Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

"Why'd you leave the keys up on the table?
Here you go create another fable
You wanted to!"

System of a Down - Chop Suey!

So, is Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire a good game? Most of my commentary centers on its nosedive in quality of writing, especially its flatfooted over-reliance on feminist male-bashing to ensure uncritical praise from its simpleminded politically correct audience. Carrie Patel and her crew of hijackers are guilty of more chauvinism in this one product's script than Archie Bunker managed in eight years' worth as an outright chauvinist parody. But aside from demeaning, insulting and demonizing men every other paragraph, how does Deadfire stack up? After all, a game is a game, not a script.

Gameplay-wise, the most obvious improvement would have to be the option to dual-class, for those of us who aren't playing "baby's first RPG" and have no need to be taught what a fighter or wizard is.
Subclasses seem surprisingly well thought out. Good job on those.
The skill system I criticized in PoE1 thus allows for more flexibility, which combined with the new skill tree interface makes leveling more interesting. Unfortunately the skills themselves are still rather limited in function. They mostly just go boom, buum, boum or buom. Some necessary balancing was done but druid lightning spells and monk / barbarian teleportation are still too good to pass up for lack of creative alternatives, especially at high levels. At least the redundancy in damage / effect types was trimmed.
Adding empowerment to every class' abilities seems a downgrade. Yes it adds more flexibility while fighting but also homogenizes the necessary thinker / thug split, as does treating magic spells and physical abilities the same way in skill trees.
In fact, wizard spellcasting is less interesting than ever thanks to no longer learning individual spells. Grimoires are pointless. Unless you look up an online cheat-sheet beforehand and build your character around a complementary grimoire, you'll probably just vendor them without even opening them and keep vaporous wizardry for its passive bonus.

Special mention should go to the concerted effort put into making individual fights more meaningful. You're no longer simply "clearing trash mobs" like every time you entered a new zone in PoE1 but fighting creatures and bandits who have at least some explicit / implicit shred of justification for being there beyond standing around waiting for you to kill them.

The new social / knowledge passive / active point system is indeed better. Not much advancement was made in terms of combat / noncombat integration, but then PoE was already ahead of the curve on that one.
Resting is slightly improved but the new "three wounds and you're out" system in place of heal / endurance seems at best a side-grade. Endurance / heath made players think in terms of attrition whereas getting a third wound on a character now just outright mandates a rest stop.

Weapons and other gear - improved, more flexible and rewarding to fiddle with stacking bonuses and various weapon modes. Very nice. Dual pistols with sequential firing is an inspired addition. Gear progression is also better, with unique / soulbound items coming later in the campaign, as they should, and while the new gear upgrades are less flexible than the old enchantment system, they do keep level 10 purples from being out-shone by level 15 greens.
Pokemon are at least less prevalent (though none of them should be directly controllable) and the new "explosives" and poisons skills make interesting additions.

The smaller party size is good, seems to have hit a real Goldilocks sweet spot at five characters for single-player game, balancing flexibility with redundancy. Quite a few quality of life improvements were made for vendoring or mid-cast spell re-targeting (predicting where an enemy would be in PoE1 was made impossible by the old bugaboo of pathfinding algorithms) plus enemies investigating traps to cut the tedium out of "pulling" (also marred by pathing in PoE1) etc.

Stealthing improved, though still not up to Elder Scrolls standards, not to mention true stealth-based games.

Ship combat and upgrading is mildly more interesting than the PoE1 fortress upgrades/defenses but still mostly a perfunctory timesink and in-game money sink. The cheapest, smallest, fastest ship is the only one you'll need until maybe the very last boss battles, as boarding is easier, less costly and more reliable than cannoneering.

Some aborted features are more difficult to comment on, like the lack of meaningful choice in ship upgrades. Towns possessing commerce / racial / religious characteristics would seem to indicate Obsidian's at least toying with the notion of some kind of trading / governance system (as they tried in Storm of Zehir) but there's no hint of following through on it in practical terms. Probably for the best. Sandbox games like Mount & Blade are much better suited to that sort of thing than are story-based RPGs.

