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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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…
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 real. I’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.
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!”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Baldur’s Gate into Baldur’s Gate II into Shadows of Amn is the greatest gaming experience I’ve ever had. A good way to burn 150 hours or so.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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 🙂
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!
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?
> 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.
Oh, wait, some druids(?) were saying something about no gods or something.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
just finished it. weird game.
everything about it worked, more or less — and kept me playing — except for the main quest. which was borderline atrocious. perfectly calibrated to engender nerd rage.
individual dungeon segments of the game were a blast, especially raedric’s hold and the skaen quest under dyrford (though even there, the mobs of villains felt copied and pasted). but all the garbage about the biawac and the ancient engwithans and the adra soul machines and the sort-of-made-up-but-not-really gods 1.) made no damn sense, 2.) was left so unconnected and unexplained that it felt insulting, 3.) also felt humorless, needlessly portentious and “dark”, and phony-philosophical in the worst way, and, most importantly, 4.) never had any genuine game relevance. incredibly, obsidian failed to supply the most basic rpg plot drivers: i never had any idea why my character was bothering to do any of the things she was doing. we’re told that she’s losing her mind, but besides some dreams of adra pillars (again unexplained!), there’s no evidence she is, and there’s never any consequence to killing time in the keep. chris avellone worked on this game? really?
the very worst part of the game/story was the female npc character whose name i’ve already forgotten, who is introduced in flashbacks just as the thing is wrapping up, and whose words are somehow supposed to be profoundly meaningful to me — and the rest of my party members! that’s indefensible. but the long-term companion arcs are unsatisfying, too. sagani, aloth, kana, and eder all have personal stories that fizzle out and are left unresolved, and grieving mother and durance force you to fight through pre-scripted, single-path dialogue trees to reach their resolutions. to be charitable to the designers, this might have been done to reinforce the ambiguity of the main quest. but given that no storytelling muscle is ever demonstrated at any point, i have to conclude that the writers just took the lazy way out.
a tremendous amount of work, and care, went into this game: it runs smoothly on a mac, the soundtrack is good, the backgrounds are beautiful, and many of the areas are fun to explore. that forgives a lot. the set-piece battle with the adra dragon is rewarding enough to justify bashing through fifteen (!!) levels of trash mobs. it just blows my mind that josh sawyer thought he could get away with such a horrendous hash of a main plot. it’s probably best to approach pillars of eternity the way you would a super-old-school rpg like bard’s tale: just head into the dungeons, have a good time with your party-based encounters, look at the pretty pictures, and don’t expect it to add up to anything in particular.
no comparison to shadows of amn or planescape torment or even knights of the old republic.
The question is not wether gods are real or not, in the game they clearly are real. The question is wether they are superior beings that created humanity, or the other way round.
In my understanding, Engwithans created gods to influence other civilizations (or their own?), and sent emissaries (like Thaos) to enforce, with lot of violence, that people believe gods must be worshiped and followed. Iovara’s findings *are* important, and would shake the world.
Would you continue to worship an all powerful robot, than can throw fireworks and all, when you discover it’s actually just a machine, and once you know how it works you can just switch it off?
Also, Engwithans harvested a lot of souls to create these gods (they built machines everywhere to trap and move souls for a mysterious purpose, which is revealed in the ending as tools for building gods). How would you feel knowing that the gods you worshiped were made out of your stolen ancestor souls, and the heretics that suffered so much from inquisition were actually telling the truth? I don’t find the main story so moot, actually.
But I do agree it could have been presented in a more epic way.
I just spent a couple replaying all the way through Pillars of Eternity to refresh in my mind what the heck this game was about before I try Pillars of Eternity II. This was my third playthrough and it definitely makes a lot more sense now than it did the first time I played.
However… The statement that “the gods don’t exist” is patently flat-out absurd. I know lots of people in the comments here are writing apologia about how Iovara didn’t really mean “the god’s don’t exist”, but that’s the point! If that’s not what she meant, she shouldn’t be saying *exactly that*.
We have priests that perform miracles in the name of their gods, the gods often intercede on behalf of humans, they occasionally make appearances through avatars on the planet, and they literally communicate directly with the character. Throughout the whole game you’re seeing the works of gods and their followers, speaking to them, learning their history and origins, and possibly performing tasks and prayers for them. So when Iovara completely jumps the shark and makes the pronouncement that “the gods aren’t real”, I’m left dumbfounded. Not in the way the writers intended, where something perfectly plausible but utterly shocking is revealed at the end, but in the way I’d be shocked if I was on a date and suddenly the girl across from me pulls a soiled diaper out of her purse and drops it in front of me. WHY? WHAT? ARE YOU NUTS!? WHAT IS THIS!?
