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POE 1 Complete – Over-review (incidental spoilers)

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Why I did I write this, who would read it and where the hell else would I post it? Three very good questions which are best left unanswered.

My background

Played through the game a few times including POTD and Ironman runs before WM1 was released. I even wrote a Ranger build guide which would basically only need GET THE LIGHTNING BOW to be added to the start, end and every intervening paragraph to be up to date. I've not played anything more than a desultory run up to Russetwood since.

Vulgar details

Character – Ramensky (whose approach, I'm afraid, bore no resemblance to Gentle Johnny) – Old Vailian Boreal Dwarf auto-attacking melee rogue with Noble proficiency as I've not really played a Rogue or used those weapons before. Had a lot of fun with the class.

Companions – Mostly ran Zahua, Eder, GM, Durance and Kana. Played around with just about everyone, though. Sacrificed Maneha to the blood pool after doing her quest. Permanent stat boosts make monsters of us all.

Approach – Chaotic Munchkin. Did literally everything, had 3-4 in just about every disposition. Did the March Steel dagger quest that I've previously regarded as beneath me. All companion quests, all bounties, all everything.


Difficulty – after starting a run on Veteran as I had forgotten all the game mechanics and, being disgusted with my play and more disgusted still with the fact that I was winning, I restarted on POTD with hidden alignments/options. Started WM1 at 9 and didn't upscale, WM2 and Act 3 upscaled.

Onto the substance


Difficulty Curve – adding two very big expansions into the middle of a game which was already a little wonky on challenge (vanilla POE had a severe drop in difficulty once the game opens up) has not helped this. Act 3, even upscaled, is trivial at level 14-16 and much of the equipment that used to be the top-tier rewards for reaching the late-game is overshadowed by its WM counterparts. It's slightly frustrating having to basically decide for yourself which parts of the game you want to be challenging. Self-evidently not really an avoidable problem.

It didn't really help that I hit the max level with almost all of WM2, WM2 bounties, 7 or so base game bounties and all of Act 3 to go. Doing it again, I'd consider an XP reduction mod. That said, I think WM2 knocks the stuffing out of Act 3 as a final challenge.

POE story – the setting holds up but I'm not sure about the 'main story'. I think the halting attempts to replicate what BG1 and 2 did in instilling an illusory sense of urgency should either have been ramped up or dispensed with. The pacing, which was already the story's biggest weakness, was hamstrung even further by taking a rather large timeout to complete some huge expansions and a ton of bounties while dipping back in and out of the main game in an attempt to try and fight stuff at an appropriate level and meet the toughest encounters in the game with the most readiness. The companions, theme and setting remain stellar in my view but Thaos as an antagonist didn't really work for me. You don't confront him meaningfully before the very end of the game, you are consistently told (or, more accurately, consistently forced to claim) but never really shown that he's some sort of fundamental cause of your problems, he's not terribly interesting until his act 4 conversation and he's just naff when compared to a goddess of obliteration or a mad king building some deluded scientific monument to try and sustain his dead son. Additionally, he doesn't really have any lieutenants or supporters that you can use as indirect confrontation other than a few nameless mooks and the Leaden Key are supremely non-threatening and don't really offer any meaningful challenge after the first confrontation in the sewers.

Fundamentally there were a lot of relatively low-effort ways (which, and I hate to harp on about it, BG2 did perfectly) to reinforce Thaos as a villain that weren't ever attempted in POE. I also think that for a game of this style, we should really be looking at a villain that you can, rationally and without breaking immersion, justify ignoring until you've finished everything else you want to do. Fortunately, I think the ending itself is good enough that some of these objections don't carry the weight they otherwise would.

Mechanics – I'm not going into enormous depth here but I think mechanically the game has held up as an alternative to the slightly less fussy AD&D games and whatever else is out there and it continues to offer a real range of character creation options that few games have matched. It's also done really well at integrating these into the story in order to help you feel like you're having a unique character-driven experience (the Planescape-inspired way stat checks are used etc. etc.). With the White March's additions of immunities and balance changes the game is massively improved. I will say that the per-rest stuff seems fine for the spellcasters (who have 40 other spells they could cast) and items but it shouldn't be in place for the non-casters. 'That's an interesting ability for my rogue but I'd have to trek back for camping supplies if I use it once a fight so I'll take something else' is really not an internal monologue you want a player to have.

There are some very welcome modern conveniences (the central hub, for which Caed Nua is really best in class) and some logical concessions to modern style (modular combat) without the huge oversimplifications that have accompanied them elsewhere as well as the reactivity that Obsidian have pioneered (Alpha Protocol 4life). I think it represents the right kind of compromise for the genre going forwards.

Retraining – odd one to have as a paragraph, I admit but wanted to stress this was a very welcome convenience in a game this length; being able to drop stealth when honestly it was doing nothing for me after 50 hours or being able to switch out some per rest stuff (ick). I am painfully reminded of NWN 1 where I went for some fancy shapeshifting prestige class but didn't check the requirements, had to spec into it a level or two later and then my shapeshifting forms were basically useless at the level I was at.

White March 1 (and Deadfire Pack) – new content was superb. Welcome expansions on scripted encounters, high level talents were nice, good stuff all around. New companions felt a little lightweight except for the Devil of Caroc. The soulbound weapons were a very nice touch. Some tough encounters that offered challenges that the base game didn't. I should possibly have scaled up the first part but didn't really know what to expect and, playing mostly without the big nuke NPCs, the Lagufaeth remained infuriating throughout. The Battery itself was a tad repetitive but I think that's because I should have scaled up for it.

White March 2 – top notch stuff – thematically great, gorgeous environments, great story, great antagonists, fun stuff to do (sorting out Stalwart's relationship with Defiance Bay was a really nice little quest, fighting two dragons and an archmage was fun) outside of a fantastic main quest, encounters built around meaningful and varied challenges, some interesting choices, great items and really exactly the sort of high level stuff you want as a player in my position coming back to the game. Most of all I'd say it kind of broke my purely mechanical goals with regard to what my character was doing and I ended up with Ramensky having some sort of indignant heroic aim to annoy as many of the gods as possible which informed a lot of my act 3 and 4 conversations. As above, felt Maneha was a little underwhelming but it was fun dabbling with some of the new Barbarian stuff and completing her quest before dropping off in the Dyrford blood pool.

Will I play it again? - I don't know. Maybe will try some sort of sub-POTD solo, low kills, low rests run but Triple Crown stuff is just not realistic for me in terms of time investment. It's a huge game and having done a legitimately complete run, I think that's probably enough for me. Suspect either my first run of Tyranny or a Deadfire followup run are next on the list once I've recharged a bit and done something productive.

Over-review review overview – very good game, much improved by the expansions, some problems that seem very easy to fix retrospectively and some that seem unsolvable within the game's framework and objectives.


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