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Some thoughts on exploration, side quests and details in anticipation of PoE2


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Hi y'all!  :)

 

With the recent surveys, our anticipation for the next PoE has transformed into a definitive "It will be made and soon it'll be announced"-state.

And I also got this itch to write a bit about how I felt the explorative aspect of PoE went, and how I'd personally like it to be.

The lore and such were excellent in PoE, but since it was made in such an efficient manner, because of budget/time-restraints, its explorative nature was not always that exciting.

 

Overall, the game was pretty linear, with a few acts, and where the last one was short and underwhelming. Add to that rather empty and smallish maps, and you can see that an exploration buff like me suffered somewhat. Given all the great lore, there would've been plenty of room for great side quests, lots of details and "secret" areas, but there wasn't any time for that, based on the production resources available.

 

And the stronghold, serving as a typical hub for a substantial part of the game, wasn't much of an exploration deal either (well, a bit unfair, given all those floors beneath it - but I'd much rather have seen all those resources spent on the stronghold itself, making it Raedric Keep-big at least, and with a plethora of stuff to poke around in, preferably developing over time, like Obsidian did with the stronghold in NWN2.) Or, truthfully, I'd skip a stronghold or a hub for PoE2, if I could get more exploration complexity and better map diversity and content.

 

I do understand that you have to make CRPGs pretty linear at times, but what I'm advocating for is the BG1-approach, rather than the BG2 (which, disregarding the great city adventures, was far too linear for my liking). However, BG1, had the right size of the maps, but several of them were still rather empty.

Discovery density on a computer game map is indeed a tricky thing to get right, but even linear games can do it really well. Look at games like Dishonored 1 and 2, where you have huge maps with loads of exploration and several side quests lasting for hours, if you play diligently, like me, and those maps fulfil the function of being replayable as well. And the attention to details is pretty stunning (although sometimes lacking, still).

Since PoE2 is an isometric CRPG, as opposed to Dishonored, I'd imagine it would be easier to make each map more sprawling, irregular and detail-focussed. Sure, it would be nice with bigger villages and cities, and lots of "this is a lived in place"-thingies, which PoE had problems with (not to mention the absurd backer-created golden NPC-loot-piñatas), but I'd argue that it's even more important to set up a goal for PoE2 that makes a city a jumble of complex inter-quest relations between NPCs, locations, items, and so forth. Moreover, just because there's an old ruin in some forest on a map, it doesn't have to be empty except for a few lion prides, for instance. I'm not saying it should all be pixel hunting, but at least, I'd like to see an attempt to make it lush in a explorative sense. Side quests - they can even be quest-cul-de-sacs, I don't care - shouldn't be blatantly so. I'd rather have a game where I have to take every detail seriously, and where the main story isn't advertised a mile away. I'm not saying: please, make a big, confusing mess of a game world. Rather, make it intricate enough, with several layers of things to delve into and deal with, rather than the "hollow NPCs on scarcely populated maps"-approach. For once, horror vacui is a neat thing, and less is more a bad thing. The devil is in the details, and in a CRPG, I'd like to see more LE bad guys, if you get my drift. ;)

 

What are your thoughts on exploration, side quests and details?

Edited by IndiraLightfoot
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*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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Interesting post and in general I agree with you. My problem with Baldur's Gate was that there was a lot of "pointless exploration". What I mean by this is things like having every single door in the city of Baldur's Gate be an openable door leading to a separate building interior map, or having lots of wilderness maps with nothing much going on in them. Now I should qualify this by saying that this sort of thing is not, in of itself, a bad thing. The problem with Baldur's Gate was that most of those doors in the city lead to identikit houses with perhaps a couple of generic NPCs and a chest containing some generic loot; or the wilderness maps being mostly just empty and fairly generic wood- or grassland.

 

I feel that all locations should be worth including in the game. This doesn't mean they have to involve a quest, contain amazing loot or a difficult encounter. Another example of a worthwhile location to my mind would be a house in the city where the occupant fleshes out the lore, or a wilderness map with some nice unique features. I'm all for including more of this sort of thing.

 

On a more general level, I do think the locations in PoE felt a little bit less alive than their BG2 counterparts. I am definitely all for more ambient city and wilderness noises, and larger wilderness maps in PoE2. In Josh's recent Q&A stream he answered a question about this and said that this is something they want to improve in PoE2. Also dynamic weather seems to be a feature they're working on including so yay.

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The appeal of exploration is finding the unexpected. In a shooter you have the legendary vent. In Fantasy-RPG it is the cave behind a waterfall. In isometric games you can have the hidden lever, a teteleporter you accidentally assemble and the obvious,locked door whose key can be found if you are attentive and sharp-witted. These are map-within-map approaches.

BG1 gave the player many side-by-side-maps with infrequent content. I do not prefer the latter for two reasons:

First creating maps is a very costly part of development. You'd be advised to pack them full. Secondly when you walk  out of a forest, most of the time you'll expect another forest to appear. The map-in-map-approach usually allows the developer to stray farther away from previous content and art. Filling up similar maps with varied content is just as possible but requires more ingenuity.

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 I really liked the exploration and resulting sense of player agency in BG1.

 

  I recently did a new play through of PoE with the White March expansions, which I hadn't played yet,  and I like the game a lot more now. The expansions really opened up the game world.  Also,  the WM story is integrated nicely unlike the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion which had great content but didn't entirely make sense from a story standpoint. (I'm hot on the trail of that menace Sarevok ... ooooh something shiny!)

 

  (There are still issues like the factions in Defiance Bay that suddenly become unimportant at the end of act two, and the rushed act three. Also, combat feedback could be better.)

 

 I think they got a lot  closer with PoE+WM in terms of exploration and I would love to see PoE2 do a little more of that.  They can gate the difficulty of the combat just it is done now with the WM content and the bounties (it could also be level scaled, but I would prefer to do it another way). Sometimes new areas open up and other times new enemies show up in places you've been to already after competing certain quests. In addition, there can be quests that send you to other major areas which can serve as hints that the difficulty where you are now is about to go way up.

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I must admit that i like KOTOR sheme:

  1. Prologue
  2. Big exploration, actually most of the game with some small scenes pushing main plot forward.
  3. Big twist, sheet just got real, doomcloack at 11
  4. Final chapter dedicated to main plot.
  5. Ending which tells us that choices mattered

PoE was good, expecially with WM since amount of exploration was huge, probalem was chapter 3 which unlocked after big twist and i wasnt really in mood for more exploration but more like on blood trail for that bastard. If we put PoE and WM togeter then that is big game. And it has enought exploration.

 

BG2 also had enought exploration for my taste.

 

Endless Dungeon was fine on 1st walkthought, since i wanted just careless slaughter (and loot). It as food to jugle with Defiance Bay (which has more text only adventures). However on second walkthough dungeon is repeatable and less fun. Probably it is just too long for own good. 7 Levels would serve the purpose.

 

With stronghold: i think that OE nailed it in Tyranny, with stronghold being important for plot, functional, easy to use, useful and looking awesome.

Edited by evilcat
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