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Some minor spoilers for plot and mechanics things in Divinity: Original Sin

Butch:

Playing occurred. I did stuff! Some stuff more than once! Why, you ask? Is it because you died, you ask? Well, yes. But it’s also because I went from mildly peeved about how this game does XP to downright irate about how this game does XP.

So I started in Marandino’s place there, the one you didn’t find. Without spoiling, this is a “get thing out of the place” deal, NOT a “Kill the bad thing in the place” deal. This is important later.

So I went into the place with the important things, and this triggered a big fight and I died a couple times. So, I did some thinking, made a plan, got the thing, and another useful thing! This got me 3500XP. Then I ended a quest on the way out the door, a different quest, for 4100 XP. Then I went to the troll cave and opened it up and was going in and…..

Thought “Shit. That was 7600XP. When I was doing the big fight, I killed one of the bosses MINIONS for 4850. I’m leaving tons of XP on the table. TONS!”

So I reloaded. Mind you, I had GOTTEN THE THING, and ended a quest ALREADY. But I went back and did the fight a couple more times and won it. And leveled up.

I can’t be sure exactly, as the points come up fast, but by my quick math, the difference between doing the quest by thinking it though and not fighting, and just saying “fuck it” and charging in was about 65000XP. Seriously. Not an exaggeration.

So being smart there, and being smart with the queen spider, likely left 100K XP on the table. But at least I went back and got this XP. Right?

That sucks. I was mad for being penalized for being smart before, but that HUGE XP difference is just not cool. ESPECIALLY as this WASN’T a kill the baddie deal. Killing the baddie, in the end, meant nothing to a single quest. The log didn’t even update! He had some decent loot, but nothing at all that mattered to any quest. He was just there to be a boss. He wasn’t important at all.

And yet….tens of thousands of XP are left on the table if you think and avoid him, even if you get the important thing that DOES move the quest along.

This is a major flaw in this game.

But I did it, got the spell, helped the imp, got into the troll cave, got the tenebrium, talked to Bairdotr about the evils of man, can use tenebrium, etc. About to talk to Nadia about the mine guy. As one does.

I don’t know if I missed something in the troll cave. There was the king, but I was already pissed about the whole redo the fight thing, so I got in, got out. Which WOULD have been a pain, but…remember those animals you saved? Or freed? And there was this chill bunny who went his own way? Well, there was the bunny! And he was all “Do you want me to distract the trolls, mate?” And I said yeah, so he just strolls in and is all “So, how’s it being a troll, ya?” and they all just start chatting. It was pretty great. But I probably should have waded in and killed everything. Probably cost me 100K XP. Sigh.

Feminina:

Bad news on the game for us: we barely played. It turns out that, like you, Mr. O’ doesn’t really combine booze and playing, and after the child’s birthday party we had going on, there was call for booze. Don’t finish without me!

Ha. You can finish if you want to, I just had to say it as a reversal of our usual pattern.

Basically the only thing we did manage to do was wander into the Phantom Forest looking for a demon, as one does when one is desperately trying to avoid playing the game the “normal” way.

Oh, and checking our log, we got the first letters in the General’s Story and the General’s Tale on game day 6 (we’re currently on day 18). I don’t remember where we found them (maybe in the crypt with Braccus?), but we definitely picked up the first word of these two a long time ago. And of course didn’t think much of it at the time, since we had no idea what they were. But look at the date stamps on those quests in your log, you probably got them early on too.

As for your valiant attempt to carry the blog by having something to talk about: that does pretty much suck about the XP. It’s a problem that this game kind of inherits from D&D, where you also primarily tend to get XP from combat, but where at least you have some DM discretion to say “OK, they’re working hard, being smart, and they need to freaking level at some point, so I’ll reward the non-combat stuff.”

