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(POE 2 spoilers) Regarding meaningful choices, story, and player agency. A good game to study IMO.

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#1
Ralathar44

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I think Pillars of Eternity 2 is good example of both how you can execute meaningful story/choice in a game as well as how fragile that feeling can be in a way well beyond the ordinary fare of games.  This has spoilers for Pillars of Eternity 2 as it's used as an example.  If you are not ok with that, turn back now.


Specifically the Trading guilds in POE 2 put you in very uncomfortable situations with choices that go beyond good/bad that are compelling.  Each of the two trading guilds is heavily expansion/profit oriented in different ways and they both, in a nice touch, go out of their way to use your own ideals against you in their reasoning via the game's disposition system. They make compelling cases and I ended up helping them accidentally a disturbing amount while just trying to do good for the people, which appears to be the intent.  This forces the weighing of thoughts like "I'm doing good here but I'm also helping X trading guild that will undoubtedly be a long term negative".

When looked at face value, the choices are very standard.  Blow this up or restore it.  Help this town survive or do not.  Feed the starving town via methods that may be illegal, political, or compromise their culture.  Support this culture or support the new culture that is usurping it.  The game is steeped in such choices that are very straightforwards in nature, stuff that COULD be very one note "yay I'm the hero/villain" and done.  Choices made hundreds of times in RPGs that just fade into the background noise.  However It's the context that makes the choices so compelling in POE 2. 

For example restoring a magical pillar ensures the short term survival of a village (starvation) and allows souls to continue the cycle of life undisrupted, however it would allow a trading company to exploit the land and it's people to the point of essentially controlling them both in their rampant greed and pursuit of expansion and more money.  Hotheaded, young, and idealistic as they are.  Conversely you can choose to destroy the pillar which would jeopardize the short term survival of the village and remove a major avenue of souls to return to the cycle, but pleases the other trading company who is just looking to sabotage their competition who has a jump on them really.  But they are older, more patient, and more manipulative and present themselves as trying to avoid the negatives of the first choice.  Either way you are theoretically doing some good, but also some ill.  There is no "clean" solution or even a pure "dirty" solution.  Which is better likely depends on your ideologies. 


The game has many of those moments where I sit and ponder the ramifications of my actions and how any action, good or bad, will benefit one faction or another in their greed disguised as benevolence, or perhaps benevolence that has begun to show the signs of corruption and greed.  They intertwine.  That's not to say the game doesn't have it's share of "yay I R good" or "look at me, I'm a bad bad man", moments I also enjoy, but these much more complex moments are definitely the standouts of the game story telling IMO.  At least that's how I feel 30 hours in. 

Unfortunately where it falls apart is their disposition system currently needs some work. The spells the story and choices weave is compelling and strong, yet when the game misreads your character and presents you as something you do not feel is correct the spell is instantly shattered.  In my own case I pursued non-violent options and was honest in nearly every situation.  However after a few initial successful uses making the scenario compelling the system treated me as if I was aggressive or dishonest in a few scenarios.  As this is very counter to the behavior of my character it completely took me out of the moment painstakingly crafted by hours of gameplay and story.....showing the broken machinery behind the scenes on the floor.  95% success and 5% failure robbed almost all of the impact.  I cannot tell you, as a player, how shaken this made me despite me having an idea how complicated these systems are.  Logically, they will patch the new game and it will improve.  Logically it's understandable considering how hard this stuff is.  Emotionally none of that matters as an end user though, my head cannon character still lies broken in pieces on the floor.  Once shattered the illusion is difficult or even impossible to restore.  Gaming is truly a tough and merciless industry. 


So as an enthusiast with some QA experience looking to learn more about games, POE 2 is proving to be an excellent case study for the story aspects and player choice.  For anyone looking for a game that makes you think about both of those in a different way than POE 2 I recommend "The Magic Circle".  It's another great game to play to understand both doing story/choice well and also in how missteps can be made.  Of great potential and great moments that nonetheless get held back by other aspects. 


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#2
Yonjuro

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Spoilers ahead.

 

...

Specifically the Trading guilds in POE 2 put you in very uncomfortable situations with choices that go beyond good/bad that are compelling.  Each of the two trading guilds is heavily expansion/profit oriented in different ways and they both, in a nice touch, go out of their way to use your own ideals against you in their reasoning via the game's disposition system. They make compelling cases and I ended up helping them accidentally a disturbing amount while just trying to do good for the people, which appears to be the intent.  

 

 

 I also really like what they did with the Huana culture. It is just vile. The Roparu are a permanent slave class. They are required to give everything to the head of the tribe who distributes it in a way that enforces the existing unfair social order. The devs could have done a Rent Seekers oppress the Nobel Native thing, but they did something nuanced instead.


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#3
Shadenuat

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What exactly makes choices in PoE uncomfortable for the player or makes these choices hard?