The gods *do* exist. They might not be “real” gods, they might not be “good” gods, the way they were created was “evil”, their purpose may have been pointless, and people may not worship them if they knew they were created by kith. All of these moral quandaries were ripe for the picking, but throughout the game one thing that is made absolutely perfectly clear is that the gods exist. That was never an open question that the character, or basically anyone else in the game other than Iovara and her weird followers, ever considered. There is no reason *at all* to doubt the existence of the gods.
Obviously what Iovara should have said that the gods weren’t “real” gods, or that the gods were made by kith. That weakens the story though. I could see how a bloody conflict could arise over the existence or non-existence of gods (If that was *actually* in question), but I can’t believe a sane person would spends thousands of years performing horrible atrocities to hide the fact that gods were created. That very same person tells us that they were created after Engwithans already believed in countless gods that didn’t exist at all. Knowing that religion is invented is somehow going to kill religion… When it already existed before? Iovara is tortured horribly over this? She can’t prove that the gods don’t exist, because they do, but she never tells us anything else that’s gotten her panties in a bunch. She’s an atheistic “missionary” in a world where gods clearly exist fighting against an ancient psychotic inquisitor who wants to hide that gods were created. It’s hard for me to decide which of the two are more crazy.
Oh and one more thing! If Thaos is really going to fight so hard to keep the gods around, you would think that the gods would be showing some results. Like if there were thousands of years of relative peace and prosperity then there may have been a bit of a moral dilemma here, but the the gods’ prayer circle is literally right next door to a cult that performs voluntary sacrifices in order to make and sell magical “war point” created from the human sacrifices. To be perfectly clear I’m not talking about a sacrifice like fasting on Wednesdays, but literally slamming a axe into the beating heart of a human on an altar kind of sacrifice. If the gods were created to prevent craziness surely that would be somewhere on one of the gods agendas? You know, a line-item right around “Prevent wars” and “Don’t let old Engwithan artifacts be used to murder babies”.
Just wanted to vent I guess, even though it’s waaaay late. It’s an ok game overall. Certainly enjoyable and worth the money, but it doesn’t rise to the level of DAO or Baldurs gate II. Just like “DA:I” your review is one of the few that really seemed to get it. Thanks.
Oh! I also wanted to give a shout-out to Grieving Mother. I thought her story was incredibly touching.
Thanks for your thoughts, I felt exactly the same way about the story. And it’s never too late to vent here, haha, I always enjoy talking about stories.
And yes, the setting is simply incompatible with the whole “there are no gods” storyline they try to sell. I’m actually playing PoE 2: Deadfire right now, so here’s hoping they shift focus on the narrative. As you said, the Grieving Mother had an amazing story that emotionally resonated with the audience. I hope that PoE: Deadfire ends up focusing more on the personal stories, and emotional storytelling, and abandons more of its weird “There are no gods” plot.
Thanks again for writing in, it’s always great to see people still read these articles years later. 🙂
I just finished this game, so my response comes two years too late, but the gods actually do have an answer for the blood sacrifices. If you accept Berath’s quest, you’re basically told to go and kill the head of that cult– and doing so means you’re forced to wipe out the rest of them, too.
I just finished this game for the first time, and, like probably most of the people here, went a-googling for “pillars of eternity ending… wut?”
Long story short, I really enjoyed this game, but I was disappointed when I finally made it to the bottom of the Endless Paths, and like most of you here I was a little perplexed by Iovara’s claim that the gods that I had just met weren’t real. I get what she meant, I guess, and I fully agree with all the arguments in the story’s favor here, but it just didn’t quite feel good enough.
Just like the last floor of the Endless Paths. Is the Master Below going to be Od Nua himself? No? Maybe it’s his dead son, revived after all but now some twisted, enraged entity in the giant statue? No? It’s just some dragon that grew up down there and has no connection to the story of the place other than having just kind of hung around and witnessed it happen.
The writers seem to just have an anti-climactic problem to their stories, I guess.
The real reason I wrote this is to recommend that everyone here play Xenogears, a PS1 rpg, if you haven’t already. It will scratch whatever religion-based-storyline rpg itch you might still have after this game. 10/10, would kill Abel again. And again. And again…
I’m another who just completed their first run-through of PoE and happened to find this post as I ruminated on the ending.
