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What do we think makes a good RPG city? Neketka is often regarded as one of the better parts of Deadfire. I really like the music, amount of quality content, visuals (and diversity of visuals old city etc). In many ways it is the best of all, it has a very unique design. How do you think it compares to these others?

Athkatla (BG2) - Probably the highest tier of all RPG cities. Most of the game is actually set here so there is a ton of content. I don't actually like the visuals that much, it's all very sandy looking. But you leave the city and there are forests everywhere. Copper Coronet is a great pub, a good pub is key to RPG cities I think.

Neverwinter (NWN2) - This has a decent pub, it's basically the HQ for your party for the first half of the game. The city feels very static though, NPC's basically just stand there the entire game and don't have much to say unless they are a vendor.

Baldur's Gate (BG1) - It's a good sized city with a lot of quests. I like it, lots of pubs everywhere.

Berlin (Shadowrun Dragonfall) - This is the main hub for the game, i haven't played it in a while now but I have vague memories of liking it. I think there is a coffee shop though, no pub so not as good as the others.

Las Vegas (FNV) - I found it a bit disappointing. There are some quality quests though, mainly that one with the white hand society(?).

What have I missed? What do you guys like/dislike in an RPG city?

 

I'm just trying to get some good conversation going about RPG's rather than the doom and gloom of those other topics.

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3 minutes ago, Boeroer said:

I dislike if it's too big.  Like... all the ones you mentioned.

This could be one of the things developers should avoid, it was a big stretch goal for POE for a 'second big city'. Perhaps smaller, more focused areas are better. Stalwart for example, is more interesting than most other town/cities.

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Early on I preferred Baldur's Gate (B1) to Athkatla, because it was "seamless", like it was literally one large fort town divided into nine maps, so the city felt "truly" big. Over time, Athkatla has sort of become my gold standard because of how dense each area is - I remember going into random houses and being surprised at interactivity I could find (like that whole Katana sword thing in the Temple District, or the items in one of the random nondescript-yet-heavily-trapped houses in the Bridge District). I don't think any game has met that high bar since; PoE1 and Deadfire were kinda there, but I basically have no incentive to go into random houses in these games, just the ones attached to a task/quest or ones that initiate a task/quest. Though I think Deadfire did the best job (of any of the mentioned games so far) of giving me an incentive to go to random districts, because they didn't concentrate all the best magic items on one vendor. Can be a little annoying, but I like the wandering.

Other contenders I'd like to include:

  • Imperial City (Oblivion), really felt legit huge, even though I mostly just spend time where the stores are
  • DC, all of it (Fallout 3). Not just the small pockets of settlers and merchants, but the entire ruins. I thought this was and is an absolute blast to experience. And there's a real "they made art through adversity" feel here, because the game engine couldn't handle large outdoor areas, they had to break up DC by sections of metro tunnels that connected them, but I ended up loving this aspect of it, made it feel like a real city with real transport routes; whereas Boston in FO4's subway stations went nowhere and were just self-contained mini-dungeons, you could actually study the metro map in FO3 and get out at certain points to different parts of DC (or the DC suburbs).
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8 minutes ago, Boeroer said:

Exactly. Dyrford, too.

The best towns are always the small ones. 

Do you have other reasons for this apart from the fact that large cities tend to be able to overwhelm you with quests?

I quite like large cities, as long as they're good. Athkatla is great, probably the best(*). Neverwinter could be good, but it's just so static that it is not very interesting.

 

(*) Just think of all the stuff in Athkatla. Even the minor content. That horn in the bridge district, those slavers at the temple district, that lich at the gates...

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Just think if all that stuff was placed in different smaller cities. Even minor content. That horn in Bridgetown, those slavers in Helmchurch, that lich in Undergates. ;)

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Athkatla and Sigil are probably my favorites. What I like about them is that they feel "down to earth". They get the feel right, the density, the ambience. And there's a feeling of danger to them. You get the feeling of "city life".

As a sidenote, and nostalgia talking here, but one of my strongest memories of the Baldur's Gate games is the feeling of... relative safety when nearing an inn in the middle of the night, seeing the light spill out and hearing the tavern music play from within. You'd survived the wilderness, finally the safety of an inn... but, you still never knew what could happen. It really vibed with my pen and paper experiences at the time, as well as reading stuff like the Prancing Pony segment of Lord of the Rings.

Huge nostalgia.

But anyways, I think Neketaka was fantastic overall. I liked the districts, I think they felt nice and different. I liked that there was something like the little scripted interaction bit (The Narrows I think it was called?). I liked that you could get "stuck" if you take the elevator down to the old city. And locations like the Luminous Bathhouse were just cool, though I wish some of the locations had been used more and more "in-depth".

