All That Matters is the Ending: Pillars of Eternity


Pillars of Eternity surprised me, but not in the ways I expected. I’ve always had a soft spot for Obsidian because their games are exactly how I would expect mine to be if I ever made one: an amazing story stuck in a lair of bugs. So I was surprised when Pillars of Eternity ended up having very little bugs, at least in my experience with the game. I was also surprised to find that the story was… okay. By average video game standards it’s a good story, but from the people who gave us Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout New Vegas, it’s probably one of their least interesting stories.

Don’t get me wrong there is some absolutely amazing writing in this game, I mean god damn spectacular writing.

This what you call painting a picture with words.
This what you call painting a picture with words.

There were moments in this game that brought me close to tearing up and yet… I never felt truly engaged in the main storyline.

Pillars of Eternity came out two days before I began my new job as a transcriber, and I couldn’t finish the game in that short period of time. Yet when I started my new job I felt no desire to stay up late and play Pillars when I got home. At first I thought maybe I was just becoming a responsible adult, a truly horrifying possibility. But then I binged on watching Netflix’s Daredevil (review coming soon!) and stayed up till 3am on a Sunday to see how the first season concluded. So clearly I was still willing to screw my future self over for the sake of good storytelling.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Pillars of Eternity main storyline just never grabbed me. I feel bad that this is going to be mostly a negative review because I absolutely love the ambition on display here. Obsidian shot for the moon on this one and it just…didn’t quite get there.

All That Matters is the Ending:

Pillars of Eternity

pillars-of-eternity-pc-web

Pillars takes place in an entirely original fantasy world, and though the combat rules are pretty much just Dungeons and Dragons, the world itself is as alien as it gets.They very clearly spent a lot of time and effort on making sure their world felt lived in, and it has a history that goes back thousands of years. You could point to any location on Eora and there would be a fascinating story to be told.

For me I ended up wanting to be a sailor in this world, because the oceans of Pillars would be an amazing setting for an HP Lovecraft style horror game. In one of the many books you can read, there’s a description of Krakens the size of islands, great spiked whales that ram ships, and strange humanoid sea-creatures with hair of seaweed and great unhinged jaws like snakes that invade ships in the black of night. I really hope Obsidian does a sequel for the game because this world is absolutely magnificent, it really is.

And yet…

The sheer amount of information that needs to be conveyed means you get tons of exposition dumped on you a lot. For instance you’ll hear the story of Saint Waidwen and the Saint’s War a dozen times from various people. The first couple of times you’ll appreciate it because the history of this troubled land is incredibly complex, but after you’re halfway through the game and you’ve had it explained to you a dozen different ways you’ll end up wishing there was “shut up! I already know!” dialogue option.

Then there’s the backstory you’ll need to know about the War of Black Trees and War of Broken Stones that lead to the current situation in Dyrwood. Oh and you’ll need to know about Waidwen’s Legacy, which means you’ll need to know about Animancy, which means you need to know about how Souls work in this world, which means you need to know about the Glanfathan’s…

They basically needed to give you a history book to read before playing the game.

They basically needed a history book to be provided with the game...oh, nevermind, they did.
Oh…

I hate that their huge epic world ultimately becomes a negative to the overall story, but it is. There’s simply so much information you need to know in order to even understand what’s happening in the story that at some point you simply stop caring. Exploring and learning about new, strange worlds is half the fun of these kinds of games. Yet when you’re forced to refer back to your glossary just to understand the context of a conversation you just had, it’s no longer fun.  In many ways I think they should have limited the scope of their story, because while the story is confined to a single country on their huge world map, it’s a larger than life adventure that drags you into a huge history-spanning conspiracy.

What they should have done instead is make their story a character driven human drama, because that’s where the writing really shines. When I was learning about the various gods and the political machinations of Defiance Bay I was left utterly disinterested. When I found a the body of a small murdered boy and experienced his final moments I nearly cried.

When Lady Webb was trying to explain the political infighting between the Crucible Knights and the Dozens, I couldn’t have cared less. But when she told me about her love affair with Thaos, I was fascinated.

Humanizing a villain is always a smart move.
Humanizing a villain is always a smart move.

Which is why the ending really doesn’t work for me. For one, it was my relationship with Thaos that was the most fascinating part of the game for me. In the flashbacks that occur throughout the story, you relive your past life as a follower of Thaos; watching yourself go from an unknown acolyte to his right-hand man. I had actually grown to like Thaos character, especially after learning about his love for Lady Webb.  He was very human character, despite having lived thousands of years.

Yet at the end there was no real sense of resolution to this character arc. Instead we get one of the dumbest and most pointless plots ever conceived.

