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Feedback from a non-backer (lengthy)


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So, yesterday evening I finished my first and fairly extensive play-through of Pillars of Eternity.

 

Throughout my play session I took notes of stuff that I wanted to provide feedback on, in the hopes of seeing an even-better PoE 2 sometime in the future.

 

With that in mind, a lot of the points are going to sound critical. But bear in mind that the overall experience was still great and that PoE is an impressive product considering the humble roots.

 

Just a little background on myself. I bought the game on Steam, about 1 week after launch, mainly due to the rave reviews that were coming out at the time. There were so many 9/10s that I really had to see for myself if the game was up to the hype.

 

I did play the Baldur's Gate series 15 years ago and still consider them some of my most memorable games but otherwise wasn't hugely involved in PoE, neither as a fan or a backer. That's why my feedback might sound a bit „casual“ at times.

 

I won't say a huge deal about the positives because the reviews already did that. And to be honest, saying positive things is always more general and unspecific that pointing out areas for improvement.

 

This feedback is based on a single, extensive 60 hour play-through on medium difficulty with a main Rogue and all companions.

 

General:

  • The game is pretty enough considering its humble origins, or at least the maps are. However the actual 3D characters you see during creation and the inventory are pretty ugly.

  • Other than that, some of the area maps were a little „bland“ and static. A little more motion and interactivity would go a long way. But I assume this is directly tied to the limited production quality available.

  • Despite the “simple” graphics style I found the load-times to be fairly long, even on an SSD. Also, shouldn't it have been possible to have single houses not require a zone switch?

  • I understand what Obsidian with going for, giving every NPC realistic loot. But I don't think it made the game better. Instead it floods you with loot, and subsequently money, which allows you to buy everything you could possibly want immediately. I was close to 100000 gold at some point. It also meant that the relevant loot was often drowned somewhere in your stash and I often wouldn't notice a quest reward I had received until a few hours later. I also had a hard time discerning what item was better, again because the entire stat-system isn't very intuitive or well explained unless you go out of your way to research it.

     

 

Mechanics:

  • I didn't think the secondary skills (Mechanics, Lore etc.) really facilitated many interesting choices. Instead I was always focusing on 1-2 skills on each character and ignoring almost everything else (except Athletics to 3, min). It wasn't bad, just a little dull. More secondary skills with more interesting choices might be cool. Cooking, Alchemy, maybe even Enchanting could be potential „camp skills“ for the future.

  • I see what Obsidian was going for with the primary stats in making every stat useful for everyone. And I think it worked, to an extent. But Might in conversation always seemed to imply physical prowess which goes against the concept. I also think more could have been done to encourage balanced builds instead of focusing heavily on Might. Maybe Diminishing Returns or similar. Overall it's a good system but it could use some fine-tuning and some more intuitive interactions.

  • This game has some many stats and doesn't do a very good job explaining them. It wasn't until the end of the game that I realized what exactly Reflex, Fortitude and Willpower did. Better loading screen tips would have gone a long way. This isn't helped by the fact that there are so many spells that influence them in some way.

  • This is pet-peeve of mine, but I really do not like the “resting” system, neither here nor in previous IE games. The idea that my party would camp out in the middle of an infested dungeon to cure all ailments is immersion-breaking to me. That's why I only camped when absolutely necessary. Not only is it immersion-breaking, but it also encouraged weird game-play like camping before and after difficult fights or not camping at all on a three-day journey across the entire map.

  • On that note I also didn't like the “per encounter” or “per rest” skill limit for the same aforementioned reasons. I just seem arbitrary, encouraged cheesy game-play and doesn't force interesting choices or resource management. I'll use my Warrior knockdowns in every fight, not matter how trivial or hard and because I don't know what to expect in the future, I won't use my powerful spells until later...and then never end up using them at all. This isn't a good system.