But yeah, it was superfun to explore. I don't think it really nailed the "city atmosphere" personally. I think part of it is the music in those areas. I like the PoE soundtracks, and I liked the town tracks on their own, but they never really sold the idea of a city in my mind. I wish Neketaka's music had just a bit more tension to it, and with something connecting it to the culture and people of Neketaka. The tracks feel a bit lacking in identity for me.

Anyways, another city I loved was Vizima in the Witcher. That whole game oozes atmosphere and the various parts of Vizima are no exception. I know lots of people like Novigrad from Witcher 3 but Vizima in the first game is where it's at for me.

Edited by Starwars
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I dislike large cities as well. i get bogged down in them and thinking back that is exactly what happened to me in BG2, NWN2, and POE 2. I beat BG1 but i dont remember the city with any special fondness. in POE 2 it was one of the stumbling blocks that kept me from progressing in game. I just beat POE 2 for the first time a few weeks ago after so many restarts. I liked Dragonfall but Berlin was not remotely on the scale of any of these other cities. It was more like guilded vale or stalwart. And Dragonfall progressed differently because the overall game was smaller in scope. You would do some Berlin stuff then go out to main and side missions then come back and there would be some new Berlin stuff to do then rinse and repeat. but that game had no world map to explore so the setup and progression are not the same as just going to city like Nekataka and being bombarded with tons of quest if you start talking to people.  I loved POE 1. Defiance Bay bordered on to much content at times and i definitely felt that bogged down feeling when i did my first run and i was in the im going to do 100% of content but once i started role playing more in subsequent runs and ignoring people and quest i didnt think my character would bother with the content lessened up and was able to enjoy more.

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Is this related to just an urban vs non-urban (suburban, rural) preference?

I'll say that I'm unabashedly into urban environments, which colors the fact of why I appreciate some RPG cities so much (esp Fallout 3's DC). If they eliminated a bunch of the quest density, I would still enjoy it on its own merits I think.

To reiterate, Athkatla was great because there was just so much discoverability and interactivity. It was just an added layer was that it was a richly realized city environment (bridge district was hella cool when I was a kid, and it blew my mind to learn later that there are actually cities outside the US that have big thick bridges with markets on them). But if they could do the same with a rural environment, it would still be great in its own respect. In that respect, I would agree that Dyrford is pretty great - as far as quest hubs go it was deep, there were nice little narrative easter eggs (such as the tanner opening right into the skaenite dungeon and them having a hidden book on skaen).

 

But cities are still better :)

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I agree this may just a preference thing for rural or smaller areas. I think i like the smaller town with more focused content to discover or alternatively i like exploring areas that i feel like i should explore because the game gave me reason to explore. So my initial hesitation with Nekataka was the main story line. i go to city  go talk to queen and im suppose to leave to go to another city in like 10 minutes. it felt like "what is all this content for when the main story is sending my away" as opposed to defiance bay which at least sent me to places in the city and to dyford and along the way i go to do new content. And I knew from the reviews and from the talk here the main story of POE2 was short so i felt like if i progressed in main story to fast i would finish the game to early so i would stay in nekataka and start to get bogged down in lots of quest that felt weird in light of the the main story and would just quit. i finally just decided to ignore the main story and forget about it and play the faction game which felt like a different game and was able to enjoy it more. I also just enjoyed the slower start to POE 1 than the hook for POE 2. they basically did the opposite of why i got hooked in POE 1 because of all the criticism and the big city was another one of those criticism that pushed the game further away from what i liked about POE 1. 

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3 hours ago, thelee said:

But cities are still better :)

200% agree. :biggrin: Cities are where's fun at, down with pastoral Ruritanias! 

My absolute favourite would be Arcanum's Tarant. When I start the game I might wince a little at UI, at scrolling, speed, turn based vs real time shenanigans etc, but as soon as I arrive in Tarant, every nuisance fades away, imagination takes over and I find myself immersed in the living, breathing, 3D city with sounds and smells and people and everything...it's magical. :sorcerer:

Other favourites would be Fallout 2's New Reno (so! many! things! to! do!!!) and hub of Bloodlines (ambience, atmo, muzik...mmm)

 

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7 hours ago, thelee said:

Is this related to just an urban vs non-urban (suburban, rural) preference?

Don't think so. I grew up in a rural environment (but in Lower Saxony/Germany - so in terms of wealth and cars and roads and stuff it's not that much different from the cities - just more fields, cows and pigs between the houses and a forest here and there) but I very much liked the first city I moved to (during university) and then Berlin. Berlin's pretty great (besides some really annoying side issues). Bucharest is very nice, too (if you pick the right district that is). Heck, even if most people don't know what it is: Tashkent was also great to me. Actually all bigger cities I lived in so far I found nice. And I didn't live in gated communities or something like that. Right beside the clay oven, yeah! :) 

I'm not a big fan of the "Open World" approach (as I have stated numreous times now, please bear with me) - and often you find big cities in games with that omnipresent "*gasp* Open World!!11!!1!" tag. I guess it often works as an anchor-point so you always know where to return to when you're totally lost wandering around without any sense of purpose or direction... Big cities with tons of quest hooks in it make those games easier to develop, too. If you'd have to manage the same amout of quests but spread over 10 smaller towns which even may be done by different teams you would be having a hard(er) time. 

