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How to fix the "Doorway chokepoint" dominant strategy


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So the "in" thing to do these days when looking to fight some chumps is:

 

1) Send a heavily armored tanky character (Fighter or Paladin, generally) to pull enemies into a doorway and block the doorway.

2) Pew pew with spells or guns and stab stab or thwack thwack with spears or staves while the tank tanks.

 

Obviously this doesn't work in all cases, nor does it work with all enemies (*cough* Shadows *cough*). But in general, the tactical flowchart for the "good" PoE player goes: Am I about to be in combat? If yes, can I door block? If so, do it.

 

This sucks. A lot. Both from a game mechanics perspective (because if there is a single dominant strategy, the game quickly becomes boring) and a realism/immersion perspective (because as far as we know, combat in the era of which PoE is a rough imitation did not consist entirely of blocking doorways and shooting through one really tough guy to hit the guys hitting the tough guy).

 

So how can this be fixed? I've seen some murmurs of making Fighters less durable - this, while perhaps warranted (Eder is freaking immortal with the right gear, and he's not even minmaxed for tanking), will not fix the problem. And doorways or narrow passages can't be removed from the game without making all areas stupid. No, the problem is fundamentally a result of how the enemy AI works, and the solution will only come with fixing the AI.

 

The solution is simple: Program the AI not to fight in disadvantageous chokepoints if it can help it, and (where applicable) to attempt to use the same strategy. A real group of bandits wouldn't wait in line to beat their heads against a suit of full plate while being riddled with holes, they would fall back and wait to engage on more advantageous ground. Maybe even see if they can get around through another entrance for a flank! I'm not asking for Deep Blue here - just a few AI routines beyond "blindly charge at my target". It shouldn't be all that unfeasible to implement AI capable of recognizing when its being funneled into a kill zone and of avoiding said kill zone in favor of a "sit and wait" strategy or some other move. Anything beyond just blindly standing in LoS of a completely blocked doorway. This would make the game much more interesting and add tactical variety. While this sort of behavior makes sense for spiders and the like (they're dumb), it's absolutely immersion breaking for intelligent enemies. If some guards know I'm trying to get past them, are they going to rush through the doorway, or wait for me to come to them, exposed and vulnerable?

 

I know AI is not a simple thing to code, and that this isn't the sort of thing to expect in a balancing patch (though a guy can certainly hope :) ). But I beseech you, Obsidian - look at the AI for the expansion and the sequel. Consider a retroactive AI fix for the main game with the expansion, and for all PoE titles moving forward. Because super-dominant strategies are boring as hell, and you can build a better game than that. And the solution to this particular problem is conceptually very simple, although (I realize) probably not incredibly easy to implement.

Edited by Matt516
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I'd very much like what you're suggesting, but I think a simpler solution would be to give the NPCs abilities that can move your tank (push and whatnot).

The reason I mention this is because it's something that should be possible for modders to do, so we won't necessarily have to hope for Obs to improve the AI.

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I'd very much like what you're suggesting, but I think a simpler solution would be to give the NPCs abilities that can move your tank (push and whatnot).

The reason I mention this is because it's something that should be possible for modders to do, so we won't necessarily have to hope for Obs to improve the AI.

 

While this could help, and (as sparklecat mentioned) there are already abilities that do this, that's still more of a band-aid because unless every fight has enemies with those abilities (which would be annoying as hell - I still want my positioning to mean something), the flowchart remains the same. You just can't do that strategy as much, but you'll still do it every chance you get. Which I suppose would be the case with my proposed solution as well, but I'm completely ok with the party funneling unintelligent beasts into a killzone - I just don't want intelligent enemies falling for the same thing constantly.

 

Also note that adding knockback abilities to mitigate this issue would require AI changes of its own to work with any degree of - so it's at least in the same ballpark as far as amount of effort goes.

