Pillars of Eternity: A Review

Sometimes you think you know what you want but once you get it, you realize you never wanted it in the first place. That was my feeling about Pillars of Eternity. In the mood for a big sweeping RPG, I booted it up ready to be taken back to the old school days of computer RPGs. Then I quit in frustration. It took two tries for me to get into Pillars of Eternity. I had played the games which inspired it – Baldur’s Gate I and II, Planescape: Torment, Dragon Age: Origins. I really liked those games and was able to really immerse myself in those worlds. However, it didn’t quite work with this game.

The first time I played it, the combat frustrated me and I did not understand why. I found it really hard and I was struggling with even the simplest fights. With my experience in the previous games, which have the same type of combat, I did not expect combat to be the thing which made me give up. Enemies didn’t seem to take a lot of damage, my characters seemed to take too much. It was just a miserable time.

The second time I tried to get into the game went much better. I paid more attention to character creation and the original roleplaying system. I had breezed past it before, wanting to figure it out as I went. I also found Durance, a recruit-able companion – a healer – who I had somehow missed on my first time through. With these changes, the combat was still challenging but now manageable, and I was able to progress. Despite being able to win fights, the game was still a struggle for me to get through.

Set in a world of Obsidian’s own making where souls are a resource, Pillars of Eternity is a dark, grim game that is a relic of its past inspirations. In this world, a mysterious event leaves the main protagonist damaged but transformed into a Watcher – someone who has a special affinity for seeing and interacting with the souls of the dead. The price of this ability is having the memories of past souls haunt you, which will end in your character going insane handling all the souls inside you. Deciding this is a bad thing, the main quest of the game is you searching for the person responsible for giving you this condition so it can be reversed.

Creating your own world is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it casts off the shackles of well-worn fantasy tropes. On the other, it can be very difficult to introduce people to the world you are building. From the very beginning of the game, proper nouns are thrown at you without any explanation of what they mean. Fantasy tropes are exhausting, but the one benefit of them is that it is easy to familiarize yourself with the world. Instead, Pillars of Eternity have Engwithans, Glenfathans, and tens of other names of things which could have been simplified. The game’s lore codex gets filled out as you play and is an almost exhaustive book covering much more than you need to know. Lore fiends will probably love this but for people who want to jump into the game without reading a book, it is very jarring. Strangely, the lore codex’s thoroughness is not mirrored in the game control description, where some functions are not even presented as options.

This isn’t helped by how overwritten the entire game is. Across the Internet, critics and fans have been praising Pillars of Eternity’s writing, probably because most videogame writing is awful. Pillars of Eternity reads like someone using a thesaurus for every word on a typewriter with a broken punctuation key. Tighter text doesn’t mean dumbed down but entire paragraphs of text shouldn’t be skippable either.

Pillar of Eternity’s combat is very similar, if not identical, to the games it draws inspiration from. I would have liked to see some improvement here as the combat in Pillars has the same issues as combat in Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age: Origins, and similar games. Namely, even with the constant pausing, it is sometimes impossible to tell what is happening, or why your characters are suddenly all lying sprawled on the ground. Some spells still need a rest to recharge, while others can be reused multiple times between rests or in one encounter. It was nice that my wizards weren’t useless after one encounter but I also don’t understand why they kept the rest mechanic. In Dungeons and Dragons (in the older versions at least) spells were only castable once or a few times a day. To recharge your spells, you had to go to sleep or rest. When translated to CRPGs, this became an immersion breaking mechanic where a party could “rest” just outside of the big bad boss’s room. To make the game more immersive, Pillars of Eternity requires the party to have firewood to rest – which makes sense – but only allows the party to carry a max of three stacks. This means that while going through a dungeon, you can only rest your party to heal and reset your spells three times. For a game that tries to be immersive, it is a very odd mechanic to have kept.

The last gripe about combat is that there is a spell you can get about midway through the game which trivializes most encounters. It stops enemies from taking any action for around 13 seconds, and during that time, they take double damage. If your party is an efficient killing machine, some of the hardest bosses in the game will be cakewalks.

