20.5.15

Pillars of Eternity

I am aware, that the Kickstarter success, Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity, was opened to everyone a bit before easter. Myself, I got to try it out after my vacation, in the semi-early April. Since then I've clocked in about 54 hours according to Steam. Though I have to mention that from each session only 66,666...% can be counted as active, rest being spent afk.


The most confusing thing about this whole thing is that I am known for my very strong (and vocal) dislike of the fantasy theme. My previous experience with an RPG with a party is from the good old DOS days and the previous fantasy game in general was the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic - not a new game, that one. So, how did I end up backing Project Eternity? I really have no idea, something just hit the chord without anyone at work, for example, pressing me for it - on the contrary, my coworkers were absolutely shocked when *I* told I backed the project. And I've  had plenty of fun, thanks for asking.



This is no review, I don't do those. Nor is this musings about a played-through game, I'm assuming I've barely started on the second half of the main story. That's just based on the "Completed Act 1, 2, 3; completed the game" achievements and can not be used to say anything about the game's length or duration. So what is this post? Just like every other gaming-related post of mine: just typing out some feelings and thoughts about the game.

Isdess the giant

Building my character was an excercise in utilizing a random.random() loop. Finally I picked Aumaua (giant) as my race and Cipher as my trade. It didn't sound like a typical knuckledragger nor like a typical hyper easily bruised wizrd, but something in between. The different background options gave bonus to some stants, being an Island Aumaua boosted something, the old homeplace something else and my labourer background game more muscle power. I could've tried to come up with more mystery, but I didn't feel like it.

Now there's more to see than in the beginning of the game

Dualwielding is fun

Act I

The beginning was a bit odd, I thought, but at least I didn't even get close to being killed during the first couple of locations (the campsite, a cave). So I hadn't ruined anything so far with my uneducated character creation method. The story itself started moving when I dug myself out of the dungeons and witnessed a bunch of sneaky robed men fooling with a mystical machine. Cilant Lîs didn't seem like a place I'd have to worry about anymore, but maybe I would re-check it later on, just in case.

For some reason my journey was taking me towards something on the map called Gilded Vale, via a couple of fight-filled stretches of forest. On the way I sneaked through every single bush and corner, while promising to help anyone and everyone I encountered on my way. Even that guy whose friend was mauled by a bear. The bear wasn't much of a problem, even if it was a bit hair-rising.

Gilded Vale

As soon as I set my foot inside the village the nastiness of this world started shining through clearly. The mass-hanging tree, the sorrow-maddened local ruler (my guess) and otherwise dicky villagers didn't really invite to stay in Gilded Vale for long.



On my way there I had helped some poor person, who proceeded to give me discounts in the local inn. Free sleeping place was needed quite a lot, while I was cleaning up the ruins of the temple of Eothas, even though the free nap in the common room didn't provide any bonuses. At worst I killed a handful of ghosts from a room, walked back up, to the inn, slept, went back to the lowest floor to attack the next room that housed these horrors.

In front of the inn an elven wizard Aloth was in some need of help and afterwards he was most happy to join me in my adventures. He kept his butt handed over to him constantly, just like every wizard in every fantasy game seems to be requried to. On my way out of the village, after completing all the side quests I could, a dude who was loitering next to the hanging tree wanted to join me. Edér, a human figther, knew that I was something people call a good person. He'd been welcome in my team before and he'd made the basement's ghosts a bit easier to take care of. But I guess late is better than never...



From the village of hostile peasants I headed towards northeast in search of the local lord Raedric's fortress (R's Keep). The man had to be put to the sword for the common good.
I was a bit lost, as I have been used to Fallout maps where you get map markers when you hear of places. Nope, not here, even though I had the quests in my log and had descriptions telling where those places more or less are. Then, randomly, I found out that as the maps have multiple exit points, I had to use an eastward exit to see if there was a new visitable map to the east. This way I found another forest map (and later on I found a route with a map marker for Raedric's place). Somewhere along the way I encountered a curious Rasputin-lookalike, a fiery monk called Durance, who also was very eager to join my adventuring band.


A scarily large amount of torched dragon skeletons I encountered on one of these forest/field areas made me suspicious, what I'd end up encountering. I really didn't think that in case I met a fire-breathing beast would be escapable.


Raedric's Keep

Perhaps there would've been multiple routes into lord Raedric's hideout. Many an NPC hinted at entering through some sewers, but I guess I was blind or idiotic as I just couldn't have my team walk along the rocks towards the entrance. As the less obvious route I took climbing some vines to the top of the battlements and sneaked inside via a roof door. Call me paranoid, but walking through the main gate with weapons drawn (and being cut to pieces by the first pair of guards) really didn't sound appealing or doable.