 

You kill everyone, like faction leaders, you get to talk to some another leaders. You fail multiple quests for leaders, and report your failures, and you get a pat on the back and can continue quest line just fine. You can do terrible things to companions and completely get away with that.

 

PoE2 is as safe with choices as modern RPGs get. You have to try and do everything wrong on purpose to get any meaningful reaction from the game that would put your personal quest in jeopardy.


Edited by Shadenuat, 23 May 2018 - 12:42 PM.

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#4
Ralathar44

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What exactly makes choices in PoE uncomfortable for the player or makes these choices hard?

 

You kill everyone, like faction leaders, you get to talk to some another leaders. You fail multiple quests for leaders, and report your failures, and you get a pat on the back and can continue quest line just fine. You can do terrible things to companions and completely get away with that.

 

PoE2 is as safe with choices as modern RPGs get. You have to try and do everything wrong on purpose to get any meaningful reaction from the game that would put your personal quest in jeopardy.

I judge the medium within it's limitations.

Different outcomes for every major choice means a gigantic spiderweb of content work that only a tiny % of people will ever experience.  It's just not financially viable.  Even the best series at creating the illusion of your choices mattering are rather thin if you view them with a critical eye.  That's why you can choose to be reincarnated to the wheel when you talk to Berath, and it happens.  You become a wolf or some such and credits roll.  But you cannot make major impact on gameplay story.  Because the cost.  Even games like Undertale or The Witcher 3 only give you a few pivot points because of this.

I think there is great value just in making you ponder uncomfortable choices and the meaning of your actions.  About making us question the normally easy bad/good answers we get delivered on a daily basis.  I mean did the fact I had very little control over what happened in Spec Ops the Line really matter in how impactful that game was?  I could have made very different choices in that game but in the end none of it mattered at all.  But that doesn't mean that the asking of those questions or questioning of those choices has no value.


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#5
drael6464

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I did like the writing for the two companies versus the natives. That's probably one of the strongest points of the game - yes, neither of the companies is entirely good or bad (although there is a cut-throat element that's emphasized, it's not all their is), and the huana are in a strict and confining caste system. It's one of the choices that felt quite meaningful, and told a compelling story.

 

You are right though that the disposition/reputation system, it's doesn't exactly track. But I've honestly never seen a system like that, which is unbreakable. 


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#6
nightkin

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I did like the writing for the two companies versus the natives. That's probably one of the strongest points of the game - yes, neither of the companies is entirely good or bad (although there is a cut-throat element that's emphasized, it's not all their is), and the huana are in a strict and confining caste system. It's one of the choices that felt quite meaningful, and told a compelling story.

 

You are right though that the disposition/reputation system, it's doesn't exactly track. But I've honestly never seen a system like that, which is unbreakable. 

This.

Joining either of the factions for the final quest had me seriously thinking over and in the end - I took the (for me) most unlikely course and ended up siding with Aeldys, cause it sounded like noone would finally win and I honestly felt noone deserved to.

And by what the game made me learn about the world, Adra, the deadfire,  I didnt feel bad for chosing this rather bad ending, even on my goodie-2-shoes character.

 

I like how certain choices lead to certain effects later in the game, for instance how you deal with Benweth will decide on where and in which state you can meet Aeldys if you start the principis final quest-series.

Or that the events at the watershapers guild can actually make you lose the opportunity to side with the Huana completely if you choose a certain path in the quest and then make a wrong choice when facing Onekaza afterwards.

 

I also agree on the really tough choice on which ending you choose. Weirdly enough the Valian Ending seems to be one of the better choices, as from what I grasped, the upwind to animancy this will bring - which certainly had adarker touch to it in POE 1 - will make Kith  overall come closer to the power of the Engwithans than any other ending, thus making the course of Eothas' actions less of a threat somehow.

But the sheer fact that this unexpected good they can bring is rather a sideeffect of their leader's blatantly open primary motives - plain greed - made me doubt that decision. Even though I tended to believe in Castol's honesty, even when this was overshadowed when reading Beza's notes, or finding the huana in front of the VTC's office.

No need to talk about RDC, they are the borg, period.

 

Last time a game had me go over my choices several times were FO:NV and ofc W3, so at least to me the main plot's writing is good.

 

Also the character design - Xoti and Tekehu seemingly polarize people pretty damn hard- which to me is just a sign of a deeply carved out character. I ended up liking both, while hating others.

Party banter is another thing. I could really grasp why some characters ended up getting along with eachothers  while others didnt.

And I can agree with Xoti in hating Pallegina. :)

 

I feel like I'll drift even further OT from here no matter what, so TL:DR, I agree with OP and REALLY like the games writing. :)



#7
Zelse

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Tyranny choices >> PoE.

 

So much impact on gameplay, the replay value in that game was nuts.







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