Playing God in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Look at my perks, ye mighty, and despair!
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a bloody difficult game. It's firmly rooted in the golden age of CRPGs, a genre that is notoriously unfriendly to newcomers. Fights are hard, character specialisation and variety are key and every adventure beyond the safety of town requires preparation. The violent removal of my character’s soul and subsequent near-drowning left him weakened and without the equipment necessary to hunt down the god that destroyed his castle. At least, it would have if I hadn’t cheated my party from “I don’t know how to swing a sword” to “I don’t even need weapons anymore”. I'm a silver-tongued, steel-skinned, sea-seasoned, super-smart soul-searcher with a grudge to fulfil. Hawk-eyed, quick-witted and sure-footed, I march across Eora lining my pockets with console command gold and felling enemies in single-turn combat. I can go anywhere, do anything, persuade anyone. I am unstoppable, it's glorious, and I got here without lifting a finger.
I do this not because the game’s mechanics are too boring or hard—on the contrary, Pillars of Eternity is one of my all-time favourites—but because it becomes a vastly different game once you forcibly ascend into godhood. Strip away the mechanical fat and you’re left with an expansive, reactive and thoroughly entertaining visual novel following the exploits of, essentially, Super-Jesus.
He’s got three guns.
And a bear.
I started small. I gave Awyr the Ranger enough money for a decent ship and boosted his stats to bring them in line with my save from the first game. It didn’t make much sense that I would go from a one-with-nature arcane historian to college dropout just because my essence was torn from my corporeal form and—okay, maybe it made some sense, but I should at least be competent. It’s sort of entrenched in the lore of Pillars that the world isn’t very nice, and my character has been around it for a while, so adaptability is fine, right? Game balance be damned. I got a few fights deep before I realised that my idea of “competent” is “these xurips should explode the moment I so much as breathe in their direction” and jacked my stats to the absolute highest they could go without breaking the game.
At the first major port, I found a shipmaster offering a full stock of galleons, voyagers and whatever else the fancy boats are called. I looked at my capable but relatively unthreatening little vessel and imagined it bigger, tougher and armed with a smorgasbord of cannons. I added a few extra 0s to my party’s funds and traded my sloop in for a far more menacing junk. Don’t let the name fool you, this boat is practically an extension of Super-Jesus, and it’s got more guns. Feeling extravagant, I built myself a private quarters and menagerie. Comfort on the vast open sea is a scarce luxury. I even made my lanterns an ethereal blue, because I’m powerful enough to concern myself with things like mood lighting now.
I left my ship looking pretty in the harbour and made my way deeper into the city. Neketaka is bigger than the locations I’m used to in Pillars of Eternity, bursting at the seams with detailed questlines and character relationships, but I’m seeing the inner workings of the Matrix over here. Organising food for the beleaguered residents of The Gullet? Before they can even finish asking me for help I’ve convinced half the city to lend a hand. Recovering a sacred text guarded by a god’s chosen skeletal warrior? That skeleton’s my best friend now. Securing a family’s passage out of the city? They’re on a fancy merchant ship by sundown. Quests begin and end with speech boxes, working my wordsmith magic and convincing everyone in earshot that I’m the best thing since sliced bread.
My unbound power gets me places, but I’m still confined to what the story wants me to be: a hero who lost. The gods boss me around, Eothas eludes my seemingly endless reach and characters in the farthest corners of the world haven’t heard of me. I may be an invincible gunpowder barrel of charisma, but that doesn’t change the fact that a giant statue climbed out of the ground and kicked my arse. I like to think that it just made my character really pissed off. He’ll cross his arms and puff his chest in the face of eternal damnation because he’s got downtrodden citizens to save from overbearing gangs, and he’ll keep doing that until he gets the rest of his soul back.
On my first outing from Neketaka, I decide to explore the wider reaches of the map. I find a small and unassuming island, the kind that usually contains a few resources and perhaps a fight against some local wildlife. Instead, I stumble into a fight I’m not supposed to be in, even with my newfound power. In boosting my stats and skills so high, I’d managed to largely avoid combat until now, and I’d naturally forgotten to upgrade my gear to suit. It took half an hour to bring down that enemy, and it taught me something: I can give myself all the power and money in the world, but I’m still at the mercy of item stats. Useful lesson for real life, that.
After the drudgery of that long-winded battle, I realised I needed equipment worthy of my sudden leap up the food chain. I searched my party’s stash for some ancient armour that probably belonged to a long-forgotten saint. I replaced my three guns with three better guns. I put a cape on. Suddenly, my elven champion looks less like the local potion seller and more like the heaven-sent lord of the sea he is. Of course, all that equipment rarely sees any use, because I’m so effective at talking that fighting is barely a consideration.
Playing the game like this is a lot of fun, if you can get past the monotony of one-sided fighting. Awyr’s a jack of all trades, and the master of all them. He’s intelligent, funny, scholarly, intimidating, agile, observant and crafty. He’s all things to all people. But most importantly, he’s got three guns, a bear and a really nice boat.
I reckon that’s something we can all aspire to.