As a gal in her mid-20s, I was too young for the Golden Era of classic PC RPGs. I never played Baldur's Gate. Nor early Fallout. Nor Icewind Dale. Nor any of the classics that are often touted as all-time greats. Last year though, I was able to dive into one game that's in part credited to the genre's great resurgence: Divinity: Original Sin 2. I was astounded by its narrative depth and playful, inventive combat. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, the first true sequel to its own game that Obsidian's ever developed, seeks to be the next impressive game in the genre's revival these past few years—and it's out in just a few more weeks.
It's an interesting time for classic-minded, Dungeons and Dragons inspired RPGs. With the successes of the Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity series, they're undoubtedly making a huge comeback. Part of that is because of veterans yearning for the days of yesteryears when they'd fumble through complex dialogue choices and navigate something not too far off from their cherished tabletop board game experiences. Another part of that is the fact that the genre is connecting with a younger, fresher audience—hey, like me!—for the first time ever. And with Pillars of Eternity 2's plans for release on the Nintendo Switch later this year too, that renewed, curious audience is about to get a whole lot bigger.
"It's super exciting and we can't be happier that there's a bunch of games coming up and are becoming really popular in the genre. As someone who is also just like a really big [Dungeons and Dragons] nerd and stuff like that, it's really awesome to basically be able to play a solo adventure of a tabletop game and to play in this unique world where there's just so much to explore to see," lead producer Justin Britch tells me during a guided demo of Pillars of Eternity 2 hosted at this year's Game Developer's Conference in late March. "It's really exciting that these kind of games exist and I just hope that there's a bunch more, because like I said I'm a fan of my own games that I work on and I just want there to be much more. And I want there to be a bunch more companies that are working in the space."
Last year, Pillars of Eternity 2's predecessor, Pillars of Eternity, was released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One after formerly being only on computers. It was an interesting experiment, considering the click-centric UI for the game. And yet, the optimization for consoles worked, and the genre reached a new audience. It hasn't been the only isometric computer-minded RPG to reach consoles either. Torment: Tides of Numenera and the original Divinity: Original Sin also saw success on those platforms.
And now, Pillars of Eternity 2 is joining the Switch. The Switch is kind of the opposite of what I think of when I consider the ideal platforms for computer RPGs. It's portable, it has a smaller screen (though larger if docked). It has touch controls, which do have potential to alleviate the transference of mouse-and-keyboard abilities. It's also a smash hit of a console for Nintendo, and third parties seem eager to port games over to it—even niche turn-based RPGs like Wasteland 2. Obsidian is no exception to the Switch fervor.
"Even though games like Pillars can be hardcore, we can make it better by basically just really focusing on what things make the player experience better for all players. There's things that we can do that just make things better for both for the veterans and also ease people coming into the game," Britch says, in-between narrating the demo. "And with the Switch, the Switch is just awesome; we love the Switch. Who doesn't love the Switch? They're a crazy person if they don't. So I would love to be able to play Pillars on a mobile device and bring it around with me on my airplane and everything else. We want to continue doing stuff like [releasing Pillars on consoles] and actually bringing it to more and more platforms."
Pillars of Eternity 2 looks to be a delight from the guided demo I watched. For veterans, there's repercussions from big choices made in the expansive game before it, such as pissing off a certain god leading to your ship (which replaces the original's strongholds) being perpetually pooped on by birds ("What we affectionately call 'The Shit Ship'"). The entire game's conversations are voice acted, which considering the amount of choices and things that can be shifted—like killing an integral NPC and seeing the game be affected by that singular choice—is pretty astounding. Pillars of Eternity 2 also comes with accessibility options like Story Mode and Party AI, which will come in handy when the game reaches consoles like the Switch for players unfamiliar with the more brutal side isometric RPGs.
Pillars of Eternity 2 is shaping up to be another can't miss RPG from Obsidian, and the latest in the big comeback of isometric, Dungeons and Dragons-inspired RPGs in general. With the Switch's potential, maybe the genre can inspire even more beyond the newbies on Steam and the veterans who look back on Black Isle Studios' classics fondly. After Pillars of Eternity 2's highly successful Fig campaign, it's proof that this genre is no longer fading in the background as it once was in the mid-to-late-2000s. Isometric, complex RPGs are here to stay. Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire will be out for PC, Mac, and Linux on May 8, with console releases on PS4, Xbox One, and Switch coming late 2018.