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The difficulty of the game

difficulty combat tactics strategies gameplay

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#1
Christliar

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I wanted to talk about the difficulty of P:E. I skimmed the first few pages and couldn't find a topic about it, so I decided to create one. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough, but here we go:

I've been replaying DA:O on nightmare and couldn't help but notice how easy it is. When I played it for the first time I found it was more difficult than other games this generation, but that feeling went away when I got used to the mechanics. Now I just wail on the enemies and wait for them to die. That's not good combat.

I know Obsidian is trying to capture the IE games, but those weren't *hard* per se, just obnoxiously luck based. I want to use tactics and all tools I have at my disposal. You should be punished for memorizing only damaging spells on your mage etc. The question is: How badly should you be punished? How difficult should the game be? How different should the experience be between normal and hard? How do you define difficulty in RPG's in general? Should anything be designed around luck?

I have no idea where to even begin answering those questions, so I'll refrain from having an opinion before I read some of yours.



#2
JFSOCC

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The question is: How badly should you be punished?

No, that's a bad question.
The question is
"How do I make combat fun and challenging both?"
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#3
Christliar

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The question is: How badly should you be punished?

No, that's a bad question.
The question is
"How do I make combat fun and challenging both?"

 

I just assumed that the fun is a given ;d But you are right, of course. I didn't phrase my question well enough, but it still stands though. Just a better one will be "How much combat potency should you lose, if you just tunnel vision for damage?" and "Should you lose any combat potency or should it be a viable tactic to just brute force your way through the whole ordeal?"

I suppose a cheap answer would be "Just let players play how they want", but I think that should be reserved for the lowest difficulty.


Edited by Christliar, 15 August 2013 - 09:17 AM.


#4
agris

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I think you have to step back and ask a more fundamental question: should failure be an option?

 

All opinions regarding difficulty will fundamentally diverge depending on if you answer this yes or no. I think yes, but I don't think failure is one of the designed results of conflict resolution in PE, rather it's a sliding scale from ineffectual success to optimized success (i'm purposefully being vague here- think of it in terms of resources utilized).

 

I think failure is necessary, because without failure there is no sense of success. So I hope the game will be hard, in that it makes us think and punches us in the kidneys when we don't. Man, what a **** post on my part :blink: haha


Edited by agris, 15 August 2013 - 12:30 PM.


#5
Christliar

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I think you have to step back and ask a more fundamental question: should failure be an option?

 

All opinions regarding difficulty will fundamentally diverge depending on if you answer this yes or no. I think yes, but I don't think failure is one of the designed results of conflict resolution in PE, rather it's a sliding scale from ineffectual success to optimized success (i'm purposefully being vague here- think of it in terms of resources utilized).

 

I think failure is necessary, because without failure there is no sense of success. So I hope the game will be hard, in that it makes us think and punches us in the kidneys when we don't. Man, what a **** post on my part :blink: haha

Since we aren't playing Kirby's Epic Yarn or Barbie's Horse Adventures I assumed failure is an option. Unless you are talking about failing the main quest, which while interesting, has no bearing on our current discussion. I'm talking strictly about combat and yes you should be able to fail. Or you are talking about being able to continue even if you fail in combat? That's... unorthodox and certainly interesting, but still it's a different discussion.


Edited by Christliar, 15 August 2013 - 12:49 PM.


#6
forgottenlor

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First I think there are a variety of gamers out there. Some of them like really really challenging games and others like to breeze through combat to get on with the story. Obviously games like the original Dungeon Siege, where your party pretty much won every battle without trying in one extreme, (though that game did sell well), where games like the original Wizardry where your entire party regularly died leaves a pretty big range. I personally like having to actively use a number of tactics at my disposal, but I also want to be able to win with a sub-optimal party. I know that others feel differently. Ideally a game should have multiple difficulty settings that offer SIGNIFICANT differences in difficulty (not just monsters have 20% more hit points, do 20% more damage)


Edited by forgottenlor, 15 August 2013 - 12:57 PM.


