Pillars of Eternity – Drowning in Nouns

Here is a thing that gets my goat about fantasy as a genre: wordspam, hurling nouns at a player (or a reader!) without context, so that the meaning of a thing is not entirely clear. Pillars of Eternity is guilty of this in spades. It often seems to be a genuine attempt to lure a player into a vast and unfamiliar world, to pique their interest with people and places they’ve never heard of, but there’s a line to walk in this between interesting and incomprehensible.

A few elements of how to turn the word-vomit into something closer to inspiration:

  • What can I DO with this word? Context gives clues to meaning. Mentioning a far-distant nation or a leader who never appears as an NPC means that these aren’t really game elements. The more complex and exotic these non-game-element lands and people are, the more they’re just going to add to a confusing milieu and not provide relevant details.
  • How much weirdness do I need to absorb at once? This is a pacing consideration – if it’s important for me to know the three different names of each of the 12 gods because those names become relevant, it’s probably best to space it out. And also space it out from those new places and people I’m absorbing.
  • Repetition. The really important stuff is worth mentioning over and over again. This, PoE is actually pretty strong on – I’ve got a good sense of what is actually important here, but it did take a while.

Games with character creation options can suffer from this more deeply than other games, as the different race/class/background/culture/homeland options might need to be digested up front, before any tutorial, if they are to be meaningful to the player. This is part of why RPGs can benefit from playable character creation, at least for anything where you’re making more than a handful of decisions, or anything involving substantial knowledge of this fantasy world that you’re not yet enmeshed in.