When people throw around comparisons like “will be the new Baldur’s Gate”, it perks my ears up. Of course, being a long time gamer, BG was a fundamental part of training my young gamer mind. Pillars of Eternity does not disappoint, although I really hesitate to even try to compare it to BG or any of the other Infinity Engine games other than Planescape: Torment. Pillars has a much greater focus on narrative, world building and character development. The underlying RPG system is not based on any edition of Dungeons and Dragons and as of right now feels like it gets to about half as powerful as you would in an Infinity Engine game.
In the same way that Planescape provided a new and very unfamiliar setting for us, PoE supplies a familiar medieval fantasy world. It’s not Faerun, but that world has decades of history under it’s skin which is why I hesitate to compare the game to Baldur’s Gate. After all, I can’t make a guess if that series (or Icewind Dale) would have done as well if it didn’t have a pre-established world or rules to build upon and a lot of the complaints to be heard about Pillars is how the rules and world are uninspired. For myself, the story has me immediately drawn in and I’m really enjoying peeling back the layers of the world.
The game is built to look precisely like RPGs of old. Beautifully painted backgrounds, not entirely voiced dialogue and a difficulty to the game that feels classic (if all over the place sometimes). There are a few unique features to the rule set, mostly to do with the new classes that have no D&D analogue and with a completely different approach to things like enchanting and skills. Enchanting can be done at any time, simply by right clicking the item you want to enchant and hoping you have the materials needed to add a particular enchantment. There are only a handful of skills (D&D usually has a bunch, although the BG series and IWD 1 had fewer because they were based in 2nd edition) and the biggest class is the Chanter. You end up telling stories to buff your party (or debuff your foes).
Not everything is rosy (although my glasses are certainly tinted that way, it’s not enough to miss problems). The game is from Obsidian, so expect some bugs (only one major bug that I’ve heard of, but I haven’t had it yet). I dislike that you have to be in ‘sneak’ mode (it’s called ‘scout’ mode) to spot hidden things, because it means that if you don’t make a rogue-type character to start there is a lot of XP/hidden items you’ll miss out on early in the game. Because the difficulty has no set levels (‘x’ area is tough for ‘y’ level, in most games) it sometimes can be frustrating as you clear an area out only to run into a specifically difficult foe.
Something I want to note, is how lovely the combat is balanced. Not each encounter, but the pacing between them. One problem that the older D&D games have is that you can rest without any problems excepting the occasional wandering monster. In Pillars, you need to either be somewhere you normally can rest (like an Inn) or have camping equipment which is limited by difficulty (6/4/2 for easy/normal/hard). Now couple that with an damage system where your character has a few dozen hit points but endurance reaching towards a hundred or so.
Damage usually comes off of endurance first (although some weapons pierce this to go directly for HP) and endurance restores automatically after combat. This ensures going between combats you’re never totally exhausted but since magic can’t repair hit point damage, you need to use tactics to ensure you can go for more than a few fights without needing to sleep. Spells also only come back after sleeping, although spell casters have ‘encounter’ abilities as well, so you need to carefully manage Hit Points/Spells so that you can endure more than a few fights otherwise you’ll end up using all of your camping equipment and be unable to rest.
Thus, combat in Pillars has macro management and micro management aspects. There are few games where I’m forced to ask myself if I want to commit to a tactic because fights that have yet to come might require them. It’s awesome to see the developers have done something to make them stand out from the heavy pedigree of Roleplaying Games.