Deep dive with Pillars of Eternity project lead Josh Sawyer: The full interview

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How much have you talked about the story? How much are you willing to talk about the story?

JS: Not at all.

Great, that’s easy. Just dragons.

JS: Yeah.

BA: There might or might not be dragons in this game.

An army of dragons, I hope.

JS: We put a lot of time into developing the story. It’s going to be cool.

AB: We are talking about the world though, so we are discussing what the world’s about, what the setting is...

JS: This area is—it’s a colonial area. So one of the things we want to do to make it a little different than a normal fantasy world is this is a little bit later than most fantasy worlds are tech-wise. It’s closer to the early Renaissance era, so you have things like firearms and stuff like that. This area is a colonial era, more like a United States/Canada type of environment where the people that colonized it have had a rough past with the natives who live here, and only recently have they settled their disputes, they gained their independence, and part of that independence is that they’re practicing this scientific field of study called Animancy, and that’s the study of souls. Souls are a big deal in this world because people know that reincarnation happens, they don’t know a whole lot about it. They know that a person’s soul has a large influence on how they behave and who they are and things like that.

Pillars of Eternity

So Animancers are like the biologists of the soul. They study that stuff and they try to figure out ways they can understand and manipulate souls. And before this era of time, this was very taboo. There were a lot of religious prohibitions against it, there were a lot of political forces that were against it. Now that these countries in this part of the world are independent, they’re like “We should study this stuff. We think we can do a lot of good with this. We can fix insanity. We can adjust a person’s personality flaws. We can do all this stuff, and more importantly we can understand the nature of life and death and reincarnation.” Pretty important.

But there are still people within the country and outside the country that think this is morally wrong. That even if it’s not morally wrong, it’s something that the gods will punish people for studying. They think that there is bad news coming for the people that live here because of continued exploration of this technology.

And there are cool things that have happened. People have found out how to adjust and influence a person’s soul and personality through this. But there are also catastrophically bad things that have happened—created monsters and horrible creatures from it.

So it’s highly contentious. It’s an area of high trade and cultural interaction which gives us a cool opportunity to show these cultures and their differing viewpoints—both to each other in general and also regarding this technology.

But yeah, that’s kind of the vibe we’re going for with what this area is. Kind of a frontier, new independent nation, that’s experimenting with this technology that’s very contentious in the world.

So with firearms in this, what’s the advantage of using a bow and arrow?

JS: Bows tend to be more accurate and they reload way, way faster.

Is this old musket style?

JS: Yeah, they’re matchlock style. It’s great at the beginning of combat, you get big crits. You hear that old-fashioned crack, blam-o, and then your dude is like, “Well.”

It is cool when you find an isolated guy. Also, they’re extremely loud. Bows are pretty quiet. And we do have different actions create different sounds. If you’re sneaking around a dungeon and you have someone like, “Hey man,” [gunshot noise], everyone comes running.

And then the other things with guns, and this is sort of a side effect, but wizards—one of their main abilities is Arcane Veil which can dramatically increase their defense very fast. It’s usually used when they’re hanging back and casting spells and someone gets through the front lines and beelines towards them, they can use Arcane Veil to put up this barrier that’s pretty tough but only lasts long enough for the party fighter to come over and pound the guy’s face in. But bullets travel so fast that Arcane Veils can’t stop them, so guns are kind of known as wizard-killers, so they have that benefit to really pound those guys pretty fast.

With souls being a large part of this, how much is Eternity grounded in this—I don’t want to say hard fantasy necessarily, but this real-world, colonial area? Are we going to be visiting metaphysical realms?

JS: You’ll have to see. That is at the heart of a lot of the mystery. People understand that souls go somewhere else. They leave the world and go somewhere else. But they don’t exactly know where they go or what happens when they get there. And even though people have figured out how to tap into the power of their own souls to do all these crazy things, they still lack a lot of understanding about what exists outside of themselves and outside of life. When these souls disappear—there are lost souls in the world that sort of stay there for various reasons, but they know that eventually most of these souls get sucked away somewhere else and then later they come back into the world born into people again. Refreshed and renewed as reincarnated souls.

But like, how that happens, where do they go, how is that controlled, who does that, is it the gods? Those are all things that are a big mystery to people. That’s why Animancy, a lot of people are like, “Yeah, let’s foxing crack this open and figure it out,” and a lot of priests are like, “Eh, that sounds like things we’re not meant to understand or know and the gods will get mad at us.”

Pillars of Eternity

If you’re playing a priest character, would you roleplay against Animancy?

JS: Maaaaybe.

Or is it open in general?

JS: Maybe. And some priests think that it’s actually fine and okay. One of the good things about companions is that these companions all have some stake in what’s going on in the world and so their opinions can become a springboard for discussion. You can have that back-and-forth banter with them.

For example, there is going to be a priest companion and that priest companion can give their opinion on how they feel about what’s going on and if you’re a priest or whatever you can give your own opinion. You can respond to it.

Another character who’s a soldier from the Dyrwood, which is where you’re from, he might have a very different opinion on the gods. The Dyrwood was attacked by the manifestation of a god in the Saints War, so a lot of people have mixed feelings about, “How much do we care what the gods think?”

When we make companions, we want them to have a direct—it’s not necessarily your stake, but they have a stake in what’s going on. And the fact that it’s not necessarily your stake gives them a different perspective.

Do you have class specific dialogue options? If you are playing a priest, would you have priestly things to say occasionally?

JS: Yeah, occasionally. Class-specific responses are less common than ones that are triggered by ability scores, but yeah, we’ll have some.

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