In the end you meet a woman named Iovara, who you’ve seen tortured to death in a former life. When you meet her she’s entombed by the gods for heresy and she tells you that the gods aren’t real…

Pretty sure Bender made the same argument about evil Santa, with pretty much the same results.
Pretty sure Bender made the same argument about evil Santa, with pretty much the same results.

Yes, after riding a magic carpet of souls made by the gods themselves, a ghost who has literally been damned by the gods tells you that the gods aren’t realI’m sorry, I thought I was playing a well written Obsidian game Iovara, I seem to have made a wrong turn. Can you point me back to the real story?

The gods in Pillars of Eternity are gods by every human definition of the word! They make themselves known to the world, speak directly with certain people and grant magical powers to their followers. These aren’t like the gods of our world, where they’re so ephemeral and distant their very existence is doubted. If the Christian God sent down a Jesus with a head made of blazing golden light, my first instinct isn’t going to claim his god isn’t real.

You're god damned right
You’re god damn right it’s on fire, kid.

Morrowind had a similar storyline but here’s why Morrowind’s story works: Morrowind let us peak behind the curtain. We got an opportunity to see Vivec and learn that he is not an all powerful god, but simply a man who was given god like powers through several powerful magical artifacts. And even before you meet Vivec, if you visit the ruins around Red Mountain, you can find writings and artifacts that prove the same point.

When I finally met the gods of Pillars of Eternity, they were exactly like I would expect a god to be: beings living on a different plane of existence. I got no impression from those meetings that these gods were anything than what they appeared to be.

This is made worse by the fact that Iovara doesn’t actually tell you what made her reach the conclusion that the gods weren’t real. She literally just says “I saw things and heard things that proved the gods weren’t real.” The entire argument basically boils down this:

Iovara: “The gods aren’t real!”

Thaos: “Are too!”

Iovara: “Are not!”

Thaos: “Are too!”

Iovara: “Nuh-uh!”

It’s like every internet argument atheists and theists get into on Facebook. Only this time the theists have some pretty damn compelling evidence on their side.

You're god damned right
Because again, flaming head guys. FLAMING HEAD!

And with all this overwhelming evidence of the gods existence, Thaos’ mission suddenly looks really, really stupid. Was all this death and destruction really necessary to make people believe? First of all I didn’t meet a single character in the game who didn’t believe in the gods, so it didn’t seem like this was a huge issue that needed an organization like the Leaden Key to prevent. In the flashbacks its made clear that Iovara eventually gathered a significant number of followers, but since we never learn what evidence she had, this seems more like a simple plot contrivance than anything.

Worst of all though, when you fight your way to Thaos, the game completely destroys any sympathy you might have had for him.

Thaos was a good villain for most of the game, especially once you uncover his love affair. An immortal man who has lived countless lifetimes but is still vulnerable to the feelings of love. His reluctance to kill his love, and the relative kindness with which he does it when his hand is forced, really made him a human being again after revealing his immortal background.

And of course that’s all utterly destroyed by his closing monologue:

“When the plague came to [a city I can’t remember now] I made sure the cure didn’t. They stacked their dead outside until the piles were as high as the walls themselves.”

Great…and that accomplished what exactly?

You know maybe if you shut up once in a while, you could actually do something right for a change.
It was a line straight out of “The Big Book of Evil Cliches” by Corypheus.

Thaos, up until this point, had been portrayed as a man who was willing to do what was necessary. He would kill and destroy anything to obtain his goal, but only if it were necessary. That and his love for Lady Webb were what made Thaos an interesting villain, he had motivations for what he was doing. Then here at the end of the game he throws both of the things that made him interesting away. First by joyfully telling you about the millions he’s killed, and then by telling you he was just using Lady Webb.

I mean maybe he was just feigning indifference for intimidating value, but it would have been nice if I could have pressed him on the subject. Something.

And then there was my relationship with Thaos. As strange as it sounds I’d come to think of Thaos as a friend by the end of my journey, I really had. He was so well written, and the amazing choices they offer in your flashback options allow you to roleplay your prior relationship anyway you choose, and I’d chosen to see him as a mentor in my past life. Like Lady Webb and Iovara both tell you, he is a master manipulator. And I hope to god whoever wrote his dialogue doesn’t become a political speech writer, because I might just believe every word he writes.

But at the end, when I relive the final moments of my former life, and have our final conversation… I’m forced to ask him whether the gods were real. Despite the fact that neither my current or former characters would have asked that.

What, you expect me to believe you just because you have giant unstoppable avatars of your god?
What, you expect me to believe you just because you have giant titans brought to life by your god?

Whether or not I believed in the gods was irrelevant to me. I wanted to know what Thaos thought of my character, to have a satisfactory and emotionally fulfilling resolution to our respective character arcs.  Yet in the end I felt like this whole relationship that had been built through the excellent writing, was left hanging in favor of resolving a plot point I didn’t care about.

