I was worried when so much time passed before Obsidian showed off any of the game, and now it seems that my anxieties were justified--perhaps if they had been more open with the early development of the game, the main problems that I see in the Backer Beta could have been avoided or resolved. But with less than five months of development planned, it seems very unlikely Obsidian will be able to implement any substantial changes.
In the course of my 3 hours with the backer beta, I compiled a fairly big list of bugs, general feedback and suggestions. But by the end of my first ride through the game, I realized that what I saw as the biggest problems with the game would be the most difficult to fix (because so much work has been done already), and also potentially the most detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the game.
As you can see from the tags I chose, I am speaking of the visual and audio elements of the game. Specifically:
The visuals in the "wilderness" (or exterior areas of the first map) are very much lacking in contrast. Maybe I should try "color blind" mode to see if things improve (the game crashed on me before I could try it), but the "normal" visuals should be the "best," right? Well, maybe there was a reason color-blind mode was selected by default. The lack of contrast produces two problems:
1. Terrain is homogeneous. If I can't tell what a tree looks like because it's leaves are the same color as the grass underneath it, and it casts no shadow, there's no point in the tree being there at all.
2. Units/creatures are indiscernible. With the unit selection circles of NPCs/creatures hidden underneath grass, they may as well not exist. Without much contrast between themselves and the terrain, the NPCs/creatures are more difficult to spot than they should be. Superimposing the selection circles on top of the terrain would help some; maybe a small outline or "glow" around the NPCs/creatures would also help them stand out more. As would idle animations.
And then there's a visual contrast that is in the game, but that works to its detriment: specifically the environmental animation. The animated water and doodads (like the waterwheel) look absolutely fantastic, but their presence contrasts far too much with the absensce of animation for the rest of the terrain. Contrasted with motionless NPCs, static grass, and unbending trees, the rest of the world looks incredibly lifeless by comparison. If the water is going to move, so should the grass; so should the trees; so should the animals inhabiting the world.
Maybe this is going to be a controversial opinion. I've seen a couple of people praising the music. Me? I find it to be incredibly bland. The field music is perfectly servicable for what it is--BGM. But the problem is that the title them (the music that plays at the menu) ALSO sounds like background music. The title theme should be the BEST, most memorable track of music in the game. Remember BG2, how each party member had his or her own theme music? Remember how dynamic and memorable those tunes were? Remember the title theme that played every time you launched the game? We all remember that, even years--or decades--after we played the game. BG2's title them was filled with a sense of wonder and grandeur--it was bold and dynamic and promised adventure and excitement.
In other words, the title theme immediately set the tone for the adventure that would follow.
Compared to the title theme in Pillars of Eternity, which sounds like the same sort of generic background music you'd hear in an Elder Scrolls game while traversing a swamp. There's no dynamism. No grandeur. No promise of bold adventures or sinister plots or romance or tragedy or anything.
It's like standing in a medieval elevator.
And of course, the biggest problem of all is that these aren't really aspects of the game that can readily be salvaged so late in development. It's possible they could crank out a few more tracks of music, and maybe create a decent title theme--but at this point I think we can safely declare it extremely unlikely that Obsidian has the time or resources to re-draw the maps with animated terrain.
And I think that's really kind of depressing, because--the countless bugs aside--every other aspect of the game (that I've seen so far) seems to be EXACTLY what a successor to the Infinity Engine legacy should be: lots of roleplaying options, interesting quest design, and extremely well-written dialog. With so much of the game being so good, it's a shame that the most immediately noticeable aspects of the game--the visuals and music--are so lacking.