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Beast of Winter belongs to the RPG textbooks! My review, no spoilers


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Get ready to bookmark this page because for once, I'll be pouring superlatives.

For the last few days I've had an enormous amount of fun with Beast of Winter, far beyond my expectations. Rarely has any cRPG given me this sense of actually roleplaying, like in a PnP game, in the way in which this addon module did in the 20 hours it took me to complete it.*

What's the greatest thing about Beast of Winter? Something that Obsidian has been trying to achieve since PoE has been to recreate the feeling of playing a D&D module, same as the Infinity engine games did. And if Obsidian came close to capturing that D&D feeling with PoE and Deadfire, and especially with The White March, in Beast of Winter, for the first time, they absolutely nailed it.

Beast of Winter offers an experience which falls in the best traditions of the isometric fantasy RPG classics. This extends both to story, area design and atmosphere, and - if properly configured by the player - hardcore difficulty.

Part of the reasons why this feels so much like an RPG module has to do with the size and scope. It's a self-contained adventure, which doesn't drag on too long or become too convoluted, but offers great combat and enough mystery and revelations of the world's lore to keep you hooked on. I played through it in three long sittings, and I haven't felt hooked in this way to a cRPG probably since my first playing of Baldur's Gate II.

The story follows the classical epic template which goes down to the Culture Hero myths - there used to be order in the world, but it has been breached by the coming of forces of chaos, but the hero arrives, defeats chaos and restores order to the world so that it will not be breached again. The story structure is nothing pretentious, it's downright traditional, but it is perfectly executed. And this is exactly what I am looking for in a fantasy RPG.

Beast of Winter is less of an expansion in the way that The White March is for PoE, and more of an add-on big quest, and that is completely OK. The DLC consists of an introductory area, and a multiple-level "dungeon" whose challenges the player must solve in order to reach and overcome the boss at the end of the dungeon. The story and structure of the DLC remind of the big self contained quests of Baldur's Gate II. The best news is that BoW's overall quality also evokes the same comparisons. BoW is a top tier adventure in the vein of The Severed Hand, The Planar Sphere, Windspear Hills, and other hallmarks of the Infinity Engine games' dungeon and quest design.

Here is a list of the things I think were all very important and the Beast of Winter team got right perfectly in making the DLC:
- Maintain mystery around the main quest, so that the main quest becomes an investigation
- Exploration of areas is hindered in a way that's relevant to the environment and context, so that fully exploring an area has to be "achieved" by solving mini puzzles where you must find a path through an area, in addition to clearing it from enemies in your way. And this area design feature fits the character of the areas which should be difficult to traverse, such as the frozen temple or the sunken city.
- There is a good balance between hand crafted combat encounters, exploration and inching forward feeling your way for laid down traps.
- The story and purpose of an area is revealed through details in the environment.
- The player is given the sensation of descending into further and further depths of a dungeon, with further levels feeling progressively more surreal than the ones before - An out of place iceberg in the corner of the map, then a village built by a cult sharing an irrational and self-destructive worldview, followed by the wild parts of the iceberg outside of the settlement, then the mysterious frozen temple, and finally another dimension into which the player is sent by one of the gods. It's a technique of gradually building up the player's perception of progression into danger and adventure, in spaces where the normal rules don't apply and anything can be expected. The classic example of this technique can be found in the novel "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad.
- The storytelling manages to give the feeling that time is of the essence, through both dialogue and graphics - once you arrive you have to talk to a character named Vatnir. Once you talk to him, you have to go outside immediately. Once you go outside, you have to get back to him at once. Once you get back and speak with him, you have to continue the pursuit right away. Every next step feels urgent.
- Beast of Winter provides all the party-companion reactivity you may wish for. If it makes sense for one of your party members to take notice of something in the course of your quest, they will comment on it, and either express their opinion, or share their more in-depth knowledge of the situation and environment you find yourselves in. This contributed much to the feeling of immersion, and of leading those characters through an adventure with real stakes.

One issue I had, and something I would have liked to see would have been for the newly introduced party member to still be recruitable after the adventure ends, but I am sure this can and will be patched in, if there is enough demand for it by players.

