Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wishlist for Lords of Xulima 2, Part 1

After following the development of LoX for over a year now and having played it for many, many hours, I decided to make a final list of all the shortcomings in the gamplay that leave room for improvement. I really love the game and want to experience an even better Lords of Xulima 2, so I felt it could be useful to share some of the thoughts of a person who has approx. 10 years of experience with game design. However, this is not a game review. There are a few very detailed ones out there, like the review found in the blog of Saintus.

The 9 Lords of Xulima as depicted by in-game cinematics.
The 9 Lords of Xulima

1. The food system

One of the core mechanics of LoX that adds a great layer of strategy by limiting the “staying power” of a party in the areas outside of town. But it also confronts you with a decision that is very detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the game. Once you run out of food you can either buy it for a lot of money from the merchant or spend a long time running around and gathering cereal plants and fruits. Remember the many negative reactions from the early access of the game when the food prices were strictly auto-scaled based on party level? Or the long discussion about how tedious and time-consuming food collecting in an already slow-paced game can be? These are two sides of the same problem.

Cereal plant field in Lords of Xulima.
Harvesting a field of cereal plants takes 40+ clicks and nets one day worth of food.
The good thing about it: you can mix and match these two unfun tasks as you like. Pay the merchant a little bit of money for less food, gather a few cereal plants and fruits or just concentrate on one of these. I expect the food system to be also present in a possible sequel, but it needs more incentives for the players to not feel as empty as it is now. Maybe add a farm to grow your own food? Add new ways to gather food, like fishing? Buffs to reward the player for keeping his food reserves up instead of harsh punishment if he fails at it.

For more information on the food system, check out the entry in the blog of the developers of Lords of Xulima.

2. Non-combat skills

Skills that add no functionality inside of battles are almost as old as the rpg genre itself. But nowadays you find more and more games that cut them out mercilessly, just look at Might and Magic X that dropped skills like alchemy and monster lore from previous installments. Why are they doing such evil things? Consider this: with every skill point you invest into non-combat skills, you actively decide against making your character more interesting in combat (interesting does not mean more powerful!) because you did not invest the point into a combat skill. You basically decide between boredom (character with only standard attack) and frustration (lots of exploding traps because you did not raise lockpicking and trap disarming). Not a very fun decision if you think about it. In LoX this problem gets even worse as the character with the most non-combat skills is also your main character. Since he takes the backseat in combat (at least until he learns Envenomed Strike), it further adds to the general feeling that he is replaceable. Indeed, many players wished to replace him with another class, even when his non-combat skills are essential to beating the game.  

Herbalism skill explained by the in-game help of Lords of Xulima.
The main character learns a vast amount of non-combat skills.
One widespread approach on this issue is to add nice little benefits to non-combat skills. In Lords of Xulima 2 it could look like this: In addition to its current effect, Herbalism also increases the effect of healing salves by 10% per skill level. This would grant Gaulen a new way of powerful emergency healing, a situational ability without making him overly powerful.  
Another approach is showcased in the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Here, the hero does not actively participate in combat, instead he watches the fight from the sideline without blocking a character slot in your party. If Gaulen would be such a hero, it would be less of an issue to load him up with a wide variety of non-combat skills. 

Are you oldschool and consider non-combat skills an integral part of your perfect RPG? Or do you think they are a relic of the past and should be gone in Lords of Xulima 2?

Browse the complete wishlist

Part 1: The food system and non-combat skills
Part 2: Getting loot, item enchantments
Part 3: Side-quests
Part 4: Hits, misses and critical fails
Part 5: This one is found in the subscriber-only area. Subscribe to the blog
Part 6: Gaulen the Explorer, the main character
Part 7: Difficulty settings  
Part 8: Game balance
Part 9: Wishes from a veteran Might and Magic player

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