  • The health system on the other hand was ok, although it too suffered from some of the same issues mentioned above. Endurance was effectively your “combat HP”, while Health was you actual life power. Health was grinded away slowly, effectively forcing you to camp eventually while Endurance needed more moment-to-moment attention. I'm still not sure it's actually better than a more conventional system but it's ok. Still, I would have liked to see more ways of replenishing health, because having everyone sitting at 90% health and one at 20% really wasn't much fun.

     

Combat and Classes:

  • There were times where I felt there was too much emphasis on combat. When every room in every dungeon has a potentially lethal mob-group it can get a bit grooling. I was also a bit disappointed in the lack of puzzles. Or maybe I missed them.

  • AI pathing, while ok outside of combat, was generally terrible once in combat. Both enemies and companions would frequently get stuck, block each other or not do much at all. Annoying to say the least, especially given how quickly a fight can go south.

  • I also felt that combat at times could feel rather random. I was a bit of a perfectionist and would often reload if I felt my party took too much unnecessary damage. I did this mainly to avoid camping, which I consider extremely immersion breaking, especially when used inside dungeons. Point being, I could do the same fight 5 times and while 4 times my party might lose 40% of it's HP, the 5th time it would barely lose 10% without any discernible reason why.

  • The huge skill discrepancy between classes was a big letdown to me. Some classes like the Ranger, Rogue or Paladin only get a handful of active skills to use in combat. On the other hand Mages and Priests get an almost overwhelming number of skills that, in the case of the Priest, almost do the same thing. I mean Durance has at least 5 different versions of “Buff Might and Resolve” and 5 different versions of “buff various defensive stats”. Some variety is good but if some many spells do virtually the same, they seem redundant. It also meant I had to scroll through a lot of spells before finding the one I actually need. Because when all spell descriptions read so similar it's hard to remember which one actually increased your resilience to “Terrified”. In my opinion the Cipher and Chanter had a good amount of skills allowing both choice and diversity without being tedious. For the future I'd like to see other classes gain more skills and utility while reducing the redundancy of some of the Priest spells especially. Mage spells in contrast are at least fairly diverse.

 

Companions:

  • Overall the companions were decent. They had characters and got involved in conversations and the plot. My only complaint with them is that they feel a little „tacked on“. Most of them are literally standing around, waiting for you to pick them up with very little story involvement. Pallegrina was the only character that was at least tied to a quest directly. I assume this was a side-effect of the kickstarter, where more characters were added as stretch goals. That's ok. But for the future I would like to see them as essential parts of the story as well as their own personalities, just like in Baldur's Gate 2.

     

 

World and Writing:

  • A lot of the time I felt I was „bumbling“ through the plot, without much of a clue where I was and what to expect. Often times I would end up accidentally forwarding the plot or completing a quest. This often ended up feeling a little anti-climatic. I'm not sure exactly why or how to avoid it, but a little more setup and guidance might have helped.

  • I also got frustrated at times looking for specific NPCs in specific locations. It would have been nice to have at least the option of turning on a navigational aid for turning in quests, especially if you've already talked to that specific NPC. Having to remember all the NPCs and their specific locations realy just made me alt+tab a lot. This was obviously reinforced by the previous point about „bumbling“ through the plot.

  • Other than that, I did find the world slightly inaccessible at first. It doesn't take long for the game to introduce you to countless concepts like the different gods, souls, animancy, adra, the different races etc. While it does come together towards the end, it is all a little overwhelming at first.

  • On a similar note....boy are some NPCs chatty. I knew I was up for some reading even before buying the game, but some of those 20-30 page exposition dumps some NPCs drop on you seem a little unnecessary and ruin a bit of the pacing. I voice-acted parts help alleviate this somewhat. Still I would have appreciated either more frequent, but less lengthy exposition or simply a little more „compact“ writing. I know opinions may vary on this and that's ok, but this is just my opinion.

 

Well, that's all I have to say for now. Hope it wasn't too wordy and I'm looking forward to the next chapter in the Pillars of Eternity.

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This review is so balanced and clear. I like it. I hope you will write more game reviews in the future.