Overall, my hat is off to the team of junior developers who totally stole the show with the Beast of Winter DLC. I am anticipating with the greatest interest what will they produce next, and also further into the future. I wish they just kept on working and working on more Deadfire expansions, because for me they started on a great note, and with their first work wrote a golden page in the history of isometric Infinity engine-like RPGs.

* - I play on Veteran with level scaling only upwards, and I turn the combat speed at least one grade slower, so you may complete it faster, depending on your difficulty settings and on how thorough you are.

Edited by Gairnulf
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A Custom Editor for Deadfire's Data:
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I really liked the DLC. The story was compelling, with a good number of good puzzles (but not being excessive).

 

Edit: the difficulty was better than what I found in the main game once I reached the higher levels. In today's stream they said they will do the same for the next DLC's difficulty. :)

Edited by InsaneCommander
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Overall it was great - really well designed and written dlc. And then there was the burning bridge which was simply superb, one of the best, most atmospheric quests I've ever played. Problem is that I was already seriously unimpressed with the story/narrative/writing in the main game. And BOW being so good, has just accentuated how mediocre the rest of the game is.

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"Those who look upon gods then say, without even knowing their names, 'He is Fire. She is Dance. He is Destruction. She is Love.' So, to reply to your statement, they do not call themselves gods. Everyone else does, though, everyone who beholds them."
"So they play that on their fascist banjos, eh?"
"You choose the wrong adjective."
"You've already used up all the others.”

 

Lord of Light

 

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Have to also chime in to say that I absolutely loved Beast of Winter.

 

I hope it's not too much of a spoiler that one of the more interesting aspects of Deadfire is how basically your primary antagonist is a deity who is essentially the embodiment of pure utilitarian benevolence and is one of the kith's greatest advocates (if not somehow the greatest) in the pantheon. But while it was interesting, the writing/narrative didn't always convey the potential conflicts very well.

 

By contrast, Beast of Winter deals with it a lot more, particularly in one specific section

where you are dealing with one of the most lore-important characters to Eora (Waidwen) at the moment of the godhammer, one of the most important recent events in game lore.

It helped address some of the missing potential from the base game

and mined out a lot of rich characterization from the in-hindsight under-explored-by-both-PoEs narrative space of what it must have been like to have been Waidwen, from their childhood all the way to the moment right before their destruction, and how to reconcile that with an ostensibly supremely benevolent deity.

Not to mention that I thought the art direction for much of the DLC was fantastic, especially for that section.

 

EDIT to add: I though the difficulty for path of the damned levels 14-15 was satisfyingly challenging for a first-run. With the exception of the final dragon fight! While it was hard, it was actually so hard (probably my fault because I was going through with an under-optimized party) that it actually became easy. When I was down to one last person, instead of letting myself wipe I just kept running back and forth from two seals that deal damage to the dragon (the one on the left and the one on the bottom... no names to avoid spoilers) and killed the dragon that way.

Edited by thelee
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I loved the Bridge Ablaze, the rest I was underwhelmed on. I'm kind of irritated the peaceful solution with the Dragon is locked behind an Arcana skill check, and not, you know, DIPLOMACY.

 

Not everyone appreciates diplomacy. And convincing the Dragon was more a matter of explaining arcana-related stuff than using nice words or psychology.

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The White march 1 and 2 where better then POE base game aswell.

 

You know I also liked the DLC for Fallout: NV more than the base game itself.

 

I suspect it's because for the base game all resources are going to just making the game playable, whereas with DLC--even with a smaller team--everyone is used to how the game tooling works, what the engine is capable of, and so they can focus more on the content.

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That's why I repeatedly wonder why Obsidian didn't just take PoE's engine and make a nice, really biiig, separate,standalone expansion for it and call it Deadfire...

With a decent story!

I still don't quite get the devs on this... a sequel with way to many compromises, dropping the watcher to first level, open world, clearly they didn't have the time or resources to work on the story. And then after Deadfire they produce the fantastic bridge ablaze, just to add salt to the wound. As if to say, "well this is what we could have done if we wanted to, but here's a boat and some shanties..."

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"Those who look upon gods then say, without even knowing their names, 'He is Fire. She is Dance. He is Destruction. She is Love.' So, to reply to your statement, they do not call themselves gods. Everyone else does, though, everyone who beholds them."
"So they play that on their fascist banjos, eh?"
"You choose the wrong adjective."
"You've already used up all the others.”

 

Lord of Light

 

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