafting. Having said that, I could see spending hours tooling with these systems if I were so inclined.

"Jeff, please tell me you packed the marshmallows. Jeff? JEFF?"

The loading times between sections are significant. They feel especially ghastly when you have to go inside and outside of a tavern or a house and do a quest that requires talking to people who would be right next to each other if not for the darned loading screens. My playthrough was also not without its fair share of bugs, some of which caused me to lose progress or have to rewatch the same conversations over and over until the game stopped bugging out.

Deadfire lets the player decide how much to immerse themselves in a boundless seafaring adventure. Fans of Obsidian's previous work or anyone who enjoys a decent story will find plenty to keep them occupied, but that fun is caveated by the game's boat management tedium and severe loading times.

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A vast ocean of imagination and wit wait to be explored in Deadfire, but its boat segments can walk the plank.