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Cail The Silent- The drake coils its body protectively around something. "One day I will become a burning thing. Bright and terrible like my spark."
Quest "Cinders of Faith"
 
Sagani- Sagani chuckles. "Nothing against these stuffy forests, but you haven't seen the southern lights over Naasitaq."
Quest "The Long Hunt"

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  • The huge skill discrepancy between classes was a big letdown to me. Some classes like the Ranger, Rogue or Paladin only get a handful of active skills to use in combat. On the other hand Mages and Priests get an almost overwhelming number of skills that, in the case of the Priest, almost do the same thing. I mean Durance has at least 5 different versions of “Buff Might and Resolve” and 5 different versions of “buff various defensive stats”. Some variety is good but if some many spells do virtually the same, they seem redundant. It also meant I had to scroll through a lot of spells before finding the one I actually need. Because when all spell descriptions read so similar it's hard to remember which one actually increased your resilience to “Terrified”. In my opinion the Cipher and Chanter had a good amount of skills allowing both choice and diversity without being tedious. For the future I'd like to see other classes gain more skills and utility while reducing the redundancy of some of the Priest spells especially. Mage spells in contrast are at least fairly diverse.

 

I agree here and there with your other points, but this one I think I disagree with. Yes, there is overlap in the Priest spells, but they're spread among different spell levels, so you still have access to a similar function once a spell level depletes. I think that's the main point of the redundant spells. I like the scattering of offensive spells too, so the Priest isn't just a one-trick-pony throwing buffs, debuffs and heals.

 

So I wouldn't want to see the other classes gaining more abilities at the expense of reducing and consolidating the Priest spells. With the current design, I only have to heavily micro (and learn) big spell lists for two classes -- Priest and Wizard. It keeps the other classes fairly easy to manage in combat. 

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You make a lot of good points. Kudos for this well-written feedback.

 

The Rest mechanic in particular I agree with. It's really a bit of an artifact that doesn't make sense. Not a game-breaker, but I could see Rest replaced with, say, bundles of bandages to heal wounds limited in carrying capacity, as wel las getting rid of per-rest spells.

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Too much to comment on, but regarding the combat, I think the main issue is that many dungeons are filled with generic packs of enemies, whereas in BG2 there was always a lot of variety: ie. the temple district sewers had goblins, slimes, a rakshasa and his kobold friends in the center, an otyugh, a sea troll, and a tough party of brigands. Encountering similar packs of creatures many times in the same area leads to combat which feels repetitive and tiresome.

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I really like Health/Endurance -- but I don't like "You can carry two hundred suits of armor, but only two bundles of firewood"

 

I would like to see resting just be impossible in dungeons, unrestricted in wilderness areas, and cash-only in cities.

 

Dungeons should be balanced as grueling endurance tests -- how deep can you go without running back out to camp? 

 

(To make this a fun, challenging gauntlet to run without just being inconvenient, any set of stairs should take you straight to the surface if you wish.)

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DID YOU KNOW: *Missing String*

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Resting in dungeons may not feel realistic, but it allows players of different experience levels and difficulty settings to enjoy the game. It also avoids the need for cheesy exit doors and elevators at every dungeon level for the less-experienced players, which would seem just as unrealistic to me. At least with resting, there is some tension in managing your dwindling camping supplies as you go deeper.

 

I just assume the party is resting in shifts, with one member always on watch. 

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I commend you on your well-presented feedback.  I don't agree with all of your points, but I agree with some of them and everything you said is food for thought.

 

 This is where you lost me, though:

 

  • I also felt that combat at times could feel rather random. I was a bit of a perfectionist and would often reload if I felt my party took too much unnecessary damage. I did this mainly to avoid camping, which I consider extremely immersion breaking, especially when used inside dungeons. Point being, I could do the same fight 5 times and while 4 times my party might lose 40% of it's HP, the 5th time it would barely lose 10% without any discernible reason why.