One of my best memories in gaming is of the relationship between Kain and Raziel in the Legacy of Kain series. They start out as a bitter enemies, and I hated Kain so fucking much. He was twisted, sadistic bastard I wanted to see dead. But then throughout the series you learn the truth, that they were friends that had been manipulated into fighting by forces they didn’t understand.

“I am, as before, your right arm… your sword.” Raziel’s final words to Kain. I’ll be doing a full write up about the brilliance of this scene soon.

That was the kind of resolution I was hoping for from Thaos, not specifically that we’d been friends…just the satisfaction of seeing whatever our relationship reach its conclusion. Did he betray me? Did he hate me? Was he regretful of how he used me?

According to him, he didn’t even care. Which would have been fine had I been allowed to respond to that in some way, but he pretty much immediately launches into trying to kill you. When he died I thought, maybe now I can interact with his soul and see the truth about how he felt about me, but instead it just reinforces the same tired plot point: the gods aren’t real.

And the evidence we see is that these giant Glenfathan machines extracted souls from people and somehow coalesced them into gods. That’s it, that’s the big secret he’s been trying to hide all these millenia. That still seems pretty godlike to me.

If the ending had been framed as “the gods were created by an act of pure evil and we should stop following them,” then yeah I could have hopped on board with that. Or if it had been “clearly the gods are fucking up our lives more than they’re helping, we should get rid of them” then I could have worked with that. But the gods don’t exist? Yeah that’s not something the setting lends itself to.

This dude can hail down fire from the heavens through the power of faith. Atheism really isn't something that can exist in this world.
This dude can hail down fire from the heavens through the power of his faith. Atheism really isn’t something that can exist in this world.

I thought at the end of the story we’d find out what the Pillars of Eternity really were, and why they channeled souls. But it never is. In fact the titular Pillars of Eternity have absolutely nothing to do with the game’s story at all as far I could tell. Even the nature of souls, the core of the game’s story, are left infuriatingly ambiguous. How exactly were the gods created using these souls? Did the souls themselves become the gods? Or was their power used to grant a single being god like powers? And how was collecting all of the souls in Dyrwood going to bring back the Queen?

I know this is a fine line to walk. Explain too much about souls and the pillars and suddenly we’re back talking to the AI God and Architect, but explain too little as is done here and you have a story that ultimately goes no where and means nothing. Maybe a few months ago  I would have been content with having no answers at all for fear of having a Catalyst moment, but then I played Planescape Torment and now I know that you can reveal enough of a mystery to be satisfying while still sparking the reader’s imagination.

Of course all this said, it’s still a good game. It’s far better than Dragon Age Inquisition in that it’s writing is top notch and it doesn’t waste 100 hours of your time to figure out the plot is worthless. So pick it up if you have the money, because I’d definitely like to see a sequel set in the same world. That’s for sure.

This is but a tiny fraction of the world map of Pillars of Eternity. And somewhere out there is a story that will absolutely blow my mind.
This is but a tiny fraction of the world map of Pillars of Eternity. And somewhere out there is a story that will absolutely blow my mind.
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31 thoughts on “All That Matters is the Ending: Pillars of Eternity”

  1. “I really hope Obsidian does a sequel for the game”

    They already ARE working on the expansion. It will be split into two parts and the first part is going to be released… soon? 😀

    Also, sorry I stopped reading after this part: IMHO you didn’t understand the story at all. Iovara told you the truth, the gods aren’t really real. What she tells you is that the Engwithans, who were once this powerful civilization, built them. Because of the stuff Thaos tells you about (the Engwithans thought this would be the best way to give some order to the dumb humans who would just kill each other otherwise). And that’s not what everyone else thinks those gods are. No one knows that they are just a product of this old civilization. They might be more special souls created by animancy, but they can ultimately be destroyed like all the others (that’s what they tried to subtly explain with the Waidwen/Eothas story) That’s what Thaos is working for. To prevent anyone from every learning this truth. No one would ever see those “gods” the same way again, if they knew that they were actually just created by the same people who built those machines that still stand around everywhere. People who, no matter how advanced they might have been at some point, were still just humans like everyone else. So there is no mistake in the story like you say. Already too long, sorry.

    1. “To prevent anyone from every learning this truth. No one would ever see those “gods” the same way again, if they knew that they were actually just created by the same people who built those machines that still stand around everywhere.”

      Now that’s a good way to look at it, I hadn’t considered that angle. That learning the origins of a god might in itself change your perception of it. That’s actually pretty fascinating.

      This is why I love blogging this stuff, even when I’m wrong I at least learn something from it. 🙂 I’m still not sure the game really elaborates enough on this point, but at least it’s something to consider.

