Pillars of Eternity received its first expansion today, with Part 1 of The White March. We check out what’s new, improved and expanded.
During our last day at this year’s Gamescom, my first appointment of the day was with Paradox Interactive and Obsidian Entertainment. Located right in between two of the major exhibition halls (literally swarming with people), it was quite the quest getting there. Fitting, perhaps, as I was about to see a demonstration for the Pillars of Eternity expansion The White March – Part 1.
For those unfamiliar with the original Pillars of Eternity game – it was developed after a (very) successful Kickstarter campaign by the same people who recently created South Park: The Stick of Truth and Fallout: New Vegas. Their most important references, however, are Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale – two games to which Pillars of Eternity is a spiritual successor of sorts.
Just like those titles, this is an isometric role-playing game – a genre that flourished around the turn of the millennium, just before 3D became the norm for role-playing. What Pillars of Eternity does is return to those roots, retaining its focus on storytelling and gameplay depth – but updated with 2015 production values. When it was released earlier this year, it was extremely well received – making the expansion an eagerly anticipated one.
What’s worth pointing out right off the bat is that The White March isn’t an expansion “that picks up where the previous game left off” – something you might be used to if you’ve ever played Diablo expansions, for instance. Instead, the content in The White March is seamlessly integrated into the main game. If you were to set a newcomer in front of your screen and had him/her play through the expanded game… he/she would probably never know the difference.
This is perhaps, right away, the expansion’s greatest strength and weakness. It makes Pillar of Eternity an even richer experience than it was before – for reasons we’ll detail in a minute. It also doesn’t drastically change the game for those who already went through the entire adventure before, and now need to backtrack to access the new areas and quests.
Is it just “more of the same” then? No, that would be selling the expansion short. Sure, there is a lot of new content – with a large new game area (The White March) that contains four key locations, as well as two (optional) new characters that you can add to your party. It’ll take you about 12 hours to complete the expansion content, and the story is interesting as well. Central to the story is the old blacksmith fortress called Durgan’s Battery – once famed for its high quality weapons but mysteriously abandoned for many years now. The Dwarves that worked there have vanished, and it’s up to you to figure out why.
It’s a well done collection of quests and the story left us hungry for more (luckily there’s a part 2 on the horizon), but the expansion is best enjoyed as an integral part of the entire experience – which is the way we played it. For those who already know Pillars of Eternity inside and out, it’s interesting to point out that while the original environments were most heavily inspired by Baldur’s Gate, the expansion’s White March territory evokes memories of Icewind Dale.
What’s also a draw for existing players is that the level cap was raised, allowing you to further develop your party members in terms of magic and skills. The last major addition we’d like to address is the inclusion of soulbound weapons. Those familiar with the original game’s plot will recognize the importance of souls, and soulbound weapons are much more dynamic than their regular counterparts. They will develop over time, and the way they do this is strongly connected to whoever wields the weapon and how they play the game.
The White March expands and enriches the base game that is Pillar of Eternity, and does a great job at this. It’s those who are in the middle of playing or are just starting that will benefit most of all from the changes it brings, while fans of the original game might have wished for more. For now, an extremely high quality game just got a little better. Perhaps not with as much new stuff as some would have liked, but more than enough to make us want to get our hands on part 2.