I love me some good RPG. That feeling you get when the dice roll your way, the story is working, and your character is built the way you want to play… like ice cream on a hot day.
Only few console games allow you the freedom to truly build a character. You may customize a character, in how they look and a few of their skills. Actually building one is something usually reserved for PC games in the D&D vein.
Open world games like Elder Scrolls/Fallout do have some building, but aside from what you look like and a few initial perks, you aren’t painted into a corner down the road. You can eventually unlock the majority of the character skills. You can, with time, become a master of all.
This post is focusing on the more traditional RPGs, where your initial decisions reduce the options of your character – in terms of power, skills, and story. A solid game provides a lot of options, where poor decisions can be negative but not painfully so. I would argue that Divinity: Original Sin has “correct” builds, and if you do not select one of those you are unduly punished for it. Other games simply have builds that aren’t optimal – but are still playable and fun.
A long time ago, I wrote a guide for Dragon Age: Origins (still on gamefaqs if I recall) about character builds. I spend a stupid amount of time crunching numbers and seeing what I could make out of the various characters. I replayed that game half dozen times from start to finish, to unlock every secret and every advantage. My blood mage tank was a wrecking ball, with near full immunity. But if it wasn’t built just-so, it would break under the first sneeze. And this was a game with only 3 classes.
Compare that to something like Baldur’s Gate… and you may have spent more time at the stat rolling screen than the combat. And I know way too many RPGs where I reached 10-12 hours and realized I made a mistake at the start… usually because I didn’t even know what the choice actually meant.
Enter Pillars of Eternity 2.
Without a lie, I spent 2 hours going over this list and the various previewed skills to get an idea of the character I wanted. I played the original a few times through and preferred both the Monk and Cipher roles. They had interesting mechanics, and good damage potential if played smartly. If played poorly, then you face tanked the ground.
With multi-classing, it was then about picking 2 classes that complemented each other. I started looking at the Cipher and then it’s lovely 3 lovely sub classes. One was a spell battery, where it took time to charge but then entered god mode. Another was increased damage on targets vulnerable to stealth (paired well with Rogue). The last was a glass cannon that blew all its spell points on a massive attack. My focus was on that last one, and shoring up the weakness of not being useful before that shot was available.
There are therefore two modes to be used here… one is to generate Focus (points to use the cannon shot) and then a strong weapon for that shot to be based upon (two-handed weapon). Focus is generated based on hits that connect with targets, so Perception (accuracy) is key. That means that I need a sub-class that excels in two-handed weapons (fighter/barb/paladin) and that have a decent chance to hit. Interestingly, the Paladin has a subclass that has a single strike attack with +10 chance to hit – a perfect fit. That meant an Inquisitor.
All that time was spent looking at the skill preview trees and trying to see if the pieces fit together. Call me crazy, but I found this process a lot of fun. PoE does a solid job of presenting a lot of data early on, so that while you may spend lots of time thinking, it doesn’t feel like you’re picking in the dark.
Which is a tad ironic given that in the traditional pen & paper RPGs, you had a dozen books to refer to nearly 50 years ago. It’s taken this long for the PCs versions to catch up (ignoring wikis that are not part of the game). Progress. Fun progress.