      I’m midway through a second playthrough. Normally I’d wait to post a review until after a second playthrough but my job has been cutting into my play time and this was already taking too long to post :(.

      Thanks for pointing out the flaws in my argument, now I know what to keep an eye out for this time around.

      1. This is also why Thaos tries to get animancy outlawed in the Dyrwood, because if this would become really advanced at some point, other people would inevitably reach the capabilities too, to create their own “gods” or destroy/manipulate the old ones creates by the Engwithans. Every step in that direction threatens the old Engwithans’ original plan, even if animancy would only lead to the discovery what these “gods” truly are.
        The animancers we meet in the story are mostly stumbling in the dark and don’t know very much yet, but ultimately they are right, because the reason behind the hollowborn isn’t some curse or the gods will or whatever, it’s just those Engwithan machines Thaos activated. The fact that most people have no idea and very much think it has something to do with the gods or even outright call the hollowborn “Waidwen’s Legacy” shows how well Thaos’ plan has worked until now.

        Sorry, already wrote this, but it somehow wasn’t published. Happens sometimes.

  2. John, I thought your review of the plot of the game was spot on. I too slogged through all that seemingly endless background stuff and it kept me from engaging in and immersing myself in the game and in my PC. A really good RPG causes the player to get lost in it the same way a well written book gets you lost in it. A well written book gets you so hooked that the pages practically turn themselves until you suddenly realize the sun is coming up and you been up all night reading this book and wishing it was still midnight because you don’t want to put it down.

    Excellent RPGs do the same thing because the story is riveting and you care about and identify with the characters. I agree that the writers’ prose were well written. For example, reading the souls of some of the NPCs revealed some serious descriptive skills but here’s the thing … all that time spent writing those little vignettes and programming time spent inputting them into the game and using computer resources to support them was a complete waste of time. I stopped “reading” NPC souls after two or three of these encounters. Why? For several reasons; First, I was learning nothing that involved me in the plot or added to the plot. These were just flashes in some other peoples’ lives that did nothing to move the plot or story along or at least teach me something that revealed the underlying plot. Since I had no emotional connection to these vignettes I found them tedious and boring. I did with them the same thing I did with all the books in Morrowind.and Skyrim, I didn’t bother to read them.

    As a writer myself, good writing hooks the reader emotionally and gets them to care about the characters and their lives. It should move you emotionally. In The Witcher 2 I found myself completely lost in the game because of how smashingly well it sucked in my emotions. I actually found myself as Geralt (the main character) really caring about his love interest, a sorceress named Triss and I cared about the Dwarf that was a long time friend of Geralt’s.

    When I returned to the little town of Flotsam after completing a quest out in the wilds I found the racist human pigs of that town rioting and killing the non-humans, the dwarves and elves … I became genuinely furious and went postal on the townsfolk. I rampaged through the town looking for my dwarven friend and some elves I had befriended because I wanted to save their lives.

    When Triss was kidnapped by the main villain I was tracking, I really hit the roof and wanted to kill that guy so bad I could taste it. But in the end, when I finally confront him and he tells me the whole story … I was just genuinely stunned. He didn’t hurt Triss. In the end he actually saved her life and gave her back to me unharmed. I found out he and I had actually been friends in the past (Geralt is suffering memory loss) and when he explained why he did what he did I found myself torn between emotions. I had no anger left but instead felt sorry for him. SO I let him live, took my beloved Triss and left.

    Sorry I went on so long about Witcher 2 but even as I gush over it, it was NOT a well written storyline. It had so many plot holes, inconsistencies and contradictory plot vectors that I found laughable, but they didn’t really matter because I was emotionally engaged in the story via caring for my character and his friends. The ending was very satisfying despite bad plot vectors.

    Compare that to Pillars and how well written it was and it boils down to not being able to engage emotionally. How do I put this for it to make sense? The best written and most descriptive prose detailing how to assemble a prefabricated gazebo for your backyard are useful for getting the thing assembled but it is still boring reading and you only slog through it to get the finished product up and running. That is how I felt about much of the plot and all those soul readings. Had the soul readings, for example, tied my character into their past storylines and revealed bits and pieces and clues for me, I would have read them. It was otherwise boring and extraneous material.

    I felt the writers missed a HUGE opportunity with this concept. What if the companions you gather are first found by doing a soul reading of them and for those folks to somehow recognize your main character, that somehow your destinies are tied together. How we gathered these followers seemed too obviously contrived. SO what if I meet them by doing a soul reading and see that once upon a time they are part and parcel of one of my past lives and we all did something really important together, that by meeting me and via my soul reading I’ve awakened something in them too. In that manner reading the souls of these people becomes a useful and necessary plot element that endears those companions to me and me to them.

