It’s always nice to be given new reasons to jump back into games you had lots of fun with, even more-so when they are enjoyable additions. With Pillars of Eternity’s first downloadable content pack, Part One of “The White March”, that’s precisely what Obsidian Entertainment have provided, more of what you enjoyed, but nothing that really blows your mind.
The original Pillars of Eternity experience was an amazing return to incredibly deep and technical real-time with pause role playing, wrapped up in a story that was worth taking the journey for. On the flip side, while The White March - Part One contains a decent enough story, it lacks any lasting meaning due to it not being a continuation of the main campaign, more a collection of side-quests set in brand new area.
That’s not to say this is a bad addition - far from it. This new chapter does have a fair share of of story and lore to go along with more of what makes a good role-playing game; extra quests, characters, party members, a higher level cap, new spells and abilities, new classes, and the introduction of bounties. But is it an experience that changes everything you thought you knew about the game you’ve already been playing though? No, but it sure does add a ton of great content to what’s already there.
See, The White March - Part One is set during the events of the main campaign itself. No spoilers, but for those who have already played and finished the core campaign, or read my Pillars of Eternity review back in April, you’ll remember there’s no continuation after you complete the game. In order to play this DLC you’ll have to either start from the “Pre-End Game Save”, or just have these quests be a natural part of your playthrough.
This DLC isn’t meant to only be for people who have maxed their character’s levels, that’s actually one of the beautiful things about it. I started the add-on from the pre-end game save, and the majority of my party were already at level 11, so when I first unlocked and entered the area on the map called “The White March”, I was prompted with a message telling me that I was too high a level to find this content much of a challenge, and asking if I would like the game to increase the difficulty of the enemies. Totally optional, but it was nice to see that they included this.
This option initially gave me the impression that I might be about to start walking around this new environment breaking every enemy with the slightest touch, (I chose not to increase the difficulty) but I soon found that that wasn’t entirely true. Obsidian have done their job right and included quests for people to complete as they play the entire game. Sure, I started out by decimating Ogres left, right, and centre, with little regard to party tactics, but when I came across the first of the bounty side missions, I quickly discovered how foolish I had been.
That first bounty took more reloads than I care to count, but by the end of it I remembered how to micro-manage my party again. I gotta say, it was damn satisfying when I saw that the play and pause strategies I’d used in my initial 60+ hours were working as they should, and soon there weren’t many battles I couldn’t win with relative ease.
That first bounty took more reloads than I care to count
It may surprise you, but there really is quite a lot of content in this pack. After completing the entire main story for Part One of The White March, and all but one or two side quests (that I found), I believe my time with the DLC clocked in at about 15-20 hours, not bad for part one of this DLC pack.
So what’s happening in the White March that would actually cause you to want to put all this time into playing it? Well, it’s an entire side-story to the main campaign, with a hand-full of smaller quests and tasks for you to take on. Nothing you do here will change the outcome of the events that are happening with regard to the hollowborn that are happening all over the Dyrwood, but that doesn’t mean you should stay away.
The village of Stalwart is under constant attack by Ogres, people are fleeing, and their economy is failing. After hearing of the player’s deeds in restoring Caed Nua, they have sent word requesting your assistance in opening Durgan’s Battery, a Dwarven castle that has been locked shut for over 200 years. Gaining access to this fortress will allow them to make use of the legendary White Forge in order to craft the strongest steel in the land, and save the town’s financial woes.
Many of the side quests that you’ll find in this area are decent enough, I quite liked the one regarding an NPC that lost a precious keepsake to a religious group, and although the bounties may not have many dialogue options, they did provide a nice chance to test my team’s abilities. There were even a number of the pick-an-option events that I absolutely loved about the main game - these parts, along with the difficult encounters you find along the way were a blast, and really made me feel like I was having a tabletop role-playing experience as they always have interesting dialogue, puzzles, and encounters.
There’s also another new area in the main map called “Cragholdt Bluffs”. Unlike the White March area, it’s designed for experienced players who area at least level 10 (or above) - seriously, I found myself getting slaughtered encounter after encounter when I foolishly attempted to tackle the goings-on there first… I highly suggest waiting until level 13 or 14 to take on that challenge… it’s really hard.
Those are the two major reasons for this DLC, but what else does picking it up get you? Well for starters, the level cap is increased to 14, and throughout the pack you’ll have the ability to recruit two new quirky party members; a monk by the name of Zuhua who has an odd sense of duty and is big on hitting things, and my personal favourite of the two, the Devil of Caroc, an amusing, murderous thief whose soul was bound using Animancy to a full articulated mechanical body.
The pack also requires that you get the latest patch, so whether you pick it up or not, you’ll have access to the new party AI scripts that will allow you to have your squad automatically start attacking and making use of their powers - very handy for the instances where you don’t feel like micromanaging their every single move, but still make use of their abilities.
Truth be told, I enjoyed my time with The White March - Part One. It was a great reason to jump back in, and while it’s not as grand as some of the RPG expansions we’ve had for other games in this genre (see Baldur’s Gate: Throne of Bhaal), it was still a good experience, and one that works almost seamlessly into a new player’s playthrough of the main game. Was there enough to warrant the purchase? I’d say so, but I’m right there with anyone who craves great story, and hopes Part Two ups the ante and brings with it a story to rival the best of them.