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Pillars of Eternity 2's Turn-Based Mode Is Sublime

Amibguous Cad

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,509
The long and short of it is: there was a tremendous amount of depth and strategy that the murky waters of RTWP obscured. Give it a nice scour to wipe off the grime, and Pillars of Eternity 2's combat system emerges as a titan of the genre, every bit as good as its more celebrated peers.


So, why is this so much of an improvement over the RTWP mode? Well, the game kind of feels designed around it, which is strange, I know, but hear me out. Way back in RTWP's heyday, you were probably playing 2nd edition or 3rd edition D&D. That was where the six party members, RTWP formula came from. But the thing is, most of the martial classes in D&D, maybe half of your party, weren't designed to be that interesting to manage in combat, at least on a purely mechanical level. Tabletop fighters could do all sorts of stunts and maneuvers with the DM's permission... but translated to the computer screen, it just meant you attacked over and over again. That was fine - and you'd need to use skill to correctly position them, especially if you wanted them to tank for your casters - but they just didn't require that much maintenance.



Here's a screenshot of a Baldur's Gate fighter. The hotbar at the bottom are all the actions available to you - talk, attack, cancel. Yeah, it was simple.

So you did definitely have casters, and those required a lot of active management, but you'd only ever have 2-4 of them in your party on any given playthrough. But the thing is, modern D&D emphasizes giving everyone interesting decisions in combat, especially 4e, which was the most recent version when PoE was being developed. They followed wotc's lead, and made Fighters way more interesting to play. Here's what a plain jane, early-to-mid level Fighter hot bar looks like in Pillars of Eternity 2.



Some of this stuff we can either ignore, or is also present in BG. You've got weapon swapping, potion pouch, and talk on the left, all standard. But then you get to empower - a once per encounter, three times per day resource that one must shepard carefully to be effective. You've got a 5 there - that's because all classes now have some resource management mechanic or other. Three abilities, which can be a pain in the butt to manage efficiently. Most notably, that middle ability, which lets Fighters buff themselves for one of their resource points for 2 rounds. This thing runs out quite quickly - just 2 rounds - and making sure it's up at all times like my build mostly wants it to be requires a lot of concentration. You've also got a second wind, which is a once-per-encounter heal, a stance that can be swapped at will between three options, and a modal ability on your weapon that slightly changes how it functions. You have to manage all of this for one character... and you have five of them! Pillars 1 actually had six! This was a big enough problem that they just reduced the party size in PoE2, and it still solve it. Meanwhile, your average Baldur's Gate party just... didn't have this problem. (AN: yes, I used auto pauses and the pause bar frequently. It wasn't a complete solution to the problem).

So what do you do to fix this? Well, if you're like me, you ignore the concentration tax abilities as best as you can. Take abilities that are easier to manage and leave micromanagement of some stuff either undone or up to the AI. And if you're playing it on normal difficulty, this should be fine. PoE2 was in my top 5 last year, I'm not knocking the original experience. But this is so much better.

I used the phrase "concentration tax" earlier. That's just another way of saying that it presents a choice that I have to think about. Which means it's an interesting decision, to borrow terminology from Sid Meier. And that's just kind of perverse, right? The more interesting a decision, the more concentration it takes, the worse it becomes in RTWP.

So, what, exactly, do you do about this? Well, if you're Obsidian, you say "fuck it," load the thing to the gills with interesting decisions and trust that players who ignore some or most of the systems can beat it on a lower difficulty level.

But then you stick it into turn-based mode and it all clicks.

All of a sudden all of those little fiddly bits are within your grasp, and you have all the time in the world to think about them. And with the pace slowed down, you notice just how many interesting decisions you were missing out on. It's an interesting decision to determine whether I should keep that temporary Fighter buff up or save it for other abilities. I can switch between stances based on the situation without a hassle. Positioning, spellcasting time, when to charge at enemies and when to let them come at you... it all gets so much more interesting.in the turn-based mode.

