Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Combat Guide

Last Updated May 24th, 2018

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is Obsidian’s latest entry into their line of terrific isometric 2D RPGs. Like its prequel and sister game, Tyranny, it uses a “turn-based with pause” combat system similar to classic 90’s RPGs like Planescape: Torment and Baldur’s Gate. While Deadfire is much gentler than its predecessor, this type of combat can be a bit mystifying to people who haven’t grown up with it.

That’s why we put together this guide with pointers on how to master this unique combat system.

Pacifism as a way of life

One of the best things about the Pillars of Eternity series is that, to some degree, you can choose how much combat you want to experience. Some fights are inevitable, but many problems can be solved via the game’s extensive dialogue trees. If you want the combat experience to be as gentle as possible, by all means, set the difficulty lower and put a lot of points into skills like Diplomacy, Bluff, Insight, and Intimidate. You’ll dodge a lot of fights that way, and the ones you can’t skip won’t be nearly as difficult.

For those of you who like to crack some skulls, keep reading.

Actions and timing

Actions in Deadfire function a little differently than in other RPGs. By default, the game pauses the action at the beginning of every combat encounter (an option I strongly suggest you keep activated).

This gives you a moment to collect your thoughts, think about your opponent, and check out their weaknesses and strengths – you can mouse over them for information on their stats. Most importantly, pausing allows you to issue orders to your team. For example, you can order your meaty warriors to tank for the party while ordering your mage to flank the enemy and fire off powerful spells. When you unpause the game, your characters will follow your orders to the best of their ability. You can pause the game again at any time to react to the changing combat situation. This is the key to success in any fight.

Above each character’s head is an icon representing the action that they’re about to undertake, and a rapidly decreasing line. This line is your Recovery Time, and it’s a sort of fuse. When it burns down, the action goes off. How long this fuse takes to burn down is strongly affected by your armor. Heavier armor imposes a Recovery Time penalty, which means a longer delay between actions.

Certain abilities can Interrupt actions, causing damage, and forcing the enemy to restart their action. If a quick item, like a potion or scroll, was needed for the action, it’s lost as well. Interrupting your enemy is great, but make sure your timing is right – watch those fuses! Also, if you or your enemy has Concentration active when someone tries to Interrupt them, the interruption will not stop their action, but will remove their Concentration status – thereby allowing their next action to be interrupted.

Party AI

When you’re just starting off, Party AI is a good thing to focus on. There’s a lot to manage in a Deadfire fight, especially once your party roster starts to get full. Party AI stops your party members from standing, slackjawed, while they’re getting beat on by giant beetles, raiders, or what have you. Once you get the hang of things, you’ll want to deactivate Party AI because you’ll understand the flow of battle better, and you won’t want your characters expending precious resources on the wrong enemies.

Behold The Skinnerbox

There are many aspects to combat in Deadfire, but usually, higher numbers are better. Obsidian devs have also realized this, and to keep things interesting, gear doesn’t endlessly rise in power, and generally provides tradeoffs as well as bonuses.Keep in mind that passive bonuses stack. If your belt gives you a +2 Deflection and your shield gives you another +5, you’ll have a +7 Deflection. However, active bonuses (which are short term, usually provided by spells and abilities) do not stack with passive bonuses; rather, they suppress lower passive bonuses. If your priest casts a spell on you that provides +8 Deflection, you won’t have +15 Deflection – you’ll have +8 Deflection. However, if you find a cloak later in the game that gives you a +4 Deflection, giving you a total Deflection of +11, the spell does nothing. Yes, higher numbers are better, but make sure these numbers are doing something.

Attac & protec

Deadfire owes a great deal to tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, and you can see it in the combat system. Every time you attack, cast a spell, use a special ability or otherwise aggress on an enemy, the game makes an attack roll using your Accuracy and compares it against your enemy’s Defenses, including Deflection, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. Deflection mainly protects against physical attacks, while Fortitude, Reflex, and Will usually protect against spells and other special abilities. Keep in mind all of this happens behind the scenes; the game rolls the dice, not you.

Grazes, hits, and crits

There are three ways that your attack can connect: grazes, hits, and criticals (or crits). Grazes are light hits that deal less damage than a full hit, and criticals deal extra damage. Certain classes have passive abilities that automatically convert grazes into hits and hits into criticals, improving your overall damage output.

Penetration and armor

Once an attack connects, its Penetration is compared to the target’s Armor Rating. If an attack’s Penetration is equal to the target’s Armor Rating, then the attack does full damage. If it’s lower, it does less damage. If the attack’s Penetration is double the target’s Armor Rating, it does bonus damage.

High Penetration attacks are the key to dealing with heavily armored enemies. While you can chip an enemy to death with many low damage, low Penetration attacks, this takes time, and time is what you won’t have if your enemy’s attacks are penetrating your armor. If your weapons aren’t penetrating, change it up. Each character can carry two weapon sets (or more, if you take certain abilities as you level up). Generally, if an attack isn’t doing much, your characters will bark it out during combat, and you can set the game to automatically pause if a situation like this arises.

Keep in mind that different kinds of armor have different defenses against piercing, slashing, and bludgeoning weapons. Melee combatants should always keep different weapon types in their weapon slots. If your first weapon set does slashing, be sure that your second set does bludgeoning. You can’t change what’s in each slot mid-combat, and you don’t want to be caught with no effective weapons.

