PillarsOfEternity_FirstImpressions

UPDATE: Due to confusion about the nature of the article, the title has been updated to reflect that this was a beta version of the game that had been sent to GameCloud for the purposes of a First Impressions. The content of the article has remained the same, though the author regrets not having mentioned that big head mode makes everything (somewhat) better. Thanks, indeed, Josh.

Well, this is… disappointing. They say that you only get one shot at making a first impression and Obsidian used it on the dog within the first few hours of my “gameplay experience.” The game itself is plagued with all kinds of bugs, but the worst of it came a couple of hours into my playthrough when I couldn’t get the game to run at all. Of all the games I’ve played and written about on this site, this is the first I’ve had to re-install multiple times just to get it working. I struggled with the game, and I was ultimately defeated; the bugs and generally unhelpful everything got to me enough that I just couldn’t keep playing. That isn’t to say that the game will be a failure in any sense, just that there is a lot of work to be done before the full release.
 
PillarsOfEternity_FirstImpressions

I might not have my own screenshot of invisible characters anymore, but it wasn’t hard to find another online.

I was actually excited for this from the start, I am a fan of RPG gaming in general and I was looking forward to diving into the world. The character creation screen, while currently limited in it’s customisable options, gives an idea of how diverse and expansive the final game will be. Going above the standard class, skills and race choices, you’ll also get to choose their sub-race, where they hail from and what they’re overall intentions are. It adds an extra layer of characterisation that I hope carries forward into the rest of the game. I like the idea of playing a foul-mouthed, rogueish Orlan what stepped out from the Aedyrian Empire with delusions of grandeur and higher standing. I’d like it even more if NPC’s changed their interactions with me based on these choices though it’s not something I’ve seen thus far.

The NPC dialogue is well-written, for the most part, doing an excellent job of characterising the town and its citizens without outright forcing you to listen to arbitrary exposition. The town has its woes, and its people are surly; finding out what and why is enjoyable when it feels like your character is conversing with those around them, rather than being spoken at. It slips a little, in certain areas, with a few of the scripted responses being re-used regardless of what you choose. The potion maker in the town, for instance, will wince and say the same line about her wounds, regardless of whether you kindly press her on the issue or demand that she tells you. This example seems fairly indicative of a few dialogue choices you make, and they’ve managed to write most responses in such a way that they’ll work for any speech option. However, without some form of reputation bar to nurse throughout the game, it feels as though your choices don’t make much of an overall impact.
 
PillarsOfEternity_FirstImpressions

Which is probably just as well, what with all the corpse looting I was doing.

The game itself is still in beta form, which means the phrase “rough around the edges” can be applied to just about anything you see while playing. That being said, even some rough instructions on how to play the game would have been nice. Dropped into the world with a party of four that I hadn’t chosen and to whom I hadn’t been introduced, I began exploring the nearby town of Dyrsford. There were no tutorials or guides to speak of, other than the tooltips in the loading screens, which meant a rousing romp through the config and help menus for about 20 minutes. This general lack of explanation would become a common theme during my playthrough. For what it’s worth, however, my time exploring the city and learning about the story was time I really enjoyed.

Not all characters are voiced, and those that are haven’t had all of their lines recorded yet though they still exude a lot of charm. The starting town is something of a small farm community that’s allowed nature to creep in a little. You learn that the town has fallen on hard times through listening to their collective stories and issues, instead of having stock NPC’s just straight up tell you the town’s woes. It was at this stage, however, that I started to have issues. It initially started as prolonged loading screens between areas and some janky object selection on-screen, though soon I was walking into rooms full of floating swords and no NPC’s. I mean that literally, as well, because I couldn’t interact with these people at all; eventually, my save file corrupted and all I could load was the HUD and a black screen.
 
PillarsOfEternity_FirstImpressions

I hadn’t even reached the constantly dying stage of my play-through.

Frustrated, I canned that save and tried again with the same results. Thus began a series of reinstalls, each time loading up the game to the same problem. For clarity, my PC had been functioning fine; I had been using it for other work and games, without issue, except for PoE. I ended up having to install it on another computer just to finish the playthrough; how naive I was to think I would finish. I eventually caught up on the progress of my previous playthrough before the game had begun to crash, and I was ready to leave town. At least I thought I was; all my characters appeared to be carrying pre-equipped weapons and armor, their abilities pre-picked, I felt ready for adventuring. I was unceremoniously murdered by the very first enemies I encountered.

