DevDiary 9 - Playstyle Variety
Ave, and welcome to our ninth DevDiary. If you were expecting something spooky, you’re in the wrong place: Ancient Rome obviously did not observe All Hallows Eve. Come back on December 17 for the Saturnalia.
Lately our DevDiaries have been delving into very concrete and specific game systems, with diaries discussing character progression and the specifics of the crafting mechanics. Today we’re going to take a step back from all that and look at a more high-level aspect of our game design: how we strive to support multiple play styles.
Different play styles have always been an important part of our game design philosophy, and we consider it one of the most important aspects of roleplaying games – after all, roleplaying shouldn’t just be a matter of what you say, but also what you do. Play styles is a broad topic, and in this DevDiary we will touch on the way roleplaying choices affect the story; we’ll examine how quests can be approached in various ways; and we’ll even look at how difficulty settings change the player experience.
Expeditions: Rome has many strategy elements but it is first and foremost a roleplaying game. As we have already discussed, key to the RPG genre is choice and consequence in the narrative, and in Rome you will often get to make important decisions that branch the way the story progresses going forward. One of the major factors we expect to inform your decisions is what kind of legatus you have chosen to play as: are you a ruthless conqueror whose only loyalty is to the might of Rome? Are you a philosopher-general who strives to mitigate the horrors of war and address the needs of Rome’s allies and rivals alike? Are you purely concerned about your own quest for vengeance, or the power and wealth of your family and friends?
Most of these roleplaying choices come out during dialogue, but your agency as a player does not just flow from the dialogue system to the combat system. Sometimes you’ll make decisions directly through how you move through the game world. Approaching a combat area from a particular direction may change the objectives of the fight or drastically alter the starting conditions. Interacting with a certain object may unlock new options for you in a given scene. Best of all, even within some combat encounters, there may be multiple ways to win the fight which can change the direction of the story surrounding that fight. A lot of the time this boils down to whether you pick a sneaky and circuitous route or launch a direct assault – and of course different members of your praetorian guard will advocate for different approaches.
Let us give you an example from early in the game: in one scene, you and your praetorian party have spearheaded the assault on Mytilene, the enemy stronghold on Lesbos, and you have breached the courtyard where you are ready to confront the Pontic general Archelaus, who you have had a very ill-fated run-in with in the past. Archelaus is surrounded by a large group of his soldiers. As the encounter begins, you are given two objectives: kill Archelaus, or kill enough of his people to make the Greeks surrender.
Though Archelaus is a dangerous combatant who is very difficult to take down, it may be faster to kill him than to get bogged down hacking through his guard. However, if you manage to force a surrender, Archelaus can be taken prisoner and may be used as a bargaining chip in a later quest. Either solution is a valid path to victory.
Before we move on to the next topic, we should touch on one final way in which your play style can affect the game itself: your character builds. We won’t delve into much detail here since we’ve written much about this in previous DevDiaries – suffice to say that you have many varied options for how to build your characters in terms of picking their class skills when they level-up and outfitting them with certain weapons that offer certain attacks. In addition, you are usually free to bring any combination of characters into a fight, which can drastically change the tactics at your disposal. Do you pack your team with shield-bearing heavy infantry and turtle your way to the enemy lines? Or do you bring archers and skirmishers to hit the enemy with some shock-and-awe? It can be great fun to try the same fight in different ways and see how drastically different things play out.
Now, changing the way you play and picking and choosing from the tools available to you during the game is one thing, but there is another, arguably more important factor that will change the way you play the game: which difficulty settings you choose.
As with previous games, Expeditions: Rome offers a set of overall difficulty levels, with the option to further customize the challenge of each individual aspect of the game. If you just want a reasonably consistent difficulty, you can simply pick a difficulty level and count on every part of the game mostly matching what you picked. However, if you are for example a turn-based tactics afficionado who wants a steep challenge in combat, but not a big fan of resource management and logistics, you can turn down the Resources and Battles difficulty to reduce the drain on your denarii and manpower while leaving the rest of the settings on higher difficulties.
You can even customise what type of difficulty the game offers: say you don’t want combat to be too lethal because it punishes your mistakes too harshly, but you do want the AI to make very few mistakes and generally make the best possible decisions during combat, you can lower the enemy damage slider while raising the AI difficulty slider. Expeditions: Rome is a large and very feature-rich game, and we acknowledge that not every player is equally interested in every aspect of the game. If you just want to breeze through combat but still have difficult choices to make about how and where to spend your resources? More power to you.
Undoubtedly the two settings that most significantly change the play experience, and which are therefore presented separately from the general difficulty level, are Combat Death and Iron Man.
By default, when one of your people is incapacitated during combat, they will just suffer a long-term wound that must be treated while you travel, but after the fight they will get back on their feet again. Only if you are unable to treat their injuries for lack of medicine or skilled healers, that character may die permanently. However, if you enable Combat Death when you begin the game, characters who go down during a fight will begin to bleed out. You can stabilize them with bandages or certain skills, or even bring them back to their feet if you have a sufficiently high-level medicus on your team, but if you don’t get to them in time, they will perish outright. If a regular praetorian dies, you can replace them, but the death of a companion will result in a game over. Though this is not the default setting, we’ve found that it adds a very exciting element of pressure to combat and tends to result in a lot of nail-biting last-minute-rescues and tough tactical choices, and we strongly recommend that you enable this setting if you are familiar with turn-based combat.
Iron Man works a bit differently in Expeditions: Rome than you may be used to from other games. Our Iron Man setting is not about turning Rome into a roguelike – your savegame will not be deleted if you die while this option is on. Instead, it is a way for you to force yourself to live with the consequences of your choices. When Iron Man is enabled, you will be restricted to one single save slot, and that slot is automatically overwritten any time an autosave is made. Thus, you are strictly limited in how far you can turn back time while you play. Usually, once you see the outcome of your decision, your savegame has long since been updated, and you will not be able to go back and undo that choice. This lends a certain weight to your roleplaying choices, and we believe you will find that you are more satisfied with your decisions when you know they cannot be undone.
We hope you have enjoyed this little peek into some of our overall design principles when it comes to shaping the different options players have for how to play our games. If you’d like a more concrete demonstration of how these principles can play out in practice, please join us on Wednesday November 3rd, at 1:00 PM Eastern / 5:00 PM GMT on the THQ Nordic Twitch Channel: http://twitch.tv/thqnordic. This week we have a special treat for you, as Senior Producer Brad Logston will play through one of the first quests in Expeditions: Rome while Creative Director Jonas Wæver and Combat Designer Hans Emil Hoppe Rauer watch and laugh (and provide incisive commentary).
Until then, Valete!