 

There's no denying that modders can't fix this issue given enough time. I'm not super worried about that. But I'd love to see Obsidian fix it themselves - I know they've been incredibly busy finishing the game and fixing gamebreaking bugs, so improved AI probably hasn't even been on the table for a while. And it's already improved a lot from the Beta, believe it or not. But now that the game is released, they're thinking about the expansion, and this dominant strategy has popped up very quickly - I figured it'd be a good time to start a conversation about ways to fix that. Which, in my opinion, must start with making the AI a little bit more intelligent. :)

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I think it could help too (not as a cure, but as another factor in the mix) to up the detection range for enemies.  Like if you started a fight with your chokehold strategy, maybe some enemies in a different nearby room hear the commotion and come running over... from another direction down a different hall, and suddenly you have a two or three front fight on your hands. In general, battles taking unexpected directions would be good.  They are most often very predictable right now, and the enemies are dumb.  They'll endlessly try to hit the totally invulnerable fighter, and ignore everybody else.

 

But I do think Eder being invulnerable leads to part of the problem.  He's just, as you say, immortal.  There's no real fun in that.

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We shouldn't be punished for using good strategy, in this case using the terrain to our advantage. 

Its part of the fun of the game. The issue isn't the strategy as your post suggested, but its how the AI deals with this strategy that makes it seem easy.

 

What could be done is:

1) AOE spells by some enemy types

2) Teleporting skills of rogue type enemies

3) More minion summoning to harass your backline

4) Have a similar super tank low damage minion backed by strong range creatures.

5) Have more buffing enemies that make give their guys good region and DR.

 

Having one or a combination of one of the above would greatly change they way you choke at the doorway. Ultimately, its still fun as you have to adjust to the different enemies.

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So basically you want to punish people for using tactics?  Btw, the AI does the samething to an extent.  Caster never rush forward and let the front line fighters engage and the AI has a very nasty habit of targeting the weakest link if they can get a shot at them

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So basically you want to punish people for using tactics?  Btw, the AI does the samething to an extent.  Caster never rush forward and let the front line fighters engage and the AI has a very nasty habit of targeting the weakest link if they can get a shot at them

 

Making improved AI != punishing players. Expecting intelligent behaviour from intelligent enemies is reasonable and keeps the combat from becoming a trivial activity.

 

On topic, I would like intelligent enemies to target weaker defenses of high deflection units where possible, maybe even debuff that tank you're using to hold the doorway and rain death upon him. Hell, even making encounters where lining up in a door way is a bad idea due to AOE spells and abilities would be great.

Edited by View619
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Program the AI not to fight in disadvantageous chokepoints if it can help it, and (where applicable) to attempt to use the same strategy.

 

Not good enough because it would result in stalemates where neither side would move from their most advantageous positions.  

 

You'd have to have monsters that have hard counters to certain tactics: charge abilities with knockback, destructable terrain, etc.

 

The game does have teleporting enemies, and that's a form of hard counter.  But it would be silly for every enemy group to have teleporters, so they'd have to come up with something new.

 

All this talk is well and good, but I wouldn't expect the game to change in any meaningful way at this point.  That's what beta is for.

Edited by Daemonjax
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We shouldn't be punished for using good strategy, in this case using the terrain to our advantage. 

 

Its part of the fun of the game. The issue isn't the strategy as your post suggested, but its how the AI deals with this strategy that makes it seem easy.

 

What could be done is:

1) AOE spells by some enemy types

2) Teleporting skills of rogue type enemies

3) More minion summoning to harass your backline

4) Have a similar super tank low damage minion backed by strong range creatures.

5) Have more buffing enemies that make give their guys good region and DR.

 

Having one or a combination of one of the above would greatly change they way you choke at the doorway. Ultimately, its still fun as you have to adjust to the different enemies.

1.  they already do.  been hit by both druid and mage spell aoe, as well as barbarian shouts.

2.  they already do.  I have had rogues "escape" to the back of my party to stick the mage who just tried to cast "slick" on them but was too slow.

