For just about every project that Obsidian does, there are always a handful of ideas that did not make the cut. Some of these are placed on the proverbial shelf, to be looked at later when they could not come up with fresher ideas, or when they work on another game. Some others are placed on the backburner, because Obsidian’s people still think that they are good enough to be implemented in the game, albeit as part of expansions.
Unfortunately though, the backburner does not cook these ideas well.
The end of the first part of the White March expansion hinted at the threat of massively powerful inhuman things, which were capable of taking on a heavily armed dwarven fortress and slaughtering its inhabitants. That fortress happens to be Durgan’s Battery, the fortress that the player character and friends restored at the end of the first part.
At the start of the second part, the once-dying village of Stalwart has grown significantly and suddenly, thanks/no thanks to the lure of Durgan steel, arguably the highest quality steel in the Eastern Reach of Eora. There are tensions simmering among the local-born Stalwart villagers, which had only gotten worse after an army of Readcerans had come by, demanding the surrender of the battery.
This would not have mattered much to the protagonist, except for him/her having received a vision of an incoming (and not entirely human) army that would lay waste to the White March. The protagonist being a Watcher, this vision is enough as an excuse for him/her to investigate things.
NOT REALLY ABOUT OVERARCHING STORY:
The first part of White March at least has the narrative excuse that there are Leaden Key operatives that had been seen trying to infiltrate the Battery. The second part excludes elements of the overarching story in the base game, thus leading to the complaint that the story is not tied well to the main one.
Indeed, having played the game, it would seem that the story in the expansion is meant to be exposition about the relationships between the gods, specifically two of them, and how this affected the mortal realm.
MUST HAVE WHITE MARCH PART I:
Understandably, the player needs to have finished the first part of the White March expansion in order to continue with the second. The problem is that the two parts have their own price tags and are sold separately. Of course, the digital stores that carry the game include warnings that the first part is needed, in addition to the base game.
MORE SNOWY PLACES, BUT MORE LIGHT SHOWS:
Being the second part of an expansion that takes place in the White March, this DLC introduces more locations with plenty of snow. Some players might find these to be a bit tiresome by then.
On the other hand, these new locales have notable landmarks. There are a few with things that have burning flames, for example. These are of course excuses for the game’s graphics designers to inject more particle effects into the game. Fortunately, these particle effects are not particularly taxing on computers, or are at least less so than the frosty winds blowing through these places.
As a side note, it would appear that the game’s designers have noticed that there might be one too many snowy places that have been added to the world map. There is one new place on the world map that happens to be the thematic opposite of a barren wintery land: a steaming, fecund bog. Coincidentally, it is a continuation of the side story of archmage Concelhaut’s rivalry with other archmages.
MORE DUNGEONS AND LAIRS:
In the developer commentary of the game, the game’s designers have mentioned that they resort to using dungeons in order to expand a locale without increasing its horizontal area.
There are even more of these in the second White March expansion. If there is any excuse for the game designers to introduce floors above or below ground, they will have it. There is also at least one cave in just about every outdoors locale in the frozen wilds. This can seem a bit clichéd at times, or even tiresome, as these additional maps within maps are used to pad out the player’s progress through the expansion.
RETURN TO PREVIOUSLY TRAVELLED PLACES:
For better or worse, there are quite a lot of gameplay content that requires the player’s party to return to places that they have already gone to. They might even have to return to places in the base game.
Some of these pieces of content come in the form of some additional bounty quests, some of which might not seem convincing. For example, there are bounties on brigand groups that have been described as (somehow) far-ranging, despite being so notorious that their attempts to travel afar would have been curtailed by state military patrols.
The other pieces of content come in the form of requirements to unlock the next upgrades for some soul-bound items (especially those introduced in this expansion). For example, there is an item that requires the party to return to some place, where somehow a band of bad spirits have appeared.
These return journeys are best experienced in the first fresh playthrough of the game, when the player could plan efficient travels throughout the Eastern Reach. Other than that, there is the excuse of returning to these places to see if there had been any changes.
On the other hand, the most change that the player would see are the remarks by unnamed NPCs, or the idle statements of named NPCs when the player greets them.
The biggest problem with this gameplay content is the tedious backtracking, and the frequent loading of maps that the player would have to endure as part of the “return tours”.
