I'll start with dislikes, then move on to what I liked.
At times, the writing felt like good fan fiction rather than a professional production. Especially during the storybook sections which were overdramatic.
The flavor text felt insubstantial. I didn't care about Furrante's dimple, even though I liked him. What he says and the way he says it define him perfectly as a character.
The main story was OK.
I'm a bit tired of the Eoran Gods. And the first new NPC you meet is religious-themed. It was a novel idea in the first game but feels played out.
The adult-themed content seemed awkward/forced.
Romances are hard to do right in any game. Almost none do it well so I won't hold it against Deadfire. The best romantic moment in gaming for me is the "phone call" in Disco Elysium. Nothing in Deadfire is at that level, but there is a nice moment when you ask Eder how he feels.
Load times. SSD helps but not enough. I saw Josh Sawyer talk about optimization in his post-mortem talk and appreciate that they worked on it, but could still be better.
Stacking rules: why don't weapon modals stack? And others like Paladin aura? My preference is that everything should stack. Design around that rule.
Not in love with afflictions / inspirations. Wish at least they used terms like "Mild Perception Affliction" instead of the word names which are difficult to remember. Even after finishing the game, I couldn't recite every affliction / inspiration to you from memory. Though it's possible that my memory is worse than average. Thankfully there is an interface mod that adds color coding and suffixes.
Leveling up: I don't like that accuracy and defenses automatically increase by a set amount each level up. It removes an element of player choice. You should get stronger by the abilities/perks you pick, your gear, improved game knowledge. Even letting the player increase an attribute by one point each level would be better, because you get to choose how to improve.
Deadfire's level up system automatically makes a higher level character stronger than a lower level character, without taking into account the specific situation. It would be more fun, realistic, and allow for more player agency if a level 2 character could beat a level 10 character (say a level 2 fighter is dueling a level 10 diplomat who has invested in purely non-combat skills).
Difficulty: I played on POTD with "all" upscaling and felt that the game was hardest in the beginning and gradually got easier. Maybe the first few battles were almost a little too hard, but I can't complain as it's the hardest difficulty. But doesn't it make more sense for a game to start easier and get harder instead of the opposite?
The best way to increase difficulty is smarter AI. Something like SCS (Sword Coast Strategems) for BG and BG2. But I understand that may not be realistic for developers to implement as you'd have to bug-test multiple AI scripts, and it can tank performance.
The second-best way is by using different enemies. Deadfire does this somewhat by offering harder versions of enemies in some fights.
The third-best way is to increase the number of enemies. Deadfire does this a lot.
The worst way is global bonuses like increased HP, armor, or dice roll bonuses. This is a staple of POTD, unfortunately.
I haven't tried Magran's Fires. Discovered that recently by accidently clicking. The way it's hidden is genius. Some of the challenges seem interesting (keep Vela alive).
Item graphics in UI: the item icons are beautifully drawn and obviously done at higher resolutions than visible in game. Why are they shrunk down to tiny squares in the inventory? There is much wasted space in the inventory UI that could be used for larger icons. Perhaps this is inconsequential for some players but it's a big part of an RPG for me. I'll always remember seeing a new suit of armor in Diablo II or the inventory space of Arcanum.
Visual zoom range: after learning that this could be modified by the SetZoomRange console command, I set it to the max (3.0) and also turned off the fog-of-war when in Nekatata. What an amazing sight to see a whole city district on screen, alive and bustling! The game is fully playable this way with less-than-expected performance hit.
My dream is that, in my lifetime, there will be the technology that allows zooming from character level to overworld map level smoothly, like Google Maps. That would be far more impressive than No Man Sky.
It's time for this type of game to follow Disco Elysium's lead and transition to a vertical text panel.
Voiceovers: felt like I was hearing the same actors repeatedly with only slightly different accents/deliveries. Some, like Eder and Aloth, were quite good. I was surprised that they were both done by the same person, he is truly a talented actor. But other VO quality was uneven. The Italian accents in particular weren't great. I have to admit to disliking Xoti's VO initially but then having it grow on me.
