It’s always a shock to me when the Hall of Fame Game is played. Is football season already here? Summer’s already over? It’s true. The kids are back at practice for various things, my wife has dusted off the Marshalls credit card for school clothes, and I’m showing the oldest boy some Godzilla T-shirts at RedBubble.com so I can justify ordering one for myself.
Your August schedule likely differs from mine, but hopefully it includes some gaming time. Soon you’ll be back to learning the names of capital cities you’ll never visit, solving algebra equations you’ll never use, and reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey, so now’s the time to dig yourself into a big adventure that’ll keep you out of the sun and its cancerous side-effects.
Here, then, is Pillars of Eternity.
Developed by Obsidian Entertainment after its ridiculously successful Kickstarter campaign raised over four million dollars, the RPG Pillars of Eternity is very much a throwback to Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games from the late ’90s. But Pillars of Eternity is something more, something bigger…literally. It’s not unfathomable to sink 70+ hours into this game and still have plenty to explore and achieve. I’ll leave it to you to calculate how much time per day you’d have to play the game in order to complete it before the first bus arrives. That kind of mental exercise will impress your match teachers.
Pillars of Eternity is also more personable. Want to impress your English teachers, too? This game has more book in it than some of the books on that reading list they gave you in June (any reading list that doesn’t include A Confederacy of Dunces should just be tossed out anyway).
It’s not uncommon in RPGs to find countless books on shelves, tables and dead bodies that you’re to read for important backstory, but Pillars of Eternity applies that to NPCs, too. Your main character is a Watcher, given the power to see a character’s past lives and interact with restless souls. The past lives are presented in text form, some of them quite long, for no other reason than to flesh out the game’s universe and the people who inhabit it. You can safely skip most of them if you like, but they do a wonderful job of making you feel like you’re part of Eora, the world in which the game takes place.
Looking for some science, too? Chemistry, biology, home ec—that kind of thing? Then how about the Pillars crafting system. You can find and use food, flora and fauna on your adventures, but you’ll get much better functionality from them by crafting them into objects with enhanced abilities. As in real life, battles that were previously insurmountable become winnable when you’ve just eaten the right kind of chicken.
There’s even economics to consider, as Pillars of Eternity is not generous with its coin dispersement. The items you plunder, burgle and filch (an excellent law firm name if there ever was one) are rarely worth their encumbrance penalty, so managing the economy of your party and your stronghold can be pretty difficult in the early stages.
But don’t get me wrong on this. Playing Pillars of Eternity is not like doing homework or serving detention for not doing homework. There’s plenty of combat involved, difficult combat that saw me bouncing down from the normal to easy setting after 10 hours of getting my butt kicked. I’m used to this style of squad-based pause-and-play combat, but Pillars of Eternity provides a hefty challenge that can only be overcome with a solid knowledge of its combat system and the tools it provides. Classes and skills certainly come into play, but you also need to pay close attention to what weapons you’re using, what spells you’re supplementing them with, what defenses your enemies have, and even where you’re placing your party members (you can use up to six at a time, plus pets).
And here’s the thing for all you moms and dads out there. A couple weeks ago my aforementioned Godzilla-loving son—who hates to read anything that doesn’t provide hard stats on which animal would win a fight against this animal—saw me playing Pillars of Eternity and immediately pulled up a chair in front of the iMac. We’ve since played through the game together—sharing control and debating the decisions—provided he reads to me all the lore we stumble across and the dialogue that is not acted out (witch selective editing, mind you, as I read faster than he does). He’s getting his reading practice in before school, I’m getting a faithful (and often funny) travel companion, and Sagani’s white fox is getting to survive more battles since Sam seems to have a better grasp on how to use rangers and pets than I do. With me at work throughout the day and him at football practice in the evenings I know we won’t be able to complete Pillars of Eternity before he heads back to school, but with luck we’ll be ready for The White March expansions by the time Christmas break rolls around.
And hey, there’s another one! Meteorology lessons!