It’s probably harder to program a game to recognize player smartness, but it really does suck that you effectively get penalized for not killing everything in sight. I could see having you miss out on some cool loot if you choose not to fight something, but missing XP means you don’t level, which puts you at a disadvantage later in the game. So the game is, basically, saying “you really are SUPPOSED to kill everything,” which undermines its occasional attempts to encourage sneaking, and even the urgency of the rock/paper/scissors attempts at diplomacy.

“Yeah, we COULD charm them and win them over, but we’ll get more XP if we lose this argument and just kill everyone.”

At that point, the only reason to talk is if you’re afraid someone is too tough to kill (there’s a positive, socially responsible message). It makes things feel fairly one-dimensional, if you can do a number of different things but the one that really makes you stronger is killing. On the other hand–and this might be another instance of me giving more credit than is warranted, but let’s run with it–doesn’t that kind of fit with the game’s themes, in a weird way?

Consider bloodstones. Power based on death. Consider our frequent ruminations on how even though we’re the ‘good guys,’ we’re not actually all that great. Consider the moral decisions: heal Alfie/that Immaculate, or keep the bloodstone for ourselves? Pay the (murderous but also a caring father) troll, or kill him and leave his son orphaned? Consider the two generals we are/were/will be: they talk about loving combat, and being bored senseless by governing and listening to people talking.

Maybe they intentionally didn’t work on a system of balancing combat/non-combat rewards (we noticed early on how hard it was to progress in Cyseal, but how we got a lot of points when we went outside and started fighting), because getting more powerful by killing things is exactly what our main villain the Conduit is explicitly doing, as well as being what almost every game has the PCs doing. Maybe they want to make that always-present link between the character and the villain a little more clear?

Be as smart as you want, be as sneaky as you want, do as much as you can to keep the blood off your hands, but in spite of that:
a) you’re still going to have blood on your hands since there’s no way to avoid ALL combat and
b) you’re going to pay for your morals because the game is about blood and yeah, the more you spill, the stronger you get.

Just like your mortal enemy.

It’s totally not a positive message, and it totally sucks to play smart and get punished for it, but…it does kind of fit with the themes of the game. Whether that’s frustrating but subtly intentional and kind of brilliant, or frustrating and completely lazy but conveniently works for the theme, I could not say.

Either way, you have my sympathies on your lost XP.

Butch:

Dude…. dude. Dude. You’re still three levels up on me, and, thus, it’ll take me a week and a half, or more, before I’m even able to do the stuff you’re doing. At least. Finish. Ha. Big ha. Much ha. Unless I’ll stop the attack and it’ll be the endgame and I didn’t really have to go into the phantom forest at all, where, you know, I’ve NEVER BEEN.

So ha. We’ll be fine.

On the Phantom Forest and the demon….

Might want to pick up Jahan for that. Like, seriously. He has…issues with that.

General letters early? Really? Weird. Ok, I’ll check.

Though I never did figure out how to open that chest in Braccus’ place with the magical lock. If you did that, maybe that’s where we differ.

Right! Though I think the easy answer for getting around player smartness is rewarding moving quests along far more than combat.

Which is doable. Horizon did that. Sure, you got some XP from killing watchers and shit, but if that was all you did it would take you forever to level. You leveled by moving quests along and completing them.

So you might level marginally, incrementally faster if you killed everything, but not as much as you have over me. Not to the tune of 100K XP. And, considering that, I checked, I’m, right now, 227.5K away from level 16, the 100K I would have left on the table is almost half a level. HALF A LEVEL! That’s more than marginally faster.

Horizon had it right. Because Horizon ALSO didn’t care how you completed quests. Go ahead! Stealth! Or kill everything! Doesn’t matter. The only stuff that did matter in that regard were optional stuff like bandit camps or fights where some dude just had to die for plot. But those were rare.

