Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 2 Review – A Singularly Strong Second Act

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Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 2
Paradox Interactive

Back in March of last year (2015), Paradox Interactive swept the PC gaming world by storm with its crowd funded modern classic hit, Pillars of Eternity. Supporters of indie titles such as myself saw it as not only an incredible return to the old school days of RPG classics such as Baldur’s Gate and the like, but the developer’s experience was also a sort of Rocky-like story of an underdog pulling off the seemingly impossible with limited funds, especially when compared to the triple A game developers and publishers with their deep pockets. Although I gave it a high score the only thing that really stopped me from giving it an even higher one was the fact that it couldn’t be shared with friends. In other words it was a single player only affair with no co-op, and being able to play the game with a party of real life people was something many of the original greats let you do.

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I reviewed the original game’s expansion, titled Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 1, during the tail end of 2015, right after its release. At that time, I had stated that for me, the expansion was a serviceable attempt at trying to measure up to the original game. It didn’t really seem like a full-fledged expansion, but rather a DLC with some content cobbled together, including a loose collection half-hearted quests (you can read the review here). Just six months on the heels of that offering and Paradox has rolled out its next chapter in the Pillars universe, aptly titled Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 2.

Part 2 begins where Part 1 ended. Your party of brave, intrepid adventurers had just saved (spoiler alert) the fair little hamlet of Stalwart from certain destruction by firing up an ancient, dwarven-crafted forge that had been lying dormant for years, deep within a range of nearby mountains. Everything seemed just in the world again and the town’s citizenry fawned over you and praised you for your efforts. From there your weary party takes a well-deserved rest and that’s how you commence with Part 2.

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Suddenly, you have a vision (you are after all – a Watcher, someone who can see things and events beyond reality) which shows thousands of marauding soldiers stampeding down from the snow-capped mountains of Drywood that surround the town, and crush it’s fortifications into ashes. This vicious army doesn’t stop from there, however, and soon their malevolent masses go on to consume the rest of the world of Eora (Pillars of Eternity’s setting) in a cataclysmic, end of days-like catastrophe. That seems like something beyond your normal, run-of-the-mill nightmares, now doesn’t it?

This much more epic backstory, where the very existence of the world hangs in the balance, is a far cry from Part 1, which was absolutely tame and unexciting by way of comparison. The first expansion was really a sort of a warm up, an incomplete chapter that sets of the second part, and a lukewarm one at that. Even in light of it being used as a precursor, Part 1 was still a rather boring, grind-y experience, and I stand by the mediocre score that I branded it with. It still could have done its set up in a much more engaging way, and it felt like a collection of combat-based encounters as opposed to a full-on, high fantasy adventure.

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Part 2 makes up for it largely by offering some truly inspired writing and a return to form, much more reminiscent to the original Pillar of Eternity. It features a good number of completely new regions for your by now, very powerful party to explore, and they’re mainly located in the northern areas around the town of Stalwart. Just as in Part 1 there is still a good amount of backtracking and revisiting the same areas again one or two times, but overall I didn’t find it annoying to an extreme degree. It also gives your party members the ability to talk their way out of potentially conflictive encounters if they have the requisite skill to do so. If not, they’re going to be facing off against some pretty high level foes.

Speaking of combat, Part 2 does offer your party some pretty powerful weapons and items with which to battle said opponents with, granted you earn them as either the spoils of war or as gifts for completing tasks. You can also be awarded them by figuring out some of the puzzles littered throughout the expansion. Combat is handled in the same, real-time-with-pause, tactical manner as in the previous games, although the decisions you make are of a much higher scale and magnitude since you and your enemies are much more capable of wanton, mass destruction.

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The graphics of Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 2 are very well done. Although they haven’t been upgraded or tweaked since the original game, you can tell that the developers, having spent a lot of time developing their world already, are really evolving its unique style with all sorts of added detail and minutia. In other words, this is a labor of love and pretty much the opposite of the many cash-grabs and pay-to-win types of tripe you find in the gaming industry these days. Indeed, the whole Pillars of Eternity series fits in line with the original RPGs of the 90s and early 2000s that it clearly drew inspiration from.

The pre-rendered backdrops are some of the most visually stunning I have ever seen, and a special mention must be made of the serene and dream-like Abbey of the Fallen Moon setting that your band of adventurers will eventually come across. It epitomizes the care and attention to detail that Paradox Interactive have taken with their retro-revisionist series.

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In all, I found Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 2 a much meatier and engrossing experience than Part 1. It offers a much more compelling and epic storyline which make your characters feels a lot more consequential, as if they really have a big hand in—and are pivotal to—saving the world. In practical terms, Part 2 offers around another fifteen hours of adventuring, about as much as Part 1, although this time around things are much more exciting. That’s a lot of regions to explore, combat to be had, and story-telling to be lapped up, and as a total expansion (in two parts) I found The White March a great experience overall. I hope you do too.

SCORE: 83%

Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 2 has some of the best retro-inspired graphics I’ve ever seen, but you may want to invest in a beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to get the most of them:

 

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