    Did that happen? NOPE. At the end I thought it would have been a really great plot twist to discover that Durance (a driven old man) was the ONE of the 12 that survived the godhammer. The other 11 died, maybe because at the critical moment they realized Magran was using them to kill the good guy God. And maybe my PC and the other 7 companions are the reincarnations of those that died via the godhammer and are back to right the wrongs of TWO misguided lives. We ALL find out we once worked with Thaos as inquisitors..

    Also, the whole idea that the gods aren’t real didn’t require thousands of years of Thaos running around killing people. It is a weak plot element and a boring contrivance. It’s like the writers didn’t have a good ending so they threw something up there to stick. No one ever heard of Iovara nor her movement nor her martyrdom. She is just stuck in there at the end. She is nothing like Dragon Age Origin’s Andraste, the holy founder of the chantry (which, BTW was a well done well written RPG). After learning about the suffering of Andraste it was no wonder an entire religion grew up around her. Well, what happened to Iovara’s religion? .I’m sorry but throwing her in there at the last just wasn’t appealing. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about her. It’s no wonder her movement died out because she had no real message.

    For me, well written means a riveting and emotionally charged story line with or without good prose. Writing with good prose without those emotional connections amounts to being a great writer for assembling something complicated and that is and always will be boring and tedious to slog through. Pillar’s ending fell flat for me. It felt like a chess game where I went through the moves to get to the end. Couldn’t they come up with a more interesting twist to the whole thing than “The gods aren’t real” when in every respect they WERE real and interacting with people.

    Thanks for giving me a place to voice my disappointment, This was certainly no where near the quality of any of the Baldur’s Gate series. Heck I still remember Aerie, the little elf who lost her wings who my PC eventually marries and takes her home to her people. I still remember Minsc and his little Boo (Go for the eyes Boo). I played that game over and over it was so engaging. Same thing for Dragon Age Origins which I played every beginning PC they had (the original and not that second one that was such garbage). I can say the same thing about Morrowind and Skyrim and most definitely the Witcher series of games, which again I’ve played over and over. This one just isn’t anywhere in their league and once through is enough.

    1. Thanks! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought the plot was lacking. I was starting to wonder. It really is boggling that the prose is so good, and yet the overall narrative is so anemic.

      And thanks for reminding me about those soul readings, I’d completely forgotten about them. Like you I stopped bothering to read them after the first half dozen or so. They were well written, but I was already getting so much information, it was like why bother learning about these people if they don’t do anything for me?

      And yes, Witcher 2 is amazing. I want to do a full review of it at some point because it’s really phenomenal. I’m really hoping Witcher 3 can match it, or even exceed it.

      You know Baldur’s Gate is another famously good RPG I haven’t actually played, I’m gonna have to go back and do that one next.

    2. Well obviously no one has ever heard of Iovara, because Thaos was running around for thousands of years killing everyone who did… Pretty much only people with awakened souls could remember her, like the watcher.

      I also think it’s interesting that everyone who had problems with the story thought there was too much background stuff and couldn’t be bothered to read it. 😀

      Also, the yellow/soul characters are a backer reward, that’s why they are in the game. Obviously the kickstarter nature of the game had an influence and it would have been different otherwise. I had no problems with it and even think that it added a flavor other games lack. But I am a biased backer, so maybe that’s why.

      1. Personally I really liked the background info. But it had nothing to do with the main plot. Reading 99% of it was pointless. It was just fun.

        I also didn’t like the ending. It had no relevance to me, and I really did not care whether or not the gods were “real.” So the **** what? The truth is, they were entirely real. Completely real. They were created by machines. So the **** what? Who cares? Why should I care? Obsidian gave me no reason at all to care about whether or not the gods were real.

        The whole game in fact, I didn’t care for a minute about hardly any character or quest. Which is exactly the opposite of every other Obsidian game I have played. It boggles my mind how they have gone from buggy games with brilliant plots to pointless plots without bugs.

        For me, after having read almost every bit of lore in the game, and having played just about every Obsidian game, POE has hands down the worst main story Obsidian has ever produced, because I could not care less. It is the only game made by Obsidian that I have no desire to play more than once.

        And again, that’s after reading almost all of the lore.

        One of the most pointless RPG stories in recent years.

        1. “The whole game in fact, I didn’t care for a minute about hardly any character or quest.”

          Wow, I’m impressed. I personally couldn’t play a game for 80+ hours straight without caring about anything in it. I’d stop after 30 minutes.

    3. “At the end I thought it would have been a really great plot twist to discover that Durance (a driven old man) was the ONE of the 12 that survived the godhammer. The other 11 died, maybe because at the critical moment they realized Magran was using them to kill the good guy God.”

      This is actually *is* the actual plot twist in the game, more or less! It’s possible to miss the twist though as its content that only appears if you pray to Galawain while Durance is in your party, then talk to Durance afterwards.

