Video Game Art, Pillars of Eternity Group

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Lately, I’ve been playing a game called Pillars of Eternity II quite a bit. Even going back to when I was a kid playing our old NES/SNES, I’ve enjoyed drawing scenes and characters inspired by video games. This is especially true when I become immersed in a game and its world, which really doesn’t happen often anymore. Growing up, this immersion occurred more often, as it seems like every Super Nintendo RPG pulled me in and inspired sketches. But I can count on one hand the games that had that effect on me as an adult; Elder Scroll Skyrim, Dragon’s Dogma, the first Dark Souls, and Pillars of Eternity I and II might make up the entire modern list.

Since diving in to the Pillars of Eternity world, I’ve gotten the itch to draw something related to the game. I have shared a few game-related sketches before, specifically material inspired by Dragon’s Dogma, Warcraft, Final Fantasy, and Secret of Mana. Before I get too far into talking about the artwork though, I wanted to discuss a bit about the game itself. Although I don’t have experience playing the classic Dungeons & Dragons table top/dice style games, I am familiar with them on a basic level, and can see how Pillars of Eternity pays tribute. Dungeons & Dragons always makes me think of complicated character stats, action checks, and the abundance of choice in everything. Pillars of Eternity has that in video game form, as you can see here:

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The “Character Sheet” for my main character in Pillars of Eternity II.

Every stat impacts the game in many ways, from ranging from combat abilities to actions available in the world and story. In all honesty, it’s complex enough that I don’t fully understand the deeper aspects. Fortunately, the game can be played successfully without having complete mastery of all the numbers. Both Pillars of Eternity games have such seriously impressive levels of detail, it makes me wonder how the development team was able to fit it all in (especially in its original crowd-funded form). This game is also all about choices; the actions you take in the story, your characters’ classes, weapons, armor, and so much more. Just as an example, in Pillars of Eternity II you can choose from 11 classes…plus multiclasses and subclasses, which all add up to well over 100 class combinations!

The combat is quite fun as well. It reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy XII actually, because you can set up “Behavior Sets” (“Gambits” from FFXII) that dictate how your allies will fight. For example, you can designate that your healer will prioritize restoration spells if allies fall below 50% health, but to use a stun if an enemy attacks them. You can also manually input actions, but I really enjoy building these rule sets and sending my team into battle. Here are some screens showing how these battles look and the Behavior Sets area:

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My Pillars of Eternity II team charging into battle. Green circles are the good guys, red circles are the enemies. The combat speed can tweaked based on preference.

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Behavior Set example for my Fighter class character. He prioritizes a wide area attack if surrounded, or charges if no one is in range, followed by other lower priority options.

Another fantastic aspect of the game is its general presentation. The music is very good in the original game and its sequel. The aesthetics and artwork in game are also quite well done. And I really like their approach to encounters and story activity. Rather than constantly staying in the zoomed out world screen, when something happens it usually starts in a story book-type screen. In “book mode,” you are presented with text, stylized artwork, and choices. For example, if you come across bandits, you can interact and decide what to do in that situation through this book. Then if you fight or do something with them, you’ll jump into the normal game view. The book thing isn’t used for every interaction, but shows up often enough to keep things fresh.

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An instance when some thugs confronted me. I chose to attack them, and the game jumped into the overhead combat view. I won the short term battle, but I think it negatively impacted how the local thieves thought of me. 

Of course, there are a couple things I’m not wild about. In Pillars of Eternity II, you get a customizable ship. The ship itself is neat, but ship-to-ship combat is pretty dull. I quickly got to the point where every time another vessel engaged, I skipped the ship battle and boarded them for a regular fight. Also, I’m not really wild about the heavy focus on the gods’ complicated plans. Hopefully, the next game will focus more on human concerns and mortal situations (“let’s stop the tyrannical lord“, or “a gang robbed the villagers“). Those more common questlines have been my favorites in the Pillars of Eternity games.

