It’s not looking good for Pillars of Eternity fans. Despite Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire earning a rave critical reception back in 2018 and averaging 89% on Metacritic, low sales means Pillars of Eternity 3 is an increasingly distant prospect.
Josh Sawyer, director of both Pillars of Eternity I & II, and designer on Icewind Dale I & II, has explained on Tumblr how Obsidian is now probably looking elsewhere for its RPG successes, much to the chagrin of CRPG fans.
Answer a question from a fan who asked “Will there be a Pillars 3?”, Sawyer said, “that is not something that I get to decide, but I do think that the relatively low sales of Deadfire mean that if we consider making another Pillars game in this style, we’re going to have to re-examine the entire format of the game.”
He then delves into a little bit of pondering as to why PoE: Deadfire ultimately under-performed, including the suggestion that the original game may have satisfied the need for a nostalgia-driven CRPG, lack of awareness, or perhaps that the original game was over-reviewed, fans didn’t actually enjoy it en masse, and this was detrimental to the sequel, which he feels was ultimately the much better game - “IMO Pillars 1′s review scores benefited from a nostalgia bump.”
The big question then would be where Obsidian headed next with Pillars of Eternity 3. Without knowing the root cause of its audience’s problems though, that’s tricky. With the immense success of Divinity: Original Sin 1 & 2, Obsidian had thought the Real-Time with Pause (RTWP) combat in PoE2: Deadfire was its downfall. However, along came Pathfinder: Kingmaker, with lower review scores and RTWP combat, and outsold Deadfire.
“I’m sure some of the people reading this think they know precisely why Deadfire sold worse than Pillars 1. I don’t have that confidence, which is one of several reasons why I am leery about trying to direct a sequel,” Sawyer surmises. “I couldn’t give our (Obsidian’s) audience the game that they wanted and without understanding where I went wrong, I would be guessing at what the problems are and how to remedy them.”
For his part, GD's own Stuart loved it, awarding Deadfire a 9.5 in his review and saying "Pillars of Eternity, for me, is the best D&D series there never was."
A lot’s changed since Pillars of Eternity 2 though. Obsidian has developed The Outer Worlds to a very positive reception, although it remains to be seen how well it’s fared commercially. The studio was also acquired by Microsoft and folded into Xbox Game Studios, which certainly puts a AAA slant on any of Obsidian’s future products.
For now, then, the Pillars of Eternity franchise is on the back-burner, seemingly for good. There are plenty of CRPGs happy to take up the mantle in the meantime though, from classic turn-based tactics like Divinity: Original Sin II, through to thoroughly modern takes such as the sublime Disco Elysium.