So it's not just good, in relation to the RTWP version. It's just fantastic, period, because without RTWP all of the depth can surface. It probably won't surprise you to know that it's my favorite battle system in this new RPG revival, and possibly my favorite of all time. There's so much going on I'm rolling new characters every few levels to test builds and planning out what challenge runs I'll do once I've beaten it on the hardest difficulty. I knew a lot of people back in the day who were super into Final Fantasy Tactics - doing single class runs and solo runs and other ridiculous challenges, because the game was flexible enough that you could do them, if you knew the system well enough. I'll probably do something similar with PoE2, as many are already doing. Oh, the setting is unique and the writing is good, too, and it has the best character creation in the business, mechanics-wise.

I'll address a few of the common criticisms: there were some news outlets that complained it took multiple turns for enemies to actually get near enough to battle, taking up a bunch of time in the process. I'm not sure whether they were relying on a beta build, or if Obsidian later patched the live version, but that's not an issue anymore. You always start the fight near enemies.

People have complained that it's slow - and in terms of just literal time spent to beat the game, it does slow you down. But it never felt slow, at least not to me. Cleanup's usually easy enough if you go on autopilot, and at every point before that the density of choices is such that it doesn't feel like you're just twiddling your thumbs. In particular, animations resolve pretty quickly - just make sure you're on max battle/animation speed.



In Conclusion:

Pillars of Eternity 2's turn based mode is the yardstick by which all subsequent TBS should be measured. It's so wonderful to see Obsidian back at the top of their game and making waves with their mechanics, in addition to their storytelling. And I can't wait to see what Larian and other competitors learn from it. If you're at all a fan of TBS, don't let this pass you by.
 

Pikagreg

Member
Feb 5, 2018
107
Playing through the first game right now and it can definitely get hectic at times though it has its own charm having combat in real time. I love Divinity and definitely looking forward to checking this out whenever the console ports finally come out!
 

Chairman Yang

Member
Oct 25, 2017
967
Wow, good to hear, and you've just sold me on the game after I was mildly disappointed with Pillars 1. I figured the turn-based mode wouldn't be properly tuned or as good as a native turn-based system, but it seems like that's not the case.
 

gforguava

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,621
I ended up caring less for the first Pillars than I wanted to and I think a big part of that was the RTWP system(I have never preferred this to turn-based), not sure if I'll give this one a shot but it certainly sounds like a much better experience.
 

i-Lo

Avenger
Oct 31, 2017
11,045
Not America
I have heard that Obsidian have done a fantastic job with the system. However, it has, according a few long time players screwed up a lot of item related features and bonuses. The long and short of it is that it would serve Obsidian well to stick to a single path next time, preferably TBS, whereupon every part of project's design can be tailored with that in mind from the ground up.

From what I have read, Divinity OS 2 is a real benchmark in this regard, especially in how they use environmental factors and combat mechanics are/can be intertwined.
 
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OP
Amibguous Cad

Amibguous Cad

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,509
Wow, good to hear, and you've just sold me on the game after I was mildly disappointed with Pillars 1. I figured the turn-based mode wouldn't be properly tuned or as good as a native turn-based system, but it seems like that's not the case.
Well, I should say that it's not a seamless transition - though it's not clear to me whether it's worse, or just different. Mostly, it's that one turn is a very large unit of time to be working with and some RTWP PoE2's abilities are designed to operate on smaller timeframes. So restoration Druids got hosed because their split-second casts turned into full turn casts. In order to get a Chanter's linger to increase by more than a turn you need 100% ability duration increase, because one turn is the only unit you have. Some abilities went instant cast instead of taking a split second, getting a minor buff.

It also does some weird stuff with attack and action speed. They use a system where everyone has to go once in a round before anyone else can go, so you don't get any extra attacks for attacking quickly. Attack speed just makes you go sooner in the round. As a result, attack speed buffs aren't worth much and dexterity is almost a dump stat for non-casters. The hardcore scene is *really* opposed to this change, but I think it's just because all the optimal builds relied heavily on attack speed under the old regime and they don't like to see their builds getting nerfed.
 