3.  they already do.  shades summon shadows, and they can teleport.  though on this one, you're right about summoning in general.  there actually are very few summoners in the game, and very few summoning spells in general.

4.  had that fight.  "the dweller" is EXACTLY that kind of fight, with greater earth blights acting as tanks for the dweller, who tosses giant boulders at you and squashes your entire team if they are standing too close.

5.  they already do, Ive seen barbs doing their buff yells and their priests casting armor and bless.  more would be welcome though.

 

point is, all of this stuff already IS in the game, the reason you don't notice is that indeed, there could be more of it.  also, ranged attackers don't tend to penetrate even weak DR for some reason, even when they have crossbows.  my archers, OTOH, seem to do quite well.

 

but really?  it actually really does look like the level designers had planned for people to mostly use the chokepoint strategy for mobs.

 

if there were only two things I would suggest, it would be making more open areas to fight in, or more access in indoor areas (so enemies can more easily get around behind you in a doorway), and mainly.... increase sight range.

 

the first would actually require redesigning a lot of levels, so that's unlikely.  the second would start to encourage people to lay down webs and things to slow attackers from rushing you, thus making open fights more viable than using chokepoints all the time.

 

example...

 

web.

 

web in this game has a much smaller aoe than in most other games, and only hobbles instead of stick, and hobbling really doesn't slow things as much as it should, so by the time you finish casting it, enemies are already on top of you.  with a longer sight and cast range, you could cast this at the edge of your vision, and actually have it make a significant impact on enemies trying to rush you.

 

anywho, yeah, the combat could be improved quite a bit I think, even without level redesign.  all the needed features are there, they just need to be utlized better.

 

 

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So basically you want to punish people for using tactics?

 

No, I want to make it so there's not a single tactic that is always better in every situation in which it is possible to employ it. As I mentioned, I have no problem with "dumb" or "feral" enemies falling prey to this strategy - but intelligent enemies should be smarter, and should force the player to use more than one boring strategy over and over again. You wouldn't pile your party in front of an enemy fighter blocking a doorway while his buddies whaled on you - why do you want enemy parties to do so? It's boring and silly.

 

This change doesn't punish tactics, it just encourages more varied tactics. BIG difference. I love tactics. I want this change to be made because I want to actually make tactical decisions instead of doing the same boring and insanely effective thing each time. A "solved" game has no tactics - only the "best" strategy. That's boring.

 

 

Program the AI not to fight in disadvantageous chokepoints if it can help it, and (where applicable) to attempt to use the same strategy.

 

Not good enough because it would result in stalemates where neither side would move from their most advantageous positions.  

 

You'd have to have monsters that have hard counters to certain tactics: charge abilities with knockback, destructable terrain, etc.

 

 

In a case in which there are intelligent enemies who might reasonably be expected not to charge suicidally into a killzone and beat their heads against plate armor, a stalemate is acceptable. If the player really wants to get into that room (or cave, or whatever), they'll fight on the enemy's terms - as it should be in the case of an attacker/defender situation.

Edited by Matt516
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One thing a few people have mentioned is increasing enemy sight range. While that's really a separate issue, I'd agree 100%. Enemies should have exactly the same sight range as the player, so if you reveal enemies while not sneaking, they instantly attack (as it was in the IE games). This MMO-esque/Diablo-esque "mob pulling" silliness does not belong in PoE.

 

Not that that's bad, mind you - it just doesn't belong in an IE successor. We already have the tools to never engage unintentionally via the stealth system - and this wouldn't change anything about that. The eyeball would just appear and the yellow pie would just start to fill as soon as you see enemies, instead of there being this magical fringe zone where you can see them and they can't see you.

 

There aren't many things (non UI related) I'd mod on a first playthrough, but this would be one. It's absolutely ridiculous that the player gets this crazy advantage in sight range - we can already use scouting mode to scout just fine. Don't need mob aggro zone mechanics in my cRPG. :p

Edited by Matt516
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We shouldn't be punished for using good strategy, in this case using the terrain to our advantage. 