I agree with you and several of the other commenters: I would have felt a lot better of it if the revelation wasn’t “the gods aren’t real” but something like “the gods are created,” for the reasons you all have discussed. I think that could have still arisen conflict enough that Thaos would have wanted to hide the reveal. After all, in the ending slides alone, you get different perspectives from your companions on this reveal, such as Edér “in learning that the gods had been fabricated, Eder found his faith in Eothas renewed, and that his god was neither alive nor truly a god had become irrelevant,” while Aloth seems to embrace the gods’ falsehood and spreads the idea of ending “blind obedience to an authority they did not understand.” So such a reveal would result in some people still believing, others not.. and we know in our real world, this can lead to conflict and wars.
The moment I felt incredibly ejected from the story was when you ask Iovara for her evidence and she literally tells you that she overheard some things behind a closed door. It felt incredibly lazy to me, that you’re supposed to trust this big world-ending reveal because of something so flimsy! Especially considering your character was pretty involved in the gods by that time.
I didn’t feel as disappointed by you in the Thaos reveal because he never became quite human enough, to me. I did think that the final question was going to be something else, such as why I awakened, why he did all this, what his connection to Woedica was.. I don’t know, we got hints of some of these and I guess that’s supposed to be enough, but it didn’t feel quite worth the build, to me.
Well, I don’t think I’m explaining my thoughts very well! Guess I should have ruminated on the ending a bit more before writing. Long story short, I appreciated this post and the comments thereafter.
I’m still on my first playthrough of the PoE and overall rather like the game. I would have been amazing, had companion quests been richer. All that time and effort that had been put in writing pointless vignettes of soul readings of completely irrelevant NPCs would have been better spent on the creation of content that actually mattered. (I know that it was a reward to backers; only I feel that they would have been better rewarded had there been more content to meaningfully interact with/ engage in). I LOVE Aloth and Edér, and would have been delighted had their personal quests been more fleshed out and actually had a satisfying resolution for them (poor Edér is left hanging, never learning the truth about his brother’s motivations, and Aloth is marginally better off, in the process of learning to supress Yselmir). Reading their souls, with their permission, wouldn’t have been a chore. It would have been something that Gwaine (my Watcher) would have done gladly. (In that vein, I find it quite odd that Aloth would seek the help of an animancer for his condition instead of simply turning to the Watcher for aid. He ended up looking to him for answers during the examination anyway, and could have spared himself the copper attachments that only scared living lights out of him).
Also, it would have been great, had the Watcher had any chance to step in the party banter – mine would have totally done so as much of the teasing that Aloth gets on account of Yselmir is quite merciless 😦 I loved that in Dragon Age Inquisition, the Inquisitor could actually react to the party banter at some points and do some damage control if things got too intense.
I must agree that the end-game revelation about the gods has little relevance to the Watcher’s motivations for chasing Thaos across Dyrwood. If the Watcher’s condition leads to the deterioration of his sanity, his main motivation naturally is to be “cured” of his “affliction” and should there be no such cure, then at least understand the events of his past life that bring him in Thaos’ path over and over again and to achieve some resolution of the said past so he can reclaim the control over his sanity. In that light, whether or not gods are real is an irrelevant question, one to which he doesn’t need or seek an answer. Had Edér’s personal quest been more fleshed out, the question wouldn’t be so irrelevant anymore – because Edér does want to know what has actually happened to his god and whether Waidven was an aspect of Eothas or not. The Watcher could have asked that question on his behalf… and it would have been so much more meaningful to get an answer on that from Thaos, instead of getting information from Iovara to whom the Watcher doesn’t have any emotional connection until very late in the game (when it is already too late to start building it).
Despite that, I find the game quite enjoyable and at times presenting interesting moral choices in the side quests (like whether it’s the right thing to do to kill Raedric, or whether Harmke should be spared in spite of his involvement in the events in Cold Morn). In those moments, I feel very involved in the story. The same goes for the pro-animancy/ anti-animancy argument, although that could have been made more intense had there been any tangible evidence that animancy also produces some good results. We are only told that those do exist too, but the in-game evidence only shows botched experiments which bring about much suffering to the poor test subjects and to random bystanders as well. In that one respect, Thaos is actually doing humankind a favor by framing animancy as the cause of the Hollowborn crisis.
3 years after you wrote this article, I stumpled upon it and felt compelled to grab my keyboard and express my concern over the way you view the storyline.
I am currently near the end of the second PoE, and I had nothing but the utmost respect and love towards the first game.
Based on what I’ve learnt throughout PoE 1 and partially 2, I’d say you are mistaken about a few critically important points of the game’s lore.