I have the same problem as @draego: first I have this motivation to press forward, explore the "strand" of the game if you will. Then I reach the big city and it feels like that strand gets frayed into hundreds of threads. It takes away my motivation to press forward. I can do it, but only because I know it will get better with every quest that leads me out of that city (I also consider stuff like the Old City as "outside the city" since it's so different and a dungeon). It's way better with smaller cities or towns: they give you the feeling of a save haven with taverns, shops etc. but they don't drop all kind of stuff on you until you're quest-dazed. I don't think it's the city itself that sets me off, it's the function as quest dump. Maybe it would feel less awkward if you could buy/build a home and use that as base of operations. At least that would give you a better connection to the city and a more plausible reason to return all the time. If then all the quests would get unlocked time after time I would be happy I guess. It's not the "flair" of a big city I'm repelled by. 

I now realize that this might be the reason why I love dungeon crawls so much: no "open world" stuff - usually there's one/two main directions where to go. And no quest dumps... You're doing everything bit after bit. 

The parts I (and when I read correctly several others) liked most about PoE and Deadfire are those well-done dungeons or other contained areas like Temple of Eothas, Raedric's Castle, Temple of Skean, Fort Deadlight, Drowned Barrows...   

Edited by Boeroer
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I like spending more time in one place in a game. A good city is the one which has you coming back to it. It should be a fairly save, populated space, with a dark underbelly. Quests should weave through it. A decent choice of companions recruitable for adventures. 

On a most basic level it can be just a hub you come back to: shops, companions, NPC to talk to, stuff to store. 

Ankathla is great, as unlike PoEs don't have a mobile keep - you are likely to have a keep there, and companions will return to tavern. Cities are also a convenient way of delivering multiple quests - be it by giving a wide choice to start with, or setting scripted encounters as Devs know you will come back to it. 

I prefer if we get to the city early on, with stuff we can't afford, and possibly not all districts welcoming the newcomer. A city can be a nice reflection of our progress throught the game as we move from doing jobs for randoms in the tavern, to dealing with kings. 

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2 hours ago, Boeroer said:

@Wormerine: is your signature image really broken or is that some insider joke? :)

Oh, I thought I removed the signature... it doesn’t show on my screen anymore.

Yeah, recently I cleaned my imgur’s Deadfire backlog, and accidentally erased the imagine I was using for for the signature.

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From my point of view, it seems fairly simplistic to think that big cities are inherently better or worse than small cities. It's a question of content, balance and the quality of writing. Most things can be done well, but in fact most things are done in a fairly average way, simply because it is really quite difficult to do things well.

Let's look at the question of cities in CRPGs. They're already a trope, almost a cliche: there has to be this one big major city in a game, the bustling place where you get the majority of your important quests and which acts as the central hub. Now, things definitely can work this way, no question, but nothing about this scenario is necessary. I think the fact that the "big city" idea has become a cliche in CPRGs suggests two things: 1) game developers tend not to be very creative, and 2) players are incredibly conservative and want the same thing over and over again, as long as it looks new and is updated for the newest graphics.

I like pop songs. I like metal. I like challenging and polyrhythmic prog epics. I like piano pieces. I like symphonies. I even like enormous operas like Wagner's Ring. I like extremely simple folk songs. The bottom line is always: is it done well? Is it imaginative? The vast majority of everything is not, and CRPGs are not an exception.

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I had never played a CRPG before POE so I didn't know what to expect.  But right when I entered the gilded vale and saw the tree with bodies hanging.  I was fully immersed and had to know more.

Its hard to say exactly what makes a good town or city, but I always like when things aren't as they appear.(gilded vale is a bad example) dyrford is a good example.  There is a lot bellow the surface.  Literally and figuratively .

Edited by Theonlygarby
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4 hours ago, xzar_monty said:

From my point of view, it seems fairly simplistic to think that big cities are inherently better or worse than small cities. It's a question of content, balance and the quality of writing. Most things can be done well, but in fact most things are done in a fairly average way, simply because it is really quite difficult to do things well.

Let's look at the question of cities in CRPGs. They're already a trope, almost a cliche: there has to be this one big major city in a game, the bustling place where you get the majority of your important quests and which acts as the central hub. Now, things definitely can work this way, no question, but nothing about this scenario is necessary. I think the fact that the "big city" idea has become a cliche in CPRGs suggests two things: 1) game developers tend not to be very creative, and 2) players are incredibly conservative and want the same thing over and over again, as long as it looks new and is updated for the newest graphics.