And I was also thinking on the sneaking mechanic. It doesn’t just sometimes encourage sneaking. There have been times you pretty much had to sneak, like the mines. There was more of that in the troll cave, which is why I’m pretty sure I missed stuff. I was willing to sneak to do the quest, but not to sneak every damn where. There’s also mad loot that increases sneaking. So the game is overtly saying “sneaking is important! Just….you know….you’ll get half a level of XP for not doing it…”

Hmm. Theme thoughts, though. I kinda like that. Indeed, the game encourages fighting so much I reloaded last night! I had done it! I had succeeded in leaving everyone alone. Moreover, I went back to PICK a fight. It’s kind of hard to explain, but you get to a place and the potential bad guys, the red dots, are all asleep or something. Unconscious, at least. Just lying there. So when I did the sneaky way, I just let them be. It wasn’t a deal where they were all patrolling, looking for a fight, ready to go if they saw me. They were just napping or something, and would fight you if you just blundered into something and woke them up. So the reward wasn’t even “Oh crap, I got seen by the bad guy,” it was “Wakey wakey! Time to die!”

I reloaded to wake people up so I could kill them. And was rewarded for that.

Ugh. Didn’t realize that until now.

Crap, to make matters worse, you kill them TWICE, cuz they come back. And you get XP BOTH TIMES. I woke them up to kill them TWICE.

Just like my mortal enemy.

Jeez.

And, while it might just be a joke, also rather interesting that Bloodstones, which are based on death stuff, are far more useful than the HOLY hand grenade. Which is nice, but, really, blah.

Maybe they’re not lazy so much as overly slavish to D&D and other games. As you said, the “kill for XP” deal has been baked into such games since they came in red boxes, and, no doubt, this game is deeply rooted in that tradition. Perhaps too rooted.

As for the lost XP, hey, I eventually got it. Cuz I’m a terrible person.

Feminina:

Our mortal enemy would LOVE to kill something twice to get extra blood/XP from it! You are a terrible person! Just like her! And me!

Nice work.

It is still frustrating (half a level!–that’s significant XP to lose through the terrible crime of not killing everything you see), but it kind of works. In an annoying way.

You’re totally right about Horizon and that being a more balanced approach overall, though. The Witcher 3 was like that as well. You get XP for killing things, sure, but not much. If you spend all your time just fighting stray monsters, you’ll take 45 hours to level. The quests, including quest sections like puzzles, etc., are where the real rewards are. Do purposeful story stuff, get stronger. Killing things is often necessary, but will not, on its own, benefit you that much. Even Uncharted is more about completing stages of the game than about killing some number of enemies.

Here, the weight is on the opposite side. Do purposeful story stuff, yeah, good for you. You have to get around to it eventually. But if you want to gain POWER, you have to kill. I don’t prefer that for games in general, I think Horizon’s method is superior, but for this specific game, with its fairly heavy themes of good/bad and blood-is-power, it kind of makes sense.

And it’s true, they do sometimes encourage or even mandate sneaking (you’ll want to do a fair bit of it in the Phantom Forest), but at the same time, sneaking is kind of annoying. I mean, it’s entertaining to see the little feet tiptoeing around under a barrel or whatever, but it’s slow, and you can’t see very well, and while I respect that both those effects are realistic limitations to apply to a mode of travel, they’re also the kind of thing that makes me not want to sneak that often unless I really have to.

Butch:

Yup. Witcher 3 sure was about levels rather than killing large numbers of enemies. Except a difference between this and games like TW3 and Fallout and MEA is that this game has no real randits. (random machine sites will stand in for randits here). Each fight is a planned affair, much like D&D. There really isn’t anything you can just motor by in the NOMAD or on Roach. If you wanna get by those guys, you’re going through them. Usually.

And with sneaking, it’s annoying except you have the advantage of seeing the enemy’s field of vision, which is nice. Mostly because it would be fucking impossible if you didn’t have that.

See? Blog’ll be fine. If you can carry it when you’re a month ahead of me, I can carry it when I’m still behind you.

But I won’t get too far ahead, as there’s still hockey this week.