#7
Lephys

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Leveling up and gaining improved equipment and increasing static values (such as damage/accuracy) is great and all, but I think the majority of combat depth comes from a great effect of your ability to adapt the dynamics. In other words, if having that 50-damage sword is always perfectly sufficient in taking things down, then it doesn't really matter how effectively you're applying the attributes of that sword to the challenge at hand. Maybe it has a higher chance of causing bleeding wounds under certain circumstances, and a greater chance of doing significantly less damage in some circumstances, etc. Maybe you can change your attack speed by switching stances, at the cost of something else.

I guess to put it overly simply, it comes down to adaptation. If you're not provided with dynamic challenges to which to adapt, combat is just a big batch of attrition. "Having some trouble? Go do more mundane things until you save up more gold and increase your damage and attack speed and HP and armor more, then come back and when with arithmetic!"

From what we've heard so far, it sounds like we'll have plenty of tactical dynamics in the mix, ^_^

Also, naturally, with the decrease in difficulty (setting; Easy, Hard, etc.), the thresholds for failure and for the benefits of efficiency/exemplary adaptation shrink. And with an increase, they swell.

Edited by Lephys, 15 August 2013 - 01:49 PM.

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#8
Micamo

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I've always thought that "This game is too hard" really means "This game isn't engaging enough that I want to expend the necessary effort to see the rest of it." I don't mind hard games so long as the game is sufficiently rewarding to play. I love games like Super Meat Boy and Bleed, but can't get into Dwarf Fortress.

Personally, I can't stand the "tactical" aspects of the IE games because, honestly, they preserve the aspects of D&D that I hate while discarding everything I like about it. If you strip all of the story out of a game of D&D and just run it as a combat simulator it's horrible beyond belief. In a well-run tabletop game session it works because there's no point where the story just completely stops and the game devolves into a combat simulator, but in the IE games this disconnect is exactly what happens: There are the talky parts where you have story and character, and there are the fighty bits where you roll dice over and over. The IE games are improved, in my opinion, when you just cheat your way past all the encounters and only care about the story, and this is in fact my preferred way to play Torment (that I don't care much for the story bits in the other IE games is beside the point).
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#9
Christliar

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Leveling up and gaining improved equipment and increasing static values (such as damage/accuracy) is great and all, but I think the majority of combat depth comes from a great effect of your ability to adapt the dynamics. In other words, if having that 50-damage sword is always perfectly sufficient in taking things down, then it doesn't really matter how effectively you're applying the attributes of that sword to the challenge at hand. Maybe it has a higher chance of causing bleeding wounds under certain circumstances, and a greater chance of doing significantly less damage in some circumstances, etc. Maybe you can change your attack speed by switching stances, at the cost of something else.

I guess to put it overly simply, it comes down to adaptation. If you're not provided with dynamic challenges to which to adapt, combat is just a big batch of attrition. "Having some trouble? Go do more mundane things until you save up more gold and increase your damage and attack speed and HP and armor more, then come back and when with arithmetic!"

From what we've heard so far, it sounds like we'll have plenty of tactical dynamics in the mix, ^_^

Also, naturally, with the decrease in difficulty (setting; Easy, Hard, etc.), the thresholds for failure and for the benefits of efficiency/exemplary adaptation shrink. And with an increase, they swell.

This seems like too much unnecessary micromanagement that would be annoying to deal with, rather than something that adds depth. Other than that I agree that difficulty should come from dynamic challenges. The AI should be increasingly smart on higher difficulties, maybe even gain additional abilities. You are also right that fights devolve into arithmetic too frequently, this is especially true in DA:O.
 

 

I've always thought that "This game is too hard" really means "This game isn't engaging enough that I want to expend the necessary effort to see the rest of it." I don't mind hard games so long as the game is sufficiently rewarding to play. I love games like Super Meat Boy and Bleed, but can't get into Dwarf Fortress.

