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PoE 2 Deadfire - what makes this game so special in isometric/party/tb rpgs?


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I just wanted to say big thank you Obsidian for making one of best games I ever played in my 20+ year gaming experience.
I was very surprised when I heard that sales did not come as well as scores from reviewers and users, which really made me sad and I understand why PoE 3 may not happen in similar gameplay style.
I would like to point what exactly made this game my personal ultimate turn based tactical rpg for now, but surely not everyone will agree with some of them due to different preferences.
Similar games I already played (sorted by most liked): Divine Divinity Original Sin 2, Jagged Alliance 2, Temple Of Elemental Evil, Wizardry 8, Planescape Torment, Baldurs Gate 1-2, Dragon Age 1, Wasteland 2, and many less popular/liked indie/older TB/RPG games.

* Real-Time With Pause / Turn-Based (choice).
I am fine with RTWP, but definitely a big fan of turn based.
What made PoE 2 so special, is fact that it gives you a choice between these two modes, so both preference sides might be happy.
Some gamers will reject right away even a great game, just because of this one thing, they do not like RTWP or TB.
This is first game that I found with such feature (not counting Fallout Tactics or later update of Pathfinder series) and doing it so well.
Yes, I saw that this update was nothing special for many players, but this was mainly voice from RTWP people or PoE 1 familiar (used to it).
From point of view by turn based fan who played PoE 2 in TB mode as first playthrough and compared it to many other TB games, even if PoE 2 was not originally made for TB foundations, it was converted very well (I am not comparing it directly to RTWP mode, it is just like I see it as TB only).
PoE 2 has great potential in their detailed combat gameplay mechanics, so TB update was great move, but I guess too late.
Most important was first impression before and during release.
You see, I heard about Deadfire, but after PoE 1, it was not on my priority list.
Then I heard about TB update somewhere just by accident (what? PoE 2 TB? it can not be true! I must check it!) a few months ago (about 3+ years after release and 2+ years after update).
I will not comment here if TB is better than RTWP, it is all about giving a choice, well done in both modes (I assume from reviews that RTWP is good for RTWP players).
It is just preference, each mode has its advantages and disadvantages, each gamer will have their own.

* Level Scaling (choice).
I am fine with fixed difficulty, but definitely a big fan of level scaling.
What made PoE 2 so special, is again fact that it gives you a choice between these two modes, so both preference sides might be happy.
I did not notice such feature in other games (did I miss something? maybe hidden deeply in game options?).
I know that probably most players hate level scaling (infamous Oblivion and similar - personally it was advantage for me), but I am the one from that other side.
I like when game keeps challenge (no matter if I am too late for the party due to my higher level progressed in other quests) and I am not wasting time on not intersting too easy encounters, even if loot or experience reward is not worth it.
I also like exploration freedom, so if game is "non linear" (in fact, semi non linear) open world, then I can truly go almost everywhere in my own order of adventure, not just where game forces me linearly in (semi) "open world", but sure, it is still limited by some other quests (for example you can not leave first island right away).
Is level scaling better than fixed difficulty, depends on preference.
What matters here, is again a choice.

* Ready and custom companions (choice).
I am fine with ready companions, but definitely a big fan of possibility to make fully customized ones.
What made PoE 2 so special, is again fact that it gives you a choice between these two concepts (including mixing), so both preference sides might be happy.
Most games offer ready or custom companions only (there are some exceptions, where you start custom party and get additional ready companions later, sometimes temporary).
I personally prefer own custom party that fits my vision (and possibly can be extented by later ready members), even in a cost of losing some content of the game.
Additionally, players who want only story related companions with rich personality, might be interested in second play with experimental custom party.
What is better, depends on preference, but what matters here, is again a choice.

