A serviceable port of a lovely RPG.
Back in 2018, we reviewed Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire for PC, praising it highly. Now, the title arrives to consoles through an extensive Ultimate Edition that includes all of the various patches and DLC added since the title’s original release.
Adventurers beware, this pirate-filled voyage isn’t for the lighthearted. From its outset, Deadfire doesn’t shy away from complexity in its dense lore, layered combat, and bevy of settings options. Upon beginning the game, players are prompted to select between a real-time or turn-based combat system. Character creation is as detailed as avid RPG enthusiasts might expect, and after players have navigated Deadfire’s initial sea (pun intended) of menus and the game begins in earnest, the names of various gods and fantasy races are thrown at players with wild abandon. While it’s possible to play Deadfire without experiencing its predecessor, I don’t recommend it. I found myself thoroughly overwhelmed jumping directly into this title.
For players traditionally adverse to the chaotic, unforgiving real-time combat systems characteristic of isometric RPGs (i.e. me), Deadfire’s turn-based gameplay option is a welcome relief, especially with the difference of controls on console. While it’s certainly the more accessible option, the turn-based system tends to prolong seemingly simple encounters; this is compounded during any of the game’s dungeons and has the distinct possibility to make their traversal an unglamorous affair.
Ultimately, I never managed to fully grasp and take advantage of the immense and ever-growing array of abilities at the player’s disposal during combat, and combat became less engaging because of it. The difficulty of translating Deadfire’s control scheme to console only seems to confound the impenetrability of its intricate combat mechanics.
Though it requires an extended upfront investment, I did eventually begin to settle into the rhythms and nuances of Deadfire’s narrative. Its worldbuilding is remarkably accomplished. As I began to connect the vast system of relations between the various races of its world, I admired its ability to interrogate ideas of colonialism and nationalism quite effortlessly. I equally admired the system of relations between companions. Though I was often confused by nebulous lines like “[insert character] gave a sly smile” that seemingly evidenced growing affinity between characters, I found it endearing the first time a companion approached me to ask for my advice regarding his approach to another companion who made him feel uncomfortable.
Though party members often interact in other RPGs, rarely do I feel so invested in their strange and complicated entanglements. I even grew to appreciate Deadfire’s depiction of religion. Once I learned their names and personalities and various deceptive tendencies, the gods of Deadfire’s world became engrossing, deeply human characters, and my interactions with them informed my understanding of their various followers who I met throughout my journey. Suffice to say, Deadfire’s lore is sturdy enough to lean its 80+ hours of gameplay on.
Though I struggled to enjoy Deadfire’s combat, it’s fortunately often avoidable. Especially when exploring Deadfire’s large town and city hub areas, you can get lost for hours in numerous side quests that frequently allow you to negotiate matters through means other than force; the side quests also provide substantial experience, so my party continued to grow even as I ran around town solving the disagreements of Deadfire’s diverse populace. These moments where I was allowed to be captured by Deadfire’s storytelling were far and away the most enjoyable aspects of my experience.
Regarding the technical elements of the Ultimate Edition console port, I never experienced the crashes that have been reported by others, but I did experience obscenely long load times. Their length is exacerbated by their frequency; more than once when I was learning the game’s controls and systems, I accidentally navigated to a new scene and had to sit through the up-to-a-minute-long load only to immediately return to the scene I was in prior and endure another tedious load. The load screens are also boring. There are about half a dozen images and info lines that cycle endlessly. I would normally never rattle on for an entire paragraph about load times, but Deadfire’s infuriated me just so.
Don’t expect Deadfire to hold your hand. While tutorials do exist in the game, they’re walls of uninteresting text buried behind menus. This is especially disappointing for the console port, because the controls are difficult to intuit as translated for consoles; few isometric RPGs make the leap to consoles, so there aren’t established schemas for formatting this particular subgenre’s mechanics to a console controller. Players should anticipate hunting down answers to the hundreds of questions they encounter about the game’s infinitely complex systems. If you don’t mind a game that requires you to work for the satisfaction of playing it, Deadfire’s Ultimate Edition is worth the investment for its lovely worldbuilding alone.
[Reviewed on PS4]