 

Using the ability to save and load games to subvert the rest mechanic is going to alter your perception of the game and prevent you from experiencing the game as intended.  I feel that this may be part of the reason for your negative feedback about several aspects of the game, including per-encounter and per-rest abilities, the health system, and of course the rest system itself.  I would recommend trying the game again, without using this "tactic".  Use your abilities when you need to use them, rest when you need to rest, go back to town when you need more supplies.  The rest mechanic should be immersive, not immersion-breaking.  In any case, it should be less immersion-breaking than reloading saves until each battle goes perfectly (no wonder you found combat tedious).

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Resting in dungeons may not feel realistic, but it allows players of different experience levels and difficulty settings to enjoy the game. It also avoids the need for cheesy exit doors and elevators at every dungeon level for the less-experienced players, which would seem just as unrealistic to me. At least with resting, there is some tension in managing your dwindling camping supplies as you go deeper.

 

I just assume the party is resting in shifts, with one member always on watch. 

 

Well and it could be worse.  It could let you time-stop and eat 25 apples, 4 venison roasts and a half dozen small health potions and then start time again ... kind of like Skyrim.  The problem is the devs make the combat system they want and then devise a method of healing that works for their system.  Emphasis on the combat system and not on the healing system.  Skyrim's is beyond ridiculous, but it's the only thing that will work with the combat system they wanted.  Same with this game's combat system, you either have to allow something unrealistic like camping in the middle of dungeons, or you have to rework the whole combat system.  The easy answer is to just have some minor healing spells, but that would of course get overused as everyone would just heal up after every single encounter, so you might as well just auto-heal after every battle, which is again unrealistic.  You end up tweaking the combat, then the healing, then the combat until you end up with something that works most the time and try to ignore any immersion breaking it may cause.  No real perfect system that I'm aware of.

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I think the rest system would work better if you had access to spells that restored HEALTH outside of combat while retaining their primary in combat endurance healing role. I found myself resting primarily because my non fighter types would take ambient/aoe damage during fights, and eventually hit critical health levels, despite retaining a plethora of spells available and the fighters being in fine shape in constant melee combat.

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  • I didn't think the secondary skills (Mechanics, Lore etc.) really facilitated many interesting choices. Instead I was always focusing on 1-2 skills on each character and ignoring almost everything else (except Athletics to 3, min). It wasn't bad, just a little dull. More secondary skills with more interesting choices might be cool. Cooking, Alchemy, maybe even Enchanting could be potential „camp skills“ for the future.

 

I agree.

 

 

  • This is pet-peeve of mine, but I really do not like the “resting” system, neither here nor in previous IE games. The idea that my party would camp out in the middle of an infested dungeon to cure all ailments is immersion-breaking to me. That's why I only camped when absolutely necessary. Not only is it immersion-breaking, but it also encouraged weird game-play like camping before and after difficult fights or not camping at all on a three-day journey across the entire map.

 

 

I also agree that the resting system isn't perfect, but do you have an alternate solution?  I really prefer the PoE system to something like nwn2, where the ability to immediately recover all health and abilities made most of the game extremely easy, or kotor, where you could just pause for 30 seconds after every combat to recover all your force points.  In both systems you could always complete every dungeon or area in one go, and both those games were pretty easy, even on hard.  Also, it would be COMPLETELY AWFUL to have to return to an inn to rest every time.  That sort of "realism" isn't actually fun from a gameplay perspective, it's tedious.  LeBurns is right, they had to pick a system that fits the rest of the mechanics without being overly punitive or burdensome to the player.

 

 

  • On that note I also didn't like the “per encounter” or “per rest” skill limit for the same aforementioned reasons. I just seem arbitrary, encouraged cheesy game-play and doesn't force interesting choices or resource management. I'll use my Warrior knockdowns in every fight, not matter how trivial or hard and because I don't know what to expect in the future, I won't use my powerful spells until later...and then never end up using them at all. This isn't a good system.

