Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire: Turn-Based Combat Mechanics Explained

In this Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Guide, I want to go over the new turn-based mode that was added with Patch 4.1. In this new game mode (which is still in beta), players can experience PoE 2 in a whole new way, and many people have already commented on how much they are enjoying it. In this Guide I want to break down how Turn-Based works, so that you have a better understanding when creating your Builds and characters. Note that you cannot begin an existing game in Turn-Based, and that you must play either Turn-Based or Real Time with Pause.

Initiative & Turn Order

In Pillars of Eternity 2 turn-based mode, combat is handled using a “round” system, similar to Divinity Original Sin 2. Each character has 1 turn per round, and the turn order is determined by the Initiative of each character. The lower a character’s Initiative, the faster they will get a turn in a given round. You can see the Initiative that a character begins combat with on their Character Sheet, and each character has a base Initiative of 6. This number is only used to determine the order of the very first round of combat, after which point things get a bit more complicated, but we’ll go into that later.

initiative

The Initiative on the Character Sheet is only used to determine turn order for the very first round of combat. After that it become irrelevant.

During combat you can see where each character will begin the next round when they take an Action in the top right-hand corner of the screen, and this allows you some prediction for the next turn. It may be beneficial for some characters to go later, such as if they have a heal over time effect, but they have not yet taken any damage. And it may be better for others to go earlier, such as if they are casting a spell and you need it to complete quickly. While it’s possible to delay your turn, with the Delay Turn button, this does not prevent things like Constant Recovery or Chants from happening as soon as it is the character’s turn.

Various things affect the Initiative of each character such as Dexterity, Armor Type, Abilities and Afflictions/InspirationsNote that to simplify things, Obsidian has rounded Initiative to the nearest whole number both up in the top right-hand corner, and directly at the top of the screen. However, the game does take the decimal point number into consideration when players and enemies have the same rounded number.

turn-initiative

You can see here Obsidian rounded the numbers to whole numbers, but the game still uses the decimal (not shown) when there is a tie.

Actions & Movement

During each character’s turn they can Move a certain amount of meters, and they can use one Standard Action or one Cast Action. Movement is handled separately to the Standard Action or Cast Action, so characters can keep Moving, even after they use a Standard Action. However, if a character uses a Cast Action, they will not be able to move unless they wish to Cast the spell again. In this case, the Cast Action is not consumed by the Movement, and the player simply needs to click the ability once again. Note that Stride now increases the amount you can move, instead of the speed.

action-point-movement

The left box shows if you’ve taken a Standard Action or Cast Action and the right shows how much Movement you have left.

Besides Standard Actions or Cast Actions, players can use as many Free Actions as they wish per turn. These Actions usually consume resources and last a Duration of turns, so they will need to be used when appropriate, or you will soon run out. These abilities are usually Inspirations, but they can also be Fighter Stances, or activating Weapon Abilities, and these can be used as often as needed. Note that Empower counts as a Free Action, but can only be used once per combat.

Initiative, Actions and Casting

After the first round of combat has ended, characters will begin the second round with only the Initiative they have accumulated during the first round. Their base Initiative (the one on their Character Sheet) will have been wiped clean, and they will now have an Initiative based on what Action they took during their first turn.  Every round thereafter, each character will only have Initiative based on the Action they took on the previous round. Note that this is not reflected on the Character Sheet, but you can see it in the top right-hand corner of the screen if you click the white “Initiative” button there. Also note, that characters who take no Action will have an Initiative of 0 on the next round.

Attacking, whether with a weapon-based ability or a Basic Attack, will add the Initiative to the character that is listed on the weapon. Weapons have a different amount of Initiative based on the damage they deal and the range they can attack from. Generally these numbers match those of the Recovery Time in the normal version of the game.

sabre

You can see the Initiative of attacks with this weapon here. In this photo it is affected by my Dexterity and my Armor.

Using any Casting Action that is not a Free Action, will cost the Initiative listed on the ability. This varies from spell to spell, so some might cost 2 Initiative and others might cost 4. This is not added to your base Initiative but instead will determine your Initiative for the next round, exactly the same as Standard Actions.

Casting spells that have a Cast Time adds the number listed next to Cast Time to Initiative, but only for that cast, and only for that round. The spell may be cast immediately upon turn’s end, or it may come after a few other characters, depending upon their Initiative. For example, if a spell has 3 Cast Time, anyone who has less than 3 more Initiative will get to go first before the spell actually triggers. This means they can interrupt you if they are enemies, or they can move out of the way if they are friendlies. If no one has less than 3 more Initiative, then the spell will trigger immediately after you end the turn.

You can see if anyone will get a turn before your spell triggers on the top right-hand corner of the screen, and this may help you decide whether or not you wish to cast said spell. One particularly interesting thing to note about spells with Cast Times, is that if the Cast Time would put your spell’s casting after all characters in a round, you will actually cast the spell at the beginning of the next round instead. In this case you will get 2 turns on that round, with your second turn being only based on the Initiative of the spell you cast, not also the Cast Time. This is the only way to have 2 turns in one round.

fan-the-flames

You can see here that the Fan the Flames spell will be cast 3 initiative further in the turn order because of its Cast Time.

Action Speed, Cast Time & Dexterity

Action Speed effects not only the Initiative cost of Standard and Cast Actions, but also reduces Cast Time. Dexterity is the primary means of boosting Action Speed, but some abilities such as the Monk’s Swift Strikes or the Barbarian’s Frenzy, can also increase it as well. In this case Action Speed is not allowing you to attack more frequently, but instead before other characters in each round. This makes it much less valuable than it the standard version of the game, but it is still important to many builds, such as mages.

