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Party management in quests

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This one thing buggers me and would like if Obsidian could address it somehow in all future RPGs...

As complexity of all available party members (deep backgrounds, personal quests, dialogue moments, main story involvement, etc.) is rising too high, particularly in Obsidian and Bioware RPGs, something really needs to be done about dispersion of all those characters during first playthrough. For a while now, whenever I see a new potential party member, I don't feel fun, but very unpleasant feeling of burden, unless its beginning of the game and there are still free slots in the party. Discovering "who-fits-where" (which party members fits most for what quest or piece of the main plot) is becoming a nightmare and has turned literary into the parallel game for me with tiresome amount of saved and loaded games. When I finished Pillars of Eternity for the first time, I left myself notes "who-fits-where", and second playthorough left impression of much more coherent experience where each party member had its role over the course of story (I even saw one minor event I missed, because my intuition failed me in that case first time). This is how I should have felt after first playthrough. I remember that the biggest joke of this type was in "NWN 2: Mask of Betrayer". There was four intriguing characters, but only three party slots. Sufficient to say that I felt sour at that, and I was -- this close -- to use a console command to expend party and cover that fourth one... but didn't do it in the end because it was obvious that balance would go to hell (on already too easy game) and juggling with just one more "variable" was bearable in, overall, short story. Now I may be sick of completionist syndrome but it really makes no sense to me that you get to meet (intriguing) characters only to pile them up in the storage room for the rest of the game, with only bringing them out when you are ready to finish their personal quest. That's one big shame. And "replayability value" is not excuse here, because while feeling of missed content is unpleasant during the current playthrough, it's hardly motivating to repeat the whole game just to see some of dialogues or (minor) events missed. Beside, point of repeating the game isn't necessarily to search for missed moments, but also seeing again those that were particularly cool.

I can think of three possible solutions for this problem:

Solution 1:

Create, say, 10 potential party members, but make sure only 5 are available during one playthrough. Which 5, is decided by some algorithm upon beginning of the game. This way game receives a -- real -- replayability value, because meeting whole new richly-written characters is far more motivating that seeking those (few) missed corners at first, and in the same time you do not distract player from current playthrough to meta-search for those corners due to frequent suspicions. Downside of this idea is that, meeting exact number of characters as there are free slots in the party is too... convenient in sense of immersion and the mentioned algorithm has to be really smart. Also there could be a problem if one of those 5 characters, player finds very repulsive for whatever reason and send him/her away... though Obsidian RPGs are easy enough to be solved with far less than six characters (and if player desperately needs all six, he can always make a custom ones in the inn).

Solution 2:

Long time ago, there was this RPG "The Summoner". Player didn't have any control who is in the party or how big the party was, since course of the story was firmly dictating both. While this fully solves the problem, I am not fan of this idea, because essentially control over the party is taken from the player completely and pushes immersion more toward "interactive movie" experience than "open game" experience. However, a lighter version of this idea might work. It is not unusual in today's RPGs, that for some quests, some party member addresses main character directly asking to come. However, that happens ever so rarely and usually when it is quite obvious who should be brought on that particular quest. Maybe it would be good idea that this happens much more often over the course of the whole story? For example, lets take "Ciders of Faith" quest. When you pick up the quest, or better, when you are just about to address the NPC and pick up the quest, game quickly (and subtly) nudges you, that you should have Durance in the party before doing that. It's still up to the player to accept or ignore that nudge. Or lets take the first journey to Twin-Elms in Act 3 as example. Game could (subtly) nudge you to have Pellegina in the party for that journey (btw, this is that minor event I missed first time and then the following event in Valian embassy due to that). Vice versa could work too, where often party members express disinterest toward some quests, thus letting player know that they will be nothing more than a "tool" for getting it done. Also, when player is in some HUB, like city, party members that are not in the party could be allowed to scatter around and appear near the NPCs whose quests interest them. Lets take "Ciders of Faith" as example again. Durance could be around the shrine, for whatever reason, even if he was not in the party, so when player address quest-giver Durance takes a part in that conversation like he was in the party. Downside of this idea is, while it would certainly make party dispersion better, it wouldn't solve the problem completely and in the case of mentioned nudges, those would most certainly carry some degree of meta-gaming experience.

Solution 3:

Remove party limit, but add some sort of major penalty for everyone, if party has more than 6 characters. So player would bring more than 6 characters only if, for whatever reason, there is suspicion that a lot of NPCs are interested in particular quest and would have interesting things to say and do. Again, it does not solve the problem entirely.

