Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: August 25, 2015
Price: $14.99, $24.99 for Parts I & II
Pillars of Eternity: The White March – Part 1 is an expansion in the truest sense of that term. It cuts open the middle of Pillars of Eternity and carefully packs in another dozen or so hours of gameplay, along with a couple of new party characters, a slew of new items and spells. It integrates seamlessly enough, that, if it came packaged with Pillars of Eternity, you’d hardly notice that it was a separate entity at all.
That’s both the strength and weakness of The White March – Part 1, which, as it’s name implies, is only the first part of a two-part set of expansions. We were first exposed to the expansion during E3 2015, and looked promising during the preview showing. There’s not a lot of new features on offer, but the additional content and quests are mostly of the same high-quality as the base game, providing a strong incentive to return to the world of Eora and venture north to the White March.
Fortunately, this is something you can do from just about any save file. While the new content is designed for a mid-level party, you can play it with any of your pre-existing characters. If, like me, you have a max-level party decked out in the best gear, The White March – Part 1 offers a “high-level party” option, which significantly upgrades the difficulty of the combat in order to provide a meaningful challenge. If you have a low-level party, you might need to wait until you’re a bit farther along, but the content will be waiting for you as soon as you’re ready.
The story of the game is fairly straightforward. You receive a letter asking you to venture into the White March to help out a village that’s slowly dwindling from a lack of business. The village once prospered from trade with the Dwarves of the nearby fortress of Durgan’s Battery, but it’s been abandoned for two centuries after the Dwarves mysteriously vanished. Nonetheless, the fortress likely still has the famous White Forge, which can be used to create a special kind of steel. Gain access to the forge, the villagers believe, and prosperity will flow back to them.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of intrigue in this expansion, and the story lacks the kinds of twists and turns one might hope from writers of Obsidian’s caliber. Inside Durgan’s Battery, the mystery of what happened to the Dwarves slowly unravels, but there’s not much reason to care, and the ultimate answer is disappointingly prosaic. That’s not to say that the story isn’t well written; it is, it just happens to be rather light.
The region of The White March, which has its own world map, consists of four new areas, including the rather unimpressive and sparsely populated village of Stalwart. There’s not a lot of new NPC interactions, and social quests are few and far between.
A few mini-adventures will bring you to two of the side zones, hunting wolves, negotiating with ogres, or collecting bounties, but the real goal lies in breaking into the sealed Dwarf fortress, where you’ll have to fight your way though a sizeable dungeon. Scripted skill-based sequences have been ramped up in this expansion, and the areas are cleverly designed and full of hidden secrets that reward careful explorers. Wandering the Dwarven halls, in particular, is a pleasure. Traps, puzzles, mine-carts and all manner of dangers ensure there’s never a dull moment.
Before you get to the fortress, however, you’ll stumble upon two new prospective party members. One, Zahua, is a monk seeking the perfection of self through suffering. He provides some interesting takes on the purpose of life and the joys of drug use, but lacks a personal quest line. The other is a murderous rogue called the “Devil of Caroc”, who happens to be trapped in a mechanical body. She’s by far the more interesting of the two, largely thanks to snappy dialogue and strong voice acting. She also has a short but powerful quest line that raises the kind of moral quandary one expects from Pillars of Eternity.
The expansion raises the level cap to 14, meaning a number of new abilities and a higher tier of spells have been introduced. It also adds soulbound items, which are special weapons that bind to a single character. These weapons grow in power through use, gaining new effects and abilities as they do. It’s a nice touch, providing a real sense of attachment to the items. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of them, and they’re unlikely to seriously change how you play the game.
A few other welcome tweaks have also been made, but these are more in the nature of a patch, such as being able to set party member AI, and tracking stealth individually for each character.
Outside of the region of The White March, a new high-level quest and associated area have also been introduced. The tower of the powerful wizard Concelhaut (after whom some of the game’s spells are named) is under siege by mercenaries. You naturally wander off to find out what’s going on, and soon find yourself caught up in a little war between his apprentices and rivals. I won’t spoil the (fairly light) plot, but if there’s a true boss to The White March – Part 1, it’s here. The area provides a rewarding challenge to experienced players, and a bevy of loot.
The Bottom Line
It’s all in a few days’ work, however, and you’ll soon find yourself out of new adventures to undertake. Part 2 of The White March is obliquely hinted at the end, but Part 1 is fairly self-contained. It’s a nice diversion from the main story of the game, one that leaves you with deeper pockets, more shiny baubles, and a couple new friends.
While it doesn’t always work with the same narrative heft as the main story, it’s still a consistently enjoyable experience that doesn’t derogate from the quality of Pillars of Eternity. Indeed, like any good expansion, it expands it.
Click here for our official Pillars of Eternity review.