* Full control and auto AI (choice).
I am completely not a fan of auto play, and I always want full control over all party members.
What made PoE 2 so special, is again fact that it gives you a choice between these two concepts (including mixing), so both preference sides might be happy.
Some games give only full control, some give only auto AI (as far as I remember, Fallout 1-2? yeah, some of you probably "love" when companions break your tactical plan, some maybe count it as rpg personality), and some gives you few default AI behaviors that can be modified with your control in cases when needed.
What is better, depends on preference, but what matters here, is again a choice.

* Own, interesting, thoughtful, detailed, useful, mechanics system.
What can I say here, to not go with too much information that would look like whole wiki for the game?
Earlier, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 was my best bet as foundaments for interesting/thoughtful/detailed mechanics system (yes, I know 5.0 is most loved right now, but it borrowed what was most important in 3.5 and simplified the rest - definitely better for pen and paper easier play improvement, but for games it depends on preference).
DnD 2.0 was too simple (not many useful choices during level up, not many abilities during combat except spells limited by resting).
Other custom systems were usually heavy inspired by DnD or badly balanced (many useless things) or not much detailed (just hit, damage, no flanking, no disengaging attacks, very few statuses, very few useful abilities, not much meaning damage types, completely dump stats for classes, no multi-classes, item type limits per class, and similar things).
PoE 2 seems to be inspired by DnD like other rpg games, but has a lot of own, interesting, thoughtful, detailed, and useful ideas in whole system.
I guess not everyone will enjoy complexity (due to not much time, only story focused, only want to relax, only like to just hit things, or other reasons) with many aspects and usable abilitity choices during combat, which of course has a meaning mainly on highest difficulty or when someone like to plan best possible strategy/tactics/puzzle (even for simple encounter, additional challenge, how to do it without losing any health or in less turns as possible).

Now, other advantages.

* Weapon alternative modes (modals) and 2-4 possible sets.
This brings nice variety into weapons (and also shields) and more options during combat.

* Enemy weaknesses and strengths.
Most enemies seem to have 1-2 damage type vulnerabilities and resistances (this also brings some variety into armors).

* "Choose Your Own Adventure" books inspired events.
Cool addition to gameplay, extended with atmospheric sounds and illustrations.

* Ship management.
Another cool addition to gameplay, giving extra place to manage.

* 5 switchable difficulty modes.
I am not sure if anyone tried first two easy modes (maybe for RTWP pace it makes sense), since normal seems to be already easy mode and veteran like normal, when compared to other games, but well, 5 possibilities to get your best fit is better than usual 2 or 3 (where normal is sometimes too easy and hard might be too hard), including option to change it during play, so you do not have to start from the beginning.

* Graphic style.
I am not a target of all this fashion for colorful/flashy/cartoonish/caricature/childish graphic styles (it rejects me from the start, no matter how good game mechanics are), so I prefer look that is closer (can be slightly mixed, since it is about magic and creatures) to natural/realistic and thankfully PoE 2 does it well enough.

* Voiced dialogues.
For comfort reason and PoE 2 english voice acting is well enough.

Now, some disadvantages.

* Difficulty.
Not sure about RTWP, but for TB, game seems to be definitely too easy, making actually highest difficulty the only reasonable choice, even for first time PoE player (maybe Veteran if someone never played TB games before).
Seriously, I do not feel like I am hardcore gamer, but when I compare other TB games, normal feels like easy enough for all easy modes, veteran maybe like very forgiving normal, and highest like some challenge, but thankfully, it can be changed.

* Description details.
While description interface is nicely done, descriptions itself in 1 per about 4 times, are lack in details like numbers (for example, "better accuracy", but how much exactly? +5? +10? sometimes it is mentioned, sometimes not), explanation (for example, what are some key differences between summons) or additional effects (sometimes some effects are not mentioned or their work not precised, so you realize it with surprise after use).
It often forced me to minimize game and use wiki or sometimes even precise google search, to know more.

And you, what makes this game so special for you or what things are made better, when compared to other similar games (I guess there were already many posts about it, but I would appreciate some discussion here)?

