Obsidian Entertainment, best known for its Black Isle Studios heritage and its work on hit titles like Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II, is inching closer to delivering its Kickstarter promise. It has just kicked off the backer beta testing phase for Pillars of Eternity, a game that gives a nod to Black Isle's hit classics but at the same time introduces things that are totally new.
Pillars of Eternity is one of those high-profile Kickstarter-funded games, managing to rake in almost $4 million, a feat that was surpassed half a year later by inXile Entertainment's Torment: Tides of Numenera, which itself was quickly dethroned by Veronica Mars. Perhaps it helped that both games drew from a rich history (inXile's Interplay Productions, which owned Obisidian's Black Isle) and had bigger than life names behind them, like rockstar game designer Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate).
Pillars of Eternity is unabashedly old school in its clothing. The visual aesthetic, parts of the game mechanics, and the overall goal of the game are designed to stay true to the Infinity Engine games of old, used in classics Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. That said, Obsidian isn't simply going for nostalgia and has injecting things, not to mention a completely new world, that the old Infinity games didn't have.
The world, the theme, and the RPG rules are completely new, as Obsidian wanted and needed to be free from the shackles of D&D (since it would also be prohibitively expensive for a Kickstarter-funded game to buy a license from Wizards of the Coast). Sure there are elves and dwarves and humans of course, but there are completely new races in here as well. Character classes aren't completely different from your standard tropes, but there is just enough uniqueness in their approach and implementation to make them distinct from D&D classes, which makes them also interesting and memorable. Battles will employ a "Real-time with pause" (RTwP) mechanic, not because the Infinity Engine used that, but because it was what majority of the backers voiced out, which was taken into consideration by the game design team.
Pillars of Eternity is rolling out in limited beta, via Steam, to Kickstarter backers who pledged $110 or more. This version of the game really focuses on getting players to test out game mechanics, classes, and game features without divulging much of the game's plot. So even if this leaks out to non-backers, nothing will be spoiled. The game is still set to launch late 2014. It will be an interesting game to keep an eye on, to see if Obsidian's magic touch will put this game up there in the annals of history or if it will end up being a very niche title that was spurred purely by nostalgia..