Two running themes in Pillars is how the past comes to haunt us (literally) and that the world does not always have conclusions. It’s grim, it’s dark, and when the game tries to throw in humour, it feels out of place. Most of the companions you recruit join you for no real reason except the company, and their quests involve reconciling something about their past. Eder is looking for his brother. Durance survived his god’s wrath when his fellow followers didn’t, and he doesn’t know why. Kana is looking for historic lore that might make his people’s culture more accepting. Following these quests to completion usually doesn’t change anything about the character’s situation, and sometimes makes it even worse. Compared to your companions in Dragon’s Age or Baldur’s Gate, the companions of Pillars feel like afterthoughts. They are not fleshed out characters with developed backgrounds, save for one or two, and there is no rational reason why they would travel with you. In contrast, the characters of Dragon Age had clear motivations, affected the world, and over time, revealed themselves to be deep characters with clear motivations for tagging along. Instead, the cast of Pillars generally have nothing better to do than to follow you around in hopes that they will stumble across the thing they seek.

The game lacks warmth and dramatic highs and lows to add some humanity to the grim world. Some warmth even, to draw people in. Too many quests in the game feel unimportant even though they are well designed. They should feel interesting but often just fall flat, despite giving the player a choice in how to resolve and presenting some difficult situations. In the end, the game feels like a presentation of this new world Obsidian has created rather than a story that takes place in it.

For a game that talks a lot about souls, Pillars of Eternity lacks one. It’s not a bad game by any means, but like its characters, it is stuck fighting the past, and it prevents it from doing something else, something new, in the present. 

Thea: The Awakening Guide – Spoiler Free

Thea: The Awakening is a very unusual game. Part 4X, part roguelike, part deck builder, part survival game, it can be difficult to get started and make progress. This is a spoiler free start guide to help you establish your village, create a useful raiding party, and make sure you are prepared for the mid and late game.

I won’t go into too much detail, and it will also assume you have played the game a little. The goal of this Thea: The Awakening guide is to give players who have some familiarity with the game some helpful tips to become more efficient or have a better chance on the harder difficulties. There are plenty of guides online for specific crafting recipes and how to get past events. If you want to know how to do better while keeping the mystery of the game hidden, this Thea: the Awakening guide is for you.

Expand Your Village

The first thing you want to look at is expanding your village’s buildings. No buildings are completely worthless, but depending on your play style, some are more useful than others. For example, the watch tower lets you see more in the spaces around your village, so if you have an expedition gathering nearby, you can get them back to safety and protect the village.

Despite this, there are 3 buildings you probably want to focus on first:

  • Cabbage Patch / Pasture
    These two structures are there to help increase the size of the village. Cabbage patches help with generating children, pastures generate a small amount of meat. However, if you have wheat or certain other food resources nearby, the pastures can also attract humans. Since followers can die quickly and are not easy to replace, building one of these is a good start.
  • Smithy
    The smithy will help you increase the likelihood of crafting superior items. These items will have higher stats than their normal counterparts. Since there will be a lot of crafting, it is beneficial to get the Smithy up as fast as possible.
  • Well
    The well generates 5 units of a random resource a turn. Building a well early allows your village to stock up on items which they will not have access to in the early and mid game. This really helps when you are crafting to grind research points.

After these 3 buildings, you are free to build whatever you need. Remember that you can deconstruct buildings and rebuild them. This is useful if you hit the 10 building cap and want to build something new, or if you want to rebuild a building using materials that can attract a goblin, dwarf, orc, or something else.

Some building bonuses stack, but keep in mind that only one well is needed to get the 5 random resources a turn.

Manage Your Resources and Items Carefully

You should turn off the option to auto-use fuel and food, which I recommend. One thing you want to do before you pass your first turn is manage your expedition and village’s resources. Go into the resource screen and turn off all fuel except basic wood, and make sure that all food is set to be used.