In old RPG games, party members used to be not too much developed and overall, simple. Take Baldur's Gate 1 for example. Most (if not all) of potential party members in that game were a little more than custom generated. In that case, it is easy to leave things as they are, but as stories become complex and potential party members richly-written to the boot with increasing involvement in the main plot, this content missing is becoming a big problem in my opinion and needs to be addressed. It's even bigger problem, if main character and (some) decisions gets transferred in the sequel. Grieving mother was the last party member I met in PoE during first playthrough and after checking on her, my first reaction was frustration -- oh come on!! How am I going to juggle with this, obviously main-story-important character, now!? Like juggling wasn't tiresome enough so far... (turned out she wasn't as main-story-important as it looked to me at first but still was one of the top intriguing party members).

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While I also hate choosing between available companions and have mentioned it here somewhere more than once in the past, I don't particularly like your solutions. My solutions are better than yours and also my dad could beat up your dad.


Found my past comments about this:


I'm a sucker for choices & consequences but I never liked choosing which of the companions to take with me in RPGs, Besides its immersion breaker sometimes; like when a companion tells my character how both them did this and that and how he/she feels about it when he/she wasn't even there with my character. I rather have fewer & deeper(better: limited by party size) companions than having to choose among them which most of the time doesn't have consequences other than having or not having those characters/classes in combat situations. 


For companions I'd like to add: If there have be more companions than my party size then I'd rather choose while recruiting them. Like I get one of the two companions at the end of two branching paths(kotor 2) or result of a decision: recruiting one can cause another to leave my company(DAO) etc. Which would add to the replayablity value of the game and remove the immersion breaking spare companions in my camp/stronghold like spare pairs of boots. Or instead of abundance of companions give me non accompanying persistent NPCs with the same depth; give me a master of arms for Caed Nua who would train the garrison, a commander for my standing army, give me an advisor, builders, a prophesying old hag, shopkeepers, servants, cook, a blacksmith whose work I'd recognize with a look... I want to be lord of Winterfell. lol. 
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You can't give people more companions than there are party slots, and then avoid obsessive completionists feeling like they missed out on something. Solution 1, for example, takes away choice that a lot of players will appreciate, creating new frustrations - only to solve a very specific frustration that some players have due to their own quirks. Of course, your frustrations are important to address as well, but it's an example of how we can't really expect to get have choice or branching content and make sure you can experience every single piece in one go.



If you find yourself wasting hours of your time noting down which companion has 2 lines of dialogue where, going back and forth to switch them in and out, etc., etc., then maybe you're better off... not obsessing over it so much, or simply replaying the game with different party members as a more enjoyable way to experience the content?


That said, a mild version of solution 2 could certainly work. In a more high-tech setting, party members could simply call you when you pick up a quest, to say they're interested in tagging along.

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I sympathize with the notion that Obsidian creates more well-written characters in each game than will comfortably fit in your party.  However, this is a good problem to have, not a bad one, and I wouldn't agree with solutions that reduce the number of companions in the game world just to prevent players from feeling like they have to choose between them.  Every completionist wishes he/she could choose every option for every quest in order to see all possible content, but the devs can't (and shouldn't) accommodate this or else choices-and-consequences would be eliminated from the game.  Similarly with joinable NPCs, the impulse to want all of them in the party to see all of their content isn't enough of a reason for the devs to make it happen -- that's what replays are for. 


That said, I do agree that the devs shouldn't provide a large number of joinable NPCs just for the sake of saying the number is large.  I thought PoE (and Tyranny afterward) actually struck a reasonable balance as far as this is concerned, though I would have liked (even) more joinable-NPC content rather than less. 

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What if when you travel to a new area, your entire party sets up a camp or caravan on the outskirts and you select who to take with from there, dialogue is open, you can choose your party (or reroll easier upon a load), and your stash could be located here.


Also love the idea of having interesting NPCs who join your stronghold. See suikoden 2


Finally, I am not opposed to characters demanding to go with you on certain quests. Can go other direction, and need to stay in camp for so and so reason. Fixing a horseshoe or caravan wheel. Praying on an important religious holiday, etc. You can maybe still drag them along or not take them even if they insist, but they complain and it affects your relationship.

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Just to clarify, I do not advocate any of the mentioned solutions. I am not too happy with either of them (perhaps solution 2 might be the good starting point). These examples are just some quick thoughts of mine, how to tackled the problem...

Basically, as long as this is sorted out somehow, without breaking something in the process, I am probably fine with any solution that devs might come up with.

And I disagree with this...


However, this is a good problem to have, not a bad one


...it is too little to matter in replaying of the game, yet a shame to lose during the current game. Particularly when after some quest, I am suddenly well aware that I brought "wrong" party members. Not to mention the awkward moments, when certain party member talks to your character like he/she was tagging along all the time, as Quillon mentioned.

Oh and I don't mind missing line or two, and definitely don't expect to see everything in one go. That would be silly. I have nothing against big decisions (like in DAI, where you can side either with templars or mages in the first half of the story) or decisions that are obviously in spirit of my character even if those are going to make me miss vivid portion of narrative :)

Edited by Stef
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