Pillars of Eternity 2 has a setting that is fairly unique with fantasy RPGs. The game is set in the Deadfire archipelago and is inspired by Pacific Islands and even a little bit of the Caribbean during the European Age of Discovery and colonization. It is a refreshing setting remarkably different from the standard Euro-centric RPGs common in the gaming landscape.
The influence of these cultures are obviously apparent in both look and naming conventions. With place names like Neketaka and Ori o Koiki, there is a definite Polynesian-esque theme. Of course, with Obsidian being an American developer, I initially was worried about problems with appropriation and using Pacific Islander culture simply because it is “exotic”. However, in my personal opinion, the Deadfire is a campaign setting rich in detail and complexity. The native Huana culture are not caricatures, but rather integral parts of the greater world of Eora in the Pillars series. Obsidian should be commended for making a setting very different from other Western RPGs without feeling exploitative. I find the Deadfire to be a much more interesting destination than the original more European-inspired setting.
The richness of the setting is in full view in the complex alliances and relations within the groups of the Huana populace and their interactions with foreign agents and colonizers. Some of the Huana are more adverse to foreigners, while conversely, there are some the welcome or benefit from the foreign presence. Different factions within a singular group will have varying levels of comfort and cooperation with the other factions. Deadfire is a complex web of alliances and rivals revealing the wonderful world building talents of Obsidian.
Furthermore, the multitude of deities and religious beliefs are given an unprecedented deft touch. The gods of the Huana have degrees of overlap with the established pantheon introduced in the original game. For example, Berath is the god of death, doorways, cycles, mortality, and inevitability, and is a prominent deity in the original game and this sequel. Berath is usually represented by two forms, the Pallid Knight or the Usher. In the Deadfire archipelago, Berath is known as Rikuhu which is a twin eel god that represents the cyclic nature of life and death. The two eels, Kohopa and Tangoloa, are intertwined, devouring one another by the tail. The deity Galawain is a god of the hunt and nature, and is partially represented in Huana culture as Toamowhai or the Faces of the Hunt. There is overlap, but each culture has a slighty modified view of the same godly aspects that relates to their own culture and environment. This is next level world building, and truly makes the Deadfire and its native inhabitants not a simple add-on to the world of Pillars of Eternity. There are considerations and complexity here not present in most RPGs.
The story of Pillars of Eternity 2 is fairly straight forward. The deity of life, Eothas, is rampaging through the Deadfire, and the player, aka The Watcher, is tasked by Berath to find out what the rogue god’s purpose is before the world is completely destroyed. Like a lot of RPGs, I found the side stories and intrigue vastly more interesting than the main storyline. Learning about the hierarchy of Huana culture, the rivalry and colonial designs of the Vailian Trading Company and the Royal Deadfire Company, or the pirates of the Principi kept me enthralled for the entirety an eighty hour playthrough. The story can lag in certain sections. and quests can devolved into rehashed tropes. However, I felt the setting and voice acting of Pillars smoothed away any rough spots. The voice acting is especially wonderful with slang, foreign languages, and references giving full life to the characters. Each party member will banter and comment on the situation at hand. They sometimes even interject in NPC conversations with negative and positive consequences. Seemingly throwaway NPCs are more often than not, fleshed out with proper motivations and depth. This is a game that rewards you for exploring every side quest and small plotlines.
The combat is a welcome streamlined version of the original. The foundations of Baldur’s Gate and the Infinity Engine games is omnipresent. The traditional nature might be a turn off for some, but my rose colored nostalgia sensibilities loved the familiar feeling of adventure it evokes. After leveling up to the end game, fights can become easier, but I still found myself enjoying trying out different approaches and party composition.
There is ship combat and while initially intriguing, I found the battles to be staid and cumbersome. Perhaps I never fully understood the ins-and-outs of the text-based decision combat, but this aspect of the game never quite clicked. However, customizing and stocking your ship with swarthy pirates and NPCs never got old.
If there is one issue I had with the game, it would be the culmination of each faction storyline. While a slight spoiler (skip the rest of this paragraph if needed), Pillars asks you pick one faction to side with for the climatic last quest. I felt that no faction presented a compelling case. This part felt forced and the most video gamey aspect of the game. Fortunately, you could choose to pick no side, and complete the finale emboldened to no one.
Pillars of Eternity 2 is a remarkable RPG in the grand tradition of Western RPGs that came before it. With a unique setting and top-level world building, this is Obsidian at its best - complex factions, gray morale decisions, and rich backstory. It was once known for games licensed from Bioware and Bethesda, but Obsidian have created its own place. If the two Pillars games and Tyranny are any indication, I cannot wait to play with is next.