 

Edited by speedy
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For me I think you've hit a lot of the good points. They put so much work into the engine for this game, that I really wish they could leverage that and make a PoE3, saving costs by keeping most of the internals working with some minor tweaks under the hood to polish turn-based mode or enable a few fancier graphics and faster load times. It might not be an AAA game, but "poor sales" in this context is really just a mismatch between expectations and reality. For a lower budget, the same sales could be amazing. Lord knows that Ubisoft and Arkane and Bethesda are all just using the same engine (with modifications) between their games in a similar way.

 

On 10/7/2021 at 8:41 AM, speedy said:

For comfort reason and PoE 2 english voice acting is well enough.

I really think they could do PoE or classic BG style and just voice the main lines. While I'm impressed with how thoroughly things are voiced, I think this is culprit #1 in soaring costs (that needed high sales) and makes every little change or DLC that much more expensive to produce.

I've played plenty of other recent-ish games that aren't fully voiced, and I don't feel like I've missed out that much, honestly.

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15 hours ago, thelee said:

I really think they could do PoE or classic BG style and just voice the main lines. While I'm impressed with how thoroughly things are voiced, I think this is culprit #1 in soaring costs (that needed high sales) and makes every little change or DLC that much more expensive to produce.

And changes so much harder to make (which is sort of included in what you say, but not explicitly). I agree completely.

Full voicing also creates the slight annoyance that with longer texts, my reading is a lot faster than the voicing, and so there are to distinct verbal streams in my mind, one read and one heard. It's not always good. Classic BG style with just the main lines voiced is ideal.

Edited by xzar_monty
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I think the biggest attraction is being able to create your own builds, even if you're using interactions the devs did not necessarily foresee, e.g. blunderbuss monks, gun-switching Blackjackets, etc. I personally had a lot of fun with a Death Godlike Streetfighter/Forbidden Fist where I deliberately brought myself to near death then had someone use Barring Death's Door on me.

I've recently started playing Dragon Age Origins for the first time, and while I definitely enjoy it, it is very clear that the game is railroading you into certain builds. If you're a warrior, you're expected to go for a twohanded weapon build or a sword and board build; you can't make a decent ranged build. In Deadfire you can go for a Hunting Bow Devoted/Ranger build, and definitely be quite effective, even though the devs did not necessarily foresee someone doing that.

I think where the game falls flat is the companions and the relationship system. In every game I've played with similarly quantified relationship systems, the AI always comes off as psychotic or petty because they track literally every single thing you do. It happens in Civilization games, it happens in Total War games, and unfortunately Deadfire is not really an exception. I don't think anyone likes the feeling of your companions judging you for literally every sentence you say. Sawyer also mentions that this system actually took a lot of time and resources to set up, so I think this is definitely a pretty big shortcoming. IIRC, they set up the system so that people would not get confused why one companion would suddenly hate another, e.g. Eder making negative comments about Durance despite the two of them having just met and having never talked to one another before. If so, they really over-engineered this.

I'd much rather have relationship based off of major plot choices and one-to-one conversations with your companions, similar to Dragon Age Origins where your companions will address you and ask you why you made the choices you did. I'm also fine with no quantified relationship system at all, similar to New Vegas or the first game. You'd still have Pallegina pull you aside and ask why you're supporting the Dozens, but there would be no numbers going up and down.

Edited by NotDumbEnough
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16 minutes ago, NotDumbEnough said:

Sawyer also mentions that this system actually took a lot of time and resources to set up, so I think this is definitely a pretty big shortcoming.

Sawyer also mentioned that despite the effort it had very little payoff. Some people may not talk enough to trigger relationship adjustments, other people might stumble upon a degenerate way to get two characters to hate each other within like 30 seconds.

I don't know if it was the same talk, but he said he really liked how Disco Elysium ended up doing dialogue adjustments and would lean towards that approach.

