Pillars of Eternity is Exhausting

[Blaugust Day 13]

As you might have noticed in the sidebar, I am finally getting around to playing Pillars of Eternity. The problem I am encountering though, is finding the motivation to play it for any particular length of time.

This is not an indictment of the gameplay or overall quality of the game necessarily. I loved the Baldur’s Gate series back in the day, and a return to isometric graphics is just fine by me. I’d say the most annoying thing I’ve encountered so far are all the useless Kickstarter NPCs which you can “talk” to but have nothing to do with anything. I have been trained by generations of RPGs to put a high importance on named NPCs, which makes these particular NPCs worse than useless. Luckily, I’ve finally recognized that these NPCs have a special colored nameplate and thus I can safely avoid being disappointed.

No, the primary problem is how… efficient I play games these days. If you present me with an isometric RPG map with a fog of war and a Tab key that highlights all the clickable objects, I am going to start at the edges and clear out the map 100%. I honestly don’t even feel like it’s a choice to do so – it’s a compulsion. What if there is a party member in that little patch of darkness? Or something to loot? Or some mobs I can kill? I’m not a completionist by any means, nor do I particularly care for achievements, but I just can’t seem to help myself here.

The end result is that I clear an entire map, face every possible encounter therein, and then head to a new one. And upon seeing that big square piece of darkness laying before me… I balk. “This is about as good a stopping point as any.” So I stop. Even if I’ve only been playing for 20 minutes.

As I mentioned, this compulsion seems unique to this type of game.

In my estimation there are a few likely causes that feed on one another. The first is basic min-maxing: there doesn’t appear to be respawns, so every missed encounter necessarily leads to a weaker party. No doubt there is more than enough mobs available to hit the level cap eventually, but I want to be more powerful now. The second is the fog of war mechanic itself, which is a pretty self-explanatory OCD itch to scratch. The third is actually related to the first, in that gold (or copper in this case) is a limited resource in a world without respawns, thus the majority of your gear will be found. Or missed, if one does not scour every inch of every map.

Breaking this habit will be tough, especially considering I did not even realize it was a habit until I starting playing Pillars of Eternity. Well, I knew beforehand that I dislike certain pattern-based puzzles simply because I can’t bring myself not to complete them in a ruthlessly logical (e.g. brute-force) way. If you show me something like the Minecraft crafting grid, I will start with one stick in the upper-left square, and continue moving that stick through every possible combination before adding two sticks, and so on. It’s like guessing luggage combinations by starting with 001 and working my way up.

Anyone else play games this way? And if so… how did you get yourself to stop?

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Posted on August 13, 2015, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. How did I get myself to stop? I didn’t. Which is why I still haven’t completed Dragon Age Inquisition and failed to finish the first Assassin’s Creed like 3 times, for example. I was enjoying both games, but I just got sidetracked too much. I know if I played them focusing on the interesting parts, without running off looking for the 127th shard/flag/whatever, I’d enjoy them a lot more, but I just can’t do it.

    By the way, I find it strange that I’ve known for a long time that you play like this, but you didn’t.

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    • I suppose the surprise to me is the degree to which Pillars turns off everything else in my mind while playing. I completed most every sidequest in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but that was because I was desperately consuming every scrap of party dialog and interaction (much like with Mass Effect). Closing the various portals? I barely cared. With Pillars, I’m 12 hours in and couldn’t care less about the overall narrative in comparison to exploring the maps 100%.

      Now, the simpler explanation is that I’m just not invested in the Pillars story (yet?). But I’m now thinking that the structure of the game (fog of war, limited resources, etc) have more to do with it than anything else. I’m not a 100% map explorer in games like WoW. Nor Assassin’s Creed. But those two both feature respawning enemies and thus currency.

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  2. It’s an issue for me as well. When I played Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall I did the same thing, making sure I got every piece of gear, did every sidequest, unlocked character stories, and I feel as though I got my money’s worth out of them. Sadly I didn’t buy them on steam, but I think I did clock in at the expected completion times, and they are short for isometric rpgs, but when I look at Pillars’ on How Long To Beat times, I shudder at the 55-75 hour finishes.

    I never finished Neverwinter Nights because I stepped away for a few months about half way through and lost the narrative thread and wasn’t sure what sidequests I still had to do, so it sits in my game list, waiting for me to get a strong enough itch to play it again. Same thing happened in FFXII, come to think of it. I feel like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity:Original Sin would both be a waste of money and time, and then sit in the back of my mind as games I never finished.

