Review: Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition (PS4)

Review: Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC, Mac, Linux

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (19.48 GB)
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: Paradox Interactive / 505 Games
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Original MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Um, wow. I never expected to play a game like this on a console again.

Yes, I did review Torment: Tides of Numenera a few months ago, and no doubt, they are both spliced from the same DNA.

But Pillars of Eternity is a tried and true PC fantasy role-playing game, the blood relative of games like Baldur’s Gate – the RPG, not the action-adventure game on PlayStation 2.

And now this spiritual successor is gracing my PS4 with its presence. The game has been available on PC for quite some time as the product of a very successful Kickstarter campaign.

It’s no easy task porting a game like this to a console. For an example of how to do it wrong, look no further than Sword Coast Legends – a game that worked well on PC but ran terribly on PS4. These games are meant – and designed – to be played with a mouse and keyboard.

Now we have a heavily praised PC RPG ported to PlayStation 4. Torment was a successful port, but it’s not perfect. Pillars of Eternity does an even better job of simplifying the control scheme while not dumbing down the game itself.

Everything from the writing to the spell-casting system and complexity of the original game made it through almost unscathed. Even the controls support both “point-and-click” as well as traditional controller movement.

You explore your environment as you would in any other console game. Your joystick controls the direction you walk. However, once combat commences, your control scheme is switched to point-and-click which makes absolute sense since you’ll be doing a lot of party management.

There are still some “console-ish” mechanics in combat. For example, if you press in the direction of the enemy while holding the Cross button, it will highlight the nearest enemy and auto attack.

This makes it easier to rush through simpler enemies, while the traditional point-and-click is reserved for instances where micromanaging your team is crucial.

The core gameplay is exploration, party development, and combat. The game excels at a telling a serious narrative surrounding a realized world that takes its cues from Dungeons & Dragons.

Of course, in order to avoid the lawyers, certain races and monster types had to be renamed, but the familiarity is there for any fans of the genre. Hell, the wizard’s first spell is practically a magic missile, but it isn’t named as such.

But the narrative isn’t just told to you. You weave it, sometimes in the decisions you make within the game’s environment: stand up for a bullied elf, or let the villagers handle him. Other times you make decisions during the cinematics which are told in storybook fashion.

Those moments felt very much like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a kid. I always felt like the world was molding around my decisions, and very early on in the game my choices became costly which is something I always enjoyed about these types of games in the past. Don’t you dare start caring for those characters or they will “Game of Thrones” you and die.

Item management has also been streamlined for console in the form of a radial menu. To be honest, I don’t remember if this was available on PC since I would just use keyboard shortcuts to access my menus.

This radial technique works well and gives you quick access to the many sections you have at your disposal. And while the interface will probably never be as quick as on PC, I never felt like I was trudging through menus due to poor migration to console.

Combat is as action-packed or calculated as you’d like. At any point during a battle you can pause with the Square button. At this point you can give each character an individual order, heal, select a new target, and then go back to the action and watch your orders followed.

It’s an old system that still works well and allows players to experience combat in the way that best suits them. Your characters are allowed multiple sets of weapons, so I can easily switch my ranger, for example, from wielding a bow to dual wielding swords with a quick flip through the radial menu.

This is extremely effective when an enemy closes the gap between you and it, and your range weapon is no longer effective.

A warning for those who don’t like to read: Pillars of Eternity is heavy on the on-screen narrative. While some dialogue is spoken, there’s a lot of exposition that’s done via that ol’ traditional text.

If you can look past this, you’ll find some terrific writing. As a Watcher, your character has the ability to look into people’s past lives. Again, you do so by way of a lengthy description versus an animated cinematic. But the writing is done so well that I’d find myself enjoying some of these expositions.

Visuals:
It would seem like a simple task to port something with hand-drawn backgrounds and low-poly characters from PC to a console, but I have seen games like these completely destroyed by a shoddy port.

This game was ported by a team that cared, not only about making this wonderful role-playing game playable on a console, but one that also put great thought into making it accessible. This also applies to the visual transition from PC to PlayStation 4.

Framerate is silky smooth on PS4, even when some crazy spell effects are lighting up the screen. I’m not certain if the game received any PS4 Pro love, but it looks absolutely gorgeously sharp on my 4K screen.

Environments are distinctive and rendered with absolute attention to detail, and despite them being static they blend well with the characters who are polygonal. The interface is also easy to maneuver, while stylistically following the same visual cues surrounding the fantasy-heavy theme. Character portraits are beautiful: a staple migrated from the old Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games.

While the cinematics are told in a more literary fashion, they’re often complemented by some beautiful illustrations of the action. Similarly, the bestiary within the game includes highly detailed drawings of the enemies that you’ll confront on your journey.

Audio:
It’s rare to play an Obsidian game and not also experience a phenomenal musical score. Rare indeed as I can’t think of a single time. Pillars of Eternity continues this tradition with an incredible soundtrack full of crescendos and epic movements. Combat is ever exciting thanks in part to the pieces of music that accompany the action. But even walking through a dank dungeon is enhanced by some of the best music gaming has to offer.

This is also a very chatty game. From character banter as you travel, to exposition through audible dialogue, it delivers with some upper tier voice talent. Not only does this keep you involved in the story, but it also serves to get to know your characters.

Certain characters will bicker with each other or make some comedic commentary on the situation. All of this is done with personality and charm. It really hits a nostalgic chord for my days with the old Baldur’s Gate games: “Go for the eyes, Boo! Go for the eyes!”

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Alas, these types of RPGs are for a certain crowd. If you favor the Final Fantasy gameplay, which I do as well, you might want to watch some videos of Pillars of Eternity first, because the pacing might not resonate well with fans of modern RPGs.

It’s a slow burn, and one that requires some heavy reading and micromanaging of characters – though there are various difficulty settings for those who just want to allow their characters to act on their own and win battles fairly easily.

There’s so much to do in this game and an amazing story to experience from professionals who have a talent for the art of the written word. It’s easy to get lost in its pages and lavishly designed world.

But with such praise comes a small warning that its pacing might be a turnoff to some. The RPG genre has somewhat split into different styles. Pillars of Eternity falls into that PC RPG realm: one which will reward patience, but might not be everyone’s cup of tea. If this is your type of RPG, you will probably remember it as one of the great ones.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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