You mention that the gods ‘grant magical powers to their followers’ and that they generally act like gods. That would be fine and well, except for the fact that we know that the source of all magic and cookies and bacon are not gods, but souls. Eora’s Engwithan-made deities are comparable to superheroes like Captain America, Hulk, Batman, Spiderman, etc. Are they vastly more powerful than a single human being? Definitely. Were they created through artificial means? Absolutely. Can they do cool stuff like shoot lightning or transform into different things or absorb the power of a bomb? Of course! Are they gods? No, not at all.
The premise behind Eora’s world is that reincarnation is a natural process (there is no direct evidence for this however, so feel free to disagree here), and the Engwithans just figured out a way how to control the natural flow of souls. And they also discovered that by fusing souls together, or stuffing souls/soul energy into a single body will make it bigger, better, badder. But the gods do nothing that a regular person who knows how souls work, couldn’t do. They just do it on a bigger scale.
Throughout PoE 1 and 2, we get examples of regular people infusing items they create or use with their own soul’s energies, without being particularly loyal to or fond of any one god. That dagger that some random assassin used for years became a magical tool of destruction. That shield that a father forged for his son before he went on to become an adventurer, became a wondrous shield of seemingly divine protection. That pair of boots that the former owner’s piece of soul clings to became the Boots of Marksmanship, etc. All empirical evidence points to the fact that magic comes from souls and their energies.
There’s no need for gods, as they don’t do anything extra. They cast a Fireball Rank XX while a normal, educated wizard can only cast Fireball Rank X, but it’s still the same thing.
And know here comes the dilemma of the game: does the people of Eora need to worship man-made superheroes? Or can we just dismantle them and use their soul energies for something else? Or do they serve a higher purpose, because through devotion to one’s ‘god’ does one become more powerful (= unlocking more of their own soul’s powers). And that is, in my opinion, a truly world-changing dilemma. I could talk about this for days but I think I already made it too long 🙂
Secondly, I think you are overly humanizing Thaos, especially since it looks like Thaos’ relationship to Webb left a deep impression on you. For me, it was just a 30 second scene out of a 3 hour long movie, that further proved the point that the bad guy was a bad guy.
Do you think that after quite literally thousands of years of existing, someone like Thaos would just say ‘Eff this, I’m going to marry this girl and become a farmer’? Even if he felt some refreshing amount of love and affection toward Webb, it was always obvious that it was temporary. After all, she would die and he would still be reborn with all of his memories intact. It is my personal opinion that if Thaos has ever wanted to live peacefully with the love of his life, he probably has already done it and moved on in the first couple hundred years of his existence. At this point, he is a very focused, obsessed and devoted person to the one goal in his life: make people believe that the gods are true, natural, immortal, all-knowing deities, not just some extra souls stuffed into a bubble of air.
Which is why I believe that in PoE 2, Eothas’ goal is exactly that: put everything back into its natural form and let the people figure things out for themselves. Only time will tell if I’m right or wrong about this, though, as I haven’t finished the game yet.
Just finished this game and stumbled upon this article. It just shows how great this game is, that people are left with completely opposite impressions. To me, the game shined when it was about concepts and philosophies (like animancy) and was somewhat bleaker when it tried to tell human stories. I felt that the Watcher’s visions about his relationship with Thaos were superfluous to the story, and the Crucible Knights vs. Dozens confict reminded me of Dragon Age 2 in a good way.
And I can relate to the characters dismay when they learn that the gods aren’t real; that doesn’t mean that Berath and the other beings don’t exist or that they aren’t powerful, it’s that they aren’t gods, i.e. cosmic forces of creation or something along these lines, they are man-made entities and they have been lying to their worshippers and concealing the truth about their nature and origin. They’re golems, gods don’t exist in PoE.
1) The title “Pillars of Eternity” refers to the Engwithan soul machines. A slide from Undying Heritage describes one of these machines as a “jagged adra pillar”. Adra is also referenced as the eternal medium of souls. You do have to get pretty deep into the game before you’re certain this is what the title means, but I suspected as much in the prologue at Cilant Lis. It’s a little obscure but makes a better title than “Engwithan soul factories”…
2) The Dyrwood is very religious largely because of the efforts of the Leaden Key to destroy animancy. In other countries where animancy is more favored, people are much more skeptical about the “gods”. Pallegina, for instance, is from the Valian Republics, which has a much more liberal attitude towards animancy research, and she is unsurprised the gods are not “real”. To a lesser extent, Aloth is also unsurprised and he too is a foreigner, from Aedyr. And Thaos opposes others using animancy because they could discover the soul magic the Engwithans mastered and overturn the Engwithan heirarchy with their own set of deities, or possibly destroy the existing “gods”.