All Armor in the game now has a field for “Initiative” where Recovery Time use to be. This % is multiplied against your base Initiative, and so affects what order you will begin any combat scenario. In addition, it is multiplied against the cost of any non-free Action you take. This includes Basic Attacks, so if you are wearing Medium Armor with +35% Initiative on it, then your Initiative after a Basic Attack will be Weapon Initiative * 1.35. Note that the Initiative penalty from Armor does not affect Cast Time.

cast-time

Cast Time is not affected by Armor, so can be used by casters easily. However, Initiative is.

Duration, Attributes, Grazes and Crits

All the game’s Durations, in turn-based mode, have been changed to be a certain number of rounds (instead of a number of seconds). Durations now have 1 round for every 6 seconds they last in the regular version of the game. If the number of seconds would fall between rounds, then it is rounded down, with exception only for abilities that last fewer than 6 seconds. These are rounded up. However, to gain another round from an ability, you only need to increase the Duration by the percentage needed to take it the rest of the way as if you were calculating seconds. The following is an example:

Disciplined Barrage lasts a total of 15 seconds in the normal version of the game, and when divided by 6 seconds, we get 2.5. That is the number of rounds this buff will last by default, but the game will round this down to 2. If you have 14 Intellect, which is a 20% increase in Duration, this buff will last 3 rounds. This is because 15 seconds multiplied by the increased 20% gives you 18 seconds, and 18 seconds divided by 6 equals 3 rounds.

disciplined-barrage

With 14 Intellect I’m able to increase this to 3 rounds.

Note that after looking over the game’s abilities the sweet spot for Intellect is 14. This is because many of the game’s spells last 10, 15, 20, 30, 45 or 60 seconds, and this will increase the rounds of each of those spells by 1, 1, 1, 1 2, and 2. This wastes absolutely zero Intellect on any of those abilities, as they all come out to be whole numbers. Remember that you can see the time in seconds by mousing over the number of rounds it is on the ability’s tooltip.

In the same vein, Resolve reduces the Duration of hostile effects, and this is calculated vs. the number of seconds, which then produces a number of rounds. It is much harder to calculate the sweet spot vs. enemy abilities, without knowing what all of them are, and what Attributes enemies have. However, if you use the same spells that players can use as a reference, you’ll realize that it is unlikely you will have much of an impact at all without serious investment. Conversely this means you can also dump Resolve without having to worry too much about it.

Grazes and Crits reduce the Duration or increase the Duration of debuffs, and they work in a similar manner. The Duration is calculated in seconds and the converted to rounds. So for example if you Critically Strike with Visage of Death’s Herald, instead of it lasting 5 rounds, it will last last 7.5, which is then rounded down to 7. And this works the same way for Grazes, which balances things out.

graze

Visage of Death’s Herald lasted 6 rounds on my tooltip, but I grazed and the Young Boar had 4 Resolve. This resulted in the Affliction lasting only 2 rounds.

Miscellaneous Information

There are no longer AI settings in this game mode, and you must control each character in your party on each of their turns. This makes combat take markedly longer than usual, but it does allow for precision. Things like Flanking are now easier to pull off, because you can put your character exactly where you need it to be to make this happen, without the enemy moving. However, Knockdown seems to have no effect but Interrupting, and does not prevent an enemy turn or increase Initiative.

You can speed combat up or down with the slidebar near the bottom of the screen. This will make animations happen at a faster pace, saving some time in lengthier battles. I don’t recommend speeding it up too much until you get the hang of combat, however, because it’s easy to miss things if it’s too fast.

combat-speed

Swapping weapons consumes a Standard Action, unless you are a Black Jacket, and then it becomes a Free Action. This makes this Subclass a bit more effective than it was previously, and I expect more players to use it. Imagine for a second that you can attack with something like an Arquebus and then switch to a Dagger and Heavy Shield and then swap the Weapon Modals on?

Crowd Controlling effects, much like Divinity Original Sin 2, are devastating in this game mode. And, abilities that were not so great, now become extremely powerful (I’m looking at you Charge). You can potentially wipe out any damage you take via constant Crowd Control, so be sure to prioritize abilities that that can keep enemies from taking a turn.

charge

If you can wipe out 3 or more enemy turns with one ability, it is absolutely worth it!

Dual Wielding now allows for attacking with both weapons, even if no weapon-based ability is used, and the damage dealt is still reduced by 35%. When Dual Wielding the Initiative of the character is determined by the highest of the two weapons they are wielding, regardless of which hand they are in. This means if you are wielding a Sword and a Dagger, you will have the exact same Initiative as if you were wielding two Swords. In addition, Two Weapon Style now reduces the Initiative of weapon-based attacks by 15%, instead of Recovery Time. Note that this only applies to attacks made with Weapons, and not spells (just like before).

Heal over time effects take place at the very beginning of a character’s turn, not the end. This means if your Fighter has taken no damage, but has Constant Recovery, you’ll be wasting it if he/she isn’t damaged during the enemies’ turn. Get them into battle ASAP to make the most of their ability.

Chanters should use buffing chants first, then damaging or debuffing ones second. This is because the Chant takes place at the beginning of your turn, and on turn 1 you won’t be positioned to hit any enemies. In addition, you can buff your whole party’s Movement by about 3.6 meters with Blessed was Wengridh, Quickest of his Tribe, allowing them to move to further targets if needed (for 2 turns).

stride

This is now a great chant because it allows your party members to move much further.


I’ll be diving into my own personal thoughts about the Turn-Based system, and my feedback in a later article. This one is simply about the mechanics and how things work. In addition, I’ll also be covering a few Turn-Based Builds, that shine particularly in this mode. However, please keep in mind that this mode is still in Beta, so some things are likely to change in the near future.

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Senior Editor at Fextralife. I enjoy gaming, playing and watching sports, cooking yummy food, watching a good movie and hanging out with Fex.

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