There are some additional monster types that are introduced in this expansion, but many of them are based on the ones that are already in the base game or the first part of the expansion. For example, there are more powerful Skuldraks and Lagufaeth. As expected, these monsters happen to be more powerful than the lesser variants. They have the usual higher statistics, and plenty of new abilities.
Granted, these are not just palette swaps of existing monsters. Obsidian has made models for them, and as befitting their more powerful statures, they are more visually impressive than their lesser variants. For example, the new Lagufaeth have a lot more frills, and more colours on their scales too.
There are of course new monsters that are introduced, including the aforementioned inhuman army. In addition to having their own statistics and other gameplay details, they have models and animations of their own.
One of these monsters happens to be a reference to Obsidian’s next project at the time, which would turn out to be the second game, Deadfire. Obsidian’s fans might have been thrilled by this, but having a monster that is associated with fantastical oceans appear so far in-land might have been too much to believe, despite the narrative excuse that had been made for this.
MORE POWERFUL KITH ENEMIES:
Like the introduction of powerful kith enemies in the first part (namely the Torn Bannermen), the second part introduces more of these. Many of them are just as nasty as the Torn Bannermen. Incidentally, most of them happen to be the minions of the bosses whose heads that the player wants. These are, of course, there to test the player’s skill and familiarity at managing the party’s combat performance, and to reward the player for having taken on such powerful enemies.
MOST FIGHTS HAPPEN IN OPEN PLACES:
For better or worse, many of the combat encounters introduced in the second part of the expansion have the party fighting enemies in rather open places. Even indoors environments have wide corridors and large rooms. The doorways are also big enough to let more than two characters pass through.
This can be a problem to players who like to use chokepoints whenever they can. Furthermore, if the player is playing at the higher difficulty settings, he/she would be facing a lot more enemies. Thus, the player risks having party members flanked if the player could not summon enough reinforcements to even the odds.
The expansion adds abilities for character classes to use. Interestingly, they are a mix of low level and high level abilities.
To get the additional abilities that are obtainable at low levels, the player would have to use the re-roll service at inns to re-pick a character’s abilities. Some of the kith enemies in the expansion do have these abilities, but most kith enemies in the base game do not, thus giving the player’s party some edge against them.
As for the additional abilities that are high level, the level cap has been raised to 16 so as to have the player work towards some of them. Not all kith enemies have these abilities (mainly because they are not all level 16), so the player might want to have them so as to have an edge that enemies have not.
Some of the class-specific abilities will be described in their own sections.
DAMAGE OUTPUT- / SURVIVABILITY-ENHANCING ABILITIES:
Expectedly, the front-line classes gain abilities that make them more capable at combat. All of the Barbarian’s abilities are about inflicting more damage. The Fighter gets abilities that make him/her even more of a damage sponge.
The monk gains two more martial-arts-inspired abilities, which improve his/her capability against high-value targets. However, one of the monk’s new abilities is not as impressive as it sounds. The Long Pain Fist ability is coded like a spell that summons weapons into a character’s hands. In its case, the summoned weapons are coded as ranged weapons, which means that they do not count as the Monk’s fists even though it is described as “ranged” punches; this in turn means that they do not benefit from the Monk’s abilities that enhance his/her unarmed attacks.
The Rogue is a squishy character, yet is meant to be used on the front-lines due to how his/her bonus-damage abilities work. With this expansion, the Rogue gains abilities that increase his/her survivability, further enhance his/her damage output, and gets to grips quicker with enemies that the player wants killed.
SITUATIONAL ABILITIES FOR THE PALADIN:
The Paladin gains abilities that are rather situational. One of the abilities is meant to be used on the body of a fallen party member; having a combat plan that includes using this ability sounds like the player is already planning to fail. Another ability is meant to be used against summoned creatures, which would not be an issue if party members can kill their summoners early. The only additional ability for the Paladin that seems worthwhile is the Aegis of Loyalty, which makes the Paladin more reliable against mind-bending enemies.
Among the abilities introduced by the expansion, the Paladin’s are the most disappointing.
RANGER’S ANIMAL COMPANION IS NOW MORE RELIABLE:
The Ranger’s animal companion is practically an additional party member that helps even the odds in the matter of numerical superiority. However, the lack of customization and gear options for the animal companion means that it is a sub-par party member at best, and one that takes away resources like healing spells that could have been used on actual party members instead. Prior to this expansion, most players would likely be resigned to using the animal companion as disposable foil.