From a handy container I found some robes used by the local cult, so I could roam freely in that floor. Of course one door I needed to use was locked and the local pope required me to help him by freeing his misguided friend from the keep's dungeons. Sigh. To the basement, then.

So very unsurprisingly the basement was filled with undeads of different types and they were quickly added back to the lists of just deads. From a corner I found a lab and in the middle of it was an Animancer with a foul reputation. I claimed to be on business of lord Raedric and avoided a fight with her. Of course she seemed like a character I'd end up tasked to kill later on anyway, so I decided to take care of that problem straight away. I gathered my folks around her and attacked without provocation. For some reason her minions didn't flinch but the fight didn't automatically end, either. Only when I attacked the most bothersome-looking of the non-aggressive zombies, they all got mad at me.

Now that I had cleared up the basement-dungeon I climbed back up and the pope-dude gave me a key to Raedric's side room stairwell. The ruler was surprisingly chatty, so I obliged. After a couple of fruitless (my whole team was quickly beaten to pulp) violent approaches I had to swallow my pride as a negotiator and agree to betray my employer Kolsc - and to work with his animancer. Oops.
As I was, for some unfathomable reason, playing as a good person, I decided that any of it wasn't cool or good for the people so he was to die anyway. Tactically I positioned my team around Raedric's most annoying henchman, the spellcaster. That one died always, without exception, on a healthy alpha strike, but still, after a dozen of attempts later at least Raedric himself had always stayed alive and mopped the floor with us.

In between playing sessions I realized that I could actually put some proper armor on my people to replace those useless (and at this point unnecessary) robes without a DR bonus... Perhaps that'd improve my chances somewhat? This is exactly what happened, as I sliced and diced those dudes in a single go after these slight modifications to my team.


Caed Nua

After the coup took place I continued with my map search, as I wanted to get to Defiance Bay. Rather unsurprisingly I found the bridge that leads there fastest to be recently broken and I was forced to take a potentially very long detour. Pretty soon I found my way into the ruined fort Caed Nua, which of course was filled with annoying ghosts and whatnot. Surprisingly I managed to sneak past a good bunch of them and into the basement. The Watcher I had been searching for, Maerwald (who also was the castle's master) was hiding in the basement. His sanity wasn't up to the level I am used to, thanks to all the souls he was carrying inside him. Just as I thought that I had talked my way out of things nicely and peacefully, one of his cargo souls took the controls and attacked.

This led into me waking up as the lady of Caed Nua and I started my minions on working on defensive improvements right that instant. Then I checked the first floor of the dungeon and returned back to more civilized and much less grindy-smelling tasks.


After I had gained a couple of experience levels I returned to take a good look at the Endless Paths actually hid. The first floors were very easy, I even took a look at the bottom of that sacrificial pit in the first pic - and returned to my previous save just as quickly. I did keep sweeping the levels in order, systematically. Surprisingly I found the gigantic Adra head from the fourth level already, as I had assumed it to be in the fifth one, a third of the way down (EPoCN was supposed to be 15 levels deep).
Despite knowing what to expect, I still entered the fifth level if for nothing else, to collect the XP for finding new locations. In each level the enemies got slowly but steadily more difficult, with each level containing something harder you'd call a "level boss". I cut everyone in the fifth floor with relative ease, until I found the bottom of the sacrificial pit again but without shortcuts. I decided that "yeah, I'll return a few more levels later on..." and went on my merry way.



Act II

Defiance Bay

After taking a slight detour I got to Defiance Bay and the story jumped into the second act. The city was full of this and that to read, see and try out. I spent a good while in Copperlane alone (the first district) while wandering and doing some small quests out of the way. Edér had wanted to visit a temple in the neighbouring First Fires district. That one was in ruines, of course, so I had to enter it via the catacombs entry that was in Copperlane. And the catacombs were full of who knows what, at least until I had gone through all the corners. Those mushroom-mycon-spore monsters were confusing.


From the catacombs I finally got to the remaining underground part of the temple, which was occupied by a mad cult. I ended up in a small chamber where a mad woman asked stupid questions and my unsatisfactory answers ended up in a bloodbath to my team. Reloading and reconsidering my route made a bit more sense, as I found an apprentice who was just rehearsing his secret words. Muahahaha!