 

Its part of the fun of the game. The issue isn't the strategy as your post suggested, but its how the AI deals with this strategy that makes it seem easy.

 

What could be done is:

1) AOE spells by some enemy types

2) Teleporting skills of rogue type enemies

3) More minion summoning to harass your backline

4) Have a similar super tank low damage minion backed by strong range creatures.

5) Have more buffing enemies that make give their guys good region and DR.

 

Having one or a combination of one of the above would greatly change they way you choke at the doorway. Ultimately, its still fun as you have to adjust to the different enemies.

1.  they already do.  been hit by both druid and mage spell aoe, as well as barbarian shouts.

2.  they already do.  I have had rogues "escape" to the back of my party to stick the mage who just tried to cast "slick" on them but was too slow.

3.  they already do.  shades summon shadows, and they can teleport.  though on this one, you're right about summoning in general.  there actually are very few summoners in the game, and very few summoning spells in general.

4.  had that fight.  "the dweller" is EXACTLY that kind of fight, with greater earth blights acting as tanks for the dweller, who tosses giant boulders at you and squashes your entire team if they are standing too close.

5.  they already do, Ive seen barbs doing their buff yells and their priests casting armor and bless.  more would be welcome though.

 

point is, all of this stuff already IS in the game, the reason you don't notice is that indeed, there could be more of it.  also, ranged attackers don't tend to penetrate even weak DR for some reason, even when they have crossbows.  my archers, OTOH, seem to do quite well.

 

but really?  it actually really does look like the level designers had planned for people to mostly use the chokepoint strategy for mobs.

 

if there were only two things I would suggest, it would be making more open areas to fight in, or more access in indoor areas (so enemies can more easily get around behind you in a doorway), and mainly.... increase sight range.

 

the first would actually require redesigning a lot of levels, so that's unlikely.  the second would start to encourage people to lay down webs and things to slow attackers from rushing you, thus making open fights more viable than using chokepoints all the time.

 

example...

 

web.

 

web in this game has a much smaller aoe than in most other games, and only hobbles instead of stick, and hobbling really doesn't slow things as much as it should, so by the time you finish casting it, enemies are already on top of you.  with a longer sight and cast range, you could cast this at the edge of your vision, and actually have it make a significant impact on enemies trying to rush you.

 

anywho, yeah, the combat could be improved quite a bit I think, even without level redesign.  all the needed features are there, they just need to be utlized better.

 

 

 

Yes they already do have that, but half of the fights you mention happen in an open area. Not at an area where you can choke them at a doorway. 

 

Anyway, the gist of my post is to make is so its not so disadvantageous to the AI and in some cases even advantageous if you decide to choke them at a doorway with the few points I mentioned above.

 

Later on they can mix up the combinations of hostiles that you have to decide if you want to choke and face a certain AOE or skill, or to fight in the open and have another enemy who excels in open spaces wreck your team.

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...which you can entirely disable with the IE mod if you want to.

the enagement system, I mean.

a lot of people were upset that moving around in combat was so penalized in this game.

they added features(entirely optional) to that mod so that moving around is no longer penalized.  no more penalties to speed of attack, no more disengagment penalty, no more screen filled with aggro arrows every where.

give it a shot.  much more like the old BG games.

 

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People wouldn't do that if not for the dps/tank polarization + engagement system. 

 

Well, a door-way makes the engagement system a non-factor since enemies can't move forward. I think people would stick to blocking door-ways when possible regardless of the engagement system.

Edited by View619
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...which you can entirely disable with the IE mod if you want to.

 

the enagement system, I mean.

 

a lot of people were upset that moving around in combat was so penalized in this game.

 

they added features(entirely optional) to that mod so that moving around is no longer penalized.  no more penalties to speed of attack, no more disengagment penalty, no more screen filled with aggro arrows every where.

