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P:E mechanics - how is it doing compared to IE?


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I have another thread on P:E combat vs IE combat (IWD:EE) going, but I thought I'd put these thoughts here since it's a more general comparison and less of a let's play. Scope is game mechanics, i.e. not writing, graphics, sounds, art direction etc. The BB is getting mature enough that we can see what the design intent is, even if a lot of it still needs work, so this is no longer speculation but based on actually playing both games fairly intensively back to back.

The three sections below naturally involve preference and judgment, but I've tried to put things in boxes where I believe the argument that something is 'objectively' better or worse is pretty damn strong, and in 'different' if I believe a lot of preference or value judgment is necessary.

Where P:E is better than IE

Character building mechanics. There's not a lot to AD&D character-building, other than dual-classing which is, frankly, a really weird mechanic even if you enjoy running around as baggage for an extended period in one-quarter into the game to get a massive boost in power for the second half. You pick your race and class, minmax your stats, pick your weapon proficiencies, and that's about that. Occasionally on levelup you add a pip to a proficiency. The only class that has a bit more to this -- the thief -- is also the least effective at combat, especially at higher levels due to the lousy THAC0.

What's more, the choices you do make have a big risk of ruining your playthrough. Building a fer-de-lance fighter and picked a weapon specialization with no good weapons of the type in (much of) the game? Too bad, so sad, you're useless, start over halfway through the game.

P:E on the other hand lets you skew your character in different directions. The classes themselves have more things they can do, the choice you make have significant mechanical effects, and you can play against type. What's more, Josh has thought of really cool ways to differentiate them: not just a different spell selection, but a different way of casting spells (cipher, chanter); not just different special attacks, but different ways of pulling them off (monk). The ranger is currently just bad but it's not beyond redemption; I hope they'll be able to make it at least serviceable. 

Attack resolution mechanics. The P:E system is clear, simple, and understandable and directs you think of what you do rather than just spamming what looks like your most powerful attack. Dealing with foes that have too high Deflection for you to hit properly? Attack their Will with a spell or special to deal damage and lower Deflection, then attack Deflection.

OTOH I played AD&D for years and still can't remember, by heart, what all the saving throws are named, let alone decide when you're supposed to save against rods, wands, or staves and when against death. For example, what if it's a wand of Power Word: Kill? Jeebus. Also: THAC0 and AC make for some really weird threshold effects when near the ends of the scale, e.g. when dealing with a really tough enemy. One point of THAC0 can double your chances to hit. The system pretty much requires specialization -- near the endgame, a middling THAC0 will be as useless as a dumped THAC0, only pumped or single-mindedly focused will do the job. (Note: in the current build P:E's Armor has a similar problem, with high DR bypass completely negating it. I hope they'll fix this as it's clearly not the intent.)

Where P:E is different than IE

Movement. The IE games have free movement. This means that a general strategy of holding a line against their attacks and dealing with enemies at range is not very effective, and things are moving around so fast that notions like "pincer movement" or "flanking" simply do not exist. Instead, you have to send your tanks against their squishies going right through them. This makes for fights that are fast-paced and frantic, all based on reacting extremely quickly to changes to get at those high-value targets while not getting surrounded.

P:E on the other hand has engagement. That means that your general strategy is forming and holding a line to stabilize the battlefield, then using that battlefield to maximum effect: flanking with a wizard to throw a Rolling Flame, focusing ranged fire on the squishiest but most dangerous units, using special abilities to get through to those units and gank them (note: this needs work!), using spells or specials to break engagement and get a buddy out of trouble (knockdown, kick etc.) and so on.

I had to this day not realized that this is how you're supposed to play them, and found the inability to block enemy movement incredibly frustrating, and I have Sensuki to thank that I finally have. I'm now having much more fun playing IWD than I ever had. However, I still prefer the more deliberate pace of the P:E encounter. I think this is due to fairly deeply ingrained ideas about what tactics are, largely from playing a lot of Total War, but I also went to officers' school damnit and they didn't teach us to charge through enemy lines to gank the general, then charge back.