After I had spent a good amount of time doing good or good-sounding things in the city I was mysteriously invited for a chat with Lady Webb in the western corner of Brackenbury. This one was helping me solve the main antagonist Thaos's doings, or at least that's how it sounded at this point.



With a horrendous bribe I got greased open the doors to the closed Heritage Hill district. Its streets were filled with zombies and its crypts contained ghosts. While I was looking for hidden treasures I accidentally saved a bunch of folks, and I didn't use the soul-harvesting machine to further my own powers but just simply shut it down. Being the nice person I am.


As one of the side quests I had been sent to rescue a couple of soldiers from the H-Hill and I found them from a crypt. I didn't get to talk the woman turned into a scary screaming ghost-monster around but she got mad at me and attacked with her bewitched henchfolk. After a few good tries I eventually defeated them, but only at the last moment. The pic shows it clearly.


All those ghosts were incredibly annoying enemies and that's the reason why I didn't (yet) go inside Ondra's Gift's lighthouse for a second time to solve the quest. I did that mistake once and I don't think I dare to poke my nose inside before my team is on level ten. At least.

I had done something very much properly, as every once in a while I was ambushed by small bands of assassins on the (mostly) night streets of Defiance Bay. During the second act I met four teams. This was much less annoying and bothersome than something like Fallout 3's mercs who were waiting for you - in force - behind every main exit, if you were unlucky...


Dyrford and its surroundings

Based on my chats with my also-PoE-playing coworkers I had just about completed this act's quests, but obviously something was still missing. I just hadn't a good clue. To find out stuff I headed further east towards Dyrford. That village itself was pretty depressing, but I did collect some quests and tasks to take care of. My good reputation had preceded me.


Along the river I found an underground set of vaults (Dyrford Ruins) full of Skaen cultists and some obscure monsters. After an insane amount of fighting and camping I got them all killed and out of my way. In one of the chambers I found a concious pool of blood, that mostly just laughed at me and went useless.


After a couple of corridors and several animated suits of armor I found a strange machine and an apparently angry guy working on it. Of course I could've joined forces with him for a common goal, but his assassination-reputation ruining plan was outrageous and I didn't find it suitable for my supergood character. So I sucked the murderous souls from the poor girl's head and when the operator didn't really take kindly to that, started causing some wounds. After a couple of attempts I managed to subdue my annoying and (as it seems to constantly go) more numerous foes, even though only my main character was still standing and not in too good a shape, either. Once again, one of the scarabs in her pockets saved the fight, as I managed to summon a large electricity-spitting cockroach-monster-tanker bug to help me in battle.


On the same trip we happend to go by an ancient site of battle, from where Edér found a reference to his brother. Not that it did anything special, but we'll get there later on, I believe. From the battlefield we proceeded into yet another temple/cave complex, where I found another soul harvesting machine with some bodies turned into ash. One of those still had a fragment of a soul, which gave me a vision and advanced my quest with the Leaden Key. As my main quest had juped forward a bit, I returned promptly to Defiance Bay and reported to Webb.

Now I was told to take part in the ruler's (Duc Aevar) animancy hearings but I'd  need to get a sponsor from a group that's already in there. With all my work for the Crucible Knights' benefit they happily promised to arrange something for me. That was quick, as I had already done the heavy lifting ages ago.

The hearings went fine, I believe, except for the very end. None of my choices would've done anything, but still. When I finally got outside, the whole city was full of riots and I didn't feel like picking blood from my nose with a peasan't pitchfork. That's just because I'm a nice person. Rather unsurprisingly Lady Webb had been killed meanwhile and the second act ended there and then.




Act III

In the very beginning of the third part of the story I found my team on the outside of Defiance Bay's east gate, on a bridge.I couldn't return and I was briefly wondering if I missed my chance at solving some quests completely or if I'd get to return later on. the only route onwards led east, so that's where we marched. In the middle of the bridge I was being expected by a bunch of shady characters, and they wanted to talk immediately. Some sort of a deal, apparently, that I had promised to take care of some days ago (in real time) and hadn't even thought of since. Of course things went wrong and I just had to cut them to shreds right there in the middle of the bright day.

I continued my journey to the Stormwall Gorge, where the flood had just gone down, as a bystander nicely happened to mention to me. There were some Engwithan ruins (Lle a Rhemen) as well, which I cleaned out of enemies, excluding the roomful of ghosts that I just couldn't care about anymore. That's not a good sign considering the game.

In Twin Elms I did a couple of small quests while walking around the map. In the second pic below you can see how I got a surprise reward for doing a messenger's task: a nice, unique gun. "Another job well done" is what Bender typically says in these situations.



