My Top Ten Games of 2015
#10 MASSIVE CHALICE
#5 Yo-Kai Watch
#4 Fallout 4
#1 Pillars of Eternity
My #1 Game of the Mid-Year remained on top despite some truly excellent games released in the Fall. Obsidian’s record-breaking (at the time) Kickstarter project recalled the computer RPG nostalgia of the late 90s and early 2000s, such as Baldur’s Gate and Fallout. Needless to say, I jumped all over the chance for one of my favorite RPG developers to tackle a wholly original project.
I’m pleased to report that Pillars of Eternity is a smashing success. It manages to invoke all the best mechanics and themes of the classic isometric, tactical role-playing game while infusing lots of modern designs and philosophy. All of that plus Obsidian’s trademark superior writing create a wonderfully immersive new fantasy world that I spent over two months and 70s hours getting lost in.
Pillars of Eternity is based heavily on Dungeons & Dragons and their associated video game adaptations – particularly the Baldur’s Gate series. Races and classes are mostly familiar to anyone that’s ventured into the Forgotten Realms (or any Tolkein-esque fantasy world) with enough new quirks and twists to make it interesting. The Cipher, for example, is a unique class that uses his or her soul and the soul of enemies to manipulate and destroy foes, while the Chanter takes the bard class in a fun new direction featuring spell-like songs that can be strung together.
During the opening events that act as a tutorial, your caravan guard character becomes Awakened, and can see into his or her past lives. The concept of immortal souls and reincarnation is a deep-running theme throughout the world of Eora, and it’s reflected in society, cults, gods, and how the undead work. It’s a fascinating world and a testament to the excellent world-building that I wanted to know as much as possible.
Naturally your party becomes embroiled in major events along the Dyrwood, overthrowing leaders, restoring cities, and communing with (and sometimes battling) gods and dragons. It’s a long, rich path with many off-beat, well-written side quests full of drama, horror, and humor. Your companions are an amazing bunch, from the angry, cursing priest haunted by his past to a blunt druid conflicted by his bloodthirsty nature.
Some RPGs let you create your entire party from scratch, while most have story-based NPCs that join you along the way. Pillars of Eternity lets you mix and match, giving you the best of both worlds in case you don’t like some of the NPCs you encounter.
Combat should be familiar to anyone that’s played a Bioware game like Dragon Age – real time with tactical pause. The interface does a wonderful job condensing the many abilities and spells at your disposal for rapid deployment. It’s well-organized and balanced that most fights don’t need the tactical pause until particularly tough encounters on Normal difficulty.
My favorite gameplay mechanic was the unique Health and Endurance pools. When I played Baldur’s Gate II for the first time a few years ago, my biggest annoyance was the death penalty. Having to return to a priest was a huge pain in the butt every time somebody went down.
Eternity solves this by giving each character two health pools: a smaller Endurance pool that represents how much damage they can take each battle, and a larger overall Health pool. Endurance regenerates after health, like most modern RPGs, while Health represents long-term wear and tear and must be restored via resting. This was a brilliant concept that kept the need to camp in the game while also letting characters pop back up and heal at the end of combat.
For a big fan of classic, isometric computer RPGs, Pillars of Eternity is a dream come true. Like my Game of the Year last year (Divinity: Original Sin), Pillars of Eternity gives me high hopes that the cRPG genre is far from done, and with other successful entries like Shadowrun and Wasteland 2, it’s here to stay.