Where P:E is worse than IE

Magic. OK, magic in IE games does have its issues. I don't like spells that one-shot an encounter, on either side, for example, and effectively game-ending effects like Disintegrate aren't much fun either. But. There's not only a huge selection of spells in IE, many of these spells have multiple uses. A companion got Dire Charmed? Slap a Dominate on him and get him right back on your side. Out of Dominates? Hold Person to get him to stay put while it wears off. There's a whole bunch of spells there that will just shake up an encounter, like Teleport Field for example.

P:E's magic system removes many of the things I find un-fun about IE magic, such as super-powerful/one-shot effects like, at their respective levels, Horror, Confusion, Haste, and Cloudkill, which is a sound decision. And the system does have synergies which are a lot of fun to exploit.

But with no spell counters, and no spells like Hold Person, Charm/Dire Charm/Dominate, Rigid Thinking and so on it does feel flatter, more one-dimensional. Extremely powerful, long-duration effects should still be in, as long as there is a way to counter and/or prevent them. A special kind of IE fun has been removed here, and that is a shame.

Why is it so?

Josh has often stated that his design decisions are based on a lot of observation of how players actually play these games. I believe that. For example, I have attempted to play the IE games like P:E is supposed to be played, by holding a line at a choke point and taking it from there. Josh's addition of Engagement is, I believe, specifically designed to make this style of gameplay possible. The Interrupt mechanic is there to make it clear to the player how they can interrupt enemy casters. The save-or-die effects are gone because most of us found them frustrating and un-fun (including me).

But... the counterspells? Were so many of us just... not using them that he had to go and get rid of all of them and put them under Suppress Affliction, even making Petrification temporary? If so, then that's a shame. 

 

There is, I think, also great scope for mods here. Sensuki and Bester have discussed a 'grognard mod' for P:E that would remove engagement and replace abilities related to it with others. I would certainly try it, but as I said I think I'd still prefer Josh's version. However, if someone were to make a Counterspell mod, putting back some of those powerful single-target long-duration effects and ways to counter them, I would be so in. Who knows, I might even attempt something like that myself.

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Attack resolution mechanics. The P:E system is clear, simple, and understandable and directs you think of what you do rather than just spamming what looks like your most powerful attack. Dealing with foes that have too high Deflection for you to hit properly? Attack their Will with a spell or special to deal damage and lower Deflection, then attack Deflection.

OTOH I played AD&D for years and still can't remember, by heart, what all the saving throws are named, let alone decide when you're supposed to save against rods, wands, or staves and when against death. For example, what if it's a wand of Power Word: Kill? Jeebus. Also: THAC0 and AC make for some really weird threshold effects when near the ends of the scale, e.g. when dealing with a really tough enemy. One point of THAC0 can double your chances to hit. The system pretty much requires specialization -- near the endgame, a middling THAC0 will be as useless as a dumped THAC0, only pumped or single-mindedly focused will do the job. (Note: in the current build P:E's Armor has a similar problem, with high DR bypass completely negating it. I hope they'll fix this as it's clearly not the intent.)

 

I flat out disagree with this one. The idea behind PE's attack resolution system is good, but the way it is tuned/the way it actually works in the game is not very good at all IMO, when compared directly to how the THAC0 implementation works in BG1, BG2 and IWD1 or the To Hit Roll implementation works in IWD2.

 

I had to this day not realized that this is how you're supposed to play them, and found the inability to block enemy movement incredibly frustrating, and I have Sensuki to thank that I finally have.

 

This totally depends on the encounter, and the terrain - see here. I also think the encounter and terrain dictating the available movement and positioning strategies is completely natural - Engagement makes it artificial.

 

However I totally agree about magic battles being pretty banal in Pillars of Eternity. There's a subset of backers (mostly located on Something Awful and Badgame.net) that really don't like mage duels. Since Josh is tight with the people on those forums, they got their wish - at the expense of pretty much everyone who really loved them in BG2.

 

Edited by Sensuki
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But... the counterspells? Were so many of us just... not using them that he had to go and get rid of all of them and put them under Suppress Affliction, even making Petrification temporary? If so, then that's a shame. 

 

 

Don't know of others, but.

In the past 10 yrs, I've played both BG's, ToEE, both IWD's and both NWN's, plus a ton of NWN modules.

And never once used counterspell. Not once, don't even have a clue how I should go about using them.

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Do you actually read the spell descriptions though?

