What I Played in 2015: Pillars of Eternity
Nostalgia is a relatively new thing for games. The medium is about 40 years old, depending on where you place the beginning of popular gaming and there are people still making games that were around when this whole “gaming” industry was in its nascency. As such, it’s often hard to take the long view on what worked and didn’t work — as we’re still working through it. There are entire genres of gaming that have been dug up from the past in the name of nostalgia and have been found wanting. There are others that deserve a second chance, and I think that Obsidian found one worth reviving.
I am of course talking about the isometric D&D simulations popularized by games like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment. With their lush hand-rendered backgrounds and deep conversation trees — these were essentially the best representations of an actual D&D game you could get on a computer. And they were often better written then the Wizards of the Coast sanctioned modules. Back in the day, Bioware and Black Isle had some of the most impressive stables of RPG writers the world has ever known. A lot of that talent dispersed after the early 2000s, and a large majority of them convened at Obsidian.
I have been a huge supporter of Obsidian for a long time, even though they seem to get shitty contract jobs once and awhile. I mean, this is the studio that has had Fergus Urquhart, Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer in its employ. Like I said before, some of the best RPG writers in the business.
So I’ve been on a history rant. What about the actual game!? Well, it’s pretty genius. It’s an oversized spoonful of everything you loved about those old Infinity engine games. It’s got gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds, deep role-playing mechanics, and more well written dialogue than you could ever want. And I do mean “more than you could ever want”, because there is an obscene amount of non-spoken text in this game. Get ready to read. It’s unapologetically old-school in most ways, but still has a retinue of smart new-school design choices that make it accessible for those that want to dive in.
It’s the best infinity engine game that wasn’t made for 15 years, and it was made by exactly the right people. I really hope that this is the beginnings of a long running franchise.