The version of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire that I have been lucky enough to preview is close to being the full version of the game that will be hitting the game stores in the not-too-distant-future. It has been under construction and in deep scrutiny for several years as the authors/designers have fought against time and technology to bring forth a product that Kickstarter sponsors would fall over themselves to own and play. Well they certainly have that, as well as a game that any role-player who enjoys character creation and levelling will also find interesting.
Many games for the PC (this is on Steam) have had players characters using ships for transport and combat, early versions of Civilisation being one of the better known and most popular, so to bring this into a game that is at least 20 years late to the table it either has to be excellent or extremely excellent - this is midway between the two. For beginners the ships onscreen are larger and more detailed and their use is more important and different than those early Trireme's were.
Ships as transport are used to carry your unit of 5 characters from island to island so that you can disembark and explore. You need to ensure that you have food and water available at all times for your crew (note your crew are not your party) as well as other supplies to keep your vessel safely afloat.
Unlike many sequel games there are not just a few differences between PoE and PoE2. Mechanics for Combat, Graphics, Character Attributes, Experience, Levelling, Ships have all been quite radically changed whilst Abilities and Lore are similar but have been thoroughly upgraded.
The World of EORA is a world of islands, most uninhabitable and mostly uninhabited, but many of which that hide unknown adventures. Combat on Eora is deadly and messy, it's about the only part of the game I am not keen on. You can pause [space] during combat, although the game auto pauses when combat is about to ensue, and give each character separate orders (like early Command & Conquer games) and then release them to let them get on with it. The problem I am finding at the moment, which I am sure will be fixed, is that if they kill their target they stand around seemingly not knowing what to do. If you decide to take on the controls yourself it gets very messy onscreen with a tangle of bodies in melée and the only way you can determine who is who is the Red and Green circles surrounding their feet. You can scroll out to get a larger view but only by losing a fair part of the map, thus preventing you seeing any other creatures coming towards you.
On some of the screens you can just about see the tops of three Action Buttons. I have tried changing the screen resolution and even playing it in Window mode (rather than full screen) but they seem to be fixed out of position, almost off-screen. Again I figure this will be fixed prior to release.
Characters can be moved individually by selecting them and clicking on the terrain where you want them to move to. You can also draw a "box" around 2 or more characters and move them together, continue to click on the ground ahead of them and they will continue to move to where the next click(s) land. Of course you can move the map (by using the arrow keys or the WASD keys), find the location you want to go to and click on the ground there, a double-click will set them to running (I am saying "them" but it can be any or all of the 1 - 5 characters) to it.
Ships may be used as mobile bases (I almost said "homes" then, that would have raised some eyebrows) for your character and their friends. Ships can be customised and you can obtain /change ships by purchasing or stealing them.
The art is fantastic, in many places it's like bring Fantasy CCG (TCG) card illustrations to life, and the game plays pleasantly smooth. I like the ship movement and indeed the game itself, but (there always has to be a "but") is it different enough from all the other Fantasy action-adventure games available for PC and Console? Possibly not! It is very good to play though and time passes quickly while you are adventuring and exploring, which is always a good thing, and of course there are always new players coming into the games playing hobby who will never have had the opportunity to play C&C etc and who don't want to get tied up in a monthly pay-out for an MMORPG such as WoW or GW2 (though I, naturally, think they are missing out not trying an MMORPG).
At the moment there is a fair amount of black screen when different sections are loading but there is good free-flow fluency when moving across terrain that is visible in part and cloaked in darkness in the main (this is regular for any game where you are exploring previously unexplored terrain).
Like most games where characters gain experience for what they do, where they go, what they discover or find etc, there are times when you get a message that a character has "Levelled Up" at which you should pause the game, go to the character's screen [C] and go through the options to spend your points. I noticed that certain abilities cost 2 or more points but I was only getting one point to spend and if I tried to save it (ie not use it) the "next" button to take me forward in the upgrade, didn't come alight and clicking on its dead grey form did not move me to the next phase. I haven't got that far into the game as yet, characters are about level 6-7, so I can only assume that either there will be things that gain me additional points, more than one, or that I have to not upgrade on gaining a Level but wait until I gain another Level and then spend the points available to me. If the latter is true I am not for it, if you gain enough experience to level-up you should get at least enough XP points to spend on what is now available to you.
If the former is correct, it hasn't happened yet abut as I say I am currently only between levels 6 & 7, so perhaps I haven't ventured far enough in to trigger that mechanic yet.
Character creation is excellent with many different Races, male and female, with a massive variety of things you can do to them to make them more beautiful, evil-looking, hard, gentle, sweet & innocent or pass by on the other side of the road to tough etc. You can easily spend 30 minutes or more (or less if you aren't particular in your character) creating the right hero for you. You also get to select a party of four other characters to join you, just like picking a team for a mission in C&C or CoD except that at the end of the mission in PoE2 you cannot change out your partners for different ones.
Character Classes are augmented by sub-classes. This is another reason creating a character is worth taking all the time you wish over. It really isn't worth rushing it.
If, like me, you manage to get your entire party wiped out you can thank the designers for building in an auto save mechanism that saves for you as you go. You do not have to remember to click on a [Save] button, nor do you have to be at a certain monument or Town NPC etc. This auto-save is great because you can simply restart the game at any of the possible save slots available to you or simply restart the game from the beginning.
Real-Time games can be a pain if you are not quick on the keyboard so the [Pause] ability is a welcome one. It isn't unique to this game but it is a major bonus as it gives you the chance to survey the land, make a decision, even go and make a cup of coffee while you think about what to do and how to do it.
Unfortunately all my screenshots seem to be a bit dark which actually isn't a fair representation of the game, it is dark in places but it is also light enough for you to see what is happening. Finally the sounds in all of these games gets to be an earache after a while but the designers here have at least though about that and the background sound changes depending on what you are doing. Fighting, for example brings with it some truly dramatic music, while being in a village/Town there are happier, lighter sounds in the background. Character voices are strong and clear and independent.