Now, to my Pillars of Eternity II artwork. A common theme for me when playing open/customizable games like this is that I’m boring. I think many people create imaginative characters to play, or try something that they aren’t. I almost always create myself as the main character and plug my family/friends in as my allies. Even in fantasy worlds with elves and dwarfs, I play as a bearded human with my wife, kids, and possibly some friends as combat companions. With the large combat parties available in Pillars of Eternity, I usually roam around with my wife and kids, plus a couple friends, my sister, or my sister-in-law.

Since that’s how I played, I wanted to go with a scene featuring my adventuring crew:

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To sketch this scene, I looked at the in-game characters I created in Pillars of Eternity II. I stuck closely to the character models used by the game, which led to some interesting results. So, even though this crew is supposed to represent me, my wife, grown-up versions of my kids, and a buddy of mine, they only share a passing resemblance.

I think overall, it turned out decently. It’s no masterpiece, and I wouldn’t call it one of my better sketches, but it fits the game pretty well. This one actually took a really long time, which was a surprise. In hindsight, I should have known it would – any time I try to capture multiple subjects that is usually the case. Here we had five people, plus they weren’t just the head-and-upper-torso portrait I usually opt for. Trying to pin down full-body clothing detail certainly added some time. One issue that stretched time further was that this really should have been on larger paper. The thick layering technique I like to use can be difficult for precise work, and 9 X 12 didn’t leave much free space.

I originally set out to draw my usual no-scenery/no-background piece, but when I finished the subject-only portion, I wasn’t satisfied. It seemed very rough, almost like a basic sketch that I wouldn’t even share on this site. Given how much time I’d already spent, that felt wrong. Here’s how that looked:

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So, I made up my mind to push forward on sketching a background. I had decent enough results the last time (or first time?) I went fully into scenery mode, so I thought I could at least manage not to ruin the entire thing. The main hang-up though was the perspective in the game. Pillars of Eternity has a 3/4 perspective (not quite overhead) view, while these subjects are viewed from the ground straight ahead. I had to do some research on generic medieval villages that might fit. The final result isn’t amazing, but I do think it at least improves the overall drawing. At my current scenery skill level, I think just being an acceptable complement to the subjects is a success. But I should keep trying, because it’s a good thing to learn.

I had a ton of progression shots this time, especially since I was originally planning a progression .gif without the scenery. Here’s how it came together:

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Whew…this turned into quite a long post. If you stuck with it, thanks for reading! And if you like PC RPG games, I’d definitely give this one my recommendation. I think it’s quite good…I guess that’s pretty obvious already, eh?

6 comments

  • Great work! I think you did very well with your background

  • Interesting read. Sunk a lot of time into the 1st game with a lot of inspiration from the original Baldurs Gate games. PoE felt like the game Dragon Age should have been. Have yet to delve into number 2 but seems a good sequel in its own right.

    • Pillars of Eternity II really is a good sequel and worth checking out in my opinion. It seems like Obsidian learned quite a bit from the first one; I especially love the character AI settings. It’s a shame they cut the party down from six to five members, but that’s probably my biggest complaint and it’s not too significant in the grand scheme of things.

      Although I enjoyed all the Dragon Age games to varying extents, I have to agree with you. I wish Bioware/EA had moved Dragon Age II and Dragon Age Inquisition more towards POE-style combat rather than the action RPG direction they went in. It’s like they got stuck between two very different styles, and ended up with an inferior hybrid of both. Don’t get me wrong – I do love a few action RPGs (Dragon’s Dogma, Dark Souls). But considering the huge budgets they’ve had, that Dragon Age team left a lot of potential unfulfilled.

  • Fantastic post! Indeed, Pillars of Eternity II is another one of Obsidian’s masterpiece. The fact that Obsidian Entertainment has been working hard to make phenomenal RPG titles since Black Isle Studios, it doesn’t surprise me that they would pull it off with Pillars of Eternity II. And not to mention, some of the people working for this absolutely brilliant video game developer are experienced traditional Pen and Paper RPG and D&D players.

    • Much appreciated! I’m with you there, I would also call Pillars of Eternity II a masterpiece. With most games, I can’t really muster enough interest to return if I feel I’ve seen what it has to offer. But this one (and the first POE) is one of those rare games that I can come back to after a long break and getting totally immersed again.

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