Injuries vs health

Deadfire does something interesting with hit points. In combat, attacks and combat spells damage your health. If your health drops to zero, you’re out of the fight unless someone can bring you back with a resurrection spell (which you get access to later in the game). At the end of combat, most of your health is restored, but you take an injury, which is an ongoing status effect that can do any number of terrible things to you – reduce your maximum health, decrease your accuracy, reduce your defenses, etc. Your character takes an injury every time you go down, and if you take three injuries, your fourth will kill the character. You can remove injuries by resting and using food, and I sincerely suggest you do so. Losing NPCs in this game sucks. You lose their story, personality, and quips with the other party members which are a core part of the isometric ARPG experience.

Also, keep in mind that your health restores over a short period of time after each fight. If you rush into the next area and get attacked, that regeneration process immediately ends, leaving you shorthanded for the next engagement. Always take a breather and reassess after every fight!

Engagement and flanking

Engagement is a key part of controlling the flow of combat. When two characters start to fight in melee combat, they become Engaged. If one character breaks Engagement by moving away, it provokes an immediate Disengagement attack. This mechanic makes melee retreat painful and costly, and you can use it to your advantage, as will your enemies. You can see which character is engaging which via the green lines between them.Every party needs a tank, which usually takes the form of a fighter equipped with a weapon and shield (which provides you with the ability to engage an additional foe). The game graciously provides this at the start of the game in the form of Eder, a fan favorite NPC from the original Pillars of Eternity. (You can choose to make him a Rogue or a Fighter, and if you are not playing a tank, do yourself a favor and make him a Fighter.) Engaged foes are less likely to run away, and your tank’s goal should be to engage as many enemies as possible. This stops the enemy from chasing your squishier spell-casting characters. It often helps to have an off-tank as well, in the form of a Paladin or Monk, to bail out Engaged squishies or back up the main tank.

If something goes wrong and your squishies are engaged in melee, you may want to order them to retreat immediately, but the Disengagement attack can be devastating to lightly armored characters. Your physical combat classes often have abilities that can knockdown an enemy, allowing your squishie to retreat without the hazards of a Disengagement attack.

Keep in mind, that if a character is engaged on both sides, they are considered Flanked, and will be easier to hit. Avoid this if you can, though a decent tank can take it for a while, especially if they have healing support.

Powering up abilities

Deadfire offers a new mechanic called Empower. Once per fight, and a certain number of times per rest, you can empower a character’s ability such that it becomes much stronger. You can also cast it on yourself to replenish a portion of your ability resources. Many classes get “ability juice”; monks get wounds, fighters get discipline, cyphers get focus, etc.  They expend this juice every time they use their abilities. Each class regenerates their juice in a different way, requiring different characters to pursue different goals in combat. Note that spellcasters do not have “juice” but rather a limited number of spells per combat.

Friendly fire isn’t

Every AoE ability or spell is represented by two circles: inner and outer. Any target inside the inner red circle will be struck by the ability, friend or foe. Allies in the outer yellow circle will not be struck by the ability, but enemies will. You should be VERY careful about targeting your spells and abilities to make sure that you aren’t damaging your own party. That being said, your tanks are tough, and if they are swarmed, sometimes it’s worth it to injure your tanks a little to hurt your enemy a lot. Keep your tank’s defenses in mind. If your tank is wearing gear that protects them from fire, it might be okay to blast the crowd with a fireball. Keep in mind this applies to damage dealing effects but not healing – you can’t heal your enemy by accident.

Get in formation

If you’re exploring a dungeon where you’re being attacked frequently, make sure to set up your Formations with your tank in front and your squishies in back. You can change who stands where in your formation by clicking and dragging the character portraits at the bottom of the screen. Generally speaking, the character at the front of the formation is the one whose portrait is the furthest to the left. When moving your party, you can rotate the formation by right-clicking and dragging. When you release the button, the party will move.

Crushing the opposition

It’s common sense that you should remove enemies from the board as quickly as possible. Be sure to watch the flow of combat, and seek out heavily injured enemies that you can bring down by focus firing on them. As mentioned earlier, tanks like fighters, paladins, and barbarians control the flow of combat via Engagement, while DPS characters like rangers, monks, rogues, and mages deal damage. The enemy will attempt to push past your tanks in order to smack down your backline, and you should be doing the same. If the tank has the situation in hand, have your off tank bum rush an enemy priest, spellcaster, or archer (in that order).Be sure to use your terrain. Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, a narrow passage can be your greatest ally. If enemies can’t get past your tank, they can’t damage your party. This allows your priest to pour all the healing they can into the tank, and it gives your other characters the ability to deal damage and inflict status ailments. 

Also, you’ll notice that most of the spells in the game are not damage dealing attacks of increasing potency (though you do get those). Many of them inflict different status ailments that make enemies easier to take down. Deadfire and its sister games generally revolve around rendering your enemies vulnerable and your attacks irresistible. Don’t shy away from taking an ability just because it doesn’t do damage.

Kick back and have a snack

If you are faced with a particularly difficult battle, consider resting before combat. Not only will this remove many of your status ailments and injuries, the food you eat can give you a significant stat boost. Every class has key stats that affect how effective your character is in combat – make sure to give food that boosts the related stat.

For folks who enjoy granular, strategic RPG combat, there are few games better than the Pillars of Eternity series. Enjoy the guide and best of luck, adventurer!