Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Price: $14.99 ($24.99 for the “Expansion Pass”)
I have to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to this review. If you’ve been following Pillars of Eternity here on GuG, then you read my review of the base game, where I called the game a testament to the wonderful power of Kickstarter. You have also likely read my review of the first piece of DLC, The White March Part 1, which was a bit more negative in tone. A rich, story-driven game had turned into a dungeon crawl, and since experience poi nts are not awardedfor combat, your actions lacked even the basic allure of leveling. Yet here we are—called to the snowy wastes of the White March once more, and the stakes are much higher. The White March Part 2 is a return to form for Pillars, and a reminder of why I loved the game so much in the first place.
After downloading the expansion, the first time that you rest outside of White March after completing the first part, you’ll have an ominous dream of an unstoppable army descending upon the Dyrwood by way of Stalwart and destroying all in its path. So you gather together a party and head pack into the snowy north. Some degree of time has passed since you reignited the White Forge, and travelers from all over have come to seek it out, turning Stalwart into a bustling hub. Unfortunately your dream, as most are for the Watcher, has turned out to be prophetic in more ways than one. A violent militia called the Iron Flail has made camp outside of Durgan’s Battery. You, being the go-getter that you are, decide to go and confront this force head-on. For me to expand beyond this would spoil the beginning twist of an epic tale involving ancient powers, conflict between the gods of Eora, cults, unexpected alliances, and an ending worthy of being the last piece we’ll get of Pillars of Eternity.
The story here blows away what little there was in the first part of the expansion and is on par with that of the main game. There are certainly more opportunities for Obsidian to show of its excellent writing skills, and I was once again reminded why this game should rank right up there with the likes of Dragon Age. In fact, I felt that The White March Part 2 was even more exciting and intense than Bioware’s IP. This is due in part to the expansion’s length. At around ten hours, it’s a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, we’ve been conditioned to expect games to be a bit longer in the RPG genre. On the other, its shorter length, along with excellent plot pacing on the part of the writers, allows it to feel more concise. It has fewer and shorter down moments, and effectively keeps up an air of tension.
Please refer to my review of the base game for content concerns. The White March Part 2 offers nothing in addition to what I have addressed previously.
While there’s still plenty of combat to be had here, thankfully the emphasis has been scaled back closer to what was found in the vanilla game. To assist with that, Obsidian has delivered a new companion in the form of the barbarian Maneha. More importantly, they’ve also added a new difficulty level, entitled “Story Time.” Now normally, I’d admonish players for picking the “just the story” difficulty, but with Pillars I’ll make an exception. The difficulty was definitely a huge barrier to entry for many players looking to experience the game’s amazing story, with entire parties being wiped by any given mob for anyone not an expert in strategic pausing and micromanagement. The Story Time difficulty still offers up some challenge while letting a far greater number of people enjoy the game.
A downside of the tight story is the fact they expansion doesn’t really add much outside of it. The new areas are are fairly linear and are mostly meant to shepherd you to the next part. There isn’t much in the way of exploration. Now, I actually appreciated this a bit at the time, as it all felt like one big, world-shattering quest. But Pillars is an open-world game, and what The White March Part 2 delivers is very narrow.
Luckily, the combat has been improved even more, with new abilities and weapons, as well as the addition of special contextual abilites that lend to the epic feel of the expansion, especially in its third act. There have also been several tweaks to the skills system, such as allowing characters with higher attributes like Athletics gain better resting bonuses. They’re little things that you may not even notice, but they’re a big help.
Pillars still looks great, and the new enemies that it introduces are strikingly intimidating. Some of the effects in the new zone, The Abbey of The Fallen Moon, look particularly good as well. Even the new weapons and armor seemed more defined.
The new combat music is also top-notch, and combined with the environments, reignited that epic feel I felt from the vanilla game and helped give weight to the proceedings.
I actually experienced significantly fewer technical difficulties than I did with the first expansion. I didn’t have single crash, and only encountered a few framerate dips. The patches have certainly done their work.
Pillars had lost me a bit with The White March Part 1. While I don’t think I should be charged full expansion price for what is essentially a prologue *cough*MGSVGroundZeroes*cough*, I do think that The White March Part 2 is a great payoff. It’s full of the things I loved from the first game while being even more tense and exciting over the course of its length. It is short, and still a little too combat heavy, and there’s not much outside of the main story, but it still made me fall back in love. The White March Part 2 is an exciting and fitting final piece to one of 2015’s best games.
The Bottom Line