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Divinity: Original Sin 2 Combat Mechanics Interview at Gamasutra

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Divinity: Original Sin 2 Combat Mechanics Interview at Gamasutra

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Mon 12 February 2018, 23:19:50

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios; Nick Pechenin

Divinity: Original Sin 2 was our RPG of the Year for 2017, but we never did get around to reviewing it. The reason being that none of our reviewers was able to finish the game before ragequitting in disgust. Although clearly not enough to sway popular opinion against it, the changes Larian chose to introduce to the Original Sin combat system seem universally unpopular. Which raises the question of why the heck they were introduced in the first place. That question is sort of addressed in today's interview with systems designer Nick Pechenin over at Gamasutra, although you may find his reasoning questionable. Here's an excerpt:

There’s a special kind of anarchy in the fights you experience in Divinity: Original Sin II.

This computer RPG, released last year by Larian Studios, encapsulates the freeform promise of the genre, allowing you to tackle its quests and face its world’s threats in wildly varying ways. Nowhere is that principle better expressed than when you’re in combat. In any fight, half the battlefield can end up on fire and the other drenched in acid. The air might be thick with electrified clouds, and summoned characters and resurrected corpses wander free.

Victory often feels as if it’s plucked from the jaws of death – or from chaos – and yet DOS2’s combat design is founded on establishing predictability for players, so they can make and execute plans, tight pacing, and also a sense of a story within the battle. As systems designer Nick Pechenin says, “Fights are basically performances, and you want some kind of plot in them.”

DOS2’s combat design is a close evolution from 2014’s Divinity: Original Sin, but Larian Studios knew the original had some issues. The team liked the depth of its combat, but felt that it tipped the balance too far towards chaos. The problem was with its armor system.

Armor had the chance of blocking status effects, meaning that if you planned to knock a bunch of enemies out with a stun attack, you didn’t know for sure it’d work in every case. “The good part about this was that every encounter felt different, so when you started a fight it felt fresh. Things went wrong and right in very different ways,” says Pechenin. “But at the same time it really prevented long-term planning, because you didn’t know how many people you’d stun, so you couldn’t predict what you’d do next turn, and because of this you just wouldn’t think about the next turn.”

So one of the big changes to DOS2’s combat design was to its armor system. Rather than absorbing a proportion of incoming damage, armor completely negates it. There are two armor types: physical and magic, which negates any magical attack, including negative status effects. But as these values take damage they’re whittled down, and once gone, the character is left open to losing HP and vulnerable to status effects.

So far, so deterministic, but Larian wanted attacks to retain a ‘spicy’ feeling. The solution was a small variability in incoming damage which may entirely knock armor out, or it may not. “So there’s still some RNG there and you don’t know exactly how things will turn out, but you have a high chance that things will go as you want them to,” says Pechenin. “But at other times the game will throw a curve ball at you and make you scramble to find a new plan.”

The next challenge was to set the pacing of battles. Larian wanted each to last an ideal number of turns. They wanted the time it took to destroy the armor on an enemy to feel good, as well as the number of turns that it’d take to stun an enemy, to destroy the armor on a player character, or to kill them.

It was not easy, since DOS2 features so many variables. Larian’s combat designers never know how many characters the player will be fielding in an encounter, since one or more of them can be off exploring an entirely different part of the map.

The characters who are in the fight will be equipped with very different armor and weapons, which might be very powerful because they’ve explored every inch of the maps, or they might be very weak because they’ve only played through the main campaign. They may be high level for the area, or low. Players might have unlocked many different spells and abilities, or very few. They may not know how to use them well, and they may simply forget to use them. They may have large stocks of consumables such as grenades and potions, or they might be hoarding them. In short, the dynamic range of the potential power a player fields in any given encounter is very wide.

Larian’s approach to balancing enemies’ armor and HP values was to create a curve to the way HP increases as characters level up, and then to use that a baseline value from which enemies’ stats would be calculated.

“Getting that curve nailed down was quite a challenge, just because of how much extra content we have,” says Pechenin. Some players might have discovered an amazing sword that allows them to one-shot enemies, which effectively reduced the challenge to nothing.

But rather than balance out these extremes, Larian embraced them. “Our usual philosophy is for player to be as OP as they want to be,” says Pechenin. But to mitigate the effects of a player finding an amazing sword, they also steepened the HP curve so that in a few hours that sword will be next to useless, returning the character to the baseline – unless they’ve found an excellent replacement.

In truth, he admits they went a little far with the steepness, because players complained about their super weapons getting superseded too soon, and so they patched in a slightly gentler curve. “This is completely valid, but in general the curve allowed us to give something very impactful to the player but still present them challenges even after 50-60 hours of playtime.”​

Oookay. This interview is really quite bizarre, and I'll let you guys pick it apart. At least Larian appear to be vaguely aware of the issues people have had. What comes next, I wonder? They were supposed to announce something new at PAX South last month, but that ended up not happening.

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