Swords, spells and sea shanties - it's a pirate's life for those who venture into Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, the sequel to 2015's role-playing cult favourite game Pillars of Eternity.
The game continues from the ending of its predecessor. You, the main character, are a Watcher - a being who can see the spirits of the dead.
Unbeknown to you, a long-dead god has been snoozing under the fortress you called home in the first game. His awakening leaves you robbed of your life force as he makes his way across the continent and the seas, leaving a trail of destruction in his path. So you follow him across the Deadfire peninsula, gathering a motley crew of party members to help your quest.
The game's storyline starts off simply, but quickly grows into a deep, complex narrative that marries political intrigue with mythology and fantasy. As you set off to stop the god of life and rebirth from wreaking havoc on the world, different factions will seek your assistance to further their own goals.
The native Huanas want to preserve their way of life from external oppressors like the money-minded Valians, who are colonising them to mine natural resources. The Rauatais want to unify the disparate islands to form a military empire. Meanwhile, bands of pirates are causing chaos on the seas and within their own ranks, as young scurvy upstarts attempt to overthrow established pirate hierarchy.
The story-telling and world-building is top-notch: expansive, interconnected and full of intrigue and quite reminiscent of Game of Thrones, but with its own distinctive flavour. The game world feels lush and alive, with a whole host of characters each with his own motivation, agenda and backstory.
PRICE: $42 (PC)
GENRE: Role-playing game
Deadfire throws a multitude of options at you from the start, which can be incredibly daunting to those unfamiliar with role-playing games (RPG).
From the get-go, you get to pick from 11 choices the class you want to play. You can also combine two classes into a "multiclass" character, giving you 55 more options - a staggering number and just at the first step of the game.
But while a lot is thrown at the player, those who can wrap their heads around character builds and combat options will be richly rewarded.
The multitude of options extends throughout the gameplay. There is never one clear-cut solution to the many problems you will face. Diplomacy, bribery, intimidation, straight-up combat and murder - all these are viable, depending on how you choose to role-play your character and crew and what skills you equip them with as you level up.
You will get plenty of opportunities to make these decisions as you commandeer your ship, the Defiant, from isle to isle.
Navigating the high seas is a perilous affair in the Deadfire peninsula because as you will be the target of marauding pirates looking to pillage your hard-earned booty.
Ship-to-ship combat plays out in a tactical, turn-based chess-like fashion, where you attempt to manoeuvre the Defiant into a position to fire its cannons while avoiding enemy attacks.
The ship navigation and combat will not be favoured by everyone. Personally, I could have done without it as it felt unnecessarily unwieldy and detracted from the game's pacing.
I felt more at home on land and traversing the varied islands with my party, from merchant towns to exotic ruins.
Building a well-rounded team is one of the greatest pleasures of the game, toppedonly by seeing the team operate as a well-oiled unit in battle.
The combat is the best part of the game. It is done in real-time, but you can pause to give party members instructions. Doing so is essential because everything can be occurring at the same time.
It is extremely strategic and satisfying to pull off combos, react to your enemies and see the clanging of swords in combat as spells whizz overhead.
The excitement of combat thus makes the narrative a bit dull, even though the lore is rich, detailed and well-written. It just feels like it can be a lot to take in at times, especially if you're flitting from island to island doing multiple quests all at once.
The pacing in between battles can be quite slow, particularly during parts that take place in large towns and where you are dealing largely with political intrigue and business negotiations.
• Verdict: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire will satisfy the itch in any old-school gamer for a deep, story-rich RPG that he can sink his teeth into for hours.