If you’d asked me a year ago, I might have told you that porting an old-style isometric RPG like Pillars of Eternity from PC to consoles without making it an unwieldy mess was effectively impossible. Obsidian Entertainment’s incredible adventure draws so heavily from early BioWare RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale that it demands the similar use of a dizzying array of hotkeys, precise mouse clicks, and menus, and that design seemed hopelessly better suited to keyboards than gamepads. Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition overcomes these obstacles, and that’s why I find this adaptation so impressive.
As the name implies, the Complete Edition includes all the content and patches released for the PC version to date, namely the base game from 2015 and the two halves of the underwhelming White March expansion. But Obsidian ) has achieved wonders with the transition to gamepads. Holding down the left trigger grants access to options like the quest log, leveling menu, and inventory, while squeezing the right trigger opens the menu for combat abilities. Pressing the square or X button lets you pause to issue orders, while the bumper buttons let you easily switch between characters. Most impressively of all, Pillars automatically highlights whatever you’re looking toward so you can easily interact with it. Sometimes it bugs a little and requires precise handling, but these moments are mercifully rare. Its intuitive control scheme is nothing short of elegant, and it proves that this style of RPG no longer needs to be the stranger to console gamers it once was.
Technical issues as a whole are rare, save for small issues such as the map’s refusal to open on the first click of the button. Yet there’s another issue that’s harder to forgive, and that’s why the Complete Edition might as well be subtitled “Load Times of Eternity.” It’s not so bad at first, but as the story expands and save files get thicker, the loading screens for even the simplest transitions can sometimes drag on for a minute or more. On a couple of occasions, I just shut the game down and restarted, finding that the same load screen worked much more quickly on the second attempt.
The story itself has aged well, to the point that I’m now convinced more than ever that Pillars of Eternity’s appeal rests on more than mere nostalgia for Baldur’s Gate. After two years, I was a little worried I’d find too many flaws in its sad tale of a wanderer who can see into the past lives of surrounding people, but I found myself warming to the old locales and personalities as readily as I might would with another spin with Minsc and Boo. It remains a text-heavy tale, though, enhanced only with good voice acting at the most significant moments, but fortunately Obsidian ensured all that text remains legible even when you’re sitting a few feet away from the TV.
It’s an RPG that’s as rich as any you’ll find, and in some cases its sheer depth lets it surpass those with far larger development budgets. Pillars, unfortunately, lacks some of the playfulness that made Baldur’s Gate so memorable, but it makes up for that with thoughtful lore crammed into everything from otherwise nondescript rocks and books rotting in cobwebby dungeons to sweeping descriptions of the past lives of random NPCs you pass. The Watcher, as the hero’s known, forms alliances with recruitable party members ranging from mad, Rasputin-like wizards to a pious paladin with an oddly fitting Texas accent. There’s a stronghold to repair and expand and numerous factions to build reputations with. Ask for anything you may want from an old BioWare Dungeons & Dragons RPG and you’ll generally find it here, aside from the somewhat regrettable absence of a romance option.
On that note, it’s nice to see that the Complete Edition doesn’t shy from the PC version’s punishing difficulty. Reluctant to take the time to pause and issue orders to all six members of your party during a battle? Your merry band’s likely going to die, even on Normal. At the same time, Obsidian has made the excellent story accessible to people with no interest in combat via a Mass Effect 3-style Story mode that trivializes combat and lets you steamroll through most encounters as easily as a dragon might cook a steak.