3) Thaos’ purpose as the only awakened Engwithan is to protect their culture, a culture that created a system of “deities” to spread Engwithan ideology to the savages. Iovara asks if the gods are real. Thaos evades the first time she asks, because yeah, they’re real in a sense. But he knows what she means, and that meaning is consistent with how pretty much all major religions define gods: as omnipotent, benevolent creators. I’m pretty sure if people found out Yahweh was actually a collection of a couple thousand souls from ancient Hebrews, who created nothing and whose power in the world is limited to the point you could actually lie to him in direct conversation without him knowing (in the game you can lie to any of the Gods in Act III and they won’t figure it out until the ending–Magran doesn’t even realize her most prominent priest, Durance, still exists)–I think followers of Abrahamic religions would NOT be happy, to say the least.
It is kind of a weak ending though, I’ll give you that. The relationship between Thaos and the player character is really vague. I think this was on purpose but it feels pretty lazy having to supply how you knew Iovara and why you joined the Inquisition etc…
Still, awesome game…best thing I’ve played since the Infinity Engine games. Haven’t tried POE2 yet, I just started POE recently and am working on “The Ultimate” achievement
First of all: I’d really like to read your write-up on the Legacy of Kain series! I’ve just started replaying it via PC emulation, and loving it even more now than I did as a kid. Lovely set of games — and good lord does that voice acting carry a whole heckuva lotta weight.
But, right: Pillars of Eternity.
I don’t have much to add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said. I would like to zero in on just one, small thing however:
“What they should have done instead is make their story a character driven human drama, because that’s where the writing really shines.”
I think this is really the line that separates mediocre writing from genuinely good writing. No story can shine without compelling human drama in it somewhere, regardless of that story’s focus. No matter how ambitious a story might be, it’s built atop the foundation of its characters — and you can’t build up very high atop a weak foundation.
You speak repeatedly of a desire to see a sequel in this setting — and I agree. Eora is a fantastically detailed and well thought-out fantasy setting (honestly I’d say it’s the most interesting fantasy setting I’ve yet encounters) — and, as fate and fortune would have it, we’ve already seen one sequel, with another on the way. You also mentioned in one of the comments that you were playing through that first sequel (Deadfire), and I’d be very interested to hear your opinion on how it compares.
I wound up backing Deadfire on Kickstarter back in the day, but I’ll admit I felt a cold dread creep up the back of my neck when they revealed that the player character would be the Watcher from the first game; and again when the plot of the game would be to hunt down Eothas. The exact opposite of character-driven human drama, yeah? It raised some flags.
In the years since, I’ve tried to play through Deadfire… three, maybe four times? I’ve never gotten very far. The setting is profoundly interesting and I’d love to explore it, but a story is MORE than just a setting… I find there’s little point in exploring a world when I don’t care about any of the people living in it.
I find it strange to look back, now that we’re a good year or three beyond the hump of the crowdfunded “CRPG renaissance,” to see that so many of these new CRPGs, modeled very intentionally on the classics of late 1990s and early 2000s, chose to go with plot-driven narratives rather than the character-driven stuff that motivated the journeys of the classical heroes. Granted, those plots weren’t always the most interesting or dynamic of things, but they DID lend those heroes personal stakes in the narrative. And that matters. A lot.
I mean, it’s in the name, right? These are ROLEplaying games — character is gonna be paramount, and character-driven stories are always going to be better than plot-driven stories (or, God forbid, procedurally-generated stories). It’s the difference between players deciding what to do in a D&D game, and the GM telling their players what to do instead. The difference is night and day.
And… oof. I’ve written perhaps way, way too goddamned much in response to an essay that’s nearly a decade old. Think I’d better finish this up real soon.
I will leave with this: Baldur’s Gate 2 is widely regarded as one of, if not the very best roleplaying games of all time. A crowning achievement of the genre that few subsequent games have ever -attempted- to equal. But you know something? The Forgotten Realms setting it takes place in is a D-tier setting. It’s garbage. A kitchen-sink approach to worldbuilding. Yet this did nothing to handicap the game.
As much as I love the setting of Eora, and for all the high esteem I hold for it, I think it’s pretty clear: engaging character-driven drama can elevate a story above an uninspired setting, but even the best of settings cannot salvage a story without said drama.