      Also, the NPC stories are backer-generated content. That’s why they’re super boring.

  3. I know we spoke about this ending over email a bunch, so yeah, we’re pretty much in agreement. Planescape Torment managed to do its world building with a personal story, and when pillars does this it works really well. The problem is that they wanted to also make an epic story, so they need a wide ranging and epic plot with an epic twist which really detracts from the interesting character parts. Frankly, the small text adventures that substitute for cut scenes made the adventure feel epic enough, we don’t have to have a save the world plot too.

    I’m curious as to what you plan on playing next. Like I’ve said before, my recommendations are Majora’s Mask or Dark Souls.

    Since Morrowind has been mentioned a few times, it might be time for a classic morrowind gush article too 🙂

    1. Oh sorry, Eric, I thought I’d gotten back to you on your email.

      Well Majora’s Mask will have to wait until I can afford a console to play it on. I’ll definitely look into Dark Souls though, I know that’s on Steam.

      Oh I could gush on and on about Morrowind and probably will sometime soon!

  4. The plot, when viewed from afar, is absolutely stunning. An advanced civilization creates the gods through advanced technology to give some semblance of order to the world and, likely, destroys themselves in the process. Civilization then manages to begin to piece the knowledge back together and the gods, quite understandably, do whatever is necessary to preserve themselves.

    However, I absolutely agree that so many of the intricacies just don’t fit together well. It’s as if (and this is likely the case) a number of very great writers were doing great work that just didn’t work great together. The plot is very, very close to being something amazing and it just doesn’t quite get there.

    That being said, I’d rather see a game aim high and miss the mark than to enter into high-end mediocrity like Dragon Age. What a great series that just seems… I dunno… meh?

  5. > They make themselves known to the world, speak directly with certain people and grant magical powers to their followers.

    Not sure about this part, as Eothas is supposed to be dead and yet I was his priest with all my spels and abilities. But then again he might not really be dead, it never was explored. And I really hoped for something after discovering I hit a jackpot with character’s identity this time, priest(ess) of Eothas… All I’ve got is a few lines of dialog which didn’t matter a single thing. I really hope expansions will do something about it.

    > The entire argument basically boils down this:

    Actually, Thaos clearly understood exactly what she meant. Not real gods. Maybe they really should have written it that way. And Thaos actually never said neither “yes” nor “no” to the question.

    >First of all I didn’t meet a single character in the game who didn’t believe in the gods, so it didn’t seem like this was a huge issue that needed an organization like the Leaden Key to prevent.

    While the first part is true, Thaos fears that people will discover animancy secrets and everything will fall apart. He is trapped in his own fear that humanity cannot live without gods.

    Either way, I still quite like the game it came to be. Although the battles where everyone are in one big forest of arms and legs (which are… almost all of them) are somewhat of a mess.

  6. Agree entirely with your analysis. After meeting Iovara I was pretty disgusted with the entire plot. I had high hopes for some resolution between the animancy/works of gods tension only to get a completely out-of-place declaration that “the gods aren’t real!” with little evidence or real build-up to that revelation. It just created confusion instead of satisfying questions and mysteries.

  7. Thank you for voicing my inner thoughts. When it boils down to it, the story WAS just okay.

    I didn’t feel enough of a connection to the gods in the first place, so when they revealed that the question I asked Thaos was “Are the gods real?” I just thought, “Do I really care about this? My character doesn’t put much stock in the gods to begin with.” It was a big disconnect.

    I wanted to know why *I* was important to Thaos, and why he was important to me. The connection felt very flimsy towards the end. In my opinion, the scope was just too ambitious and they couldn’t quite round it out.

    Also, I think Iovara’s revelation in some ways hurts the mythology of the game. So the gods we worship are magical creations in the game. But I want another option besides “Choose to believe in these gods” or “Choose to believe in nothingness.” She kind of just says, in a couple of lines, “Oh, and the Engwithans discovered nothing else existed and there was no reason for souls or reincarnation or the wheel.” That really takes away from the story.

    Like, why are there souls that reincarnate? No reason.
    Where does magic come from? Um, there’s no reason.
    Who made the wheel? Uh no one, just was always there.
    What purpose does reincarnation serve? There’s no reason behind, it’s just random.

    It felt… weak. Like a poorly conceived idea that was thrust upon the players. If everything just “exists” for no reason — that’s basically a total absence of mythology.’

    Anyways, my rant. I think I’m giving this story way too much thought.

    1. I agree completely, the “gods aren’t real” plot definitely hurts the setting of their story. I’m not sure the mythology of Pillars can really recover from the damage it does, I hope it can, but I doubt it.

      I’m glad you liked the review and appreciate your thoughts on it!