You don’t want to run around the map collecting rare materials just to have them be used up when camping. Wood is usually plentiful and keeping it in the party’s inventory should be easy to manage. Keeping certain foods that you want to save for cooking, and herbs for healing, is a good idea as well.

The downside to this is that every time you set out as a new expedition, you will have to manage the resources, but in the long run it is worth it so you don’t lose that sweet Ancient Wood.

Getting by When Carrying Too Much

When exploring, it is likely that your party will eventually become overburdened as it gathers massive amounts of loot. This reduces the movement speed of the party and can be quite annoying, especially if you need to get somewhere quick.

There are two things you can do to relieve your party besides sending a second party out to meet them and do some heavy lifting:

  • Get rid of your fuel and other unnecessary materials
    Chances are, you are carrying too much wood or some other basic material that you have a plenty in your village. Since the expedition is most likely returning home anyway to drop off their loot, unloading a lot of the fuel can help.
  • The second is in items. Most items will weigh more than their resources, so if your party is carrying any unneeded items, recycle them into their components.

Don’t Stop Crafting

Crafting is the most consistent way of generating research points, which are used to unlock new buildings, materials, and recipes. Each item you craft generates a certain amount of research points based on the difficulty and the materials used.

Therefore, even if you do not need any items at the moment, your craftspeople should always be crafting something that generates points. If you can craft a recipe that is worth points and use the resources your city gathers, you can set the amount to be crafted to “infinity” and this will generate a set amount of points every turn.

To help generate materials for your crafting, you want to recycle all items that are either:

  • Inferior
  • Bad Quality
  • Not needed

After a battle or challenge, you can also click on any items you find before adding them to your inventory. This will put a white recycle arrows symbol on top of them, and those items will be broken down into their components instead of being added to your inventory.

thea-the-awakening-cooking

Cook Like Your Life Depends on It

Cook often and cook a lot. The more different types of food a village or expedition has, the more bonus the people have. This is true even if there is just one unit of a food. Gathering food from the countryside only goes so far. Mixing and matching those food items into the recipes will dramatically increase the number of food types and the bonuses.

Another reason to cook all the food is that cooked food usually weights less than raw food (with a few exceptions) meaning that parties can carry more food and more types of food. Also, remember to always be crafting.

Equipping Your Characters at the Start

At the start of the game, you want to make sure each character has a piece of armor and a weapon. The best weapons in the early game are swords, because they give attack and defense in combat.

The best armor is the lightest armor the character can carry with the highest defense (shielding) and any other bonuses given by the armor should also be considered, especially for non-combat characters. On a craftsperson, plus to crafting might be more worthwhile than an extra point of shielding.

After each character has a weapon and armor, then the next important thing to craft are crafting tools and gathering supplies. These should be crafted with the best materials you have available since they will speed up resource gathering and crafting. To get the most out of them, they need to be built as early as possible. Start with crafting tools to give to your craftsperson, then start on gathering tools for your expedition, and finally equip any people you plan to keep in the village with gathering tools.

Gathering tools should be put on everyone who is not a craftperson who is in an expedition. This is because it takes a certain number of gathering points to get a resource in one turn. If your gathering party does not have enough points, it will take more than one turn to get a resource. This means that it will take longer for your expedition to clear points of interests and monsters.

Gathering tools are not as important for villagers that are kept in the village since there is less urgency and need to move around for them.

Explore Thea on Every Turn

In the beginning of the game, Thea is not such a dangerous world but it can quickly ramp up. Where you once met one skull battles, you will meet three, four, and even five skull battles. In addition, the quest lines quickly get more difficult with each step.

To keep your villagers on the same ramp as the game, it is important to generate experience points and research points each game. The best way to do this is always be on the move. Seek out points of interest (yellow chest icons), quests (blue icons – but be careful, some early ones are deceptively hard) and combat encounters.

Ideally, you do not want to go a turn without doing at least one of those things with your expedition party.

