I'm nearing the end of my first Turn Based playthrough (just mega-bosses and Ukaizo left!) so I wanted to share some findings and thoughts in hopes that it will help others (or at least that I'll have my mind changed on some things and get better for my next playthrough).
Mods/Berath's Blessings Disclaimer:
These are the mods and BBs that might have influenced how I viewed this playthrough:
Background Info: Build and Party Set-Up
I played a Nature Godlike Fate Testarossa build (credit to Ascaloth) for my Watcher. Pre-level 13, I had a fairly standard party: Priest Xoti, Riposte/Engagement Swash Eder, Single Class Aloth, and story relevant companion slot. My post level 13 core party consisted of the Watcher, a Zealot Vatnir (Preist of Rymrgand/Rogue) with a focus on buffs and AoE DPR, and a hireling Harbinger (Troubadour/Trickster) that ended up being basically another Ascaloth build (The Cunning Duelist), except with more of a focus on dual-wielding than crits (I was actually really excited about building this character and wanted to make a build post but then checked the build list and it's like... 90% the same character. Oh well, someone else coming up with it first just means I was right about it being good). The spare slots were for story relevant companions, with generally one being a Chanter healer (Tekehu, Pallegina, Konstanten or Fassina) and the other being built for DPR (literally everyone else).
Post Level 13 Core Party Builds
Watcher - Nature Godlike Ascetic (Fury Druid/Helwalker Monk)
Hireling - Wood Elf Harbinger (Troubadour Chanter/Trickster Rogue)
Vatnir - Endings Godlike Zealot (Priest of Rymrgand/Rogue)
An Aside - What's With the Pre-13/Post-13 Divide?
Early Game - Learning the System in Port Maje
Port Maje's job is definitely punishing me for my hubris. "I beat PoE1, I know what I'm doing!" "I beat this game on RTwP, I know what I'm doing!" I never actually know what I'm doing, of course. A lot of the combat in Port Maje I dealt with in Real Time with Pause by pulling enemies and you can't do that in Turn Based. A very basic strategy, totally out the window. Right from the start, you're forced to re-assess how to deal with two very hard fights (the Drake and Gorecci Street) because the standard method doesn't work. This forced me to learn the first really important part of TB, which is:
The Surprise Round
Entering combat from Stealth currently (v4.1.0) gives you a surprise round where your entire party and just one enemy will have a round of actions. This is a simple and powerful action economy boost - it puts your entire party at +1 actions over all but one of your enemies. The Surprise Round is short, initiative-wise, so you're "limited" to Free Actions, Movement, and 1 Standard Action or shorter Cast if you want to take advantage of it - longer casts will resolve in the following round and prevent you from doing anything that round that isn't movement/free actions, thus robbing you of the advantage of the Surprise Round (being up one action).
If you're thinking: "Don't a lot of hard fights prevent you from opening from stealth via scripted starts?", then you're sort of right. Here's the thing: a lot of scripted start fights give an effective Surprise Round anyways. The Effective Surprise Round is the game having toughest enemy being added to initiative on round 1, with adds joining round 2 for scripted starts. The only fights that consistently don't get Effective Surprise Rounds from scripted are ship fights - it seems like the scripted Effective Surprise Round is reliant on dialogue.
The Gorecci Street porch dwellers never knew what hit them (it was a Sunbeam, a Burst of Summer Flame, and Eder for the record).
Shorter Casts? Longer Casts? Standard Actions? Free Actions? What are you talking about?
The wikis don't seem to have this information yet, and though it's sort of available in game, it isn't really obvious how it works. Here's what I've determined:
Free Action: All the 0.5 sec/0 sec abilities. You can fire as many of these off in a turn as you have the resources for. They don't affect your initiative in the slightest and they're still available when you've completed a spell earlier in the round (an occurance that can prevent other actions).
Standard Action: Resolves on your turn. I haven't looked through thoroughly but basically all martial abiities are Standard or Free. Spells that have 0.5 cast time but require recovery time are Standard. Auto-attacking is a Standard. You get 1 Standard (or 1 Cast) per round and can move/take free actions both before and after taking a Standard.
Short Cast: All the 3.0 second spells. These seem to resolve 1-5 turns later. Good Action Speed generally meant they were resolving right after the caster's turn or with only one or two turns in between. Functionally the big difference between a Standard Action and a Short Cast+good Action Speed is you can move/use Free Actions before and after a Standard, while a Short Cast effectively ends your turn.