Feminina:

Oh man, yes. Without being able to see when someone is looking in your direction, you’d constantly be toast. So yeah, true, that is a little advantage they throw your way in sneak mode.

And the death knights in the mine is an interesting wrinkle to the whole “kill everything” approach, because (for a change) you CAN’T actually kill them. They’re invulnerable until you get the spell, and then once you get the spell (even if, like Mr. O’ and I, you do it in reverse order and already have the blood) the mine collapses so you can’t go back and get them. The game is clearly saying “OK, just this once, you don’t have to kill everything, so move along.”

Butch:

Right! You have to sneak! It’s the game saying “Sneaking is important.”

Especially as you are (likely) going to do it early. Those things, invulnerable as they were, were level 8 (why bother giving them a level? Who knows?). I did it fairly early. Usually, when a game forces you to use a mechanic early on, it’s saying “This is something that’s important! There’s gonna be lots of it! It’s part of the game, man!”

Not this time.

Also, there’s something I kinda want to do here, apropos of this discussion: There’s a trophy, see, where you “make Archibald (you know, the dude you killed) king of the trolls.” That seems rather interesting, XP wise, in terms of what the game values.

I’m gonna try to figure it out. That’ll take some time.

Feminina:

Oh, interesting! Well, WE’LL obviously never get that trophy, but yeah, totally do that! I’d like to see a good, involved parent as king of the trolls. Wholesome family values, like hard work, honesty (he wouldn’t let the kid overcharge you), and murdering people who don’t obey your rules. Very appropriate for royalty.

And ha, so true about the utter misdirection of that mine sequence. “Sneaking will be key! Pay attention to this! Killing things is not always the answer! Hahahahaha, but it is the answer 99.9% of the time.”

Butch:

Just played some, as Meatball is at Stay and Play and this weekend sucked and I deserve it.

Told Nadia about the mine guy, then convinced her to take the money and run.

Then back to chat up Archibald. No new dialog options from him or his kid.

Then back to the troll cave to sneak around and loot and stuff.

There was some good loot. The best dialog was “Grug is the best counter there is. He’s studying accounting. Two credits shy of his associate degree he is.”

But no one would talk to me. So I picked a fight with a random troll. They’re tough. Killed it. Got….6000XP! Jeez. But nothing else. I think I have to kill the troll king, because killing. I dunno. Trolls are hard. Screw that.

So back to Hunter’s Edge to shop, sell loot, etc.

Then followed blood stains and now I’m in a temple about to go down stairs to find something that’ll likely kill me.

But…..

Did you talk to the executioner? More “they were bad here, they’re better dead” stuff. Just sayin’.

And did you find the “pestilential knowledge” book? +1 to BOTH intelligence and perception, but “you might descend into madness.”

Themes.

Oh, and I very much do not have an early entry in those general quests. Both of the first ones I have were within minutes of each other, which makes sense as I found the “bedroom” one and the first elemental room one right after. I wonder what you found.

Feminina:

Hm. Interesting. I wonder where we got those two we picked up so long ago. They were basically just one general complaining about being tired of people hassling him, and one being tired of being asked to listen to peoples’ problems, or something…of a piece with the later notes. I’ll try to take a closer look next time.

I did not find a pestilential book! Huh.

But the temple, that’s some interesting stuff. We can definitely talk about that for a while, while I’m not playing because visiting mother. Good choice. Way to carry the blog!

We did talk to the executioner. Creepy (though weirdly touching as well) perspective on his lovely, better-off-dead victims. Kind of an interesting parallel to the Spinebreaker, in that he doesn’t perceive himself as harming the people he’s interacting with? He thinks he’s actually caring for them in a way, and sees himself as having a relationship to them that is undoubtedly very much different from the way that THEY would describe the situation.

Kind of a little themey bit about miscommunication, and different ways of seeing the world, and doing something that you genuinely think is a positive interaction but that from the other person’s viewpoint is extremely bad. Not that I want to make your arguments for you, but it fits rather well with your insanity theory, doesn’t it?