    2. Welcome to the world, friend. There are no gods, there’s no real reason for anything. Pillars is just reflecting that. If you want a fantasy world where the gods created the world, there are plenty of intellectual properties for you. In Pillars, the universe and everything in it came to be through natural processes.

      1. No, I’m sorry you can’t have a game where the world is formed through natural events AND one where people’s souls are funneled through giant green rocks to reincarnate them. I would have loved for Pillars to actually be a natural world where everything is created through natural processes. But the game makes it pretty clear that’s not the case. I mean the woman that tells you that the gods don’t exist is telling you that while existing as a disembodied spirit trapped in what is essentially the underworld. Can’t get much more supernatural than that.

        1. Who’s to say that this universe doesn’t simply obey different rules from our own? How do you know that Adra isn’t natural, and that it doesn’t just naturally conduct souls better than other materials? The game makes a very concerned effort to portray souls and reincarnation as natural parts of the world, through the emphasis on animancy.

          If animancy as a scientific discipline can study and manipulate souls, then souls cannot be supernatural, because they are part of the natural world.

  8. Very nice article and interesting comments.
    And I have to agree with most of what has been written here, by everybody.
    I found this place because I didn’t receive enough closure after finishing the game.
    This post made me feel, well, let’s say a little more fulfilled!

    I want to point out that, as I understand it, people don’t receive magical powers from “the gods”, but rather, as they do with all powers/magic, from their own souls. It’s the “faith” in the gods that allows them to tap into their inner soul-power, but the gods themselves don’t actually have anything to do with it. I remember reading about this on the PoE wiki.

    Ironically, while I appreciate their storylines and world-building, I never managed to finish the first two Witcher games – I was too bored by the gameplay and the quests. While PoE has a lot of bad stuff going on with the combat, it was engaging enough for me to be able to finish.
    It doesn’t really make me want to re-play it, though, unlike Baldur’s Gate 2 or Icewind Dale 1…

    I also absolutely loved the books of Morrowind, they were one of the high points of the game for me, they helped a lot with world-building and immersion, even when they were just fiction books.
    One thing that I particularly enjoyed was having multiple angles about past events, so you never know what the truth was 100% – just like in real life!
    At some point I had amassed around five or six different versions/accounts of what had happened at Red Mountain when Nerevar died, and some of them I gleamed from books…

    I am also unimpressed by the writing in Dragon Age (of which only the first one I managed to finish, and that only once).

    So my point is: different people have different tastes, and while WE might have been left unfulfilled and/or uninvolved by the writing in PoE, for others it might have been mind-blowing!
    Definitely, from a technical point of view, this was the most well written, deep, intelligent and, well, role-playing-ish (?) CRPG I have ever played. I even prefer it over Planescape: Torment due to, uhmm, personal compatibility.
    It did lack some much needed soul – heh, ironical in a game about souls…

    Now, let’s see what Inxile will do with Torment: Tides of Numenera.
    I’m hopeful for that, yet also circumspect…

  9. Yes, thank you! The bit at the end of the game just felt so forced. I played as a Priest of Eothas, and a character very dedicated to her her (dead?) god. So making the whole ending having to revolve around ‘the gods don’t exist’ made me have to go out of character just to continue the storyline. Why couldn’t it have built up a reason to hate Thaos? A reason to want to take him out? And yeah, I wanted some sort of resolution with my character who was Thaos’ follower. You get hardly any of that though.
    Also, I really wanted to know more about Eothas and the Saint’s war and such. Is Eothas alive? I want to know!
    Even if the Engwithans created the gods, the gods still in every respect act like gods. So I don’t see why we should take such offence to this. I don’t think the people of this world would rise up against the gods even if they could. Most seem to like them quite a bit.

    1. That’s the whole point, though. Knowing that the gods are artificial raises a number questions. First, are they worthy of being worshiped? Second, are they even necessary? Third, if they were made, can they be unmade? If so, should they be?

      As an atheist, I found these questions very hard to answer. On the one hand, I acknowledge that they aren’t necessary and they probably can be unmade. On the other hand, I must also acknowledge that they’re real nonetheless, and they largely make things easier for us. It’s quite the moral dilemma.

  10. I really liked the ending.

    The Gods and their influence on the world have been an important part of the story from the beginning of the game (Raedric and the village, the Saint’s War, …) and the Revelation in the end connects this branch of the story to the rest (the animancy, the leaden key, the Engwithans…).
    I fully understood Thaos and Lovaras motivation: It is a huge difference to believe that a certain Ideal/Ruling eternal, godly – or to know that it was made by humans. This Revelation would really shake up Eoria.
    We never get to know Lovaras proof, but we have a Reason for Thaos latest plan.

    I liked especially well, that neither the Main Character nor all of his companions are reincarnations, or chosen ones, or destined to do anything… I really liked that single fantasy world where “everything just “exists” for no reason”.