    So, don’t play them? ^_- Sorry, not much help there.

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    • The sad thing is technically how easy a problem it is the solve, right? “Just do the story missions.” Hell, chances are I would enjoy these types of games better that way anyway. But I never seem to be able to do so.

      I’m working on it though.

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      • Yet the best part in Dragonfall, IMO, is the NPC party character stories, especially Glory. The overall story is good, but the Glory subplot, which you kind of have to push for, is the best part of the game, so I would have been really disappointed if I’d found that out later. Which just drives me to find every sidequest and every nook and cranny I can in linear rpgs, making things that much worse.

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  3. I thought that was how you were supposed to play PoE and its ilk.

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  4. Wow, I can’t believe you can read my mind and wrote this all about me. Wait, you mean you didn’t? Well, sheesh, hard to tell!

    Kidding aside, I have no idea how to stop and I’ve had the identical experience with PoE and other computer RPGs. Having a few experiences long ago with having to restart games because I missed something early on combined with having somewhat less time to play leads to the irresistible urge to do just what you describe.

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  5. I think you are actually playing the game the way the developers intended. I typically play the opposite and have found that this game in particular will not let you advance unless you are doing most of the side quests and methodically clearing things out. In the end I lost interest
    because I wanted to follow a story thread or explore some new area but found myself having to clear maps in order to get anywhere.

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    • I did notice that when I tried to ignore Defiance Bay, the only other maps I had access to were filled with high-level mobs that wiped the floor with me. Which is kind of annoying.

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  6. I play like this, though I’ve gotten better. Uncovering the whole map is a big one for me. One of the big reasons I didn’t like Diablo 3 was that there was no point in uncovering a whole map because the game was so dynamic, and everything would change next time anyway.

    I also like to clear out a whole map or section, doing everything, before moving on to the next zone. In WoW I was often hanging around in zones long after the quests turned grey so I could do every one of them.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is actually what semi-cured me of this. It was a game I was really looking forward to but, after 10 hours wandering around in The Hinterlands, I was so bored. I thought the game was terrible. I didn’t want to accept that this game I had been looking forward to was so bad, so I up and left without completing everything. And then the game got awesome. I just had to tell myself, Pam, those stupid shards and fetch quests will be there later, go find out what this game is actually about. So, while I still completed pretty much 100% of the game, I I paced myself better, switching between things that fulfilled my completionist tendencies and the actual meat of the game.

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    • I really did think Inquisition similarly broke me of the habit, but here we are. Perhaps I have to reach that breaking point with each individual game now? In any case, I absolutely agree that Inquisition became a thousand times better once I ignored all the fetch and kill quests. And those damnable Fade rifts.

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  7. You… aren’t good at playing games my friend.

    For a game like Skyrim I generally do the main quest first on a character, and then I’ll do a second character that hits other content under a certain theme, followed by a third or fourth that goes in a different direction (assuming the game is good ala Skyrim).

    In Pillars that isn’t as needed, but I’d still recommend focusing on the main quest the first time on normal difficulty (30hrs or so), doing what side quests interest you, and on the second playthrough turn the game up to hard and go see ‘everything else’.

    Also monsters do respawn in certain areas of PoE, and if you do go for a ‘full clear’, you will hit the level cap long before you finish the game, even though everything on normal is very beatable even 2-3 levels under the cap.

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    • I think my main problem with that sort of strategy is that I almost never play a game more than once; I have more games than hours in the day, so it’s hard to justify replaying anything. There are some exceptions – Skyrim, Fallout, etc – but those have to not only be fun from a gameplay perspective, but also have the possibility of novel new experiences. For example, a melee New Vegas run is pretty different from a sniper run, mechanically. Meanwhile, Pillars’ combat would be mostly the same as before. Maybe a Good vs Evil run?

      I do think I’m at that point though, where I just say “screw it” and plow through the main quest. Better that than slowly lose interest compulsively doing the irrelevant stuff. It’s Dragon Age: Inquisition all over again.

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      • Good vs Evil is very possible and interesting in PoE, as is playing a very different main class with backstory and putting together a different party. Each pre-made companion has a good amount of ‘content’ around them, both little piece as you go and their main quest.

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