Tucked away in a tiny grey room near the back of one of the LA Convention Center’s massive E3 show floors, Pillars of Eternity developers Obsidian Entertainment treat a few invited press to a special demo of its first expansion, The White March – Part 1. There’s no hands-on here, unfortunately. Instead, we’re shown instead a live play-through of one part of the expanded content.
It’s clear from the moment the demo begins that The White March – Part 1 is inspired by the RPG classic Icewind Dale. A party of mostly familiar characters wanders through a snowy landscape on their way to an old dwarven forge that contains the key to making the legendary Durgan steel. We see windswept chilly villages, blood spotting the snow like leopard spots, and monsters that pour our of the woodwork to assail our party. I notice immediately that I don’t recognize one of the party members.
That’s because The White March – Part 1 will introduce two new companions, The Devil of Caroc (a Rogue), and Zahua the Monk. Of the former, the Devil of Caroc, we learned that it’s a murderous soul trapped in the body of a construct. That certainly sounds like Pillars of Eternity to me. Both companions will have their own stories and quest arcs within the content of The White March. Other party members will also react to the events of the expansion, although their story quests will remain unchanged. Obsidian is also increasing the number of options in the scripted scenes that will appear in The White March, expanding the possibilities to succeed or fail on a per-character basis.
It looks like there’s a lot of new story content as well. The White March – Part 1, will be, as the name implies, the first part of a two-part series, detailing the events in this frozen land. Obsidian is aiming to match the size of the expansion to the original Baldur’s Gate, called Tales of the Sword Coast. For those that remember that game, you’ll know that means quite a bit of new content.
The story of The White March will happen in the middle of the Pillars of Eternity story, and its regions will be added to the world map, allowing you to seamlessly move from Pillars of Eternity content to The White March content and back. And while a middle-level party can complete the content, if you bring a late-game party into the new areas, there will be the option to face more challenging foes.
Besides the new story and companions, new combat and character options are the star of the show, and there’s plenty to talk about as the party dives headlock into the fray. Fortunately, Producer Brandon Adler is on hand to explain what we’re seeing.
First off, he tells us, the level cap has been raised from 12 to 14, allowing for the introduction of new abilities and a new tier of fantastic spells. One new top-level priest spell cast by Durance brought down a divine hammer that, unlike his lower level spells, repeatedly bashed the ground in area, dealing damage and knocking enemies prone. While there are no new classes, there will be some cross-class options opening up, such as the opportunity to take certain abilities from other classes, although we understand these will be limited.
Obsidian has also listened to the fans asking for more control over party AI, and a new system will allow players to set the AI function of their companions, in case they don’t like controlling every little action undertaken. Each class will have its own AI behaviour options reflecting that class’ role in the party. Party members will now also be able to individually enter and exit stealth, allowing for more tactical movement and flanking manoeuvres.
One new and exciting addition is the inclusion of “soulbound” weapons. These are powerful artifact weapons that can be equipped on any character. These weapons react to the wielder’s class, changing their function and effects. These weapon will also grow in power with use, upgrading their abilities. We saw one such soulbound two-handed sword equsipped on the fighter Eder. With every hit, it had a 50% chance to cast a damaging priest spell on his enemies.
While the demo was brief, I was impressed with what we saw. I look forward to getting our hands on Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 1, which is “coming soon.” We’re as confused as you about what that might mean.
We’ll have more Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 1 news as it happens.