In this expansion, the Ranger gains early-game abilities that can considerably heal the animal companion and even revive it. This makes the animal companion much more dependable.
NEW SPELLS - FOREWORD:
The spellcasters of course gain new spells. As is often typical of expansions for fantasy RPGs, they get a lot more spells than the other classes do new abilities. The distribution of these additional spells among the spellcasters are not even though.
DISAPPOINTING FOCUS SPELLS:
The Cipher only gains two spells, neither of which is potent in practice. The better of the two is an area-effect buff that allows buffed characters to use the highest Defense rating among them, but it only lasts for 30 seconds; for such a Focus-expensive spell, 30 seconds are too little.
The other Focus spell is meant to help the Cipher gain more focus, but in an indirect way that also has considerable opportunity costs. It replaces another party member’s weapons with a pair of magical daggers. The magical daggers inflict Raw damage, which means that they cannot be resisted, but many other daggers happen to do more damage than these anyway.
The player could profit from this spell if the targeted party member has an affinity with daggers and two-weapon fighting, but again, the main problem is the short duration of the spell. It can be difficult to recoup the Focus cost of the spell within that time, during which the other party member could have been fighting with better daggers.
NATURAL AND DIVINE BOONS:
Druids and priests gain all (or almost all) spells of any level when they reach the appropriate character level, so they benefited the most from the additional stuff for spellcasters brought by this expansion.
Druids gain three very tactically useful and powerful offensive spells; one of them is practically a magical mobile bomb. One of the additional Druidic spell is a powerful buff for another party member.
The priest gains two spells that make party members more reliable against mind-bending or rooting enemies. He/She also gets a high-level spell that is practically a more powerful version of a pre-existing lower-level spell that can simultaneously heal party members and hurt enemies.
However, one of the additional spells for the Priest is disappointing; it is a spell that is used on a party member that is expected to go down. Like the aforementioned ability for the Paladin, the player is planning to fail if he/she intends to use this.
DEIFIC SYMBOL SPELLS:
There are complaints that the Priest’s divine allegiance does not matter much to the variety of spells that he/she has, especially when compared to counterparts in established fantasy IPs like Dungeons & Dragons. To address this complaint, five of the additional spells provided by this expansion are meant for the followers of specific gods. Each of the spells is for one of the gods that a Priest in Pillars of Eternity can pledge allegiance to. Each one has properties that are different from those of the others, but they are generally all area-effect spells that are meant to be used against enemies.
LOTS OF NEW WIZARDLY SPELLS:
The Wizard has the most spells in the base game, gets the most spells in the first part of the expansion, and yet again, gains the most from the second part. There are too many notable spells to be described here; suffice to say, all of them have varying levels of general-purpose utility and situational uses, just like other wizardly spells. Like the spells introduced in the first part of the expansion, the ones introduced in this one had been invented by famous/infamous archmages.
The Chanter finally gets an invocation that actually heals party members, and it is a relatively low-cost one too that can be had at a low character level.
The other two additional invocations comprise the new level 5 tier. They are expensive to use and happen to be mutually exclusive. One bolsters the Chanter’s direct damage output, whereas the other summons three very durable summons with considerable damage output of their own.
The Chanter also gets two additional phrases. They are not as impressive as the invocations though, mainly because they have situational uses. One of these increases damage against beast-type monsters. Although there are many of these enemies, selecting this instead of another phrase is a significant opportunity cost. These two phrases also have very long durations, which prevent the player from using expensive invocations.
ADDITIONAL SOUL-BOUND ITEMS:
The Soul-bound items that are introduced in this part of White March are perhaps the wildest ones around. Their upgrade requirements vary significantly from item to item, and some of these may even be different depending on the class of the character that they are bound to.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, some of their upgrade requirements are practically travelling busywork. They are different from the usual requirements of inflicting certain amounts of damage or killing a specific number of enemies of course, but they are no less tedious.
On the other hand, these Soul-bound items, together with those in the Deadfire pack that was introduced close to the release of this expansion, are some of the most powerful items in the game. They have benefits that other items do not have, such as +4 bonuses to attributes. This is just as well, because the player characters would eventually hit the level cap and no longer gain any abilities that make them stronger.
