Obsidian Entertainment’s original Pillars of Eternity was an unapologetic throwback to the grainy, dense but rewarding CRPG adventures of the 1990s. Now the sequel - Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - is looking to move the franchise forward, introducing new characters and factions set against the backdrop of the tropical Deadfire Archipelago.
We caught up with producer Katrina Garsten and PR manager Mikey Dowling from Obsidian Entertainment to talk about the game, which is set for release on May 8th 2018.
To start with, can you tell me a bit about your role on the project?
Katrina: “For my specific role, I am in charge of our crowdfunding campaign and all of the backer rewards and getting better content into the game. Additionally, I am the art producer so I'm handling all of our artists for the game. I handle a lot of their tasking, and scheduling, and making sure that we get stuff done on time.”
What's something that people don't really realize that you're involved with on the project?
Katrina: “That's a very good question.”
“For crowdfunding, I think when I had to plan that I had to work with publishing and come up with all of the rewards. For production, you would just imagine that it's just a lot of scheduling and management. This role has really given me an opportunity to be very creative with things and come up with creative solutions for what's going to make backers happy.”
“Additionally with that, dealing with the artist as well, I get a lot of creative input when I'm working with them. I have the opportunity to make suggestions for what could be improved in an area. It's a very unique role because not a lot of producers get the opportunity to do that.”
Did you work on the original Pillars?
Katrina: “I did not. I was working on Armored Warfare at the time. However, I did play violin in the soundtrack for the first game, so I was somewhat involved with the music aspect of it.”
What drew you to this project then?
Katrina: “I play a lot of games like this and I think the narrative is so incredible in the game. It really immerses you. From playing the first game, I just felt so connected with the companions and with the storyline. I feel like it gave me a strong emotional connection to the second game as well.”
“Seeing the story unfold and the writers come up with more and more - we can't share a lot of it because we're saving that for when the game comes out - but it just gets me so excited about the game. Our writers are so talented, there's just so much that I can't wait for backers and fans to play.”
Coming to it as a fan of that first game, what area do you think Deadfire offers the biggest improvements in?
Katrina: “We definitely have a lot of visually improvements. We have a lot of really cool tech that was added to add more realism into the game. One of my favorite things that we added is we have the ability now to cast shadows from 3D objects onto our 2D environments. It will realistically cast shadows onto our renders. The backgrounds are all 2D renders, so it casts very realistic shadows. Just very subtle things like that add a lot of realism to the game.”
“Additionally, a lot of new features I think have made the game a huge improvement from the first one. Especially our world map - and the ability to explore wherever you want - gives players the option to play the game however they want. You can totally stray off the path if you want to. It's going to be really challenging, but you can do that. It gives you the freedom to make so many different choices.”
“It takes the reactivity from the choices you made in the first game if you import your save too. It just becomes like a really awesome choose-your-own-adventure with the same style as the first game.”
Importing your character from the first games; does that unlock new content or new dialogue? What's the extent of that?
Katrina: “There's different dialogue options. You can import your character but you can also completely re-spec them if you want. Now we have multi-classing, so if you want to change up your character you can.
“It doesn't unlock new content, rather you can get different outcomes from different situations.”
Is it sort of a challenge to think about how to move Pillars forward as a franchise in a sequel like this, given that a lot of the identity of the first game is retrospective both in terms of the narrative and also the larger context?
Katrina: “It was more of a challenge I think for the first game. Now that we've established a style, something that's a tribute to the Infinity Engine games, we can continue adding to that. It's not really a challenge to stick with that same feel, it's more of a figuring out what can we add to this to make it even better.”
“From that, we've learned from the first game as well. So we've added in a ton of new functionality that just pairs well with how the first game feels. It just makes it a smoother gaming experience.”
Can fans expect a similar post-release roadmap for Deadfire to the first game?
Katrina: Yeah. We can't say too much, but you can expect fun things coming.
One of the big hooks of Deadfire is it's taking you to a region of the game that wasn't explored in the first game. Will there be any trips back to the Dyrwood or any plans to revisit Dyrwood?
Katrina: This will just take place in the Deadfire Archipelago. It's a completely new experience and a completely new area. Just because we also don't want to make your return to the Dyrwood repetitive.”
“We just want to have a brand new experiences for you where you can meet new companions and come across new creatures and new cultures. It's an entirely new experience with some of the same remaining companions that have come back.”
With those new companions, which one of the new companions do you think the fans will latch on to?
“I think Tekehu. Tekehu, he's already become a fan favorite and we haven't even given too much away about him. We're holding off for the game to come out. He's a very, very likable character and he connects well with the other companions. I think that people are really going to-”
Am I right in remembering that he's the fish person?
It’s been a good year for fish people. On the other side of things, what returning companions do you think you've been able to do the most with and add the most too?
Katrina: All three of the returning companions have their own unique quest line, so we've been able to do a lot with all of them. I think specifically Pallegina we've done a ton with. Without giving away a lot, for our new companion relationships system, she plays a big part in a lot of the decisions you can make and how that affects what happens.
A lot of the drama and conflict in the story is built by these different factions playing out in the Deadfire Archipelago itself. Will there be any involvement from the factions we met in the first game in that space, or will it be mostly those local players?
Katrina: “It's mainly going to be the four main factions. They all have their own territories in the Deadfire, and their own different beliefs and ideals. You can choose to side with one of those four factions or you can decide to go off and do your own thing, but it will make things significantly harder for you.”
You recently announced this game is coming to the Switch. Any plans to bring the first game to the Switch at some point?
Mickey: That is very complicated. To do that for the Switch, we would have to upgrade Pillars one to Unity 5-
Katrina: -and that introduces a whole host of problems.
Mikey: It's not something we're against doing, it's just we have to get the resources to try and do it. Hopefully maybe one day.
Pirates have sort have come back to fashion in games in the last couple of years. What specific aspect of that pirate naval combat fantasy are you trying to offer here that other games maybe aren't?
Katrina: “I think that one thing that we do that a lot of games don't is with our pirates in the game and our pirate parties, a lot of them are sided with a certain faction. Having them belong to a certain faction makes them fit into our world better, so they really seem like they belong there in the Deadfire.”
“Sure, pirates are really popular in games but we had to think about how do we make them unique to the Deadfire and give them their own interesting dialogue that's not just stereotypical pirate swashbuckling. We do get the ship combat and if you're on the world map you will get pursued by pirate ships occasionally, but the actual combat, if you run into a pirate party, is still the classic real-time-with-pause combat. It's [about] making them unique to the Deadfire.”
Lastly, are there any plans to do a follow up to the Lords of the Eastern Reach card game?
Mikey: So they're working on something right now, it's not Pillars related, but they are doing something. It's something we need to talk to them about. One of them still works with us. Scott Everett is part of that team, so he's in the office. I'll go bug him and see what we can do.”
“There’s a whole sequel for them to do stuff with.”
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is due for a May 8th release on PC and Mac. The Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are due later in 2018.