Jump to content
Planetus

On Strongholds and why we should care

Recommended Posts

So, after playing Pillars of Eternity and the first expansion to completion, I've come to realize that the stronghold system, well, falls short.  Drastically.  And the reason isn't what most of you would think.  Yes, I'd love a massive 3d highres sandbox that I could turn into a Gothic dungeon or mage's tower or Arabian palace or whatever, or at least the ability to customize my stronghold so that it isn't exactly the same as every other maxed out stronghold, but that's not the real problem.

 

The real problem is that it's useless.  I played through the entire game twice now and only go back to the stronghold for attacks or to take advantage of the rest options.  Oh, and the bounties.  That's it.  The shops are insignificant, the adventure rewards aren't anything significant, and the main keep doesn't really house anything.  More to the point, though, it doesn't feature in the story at all, except for occasional mentions that you've taken it over.  Now, Pillars of Eternity is hardly the only game to do this.  Notably, Baldur's Gate II did similarly, though there I seem to recall there were at least a few unique events that required your personal attention, and a few unique items you could get for doing well.

 

I'd love to see a game much like Pillars of Eternity, except that the plot is somehow centrally tied to the stronghold.  There's a world to explore, cities and towns to visit, side quests to do, and maybe even significant parts of the main quest out there, but the main quest brings you back to the stronghold again and again, and not for a gimmick, but for good reason.  On top of that, at least some of the best equipment in the game can be gotten only through the stronghold blacksmith.  The best potions can be brewed by the stronghold alchemist.  The most devastating traps can be constructed in the stronghold tinker.  The stronghold isn't just a minor add-on, an 'oh, and also'.  It's part and parcel to the game on both a plot and mechanics level.

 

And yes, at that point you probably do want to give the player a slightly more developed stronghold system, but honestly, I don't think it needs too much more to be serviceable.  I just, first and foremost, need a reason to care about it.

 

As an idea of how this could work, and yes this is heavily reminiscent of PoE; it's been in my mind a lot lately: The kingdom is suffering from something (the Legacy serves well enough).  This something isn't easily explained as natural events or obviously tied to magical experiments.  People are desperate.  People are suffering.  Throughout the kingdom there are various ancient ruins of a long-lost civilization which have never been thoroughly explored because reasons (unfriendly natives, superstition, dangerous monsters/traps, or just not much obvious financial reward).  Now, though, because of the something, the king is looking for anything that can fix it, or at least shed some light on it.  He's trying a bunch of things at once: the priests are making record offerings to all of the gods, even the minor ones, the mages are studying it all out with almost no restrictions, whatever level of 'science' there may be is given lots of resources, and the king has decided to commission adventurer groups to dare these ruins, in hopes that something in them may shed some light.  I.e., most people don't really think you'll achieve anything.  Even the king isn't putting much hope in you.  But people are desperate.  You, as leader of your adventurer group, are given a sizable plot of land that's never been developed because of the ancient ruins on it (maybe you have to compete for them as the intro/tutorial).  You're given a sizable sum of money to develop the land with, to build housing, facilities, a library, magical research laboratories, a forge, a public bath, statues to yourself or others, whatever.  You're tasked to explore the ruins and bring up anything that may shed any light at all on the situation.  Of course, archaeology, translation, magical decryption, and physical repair of ancient artifacts aren't exactly adventurer bread and butter.  So, you have to go out into the world and find the foremost experts, or at least whoever's willing to work for you, to do that for you.  They need facilities to work in.  The better the person is, the better the facility they demand.  And the better the housing, and food, and local tavern, and local court, and....  Yeah, you need to spruce the place up to get started.

 

But, as you delve into the ruins and bring back artifacts, these experts figure out what they are, how they work, and what happened to the culture that made them.  This is the primary story.  So you don't get it directly from exploring the ruins, you get it from bringing the pieces back to your stronghold to be examined by your experts that you hired by having a nice enough stronghold and keeping them happy and being friends with them and maybe getting revenge on their ex-spouse for them and...  Ok, so obvious side-quest potential there.  In the end, at the bottom of your ruins, you find something.  Something that's entirely out of place and makes no sense but there it is.  My original idea was a spaceship.  Perfectly fitted right into the solid bedrock.  With no path in or out even a fraction big enough for it.  So it's a little corny, but it'd work.  Or maybe it's the Great Library of the Ancients.  Or the Council of the Gods, the Well of Souls, whatever.  Somehow, someway, what you find at least sheds light on what the problem is and what the solution is, maybe it even presents the solution itself.

