I’m done with Pillars of Eternity (70 hours, Normal difficulty) and I’d say that I did enjoy it overall. I was disappointed with it in a number of ways, especially early on, but I eventually warmed up to it, especially because Defiance Bay seemed fairly well done in terms of what I’m expecting from an RPG-city. I finished The Endless Paths of Od Nua, but not The White March since I wanted to have something fresh left for a second playthrough. Aside from the fact that it would most likely have meant investing another 15 hours or so.
I’m not sure if I already noticed it right from the get-go as I was building my character or if it only started sinking in later, but I’m not a big fan of how many classes there are. Generally I’m happy with getting a lot of choices, but in all of that time I could never figure out what place the Chanters, Wizards or Barbarians actually had in the setting. It makes sense to have the Priest as an option considering how important the gods are to setting and story and Ciphers are similarly integrated. I suppose Druids and perhaps even Barbarians also kind of fit with the Glanfathans and Twin Elms, but overall the class selection mostly seems to be the way it is since Pillars is supposed to be a spiritual successor to the Infinity Engine-games.
And I suppose that it’s mostly a success in that respect, but to me it felt similarly schizophrenic as Dragon Age: Origins. Except that here it’s more the attempt of combining a realistic setting and its history with many very typical High Fantasy-elements. This is just as true for the races as for the classes. I think mostly because they are essentially cliches in the IE-games and PoE’s supposedly more realistic approach to the setting doesn’t allow for heavy-handed writing like that. But the result is that most people you meet are really just that. If somebody is important enough the writing will usually be more focused on their circumstances, their character and writing related to possible quests or the story. Race doesn’t really matter, which has an odd politically correct aspect to it, when you think about it. But it’s probably accidental. I’d assume that their writing focus was simply governed by different considerations. The gods, as mentioned, play a big role in the story, so it makes sense that a lot of conflict would be religiously motivated and so that’s also something that the story naturally focuses on.
Though I have to admit I liked the idea of the tribal alliance of the Glanfathans, which I had at first assumed to be elven, but turned out to consist of various groups of elves, orlans and even dwarves. People in Twin Elms were distrustful of my character, which makes perfect sense, but they still were very willing to give him important tasks and to inundate (ok, I’m exaggerating slightly) him with lore dumps. Which was a big problem with the writing in general. I don’t mind that kind of background informations too much, but there often seems to have been little consideration for how it’s written and with which character it is placed. Most characters either don’t want to talk to the PC at all or they will be willing to happily tell you about everything you might want to ask.
However, dialogue reactivity was absolutely fine in my opinion. Overall there were barely any background- or race-checks, but some attributes - especially Resolve, but also a good amount of Perception, Intellect, and Might - were checked quite a lot. Other than that they were mostly Disposition-related. I liked this system especially, since it seems fairly original and once I arrived in Defiance Bay, I started to get reactions fairly regularly, though I’d say it was less noticeable outside of Defiance Bay. Perhaps it has something to do with the dispositions I went for; which where mostly Benevolent, Honest and Diplomatic. In any case, it was nice that dialogue options would sometimes result in convincing people when the player had already built up a reputation for - for example - being honest. Complete with a little bit of special dialogue pointing out this fact.
The character-building system seems overly complicated. It’s not really hard to understand most single elements of the system, but in a lot of cases it can be hard to estimate which item or which small bonus from some skill-upgrade would be useful for the character in question. I’m sure that part of that is just my lack of familiarity with the system. Even so, I’m just getting tired of having to deal with unnecessary overcomplication and resulting intransparency instead of trying to go for meaningful complexity arising from a limited number of mechanics and their interaction with each other.
The crafting system was fine, I’d say. Much easier to handle than in NWN2 for instance, but also completely unnecessary. Throwing it out would have simply meant less work for the developers and I don’t see that anything would have been lost. Not having it might have also helped making the unique items across the world seem less like glorified crafted items (since many of the modifiers available for crafting can also be found on unique items). As far as I understand it this used to be even worse before patches and White March improved on the mundane feeling items a bit.
The combat seemed fine as well. But I have only played it on Normal and found most of the encounters fairly easy, so my comments on it won’t be very insightful. To be frank though, it’s clearly a step back that in most encounters I ended up using only the free per-encounter abilities, usually not wasting any of my per-rest ressources. The Health-pools (from which Endurance (= hitpoints) recharges) of my characters were large enough that I could usually keep going for a while and at least on this difficulty I never ran out of provisions for resting. The resting system is still better than in NWN2 of course, but that was just a case of not even trying. I don’t remember much about how the need for resting worked out for me in Icewind Dale 2, but in Icewind Dale I frequently had to try resting somewhere in the Wilds when my group was already in pretty bad shape. Perhaps since I had a sorcerer with me in IwD2? In any case, being forced to rest somewhere in the wilds meant that I had to fight risky engagements and going back to some safe place to rest was often prohibitively time-consuming. That seems like a good solution, but I’m not sure how well that would work in a more open world.
As far as the story is concerned, I wouldn’t say that I always liked it*, but most of the basic moment-to-moment writing often seemed better and most if not all of the voice actors seemed chosen well and did a good job in my opinion. I point this out because of what I earlier said about the writing issues, but also since I found most of the voice-acting for less important characters to be perfunctory. Outside of the plot, the voices didn’t always seem chosen well and it often also just seemed fairly bland. Writing and voicework for the party NPCs seemed like another strong point though. I also enjoyed that they finally managed to get it right again with the internal party-communication. The last time I have seen this kind of party-banter with such a high frequency was in Baldur’s Gate II. Out in the wilds while travelling I mean. Having all or most communication occur in a party camp of some kind seems antithetical to meaningful choice in my opinion. Sure, the player will get to see more of the content in one playthrough, but so will every other player.
Well, that got much longer than I intended… Anyway, I’d say this is the first big Fantasy-RPG I have played that actually seems fairly similar to Baldur’s Gate II in structure. NWN2 got close in terms of ambition and content, but was far more linear and Neverwinter didn’t branch out like BGII did from Athkatla. PoE is more open than NWN2 and while Defiance Bay didn’t seem as integrated into the world as well as BGII’s city in terms of the questing, the amount of content in the city itself comes close I think.
Ugh, I hope it’s still somewhat readable
*It’s a bit like a conspiracy theory if the conspirators were a bit incompetent and always are seen when they are doing their manipulating. And when somebody is onto them Thaos shows up and destroys some cities or something like that. With all the things he supposedly did throughout history it’s hard to believe that nobody would know about him and his group. Oh, and the big twist at the end is almost meaningless. The gods being omnipotent or almost omnipotent won’t make the slightest difference for most people. Aside from the fact that this should already have been clear considering Eothas being dead and Woedica having been weakened.