There was a time when CRPGs were thought to be extinct. The likes of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale long since gone, only the original Fallout games followed and not much since. Well, fear not, as Obsidian and Versus Evil have resurrected this genre in the form of Pillars of Eternity. The Complete Edition that sees the light of day on the Switch includes not only all of the DLC, but also console-specific optimizations. Is this a future classic in the making? Or was the CRPG genre best left undisturbed? Let’s find out!
The story sees you as the protagonist, a newly “awakened” Watcher, able to see past lives and interact with souls. You must gather a party and venture forth into the vast world of Dyrwood, a nation torn by war, in order to solve the mystery of the Hollowborn (people born without a soul), and shed light upon your newly discovered powers. Pillars of Eternity is in no way short of lore or dialog, and a lot of your time will be spent reading (and listening) to both. Fortunately for you, the storytelling is masterful, with a rich world populated by even richer characters. NPCs are the spearhead that delivers most of this wonderful tale, and as it is with most great role-playing games, it is in these characters that your world comes alive: troubled pasts, questionable motivations and, ultimately, a story of morality and deceit, all await your exploring in the over 60 hours that the main campaign offers. Be prepared to sink triple-digit figures into this game if you’re a completionist.
The presentation is nothing short of amazing, particularly considering this is a Switch port of a game based on the Unity engine. I’ve seen many games far less complex than Pillars of Eternity that struggle to run well on the Switch due to poor engine optimization. Not so with this gem of a game, which runs flawlessly and never once crashed on me. There are, however, a couple of minor bugs I encountered. The first one is that text during some loading screens first show up garbled, but to be honest, it almost looks like it was made on purpose (a bit like language is “written” in franchises like The Legend of Zelda). It’s a very minor thing for sure, but still there. A bigger issue for me was that some items were hard to interact with due to them having a very small hitbox of interaction. I had to position my characters just so in order to make the Interact dialog box pop up. It was never during critical moments, but it made exploring a bit frustrating at times. Some people complaint of long load times, but I found them to be tolerable. Sure, some of the dungeons require you to go through quite a few of them, and in very quick succession, but the truth is that this is the way I played these games back in the day, so it didn’t bother me much.
Graphically, the game is fairly impressive, if a bit repetitive in outdoor areas. There is quite a bit of brown tones, indoors and out, and while it aids in the medieval feeling, it does feel like the whole game could use a lick of more vibrant paint. That is easily remedied by some of the special effects, though, both environmental and in the form of spells: these are colorful and vibrant, and set themselves apart from the world in a way that is perhaps nicer than they would have if the world was also colorful and vibrant.
In terms of audio, the music stands out as yet another strong point of this game, but combat tunes can get repetitive on a per-area basis if you choose to take on all side tasks as they present themselves. Voice acting is superb, and every single line I heard was delivered just right. I have not heard this level of consistency in voice acting in a long, long time. It really is quite something.
As with any RPG, though, all of those bells and whistles would be for naught if the gameplay was no good. Thankfully, Pillars of Eternity delivers an incredibly deep, satisfying experience that shines all the brighter thanks to a very cleverly executed control scheme. Sure, the party system, the inventory, the spells, the melee attacks, the different races, the elemental strength and weaknesses… these are all elements we’ve seen before countless times. But something that we take for granted today can still be a true source of wonderment, as Obsidian manages to make a CRPG meant to be played with a full keyboard, completely playable and enjoyable on a console. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a system as fluid as this on a console port, and games like Fallout 4 and Skyrim come to mind immediately because of their console optimization: the console ports regulated a lot of the choices made during the design of the gameplay, making the gameplay more streamlined and, admittedly, less involved in the process. Pillars of Eternity packs all of the PC-bound complexity in a two-wheel, many-tiered system that, while intimidating at first, grows on you fast. Let’s not forget that combat is paused while you access these wheels, making the act of combat a lot more tactical than it would have been if they had streamlined it for button-mashing. There is also a crafting system, and this is perhaps where the complexity falls a bit short when comparing it to other systems in the game, as the recipes are limited and a lot of stuff is better obtained through other means. An Atelier game this ain’t, then, but then again, it never pretended to be.
Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition on the Nintendo Switch is, in no uncertain terms, a modern masterpiece. Not only is the core game superb, but the console conversion to the Switch is masterful, complete and somehow natural. Obsidian has crafted an all-time great that, while not necessarily innovative, it is certainly executed to perfection. The character-driven lore, the fantastic voice acting, the familiar combat system, and a control scheme for the ages make a good-looking, great-running CRPG a very, very strong contender for one of the best role-playing games on the console. And when it comes to Nintendo consoles, that’s saying something. If you have yet to play this game, you better take a 60 to 100 hour slice out of your schedule for the next few weeks, and immerse yourself in one of the best executed games we’ve seen in a long, long time.