Personally, I can't stand the "tactical" aspects of the IE games because, honestly, they preserve the aspects of D&D that I hate while discarding everything I like about it. If you strip all of the story out of a game of D&D and just run it as a combat simulator it's horrible beyond belief. In a well-run tabletop game session it works because there's no point where the story just completely stops and the game devolves into a combat simulator, but in the IE games this disconnect is exactly what happens: There are the talky parts where you have story and character, and there are the fighty bits where you roll dice over and over. The IE games are improved, in my opinion, when you just cheat your way past all the encounters and only care about the story, and this is in fact my preferred way to play Torment (that I don't care much for the story bits in the other IE games is beside the point).

I don't like the IE games' combat too, because, as I said, they are obnoxiously luck based than anything else. When I played Torment the combat, for me, was this jumbled mess in which I just stumbled upon and, being a mage, spammed most of my spells disorientedly. I want to see Obsidian take P:E in a different direction. JFSOCC was absolutely right when he, quite quickly, corrected me when he said that the combat should be fun and I wholeheartedly agree. It shouldn't be this boring wrapping around the good bits, it should compliment the story as well.

But to get back to my original questions - how would we go about providing challenges to people who actively seek them? (namely me) We already mentioned smart AI and dynamic challenges which is a good start, but is it enough? What about fair rule systems? Should bosses, for example, cheat in this respect? Would this bring more challenges or just be annoying and unfair? Of course, not all encounters should break your back, the hard fights should be supported by lore. I'm sure I'm forgetting some questions, but at the moment that's it.


Edited by Christliar, 15 August 2013 - 02:56 PM.


#10
Micamo

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I think the biggest challenge in making PE's combat rewarding is in the feel. The simple act of moving your character and attacking needs to feel good, like wall jumping in Super Meat Boy, slow-mo air dashing in Bleed, or firing the shotgun in Hotline Miami. In doing this they're hamstrung from the start due to the RTwP combat style and the toolbar-based UI.
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#11
Lephys

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^ VERY much agreed. Clunkiness, for lack of a better term, in a game's control-and-response can sometimes make or break a game, as it is so heavily prevalent throughout the gameplay duration.

I've played a lot of games and thought, "This is about 6/10 quality, but if the control-and-response simply felt better, it would easily be an 8 or 9 out of 10."

#12
Kjaamor

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I think the biggest challenge in making PE's combat rewarding is in the feel. The simple act of moving your character and attacking needs to feel good, like wall jumping in Super Meat Boy, slow-mo air dashing in Bleed, or firing the shotgun in Hotline Miami. In doing this they're hamstrung from the start due to the RTwP combat style and the toolbar-based UI.

 

Could this be point be clarified with some reference to IE games? Bearing in mind that the whole RTwP and a system essentially based around a board game with dice was pretty much the dominant factor in this game getting kickstarted.

 

Honestly, if Obsidian were to refer to the likes of SMB, Bleed and Hotline Miami as being gameplay inspirations then that would send alarm bells ringing for me.


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#13
Micamo

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Could this be point be clarified with some reference to IE games? Bearing in mind that the whole RTwP and a system essentially based around a board game with dice was pretty much the dominant factor in this game getting kickstarted.
 
Honestly, if Obsidian were to refer to the likes of SMB, Bleed and Hotline Miami as being gameplay inspirations then that would send alarm bells ringing for me.


Well, the first problem is a pacing issue. Pausing mid-combat is like getting up to go to the bathroom when you're watching a scary movie. When you've come back and sit down, all the tension is completely gone and the movie has to start over from scratch to get you worked up again. If you're repeatedly getting up and down or you have distractions (like the movie's playing in the background while you're fixing dinner and you're only looking at it occasionally) it's impossible for the movie to scare you no matter how skillfully crafted it is.

The fundamental problem with RTwP is that it can't engage you on that sort of visceral level because these constant distractions from the action are baked into the core of the interface. Every time you pause, the excitement dissapates like the air from a popped balloon and the game has to start all over again from scratch to get you engaged again once you unpause. But you're gonna be pausing and unpausing pretty much constantly.

(This, I suspect, is part of what happened to the combat in DA2: They recognized that the RTwP combats in DAO were excruciatingly slow, so they tried to spice it up by throwing in lots of weak enemies and gory explosions around everywhere. It... didn't work.)


