Battling the Beast of Winter

The end is nigh!

And so it was in the middle of one of the hottest summers to record, that the Old Man felt a chill down his back. It gripped him, cracked his skin, and caused him to slump over his post for hours. His hands were shaking, his eyes bleary, he knew that the Beast of Winter had come for him. And he knew not how this would end.

All right, all right, enough with the darned theatrics. Beast of Winter is the first of three DLC packs set to release this year for the fantastic Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. While some of you might be like me and trying to shake off the cobwebs of yesterday and get a fresh whiff of that sea brine again, you may recall that I was nervous about the DLC content being announced and mapped out at launch. I feel, for the most part, my fears were unfounded.

Beating the real-life heatwave at any cost.

What do you need to know about Beast of Winter? It is a Rymrgand centric story that expands on the game. It adds new areas, items, creatures, tasty vignettes, and of course plots and puzzles. Oh yeah, and NPCs. Pretty fantastic ones too. It is an entire quest line, with a couple of side quest massaged in for good measure. Concerning length, I finished it in a solid afternoon of play. So, right off the bat, if you think maybe 5 to 8 hours of gameplay is worth the roughly 10.99 CND, then you likely won’t be disappointed. I thought it was a fair price.

Fair warning, the plot is king with this, as should be no surprise to fans of the series, I will be talking about a few points that some may wish not spoiled. I’ll be talking about some minor spoilers of the game later, but I’ll avoid naming NPCs or specific plot points. I mean, half the fun with these games is uncovering the story.

Beast of Winter has you summoned to a mysterious ice floe that appears in the waters to the south. Upon it, a strange cultist of Rymrgand named Vatnir guides his Harbingers as they gleefully await the inevitable. Toss in some renegade entropy cultist, an ancient dragon of immense power, and a portal to the afterlife, and you have yourself a pretty exciting time. Did I mention the prophecy? Yeah, always one of those. Don’t expect to be called ‘Watcher’ too often, as the Harbingers are pretty darn sure you are the Duskspeaker.

Install the DLC, wait for the letter. Only a few minutes for me.

Plots and Power

You are not going to be getting an increased level cap with this. My beloved maxed out Elven Trickers stayed firmly at level 20 throughout this romp. I was a bit disappointed, but it was not a deal breaker. Furthermore, if you are looking for a revisitation to the epic two-part DLC, the White March, you are also going to be let down. Just want to say that right away. But fear not, gentle readers, let your rage cool with the blessing of Rymrgand and accept it. For there are greater things at work here than power – there are stories to be told.

Yeah, I know, I said I would knock off the theatrics. What can I say? The DLC put me in a dramatic mood. The first area you get to in the Beast of Winter is gorgeous to look at with some quirky and darkly humorous NPCs. And while Vatnir is the standout, I wish there was more to him. He seemed like a layered character that deserved full status, not just that of a sidekick, with more dialogue and more interest outside of the DLC area. Honestly, by the time the DLC was finished I was frustrated that I couldn’t learn more about this intriguing character. I think it will leave people wanting to hear more stories about Vatnir, and I worry they were left on the cutting room floor somewhere.

Vatnir was really cool. No pun intended. He made me laugh, made me nervous, and made me sad. Deserved better than to be a sidekick.

The story itself is fascinating. I am unsure the depth, as I have only played it once, but it felt like it was giving us that tasty, incredible freedom to weave our own story that makes the Pillars series stand a little taller than its peers. While exploring the numbing cold, you will encounter NPCs whom you will have a hand in shaping their histories. Some will be known to players of the series, and others will be new. Without giving up the ghost too much, fans of the original installment of the series will have a chance to reflect on their Eora and make choices that inform the world in which their character lives. I will be keeping an eye on both future DLC and future installments in the series to see if these choices have a lasting impact. If they do, hats off to the developers, giving the players agency to dictate the past narrative of the game is always a risky gambit.

Slippery Slopes

Heed the horn of warning young folk. The Old Man warned you this time would come. Minor spoilers ahead dealing with level design, payoff, where the game did well regarding these, and where it stumbled.

You ok? You ready? Don’t forget that I gave you a warning!

Voice acting, animation and execution of the ‘Ancient Dragon’ was fantastic. This is her ‘greeting’ you to the hub for the expansion area.

Three, always in threes isn’t it? There are three main areas to explore in this map with any amount of meat on their frozen bones. One is Huanan centric, another Engwithan and a third is Dyrwoodian. The appearance of all these maps is fantastic, and the overall layout is excellent. The stories that they tell are all good some of them great.

While the stories are great and the payoff is on par with the excellent storytelling I’ve come to expect. I had a big issue. The Huana themed area was a bit of a slog. Get it. Water? Huana? Slog? No? Ok, I’ll get back to the review. Sorry. The puzzle in this map amounted to a puzzle map with switches. While aesthetically different, mechanically it reminded me of the Hall of the Unseen, also in Deadfire. The exception is everytime you hit a switch or entered a portal there was an animation that was just a little too long. It sounds like a small gripe, and it is. But after running around this region for a bit, it got very tedious. Tedious to the point I just wanted to be done with the map, and not return to it.

Easily the weakest of the maps, in the Beast of Winter, the Huana area feels a bit like time padding. (I didn’t think to see how long I spent on it, it could have just felt like it took forever.) I mean, they may have been going for a meta thing where the game suddenly felt like it was frozen, or maybe wanted me the player to pray to Rymrgand to spare me the suffering and cast me into oblivion, but I don’t think so.

The Engwithan area was short but the one that I found most interesting, showing that less is often more.

In contrast, my favourite map was a rapid jaunt. That isn’t a complaint, just an observation. The Engwithan map was gorgeous and had the most nerve-wracking of the three stories. Oddly, I found the Dyrwoodian area more engaging as a puzzle and with a story that tickled my love for Pillars lore. There, mostly spoiler free. That wasn’t so bad. No need to call the internet manners police on me. (Seriously, I can’t handle another fine.)

Cool story, Bro.

With little issue with price and content, I am happy to give this a high score of 8.5 out of 10. This DLC is short but sweet and hits all the notes that we’ve come to expect from the Pillars series. Excellent art direction, music, voice acting, NPCs, a story you can dig into, and lip biting choices to make. Oh, and I found at least two new pets. Gotta catch em’ all.

So cute. Why am I a junkie for PoE2 pets? If they made just a pet pack I would likely go nuts.

Reviewed by Joshua Smith (Old Man Mordaith)

Edited by Jesse Roberts

The developer provided this game for purposes of review.

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