When we were given the chance to interview Nick Pechenin the Systems Designer for Divinity: Original Sin 2 at Larian Studios, it was a great occasion to ask some questions that are more specific to the game. It’s rare to have the opportunity to be able to ask such in-depth questions which many long-time players would be itching to find answers to. In this written interview we asked questions concerning mechanics of the game as well as to gain insight into the biggest changes that happened between Divinity: Original Sin and it’s sequel.
FL: Perhaps the biggest change from Divinity Original Sin to the second game was the addition of Armour. What was your thought process behind adding this to the game? Should you guys make another Divinity do you feel that this will change to some degree or do you think it will be roughly the same?
Pechenin: Armour arose both from our goals for crowd control gameplay and from changes to other combat systems. We tried the reduced AP counts early on and having two big actions per turn was an immediate success. Every character got to shine and threats were met with answers at a faster pace. However, we felt that with fast pacing, we needed a more deterministic experience to shift tactical challenge from planning individual character’s actions to planning actions of the entire party for that round.
A good example is the Love grenade in DOS1, that had 50% chance to apply Charm. Giving this kind of tool to players and AI controlled enemies in DOS2 made the combat swing too hard and too frequently. Our new advanced AI, free from the shackles of custom scripts, was also very keen on using crowd control whenever it had the chance.
The above led to the idea of fully deterministic status application, controlled by two bars that are depleted in the most natural way possible – by damaging the character with corresponding flavour of damage. This gave us a combat systems that felt fresh and reactive, which is extremely important for a new game coming out in the age of easily available classics and tough competition.
Something that was in the design from the start, but that we’ve deviated from by the end of classic DOS2 was the idea that most characters should have disproportionately larger amount of one of the Armours. That means that in an average combat there should be several obvious targets for either physical or magic damage dealers. We’re going back to that idea in the Definitive Edition, rebalancing many of the combats in the second part of the game, since giving many enemies even amounts of Armours led to bullet-spongy feeling and also punished “3+1” type parties over full physical or full magic parties.
FL: A lot of people have complained that Lone Wolf is too powerful, and I see that you are adjusting it in the Definitive Edition. Is Lone Wolf supposed to be easier than with a 4 person party, or is it your intention for it to be roughly the same?
Pechenin: We want Lone Wolf runs to feel different from party runs, but to present a comparable challenge. Lone Wolves were given extra AP and points to spend to have a wide range of tactical tools, but pooling points into one ability and one attribute gave them a massive power spike starting in the late early game that trivialized many challenges. In Definitive Edition we’re applying standard caps on Attributes (40) and Combat Abilities (10), effectively pushing players to experiment and diversify their Lone Wolf characters in the second half of the game.
FL: In Divinity Original Sin 2 you added both Blessed and Cursed surfaces, expanding the “elemental system” from the first game. Did you guys consider adding any other “elements” to the game? If so, what were those and how come they weren’t added? If you guys make a third game do you intend to expand on this feature even more?
Pechenin: We had half a dozen proposals for a new surface system (One of them contained a combo that would spawn a Shitstorm. Yes, really). The problem we kept running into was that many natural surfaces are very inert and do little besides hinder character movement. E.g. introducing sand would allow us to melt it into glass, and breaking that glass would hurt characters, which is a cool chain. But glass had no obvious reactions with poison, oil, electricity, water or blood, unless some logic leaps were applied. So our attempts of introducing new elements mostly ended up splintering the interaction graph into clusters of cool separated by emptiness. That’s why we decided to add a second dimension to the existing system and make it a bit more dense, rather than wide. We have some ideas where we want to take the surface system in the future, but it depends on building some powerful tech first.
FL: With Divinity Original Sin 2 you added two new Skill types with Polymorph and Summoning. Did you guys consider adding other Skill Trees? If so, what were they?
Pechenin: We picked the new skill schools with the help of our Kickstarter backers from the following list:
- Summoning Master
- Unarmed Combatant
- Trap Master
We were delighted that community picks aligned with the classes that we were most excited about internally. I also still have a compendium with school ideas submitted on the forum, including Blood Magic, Phase Walker and even Pirate.
FL: With the Definitive Edition just around the corner at the end of August, what was Larian’s main focus for this version? What are the things they really wanted to change or “fix” for the console version of the game? What are the biggest changes?
Pechenin: A huge amount of work went into improving controller interface and performance on consoles. On the narrative side, many situations in Arx where revamped to provide more context, new dialogue options, a more holistic experience overall.
On the balancing side we’re squishing hp, armour and damage numbers to make rare equipment stay appealing for a longer time and smooth out some bumps in the progression. We’re also looking into community concerns about power of mages (see below), late-game scaling issues of summoners and tweaking some individual skills and talents to make them more viable. E.g. Torturer talent now allows to set DoT statuses through Armour.