Medium Cast: The 4.5 second spells. These will resolve in the same round towards the end of everyone's turns. Unless it's the Surprise Round - they'll get pushed to the next round for resolution, which means you don't get to take a Cast or Standard action that round. Good Action Speed can get these to point where they'll be able to resolve in the surprise round.
Long Cast: Summons, AKA the 6.0 second spells. I didn't test these much because TB forces you to micro summons and it's agonizing to me. As a rule of thumb, these resolve the following round, effectively taking two of your turns. I'm sure that enough action speed buffs can land them in the same round but like I said, I didn't really test it out. And who I did test it out with was Pallegina, whose DEX: 11 isn't a good representation of how this might affect a Watcher that focuses on summons.
The real big takeaway from this is that Action Speed is incredibly important for casters and as far as I can tell meaningless for everyone else - none of the Standard Action martial abilities care about action speed.
Initiative is Just Like D&D
The second thing that I figured out while flailing around Port Maje is that the same minmax concepts around Initiative that I know from D&D apply here:
- Initiative for the party overall is about surpassing a threshold: It's just got to be good enough to act before Team Bad Guy.
- Any group buff casters need to have the best initiative: getting buff spells off before everyone has to reposition is important.
- Next in the initiative line is AoE casters/control casters: Their casts aren't instant resolve like D&D but it's still very important to see where the AoE will be and who gets to move before and after
- After AoE casters, Standard Action debuffers and engagers: This part doesn't actually have a D&D parallel but you know. Not all analogies are perfect. It's important for engagers and debuffers to have a higher initiative than whatever count spells resolve on so they can hold down targets and ensure your spells hit.
- Finally, the DPR can go. Their initiative is mostly fine being bad (and definitely should be worse than your other characters!), but Pillars has very few builds that are solely dedicated to DPR, so you'll probably still want to have these characters act in the debuffer/engager stage. If they're actually only doing damage, it doesn't matter when they act.
Initiative Isn't Just Like D&D
I wanted to bring up D&D because minmaxers familiar with D&D should intuitively understand why and where a round's order needs to be manipulated but it's important to note that there is a very big difference between Deadfire initiative and D&D initiative:
Deadfire's initiative changes based on the previous round's actions.
Things like Blind, interrupts, etc. that add recovery time to enemies? They really screw over their initiative. DEX Afflictions should also damage a foe's initiative. Your own recovery time is added to initiative too but it's a small number compared to the effects of actions. For example, if you and an enemy both attack with Quarterstaffs, you're both at +4 initiative before modifiers. If your Quarterstaff attack was a Confounding Blind, that adds +100% to the enemy's initiative for Blind, so your enemy is now at +8 initiative. The attack potentially interrupts to put them at +10*. The biggest initiative penalty you'd be getting from armor? Puts you at +6 instead of +4. The actions you take will likely have more influence on a combat's overall initiative than the number on your character sheet.
Engaging and Movement
The last thing I got a handle on while in Port Maje is engagement and movement. Engagement is... different. It's only sometimes automatic. It breaks for all characters involved in an engagement whenever an engager or engagee loses the ability to engage (this might be a glitch). I'm 90% sure a lot of engagement specific info will get patched out (this post is v 4.1.0) because it feels... off... but here it is anyways.
Team Bad Guy Engagement: In my not-at-all-rigorous testing, the enemy engages you at the start of combat if they're close enough, if you move past their melee range when they've got a bigger "base" (Drakes, Eotens, Ogres, etc. have bigger "bases" compared to the normal kith-size "base"), and if you engage them. Team Good Guy Engagement: Taking an action or resolving an action next to a foe creates engagement. If you've used up your Standard Action for the turn, you can click on an enemy to engage them. Every time you engage, your character automatically fills as many of their engagement slots as they can. What does this all mean? Well, a thorough reading here shows that if you can't engage, you can hit and run with Standard Actions. Not engaging means enemies won't engage and a lot of them don't engage automatically. BIG news for my glass cannon Watcher. I spent a lot of time on Port Maje popping out from behind Eder, giving someone a big two-handed whack, then running back behind Eder. Related, something Aloth taught me is that duration AoEs tick at the start of the caster's turn. Aloth and the Watcher as my engagement-incapable characters were pretty freely able to duck in and out of his Chill Fogs completely unharmed as we harassed the enemies who were inside.
