Tobold's Blog
Friday, September 28, 2018
 
Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Steam informed me that a game on my wishlist was released, Pathfinder: Kingmaker. So I have a look at the Steam page and find that the reviews are only 60% positive. Not good. A bit of research reveals what the problem is: The difficulty of enemies is all over the place, from very easy to unbeatable. If you play at normal difficulty level, you get repeated total party kills. If you dial down the difficulty to very easy, the big encounters become playable, but the trash mobs are now completely boring. Too bad, I would have liked to try the game. But unless the devs fix the balance problem, I guess I won't.

Note that high difficulty by itself isn't a problem, as long as it is consistent. It is difficulty spikes that break the flow of a game and make it frustrating. Developers should know that. I don't know, why we still get games with bad flow in 2018.

Comments:
That's not the only issue, there are some very serious bugs, like the type that corrupt or wipe out your saves. But people generally agree the game itself is very good, they just need to patch it up and balance it.
 
I find it strange that 60% is seen as "not good". Surely, being over 50% it is, by definition,"good" if we are using the binary scale of "good" or "bad". Personally, I always treat any rating over 50% as indicating something has succeeded.
 
I think it is because of the scale that some game review magazines use: 90%+ is an actually good game, 50% is unplayable dross. The scale doesn't seem to extend to below 50%.
 
https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2013/02/13/xenotriptych

or:

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Quotes/FourPointScale

I feel like one of the (many) things that big publishers bring to the table for developers is better QA, for bugs and shit, sure, but most relevant in this case, for balance feedback.

It's becoming increasingly obvious that without that outside input, devs cannot balance their games. They're too close to it - they're just not capable of putting themselves in the shoes of someone who doesn't know the thing inside and out, back to front, able to complete it effortlessly in their sleep, blindfolded with one hand.


Some devs outsource this to their early access community alpha/beta testers, which doesn't really solve the problem, either, as by the time the game's ready for release, it's tuned to give die-hard veteran obssessives a challenge, utterly impenetrable to newcomers, who are quickly turned off, which results in either a swift balance patch with easy mode, or haughty, moral grandstanding by devs insisting that they need to stay true to their vision of releasing 'something they would want to play', for the sake of their artistic integrity... then caving in and releasing a difficulty patch, or just vanishing into well-deserved obscurity.

I had the unique experience of standing near an indie developer booth at PAX a couple years ago, watching an endless procession of attendees trying out a demo for this nifty little top-down-isometric open-world crafting game, and almost every single one of them would ask, "It's telling me I need to craft something, but how do I access the crafting menu?" At first, the dev manning the booth was coy, telling players that the information was all there, they just needed to find it. But I watched at various points throughout the 3 days as he eventually had to cave and start telling people how to access basic fucking UI features. You could see the effect it had on him over those three days, just eroding his soul, under the weight of an endless tide of incontrovertible proof that no, this 'bloody obvious' element was not, in fact, obvious at all.

He was gaunt, hollow-eyed by the end of it, staring in the face of having to compromise his artistic vision or be doomed to release a game that people would give up on after 5 minutes.


tl;dr, I wouldn't be surprised if the Pathfinder guys had shitty QA and did all their balancing based on their own play experience.
 
From the Steam site, it looks like they are working hard to resolve the balance issues.

One can also possibly hope that the issue is mostly in the early stages / tutorial. The game looks great and seems worth keeping an eye on.

Lots of indie games are decently balanced IMO. Maybe it is just that some devs actually can either put themselves in place of a noob, or at least model their games in such a way that they can make difficulty levels that will suit most players.
 
I'm really enjoying the game so far. Its captivated me more then Pillars of Eternity 2 did. The exploration aspect is great and the part where your running a barony is interesting. I think difficulty wise the biggest issue the game has is that it seems to expect you to be very familiar with Pathfinder rules from the get go. It has tutorials but they do very very little to explain the core mechanics of the pathfinder system.
 
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