KarmaCow

Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,501
Pillars 2 is a game I've started multiple times but put down because there seemingly was always a new patch coming, is it finally "finished"?
 

Window

Member
Oct 27, 2017
5,429
Oh yeah that's right they patched this in. I definitely need to try this as RTwP really put me off the game. Just like in the first one, I got to the biggest city in the game and then quit.
 

Mr.Deadshot

Member
Oct 27, 2017
5,669
Pillars 2 RTWP system is stellar. No need to slow it down with turn-based combat. But it seems like RTWP is really not popular these days which is a shame. I can't stand all these slow ass turn based battle systems anymore. Divinity is slog to play. And I can already see Baldur's Gate 3 and Pillars 3 (if it will ever exist) going full turn based -.-°
 
OP
OP
Amibguous Cad

Amibguous Cad

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,509
I have heard that Obsidian have done a fantastic job with the system. However, it has, according a few long time players screwed up a lot of item related features and bonuses. The long and short of it is that it would serve Obsidian well to stick to a single path next time, preferably TBS, whereupon every part of project's design can be tailored with that in mind from the ground up.

From what I have read, Divinity OS 2 is a real benchmark in this regard, especially in how they use environmental factors and combat mechanics are/can be intertwined.
It's kind of confusing - I'm not a programmer, but it seems to me most of the problems come from trying to fit timeframes that are less than or not evenly divisble by one turn into the system. But there's no reason to do that, that I can think of. They could just allow people to move or attack more than once in a "turn." Just have the game tracking cenitseconds or seconds instead of turns (which were 6 seconds in RTWP). Lots of turn-based games do this - Final Fantasy Tactics comes immediately to mind.

But they must have had a good reason for not doing that, because it would solve most of the friction between TBS and RTWP. (I still think it's very possible to make a game that does both and I hope Pillars 3 does both, and that you're able to swap them on the same save file if you want)
 

AWizardDidIt

Member
Oct 28, 2017
512
PoE2 has a sublime RPG system and they did an impressive job making it work in either RTwP or TB modes. However the TB system has one very large flaw which is the game simply wasnt designed on an encounter level with TB mode involved. It has far too many combat encounters, less a problem in RTwP since you can just zoom through them quickly, but taking DLC into account, you're ballooning an already 80+ hour game into double that or more. It's a good system, sure, but I'm not sure its 200 hours good.

That said, Deadfire is up there on my list of goat RPGs so if you love TB and cant stand RTwP, it's absolutely worth playing that way. Just prepare to be playing it *a lot*
 

JaeCryo

Member
Nov 6, 2017
5,226
I made a post about this when it first got announced for Pillars 2, but it took playing it after D:OS2 to realize why I could never get into it or the first game. RTwP was just not fun for me.
 

Enduin

Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,471
New York
Glad you enjoy TB mode so much, but I find your core premise and portrayal of RTWP baffling to the extreme and rather misleading. You're presenting a personal failing/preference; your inability, or your disinterest, to manage a large team and thus prioritizing AI control and path of least resistance choices for abilities and character builds, as though it's an inherent flaw in the battle system that obscures the core design and forces players to behave a certain way when it's very much not.

The more interesting a decision, the more concentration it takes, the worse it becomes in RTWP.
This is just kind of a nonsense statement I don't even know how to begin to unpack.
 
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Dosmo

The Fallen
Oct 26, 2017
105
Man, this is making me want to replay it in turn-based mode. Not sure I have time.
 

May

The Fallen
Verified
Oct 25, 2017
569
Yess. And turn-based is always better than real time with pause heh
 

Decado

Member
Dec 7, 2017
639
PoE2 is on my radar due to this mode, though I've been hoping someone would release a mod that takes it even further. I've completely given up on RTwP systems in RPGs after PoE1.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker has recently gotten a turn-based mode via a mod that sounds much better than the vanilla RTwP system.
 

Bartis

Member
Dec 30, 2017
86
Microsoft having bought Obsidian, I hope this game soon finds it’s way to Gamepass. Perhaps after the console versions are released? Still in doubt if I will play it turnbased or in realtime with pause though...
 