EDIT: Finally booted up 4.1.1 instead of 4.1.0, engagement works like normal now. TB is still way more mobile because of how much easier it is to micro the movement.
Movement is also way different from RTwP because it's instant speed. You can move freely during your turn without time passing or having to worry about enemy disruption. However, you can't move in reaction to enemies; once you finish your turn, you are committed to that position.
What does that all mean? Well, fights are more mobile. Movement is way less dangerous to take. Casters would constantly reposition for more effective AoEs. Engagers were less about forming a line in front of your squishies to catch enemies running past and more about pinning down high priority targets. Interrupters didn't need to hang out right next to enemy casters, they could participate in engagement tactics and still easily cross the battlefield to stop the caster on time, every time.
Going back to Aloth's Chill Fog lessons, instant speed movement also means it's way easier to drop AoEs on your own team. The instant speed movement allows you to pass through duration AoEs without harm. For non-duration AoE, you can just look at where it comes in on the initiative order and plan around that.
Mid Game - Ideas Under Neketaka
While I'm putting to use my new understanding of Turn Based and trudging through the Old City to get the Kitchen Stove, I'm trying to come up with ideas on how to actually apply the play difference in builds and a functioning party. I start thinking about what is working and what isn't.
Melee damage isn't working. I'm probably partially underwhelmed because I'm comparing it to one of the best DPR casters you can have (Fate Testarossa's schtick of constantly being at 35 Might, getting +3-4 PEN, and having +4-6 PL is very powerful). I'll admit that I also might not be very good at building for the One Big Hit that TB inclines you towards. That said, melee has its uses. Engagement is still a useful tool and the Club/Flail/Morningstar modals are key debuffs.
It's fair to also point out melee damage isn't actually bad - it's just not capable of RTwP's DPS. My endgame rogues were still doing 120+ DPR without even really trying. That was incredibly nice to have attached to things like -25 Fortitude and Blinded. I'll reiterate: I'm not some super talented character builder and could easily be missing something like "Class X and Y weapon do 500 DPR!" But currently, there's just not a lot of impressive low-hanging fruit for DPR. So, until some forum poster shows us the way: melee=utility.
Ranged damage is working fine and IMO that's because of unique weapons. Dual Mortars is still very good (and will be better when they go back to AoE debuffs!), Watershaper's Focus doing AoE and jump is decent for DPR, Frostseeker does its thing, etc. My RTwP playthrough was a Trickster/Beguiler with dual Mortars who brought Scout Maia and her Arquebuses everywhere, so I didn't actually focus on testing this stuff in TB too much beyond trying a few things out on back-up Companions/Sidekicks.
Weapon Switching and Style
Switching weapon sets takes up your turn's Standard Action, so while it's still the right course of action to adjust to armor strengths/weaknesses, making weapon switches is a massive hit to your DPR. It was never great, of course, but losing 1 turn's damage is way harsher than in RTwP losing 2.5 (plus modifiers) seconds' damage.
Two Weapon Fighting gets a huge boost over 1 and 2 Handed Fighting because auto-attacks are full attacks. The game isn't difficult enough that this matters if you stylistically want to go single weapon but from the min-max perspective, the only reasons to ever do anything but Two Weapon are the Morningstar modal, Rod Modal for AoE, and Stat Sticks.
I hadn't got Relentless Storm yet when I was brewing ideas but I could see it coming. Returning Storm was telling me everything I needed to know: If you hit a creature, they would lose their next turn. Didn't even matter if they were electricity immune, as I found out fighting grubs. This is the idea that I'd end up building my core party towards: Stunlocking enemies. Several abilities that were strong but not going to single-handedly win encounters in RTwP changed to be incredibly brutal hard control in TB.
The control I ended up focusing on:
Relentless Storm: Besides its screen-covering radius, this was my top-tier control spell due to the duration allowing the caster to actually take actions when the enemies couldn't. Not to mention the Fate Testarossa build giving it a significant PL-based accuracy boost.