 

give it a shot.  much more like the old BG games.

 

 

 

I don't mind the engagement system. Even without it, you can block a doorway. I'm concerned with the doorway blocking strategy - or, to put it more specifically, the fact that no AI creature or character seems to have any concept of trying to avoid chokepoints. I applaud players for using tactics, I just don't like the fact that this one tactic is so ridiculously (and unrealistically) dominant. The engagement system isn't really the problem in this case. I like the engagement system, myself - even as an IE game player.

Edited by Matt516
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You can forget about any complex AI kiting solutions, that's simply way too hard. Realistically the solution would have to be somehow stat based, very possibly giving the enemies capabilities that the player doesn't have. Someone mentioned something like giving enemy casters longer spell ranges, and I think that could work. That should help the enemy casters' AI more easily punish you for having all your dudes huddling at that door, while simultaneously allowing those enemy casters to stay a bit further back, preventing your from so easily gathering the enemies into one big fireball shaped cluster. In that scenario for example, you'd have to balance the risks of fighting the enemy on open ground while being able to more easily engage their dangerous caster dudes, against having that nice door tanking spot which would keep your own squishy guys safer but you'd have a harder time quickly killing their casters. Or something else entirely, but it'd definitely have to be something less complicated than "hey guys why don't you just quickly make the most awesome AI of all time".

 

I'm sure even the spell range thing would be far from a perfect solution too, but maybe it could be a part of it. If these things were easy to fix they'd have been figured out by someone a long time ago.

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People wouldn't do that if not for the dps/tank polarization + engagement system. 

What? Did you not exploit chokepoints in the original IE games? I sure as hell did.

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I think you are asking a bit more of the AI than any AI is currently capable of. Chokepoints and the closely related pathfinding are things that are very easy for a human being to understand, but are actually very difficult to program. Think about how you would algorithmically describe a chokepoint. What would you do if the fighter holding it moves forward just a little bit? From the perspective of the pathfinding algorithms, the enemy now has an unimpeded path at the "soft" targets behind... but of course the moment they come into weapon range for the casters and archers, the fighter can just move back. It's a really difficult problem.

 

The game does try a variety of tricks (ranged attacks, AoE spells, teleportation, etc.) to get at the people behind the tank, but since you can do most of the same (except maybe teleportation) and you do it better, it's not that effective. The one thing I haven't seen so far was an attempt at a "fortress" type setup with ranged enemies stuck (so they can't come at you) in a place that is not easily reachable by melee, but again, most people will simply beat them at the ranged games just as easily.

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I think you are asking a bit more of the AI than any AI is currently capable of. Chokepoints and the closely related pathfinding are things that are very easy for a human being to understand, but are actually very difficult to program. Think about how you would algorithmically describe a chokepoint. What would you do if the fighter holding it moves forward just a little bit? From the perspective of the pathfinding algorithms, the enemy now has an unimpeded path at the "soft" targets behind... but of course the moment they come into weapon range for the casters and archers, the fighter can just move back. It's a really difficult problem.

 

The game does try a variety of tricks (ranged attacks, AoE spells, teleportation, etc.) to get at the people behind the tank, but since you can do most of the same (except maybe teleportation) and you do it better, it's not that effective. The one thing I haven't seen so far was an attempt at a "fortress" type setup with ranged enemies stuck (so they can't come at you) in a place that is not easily reachable by melee, but again, most people will simply beat them at the ranged games just as easily.

I took down the Sky Dragon by exploiting it's ability to fly up and come down on my squishies. I kept my squishies back with *one* tank at a certain point where the path narrowed, and then when it flew up I ran them forward as fast as I could. When it landed my tank engaged it, and I moved my two other tanks up behind it and it was trapped in melee with me. I could then keep my priest and ranged out of way of it's ranged abilities, keep my priest *just* close enough to heal the tanks, and keep it locked on the ground with stun and paralyze spells.

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