Reward vs. Fun
Most modern games don’t ask the player to interpret the wry smile on another character’s face. The narratives are built on enjoyment and, as games are chiefly meant for recreation rather than as a test of emotional intelligence, there’s nothing wrong with that. Old-time RPGs did not adhere to that idea: back then, “fun” was what you made it and you were not guaranteed to have any.
I found Pillars of Eternity to be a great game. Like Baldur’s Gate, it’s a game of people. And Gods, yes, but mostly people. I find stories have greater depth where they concern the interactions of people; Gods and demons allow for simple narratives – God/Demon wants to take over the world and must be stopped! – that are less satisfying.
Far more so than Baldur’s Gate, Pillars of Eternity is a game of unclear moral choices: the characters driving quests in either direction have motives that are often identifiable with. Rather than being driven by obvious hero/villain semantics, your choices are driven more by things like one’s own bent towards revolutionary firebrands or stable authority.
I ended up avoiding either of the completion paths of one of PoE’s story line, as I couldn’t decide which party to side with. It turned out even leaving the quest line incomplete led to a note in the end story about the results of the my leaving the status quo.
I’m currently playing Dragon Age: Origins. While it’s undeniably a great game, its one-dimensional monsters and obvious villains felt like a step backwards from PoE. Reading parts of walkthroughs, there is subtlety residing in side quests but the main quest appears more morally straight-forward.
While clearly PoE is not difficult moral choice after difficult moral choice, I enjoyed a slightly deeper experience. It was as much reward as fun.