Killers Froze Stiff: Specifically upgraded and cast by a Troubadour. It won't cover the screen and is resistable on two different fronts (DEX and RES) but Troubadours generating 2 phrases a turn means you can keep 100% uptime on the enemy being able to do anything relevant (auto-attacks really aren't). They're Paralyzed 1 turn, Frightened the next, and then you cast it again (if you even need to). The two turn duration and Chanter phrases being passive put this in the same sort of category as Relentless: Hard Control that allows the caster to be taking actions when the enemy isn't. Also very important: It's a Standard Action. No need for initiative manipulation or engagers to pin foes in the radius, this just works.
Ryngrim's Repulsive Visage: Small radius but so much fun on engagers. Definitely more for applying to key foes than taking over significant chunks of the battlefield. You could maintain 100% uptime on this in RTwP so I feel like there's not much new to say about it - we all know how it works. Much like Relentless Storm, its value is a little higher than it looks on paper because of how easy it is to get PL stacking items for it.
Pull of Eora: Not actually hard control but pretty close with how poorly the AI deals with it. Way less commonly resisted than the others. I didn't keep this in my party all the time but I tried a Geomancer Maia this go around, so between Maia, Aloth, and Fassina, someone could generally cast it. Instant speed move generally meant you had to have someone "guard" the edge of the AoE, to trick foes into ending their movement in the radius (with movement being instant speed, it's easier for them to leave without getting pulled back in - a concern specifically with Maia's low INT).
Thick Grew Their Tongues + Interrupts: Also not technically hard control. Still very good because being limited to one auto-attack/round is pretty much hard control in terms of the sort of enemy you want to interrupt (casters and bosses). Thick Grew Their Tongues isn't strictly necessary but makes this strategy way more consistent. Interrupts as control is also why my end game core party includes two Rogues: if it's important to keep an enemy interrupted, having one rogue delay generally meant you'd always have a shot at interrupting. That's how I beat Neriscyrlas in TB - Vatnir and my Harbinger just sat there Crippling Striking her anytime she even thought about casting Lengrath's Safeguard.
I know saying stuff like Interrupts are good! Relentless Storm is good! Killers Froze Stiff is good! doesn't seem like new information. They were all already good. But they're so much better in turn based. Simply preventing the enemy from taking relevant actions is an incredibly effective and resilient strategy in the new play-mode.
AoE buffs are working great. This is probably me showing a bias as someone who wasn't great at micro-ing the whole party in RTwP but it's just so much easier to hit everyone relevant with TB's instant speed movement. I normally stopped using priests as soon as I hit Neketaka in RTwP and switched entirely to Druid or Chanter healers. But having a Priest in your TB party is basically like giving everyone +15 Accuracy, since you can pretty much expect to have Devotions for the Faithul always on, and Dire Blessing on most of the time.
Mostly a gut feeling, but the relative time the action of buffing takes is better in TB. 7-14 (+/- modifiers) seconds spent doing nothing but buffing was absolutely brutal to me in RTwP, while 1-2 turns spent buffing doesn't feel like it's very significant, action-wise - especially when one of those turns can be taken in the Surprise Round.
On the non-Priest side of buffing, those 0.5/0.0 second buffs? Being Free Actions makes them increasingly better depending on how many a character wants to cast at once. It wasn't huge but the couple seconds that a buff heavy Wizard was delayed by in RTwP was enough that it could be considered a meaningful drawback. That's totally gone now, so martial Wizards rejoice.
End Game - I'm Bad At Summary And This Post Was Too Long 10 Paragraphs Ago
One big thing is: Turn Based is easier. Round by round information is going to be much easier to process for most people than real time information. Having to play each member of your party is always going to be better than leaving anything up to the AI. Humans>AI (for now... *ominous music*).
It's also surprisingly way less tedious. I'd actively micro 2-4 characters depending on party composition in RTwP but TB's full party management ends up feeling like less overall management. Mostly an opinion thing, probably.
As far as a summary about what I learned playing TB? My Harbinger and Vatnir builds are that knowledge applied. They exist in the context of a specific Watcher but should be capable in any TB party.
I'm legitimately excited about the way things play differently and getting to learn new approaches to the game. I will probably do another full playthrough when they next patch (still has the occasional bad glitch *cough*SSS Survivor fights*cough*) and will definitely be consoling my way to specific fights so I can replay the notable battles with different builds/party set-ups.
Edited by Taudis, 13 February 2019 - 09:05 AM.