I can only describe the combat in this game as unintuitive at best and distracting at worst. The health indicators that float above the heads of each character are so easily lost in the throng of the fight that they may as well not be there. Selecting characters is a challenge in itself as the game often bugged out and selected multiple characters at once if at all. There’s also no tutorial, again, and little HUD info that clearly indicates what is going on. It was only because of a loading tooltip that I learned you were actually supposed to pause mid-fight to issue commands to your team, which actually does allow much more planning during combat.

It also means a LOT of pausing, every few seconds for myself, which really interrupted the flow of play and made me wonder why they didn’t just make this a turn-based game. This was a constant, nagging issue for me while playing because it felt like the action should be fast-paced, with most of the actions being issued through HUD or hot-key commands. Maybe this is how the game is meant to be played, but if it is then it wasn’t something I could master, and it definitely wasn’t something I was eased into. This pause screen does, at least, provides a little more clarity to the general chaos of battle, with indication lines showing who your characters are attacking, and who is attacking them. Without any instruction or tutorial, however, it was still information without context. RPG’s are often not the kind of games that one can simply “pick up” while playing.
 
PillarsOfEternity_FirstImpressions

I was so sick of seeing this screen by the end.

I dived into the in-game help menu once more, though it’s more of glossary of terms as opposed to a user guide. I was pretty confused at this stage, given the exceeding amount of praise that PoE had been receiving. I went online to seek out some strategies about how to deal with just the damn beginning of this game; not my proudest moment. After a brief look around online, I really wish I’d gotten the version that outfits like Polygon and IGN received. Their experience of the game came complete with a tutorial and, from the sounds, not a damn bug in sight. They’ve essentially been playing a different game from what I have been, from what has been given to the poor suckers who backed this game. I found a couple of online guides that helped me along, though the game is far from being even remotely informative to users.

From the looks of the videos and reviews from those other outlets, Obsidian is capable of making something great with this. The only issue is that it doesn’t carry over from the tech-demo that they’ve apparently been showing to the actual game they’re developing. There’s a lot of potential here, because the storytelling, character creation and NPC interaction seems fairly solid. However, this is a beta that’s only a month from release and I’m still having characters turn invisible and my save files becoming corrupted. Let’s just hope that, when the game fully releases, they’ve been listening to their fans instead of the undue praise they’ve been receiving.

Patrick Waring

Patrick Waring

Executive Editor at GameCloud
From Perth, Patrick has played video games from a young age and now has "opinions." When not fretting over whether using words like "fretting" is effeminate, he likes to write jokes about video games. Sometimes he goes outside, and other times he just sits at his PC, thinking way too hard about Nintendo games.
Patrick Waring
- 1 day ago

AUTHOR NOTE: Please note that I had initially prepared a series of screenshots for much of what I talk about throughout this article. However, due to some unexpected issues and data loss, I no longer have these available.

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  • Georgi Antonov

    Dear Patrick,
    Congratulations on finding the Pause button! What an adventure that must have been! It’s customary to read up on a game before playing a closed beta version, so be sure to do that next time, before you’ve made yourself look silly.

    • Hi Georgi!

      Just popped into to put one thing to bed – this isn’t a review, it’s a First Impressions piece. It is my initial thoughts of an early access version of the game, sans a score and final judgement of the game as it hasn’t been completed.

      I also deliberately don’t read up on games I know I will be reviewing or writing about at some point in the future. I will perhaps look into any controversy surrounding it, or issues with it’s marketing practices, but I will try to ignore any information about the game itself until I’m playing it. I do this because I don’t want to be influenced by what others think of the title before I’ve even picked it up myself. Sure, it’s impossible to be 100% objective and unbiased at all times, but I prefer to recount my actual experience with the game instead of just parroting others.

      As it stands, my experience with Pillars of Eternity is that it has a great narrative, good writing, solid world building, but is really buggy and lacks any explanation of the games mechanics. It’s fine if you don’t want to agree with me, but it’s worth noting that this is far from a final judgement of the game.

      Have a good night man, and thanks for reading anyway!

  • J_C

    Wow, speaking about looking like a complete tool. You can’t even grasp the basics of an RPG, and you are saying that you are a long time RPG player? And were you pirating some early version? Because you write “After a brief look around online, I really wish I’d gotten the version that outfits like Polygon and IGNreceived.”

    If you were a beta backer, you would have a latest, up to date version, which other sites are playing with, and which doesn’t have the bugs you mention.

