Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - Beast of Winter Review

If you haven’t yet noticed, Obsidian appears to love taking their old classic materials from the Black Isle days and revamping them for the modern gaming world. They then issue something new, but with a wink and a nod to those who recognize it is a callback to something that their fans grew up with. For instance, the first Pillars of Eternity was an unapologetic love letter to the Baldurs Gate series. Its DLC, The White March, could have just as easily been called “Not Icewind Dale.” Keeping with tradition, Obsidian’s first DLC package for Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is Beast of Winter, a major callback to the Icewind Dale expansion pack: Heart of Winter. And, like Heart of Winter, it is a competently executed but somewhat forgettable romp that can be completed in a couple of sittings. 

Beast of Winter is a high level DLC that takes place on a remote glacial island far south of the rest of the Deadfire Archipelago. It's a fairly short module that sees your party picking up a new member before going through a quick extraplanar dungeon crawl. At the end is a very tough adversary – one whose nature you can probably predict without even looking at the marketing materials for the game. And, if you can’t make that prediction, then you will find it out in the game’s first half hour, when you fight the beast for the first time. It's not the most original final boss of all time, but one of the more challenging battles in the game and arrives with a sufficient spectacle, the most impressive in this game as it has ever been. Some of the scenery that you will encounter during your travels is among the most striking that the series has offered.

The mini story leading up to your final encounter is what ultimately makes this DLC worth experiencing. Up until now, the games’ stories have focused on a handful of the world’s Gods, but the enigmatic Rymrgand, the God of Destruction and Entropy, hasn’t gotten a lot of screen time. In this DLC though, he is the star of the show. The tiny settlement at which you arrive is the home of a crazy cult that worships the God of Entropy. And, since the universe is constantly marching towards a state of higher entropy, worship of Rymrgand ultimately translates into the worship of the ending of all things, be it the world or life itself. This cult welcomes you and worships you as some sort of prophet, and they give you the label “Duskspeaker” as they joyously welcome the destruction of the world. Very early on you experience a couple of interesting story twists, after which the cult leader, Vatnir, becomes available to join you as a travelling companion.

The lore in this series so far has been a little bit hit-or-miss. In Beast of Winter, some of its more interesting features are on display. The character of Rymrgand is a unique one in fantasy video games – a mixture of fantasy religion and real life cosmology. The concept of the universe dying a death by ice, with stars burnt out, planets frozen, and all of the universe’s energy having been dispersed as heat, is rather discomforting and depressing. It makes for some interesting lore in video game form. In the Pillars of Eternity lore, the Rymrgand character perfectly captures the cold, uncaring feeling of this fate. His dialog is as icy and indifferent as the brutal arctic environment in which you find yourself. His worshippers have found a suitable home on a gigantic and rapidly growing block of ice that threatens to eventually expand to the rest of the Deadfire. Vatnir, as one of Rymrgand’s sons, shares many of his traits. Up until now, divine children in this series (i.e. Godtouched) have been portrayed as magnificent or beautiful. Vatnir, however, is disturbingly hideous, as if his face is the very embodiment of the concept of entropy.

The gameplay in Beast of Winter, while it still uses the same nuts-and-bolts as the core game, is where this DLC comes up a little short. It's clearly designed for a high level party, but it isn’t hard enough to provide a challenge for a level 20 party, which is what you will have if you completed Pillars of Eternity II. Unlike the first Pillars of Eternity DLC, there is no option to scale the difficulty up or down when you enter it, which is a puzzling omission. Moreover, the level cap hasn't been raised for the expansion pack, which means that your characters get no new abilities through the five or so hours that it takes to complete the content. Other than one or two artifacts, there also isn’t any loot in the game that is more powerful than what you will already own. For most of the content, you are totally overpowered and you can cut through the game’s enemies like a hot knife. The only battle where you have to pull out all of your most powerful tools is the final one (which makes me wonder how hard it would be for a 15th level party). These issues might not be significant for players starting a brand new game from scratch, but I suspect that most will want to continue their story with the character that they have been using. Other than a few new crafting recipes, there aren’t any new gameplay elements either. There is, unfortunately, little to look forward to in this DLC’s gameplay department that you haven’t already experienced many times over. I don't know what Obsidian could have done to refresh the gameplay here, but it would have been nice if they could have come up with just a couple of clever tweaks.

Beast of Winter is a competently put together DLC and, at a release price of about $10, is appropriately priced for its length (at least as far as DLC is usually concerned).  Fans who are starving for more Pillars of Eternity II will not be disappointed, either by the gameplay or by this mini story’s dive into some of the universe’s more interesting lore. On the other hand, if you have sunk 150 hours into the series through two full games and two previous DLCs, then you may be tiring of its formula, its routine, and its combat. It probably feels even more tiresome if you love the series for its open ended exploration, since the mostly linear DLC offers very little of this. How much you will enjoy Beast of Winter ultimately depends upon how important each of these elements are to you.