 

In the end, you can have a vibrant living world with a driving reason to explore it (to find and convince experts to help you), but also a stronghold that's deeply integral to the plot, with some of the best facilities around (by the end, at least, thanks to all the experts you're bringing in).  You go there to stock up, you go there to upgrade your gear, you go there to advance the plot (and with good reason), and maybe you even go there to get to know your people (the experts in this case instead of party members).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, that describes a much different game.  Honestly, check out NWN2 for one of the better stronghold systems I've seen in games.  It has problems, but it's useable, very upgradeable with upgrades that make a difference, and important to the plot.

 

For a patch 3.00 player, are stronghold changes in / significant?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So, after playing Pillars of Eternity and the first expansion to completion, I've come to realize that the stronghold system, well, falls short.  Drastically.  And the reason isn't what most of you would think.  Yes, I'd love a massive 3d highres sandbox that I could turn into a Gothic dungeon or mage's tower or Arabian palace or whatever, or at least the ability to customize my stronghold so that it isn't exactly the same as every other maxed out stronghold, but that's not the real problem.

Well actually I think that we (and I'm an arrogant arse so yes, I'll speak for us, whoever that is :-P) don't want what you think we think we want we would like to have to want in the stronghold.

 

So why doesn't the stronghold actually work very well in a game focused on story, free character development and choice and consequence? Well because all it contains is limited development. That's it. The story is focused on Od Nua, so that doesn't have much to do with the stronghold aside from very superficial connection.

 

We need a story that would buid itself around the stronghold - making actual decisions about the land, resolving feuds between farmers for example - even if it's all done trough a simple dialogue in the throne room it would go a long way towards making player care about the stronghold. Even better alternative would be if NPCs in the stronghold gave us quests leading towards its development, like priest of our temple telling us we need to dedicate the temple to a god and then a proper, old-school quest for teh gods.

 

Another thing the stronghold needs are some actual choices. Choice of a god would be one - some form of customization would be another. In a game in which no two people are going to have the same experience like Pillars of Eternity, a stronghold which'll end up exactly the same for everybody is a bit of a sore point. So feel free to put less buildings in it, just make some mutually exclusive. The biggest issue here would be that these differences would have to be visible, but we're not talking about "sandbox building" - we're talking about different sprites for one building, for instance. Benefits would be, say, different resting bonuses, different merchant stock or, best case scenario, different quests.

 

And that's the last part - giving stronghold more endings based on choices we make in the quests associated with it. Make ME, as an individual, mean something to the stronghold, give it results which stem from the choices I have made in its development and are different as opposed to "Oh so you did everything, well done" ending.

 

These are the reasons why stronghold felt underwhelming - its focus was far too different from the rest of the game. I don't think we need new mechanics to improve the stronghold. What we do need is quite simply what the rest of the game does extremely well already.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Stronghold was a Kickstarter stretch goal and grew in scope as the funding campaign progressed.

 

In it's current (v2) form it's OK but lacks *life* and feels tacked on, my parties use it a lot as a *motel* and the Endless Paths are a decent dungeon and source of loot ;)

 

What I've experienced so far of the v3 beta changes are good.

 

 

I would not want the Stronghold to become the focus of the game and be forced into playing the roll of local lord with regional economic responsibilities  or for the Stronghold to become a sandbox (= litter tray).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some quickfire thoughts --

 

(1) Yeah the stronghold sucks. They're addressing some of the problems in it with 3.0, but I doubt it'll be enough to turn it into something that's genuinely enjoyable in its own right. Still, going from "Average Adventure" to "Find the murderer's thumb" is indisputably an improvement.

 

(2) No the shops/upgrades aren't useless. In particular the curio shop and botanical garden are essential if you want to get seriously into crafting, and Azzurro the merchant has some seriously interesting loot for sale.

 

(3) The game you're describing could turn out good, or bad, or middling, but it wouldn't have much to do with Pillars, and wouldn't be much like the games that inspired it either.

 

The best precedents for strongholds done right in the Pillars lineage/family are in Baldur's Gate 2 and NWN 2 OC.