That's just about as far as I have played so far. I had returned from Twin Elms to Caed Nua's Endless Paths.Yesterday evening I went back to the fifth floor to see if I could take care of the Drake and its henchmen. After three lost fights (on the third one I only had the Drake left, halfway-killed), but I had had enough and started typing up this post, just to entertain myself.

General mumblings

I have to say it clearly, as it's a good thing. There haven't been many typical RPG quests in the style of "go there and get me 100 x" and after that "go here and bring 12y". The vast majority of that sort of stuff has been ignorable, as I've always either already killed the enemies in question or just happened to carry a few mushroom beast spores already. Of course there's some running back and forth or messengering, but it's nicely hidden or masked - and had I done things in the order they were meant to be done, it'd been even less obvious to me. A good example is the Lady Webb's "get someone to support you", where a potentially long chain of tasks was reduced into three sprints between the same two maps and a couple of chats. Because I had done things in the Bay before going further away on the main map.

If something's very plentiful here, it's the fighting. Occasionally I had my humour spread pretty thing, as I encountered many bunches of aggressive clowns without a chance of healing my folks at any point. All of them have been downed in the end, with more or less swearing. I guess I'm just a bit boring.

Ladying or lording in the stronghold

Building the stronghold has been quite fun. You just chooose the next improvement to build based on its price, schedule, how much prestige and/or security it brings. These then somehow affect the random events and taxes (and how much of them goes into the pockets of the bandits) and attacking rubble. Caed Nua's work and all that keeps running day and night at a time while the hero(ine) roams wherever (s)he pleases or just moves from a place to another ("It takes you 1 day and 12 hours to travel from Twin Elms to Gilded Vale. Ok?").

There's constantly something small happening, in the form of quests (such as "a medium adventure" that takes n units of time and returns m XP and x money while reserving one off-duty team member for the duration. The active team can be your own character + 5, the rest'll hang around in Caed Nua). More custom adventurers can be hired (built) in some places for a price.

Once I got a warning of "bandits will attack in 4 days" and I rushed back to personally gut the outrageous buggers (my coworker had once tried to automatic resolver and found out handful of his fortress' improvements destroyed to top it all). I found it quite entertaining.

Friends

The team members occasionally chat / taunt each other, when they feel like it. They also take part in the dialogues, if they feel have something to say. All the characters (Aloth, Edér, Durance and not-before mentioned Kana Nua (a gun wielding chanter - aumaua (giant)) who was hanging around at Caed Nua's gate; a dwarf-ranger Saganini with her wolf, those I encountered in a forest; Pallagina the godlike paladin who joined my team in Defiance Bay; Hiravias the shapesifting Orlan druid (I guess orlans are some small greenskins, mini-orcs or goblins?); and Grieving Mother, a human cipher) should be useful, I guess.


Each of them seem to have their own side story with quests, which proceeds while they're in the team or when you solve their tasks/quests. Both Aloth, Edér and Durance have been in my team since I found them, so I know most about them. Kana should be taken to the end of the Endless Paths should I ever get there and he's had interest in this and that meanwhile. There's also a place I ought to check with Sagani. The last two, Hiravias and Grieving Mother may reveal something later on, if I keep them in the active team long enough. Oh, and Pallegina needs to be taken to somewhere in Twin Elms, as she's got some business to take care of.
All this will cause more or less backtracking and repetition, but I don't feel it's anywhere near what the good old (stupid) RPG cookbooks have shown me. Your tasks will also be easier, if you look ahead a bit at least.

Notes

You learn lots of stuff by slaying folks and wildlife in the world. Their stats and skills get known to you bit by bit. Their strenghts and weaknesses. In the pic below you can see my very recently 100% completed entry on some angry kitties, but I haven't really paid attention to how quickly or slowly these get updated. Usually I've been a bit too busy to check for those research-lines in the quickly moving combat log. The monsterpedia pages with their sketches are an interesting addition to the journal. They'd be even better if I remembered (and knew ) to check them before certain fights, such as returning to the lighthouse in Ondra's Gift.


The quest/task list brings a refreshing change: instead of todo-lists the task phases with their descriptions work as if it was a diary. The adventure feels much more like a grand adventure this way, instead of like reading a shopping list. I mean, it's quite different to read this than a more typical "Kill the mad king Paavo I" -> "Kill the mad king Paavo I", no? I guess I've got carried away with this and all the other small things that help catching the mood.


The character's biography progresses with your deeds

He may be correct....

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