Monday, October 10, 2016

Pillars of Eternity

So this is me (in PoE.) I wavered between elf or dwarf before seeing that godlike can't use helms. If anything allows me to relive the Morrowind routine of playing a shoeless Argonian, it can't be all bad.

I was planning on writing more Baldur's Gate 2 posts, and then starting in on my longform "let's play" of VtM: Bloodlines but all my roleplaying has gotten sidelined in favor of breathlessly combing through Pillars of Eternity. Strangely, for someone as opinionated as my lupine self, I find myself hesitating in even qualifying it as good, bad or anything in between.

I had a chance to back Pillars of Eternity during its Kickstarter campaign and passed it up offhandedly, having grown quite weary and wary of hipster "neo retro" idiocy promising to bring back the '80s, '90s or whatever. I somewhat regret it now. While PoE makes a few unnecessary concessions to BG2's antiquated formula, it also manages to succesfully re-create its best elements with modern technology. Most amusingly, it comes across as both overly-ambitious and half-baked, as all the best games of the turn of the millennium were wont to bite off more than they could chew, and in that sense it marvelously recreates that old-timey PC game miasma of untapped potential.

Its stat system is excellent but the spells and abilities making use of those stats are somehow both underdeveloped and redundant. It harms its otherwise careful balance by handing the player an army of summonable creatures and other freebies. It falls prey to the tired old +5 resist all routine, undermining its otherwise solid system of immunities and vulnerabilities. It hands you a beautiful fortress lacking the functionality to truly make a house a home. It taunts you with customizability then simply hands you every single spell and ability instead of making you choose. Its writing careens between brilliance and mediocrity.

In short, even its failings are fascinating.

In discussing it, it's impossible to avoid comparisons with that other Infinity Engine stepchild, Dragon Age. Pillars of Eternity is in many ways Origins' poorer hillbilly cousin: another attempt to establish a completely new intellectual property cashing in on the old D&D adaptations' popularity by copying their gameplay style. Origins was much better polished, more complete, better tested and balanced and fleshed out. PoE, however, dares more. It's uneven, lower budget but not afraid to do more with less, more creative and sometimes stumbling, slightly less politically correct and darker, more mature in its themes and writing and also sometimes self-indulgent.

Dragon Age sorely disappointed its audience after the Origins campaign. It built a name for itself then sold itself out for a cheap quick buck. It couldn't consistently deliver the same big-budget Hollywood-envious production values while maintaining quality.

PoE could be the start of something great. It has left itself a great deal more room to grow, both in terms of aesthetics and game mechanics. We can only hope it won't go the same route of using sequels to merely fleece their existing audience, and if the rather promising White March expansion's any indication in comparison to the pathetically trite Awakening expansion for Origins, it might not. PoE got a late start and a visibly rushed development for its first installment, but it has every chance of outlasting Dragon Age in the long haul.

That is, if Torment:Tides of Numenera doesn't eat them both alive.
Let's hear it for the RPG revival!

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