Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire recently opened a FiG crowdfunding campaign to great success, completing its initial funding goal in less than a day. We had the opportunity to chat with the team to learn more about Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire.
MMORPG: Thank you for chatting with us today. Deadfire funded in its first day and is smashing through stretch goals. What’s the mood at the office right now?
Josh Sawyer: Everyone is extremely excited and grateful for the outpouring of support that we’ve seen. We realize that we’re asking for people to trust in us when we run a campaign like this and it’s humbling to see so many backers contributing to the campaign.
MMORPG: How long has Deadfire been in development? There’s an incredible amount of excitement in the RPG and PC Gaming communities. How far along is Deadfire currently?
Josh Sawyer: Deadfire has been in development for about a year, though it only entered full production in the past few months. We started formulating ideas during the development of The White March expansion to the original Pillars of Eternity. Our pre-production was a little longer than normal because we wanted to make a lot of engine changes, including upgrading to Unity 5 and implementing a large number of new lighting and rendering features.
MMORPG: Sequels are a mix of fresh ideas, or things left out of the first game, and iteration. They’re also new territory for Obsidian. Let’s start with what’s new. What new ideas is Deadfire bringing to the table to elevate it over the original? Put another way, how do you see it taking those next steps that will make gamers say, “wow, this got even better?”
Josh Sawyer: We’ve extended our reputation system to include reputations that our companions have with the player and with each other. Their opinions change over time, progressing toward deeper relationships or simmering conflicts that can eventually boil over. The system is quite dynamic and should add a lot of depth and reactivity to companions in the story.
There is another very, very cool feature that we’re adding, but we’re not quite ready to talk about it yet. Soon!
MMORPG: On the flip side of that, what part of the game would you award the “Most Improved” prize to?
Josh Sawyer: At a basic level, all of the visuals have improved dramatically. In addition to new lighting and rendering features, we also have a new dynamic weather system and a fantastic dynamic tree and foliage system. They all contribute to making the world feel much more alive.
On the gameplay side, we’re focusing on improving the clarity and pace of combat and expanding character options through subclasses and multiclassing. We have fewer “trash” mob fights, combat is much easier to follow, and the players’ build options are a lot wider.
MMORPG: Combat seemed to be a fairly divisive aspect of the original game and we saw Obsidian respond to that with additions like Party AI. What, if any, changes or evolutions have taken place with the combat system or are you happy with the place it was in at the end of The White March?
Josh Sawyer: We’re making a number of significant changes to combat to improve clarity and pacing and increase tactical decision making within fights. We’ve changed how we build and render our visual effects to reduce noise, we’ve slightly slowed down the overall speed of combat, spaced the characters out more, and taken the overall party size down from 6 to 5.
Additionally, we’ve tried to make the system cleaner, especially when it comes to the Affliction system and what tools the player has available to counter them. Our stacking rules have been cleaned up (there aren’t any limitations for equipment) and player feedback has been improved overall.
One of the biggest single changes is our new AI system. What people saw in the 3.0 patch of Pillars of Eternity was an improvement over base Pillars, but Deadfire’s AI system has been completely revised. It’s much more robust and players should expect to see better encounters as a result of it. Additionally, thanks to our backers helping us hit our $2.2 million stretch goal, we’re going to have an AI scripting interface in game for players who want to fine-tune how their characters behave.
MMORPG: What lessons has the team learned from Pillars of Eternity that are now going into Deadfire?
Josh Sawyer: We’ve learned a lot. It had been years since many of us had worked on a game like this. For some of the younger developers, it was an entirely new experience. We’ve learned to pace our levels better, relying less on high-frequency trash mobs, more on setpiece encounters. We’ve learned to tie our companions more tightly to the central plot of our story. We’ve also learned to lean more heavily on our storybook-style special events, called scripted interactions. They can be wonderfully evocative and they allow us to create events for players that feel more like a tabletop RPG session.
MMORPG: How about from other projects, like Tyranny, or in the wider game industry? How is the wider gaming world shaping the Deadfire experience?
Josh Sawyer: I think Tyranny did a great job of establishing the player’s role in the world, which is something we struggled with on Pillars of Eternity. As the Fatebinder, you have a clear purpose in the story, but you can roleplay your Fatebinder in a lot of different ways. Tyranny’s lore highlighting feature is also incredibly helpful and something that I wanted to steal as soon as I saw it (we have).
As far as the rest of the industry goes, Pillars is more likely to draw inspiration from other PC games and from tabletop games than anywhere else. We’re always interested in what other RPGs are doing, especially when it comes to reactive storytelling and systems.
MMORPG: Players can import their characters from Pillars of Eternity. Tell us a little about that, how meaningful were the decisions we made along the way, and what are we bringing with us into the sequel? After Tyranny, I think there’s a lot of excitement about the importance of decisions in Obsidian CRPGs.
Josh Sawyer: Many of the decisions you made had a large impact on the Dyrwood and Eir Glanfath, but you will still see evidence of those changes in Deadfire. There’s also the matter of your alliances with the gods and whether or not you chose to betray them in the end. Eora’s gods, like many gods of Earth’s mythology, are often quite human and petty in their retribution. Most importantly, there are consequences for taking the orlan baby, Vela, through the end of the game. A baby’s a big responsibility.
MMORPG: Important characters will start again at level 1. Will anything be coming over with them or will they be a clean slate?
Josh Sawyer: Some of the Watcher’s choices from the first game will carry over, mechanically. For returning companions, how you built them in Pillars is less important than how you resolved their personal stories. They will wind up in different circumstances depending on your choices.
MMORPG: Sub-classes were recently unlocked as a stretch goal. Tell us a little about how that works. How different could two characters be?
Josh Sawyer: We’re trying to cover a range of concepts and a range of differences. The fighter subclass Black Jacket focuses on adaptability and tactical optimization, gaining additional weapon proficiencies, reducing weapon switch time, and granting bonuses when they attack into an enemy’s weakest armor type. The trade-off is worse general Accuracy and damage, meaning they really have to focus on using the right weapons for the circumstances. A subclass like the Assassin is even more of a “glass cannon” than the standard rogue (which will be more durable overall in Deadfire). Timing and positioning are critical for them because, while they can be incredibly deadly, they are quite fragile in a stand-up fight. A subclass like the ranger’s Ghost Heart plays much differently than a standard ranger because their animal companion is actually a lost soul trapped in the Between, only summoned forth in combat as a spirit.
MMORPG: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. We can’t wait to get our hands on Deadfire, so there’s really only one more question that needs to be asked: when can we play this game for ourselves?
Josh Sawyer: We’re targeting a release in the first quarter of 2018! We’ll also be offering a chance to play the game in beta to our Backers, but we’ll know more about when that’s coming as we continue development.
Thank you again. We loved the first game and are eager to hear even more about Deadfire in the weeks and months to come!