Despite it being very expensive, I still think think full VO is best. I don't like when only the first line or two is spoken and the rest is quiet. I would prefer all or nothing.
Grimoires: don't like this at all. Just let me pick my spells. Although having unique spells hidden away in special grimoires was a fun surprise.
No AOE indicator for carnage: fixed by mod.
There is also a mod that makes every NPC say their "two cents" at certain points instead of the game randomly choosing one. Why wasn't this part of the base game?
Typos: there were some, but not many for a game of this size. Deadfire deserves credit for this.
Factions: Boring. Every game has them. They impart an artificial rigidity and predictability to the structure of a game.
Personality dispositions: not well done. The dispositions match poorly to dialogue options at times. Many of the dialogue options felt silly and forced.
Conversation trees: I didn't like the trees in this game. Oftentimes, the option that seemed most in-character was also the option that skipped to the end of a conversation. I found by reloading that much good content was missed, for seemingly no reason. I'm not saying that conversations should be "click every option from top to bottom", but the trees seemed somehow off here. There was some weird looping too.
Ship-to-ship combat: not fun.
Ship boarding: pretty good actually, I enjoyed this. Maybe allow a bit of conversation with the opposing Captain before battle to add flavor to each encounter.
NPCs: Not bad. Eder is cool. Xoti grew on me. Tekehu's character seems to mature through the game and is nicely tied into the story. Not everyone can be Kim Kitsuragi and that's OK.
I would like to see more older/stronger/wiser NPCs in games like this. Thinking along the lines of a Keldorn. It would be neat to have someone clearly more powerful/more influential/smarter than your player character join your party. Such a character may choose to leave at a certain point in the story if it doesn't make sense for them to follow you around. I feel the trend is too many tag-along youthful NPCs (in age and personality). I didn't mind Pallegina's seriousness in that regard.
Ship: having your new equipment visually show up on the boat was neat. Take this a step further. Get rid of the other ship types and focus development resources on upgrading one ship. Make upgrades have more meaningful impact on gameplay.
Open world: in Deadfire, the cost of freedom is less plot cohesion. It's not a worthwhile trade-off in my opinion. I would prefer a semi-open world.
Perhaps your ship, due to damage, is only capable of making short journeys at the beginning. So you're restricted to one corner of the map at first. Then as you upgrade your ship, you're able to take on longer journeys to distant ports.
I wouldn't mind a bigger overworld map to simulate long sea voyages. You should be able to buy a map late in the game that clears the black areas, to save the tedium of clearing every spot manually. (I know there's a Berath's Blessing that does this.)
Backer content: I understand the necessity, but it doesn't do much for immersion.
DLCs - well done, but would prefer one bigger package instead of three separate adventures.
Now, here's what I liked about the game.
Party of five is a good size. Four would be fine too. Rather the focus be on quality over quantity. Due to decreasing difficulty ramp on POTD, I restricted my party to four in the second half of the game.
Overall combat system: I enjoyed the depth and detail of the combat system. The many available classes and abilities are distinct from one another. Multiclassing is fun.
Superlative implementation of real-time with pause. The ability to slow down or speed up combat is amazing. Playing the big battles in slow motion is incredibly, sensationally fun. I can't gush enough about Deadfire's RTWP.
Interrupt / Concentration mechanic is intuitive and works well.
Engagement is done well too.
Keywords are a good idea, though it doesn't seem they are always implemented consistently.
I appreciate that there is a dodge animation.
I don't mind that some dungeons are small. It's OK to have that variety.
Nekataka captures that big city vibe from Athkatla. The names are similar and it must have been an inspiration. The different regions of the city are varied and fun to explore.
It'd be great to have the whole city be on one map, with seamless interior/exterior transitions. I wonder what the limiting factor to this is.. CPU? GPU? Development time? Engine? RAM? Hard drive? If Novigrad can exist, why can't a seamless Nekataka?