    I find this ending far more interesting than… nearly every other RPG I played (including Baldurs Gate 1 and 2).

    1. Agreed.

      There was nothing to think about at all in those other games. You just killed the bad guy and that was it. I mean they were fun, but there was nothing that allowed for further reflection.

      I don’t think Iovaras proof was really needed in the end, because Thaos admits she was right. So…

  11. So I’m a little late to this party but I just wanted to say…..

    You completely summarized my every issue with the story of this game. Like to an eerie level :D.

    I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why the story felt so…..off, but you summarized it perfectly for me. Great write up, and here’s hoping the next one is a little better! I am looking forward to it as I enjoyed this game somewhat in spite of its story, but thought it could’ve been amazing with a better one.

    1. Thanks! I’m always glad to hear from readers, even years after I’ve written the article! And I’m too hoping that Pillars 2 does a much better job with the story. Once it’s out you can look forward to another review from me.

  12. That’s quite a shallow view on the game’s story and ending there. The main question it was subtly trying to ask is, “What is the point of all this?” And it had the balls to give the same answer you would find in the real world: “There is no point.”
    Whether the gods were “real” or not was a big deal, because if they were, then there was a plan in the universe. A divine, absolute truth somewhere out there that people can strive for, or at least live knowing it’s real, even if unreachable. But since their gods are man-made, this is not the case – they cannot give purpose to the people, because it was the people that gave them purpose in the first place. They literally are an embodiment of the concept of the “noble lie”. And if you inspect their actions closely, their hollowness as deities is shown – while their power is fitting for a god, their behaviour in its core is mortal-like. And there follows the next question: is the world really better for their existence at all?
    The story of the game was merely a framework on top of which this idea and a few others were developed, in other words, a representation of the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. I think part of the reason you and the like-minded players disliked the story was a fact that you yourself stated – that you hold personal stories with definite conclusions as more interesting and engaging than ones of global significance. You looked for a personal story where there wasn’t really one, or at least not one that is the focus of the journey – I am talking about the relationship between Thaos and the MC (and you overly humanized Thaos in your mind in the process). To me at least, from their interactions, it was petty obvious that MC is an asset to Thaos – and he plays nice to them the same way a corporation’s CEO claims every employee matters (until they lay the off). As the inquisitor climbed the ranks, it was the asset’s value that was increasing, not the state of the relationship with Thaos.
    In conclusion, I think you skipped reading between the lines while playing and this affected the final experience.
    One thing I agree on though – for a game named after them, PoE gives us way too little about the significance of the adra formations on the planet, apart from some hints dressed with uncertainty.

    1. Thanks for writing such a well worded rebuttal, instead of just calling me an ass like most people who disagree with me. 😉 This is an interesting take on the game’s story I hadn’t considered.

      See I also thought the gods reality or unreality was totally unimportant as well, which is why the story didn’t work for me. Like Voltair said “if god didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him.” The gods of Pillars are man-made, but in essence ALL gods are man-made. If the Leaden Key was uncovered and the populace discovered the gods weren’t actual gods… what would change? What were the global repercussions for that? More than likely most people would just go on worshipping them, because when you’re faced with someone telling you a god isn’t real versus a god that grants you magical powers, I don’t think most people are going to believe the atheist. Hell even in our world, there are more religious people than there are agnostic/atheists, and our gods don’t grant magical powers. If some scientist uncovered definitive proof that God didn’t exist, I really don’t think most believers would care.

      I’m all for a story with global repercussions, though you’re correct I do enjoy personal stories far more, but I didn’t feel the global repercussions for this were well established. As I said in the review, if the story had been framed as “is the world really better for their existence?” I could have worked with that. Unfortunately that’s not what they gave us, the entire game was about trying to disprove their existence, which as you said yourself, wasn’t a big deal.

      If I overly humanized Thaos then I got to blame the writers for that, since I believe there was a lot of characterization for him through his flashback scenes and his love affair with the spymaster. I can’t remember specific examples since it’s been quite a few years now since I played it.

      One thing I can’t disagree with you on is that I do enjoy stories with a point and a definite conclusion, specifically because it’s not realistic. I’ve always thought stories are there to help us make sense of the world we live in. One of the most important questions most writers ask before beginning a story is “what am I trying to say?” or “Why should this story be told?”

      Basically, what’s the point? And for me, if that answer is “there is no point” then I don’t consider that a good story. All that said, that’s completely just my personal preference and opinion. If you found something meaningful between the lines of Pillar of Eternity’s story, good on you, you’re not wrong. From my perspective I can’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

      I do enjoy debating about stories though, and opposing viewpoints are important, so I hope you keep reading the blog and challenge me on other items you disagree with. Thanks again for writing!

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