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3 hours ago, NotDumbEnough said:

I think the biggest attraction is being able to create your own builds, even if you're using interactions the devs did not necessarily foresee, e.g. blunderbuss monks, gun-switching Blackjackets, etc. I personally had a lot of fun with a Death Godlike Streetfighter/Forbidden Fist where I deliberately brought myself to near death then had someone use Barring Death's Door on me.

This is a good illustration of the manifold ways people approach these games. What you describe is a perfectly valid way of finding more potential content in the game, but I'd have absolutely no interest in that side at all. None.

For me, it's mostly about the story and the character interactions within that story. The mechanics as such (for instance, character builds) are not interesting. I've played both PoE and Deadfire twice, and both times I was a monk. Once a male, once a female. I tried various story options and character combinations and found plenty of interest there, but didn't care for any build tweaking at all.

Note, there's no criticism here. This is just to point out that people come to these games with wildly different preferences. And it's excellent that this is possible in the first place.

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@speedy Nice review, I agree with you on many things. You changed my mind about turn-based. I felt like adding it so late in development was a waste, but if that's the difference between people playing or not then I'm glad they made it.

I play RTwP, with autopause when a character finishes an action. The autopausing options are nice. The scripting system is also really good, but like you, I turn the party AI off and play in puppet mode.

On 10/7/2021 at 9:41 AM, speedy said:

* Difficulty.

Not sure about RTWP, but for TB, game seems to be definitely too easy, making actually highest difficulty the only reasonable choice, even for first time PoE player (maybe Veteran if someone never played TB games before).
Seriously, I do not feel like I am hardcore gamer, but when I compare other TB games, normal feels like easy enough for all easy modes, veteran maybe like very forgiving normal, and highest like some challenge, but thankfully, it can be changed.

This sticks in my craw a little. My first time through, I played Veteran upscaled and it varied from challenging to barely possible. I'm curious about your party and tactics.

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1 hour ago, Helz said:

This sticks in my craw a little. My first time through, I played Veteran upscaled and it varied from challenging to barely possible. I'm curious about your party and tactics.

yeah, I think a lot of players have to make peace with the fact that difficulty is a very, very wide spectrum for the player audience. Obsidian has said that their most common complaints about their game are: "it's too easy" as well as "it's too hard." I definitely am someone who thought Veteran even back in PoE1 early days was way too easy. But I've also internalized over the years that instead of complaining about difficulty, the better critical target is just making sure everyone has a good entry point. If speedy managed to find PotD a good challenge, then the fact that there are 4 easier difficulties shouldn't really matter IMO. I'm happy that the game has PotD + gods challenges for me, and I'm also happy that they have story mode and such.

edit: more to the point, it's pretty commendable that the difficulties are generally well-balanced and don't "cheat" in a way that leads to other bigger problems. as past examples of bad approaches:

  1. games where increasing the difficulty gives you more experience, which also means you top-out faster and so you actually make for an easier or similar experience
  2. games like fo3/skyrim, where increasing the difficulty is a damage multiplier that is unevenly applied, resulting in companions that can do orders of magnitude more damage than yourself
  3. outer worlds, where the hardest difficulty has interesting features (like needing to manage thirst, food) but also locks it into an ironman challenge, instead of letting some of the survival challenges be available at "hard" or lower difficulties
  4. pathfinder, where on harder difficulties, enemies get high bonuses that are poorly designed (so they double-count in some situations, like for athletics rolls), which makes many gameplay types unviable for ppl who just want a challenge

i'm actually impressed at how encounters actually can scale with new enemies or upgraded enemies, and that obsidian actually clearly went through with some min-maxing to make sure encounters and difficulty modifiers mostly made sense (even if sometimes i wonder what glutton for punishment decided gorecci st was a good first-ish encounter for potd :) ). took more work, but is a much more thoroughly well-designed game that attacks a bunch of different player skill levels. (and i've been in the poe-circuit long enough to have heard every difficulty level being played and enjoyed by players, so i'm not going to complain about story mode or normal mode balancing.)

