Pillars of Eternity

A Step Back in Time: Project Eternity

Project Eternity is a return to the dark and punishing world of the isometric RPG. Thousands of people wanted it. Chris Avellone promised to deliver it. Thanks to Kickstarter, it looks like we're going to get it.

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To the surprise of many, though not Avellone himself, backers from every walk of life threw their money at Project Eternity. From older gamers looking to rekindle dimming memories of what they consider 'proper RPGs', to younger players eager to find out what all the fuss is about, it seems like everyone wanted a piece of the action.

Avellone has talked about some of his early concerns for Project Eternity. He recently revealed that crowd funding was the only way the game could have gotten made. According to the man himself, phrases such as 'Hardcore', 'PC only' and 'old-school' send publishers running. For Project Eternity to happen he needed to appeal directly to the consumer, effectively asking for payment for something that didn't yet exist.

The developer's was faith in crowd funding was largely due to the successful campaign of Wasteland 2, a game he became involved with because of the finance it received. However, nobody, not even Avellone, could have predicted the whopping amount of money his Eternity appeal would generate. Nearly $4,000,000 was pledged on Kickstarter and a further $150,000 through PayPal donations.

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A crowd funded game that's taken millions is always going to attract interest. As one of the most successful Kickstarter games ever, Project Eternity stands at a strange juxtaposition. It's a new instalment of something old.

Clearly not phased by the challenge of returning to a sub-genre many remember fondly through rose tinted nostalgia goggles, the Director and Writer recently discussed how funding for his fantasy RPG was being put to use.

A throwback to the PC RPG games of old, Project Eternity promises to be an old school adventure featuring the best elements of some of the genre's most fondly remembered titles. As an experienced veteran of isometric RPGs, Avellone has all the credentials to create something special, something gamers want.

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He has spoken of incorporating the best of several classic games. The deep and atmospheric dungeon aesthetics of Icewind Dale, a game praised for fantastic hand-drawn level design and impressive attention to detail. The storytelling and interactivity of Planescape: Torment, which continues to be idolised for its multifaceted story and dialogue. The epic scope of Baldur's Gate, still considered by many PC aficionados to be the most influential RPG ever created.

Whilst keen to recapture the look and feel of games developed on Bioware's Infinity Engine, Avellone revealed that the game would be developed using Unity to reduce licensing costs (using their own engine would've meant paying for middleware, making the project unfeasible). Unity has proved itself pretty versatile, it's the go-to engine for many game developers on a budget. According to Project Eternity's main man, Unity is robust and detailed enough for the development team to create the game they want, even a replica of the Infinity Engine made on Unity.

Amongst the early content that has been shown off are landscape designs, dungeon concepts, enemy designs, a world map and a huge city called Defiance Bay. Everything looks just as it should have done back in the heyday of PC role playing, but there's a certain inkling that given modern technology a few surprises are going to be thrown into the features.

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Party-based exploration and combat will take players on epic quests through huge dungeon environments that offer many floors and plenty of challenge (including one that was expanded further and further as stretch goals were hit - see the graphic at the end). Companions will be well considered and add scope to the storylines, locations will change and evolve based on player actions. Combat will provide plenty of flexibility. More than 50 spells, and a further 50 abilities are available for players to choose from as they level up.

Realtime-with-pause tactical combat will evoke memories of having to leave the screen to gather composure during fights. Scrapping with beasties and bad guys will have aspects akin to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulesets that earlier iso-RPGs were famous for. However, Avellone has stressed that Project Eternity won't strictly adhere to D&D traditions.

Breaking away from Dungeons & Dragons aspects is a bold move. Many fans of classic role-playing are fans because of those very features. Explaining why he felt it was a positive step, Avellone explained that leaving the D&D world behind increases narrative potential and design possibilities. The plot and setting will be completely new. Traditional factions will be reinterpreted, one example is of a head-shot popping, bow-and-arrow wielding, Eskimo Dwarf; a character that couldn't exist in the Dungeons & Dragons world. Another benefit is that, with no constraint to return the world to how it was before players found it, actions will have major consequences and a significant impact on environments.

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The main character will be created according to player preference; class, race, culture, traits, skills and appearance will be amongst the options available. Having created their character, the hero will be joined by an adventuring party of 5 members that players can control. Players will order characters in combat, movement and dialogue.

There's something of a revival going on with old-school RPGs. Traditional, heartfelt, PC-only games have found a lot of success on Kickstarter. Long awaited Torment sequel, Torment: Tides of Numenera, smashed its target, setting the record for highest funded Kickstarter game to date. Wasteland 2, a sequel to the game that spawned Fallout, is well into development.

It's possible developers won't need to appeal to the public for much longer. According to Avellone the response these projects has garnered is forcing publishers to take a second look. "Publishers have paid attention... and they are aware of the success these projects have had," he went on explaining the development cost presents a much smaller risk than a lot of AAA titles. If what Avellone says is accurate, it looks like publishers have realised there's profit to be made from tapping into the old-school market. "I did not realise there would be that sort of change from publishers, but apparently there are a number of publishers that realise that doing an Eternity-style game is a good fit for them, and I'm thankful for that."

Console players hoping to get a port of the game will be disappointed. Avellone has mentioned that Project Eternity, which he intends to turn into a franchise, wouldn't work on console due to the limitation of developing for those systems.

For people eager to support the project there's still an opportunity to donate. A 'Slacker Backer' option is available on the Project Eternity website.

Pillars of Eternity
Pillars of Eternity

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"Obsidian's invented a time machine. We're back to the brilliance of the 90s RPG, with pre-rendered environments, isometric viewpoints and intricate stories with tons of text."

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