I just finished Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire and wanted to share some final views about the game. Some of it will be rehashing my previous ideas but I thought posting them all in one place wouldn't hurt anyone.
It was a good game, but it wasn't a great game and I can definitely understand the less than stellar reaction and sales. In hindsight, the team should have known that following up on the original's success would be a tall order. It was essentially a remake of Baldur's Gate II in many ways, and it hit all the right tones and strengths of the game it drew inspiration from. And this, I think is what complicated things. You see, the classic Baldur's Gate II does not, so far, have a successor that has come to surpass it, not even its own proper sequel. It's certainly not perfect and I wouldn't consider it one of those lightning in a bottle games that just did everything right in a way that can not be repeated, but that achievement has not yet been reached. And Deadfire was an attempt at reaching it.
In trying to do so, the developers seem to have leaned far too much into the strengths of another contemporary game that seemed to fair commercially very well for itself: Divinity Original Sin. Every idea in Deadfire that seemed to be borrowed from that game felt out of place and poorly executed. The turn based mode, introduced post-launch as an experiment for the original game, simply does not make the game more enjoyable, and the real-time with pause experience has suffered significantly from what seems to be a problem of a small team trying to balance two completely unrelated game modes against each other. Yet, at the end of the day where Deadfire fell flat most for me was the writing.
Chasing a god across a dangerous archipelago in a ship with eccentric and esoteric companions sounds like a great idea for a fantasy novel but it really does not translate to the interactive medium well. At least in this attempt. I mean, it does have its merits - I loved how every single faction you can ally with are downright evil bastards in some way and how every faction quest pretty much results in the slaughter and suffering of hundreds to thousands of innocent people. In that regard, it conveys the complicated political and moral situation in Deadfire very well. What it doesn't do is to make it interesting and fun. There are two things severely lacking in this writing that turned me sour quickly and I never really recovered that interest: 1. There is no urgency, 2. There is no agency. At the end of the day Eothas set on a mysterious island waiting for almost a year for me to arrive while I was having my jolly old time sailing across the seas and grinding for gear and experience. That kind of gameplay does not mesh well with this kind of story, no.
I think what really got me down after hoping even up until the final confrontation that the game would redeem itself, ultimately, it ended with me having zero agency with regards to the main plot. Sure, I made dozens of decisions which resulted in end game slides and caused all kinds of things in many parts of the setting, but the main story basically resolved itself with my decision affecting the outcome even less so than picking a color at the end of Mass Effect 3. For that, I feel cheated. The final DLC for this game, The Forgotten Sanctum, is a 20-25 hour long high level and self contained campaign that has better writing, better urgency, better agency and a more satisfying ending than the whole game - that alone tells you something was missing with the original.
All in all, it was a sad farewell to Eder, Pallegina and Aloth. There were some very memorable new NPCs, and Maia will forever be the best waifu, and I will miss them all a lot. A third game in this series seems to be a very long shot after the poor sales of Deadfire, but one can hope.. All in all, I will recommend this game if you were a fan of the original, but Tyranny was better.
Retronautics: A digital gallery of my retro computers, hardware and projects.