 

In BG2 there were different strongholds with different classes. They didn't have all that much content, after the initial quest that got them for you, but the content that was there was hand-crafted, unique, and interesting. (For the most part, the thieves' guild kind of sucked.)

 

In NWN 2 OC, the latter part of the game revolved around building up and defending the stronghold. All the quests revolved around it. It worked really well and gave a great sense of accomplishment as you progressed in it. That and the trial were IMO the best parts of a highly uneven game.

 

Either of these approaches would work for a Pillars-style game.

  • Like 2

I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do wish Azurro the merchant's wares were distributed via stronghold updates.  He's inherently unpredictable, which means you can't plan builds with some of the best items in the game.  This was even more of an issue pre-WM.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Unfortunately, I didn't play NWN2, so I didn't see the stronghold in it.

 

And yes, the game I described would be measurably different from PoE or BG, though I think not as much as claimed.  You would have several different cities, wildernesses to get to them, small dungeons in or around them, and one huge dungeon under your stronghold.  The big difference is that the main plot would be about the big dungeon instead of a chain of small dungeons, and the small dungeons would all be side-quests, or possibly optional parts of the main quest (i.e. you could recruit 3 different blacksmiths, each one has a quest, 2 involve a dungeon somewhere).

 

Honestly, the big part I want to see is the stronghold tied into the plot (so maybe NWN2 would be a good game for me) in a strong and genuine way.  Recruiting NPCs is more a way to tie the plot into the outside world and draw the player OUT of the stronghold and plot dungeon, a way to make it not a dungeon crawl, than a way to bring the stronghold alive, though it serves both purposes.  Building/upgrading facilities is a way to customize the stronghold, so I could make mine a castle fortress with a huge blacksmith and armory and only a modest library, while yours could be a mage's tower with a huge laboratory and library, but only a tiny smithy.  Even if we both make castles, they could look different.  Ultimately, though, that's a nice-to-have level of customization.  Not critical in my opinion.  If upgrades existed like they do for Caed Nua, and it's just that the smithy has to be built before you can progress past the 5th level of the dungeon, that would still work.

 

 

As to the Caed Nua shops, yes the curio shop and botanical garden can be useful, but honestly I've only found something I was really looking for in them once (a vithrak brain).  I've never seen the stuff I needed for the absolute best, and I've never really run short of the stuff I needed for other crafting.  Maybe I just don't use potions and scrolls as much as you?

 

And yes, some of the stuff I see on the wiki from Azzuro is awesome.  Unfortunately, I've seen him only once in each of my games and each time he had more average/decent stuff for a ridiculously cheap price.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

*snip*  And the reason isn't what most of you would think.

 

The real problem is that it's useless.  I played through the entire game twice now and only go back to the stronghold for attacks or to take advantage of the rest options.  Oh, and the bounties.  That's it.  The shops are insignificant, the adventure rewards aren't anything significant, and the main keep doesn't really house anything.  More to the point, though, it doesn't feature in the story at all, except for occasional mentions that you've taken it over.

Actually, this is pretty much exactly what most of the complaints I've seen about the Stronghold were about. So, it is what many of us think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As to the Caed Nua shops, yes the curio shop and botanical garden can be useful, but honestly I've only found something I was really looking for in them once (a vithrak brain).  I've never seen the stuff I needed for the absolute best, and I've never really run short of the stuff I needed for other crafting.  Maybe I just don't use potions and scrolls as much as you?

Probably.

 

Those vithrack brains are pretty damn vital though, there aren't that many of them to be had elsewhere, and getting the ones that are isn't easy. Exceptional is sufficient to get items to max enchantment anyway, so not having access to Superb-capable ingredients is a feature, not a bug.

 

It's not just vithrack brains also. You need Berath's bells for Slaying enchantments; they're rare as well. And a whole bunch of less rare stuff that's just highly annoying to scavenge. Without the shop, you're agonising over every Enchantment not to waste those precious ingredients; with it, you can experiment with different ones to see how they mesh with what you're doing.

 

Plus scrolls and potions too of course. Try a Potion of Deleterious Alacrity of Motion once, they're tasty.

  • Like 1

I have a project. It's a tabletop RPG. It's free. It's a work in progress. Find it here: www.brikoleur.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

×
×
  • Create New...