Creating an Expedition / Party

At the beginning of the game, you can choose to focus on gatherers, warriors, or craftspeople. There is no “best” choice. Gatherers help you collect items quicker, which can be used for crafting and cooking to quickly get research points and the food bonus. Warriors for killing things and getting experience points as you move around the map. However, craftspeople develop into more rounded characters later on, and have stats for most non-combat challenges to start.

Equipment

You want to periodically check your villagers’ equipment to make sure they currently have the best equipment they can use. Best equipment usually means the highest in the main stat with the weight your villagers can handle. As your villagers gain levels, they will often get stronger and be able to carry heavier and better equipment.

For equipment, keep these things in mind:

  • Weapon and armor is the most important early unless you have a hunter or someone with social skills. Early game swords + shields are the best for defense, but piercing weapons (spears) are strong in combat if you can get spears for most of your villagers. As mid game rolls around, you want your strongest characters to have blunt and piercing weapons.
  • Warriors can carry two handed swords in one hand
  • Everyone should eventually have a Gathering tool to increase speed of gathering rare materials as you explore.
  • Armor and weapon with slightly less stats but bonuses to other skills are often more useful in mid game, because there will be more variety in the types of challenges.
  • Bows are good for tactical parts of a challenge, so put them on your weaker/tactical characters first.

Welcome Everyone in Thea to your Party

As you expand your village, try to use materials that attract non-humans as well. Goblins, elfs, dwarfs, are all better at humans in most things, particularly in magical challenges. Some options for events won’t open up unless you have a magical creature in your party or someone who uses magic.

It is much easier to get magic as an attribute on a magical creature than it is to get a Sage and then gear them up.

Beasts can be good, but are sometimes hit or miss since you can also attract weak ones to your settlement. These can still be used as meatshields and often make great support characters with the right trinkets.

Combat

The combat system is pretty unique and can be confusing, and I don’t want to go into much detail here about how it works. Generally, the battles are resolved from left to right, and characters will either get one or two turns to attack depending on if they are confused or not.

Saying that, here are a few combat tips to keep in mind to survive Thea.

  • Blunt damage (hammers, maces, staves) carries over to the next character if the first is a kill. However, damage on them are usually a bit lower than on swords so you need them in front to get the most out of them. Make sure they are in your active hand if you need them.
  • Pierce damage (spears) do half their damage to the enemy if the card is played right before an enemy card. This will also move the card to the front enemy card. This works even when playing them from the tactical side.
  • Pierce damage is useful for one-shotting smaller creatures, but do not underestimate the power of putting a card in front of another card. Do this to gang up on bigger enemies, or be boosted by your tactical cards.
  • The best tactical option is Counter Offense, followed by Confuse, Counter Tactic, and then First Action. Higher levels obviously are better.
  • Counter Offense can be used to effectively remove one of the enemy’s Active card with one of your Tactical cards.
  • Confuse is useful for denying an attack on a powerful enemy.
  • Counter Tactic is similar to Counter Offense but not as good.
  • First Action can be used to get powerful cards to the front, or to counter the enemy’s piercing damage units.
  • When able, resolve encounters with non-combat skills (social, hunting, etc.) as failing these usually don’t mean one of your characters might die.
  • Ignore the day/night cycle for the most part. Night time is no excuse to stop raiding (but be careful hat your village doesn’t get overrun)
  • Dens have more creatures than roaming packs of the same skull level.
  • When in doubt, use superior numbers. That is the easiest way to win combat encounters.

Thanks for Reading this Thea: The Awakening Guide

Thea: The Awakening is a wonderful game that brings a challenge. Hopefully this guide gave some insights to help you beat it on the higher difficulties. If you want to see a good guide in action, user Makeshiftscaffold has a great AAR Thea guide where he plays it on 350% difficulty. Remember, there is not shame in playing on a lower difficulty percentage. After all, the best part of the game is the writing and the crafting.

If you have any comments or suggestions for this guide, please leave a comment below!

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