It also must be pointed out here that some of the requirements require the player to do something about situations that have otherwise been resolved in other ways. For example, there is a soul-bound item that demands the death of a powerful (and definitely not human) NPC in the first part of the expansion; the player could have achieved a peaceful resolution with this NPC, yet the upgrade requirement directs the player to kill it.
ADDITIONAL UNIQUE ITEMS:
There are also new unique items, though these are overshadowed by the significantly more powerful soul-bound items. On the other hand, if they are weapons or armor, these items can benefit from the upgrade option provided by the White Forge, which is the player’s reward for finishing the first part of the expansion. With some effort into locating the necessary resources, these unique items can be powered up to be almost as competitive as the soul-bound items. Certainly, they are the player’s options if the player does not wish to undertake the busywork to upgrade the soul-bound ones.
ADDITIONAL COMPANION – AND DISAPPOINTMENT:
The second part of the expansion introduces the last party member, Maneha; incidentally, she is of the barbarian class, the only class that had yet to have an official party member before this expansion. She is a coastal aumaua, and she comes from Rauatai, the same region that Kana Rua the chanter (and another official party member) came from.
Unfortunately, her voice-over makes a terrible first impression. Her accent does not even match Kana Rua’s, and the game’s only excuse for this is that she came from a backwater village in Rauatai. This gives the impression that Obsidian’s producers and directors think that it is alright to give any character from backwater regions a Southern USA accent.
Perhaps this was due to a lack of voice-actors that Obsidian could scrape together for the expansion, but this is a shortfall that resulted in a rather glaring flaw.
As for her backstory, much of it would not be known until after the player has reached the penultimate acts of the expansion. Maneha remains tight-lipped about her quest to forget her past, other than letting slip that she might be undergoing a nasty Awakening.
There is one scenario where there might be a narrative issue with her character. The player can choose to infiltrate an abbey dedicated to Ondra, goddess of the sea; Maneha happens to be dedicated to that goddess. The protagonist has to pass a quiz, the answers to which are known by Maneha. The player could retry the quiz as many times as needed, and Maneha would even point out where the player went wrong. Yet, there is no dialogue option to ask her for coaching; the most that she would do is direct the player to where tips could be found in the abbey.
QUEST FOR ZAHUA:
The player finally gets to take on Zahua’s personal quest. Apparently, the writers’ excuse was that he would not undertake this quest until his contract with Stalwart – the opening of Durgan’s Battery – had been completed.
This quest is how Obsidian’s writers show how fast their scripts can change in tone, and how they made use of their layering techniques for level designs. It starts off silly, with the entire party (except Devil of Carroc) taking drugs. Afterwards, the player is transported to a different layer of the map in which the quest takes place in, complete with its own colour filter.
Goofy remarks by party members (especially Zahua) who are high eventually give way to tragic revelations about Zahua’s past, and even his personal motivations. It ends with a bittersweet ending that experienced story-goers might recognize as an expression of the stages of grief.
The second part of the expansion introduces new characters – most of whom are voiced by peoples who had already voiced characters in the base game.
If the player could get past the disappointment of having realized that Obsidian has not been able to cobble together a wider cast of voice talents, there is some story-telling value to be had from these characters. In particular, the Readcerans, and the people who live at the border between Readceras and Dyrwood, are featured in this part of the expansion. Their lack of economic opportunities but great fervour and belief in a now-silent god are emphasized behind the scenes of the main storyline.
The stars of the story though are two of the gods of Eoras, whose intrigues have saddled mortals with many things beyond their comprehension. It is an interesting story, but the protagonist’s role is reduced to that of a mediator, and one that is conveniently justified by his/her status as a Watcher, a mortal beyond mortals.
As to be expected of an expansion, there is additional content to be had. Yet, not all of them seemed great to a player that is not already an ardent fan of Pillars of Eternity. Some of the new abilities and spells are disappointing. The additional party member has a presentation that is irksome. The reuse of voice talents is very noticeable. The story in this expansion relegates the player’s role to a problem-solver.
Nevertheless, this expansion is interesting, if only because it expanded on the backstories of the deities of the Pillars of Eternity fiction.