The second problem is one of interface. In the IE games you control your characters through clicking on hotbars. Torment made this issue even worse by introducing that stupid wheel thing. This kind of control schema isn't inherent to RTwP but it's the one Eternity seems to be moving forward with regardless. This type of control schema is simply unimmersive because it puts too many barriers between what you're thinking of doing and actually executing it.

Compare how using your character's abilities works in D&D: You think of what you want to do, then you describe it to the DM, using your ability names as shorthand. So long as everyone at the table is familiar enough with the abilities that you can apply them without having to explain them and work out the math right there, it's fast, it's visceral, and it's extremely effective. This is why spells work so well: "Righteous Might. Quickened Divine Power. Extended Bull's Strength. Quickened Divine Favor. Alright, let's smash some faces." (It's also why I love ToB maneuvers and why I think 4E had at least half of a good idea with its consolidated Power system.) The constant design problem with D&D character abilities is to make them complicated enough to have varied, interesting uses and not get boring, but simple enough that they can be easily memorized and cleanly used at the table without breaking the flow of play.

As a side note, compare the mouse+keyboard interface of Hotline Miami to the controller interface: Personally, I prefer the controller interface because smashing the stick in a direction feels like a much cleaner and better representation of what I'm about to do than jerking the mouse cursor around.

#14
Christliar

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Could this be point be clarified with some reference to IE games? Bearing in mind that the whole RTwP and a system essentially based around a board game with dice was pretty much the dominant factor in this game getting kickstarted.
 
Honestly, if Obsidian were to refer to the likes of SMB, Bleed and Hotline Miami as being gameplay inspirations then that would send alarm bells ringing for me.


Well, the first problem is a pacing issue. Pausing mid-combat is like getting up to go to the bathroom when you're watching a scary movie. When you've come back and sit down, all the tension is completely gone and the movie has to start over from scratch to get you worked up again. If you're repeatedly getting up and down or you have distractions (like the movie's playing in the background while you're fixing dinner and you're only looking at it occasionally) it's impossible for the movie to scare you no matter how skillfully crafted it is.

The fundamental problem with RTwP is that it can't engage you on that sort of visceral level because these constant distractions from the action are baked into the core of the interface. Every time you pause, the excitement dissapates like the air from a popped balloon and the game has to start all over again from scratch to get you engaged again once you unpause. But you're gonna be pausing and unpausing pretty much constantly.

(This, I suspect, is part of what happened to the combat in DA2: They recognized that the RTwP combats in DAO were excruciatingly slow, so they tried to spice it up by throwing in lots of weak enemies and gory explosions around everywhere. It... didn't work.)


The second problem is one of interface. In the IE games you control your characters through clicking on hotbars. Torment made this issue even worse by introducing that stupid wheel thing. This kind of control schema isn't inherent to RTwP but it's the one Eternity seems to be moving forward with regardless. This type of control schema is simply unimmersive because it puts too many barriers between what you're thinking of doing and actually executing it.

Compare how using your character's abilities works in D&D: You think of what you want to do, then you describe it to the DM, using your ability names as shorthand. So long as everyone at the table is familiar enough with the abilities that you can apply them without having to explain them and work out the math right there, it's fast, it's visceral, and it's extremely effective. This is why spells work so well: "Righteous Might. Quickened Divine Power. Extended Bull's Strength. Quickened Divine Favor. Alright, let's smash some faces." (It's also why I love ToB maneuvers and why I think 4E had at least half of a good idea with its consolidated Power system.) The constant design problem with D&D character abilities is to make them complicated enough to have varied, interesting uses and not get boring, but simple enough that they can be easily memorized and cleanly used at the table without breaking the flow of play.

As a side note, compare the mouse+keyboard interface of Hotline Miami to the controller interface: Personally, I prefer the controller interface because smashing the stick in a direction feels like a much cleaner and better representation of what I'm about to do than jerking the mouse cursor around.

