Saturday, January 17, 2015

Wishlist for Lords of Xulima 2, Part 8

Lords of Xulima is far more difficult than your average RPG. Still, the difficulty fluctuations follow the most common pattern found in lengthy RPGs.
Oldschool-veteran difficulty setting in Lords of Xulima.
Selection of the oldschool-veteran difficulty setting.

 10. Game balance

The game starts out very difficult as this is the time point which is the most easiest to control from a developer´s point of view. The player has not done any funny things to mess up the balance at the start of the game (like grinding 4 hours to outlevel any challenge). So you can experience the game as intended by the developer, which turns out to be very hard. Factor in that an unlucky critical hit can quickly drain your limited health pool and that the limited tools at your disposal (no resurrection spell, no mass heal) make every mistake count in this early stage. You will find yourself reloading very often.
One of the first encounters in Lords of Xulima.
This will mean certain death for the party.
As soon as the gameworld opens up and the player can follow different side activities it is easy for him to gain more experience and power than anticipated by the developer and the game becomes more forgiving. This is the point in time where players feel that all the hard choices and sacrifices they had to make during the early game pay off. Players still face significant challenges but feel empowered because they progress more smoothly than during the early game and attribute it to their own skill.
Combat with spiders in Lords of Xulima.
Still tough, but at least you have numerous ways to counter their deadly poison.
Eventually it will happen that the player has built so much power that the difficulty is completely drained out of the game. He continued his efforts to gain advantage that proved to be so useful the mid-game and this has given him so much additional power at this point that even the most evil bosses are less of a threat than the first encounters during the game. This is usually accompanied by power creep when your characters gain spells so powerful that they remove tactical depth from the game. For example, the healer starts usually out with a single target healing spell. He has to make meaningful decisions when choosing which character has to be healed first. Once you acquire a mass heal, you simply click a button and this hard decision will never bother you again.
If this would be a racing game, you would notice this when you lap all your opponents. Clever games would end before this state could be reached but as Lords of Xulima is a huge game of approx. 100 hours, this is not really an option.

Solutions are hard to find

So how can this phenomenon be kept in check for Lords of Xulima 2? The most important aspect is the reduction of “scaling out of control”. These things are hard to spot since they usually start out small and are hard to notice but they inflate to monstrous proportions in the late game and then it is way too late. The most prominent mechanic in that regard is increased experience gain. Looking at Lords of Xulima, increased experience gain is attached to passive skills and special equipment. When you read through this excellent character development guide, you will notice that for every character class and for every piece of equipment the absolute best strategy is to get increased experience as soon and as much as possible.

Learning skill in Lords of Xulima.
The learning skill in Lords of Xulima.
Also, when the party gains powerful new skills, it has to be taken into consideration whether they make old skills obsolete by being to powerful without a downside attached to them. That is usually a big warning signal. At least enemies need to keep up, not only in health pools and damage potential, but also with clever new mechanics the player has to overcome.

Browse the complete wishlist for Lords of Xulima 2

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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