There are many ways to beat the encounters in the IE games. Casting haste on your party is one (as eventually the enemy protection spells will wear off) but you become fatigued after casting it. I don't rest spam, so I don't cast haste very often.

 

One example of a counter-spell is something PJ mentioned in his other thread, let's say an enemy Wizard Dire Charm's your main Fighter. That's an oh crap moment because your main Fighter will mince your party. You can counterspell it by casting Dominate on the charmed party member so that you regain control of him/her.

You can cast Resist Fear on your party so that you're immune to the spell Horror. You can also let your party be effected by the spell and then dispell it with Remove Fear.

 

There is literally hundreds of examples.

Edited by Sensuki
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However I totally agree about magic battles being pretty banal in Pillars of Eternity. There's a subset of backers (mostly located on Something Awful and Badgame.net) that really don't like mage duels. Since Josh is tight with the people on those forums, they got their wish - at the expense of pretty much everyone who really loved them in BG2.

 

I'm going to have to revisit BG2 at some point to see if I change my opinion about them too. My problem with them there was that they didn't feel fair: the enemy mages started out with a stack of protections you had to get through, and the best way to get through them was through a specific sequence of counters. The way I remember them, I died until I knew which protections the mage had, then reloaded to rest and memorize the counters, then won. That felt cheap.

 

Really digging IWD's magic fights so far though. I am getting through them even without having the optimal spell loadout, by repurposing what I do have. That feels awesome. There are those few encounters in Lower Dorn's Deep I really struggled with before, but we'll see how they go now.

 

On the other hand: I built my party specifically to mitigate this IE game feature. Everyone's a caster except my dedicated fighter. I don't spam magic to get through fights much, but I do have an extremely broad range of spells to draw from. With four fighter/clerics I've got most of the divine repertoire available at any time, even allowing for generous heals. I tweak the selection based on hints the game gives me, so far without much success -- for example when that dude in Dorn's Deep talked about undead, I loaded up with spells like Negative Plane Protection and Death Ward and such, but meh, just more zombies and skeletons and whatnot, plus a lich which didn't need anything particularly undead-y to deal with. I suppose I could've used my lone Hold Undead on it at some point but it wasn't necessarly. 

 

This I feel is a weakness in the IE casting system. With a more typical party that only has one cleric and one wizard, you do get caught with the wrong spell selection a lot more often.

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The only game so far where I've liked mage battles is NWN1.

Rush, knockdown with a greatsword and wham bam when he's lying there helpless.

 

IWD my main tactic was to scout with an invisible thief, open up with offscreen fireball from the mage.

Then wait out of sight until their sorcerer supremes protections wear out. Only then start the actual fight.

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I flat out disagree with this one. The idea behind PE's attack resolution system is good, but the way it is tuned/the way it actually works in the game is not very good at all IMO, when compared directly to how the THAC0 implementation works in BG1, BG2 and IWD1 or the To Hit Roll implementation works in IWD2.

 

Oh, the system definitely needs tuning, just like the armor. I was commenting on the design. And AD&D's attack resolution is murky, never even mind the entirely unnecessarily complicated arithmetic with THAC0 and AC, but especially attacks that target something else (magic resistance, saving throw). 

 

The current implementation in P:E (with Normal difficulty enemies anyway) is enough in the ballpark that you can tell that the design is sound. They just need to get the numbers right.

 

As to THAC0 vs AC: I checked the IWD bestiary, and in fact the AC's of most critters there are surprisingly poor. There's a bit of an inverse difficulty curve here actually -- in the early game, the AC of your toughest enemies and the THAC0 of your best fighter tend to track each other, but the enemy AC curve levels off somewhere around 0 while your THAC0's keep rising. I.e. they mitigated the design problem by balancing content. Which is what you do when you have a design problem you can't resolve by design.

 

I don't have my old Monster Manuals available here so I can't check how the official monster AC's are supposed to be, but I do recall seeing negative values there.

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The only game so far where I've liked mage battles is NWN1.

Rush, knockdown with a greatsword and wham bam when he's lying there helpless.

 

IWD my main tactic was to scout with an invisible thief, open up with offscreen fireball from the mage.

Then wait out of sight until their sorcerer supremes protections wear out. Only then start the actual fight.

