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Pillars of Eternity: The White March Part One review: Just another chapter in a long tale

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 26, 2015
The White March is to Pillars of Eternity what Tales of the Sword Coast was to Baldur's Gate.

The White March centers around Durgan’s Battery, a fortress formerly home to a band of dwarves renowned for their skill as blacksmiths. The Battery produced weapons made of Durgan steel, stronger and lighter than any normal armaments. Durgan’s Battery has lain dormant for two-hundred years though, and the decrepit mining town of Stalwart calls on you to figure out what happened—and whether there’s any help to be found within.

The expansion is well-crafted, to say the least. Taken in the context of the main game, Durgan’s Battery is as interesting as any other combat-focused side-dungeon—and it’s relatively large, stretching across three massive floors.

In a story-heavy game like Pillars of Eternity, Durgan’s Battery feels like an anomaly though. If your favorite part of the base game was dungeon-crawling the fifteen floors of the Endless Paths of Od Nua, then the two hours or so spent in Durgan’s Battery will be of interest. The same goes for the bandits at Cragholdt Bluffs, the smaller of the expansion’s two dungeons, which is even more straightforward and story-light.

But for those who’d invested in the story of Pillars of Eternity, in roleplaying The Watcher, the expansion isn’t going to hit the same highs. Honestly, scope is a big part of the problem with The White March Part One. By confining the player to four main areas, it makes the expansion feel less lively. The village of Stalwart is small, with only a half-dozen interesting NPCs and a dozen or so quests to offer—four of which are story-less “go-here-kill-this” bounty missions.

Even in story-heavy missions, pieces slot together in a very “video game” fashion, everything in its right place. Take the new companion, the Devil of Caroc. Her background is interesting, as she’s tied more closely to animancy than perhaps any other Pillars of Eternity character. But you can meet the Devil of Caroc and wrap up her entire character quest within half an hour, without leaving the small playpen of The White March.

Contrast that with “The Trials of Durance,” for instance. Durance is one of the earliest characters you’re liable to meet in Pillars of Eternity, but only by continually resting with him and talking to him over the course of the game will you untangle his background and motivations—and even then, you can’t finish his personal story until near the very end, after the Council of Stars.

It’s an effective comparison because it illuminates much of how I generally feel about The White March after playing Part One. There’s a lot of potential, but it’s for the most part so small in scope and self-contained and worried about disrupting the main storyline that there’s no real oomph to it. Playing The White March Part One won’t cast Pillars of Eternity into a new light, or illuminate some truth about the main story you hadn’t thought of before. It’s an interesting, entertaining side venture that’s (I imagine) markedly better if taken as just another in a long list of sidequests than played on its own as an expansion.

 

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