Pillars of Ranternity – Memorialising Disappointment

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Pillars of Eternity has a serious problem with backer content. You can see this in pretty much every discussion about it online. The backer NPCs and memorials basically exist as filler that doesn’t fit with the story or often the world. Obsidian clearly knew this was an issue, but were obligated to put in all this content because backers paid for it and were promised it. They never seem to answer questions about this but I feel pretty confident that if they kickstart another game either the will completely cut these kinds of perks, severely limit them, or move them to much more expensive tiers. The sheer number of backer memorials and NPCs they agreed to put in is pretty staggering, based on their kickstarter page I think they had more than 3500 backers entitled to memorials and more than 100 NPCs to include.

It was a serious challenge that Obsidian Entertainment completely failed to live up to and the way it was handled let down both their players and their backers. The player perspective is the one I see most often discussed, for example the NPCs are generally regarded as a delivery vehicle for overwritten vignettes and are otherwise completely useless. The only possible interaction with a backer NPC is to walk up to one and view a soul memory, you can never converse with a backer NPC, you will never be asked to get some information from them or discuss their story, they never have a task for you and you can’t ever discuss the information from one of these memories with anyone else. The conversations with Grieving Mother make it clear that viewing her mind is unusual despite these hundred NPCs whose memories you can’t help but examine. So the NPCs serve no story, lore or mechanical purpose. The only concession is that these NPCs have a different name border so once you learn they are useless they are easy to avoid.

The memorials are even worse, there is an order of magnitude more of them and they are significantly less curated. In fact as far as I can tell Obsidian did the bare minimum with these, I am pretty sure they filtered out memorials with swearing or slurs but they appear to have made no checks on grammar, language or fit with the world. They then implemented them in a way that provided them with no control over the placement of individual monuments, as demonstrated by the incident where they replaced a problematic memorial meaning that even memorials that were intended to fit with the world can end up in completely unsuitable locations.

This trains players to ignore backer content, it teaches you quickly and effectively that this basic backer content is separate from and significantly lesser to the rest of the game and is effectively marked to allow a player to easily ignore all of it. Which is why it fails backers, not all backers to be fair, but certainly the subset of backers who actually cared about their contribution, those to whom the memorial or NPC was important in some way. I am one of those backers.

7 years ago my youngest brother passed away, it was sudden, it was tragic and one of the reasons I backed a number of crowdfunded games at a high level was because they had memorial options in them. It is my way to keep him alive, my vague hope was that maybe one of his friends would serendipitously encounter it playing one of these games, that it would remind them however briefly of their school friend and help them remember him. This won’t happen if the game teaches you not to look at backer content.

I know I am not unique in wanting my memorial seen in the sampling of memorials that I have read I have seen people memorialising past adventures, friends, families, even at least one business slipping in an advertisement. It could have been done, they could have curated the memorials, had someone spellcheck them and correspond with backers whose memorials could use improvement. They could have then matched memorials to vaguely appropriate areas rather than the current purely algorithmic approach. They could have had a task or quest that involved information gleaned from a memorial or two in a given area or vital information from a backer NPC. Heck they could have just randomised the order each run so statistically everyone’s memorial will turn up in the first few people are likely to read.

Remember each memorial represents a minimum of a $500 contribution to the game, each NPC $1,000. How much does it cost per backer to have someone check memorials for spelling and grammar and sort them into lore friendly and unfriendly categories?

Given this treatment there is no way I would ever back an Obsidian game at a similar tier again.


    1. Yeah, plus no tier with a memorial. I guess it is safe to say that the NPCs will be much more along the lines of Dracogen too than most of the ones we saw in Pillars.

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