I like pop songs. I like metal. I like challenging and polyrhythmic prog epics. I like piano pieces. I like symphonies. I even like enormous operas like Wagner's Ring. I like extremely simple folk songs. The bottom line is always: is it done well? Is it imaginative? The vast majority of everything is not, and CRPGs are not an exception.

I get what you're saying but I'm not trying to get too serious with this. I'm just seeing what people like or dislike about the big city concept. They tend to be disappointing in general, except athkatla probably. Kotor doesnt have any main cities, just the hubs of the different worlds and that works perfectly fine. 

 

Edit. I actually think it works best when it's the main area of the game, bg2.. and a controversial one here... dragon age 2s kirkwall. I think in bg1 you get to the city a bit too late, iits built up too much and doesn't live up to expectations. 

Edited by daven
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5 hours ago, daven said:

I get what you're saying but I'm not trying to get too serious with this. I'm just seeing what people like or dislike about the big city concept. They tend to be disappointing in general, except athkatla probably. Kotor doesnt have any main cities, just the hubs of the different worlds and that works perfectly fine.

Yeah, fair enough. I quite liked most of Neketaka, I have to say. But I would agree that Athkatla is the best. It's just really well done, even if the multitude of quests right after Chateau Irenicus can feel a bit overwhelming.

I also agree with @Theonlygarby: Gilded Vale and the trees was a very striking start. Really, really good. Ghastly, but good. But then, I was slightly disappointed that even if I changed Gilded Vale rather a lot, nothing became of it later in the game. The whole place was just forgotten, although I did away with the tyrannical leader and so on.

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Baldur's Gate will probably always top the list for me, just because of the impact it had when I finally got there. It felt like a real city and it was such a BIG contrast to the small towns and many (many...) wilderness areas of the Sword Coast I had visited up to that point. The "seamlessness" of it was (and still is) very cool to me and, coupled with the great sound design and atmosphere and NPC's that felt like people with real lives and their own daily concerns, made the city feel alive.

Neketaka is a close second though, and to me it's a better city than Athkatla. I really like its structure and how you ascend the city as the districts open up. I like how unique each district feels while still fitting the overall themes and atmosphere of the city, how each serves its own clear purpose, has its own identity, and teaches you (in many ways by showing rather than telling) about the Huana culture as well as the cultures and habits of the foreign factions that have come to the city and how and why they clash. In addition to this Obsidian also gives us good reasons to keep coming back there, and show us reactivity and new content opening up when we do. That, and it's just beautiful to look at.

Athkatla has always been a mixed bag for me. I like some of it but for some reason the districts feel very disconnected to me, even though places like Defiance Bay and Neketaka are similarly structured (ie. not "seamless" like BG). A lot of the content is cool, but it also feels like they just threw every single idea that they had into the city, which really affects its sense of realism for me.

I liked Defiance Bay quite a bit. Even though I agree with the common criticism that it didn't feel very alive, I have become very fond of Brackenbury, Ondra's Gift and Heritage Hill. But I have a feeling that Defiance Bay might have been a lot better if it had been the only big city in the game. That stretch good was a big mistake and Twin Elms was average at best...

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Defiance Bay kinda failed the "feels like a city" test for me. There's no bustle to it, it doesn't feel like there's much secrets to uncover. Kinda like Neverwinter in NWN2 for me, it just feels like a collection of buildings more than anything. Though I really did like Ondra's Gift, that was the one area in the city that won me over.

Twin Elms definitely feels a bit rushed. But I gotta say that those areas are beautiful, and the Twin Elms music (the track that starts with the harp and then piano) is one of my favorites in the game.

It was such a cool feeling to reach Baldur's Gate for the first time and get inside. That's one of my top video game memories of all time I think. You'd explored this already large world and then you enter this big city that has even more content. What a grand adventure it was to play that game back then.

Listen to my home-made recordings (some original songs, some not): http://www.youtube.c...low=grid&view=0

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20 minutes ago, Starwars said:

It was such a cool feeling to reach Baldur's Gate for the first time and get inside. That's one of my top video game memories of all time I think. You'd explored this already large world and then you enter this big city that has even more content. What a grand adventure it was to play that game back then.

yeah, it blew my mind in terms of content that you'd have all this stuff to explore, and then you got to the endgame and there was essentially a whole other city to explore full of stuff.

 

a similar example is FF7. You spend so much time in Midgar, and then you finally get out and there's literally a whole entire world to explore. (I don't put Midgar on any "top cities" list because it really didn't feel like a city so much as a gigantic collection of garbage with a skyscraper at the center)

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