I like how the game tries to be transparent about its mechanics. "Hold shift to view details" is excellent. I want to see the numbers, and I'm glad Deadfire doesn't hold back most of the time. It does still resort to something like "Summoned weapons increase in accuracy, damage, and penetration" occasionally without providing further details.
And can more detail please be provided on the character creation screen? Evokers get "increased power level", but how many? I know they don't want to bombard new players with detail, but I'd imagine ambiguity like that is actually worse, even for a new player.
Numbers: I like that the numbers are kept fairly low. How annoying is it when you begin the game by doing 79-151 damage? I think the game could even go a bit further by using D20 instead of D100, but it's not the biggest deal.
Getting your first 1D8+1 sword feels special. Smaller numbers are more impactful.
Items: I generally like the items in Deadfire. They are memorable, and feel unique when you get them. There are maybe too many random exceptional items later in the game, but it could be worse.
Deadfire avoids committing the worst itemization sins. There could have been randomly generated item stats. Items could have, god forbid, "item levels" or "level requirements". Oh no, my level 17 sword with 4 randomly generated buffs is now irrelevant, because I'm level 19. I've got to farm for more loot!
I appreciate that the yellow-background items in Deadfire have stories behind them. I like that some of the items are truly powerful and have unique abilities.
Remember when you picked up Carsomyr +5, or the Staff of the Magi? It was a special moment. They may have been overpowered, but I'd much rather risk that than have a perfectly balanced game with no memorable items.
Not a big fan of the enchantment system, but I've complained about enough today, and this is the LIKES section.
Beastiary is neat, but oddly hidden away. You should get the entry after just 1 kill (mod fixes this). Also, it seems some of the stats in the beastiary scale by difficulty level, but not all. It'd be nice if they all did.
Music: Very good. There is not enough variety, especially at nighttime, where the POE1 theme plays on repeat. But each individual track is top-notch.
I've saved the best for last:
Graphics: just sublime. The character models look terrific. I was pleasantly surprised how every piece of armor looked different on the different models. The animations are detailed and varied. The art style is not too cartoony but alternately joyful and macabre when appropriate. Pre-rendered backgrounds are done in that slightly-oil painted look that is stylized but not too abstract (though sometimes a bit pixelated).
The effects are great. The flora outdoors looks alive and moves in the wind. There is a momentum to the projectile spells that makes them feel wonderful to cast. Trudging around in knee deep water looks awesome. The lighting is superb. Xoti's lantern casts foreboding demonic silhouettes on dungeon walls. Even the parallax isn't so bad.
Deadfire is one of the best looking games I've played. To me, it looks as good as modded GTA 5, or Witcher 3 with high resolution texture pack, or Control with RTX, or maxed-out PC Red Dead 2. How many isometric RPGs can you say that about?
Deadfire looks the way that I dreamed games would one day look as a teenager playing Baldur's Gate twenty years ago. I remember playing Neverwinter Nights for the first time and feeling utter disappointment at what 3D could look like. I felt the same disappointment about games like Warcraft 3, and even today about Divinity Original Sin 2.
But Deadfire absolutely nails it visually.
OVERALL SCORE: 9 / 10
When I read a review, I'm usually curious to what that reviewer thought of other games, as a point of comparison, and to see if their preferences align with mine. So here's what I would score the other games I've played this year:
AC Odyssey: 5/10
Disco Elysium: 9/10
Divinity Original Sin 2: 4/10
Hollow Knight: 9/10
Nier Automata: 3/10
What Remains of Edith Finch: 8/10
I thoroughly enjoyed the 80 hours or so spent in the world of Deadfire. I hope they make POE3, although from what I read it doesn't seem super likely at the moment. Maybe in a decade when the nostalgia reawakens.
I'm skeptical about Avowed, but will at least watch some YT videos of it.
I'm bummed about Baldur's Gate 3. Truly bummed.
But enough complaining for one day. Thanks for reading!