 

The thing is you are controlling 5-6 characters at once and it would be impossible to tell them all what to do in a given round if you didn't have pause. Not only that, but pause gives you a reasonable ability to respond to unexpected events, like a sudden drop in health. I see where you are coming from, but it won't work in this type of game. It will only work if the combat is so slow paced that you wouldn't need pause, but that would be boring. Let's not talk of DA2, I still have nightmares ;d

Also, unless they implement voice commands that work REALLY WELL, I don't see how you can get rid of the interface. Having a bazillion hotkeys mapped to your keyboard wouldn't solve your problem.



#15
J. Trudel

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 IE game not difficult ? Am I the only one who think the last battle in Baldur's Gate : ToB was one of the hardest battle I ever had ? I agree that most RPG today are WAY to easy, but IMHO IE games with the core rules settings were just perfect. Unless you re rolled 100 times your char and made sure you gained full HP every levels. And, this or using the console to cheat is not much different.


Edited by J. Trudel, 16 August 2013 - 07:39 AM.


#16
Micamo

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The thing is you are controlling 5-6 characters at once and it would be impossible to tell them all what to do in a given round if you didn't have pause. Not only that, but pause gives you a reasonable ability to respond to unexpected events, like a sudden drop in health. I see where you are coming from, but it won't work in this type of game. It will only work if the combat is so slow paced that you wouldn't need pause, but that would be boring. Let's not talk of DA2, I still have nightmares ;d

Also, unless they implement voice commands that work REALLY WELL, I don't see how you can get rid of the interface. Having a bazillion hotkeys mapped to your keyboard wouldn't solve your problem.


Y'all are gonna hate me for this - I think making a good game that surpasses the IE games on the things they did well (beautiful atmospheric environments, and in Torment at least fantastic world and characters) is more important than copying the superficial aspects of the things the IE games did very, very poorly and trying to tweak them to make them Not As ****ty. I'm fine with slaughtering the sacred cows. If I were in charge of this project the very first thing I would have done before even pitching the kickstarter would have been to make a few prototypes that experiment with radical alterations to the formula, like ways to get rid of the hotbars, or fixing the pacing problem with RTwP (Transistor, for example, has a very promising approach).
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#17
Christliar

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Y'all are gonna hate me for this - I think making a good game that surpasses the IE games on the things they did well (beautiful atmospheric environments, and in Torment at least fantastic world and characters) is more important than copying the superficial aspects of the things the IE games did very, very poorly and trying to tweak them to make them Not As ****ty. I'm fine with slaughtering the sacred cows. If I were in charge of this project the very first thing I would have done before even pitching the kickstarter would have been to make a few prototypes that experiment with radical alterations to the formula, like ways to get rid of the hotbars, or fixing the pacing problem with RTwP (Transistor, for example, has a very promising approach).

 

Wouldn't removing the pause just make the game into a hack n slash in the vein of Diablo and Titan Quest? Just with more than 1 character? You wouldn't be able to control them all so well, unless they were controlled by the AI, but that defeats the purpose of having them besides the banter. Yes, I agree that IE games had horrible combat and I also agree that we shouldn't blindly copy everything from them, but how would you suggest we remove the pause and interface without making it a hack n slash, but worse?



#18
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The thing is you are controlling 5-6 characters at once and it would be impossible to tell them all what to do in a given round if you didn't have pause. Not only that, but pause gives you a reasonable ability to respond to unexpected events, like a sudden drop in health. I see where you are coming from, but it won't work in this type of game. It will only work if the combat is so slow paced that you wouldn't need pause, but that would be boring. Let's not talk of DA2, I still have nightmares ;d

Also, unless they implement voice commands that work REALLY WELL, I don't see how you can get rid of the interface. Having a bazillion hotkeys mapped to your keyboard wouldn't solve your problem.


Y'all are gonna hate me for this - I think making a good game that surpasses the IE games on the things they did well (beautiful atmospheric environments, and in Torment at least fantastic world and characters) is more important than copying the superficial aspects of the things the IE games did very, very poorly and trying to tweak them to make them Not As ****ty. I'm fine with slaughtering the sacred cows. If I were in charge of this project the very first thing I would have done before even pitching the kickstarter would have been to make a few prototypes that experiment with radical alterations to the formula, like ways to get rid of the hotbars, or fixing the pacing problem with RTwP (Transistor, for example, has a very promising approach).

