Challenge vs Difficulty

It would seem in most remarkable RPGs there’s an optional boss of some sort that is miles more difficult than anything else in the game.  The omega weapons in Final Fantasy are good examples.  Heroic-only raid bosses in WoW.  Culex in Super Mario: 7 Stars.  Pillars of Eternity is no different, as you get to fight the Adra Dragon after the 15 floor Nua dungeon.  Well, except for a few points.

First, the concept of difficult for difficulty’s sake annoys the crap out of me.  I dislike rigged games, just like playing Mario Kart has cheating AI.  I realize that there’s a fine line between challenging and difficult.  Demon Souls (and other like) are challenging.  You run through enough times and think it through, you can get by.  Difficult games are where you’re randomly put into a challenge with moving parts and have to make decisions that are vastly different than the rest of the game.

The Adra Dragon is the latter.  See, the 14 floors before that have their own challenges, some pretty tough ones actually.  You need to think your way through, even at max level.  Then you reach floor 15 and the dragon kills 5 of the 6 members in a single attack, an AE attack with no range and extremely large LoS, on a random timer.  Oh, it drops its threat target randomly, and has a hitbox a fraction of the size of its targeting box.  Also, this dragon has the best defense score in the game, miles beyond anyone else and its melee attacks knockdown and deal tremendous damage.  I get it, dragons are supposed to be tough but this particular one is of such a level of difficulty that there is very little sane approach.

It took me over 3 days to pass this checkpoint.  There are really only 2 options present to defeat this.  First, is to have a tank, either a custom one or Eder, and have specced defensively the entire time you progressed.  You then stack every defensive item you can on the tank, buffs, potions, food, you name it.  they lead out, start the conversation and through luck, turn the dragon to face away from the rest of the team.  Bad luck, and no matter what you do, the rest of the team can get hit by an AE attack and wipe you out.  Let’s say luck is in your favor.  You now need to have a priest/healer of some sort nearby to keep the tank topped up.  Everyone else needs to be at range, because there’s a melee distance attack that will 1 shot anyone nearby.  You need to debuff the dragon on all their defenses and buff all the attackers to hit.  If everything goes off well, you have a dead dragon.  If RNG is against you (and remember, the odds are very much not in your favor) then you’re going to reload.

The 2nd option is the cheap way, which is to use a paralyze trap on the dragon, have a chanter who has the quick reload song and equip everyone with ranged high damage (slow) weapons, like arbalests.  If the trap hits (which for some reason has a near 100% hit rate), then it takes 2 rounds of ranged attacks, including many critical strikes, to take down the dragon.  Extremely cheap, still has some element of luck, but it’s a more reliable way to do it.

Did I mention that at higher difficulty levels there are enemies that spawn with the dragon that can mind control your team?

This post isn’t so much to complain about the outright difficulty of the event but that there is such a large disparity between the rest of the game and this particular battle.  There is no level of grinding to get through it.  There is only 1 effective strategy that isn’t “cheesing” and that one requires near perfect execution with favorable RNG.  I don’t mind losing, if I can see that it was something that I did wrong.  I don’t mind hitting a brick wall either, if it means I need to upgrade/improve something in the interim.  I do take issue with a near perfect execution and being the victim of a series of bad rolls and random events outside of my control. I want to learn, not cross my fingers.

Thankfully, this is an isolated event in an otherwise extremely polished game.

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