 

 

This one I don't understand at all.  Yes, I hoard per-rest abilities also, but I don't see why it's such a big problem.  Why are per-encounter abilities cheesy?  What kind of system would you prefer?  Spell points regenerated over time or by rest?  Abilities with individual cooldowns? 

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World and Writing:

 

A lot of the time I felt I was „bumbling“ through the plot, without much of a clue where I was and what to expect. Often times I would end up accidentally forwarding the plot or completing a quest. This often ended up feeling a little anti-climatic. I'm not sure exactly why or how to avoid it, but a little more setup and guidance might have helped.

Indeed. This is a symptom of poor pacing, by the way. And it's not limited to the plot. I often times found myself not understanding the companions, for the same reason. It's....hard to explain. Some people have accurately pointed out that the game *dumps* the lore on you. It's overwhelming. This is a new setting and we should be eased in, not dropped in. But that's only part of the problem.

 

-Another part of the problem is that The game often times won't properly present major plot occurances/events. For example, about halfway through my first playthrough, I looked at my character and discovered that he had 2 *Watcher* abilities. And I have no idea when or how, or why he acquired them -- because the game didn't tell me, it just gave them to me. WTF. That's...bad story telling. In Planescape Torment, when the Nameless One acquired his raise dead ability (and later, his stories-bones-tell skill), there was major story-based fanfare for it. You KNEW when it happened because the game told you....and made a big deal about it.

 

-And the companions.... Either I have terrible reading comprehension, or the game's writers went too heavy on the whole "lets beat around the bush for styles sake". In Defiance Bay, Both Eder and Pallegina have an Opinion on the factions. But damned if I know what it is. Eder seems to despise the Dozens.... But its vague....right up until you actually choose a faction, and then he rants.... or something. Pallegina likes Anamancy....I think.

 

-Durance is a worshipper of Magrimm...no wait...he's not. Wait...I think he is? Aloth Talks to himself.... A lot. But the game doesn't explain anything about it, and you can't investigate it even a little bit...until much later on, when his entire story is suddenly dumped on you, just like the lore...without an iota of *presentation*.

 

 

-In the beginning of the game Calsica asks you if you're here to take advantage of Raedric's deal.....as if you're supposed to know who Raedric is, or what this deal is about. But the game doesn't care, because you're given zero information about it.... It's like the game is assuming player Meta-knowledge.

 

And this kind of stuff happens from the beginning to the end, and it's quite jarring. There are a lot of plot-based decisions to make, but for me they were often blind choices because I did not have enough information to make an informed decision.

Edited by Stun
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-In the beginning of the game Calsica asks you if you're here to take advantage of Raedric's deal.....as if you're supposed to know who Raedric is, or what this deal is about. But the game doesn't care, because you're given zero information about it.... It's like the game is assuming player Meta-knowledge.

And this kind of stuff happens from the beginning to the end, and it's quite jarring. There are a lot of plot-based decisions to make, but for me they were often blind choices because I did not have enough information to make an informed decision.

 

 

There are many times in the game where an NPC asks you a question about yourself where the answer is ambiguous, like this one with Calisca for instance. This was done intentionally to give the player a way to RP and define their own character's background. Some of these choices affect other dialogs later on. I thought it was a cool way to give the player more control over who their character is. I'm sorry you didn't like it.

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I'm honestly wondering if Pillars load times issue is because of it's pretty badly organized merchant system. Much like NWN2, the game would bog down in certain points because it was trying to  track too much information at once. Pillars seems like it has this problem since there doesn't seem to be any item stacking for the merchants, and it's keeping individual lists of all your trash loot inside each one.

The camping system I wasn't very keen on at the start, but I've grown to really like it. Higher difficulties mean that dungeon crawls really can feel like you have to manage resources a bit better, and I like that some places you simply cannot camp in/at. I can see why people wouldn't like it, but I guess I'm just cool with it because I've played a lot of games that did it so badly that it either destroyed the games challenge, or was complexity for complexities sake.