 

Channeling Sensuki, why don't you use an archer or Magic Missiles to interrupt the mage's casting, then rush, Knockdown, and murder?

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Probably wasn't aware that it is actually a viable or fun tactic I guess. Jarmo ?

 

Rushing in and 'knocking down' the Mage, is exactly how I beat Mages in most of the IE games. The only game it doesn't really work very often in is BG2, because Mage's have lots of protection spells to get through.

 

Check this out man

 

 

start at 4:35

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[...] I.e. they mitigated the design problem by balancing content. Which is what you do when you have a design problem you can't resolve by design.

 

[...]

In PoE, Sawyer resolves design problems by saying you're doing it wrong and then stops you from doing whatever caused the issue.

 

"Nyyaaah, GAWD you guys stop ruining me and my SA friends game, you're PLAYING it WRONG! Don't use powers to initiate combat, IT RUINS THE ENCOUNTER!"

 

Yeah, I'm feeling bitter today.

Edited by Luckmann
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As to THAC0 vs AC: I checked the IWD bestiary, and in fact the AC's of most critters there are surprisingly poor. There's a bit of an inverse difficulty curve here actually -- in the early game, the AC of your toughest enemies and the THAC0 of your best fighter tend to track each other, but the enemy AC curve levels off somewhere around 0 while your THAC0's keep rising. I.e. they mitigated the design problem by balancing content. Which is what you do when you have a design problem you can't resolve by design.

 

I don't have my old Monster Manuals available here so I can't check how the official monster AC's are supposed to be, but I do recall seeing negative values there.

Yeah a little bit. I think that Heart of Winter does a bit better with providing some more challenge purely based on monster stats. Actually hitting things really isn't a problem in the Infinity Engine games provided you optimally build your party.

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provided you optimally build your party.

 

There's the rub. Building an optimal party is hard, and the games are extremely unforgiving about it. Do it wrong and you will eventually hit a blank wall where progress if not impossible, at least extremely difficult and tedious. Also, before you've actually played the game, you won't know for example just how high your THAC0 needs to be to consistently beat encounters without getting a bloody nose. 

 

That's actually my main beef with AD&D character mechanics right there: there are trap choices, and there's no way to correct them when you discover your mistakes. It's not like reloading, changing your spell selection, and doing a fight over; you have to restart from zero.

 

I.e., you're right: IE combat is not swingy, provided you have an optimal party. It's not hard to hit enemies, provided you have an optimal party. I'm not saying that there should be no difference between an optimal party and a poor one, of course; part of the fun is building the optimal party. I do say that the games would be more fun overall if the effects were more scalar and less on-off. So, for example, an optimal party could breeze through Dragon's Eye (on Normal) with, say, only a rest before Yxunomei, whereas a poor one would have to rest, like two or three times per level even if you used it tactically more or less OK.

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Hard? It's not hard.

 

Remember that many classes don't even use most of the attributes. If you look up the D&D attribute tables, some of the minimums before you start getting negatives are pretty low, in the single digits.

 

It's "harder" building for some classes that require more good attributes, some of those are made easier by their class attribute minimums.

 

I've actually saved myself a fair bit of time over the years by exporting characters that I get amazing rolls on, so I can use them again.

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:shrug: Maybe I'm just dumb then because I do find it hard. I have restarted all the IE games multiple times a good way through because I find my party just isn't cutting the mustard. On my first attempt at IWD I had a bard and a fighter with a bad specialization, I forget which one. Bastard swords maybe because they were good in BG and have great damage for a one-hander. I quit halfway through Dragon's Eye and started over. And yes, I'm still mad about that. I don't forget easily.

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On my first playthrough of IWD I got stuck in the Severed Hand because I didn't find the staircase to the other side of the bottom floor which contained a piece of the Astrolabe ... lol.

 

In Icewind Dale 2 I got stuck in the Fell Wood. Didn't have a Ranger or a Druid and couldn't find the way out.

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Channeling Sensuki, why don't you use an archer or Magic Missiles to interrupt the mage's casting, then rush, Knockdown, and murder?

 

 

Probably wasn't aware that it is actually a viable or fun tactic I guess. Jarmo ?

 

 

Nah, I had most characters equipped with slings and stuff. Lots of opposing mages perished in the hail of bullets.

