I played Pillars of Eternity 2 (PoE2) last year, and even then it had already been out for quite a while, but I’m just doing a review now because I’m replaying it. Mostly I’m replaying it because my companion tier list is getting a lot of traffic so I’m playing it again to get ideas for more PoE2 guides. So, let me tell you my thoughts for this game overall. So begins my belated Pillars of Eternity 2 review.
First of all, I’m a big cRPG fan. Baldur’s Gate, Divinity, all that jazz. I love me some cRPGs, and I like Obsidian in particular, which is the studio that made this particular cRPG. They also made KOTOR 2 and Fallout: New Vegas which were solid games, especially given that they were outsource projects from old school BioWare and Bethesda respectively. I played the first Pillars of Eternity, which stayed a lot closer to the old isometric D&D RPG style popularized by games like Baldur’s Gate. I also spent about 70 hours with this game. So, I think I have the expertise to give a well-informed review for Pillars of Eternity 2 (PoE2).
Pillars of Eternity 2 tries to modernize this formula a lot which it certainly well-received. That formula was in dire need of a shake-up. Not a tear down, or to be abandoned, but some modernization. You can only play so many high fantasy cRPGs before they start to blur together into a confusing mess of demonic god names and VAs doing their best ‘elf voice’. PoE2 pushes the technology timeline forward a little bit to sort of French Revolution era fantasy, with navies, pirates and flintlock pistols. This is the first thing that stands out. The new setting is very welcome.
The game also updates pretty much every menu and system from PoE to feel more modernized and polished. Health bars, equipment screens, ability menus — they all feel brand new and have that new car smell, instead of feeling like a very fancy Baldur’s Gate mod, which is sort of what the original PoE felt like. It feels like a much more modern RPG, especially when it comes to classes, multiclasses and ability selection. Gone is a lot of the D&D esoterica, replaced by more modern RPG conventions. All good stuff.
The story is pretty engaging. Sometimes with these games, even newer, more modern cRPG games, getting bombarded with piles of text and text trees can become exhausting and you just end up skipping a lot of it purely because there’s oh my god so much. Like, I’m not going to get sucked into the dramatic tension of this fisherman telling me I need to find his bauble because his mom is sick or whatever.
PoE2 does something pretty clever (which PoE1 did, but not to the same degree or effect): the really important scenes transition to a full-screen choose-your-own-adventure illustrated book format. And I thought that was fantastic. Not only does to separate the wheat from the chaff like, oh I should probably actually read this, it also gives these scenes a lot more heft and gravitas with the accompanying art.
The graphics and the scenes are overall very nice. The monsters look cool, the scripted cutscenes are a huge step up from PoE1, and the spell graphics all look very nice.
I like all of the companions, and that tends to be a big part of my enjoyment for a game like this. If I look at all the portraits and see ugly piled on ugly and I don’t see anyone I want to use in my party, it’s hard for me to develop enthusiasm. But Maia, Aloth, Eder, Sarafen, etc., etc.: all super cool.
The game also has tons of content. On top of the main story, it’s got a number of DLCs and super bosses. You get a lot for what you’re paying for. You probably get $80 worth of game for whatever it costs, like $30-40 or whatever. Just looked it up. $49.99. Ehhhhh, I think I pulled the trigger on this game at $39.99 on a sale and I feel like that’s the price point where it grabbed me, but the game is definitely worth $49.99.
There are some things that are annoying, though. It suffers from Wind Waker syndrome, which is to say there’s so much aimless boating around to explore the map that it becomes a chore. Like, you will constantly be alt-tabbing out of this game when you pick a destination and are forced to watch this boat travel that distance in real-time, and that’s after you’ve explored the map. Before that you’ve gotta babysit the boat and have it move a few inches into the fog of war at a time because you can’t even fire and forget a move command and go read the wiki.
The wiki should be included as part of the game review because there’s no way you’re getting through this game (or any similar game), without a guide to consult. And, for what it’s worth, the official wiki is quite up to the task. It’s got basically anything you’d ever want to know on there. So it doesn’t really matter that you’re alt-tabbing all the time, because you’ll be consulting the wiki constantly. However, that amount of boating is still… woof.
Another thing that’s not so fun is having to manually individually sell all the piles of useless garbage you pull off corpses in order to make money. I spent most of the game avoiding this task and then it took me like 2 solid hours to clean out my inventory.
I wish games like this did a better job of balancing out companions. It’s always so disappointing when you have a companion like Rekke or Fassina, who look cool and have cool personalities, and then they’re just totally unusable because their stats are so poorly distributed or they have a really wacky class combination. Having a choice between 3 class options certainly helps, but no one wants to choose option Y when option X is clearly so much better.
I’m saying option Y and X but I’m specifically thinking about Rekke and Eder. Why would I ever choose Rekke over Eder? Eder has 16 MIG/CON, Rekke has 11/10. Eder is just better. If they were both semi-equal, or even in the same ballpark, I could do some mental calculus and choose Rekke on a second playthrough for variety’s sake on the strength of his portrait and backstory, but the difference is so vast I could never justify it, so Rekke just ends up being this sad waste of time.
Also, I hesitate to say this, because it’s also a pro, but this game might have too much content. If you want to do every available quest and DLC in this game, you’re going to be pumping about 80 hours into it. Which would be fine, but remember roughly a solid 1/3rd of that time is waiting for people to move, loading screens, and watching a boat sail.
And then the other issue is that leveling maxes out at 20, which you will easily hit long before you’re finished with all of the available content. There is enough content to level characters up to at least 22-25. Leveling and experience game is part of the core gameplay loop that keeps you engaged and excited to do these quests and it just… ceases to be a factor while you still have piles of objectives left to contend with.
All in all, I really like Pillars of Eternity 2. I think among this Kickstarter backed resurgence of mid-sized studio developed cRPGs, PoE2 is probably my favorite one (and yes, readers, I did play Divinity 2 -which I also liked, but it didn’t have the style and panache that PoE2 has). So I do hope there’s a PoE3. Just… please give fast travel or something.
I’ll end the review with a numerical score just for people who want to scroll through all the text. 8.9/10.
That about does it for my Pillars of Eternity 2 (PoE2) review. Check out the games section for more game guides and other game-related content, and click here for more articles related to Pillars of Eternity 2.