The groundwork was laid for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire to be a spectacular sequel. Its predecessor, 2015’s Pillars of Eternity, did the heavy lifting. It proved Obsidian could resurrect the spirit of the old Infinity Engine RPGs for modern times, underpinned by modern technology. Flawed, sure—the original Pillars of Eternity had its problems. But with the engine developed and the underlying rules in place, the stage seemed set for a daring sequel, if not Baldur’s Gate II-sized at least one that felt that grand in scope.

And for the first 25 or 30 hours of Pillars of Eternity II ($50 on Green Man Gaming and Steam), that’s what I thought we’d got. You can see it in the video we made above. It starts strong. Poke around the seams though, and you’ll find an identity crisis—a game that’s not sure whether to scale down or scale up, and ends up caught awkwardly in between.

Yo ho ho

You arrive in the titular Deadfire Archipelago for reasons I’m loathe to spoil. Suffice it to say, your peaceful life in the fortress of Caed Nua explodes in spectacular fashion, and when the dust settles the gods need your help again. As a Watcher, someone who can see and interact with the souls of the dead, you’re uniquely positioned to aid them.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire IDG / Hayden Dingman

The journey will send you back and forth across the Deadfire, putting you in contact with pirates and shady “trading companies” and slavers and ancient machinery and more. Obsidian’s built out a hell of a world for Pillars of Eternity. It was the strongest part of the previous game, and it’s even better here. Obsidian’s pared back on the huge chunks of text a bit, and what’s left maintains most of the flavor without making your eyes glaze over. It’s a joy to read, even the incidental dialogue from people wandering the streets.

Problem is, most of the game feels incidental. I’ve struggled to pinpoint why. There’s certainly “a lot” in Pillars of Eternity II—a lot of dialogue, a lot of quests, a lot of areas to explore.

And early on it can feel like the game is full of potential. I was excited when I reached the first big city in Pillars of Eternity II, the stronghold of Neketaka. I spent probably 10 hours there, churning through backroom politics between the major factions—Principi (pirates), the Huana (rulers), and the two competing corporations of the Valian Trading Company and the Royal Deadfire Company.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire IDG / Hayden Dingman

There’s a lot of complexity up front, every faction trying to undercut its rivals, and you sort of floating in between them all. A very Obsidian setup, and also reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate II and the way it dumps you into the enormous city of Athkatla.

The rest of the Deadfire Archipelago is comparatively lifeless though. Pillars of Eternity II starts strong, and it ends strong. But the middle? It just sort of winds its way to nowhere, for hours at a time.

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