And I did use buffs and dispels and such, just not the counterspell ability. Also rushed hasted many times.

I did finish both IWD's with the first party I made, though I had better reflexes and micromanagement 10 yrs ago.

 

It's just those fights weren't fun for me, not the same fun as beating down a helpless opponent is fun fun.

 

 

 

provided you optimally build your party.

 

There's the rub. Building an optimal party is hard,  

 

I did love playing with the builds, especially in DnD 3.0.

 

But that's kind of fun only when you've played a bunch of games with the same rules.

And it's OK for me to pre-plan a character, if it's D&D it's almost assumed the players know the rules.

 

NWN games (and ToEE) are actually better (than IE) with this, as you generally will find a way to enchant yourself your weapon of choice,

so if you're a warhammer weaponmaster, you don't find out only later there are no warhammers to have.

 

But then I've played a few other RPG's, which I can't recall right now, and needing to know what your build needs before the game even starts is a pain.

The first play is much more fun if you start playing first and only then have to make up your mind. Dragon Age is better in this, Skyrim better yet.

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I almost got stuck in the Severed Hand at that point this time. Had to go through the place like three times to find the staircase, and felt really dumb for not noticing it when I did now. 

 

The Fell Wood was just stupid. I didn't have a Ranger or Druid either, and it took me hours + pencil and paper to get through that. Nothing wrong with the puzzle in principle, but the execution was just really really bad and un-fun.

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About the magic system:

 

In most cases I like the way how the IE games do it.

But fights between high level mages are frustrating, I think.

They trigger protection from everything at the beginning and whoever can remove the protection of the other first (and is able to hit him) wins because every hit interrupts the spell.

Most annoying are the ones that start with protection from everything plus time stop.

 

You cannot beat this without meta gaming.

Like: When I enter the next room I will face a mage who is protected from magic and magic weapons and starts with a death and a fear spell.

 

There is one magic system I like very much: The elemental system of Divinity Originil Sin.

You can put poison slime on the ground and then let it explode with a fire spell. Or you can make them wet and then freeze or stunn a whole group with ice or lightning.

You have lots of spells for status effects, but most of them hit only one target and each spell has a cool down.

This makes combat very tactical and I like it.

But I admit that this system is better for turn based combat (like D:OS) than for real time with pause.

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One of the reasons I much prefer the Infinity Engine games to other D&D RPGs is because I came from Warcraft 2 and Age of Empires 2 before I played Baldur's Gate, and the transition was pretty much perfect. I honestly couldn't envision games looking any other way at that point in time.

Edited by Sensuki
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P:E on the other hand lets you skew your character in different directions. The classes themselves have more things they can do, the choice you make have significant mechanical effects, and you can play against type. What's more, Josh has thought of really cool ways to differentiate them: not just a different spell selection, but a different way of casting spells (cipher, chanter); not just different special attacks, but different ways of pulling them off (monk).

 

Its a great shame that the game doesnt represnt these new mechanics and abilities in better character body movement, so it all stays in the relm of statistics on the paper, dry calculations to watch roll over the combat log.

 

And, ofcourse, when you combine that with everyone and everything having engagement mechanic, which the Ai must consider as a very important parameter...

 

It creates a unintentional negative reinforcement loop effect and makes the combat look very static and constrained of almost any actual movement, therefore derived of any tactics that are usualy a part of combat dependant on moving around in space. Which is a really big chunk of combat, actually.

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Well, I'm starting to think this game is just not for me. PoE was supposed to be the spiritual successor to the IE games but the more information I find about the game the more apparent it is that PoE has little in common with BG or PST. I'm incredibly disappointed...

 

I will still try to play the game on release but my expectations are very low at the moment.

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Well, I'm starting to think this game is just not for me. PoE was supposed to be the spiritual successor to the IE games but the more information I find about the game the more apparent it is that PoE has little in common with BG or PST. I'm incredibly disappointed...

 

I will still try to play the game on release but my expectations are very low at the moment.

 

I on the other hand will advise you to be cautious with low expectations, and then you will either be pleasantly surprised if you like it, or not very surprised if you don't ;)

 

If you're like me, it will probably be in the ball park but you'll be thrown/frustrated at a lot of the minutiae.

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