At the beginning of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire, you are dead. God Eothas rose from the ground under your castle home, killing you and hundreds of others. Now, as you traverse the wheel from death to new life, Berath, the god of death, interrupts your path: Find him. Stop him. They return you to your old life as the Watcher, solely to complete this mission. You have been chosen. The Herald of Berath.
In Deadfire, however, you don’t succeed at your given task. You find Eothas, but any attempt to stop him with force nets you a game over; he seamlessly absorbs your soul, leaving you with an eternal feeling of incompletion. Instead, if the two of you speak before he destroys the wheel, leaving behind a world changed: One changed extensively by your choices throughout the rest of the game. Carrie Patel and Josh Sawyer kindly joined me in conversation about choice and chosen ones in Deadfire.
The decision to start the game with being “chosen” was one of the earliest, Sawyer explains, “I had some requirements [of the critical path], one of which is that the game started with Eothas occupying Maros Nua . . . and destroying your castle and leaving you for dead, and Berath telling you: ‘Go find him and find out what he’s doing.’” Players of the first Pillars of Eternity game had criticized its slow start. For its sequel, Sawyer argued for a beginning that was more, in his words, “Slammo!”
Once they realized the ending, they then had to work against player expectation. As Patel explains, videogames are full of false threats. “The villain is always saying, ‘you’ll never stop me and you better work fast because you are running out of time!’ But in most games, of course, you’re going to stop the villain at the end, and there isn’t really a time limit.” Deadfire being different was a challenge they would need to communicate to players.
The Chosen One is an archetypal power fantasy within the genre – the one who pulls the sword from the stone, destined for great things and burdened with a great task. The title of herald holds little initial sway, but Berath herself curries favor for you. When facing obstruction, she summons intimidating displays of spirits pulled from the Beyond.
Being a Chosen One opens pathways closed to others, through unique powers and the unerring support of people who believe in your quest. It is imperative that you succeed, and this promise empowers players who seek out fantasy as an escape from feelings of powerlessness in real life.
Deadfire doesn’t shy away from dragon-fighting set pieces and death-defying abilities that we know and love in fantasy RPGs. However, Patel gently rebuffs the idea of wielding power being the primary experience for the player. “I realize that one of the appeals of a lot of games is the fantasy, and whether it’s the fantasy based on playing someone very powerful, the fantasy of exploring a wonderful new setting or the fantasy of forming this close bond with all these different people who are going on adventures with you, there are a lot of ways that we’re trying to fulfill player fantasies.”
Ruth Cassidy is a writer and self-described velcro cyborg whose DMs are open for pictures of mountains, or your cats. Direct them to twitter @velcrocyborg.