So, I was hoping that I'd be able to make this thread after finishing the actual game, but the issues with my computer are worse than expected (i.e. there's always a worse scenario than the worst case scenario) and so I doubt I'll get to finish it in some time. Likewise I've only been able to skim the boards of late so if this is all already being discussed elsewhere and people feel it comes across as spam or the likes, feel free to merge it with that other thread. For the most part I hope I can add something worthwhile to the discussion regarding the two titular topics and present some possibilities that could potentially help improve the same.
So, I'll go ahead and reiterate that I have not finished the game so I would appreciate spoiler tags being used when appropriate and so on, and also that my assessments below are based on what I have experienced so far of the game, which I would still say is over 100 hours or the same.
With that out of the way, I'll start off with the more contentious subject based on what opinions I've read, which is the companion relationship/reputation system. Right off the bat I would say that in general I dislike relationship systems based on a reputation scale the likes we've seen in previous games like Neverwinter Nights 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, and to me this is no exception to the rule. I feel that the more transparent these systems are, the more they invite the player to play to their companions' ego and "game" their way to a max relationship, and the more unnatural and mechanical the relationships feel; Deadfire seems to exasperate this further by adding a very clear set of traits that each companion likes and dislikes, and making them respond with stock reactions to every instance where either the player or another companion acts in a way that they like (leading to many strange reactions the likes we've seen many times in other threads already). In turn I also know that if I am to respond to a certain interaction in a specific manner, the rest of the party will inevitably "like" or "dislike" that response because that's what they're very broadly and obviously programmed to do - which is odd because even if someone is "light-hearted" for example, that same person won't necessarily find every joke amusing or every situation ideal for the same. Personally I would have liked a more invisible system myself which kept track in the background of what each liked and disliked and where we'd see only the results of these opinions more so than the ticking of every instance where we say something or do something that increases a character's disposition towards us; but what's done is done and for what it's worth I think the idea of keeping track of companion-companion relationships is an interesting one which I'm glad is to some extent or other being worked on, as it would seem a good way in which to make the party feel a little more dynamic and reactive and all that jazz.
But still, even if the system can't be torn down and reworked from the ground, there's a few things I reckon could improve it going further in Deadfire's development. For example, one thing I would love to see looked at is the effect that certain actions we take have on characters regardless of whether they match with their "traits" or not. For example, I am of the opinion that there's things that very likely have a deeper effect on a relationship than whether or not you are one way or abscribe to a certain philosophy.
I feel that in cases like these for each character, having a reputation change unaffiliated to companion likes/dislikes would do a lot of good towards making the relationship system feel a lot more natural and less "gamey" or jumpy than it does currently. I feel the like/dislike system is fine but it should really be relegated to very minor shifts, with maybe some big swings at very determined situations when things do get very personal, in either a positive or negative sense (e.g. Serafen helping Xoti out with her nightmares, or Aloth not being able to stand Tekehu's vanity anymore). Likewise it wouldn't be an entirely bad idea to have certain "critical" situations affect a companion's disposition to the *whole* party and not just the Watcher (to use Pallegina's example above, she'd probably be appreciative towards all who helped out with her personal quest and not just the Watcher).
Also something that I've noted is that at the beginning of the game, when we were first shown the relationship system via the tutorial, the tutorial section mentioned that companions could lead to forging deeper and more unique bonds and these same would be detailed through the "relationship" box right next to the reputation compass and so on… But has anyone actually seen this box get updated with new content between companions? Or even between companions and the Watcher themselves? I reckoned it was a bit early in my playthrough at first, but as the game moved on, and having reached the point I have most recently, it seems very odd that I should see no update to the same, not even to indicate the ongoing relationship between Maia and my Watcher for example. This would be worth looking into, I think, whether it is working as intended or not.
Moving onto the crew now…
I for one will say I really liked the crew system, a heck of a lot more than the hirelings back in the first Pillars for certain. I liked the many vignettes involving them, I liked being able to collect them all across the Deadfire almost as if I were filling out my own little Eoradex, I liked how you could get an idea to their individual personalities through many of their introductory interactions and quests and so on. I also reckon that their personalities also determine the role they'd take in the vignettes out at sea, so I liked how Eld Engrim often played the pious character, Emeini the more combative type, and so on. However, I do feel that I would like to see a few situations more appropriately tailored to either the events of the game or to individual crewmembers, which I'll expand upon next.
Likewise, and this is a minor addition but and important one I feel: when we look into our journal for information on the mechanics to crewmembers, be it the way they level up on their positions or what advantage does each position and experience in the same bring, these are either not present or very scarcely explained, with all that's said about them is that they're a "motley assortment of neerdowells" and so on. I don't think it's ever mentioned that crewmembers can earn four overall stars across all ranks before they max out either, and I only learned it once I looked at the wiki or a subreddit discussion about it. A more detailed clarification within the game itself that we could access at any time would be appreciated, I think.
These are some aspects which I feel could improve both systems over how they presently are, which I also feel would be feasible to do for a future patch or something. What do you guys think? Anything else you would like to add, or would disagree with, or any changes you would propose yourselves?