 

For companions, I actually enjoyed them much more than I thought I would. My only real gripe is I dislike how the random interjection barks can sometimes be taken over by 1-2 party members. Like in my current game, Eder and Kana are almost always the ones who break into the conversation to say something, while the rest of the party just sits there. I don't know if it's a priority system, so Companion A always speaks instead of Companion B at Location X, or if I was just unlucky. 

I totally get your 'bumbling through the plot thing'. Hell, the games triggers for the plot seemed to be as confused as well. The very first time I played, Sagani was talking about the Big Bad in the game and about Defiance Bay before I had even been to DB, and I was just sitting there like 'Wait, who the f is this guy you are talking about?' Then there are many other instances where they just dump something on you and expect you to know it. The very first run I did, I thought Dunryd Row was a person. Either I missed a conversation because I didn't do it in the right order, or they expected me to have found and read the book by that point, but I had no clue it was an Order and not a person. But yeah, totally agree. It makes sense on new playthroughs because it's familiar now, but on OG runs it can be very confusing with all the new terminology and the lack of clarity in presenting some of it to the player. 

I actually love the huge dialogue chunks though, but the V.O. drives me crazy. I read much more quickly than they talk, so it's almost always an annoyance for me when they start talking during a conversation. However, the voice acting was really good. 

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Mechanics:

  • This is pet-peeve of mine, but I really do not like the “resting” system, neither here nor in previous IE games. The idea that my party would camp out in the middle of an infested dungeon to cure all ailments is immersion-breaking to me. That's why I only camped when absolutely necessary. Not only is it immersion-breaking, but it also encouraged weird game-play like camping before and after difficult fights or not camping at all on a three-day journey across the entire map.

  • On that note I also didn't like the “per encounter” or “per rest” skill limit for the same aforementioned reasons. I just seem arbitrary, encouraged cheesy game-play and doesn't force interesting choices or resource management. I'll use my Warrior knockdowns in every fight, not matter how trivial or hard and because I don't know what to expect in the future, I won't use my powerful spells until later...and then never end up using them at all. This isn't a good system.

I agree that old Vancian magic system tied to resting is kind of an artifact and never fit well in a computer RPG immersion wise, but I don't think devs have or had any real choice with it. Spellcasting and its clauses were huge (I mean really HUGE) part of a combat and gameplay in general in IE games, and PoE, after all, obliged to feel like those games whether you or me like it or not. Devs tried to cut rest spamming limiting camping supplies and inventing per-encounter abilities. It didn't really solve all the problems, but still ended up being better than in IE games and preserved their "feel". Kinda win-win. *shrug*

 

Regarding immersion-breaking resting in dungeons, I don't think there's need to restrict it entirely. Why not allow to rest in dungeon you already cleared out, for example? I just don't know why devs didn't go with "you cannot rest here, enemies are too close" stuff. It would solve at least some of immersion-breaking rest issues.

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I also add one (since i don't think it worth making a dedicated topic for it) : status effects are overwhelming.


 


Just for movement penalty there's 5 (if i'm not missing any) : hobbled, stucked, stunted, paralyzed, and petrified.


 


And there's almost as many spells to protect from it, but not for all of them (i think there's one for stucked & stunted, and another for parlayzed & petrified) ; same thing for mental penalty.


 


I have played this game like 60h (and obviously i like it at lot) but i still can't remember where is priest/druid/mage spell for each particular status ; to counter a negative status i keep scanning all my characters for spells i don't even have ! I can't remember if a particular monster type stucked me the last time i encountered it or if it paralyzed me (except if it was 30sec ago, i'm not that dumb ^^), and finally, i can't even tell without checking if been stuck is worst than being paralyzed !


 


 


In Baldur's Gate, I just had to use "freedom of movement" and it was all good no matter if it was just a spider web or anything else (except petrification, but the difference was very clear since it was a permanent state), there wasn't "lesser freedom of movement" or "freedom of movement only vs spiderweb" spell and i don't think this would have added tactical depth.


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