in Posted on his blog Josh Sawyer, who was the director of the Pillars of Eternity project and the director of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, tried to answer the question of whether there would be Pillars of Eternity 3.
His answer is that Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire sold very poorly, much worse than the first game. At the same time, he noted that both games received good reviews. The Pillars of Eternity got a score of 89 on Metacritic, and the Pillars of Eternity 2 got a score of 88.
His point isn’t necessarily that Pillars of Eternity 2’s poor sales numbers prevent a new game, but he doesn’t understand why selling so poorly makes it difficult to make a game that meets players’ expectations.
I recently played both games with all the extra content and this seems to be a contradiction as I think Pillars of Eternity 2 is much better than its predecessor. So, I’ll venture to try and explain why Deadfire’s sales numbers are going the way they did.
ATTENTION: There will be major spoilers in this text, so if you want to play the games first, you will be hereby warned.
Success on Kickstarter
Pillars of Eternity was one of the first major Kickstarter successes. I was one of many who yearned for new games that could carry the legacy of old isometric RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. Obsidian wanted to offer this and many have jumped on it, including me.
Perhaps it’s not controversial to say that the game got a lot of extra hype precisely because Kickstarter campaigns were in the wind so much at this time and there was a lot of coverage of projects that met their funding goals. Josh Sawyer himself points out that the nostalgia factor was significant.
At the same time, Obsidian Entertainment has built a solid reputation in the RPG genre. Not only was the company started by veterans of the ancient Black Isle, but they also provided critically acclaimed games in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Fallout: New Vegas. RPG fans had reason to have high expectations when Sebjian was creating their own fantasy world.
Pillars of Eternity was released in 2015. It’s been seven years at the time of writing, and that’s how long it took to finish that game. I found the game “heavy” to play, but couldn’t figure out what made me refuse to repeat it over and over every time I put it on.
Read also: Our review of the pillars of eternity »
First and foremost, Pillars of Eternity suffers from being the first game set in the Eora universe. The developers really want you to understand and appreciate how this world is put together and they burden you with information throughout the game. It didn’t seem that the old cliché “show, don’t tell” was something the developers were pointing at. Thus, it is as if you are at school every time you play the game. Every character you meet can tell you about the history and traditions of their homeland, and why their god thinks the way he does. The world is fun, but it could have been better conveyed.
The framework in Pillars of Eternity is solid, and if you’ve played older games of the same genre, you’ll get to know them quickly. At the same time, Obsidian does not have the right to use elements from other well-known role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder, and this means that you still have to learn about new classes, magic tricks and other characteristics. You have to put on your reading glasses every time the characters reach a new level.
Rarely, you can put your reading glasses away. Both games are full of scripts, and even if you have good voice actors on the team, you should be prepared to read a lot. This in and of itself shouldn’t be a problem, but they will probably lose the balance a bit here between work and information dissemination.
In many games, it is probably easy to consider skipping reading text in order to move forward quickly. It’s a bad strategy in the Pillars of Eternity games. The narrative is very complex and it’s hard to keep up with if there’s information you don’t take with you, you’ll pull away very quickly. This is not a black and white game where good fights evil. You are often challenged to think about moral dilemmas and where the line between idealism and pragmatism is drawn.
Read also: Baldur’s Gate Games Review »
The games are about gods who are not really gods who have tampered with how the flow of souls works to create a form of controlled reincarnation. This world order is now threatened by the inner power struggles of the gods. The character you play has the ability to communicate with and influence spirits and thus ends up in the middle of a great drama that unfolds between the gods. The way you get bits and pieces of information about this throughout Pillars of Eternity means that you have to be able to focus on the main story the whole time.
Another element that makes Pillars of Eternity “heavy” is that the tone of the game is very dark. One of the first things you experience in the game is coming to a big tree where a lot of people are hanged. Babies are born without souls which leads to some serious consequences. A group of priests are locked in a dark room and the last thing they hear is the sound of their friends eating each other. And all this is presented to you during the first two hours of the game.
This tone is repeated throughout the first match. You constantly encounter how evil people can be to each other. Many of the missions are bleak and unpleasant, and I especially remember the “Brave Derrin” mission that made me really angry and sad. I can appreciate the dark fantasy worlds, but the Pillars of Eternity eventually became an emotional realization that contributed to my inability to continue playing.
This is where Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire differs significantly from its predecessor. Deadfire is bright and exhilarating with sword-wielding pirates, colorful dragons and an Indiana Jones-esque feel to explore and hunt for sunken treasure. There are by all accounts serious topics covered in Pillars of Eternity 2 as well. You experience colonial ideas, slavery, and oppression, but it doesn’t get as dark as in the first game.
In Pillars of Eternity2, you also feel like you can do something about primal things. If you do not like slave traders, you can completely close their scheme. If you do not like commercial companies that take advantage of the local population, you can choose to work against them. In Pillars of Eternity, your choices have little effect as bad things happen anyway. In Deadfire, you have more chance of impact and this makes the game more interesting and less burdensome to play.
The world you explore is also experienced as more exciting and exotic in Pillars of Eternity 2. Where the big city in the first game, Defiance Bay, appears as an almost generic fantasy city that you’ve visited hundreds of times before in other games, Neketaka in Deadfire is really exciting to explore.
I also find that the characters you encounter in Pillars of Eternity are not very attractive. They all have their own tasks, but they rarely reach a satisfactory result. Durance is probably the only really interesting character in Pillars of Eternity, apart from the one you meet in The White March expansion.
This is also much better in Pillars of Eternity 2 as almost all the characters offer an interesting development throughout the game. I especially appreciate Serafen, Maia, Tekehu and Xoti, and it helps to have a gang of Critical Role with them to play the characters.
Another slightly odd strategy from Obsidian is that a lot of the best gaming content is hidden away in the expansions. In Pillars of Eternity, Part 1 + 2 of The White March is the highlight of the game. In Deadfire, The Forgotten Sanctum and the Beast of Winter are an essential part of the narrative. I wouldn’t imagine why they did it this way, but if I played Pillars of Eternity before the White March I ate sausage bread with ketchup and mustard while I left the sausage on the grill.
Games are at their best when you understand what the gods are doing behind the scenes and you can be an active part of the great game about the destiny of the world. Most of this happens in Pillars of Eternity 2, whereas in the first game it’s only at the end and in the expansions you really get.
At the same time, I believe that the journey you take through the Pillars of Eternity is essential to getting to know the world and understanding what is happening. Deadfire is such a direct sequel that without playing the first game, the highlights wouldn’t be affected as much. The game also allows you to import the choices you made in Pillars of Eternity that help make Deadfire feel closer to your story.
Hope for the future
In short, I think Pillars of Eternity has been a huge success as a result of great interest and high expectations. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not good either. The complex story, dark tone, violent presentation of information, and rather uninteresting characters may have caused many players to fall by the wayside.
If one recognizes the core weaknesses of the Pillars of Eternals, this may also explain why Deadfire has not been able to achieve the same sales numbers. Players were so tired and tired from the first trip through the Pillars of Eternity that they couldn’t make another trip. Which is a real shame because Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire is a very good RPG.
I think it’s unlikely there will be Pillars of Eternity 3, but Obsidian is working on a new game set in the same universe. Reportedly, which probably looks more like Skyrim than Pillars of Eternity, will take us back to Eora. I hope Josh Sawyer and his cohorts have given a little more thought to why Pillars of Eternity 2 has gone the way it did. If they can’t realize what went wrong in the series, it can be hard to avoid repeating the same elements mistakes in the next game.
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