In my review of Deadfire, I wrote about the inevitability of chaos and entropy. Later I was eager to learn more about the first DLC in an interview with Game Director Brandon Adler. Beast of Winter is centered on a deal the Watcher makes with the god of entropy Rymrgand. As with other gods in the Pillars pantheon, he also stands for other phenomena, such as winter, famine, natural disasters, and the collapse of nations and empires. According to lore books, he is the oldest god and will be the last when everything else is dead. It makes sense to give him his own DLC, given his role in the Pillars cosmology.
This focus on a single deity plays like a sort of interactive character study. There's nothing new in terms of gameplay, and nothing too special when it comes to loot. Beast of Winter tells a tight and tense story with some choices and consequences involved. It takes place concurrently with the main campaign, and it can be finished right before the finale. The level cap is still 20, and there's no level requirement, though I'd say level 15 is a good start. Other than that, the DLC is essentially a long, elaborate side quest, taking about eight hours to complete. There is some reactivity on the main campaign, but I haven't tried a second playthrough at this point.
The quest begins with a letter from a priest called Vatnir, inviting you to attend a feast in your honor. It will take place in Harbingers' Watch, an outpost in a south Deadfire islet inhabited by a tribe called the Harbingers of Dusk. They are a tribe of fishermen, some of them are pale elves from the White that Wends. The Harbingers speak with a slightly Scandinavian accent, and some of their expressions seem to resemble the Icelandic language. Not only they worship Rymrgand, they also hope for the end of all things, and they see a growing iceberg as a sign of the end times. It's an interesting twist to the cult of gods.
Vatnir is a Godlike priest, bearing a monstrous resemblance to Rymrgand. His reception of the Watcher is really funny, especially if you’ve been playing since the first game. The actual feast never takes place, as the outpost is attacked by a dragon soon after you meet Vatnir. The villagers seem disappointed when you kill the dragon, and it's a suspiciously easy battle. They were hoping that it was a manifestation of the end of the world. A few minutes later the dragon is revived somehow and gets pulled up from the sky by an invisible force.
After you confront Vatnir, who hid once the dragon appeared, he tells you of a man called Glasvahl who sought a way into the White Void, Rymrgand’s realm. This was a quest in the first game. So you’ll have to investigate what's happening, and you can persuade the cowardly priest to tag along. It takes some convincing and he isn’t much of a fighter, but I decided to bring him along. I was curious about what he had to say about the whole thing. I also took the pale elf animancer and skeptic Ydwin, as the Game Director suggested, as well as my bros Edér and Aloth.
When you reach the portal into the White Void, Rymrgand appears and offers you a deal. The dragon you killed was already dead in a sense. It is only alive in the White Void, where it seeks to cheat death and entropy through the use of a relic. You’ll have to kill the dragon once and for all and take the relic back to Rymrgand, or else the iceberg will keep growing until the world is engulfed by it. First, there was a giant rogue god stomping around the Deadfire and causing mayhem. Now another god is throwing a tantrum because a dragon took his toy. At some point, there’s a chance to say “the gods are assholes,” and you’re damn right I took it.
Before you reach the White Void you'll have to make a detour through the Beyond, or rather through a place called the Shattered Passage. You'll meet a long-dead elven warrior and champion of Rymrgand who acts a tour guide of sorts. You can go through three portals, where you can glimpse ruins and ghosts from the ancient past. This is where the quest gets interesting, as you learn about events and characters from Pillars lore that you had only read about. You will get firsthand knowledge about the Engwithan Inquisition, the Saint’s War, and the destruction of Ukaizo.
You can recruit some characters to fight alongside you, but I decided to give them the bliss of oblivion instead. The dragon is actually female, called Neriscyrlas, and she has an interesting backstory. It took a few tries, but I had to kill her since I couldn't persuade her to fight Rymrgand. It takes either very high Bluff, Arcana or Religion skill to convince her, and even with my entourage, I didn’t reach the threshold. It’s a long, tough battle, even on Classic difficulty, but it’s satisfying when you beat her. At some point, I plan to try again with different builds to persuade her to fight Rymrgand and see what happens.
Apart from all that, there are only two other quests or tasks that you can do for the villagers. It’s nothing special, and by the time I returned to the village I wished there was more to do. The aftermath could have felt more impactful as well. Vatnir does join your party as a sidekick, so you can bring him along through the rest of the game. I hope there is some interesting reactivity on the other DLCs if you bring him along.
Beast of Winter is a worthwhile experience for dedicated fans of Pillars. The segment through the Shattered Passage includes excellent level design. It should be rewarding especially for those who would like to know more about those specific events in the history of Eora. It was compelling to meet certain characters and interact with them, as opposed to reading or hearing about them. It’s a concrete and revealing firsthand experience rather than a lore dump, and that’s a great direction for future DLC. So I look forward to playing Seeker, Slayer, Survivor and The Forgotten Sanctum in the coming months.
What Beast of Winter lacks in content it makes up for in depth with an intriguing plunge into the history of Eora.
- Challenging Battle
- Clever Level Design
- Intriguing Lore Experience
- Aftermath Lacks Impact