In short, the game design side of this game design studio has remained solid, improving or at least doing no harm to its existing product... which makes all the more galling their willingness to undermine their work's quality through hypocritical politically correct thuggery. Though the trendy feminist male-bashing stands as the most glaring, the entire society of PoE has degraded from the original's more nuanced views to a trite, primitive mentality bordering on "what have the Romans ever done for us" nativist naivete. You could count on one hand the number of times the Vailians are not portrayed as greedy, vain Eurotrash heathen devils or the number of times the Huana are not portrayed as idyllic Noble Suevages (yeah, Noble Mary Suevage, add Pocahontas to your list TVTropes.)
For all their hamfisted attempts at tying their fantasy races to real-world counterparts (Italians and Polynesians) this flies in the face of historic examples of racism and prejudice. They end up tripping over their own self-righteousness. What, no love for the wops there, Obsidian?
Also, when the first PoE set the Glanfathans up as tribal defenders of ancient magitek, it very wisely dodged the pitfall of glorifying them. They're mostly unwitting tools of the gods and the Leaden Key, convenient puppets in the right place at the right time. The same went for the Pargrunnen in the White March expansion, who were revealed by the dialogues with Ondra to be not nearly as special as they liked to think themselves. PoE2 instead goes full retard with the even more primitive (and amusingly Zionist) Huana, who naturally turn out to be literally the gods' chosen people and direct heirs to Atlantis.

Don't even get me started on the hilariously awkward tendency to give the Vailians Mediterranean dark complexions to defuse any criticism... while painting the most despised Vailians more often than not as conspicuously pasty blonds (Benweth, Furrante, Degnos, Amreo) No racial profiling there!

In their desperation to drive their mangled point home, the sheer repetition and glaring omissions start to grate. The player character's dialogue options prompt you several times to ask others "why do you speak like a Vailian" or "why are you dressed like a Vailian" trying desperately to suggest some kind of cultural takeover... except it's perfectly natural for individuals to adapt to their social milieu. If we're being honest, we should also see plenty of examples of Vailians and Rauataians who have "gone native" Dances With Wolves style (why are you dressed like a Huana?) and their own difficulties fitting into both cultures.
Miraculously, there also seems to be nearly zero intermarriage or "rishathra" between the various races in this colonial free-for-all, even between the Rauataians and Huana who happen to be the same damn species. This despite pushing the free love bisexualism to ludicrous levels. What, everybody's a Kinsey 4-5 sexual unicorn all of a sudden but the much more likely inter-racial couples just freak you out, Obsidian? Oooopsie.

More amusingly, the Huana in their Disneyed tribal perfection never seem to have trouble with each other (aside from a valid, if spinelessly fashionable yuppie jab at caste systems) but are only oppressed by those evil, evil invading foreigners. No ritual headhunting expeditions, no canoe battles over prime fishing grounds, no ritual cannibalism, no wasteful potlatching, no harsh population control and 50% rates of infanticide due to limited island resources, no blood-soaked Trobriand crown jewels or generations-length tribal feuds, what a truly pacific Pacific!

Even if you can ignore the fact that the scant few good men are to Obsidian's writing team either dime-a-dozen romance novel toy-boys worshipping at the feet of women or any combination of post-sexual old/blind/dead daddy figures, there's something hopelessly goofy about the whole thing. Like any modern political correctness, it's so naively post-ironic as to be indistinguishable from self-parody. Regardless of whether you find any particular thematic elements insulting, the fact remains that in obsessively pursuing social justice platitudes, Deadfire's writers have neglected to make their stories interesting. Before you get annoyed at all the saintly, hyper-competent women standing up to stupid, evil men, you'll get bored of the repetitiveness.

Oh, I don't think I trust in your self-righteous suicide. I cry when angels deserve to die.

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