Pillars of Eternity: The Old-School RPG Fan's Dream Game?

Pillars of Eternity: The Old-School RPG Fan's Dream Game?

New updates from Obsidian will be of particular interest to fans of the Baldur's Gate era.

The thing with the RPG genre is that it's such a diverse beast it's almost unfair to lump many of its constituent games together in one category.

Just look at what we've covered here on USgamer in just the last week: the Final Fantasy V-style mechanics of Bravely Default; the scrappy, weird nature of Lightning Returns; the super-cute curry-themed roguelike Sorcery Saga; and how Larian Studios is hoping to capture the imagination of Ultima VII fans.

Obsidian's Kickstarter success story Pillars of Eternity (formerly Project Eternity) is yet another example of the many directions the genre can go in. Like Divinity: Original Sin is taking aim at the nostalgia glands of those who've been playing RPGs for years, so too is Pillars of Eternity, but in a different way; while Larian is very much channelling the work of Richard Garriott and the freeform nature of the later Ultima games, Obsidian has its eye very much on the Infinity Engine-era Dungeons & Dragons games.

We've always known this fact; it was a key selling point of the original Kickstarter campaign, after all. But a new update from game producer Brandon Adler recently published on the game's website makes it abundantly clear that Obsidian is taking its job very seriously. Just take a look at this character sheet if you ever doubted them:

Click for bigness.

That's a wealth of information right there, and presented very similarly to how the Infinity Engine games did things. It's a far cry from the comparatively simplistic and combat-centric status screens we see in many modern role-paying games -- particularly those of Japanese origin -- and somewhat closer to what you might have to hand if you were playing a pen-and-paper tabletop campaign with friends. Let's take a closer look.

Over on the left, we have a selection of important statistics. Stamina comes first and foremost, closely followed by health (rather than the more commonly used "hit points" or "HP," interestingly). After that is what appears to be accuracy for weapons in both hands -- dual wielding confirmed, I guess -- and DT, whatever that might be. The second row of these stats gives a basic defense value, followed by fortitude, reflex and willpower values, presumably for use in D&D-style "saving throws" to resist various effects. The nice thing about the inclusion of these stats is they don't necessarily have to be combat-related; a willpower saving throw could be used to resist the effects of a particularly charismatic individual, for example, and a reflex save could be used to, say, prevent an embarrassing mishap in a social situation.

In the main panel of the character sheet, we see the character's primary status, coupled with clear descriptions of what effect those various values have -- something that D&D was always quite good at obfuscating back in the Baldur's Gate era. Here, it's clearly laid out: a Might score of 13 leads to a 26 per cent increase in damage and healing; a Dexterity score of 9 leads to an increase of 18 in accuracy. Presumably there will be a cutoff point below which you'll get penalties rather than bonuses to various aspects of your character. One of the most interesting -- though not always practical -- aspects of old-school D&D was seeing how far you could get with an obviously flawed character, and many of the Infinity Engine games actually allowed you to explore that. Have a low Intelligence score, for example, and your dialogue choices would consist of broken English and guttural noises, while higher stats would often open up alternative avenues of resolving situations.

Interestingly, of all the primary stats on display here, there doesn't appear to be an equivalent to D&D's Charisma value; all of the stats appear to be related in one way or another to combat or otherwise physical challenges. Resolve could potentially be used in social situations to, say, see how steadfast the character stands in an argument, but it's not quite the same as defining in clear terms how charismatic and charming the character is.

Take a look in the panel to the right and the reasons for this may become somewhat clearer, however. Rather than defining your character's personality by a single numerical Charisma value, it's instead defined by your behavior, which in turn feeds into some dynamic secondary stats. As the party leader, it'll be your responsibility to be the "face of the party," with other party members presumably responding to you in various different ways according to how you act. Here, we can see that the player character -- who, it seems, is not the same as the Paladin character "Pallegina" depicted in the main part of the character sheet -- is somewhat aggressive, quite kind and very passionate about what they believe in. Underneath that, we can see how the general population from various areas and groups feels about the party as a whole. In this case, the party presumably saved Dyrford from something unpleasant happening and are consequently now regarded as heroes; conversely, the citizens of The Dozens and Twin Elms distrust the party significantly, while Defiance Bay and Gilded Vale aren't quite sure what to think.

The game's style of presentation certainly captures the feel of the Infinity Engine -- and it sounds as if the mechanics will, too.

This is in keeping with how the Infinity Engine games did things, though in those cases it was often somewhat more simplistic and less explicitly laid out numerically like this. In the Baldur's Gate games, for example, certain characters would respond differently to you according to your alignment and past behavior, and this could even lead to intra-party arguments or fights if you had clashing personalities or alignments on your team. The way you chose to play your hero also tended to affect their romantic options, too; certain characters would find particular traits more or less desirable, so if you wanted to pursue a relationship with a specific person, you needed to make sure you were the person they wanted you to be.

Reputation, too, was usually tracked as a global, single statistic which meant the whole game world responded to you in much the same way. Word travelled fast in the Forgotten Realms, it seems, and if you upset the guards in one town you'd probably find yourself having to deal with the long arm of the law in the next, too. Pillars of Eternity's adoption of a reputation system for each area and group you've encountered opens up many more possibilities for role-playing -- will you align with one group or another, and what effect will that have?

In short, then, this simple screenshot tells us quite a lot about what Obsidian has in mind for Pillars of Eternity's gameplay. And it's an exciting prospect for sure; it looks very much as if the somewhat flexible nature of the Infinity Engine-era RPGs is very much in evidence here, and it will be very interesting to see how well the game copes with character types other than the stereotypical lawful good hero who just wants to save the world. I have faith, though; after all, the best dialogue in these games always came from characters with just a hint of evil or chaos about them.

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