Sankara

Alt Account
Banned
May 19, 2019
1,311
Paris
I still need to play White March Pt 1 and 2. Then I can move on to Deadfire. Really glad to hear that turnbased works, since it's my favorite way to chill.
 

Stabbie

Member
May 8, 2019
744
Turn by turn is excruciatingly tedious in Pillars 2 due to the fast paced nature of fights in Rtwp. They really dont like last long if you know what you're doing, and I kinda think that the depth you're speaking of is you not properly speccing characters in order to make buffs last longer. Or eating the right kind of food either ...

Im thinking that from when you reach neketaka every single fight gonna last at least 5 - 10 mins and thats a no go lol, way too many of them on top of that
 

modestb

Member
Jan 24, 2019
317
I've only got about 10~15 hours into a TB playthrough, and while it is unbalanced as all hell (Wizards got even more powerful?? Why???) I've found it very very enjoyable. I feel like I learned more about certain mechanics and classes in that ten hours than I learned in the fifty of my whole first playthrough..
 

Enduin

Member
Oct 25, 2017
4,471
New York
Microsoft having bought Obsidian, I hope this game soon finds it’s way to Gamepass. Perhaps after the console versions are released? Still in doubt if I will play it turnbased or in realtime with pause though...
Definitely try RTWP. It is what the game was designed for and is pretty handily the best implementation of the system in a game. The game has so many QoL features to help you beyond just being able to pause manually to control the flow of battle, manage your team and everything else. When RTWP clicks it's a blast to play as you pause and issue commands and setup attacks then go back to real time and feel that speed of battle and see your party just dominate over your enemies is fantastic. TB can be fun for sure but you are always at the mercy of the slow pace of the fixed turn order.
 

Schopenhauer

Member
Oct 27, 2017
174
Turn-based mode really breathed new life into Deadfire. I replayed the game after beating it and the dlc in turn-based mode and for the most part loved the more structured combat.

Honestly, the game could have used more time being re-balanced for turn-based combat though. High defense enemies take forever to kill on the higher difficulties even with the speed jacked all the way up. This is my one gripe, but a pretty big one as it ends up making combat take exponentially longer than RTWP.

It led to some very tense fights with bosses that I barely just managed to kill, but with run of the mill enemies that you know you are going to beat it felt more like a chore than fun.
 

sredgrin

Member
Oct 27, 2017
4,427
It an interesting curiosity but I highly recommend anyone on a first playthough to stick to the original combat. It's some of the most fun of the genre, and I say that as someone that prefers turn based stuff generally.
 

Lumination

Member
Oct 26, 2017
2,690
I used the phrase "concentration tax" earlier. That's just another way of saying that it presents a choice that I have to think about. Which means it's an interesting decision, to borrow terminology from Sid Meier. And that's just kind of perverse, right? The more interesting a decision, the more concentration it takes, the worse it becomes in RTWP.
This is primarily the reason why I dislike RTWP. Out with contradictory systems, all hail TB RPGs.
 

DPB

Member
Nov 1, 2017
542
I played it for the very first time in turn-based mode and I really regret it, I wish I'd stuck to RTWP. I found the original game far too chaotic so I was looking forward to a more methodical combat system, but after initially enjoying it I ended up completely burned out. I had to force myself to finish the game, and I even skipped the last two expansions. It's real shame because I like everything else about it.

Like others have said, there is simply far too much combat for turn-based mode, and even the simplest of battles feels like it goes on forever. Divinity Original Sin 2 was much better balanced in this respect.

And there's also the fact that many skills, abilities and spells are pretty much useless in TB. You may as well not bother with anything that increases initiative, as no matter how fast you are, you don't get any more attacks than a slow enemy because it uses a strict round-based system.
 

modestb

Member
Jan 24, 2019
317
You can turn on and off turn based mode with a console command -

SetTacticalMode 1
or 0

No guarantees it won't break anything though =)