It’s much more difficult to end on a high note than to make a great first impression. The base experience of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire was an innovative and refreshing take on the traditional fantasy CRPG. The first DLC, Beast of Winter, introduced a compelling theology of lesser gods. Seeker, Slayer, Survivor, the second chapter of the DLC cycle, suffered from awful performance and limited content. The Forgotten Sanctum is the final panel of this uneven triptych, centered on yet another god of the Pillars pantheon: Wael, god of secrets. It’s similar to Beast of Winter in terms of quality and content, but possibly more engaging, depending on what you're looking for.
This time you get more than a written invitation. A dragon-rider swoops down on your ship as you sail through the Deadfire. It is Llengrath, a resurgent character from the expansion pack The White March in the original Pillars. As an archmage from the Circle of Archmagi, she beseeches you to help her find Maura, a fellow archmage who went missing as she researched the strange tremors sweeping through the Black Isles. It’s an intriguing enough premise, and it feels more urgent than the invitations of the other expansions.
Depending on your progress in the base game, you might have to solve a challenging maze when you reach the Hall of the Unseen in the Black Isles. Under the maze is the Temple of Revelation, beset by the giant tentacles that are causing the tremors on the surface. You’ll meet another archmage, Tayn, whom you’ll probably either love or hate at first sight. For some reason, he reminded me of David Tennant’s version of the Doctor. It has that blend of charisma and brashness that could rub some people the wrong way. It’s an entertaining and well-written character, especially in contrast with the morose Llengrath.
In order to find Maura, you’ll explore three main sections of the Sanctum: the Archives, the Scriptorium, and the Collections. Each level will give you access to a couple of other minor levels, which offers a great amount of content and exploration. In the Collections, you’ll see some patients who lost their memories, and Tayn and Llengrath present a dilemma. You can either kill the patients painlessly, as Llengrath suggests; or liberate their memories through a weird apparatus, as Tayn suggests. The problem is that these memories have been jumbled. Each patient will likely have another's memories instead of their own.
The Archives and the Scriptorium have some excellent level design and art direction that reminded me of Planescape: Torment. More specifically the Scriptorium has a very similar style to the Mortuary in Torment. The scribes inhabiting these levels are faceless humanoids that somehow are able to see and interact with you. They vaguely resemble the Dustmen as well. It’s unsettling as they scurry about the Archives, organizing the stacks of books. At one point you can distract them by knocking some books so you can steal other books from the shelves. You can kill them if you want to, but it’s not necessary.
As you explore the Temple you’ll find some kind of weird organic machinery. Some of these are interactive. It felt very Cronenbergian when my character stuck his arm inside an oozing meat machine to manipulate its mechanisms. At one point I even picked up an egg inside another machine, and after a while, it hatched in my inventory. I received a monstrous little pet that followed me around like a little chestburster with legs. It’s this peculiar attention to detail that I enjoy in Obsidian RPGs. While other CRPGs give you a hackneyed experience grinding against trash mobs, Obsidian gives you Cronenbergian pets.
The encounter with Wael is not unlike the encounters with Rymrgand and Galawain in the previous expansions. Once again, there isn’t much point in arguing with the gods, or in challenging them. In fact, it’s more satisfying to annoy them by saying nothing. You deny them the satisfaction of getting to know what you think. I will say that Wael is a more interesting god than Galawain, and about as interesting as Rymrgand. Maybe it’s the fact that it is a genderless, formless blob of eyes and voices. It has a more unique perspective on the whole situation with Eothas stomping around in the Deadfire.
After making my choices, beating a couple of weird bosses, and concluding The Forgotten Sanctum, I went on and finished the main quest in the base game once again. As expected, not much changed in the final stretch to reach Ukaizo and confront Eothas. You get a couple other ending slides, and that’s it. I wonder if there might be some more interesting reactivity if you’re still halfway through the base game when you finish the expansions. It’s possible, but probably not enough to warrant a whole new playthrough for now.
I definitely recommend The Forgotten Sanctum if you’re looking for an unusual campaign with the themes and elements mentioned earlier. This kind of Cronenbergian subversion is very welcome in a genre as plagued by generic ideas as the fantasy RPG. It’s also thrilling to explore levels that throw you back to the Planescape: Torment aesthetic. It’s definitely not for everyone, but you could say that of all Pillars games and DLC so far. If you’re just looking for closure, have at it. Just don’t expect to be blown away with reactivity.
While it doesn't offer much in the way of closure, The Forgotten Sanctum is a satisfyingly eccentric expansion with Cronenbergian elements and an atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of Planescape: Torment.(Review Policy)
- Engaging Characters
- Great Level Design
- Eccentric Themes
- Cool Weird Bosses
- Doesn't Feel Like Closure