Plying the waves in Obsidian’s latest isometric odyssey.
As I dropped anchor into the shimmering waters of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, I found there was far more that felt familiar from having played the first Pillars game than there was different. It’s certainly a lot prettier, with gorgeous animated water, better lighting, and more detailed models. But the combat, dialogue, stat system, and inventory management don’t seem to have changed much at all. It’s more like Pillars of Eternity 1.5… until you get out to the overworld map.
I admired the original Pillars for making its world feel more grounded and tangible by adding realistic travel time when commuting between regions on the map. It felt like reading Tolkien or playing in a detailed Dungeons and Dragons campaign, rather than watching a movie or TV show where the camera simply cuts to wherever the characters need to be next. Deadfire takes this a step further by giving you your own ship that you can sail freely between the various islands. And it’s far more than just a visual representation of your party’s location.
The coastal waters of the Deadfire Archipelago are dotted with challenges and points of interest that have nothing to do with the main story.
Your ship must be provisioned with an adequate stock of food and water, which deplete with every day of sailing. The quality of your provisions even matters. Hardtack bread is cheap and easy to acquire, but subsisting on it alone will lower your crew’s overall Morale over time. I never got to a point where my morale sank so low that I got to witness the consequences, but I think it’s safe to say that would be bad. Plus, treating your hardworking boatswain to a fish fry now and then is just the decent thing to do.
Onboard, your ship has a number of slots to be filled by hired crew who must be paid a daily wage in addition to their ration of food and water. These are more like the stronghold attendants from Pillars 1 than full party members, but they can apply their stats – like navigation or helmsmanship – to various skill challenges you may run into while sailing. There’s even a spot for a cook who can help make the best of your perhaps less-than-gourmet ingredients. Various components of the ship can also be upgraded, including the sails, hull, and cannons. I didn’t encounter any naval combat in the handful of hours it took me to get through the preview portion, so it’s unclear at this point how much these things have an impact.
The coastal waters of the Deadfire Archipelago are dotted with challenges and points of interest that have nothing to do with the main story, and discovering them was one of my favorite parts of the exploration process. At one point, we came across a derelict ship flying a flag that my knowledgeable crew was able to identify as meaning those onboard had been stricken by a plague. We wisely elected to sink it (at the cost of some of our limited supply of cannonballs), but a less astute skipper could easily have missed the warning signs and attempted to board and investigate. It’s clear that skilled sailors are going to be worth their wage in situations like this.
When setting sail, Deadfire is a totally new animal that has me excited to captain my own ship.
As I sailed, I would occasionally come across an anchorage point where I could go ashore and explore most of the islands individually. This sometimes simply involved moving my party over a resource deposit at the overworld level to collect it, but I’d occasionally also uncover a point of interest that could be explored in detail as its own, fully-rendered map. While ashore, your crew can forage for themselves and thus won’t consume food or water from your hold, but will still have to be paid wages for each day that passes. Overall, I had the strong sense that I was operating a mobile, floating business venture and not just a gang of traveling adventurers.
Aside from the self-guided exploration of smaller, less story-heavy islands are hub towns and quest areas that look and play very similarly to Pillars 1. Talking to townsfolk, bartering for equipment and supplies, fighting monsters, and exploring dungeons will all feel very familiar if you played the first game. In some ways, I found myself wishing they had pushed those boundaries a bit further.
The writing holds up pretty well from the small bit of story I was able to take in. Moral dilemmas abound, with much of the conflict seeming to center on the Huana natives and their clashes with the Valian Trading Company and the expanding Rauatai Empire. It continues the themes of colonialism and imperialism from Pillars 1, which sets its tone and feel apart from your standard, medieval-inspired fantasy fare. We’re also seemingly going to learn new things about the nature of the adra and its many uses as we chase down the reborn god Eothas to get our soul back.
When setting sail, Deadfire is a totally new animal that has me excited to captain my own ship, seek out quality crew, and look to the health and welfare of a large company of waywards. Going ashore, it’s basically more Pillars of Eternity, exactly as I remembered it but with a shiny new coat of paint. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I look forward to charting a course for further horizons when the full game launches this April.
T.J. Hafer is a contributor to IGN. Talk history, strategy games, and historical strategy games with him on Twitter at @AsaTJ.