We’re also introducing a new hero roster for the Arena mode – 16 notable characters from the campaign. To spice up the action, we’re trying out random modifiers that affect all characters once every couple rounds – free Source, sudden death, etc.
FL: Most players would agree the Physical Damage builds are considered superior to Magic Damage ones because Magic Damage types can be resisted. In addition, you have to take the Savage Sortilege Talent in order to Critically Hit with spells. Was this an oversight or was this intended? What are your thoughts about it?
Pechenin: It needs to be noted that most sources of physical damage are subject to miss chance, while most sources of magic damage are not, so Dodging is kind of like physical resistance. However, prevalence of high resistances was an oversight, and we’re toning them down in many fights in Definitive Edition. We’re also trying to avoid resistance stacking in a way that blocks both parts of fire+earth\poison combo and water\air combo, since those are bread and butter for nukers and control mages respectively.
FL: One of the more notable changes between the original title and the second one is the reduction in Action Points. To some degree it feels like the balancing of the game is much harder to do because you have to make every Action = 1-4 AP, whereas you had more flexibility in the first game because of the larger Action Point pool. What was the reason for this change?
Pechenin: I’ve touched on this point in 1., but it should also be noted that no matter the magnitude of action costs and budgets, designers end up using “standard action” as the measure of all costs in the game. The important metrics then are “how many standard actions can a character perform per turn” and “what is the cost of half-action and one-and-a-half action”. Imagine if in DOS2 standard action costed 6AP and characters received 12AP per turn. While this would technically allow us to price skills in a more precise manner, introducing a 7AP skill into this system would be awkward, since it prevents using a standard action in the same turn and requires a very specific 5AP skill to combo with, making it a “one-and-a-half action” or even a “double action” in many situations, despite AP cost increase of only 16.(6)%.
4AP was chosen in particular because it lets us give every combat participant two significant actions or one double-action, or one-and-a-half action with a half-action per turn. It also makes design intent very clear to the user, since increasing or decreasing skill cost by 1AP moves it directly into a different price category.
Last point is that we have to budget character turns for power, and fewer actions per turn allows us to increase power level of each individual action.
FL: Having a small amount of elemental damage on primarily Physical Damage weapons, while kind of cool, seems to be rather unhelpful because of the way the Armour system works. Do you guys intend to buff or change this in the Definitive Edition? What about adding Elemental Weapons that aren’t Staves or Wands?
Pechenin: Due to the changes to Armour balancing on enemies described above, there will be more situations in Definitive Edition when added elemental damage on physical weapon will be significant, breaking low Armour pools or going straight into Vitality. Staves are also getting a couple small buffs to make them more viable with Warfare weapon skills. It’s not going to be completely optimal due to Warfare bonus being wasted, but it should be an interesting build to pull off.
FL: The Rune system is one of my favourite additions to the game. Did you guys ever consider adding something like “Unique Runes” that add special effects or change skills, just to make things more interesting?
Pechenin: Source Orbs are probably the closest we have to the concept of Unique Runes. Changing the action of individual skills was something we were very interested in, but didn’t have the time to build a code framework for. We also had concerns that with the amount of skills that DOS2 has, changing many of them would be too specific and not interesting enough. Something to think about for the next project perhaps.
FL: The way damage is calculated in the game One-Handed, Two-Handed, Dual Wield and Ranged all add less damage than Warfare does. Because of this few players pump these Abilities until the end of the game and nearly all Builds just use Warfare. What was the reasoning here and is this something you considered changing?
Pechenin: One reason to pick weapon abilities over Warfare are the secondary bonuses that they grant. But a bigger issue at play is the emphasis on raw damage output prioritization that we see in many builds by hardcore players.
Part of it is the fact that the threat of multiple enemies dropped off in the end game, and players did not have to worry too much about picking up Dodging, Accuracy, etc. This is something we’re tweaking in Definitive Edition, especially in Tactician.
Another part of it is that we design systems to be inherently exploitable, and we don’t generally nerf elements that are above the curve once players have discovered them on a public build. We have a very wide spectrum of skill and commitment levels among our players, which inevitably means that a few top percent of players are going to play a very different Divinity game from the majority of players. Many games spawn community standards for “challenge runs” or “challenge levels” for various builds and ways to play the game. We’d like to encourage our players to think of intentional imbalances in the same spirit, since we wouldn’t want to have to balance the fun out of Divinity.
FL: What is your favourite Skill Line and what is your favourite character type to play?
Pechenin: I try to play strongest and weakest party compositions that I can think of, or see what the community uses, just to gauge the differences between the two extremes and ensure viability of lesser used compositions. Personally, I enjoy Shadowblade with some control Air skills most of all.
If you enjoyed this interview be sure to check out the Divinity: Original Sin 2 wiki for all your adventuring needs. If you are after some Divinity: Original Sins 2 guides you check out our Party Combinations Guide: Magic, Physical And Mixed as well as our Eternal Warrior (Death Knight Perfected).