Edited by thelee
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I really think deadfire is a more polished version of the Baldur gate series from my childhood. There is AI scripting, so you don’t have to micro so much which is huge. Aside from that the party management is easier, and the revamped spell system as per encounter is great

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On 10/13/2021 at 5:28 PM, thelee said:

Sawyer also mentioned that despite the effort it had very little payoff. Some people may not talk enough to trigger relationship adjustments, other people might stumble upon a degenerate way to get two characters to hate each other within like 30 seconds.

I don't know if it was the same talk, but he said he really liked how Disco Elysium ended up doing dialogue adjustments and would lean towards that approach.

Deadfire Post-Mortem & Reputation System

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I think it's less of a difficulty problem and more of a difficulty curve problem. Port Maje is fine, the DLCs are fine, Nemnok's Lair and Splintered Reef are OK, but everything in between is generally too easy unless you deliberately rush into content you aren't prepared for, and the megabosses don't play well with the combat system (class resources don't play well with a single very tanky enemy). Even if you turn up the difficulty the problem still persists, you're inevitably going to have 70% of the game being much easier than the 30% at both ends.

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But that's always a problem with "open world" approaches if you don't scale all enemies to party/char level. Which I don't like either. Sometimes you must be able to mop the floor with enemies else the player doesn't really feel any kind of power improvement. 

That's why I don't like truly open world games that much. At least break the open world up into separate "acts" - or however you want to organize it - so that your level designers etc. have an easier time balancing the game. Def. less complaints then. 

Also way easier for narrative and quest designers.

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Deadfire Community Patch: Nexus Mods

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26 minutes ago, Boeroer said:

That's why I don't like truly open world games that much. At least break the open world up into separate "acts" - or however you want to organize it - so that your level designers etc. have an easier time balancing the game. Def. less complaints then.

This reminds me of Stormwall Gorge in PoE. Correct me if I remember the location wrong.

Anyway, there's a flood there initially, you can't go further. But once you do certain things, the flood eases and you can proceed. I thought this was a nice touch. It's so obvious that the flood is there only for storytelling and balancing reasons, but it also works, as a device. This was a good way of doing what you just said.

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Yes indeed. PoE had three different acts. The entrance point to act 3 was Stormwall Gorge.

The access to act 2 was "guarded" by Maerwald in your stronghold.

In theory it should have been easier to balance encounters and also to design quests and develop the narrative. Can't really say if it was easier since that depends on a lot of other factors ofc - but I guess you know what I mean. :)

Also act 2 was kind of big compared to 1 and 3 I think - so that took away a bit of this particular advantage maybe?

 

Edited by Boeroer

Deadfire Community Patch: Nexus Mods

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3 hours ago, Boeroer said:

But that's always a problem with "open world" approaches if you don't scale all enemies to party/char level. Which I don't like either. Sometimes you must be able to mop the floor with enemies else the player doesn't really feel any kind of power improvement. 

That's why I don't like truly open world games that much. At least break the open world up into separate "acts" - or however you want to organize it - so that your level designers etc. have an easier time balancing the game. Def. less complaints then. 

Also way easier for narrative and quest designers.

I think scaling is a bandaid to a different problem: why is there so much power in levels? Why do we start at 50-ish base health and end up with 200-300+? This raw health growth introduces the need to scale all damage upwards, be it via quality, or power level, or what have you.

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I think I liked the most games that switch between linear and open design - they have more open acts, but also have "gates" through which you can't (or are unlikely) to progress until to dealt with the open are available for you, and some strong more linear bits, to give the game momentum. 

I did find PoE1 gates a bit too artificial. On the other hand, I adore White March, which while it offers some freedom, is very structured when it comes to main story areas.

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I think Fallout: New Vegas managed it relatively well. There is some geological railroading (i.e. you can't take the straight path to Vegas with high level enemies in the way if you don't know how to cut through Black Mountain), and you also have the latter 60% of the main game gated behind visiting House. Narratively this is explained as the conflict over Hoover Dam gradually escalating, so it doesn't feel super artificial.

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