  • Infinitron

    Looks like a solid review, keep up the good job and don’t listen to all those haters!

  • guess
  • Mononoke

    you’re not a reviewer, you’re a dumbfuck. Now really, the level of your incompetence is heartbreaking. Just stick to the games you know well, “RPG playah!”

  • Andrea C.

    Long time RPG player that doesn’t know what RtwP is and bases his piece on an outdated version of the backer beta = EPIC FAIL.

    Also, congratulations on doing zero due diligence on the product you’re purportedly reviewing: There’s a reason why the beta places you in the middle of nowhere and doesn’t introduce you to the NPCs that travel with you (perhaps their generic names could’ve tipped you off).

    But by all means, keep on spreading disinformation while trying to act cool about it.

  • GoGoCactus

    Infinitron, the ‘preview’ posted here is based upon an outdated version of the closed backer beta. The beta isn’t supposed to be a ‘ preview’ version in the first place, but is rather a build used for bug testing by people with experience playing the old ‘ infinity engine’ (Baldur’s Gate, icewind dale, etc.) games. That makes the above ‘ preview’ unfair, as it gives Pillars undeserved bad press. Furthermore, some of the crashes are caused because the ‘ previewer’ has loaded older, incompatible savegames into a newer version of the game which is downright unprofessional.

    • Infinitron

      All your arguments aside Baldur’s Gate is too overrated, it’s not much of a game, let alone an example of an Infinity Engine game.

  • jpteknoman .

    i am simply speechless. any person with a minimal knowledge of RPG history and who has just read the kickstarter page of PoE would be able to see at a glance just how ignorant the writter of this article is about older RPGs in general and PoE in particular

  • Tom Joad

    Quit your job. You clearly have no idea how to prepare as a journalist and there is a sense of ivory towers in your tone. You were reviewing a beta test build to iron out combat bugs, not the game. If you did ten minutes of google searches you would have been able to accumulate enough information to not make yourself look like a complete idiot. This reads like click bait…awful.

  • Pots Talos

    lol

  • Alexander Wolf

    OMG, this review was terrible… one can tell that this guy knows nothing about a game he is supposedly reviewing. I suppose those RPG´s which you claimed to play are on compexity level of mass effect right?

  • Drakehash

    Me parece que cuando el autor indica que es un fan de los juegos RPG creo que se referia a Zelda y Mario bros…

  • Drakehash

    “this is a beta that’s only a month from release and I’m still having characters turn invisible and my save files becoming corrupted”: Kick yourself in your balls, you got no idea what the hell are you talking about, the BETA is not even part of the game (they don’t want spoil the final game), it was made with the purpose of test the character builds. and you are trying to load old games that no work with new builds because guess what? is a BETA most new builds are not compatible with old save games…

  • Passerby

    It’s definetly worth bringing here:
    “It’s like if you would write a car review, saying that “it’s big and
    red, I like the round rubber thingies at the bottom, but it doesn’t
    appear to do much. It was only after several hours that I discovered by
    chance that you can insert the key by the side of the steering wheel,
    whereupon the car makes a humming noise. 2/10″ ”
    (c) Rostere, Obsidian forum community

  • Abel

    Is this really a review? Why are you the only one a know who has such problems with the backer beta? Why do you make a “review” with the backer beta version of the game? Don’t you understand that you tried the same beta than any other, but just failed to use it? How can you claim to be a RPG fan or a RPG related journalist when you claim Wasteland 2 is so hard, or when you have no clue about what is Real Time with Pause or the basic RPG mechanisms? Do you even know what are the IE games which are the inspiration for PoE? Have you ever tried DA:O (which is RTwP too)? How could you post such a lame “review” when it seems you understood (finally) that you were experiencing on your own problems that disqualified you to post a usefull one? Would you post a review if you failed to install your MAC version on your Windows PC, just to complain it’s sooooo buggy? Once more: how could you make a review WITHOUT a proper review version of the game? Why did you post a review that don’t review ANYTHING besides your incompetence in using a backer beta? Do you know anything about the game you reviewed, Obsidian, or the “poor suckers who backed this game”?

    I’m angry. The “poor suckers” may learn you how to install and properly use it. It’s ok to say a game is buggy and unplayable, but only if it’s actually true. Lame, awfull. Withdraw this monstruousity of a so-called “First Impression” and apology to Obsidian and the “poor suckers”.

    *A late poor sucker*