Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 1
Last month, when I reviewed Pillars of Eternity, I was in the process of building up my main character, a two-handed sword wielding Fighter named Sturmgor the Slayer. As a PC gaming reviewer, I play a lot of games, but it must be noted that I managed to get Sturmgor up to a pretty high level; a testament to how many hours I sunk into Pillars of Eternity. The original game was a throwback to old-school, isometric PC gaming and hooked many folks with its brilliant combination of deep, story-driven gameplay, interesting combat mechanics, and immersive graphics and sound.
When I heard that its developers, Obsidian Entertainment, were planning on an expansion, I was pretty excited to see what was coming next. Keeping in line with their old-school approach, Obsidian was set to release this new expansion, titled The White March – Part One, as a full-fledged expansion with a ton of new content, not just a few meager offerings just as most companies do today in the form of miniscule DLCs.
I’d heard we’d be getting new character classes, new exciting quests (including first-ever bounty missions), interesting new members to join our parties, new abilities and magic, and the introduction of fascinating new NPC characters. Sounded good enough, right? Well, when I’d finally gotten my Pillars of Eternity party members to certain levels, I installed The White March – Part One and fired it up…
My expectation: What I more or less assumed was going to happen was that the expansion was going to be similar to traditional expansion packs, where the main storyline continues throughout the new material. Tales of the Sword Coast was an excellent example of this, as it furthered the narrative of Baldur’s Gate without a hitch. They were essentially two leaves of the same vine.
The reality: The White March – Part One is more of a collection of new quests and side quests (with the new bounties thrown in for good measure) that have very little to do with the original game, and as such it was a little disconcerting to discover this. That’s not to say that the expansion is at odds with Pillars of Eternity, but having to go back and integrate it by loading up your old pre-endgame save was a little wonky, and felt sort of artificial.
A large portion of The White March – Part One’s gameplay is in the form of heavy-dialogue encounters. On the surface, that sounds great to PC gaming folks like myself who enjoy narrative-driven games, but in reality the conversations led to conflict and eventual combat the majority of the time. There were a few times when my party was able to resolve an encounter through diplomatic means but that was a rare occurrence. I think the developers counted on combat taking up a larger amount of the gameplay time, especially to stretch out a typical expansion’s leaner amount of material available as compared to its main game. Or, maybe they just felt that swords slashing through armor and arrows and spells flying through the air are more of what people want nowadays, rather than peacefully resolving matters of potential contention.
However, there is a hefty amount of brand new content to be had here (about 20 hours in all) so players will have plenty to do in this new frozen realm. There’s a compelling main campaign to go through, along with several secondary quests, and a number of smaller side-missions to be carried out. I won’t spoil anything here for those who haven’t played it yet, but The White March – Part One also introduces bounty quests which can be quite daunting, ramping up the difficulty for more powerful parties.
Two new party members are introduced including an ethically compromised thief whose soul has been trapped within an android-like body, and a rather stoic monk with some interesting outlooks (you’ll have to see for yourself). Also, new abilities like lone-stealth, cross-class ability usage, and a new level cap (to level 14) are included, along with new weapon types and spells.
Just as with Pillars of Eternity, the graphics are on point and look amazing. Every suit of armor, battle ax, sword, and spell effect is beautifully actualized. There were times when I felt like I was playing a digitized version of an old table-top RPG where the AI was the Dungeon Master. The frigid environments were well-crafted and give you the feeling of actually being in a harsh, frozen land, where fire and warmth are scarce. The denizens and monsters also fit well within the landscape – from lumbering Ogres to flesh-rending wolves, everything seems dangerous in this new frost-bitten, unforgivable realm. The score was also well done, and fits perfectly with the high-fantasy setting.
I’m sort of split about recommending The White March – Part One. On one hand it’s not so much a traditional expansion in that it literally expands the storyline of the main game, but it does offer new players a lot to discover. Is it necessary to pick up if you already played through Pillars of Eternity? No. Is it a fun, thrilling ride in its own sake? Sure, but just don’t expect it to rival some of the best RPG expansions that we’ve seen in the past. I, for one, am waiting to see if the upcoming Part Two makes a more compelling argument for purchase.
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