 

So your solution to the perceived "problems" of the IE games is to turn PE into an Action-RPG?

 

Kickstarter backers did not pledge their money for anything radical, on the contrary this game was pitched  on the very basis of cRPG traditionalism and nostalgia. Do I have trust in Obsidian? No, I do not, not the studio that made Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege 3. But I do have trust that if they know if they go too far and produce a game that's too far from an IE-style game that backers will be upset, it will cause division amongst fans, and no one wants that.

 

The biggest problem of the IE games was that they weren't turn-based, but simply had a turn-based system running under the hood as "rounds" on a timer AD&D was supposed to work in turns and forcing it into real-time was a bad decision. IWD2 and ToEE both used Third Edition and yet ToEE had better and more controllable combat. Of course, that ship has sailed and Obsidian chose RTWP combat for better or worse to appeal to IE nostalgia.



#19
J. Trudel

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Y'all are gonna hate me for this - I think making a good game that surpasses the IE games on the things they did well (beautiful atmospheric environments, and in Torment at least fantastic world and characters) is more important than copying the superficial aspects of the things the IE games did very, very poorly and trying to tweak them to make them Not As ****ty. I'm fine with slaughtering the sacred cows. If I were in charge of this project the very first thing I would have done before even pitching the kickstarter would have been to make a few prototypes that experiment with radical alterations to the formula, like ways to get rid of the hotbars, or fixing the pacing problem with RTwP (Transistor, for example, has a very promising approach).

 

Wouldn't removing the pause just make the game into a hack n slash in the vein of Diablo and Titan Quest? Just with more than 1 character? You wouldn't be able to control them all so well, unless they were controlled by the AI, but that defeats the purpose of having them besides the banter. Yes, I agree that IE games had horrible combat and I also agree that we shouldn't blindly copy everything from them, but how would you suggest we remove the pause and interface without making it a hack n slash, but worse?

 

 

I don't think IE games had horrible combat. And it depends on how removing the pause button would alter gameplay. It's hard to think as fast a 6 trained characters, so I guess that unless you have 6 players, the next best thing is having a pause button so you can think about how to adapt to the battlefield. The thing is, unless you can customise the AI to great depth, you can't possibly chose for example a spell on the menu as fast as your brain know you might need to use this particular spell. 

 

Hack and slash (IMHO) is not only the fact that battles are real time or not. It's the minimalist approach to character developement, npc's interactions and simpllistic (I dare to say repetitive) combat that make a game Hack n Slash. A tactical rpg on the other side is when you have more time to handle the tasks and where the choices you make really impact on how the situation unfold. Of course those are only terms we created to separate one genre from another. The truth is, nothing is exclusively one OR the other, there are many nuances. A Hack and Slash game may have a lot of npc interactions and a deep character developpement, while a tactical rpg might be real time with repetitive battles. 

 

What most important is what we want P:E to be, for me this is what I want :

- A well writen story in a world interesting enough so I want to learn more about it

- Detailed character customisations and classes that feel different from one another

- Good 2d isometric graphics

- A tactical approach to battle that make them challenging and interesting to play

- A rewarding experience to explore and many things to do outside combat

- A game simple to play and hard to master

 

If I get that, I don't care about how they make the menu, or if a pause system is present or not, or even if it feels that much like an IE game. 



#20
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You don't care about a pause Trudel? It would be downright impossible to control up to 6 characters in real-time all with their own abilities/spells also while concentrating on multiple enemies, without a pause button to issue orders.

 

That's why I think RTWP is a dumb system, it's basically the designers admitting that real-time party combat is too frenetic to be controlled in real-time, so they slap a bandaid on top called the pause button. And what does the system accomplish? Just to make the battles superficially look more "realistic"?


Edited by Chrononaut, 16 August 2013 - 10:14 AM.






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