Butch:

Why, yes. Yes, it does.

And the idea that getting out of her delusion is bad for Scarlett, but not bad for, like, everyone else. Even, in a weird way, Bairdotr. We assume that “saving” Bairdotr was a good thing, but… I’ve been saying for a while that the Immaculates are the way Scarlett is hallucinating doctors, as they are the people that want to take people away (kill them) and end her world. If Bairdotr goes with the Immaculate, she “dies.” Leaves Scarlett’s world.

Here, we have a killer who genuinely believes he is helping. Fixing people. Curing them. Giving them peace. “Dead” is “better.” To everyone but Scarlett/Roderick/the player/the NPCs who I also think are nuts. (Have you traveled with Jahan yet?).

On the other notes…weird. I have no memory of any reference to any of that outside the shelter plane.

I think the book was in Marandino’s place. I forget. But the idea of equating intelligence and perception to (potential) madness is interesting. Better to not know. Better to not see. Or is the game saying madness is good?

Interestingly, I’m hesitant to actually do it. It’s sitting there, like a nice tempting apple, and I’m leery. Very leery.

Oh, so the temple isn’t instant death? Or is it? Cuz right now I’m just assuming instant death.

Feminina:

We have not traveled with Jahan. Barely picked up Madora, to whom I for some unknown reason gave a ton of perception, but failed to make strong enough to carry a big weapon, so…yeah, that was an inexplicable decision on my part that renders her pretty much useless in combat. I mean, what the hell? I must have been thinking of something else entirely. What fighter needs 12 perception and 10 strength?

I kind of blame the fact that we’re playing co-op, which meant that Mr. O’ was twiddling his thumbs waiting while I leveled this new character (he doesn’t want to let go of Bairdotr and the archery skills). I made some hasty, thoughtless choices. “Sure, sure, it’s good to be perceptive so you don’t step on traps, strength, well, whatever I’m out of attribute points, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

But enough about my character flaws.

The temple basement…I can’t remember what level we were when we went, but there was a tough but not ridiculous fight. Some very large but very slow things. Just spread out and make them chase you around. And charm! Charm like the wind! Or like whatever aspect of nature is most charming. You’re gonna love it.

Charm.

And after that, there’s a little bit of interesting plot. We’ll talk later.

Do not fail to charm. It’s gonna be great.

Butch:

Lots of ways to buff strength, though. I have, like, 8 amulets that do it.

Dude, Jahan is very, very themey. VERY. And I think, the way his quest is leveled, he’s supposed to be last. Go get him.

I’m very good at charming orcs. Cuz I’m a hottie.

I have charm arrows, love grenades abound (I think), charm scrolls, and Scarlett has a charm skill that’s the bomb. Man, love me some charm skill.

Feminina:

I know, I feel like we have a ton of strength-enhancing items too, but when we checked the gear, I couldn’t find a single one! I probably JUST sold them all while trying to clear some space in my inventory. Annoying. I do have strength potions, so she can chug those before combat and at least wield the large tenebrium sword we picked up somewhere. In case we run into a demon. That we should really go get Jahan before we meet, except we already kind of met him.

He’s level 19, though, as are the hordes of followers he has with him, so we may find ourselves making a strategic withdrawal and coming back later. With Jahan.

Charm is the best. You’re gonna love it.

Butch:

Yeah. Bairdotr’s baddie was level 15, Madora’s 16, I have a feeling Wolgraff’s is 17 or 18, then Jahan.

Dude. Get. Jahan. He’s annoying, he’s not great in combat, but MAN the themes.

He is a good healer, though, and you can never have enough of that.

Feminina:

I’M a good healer! I feel like Jahan is basically going to duplicate me. But we’ll pick him up, run with him until we get his themes, and then dump him. That’s the plan. I miss the silent, cheery Wolgraff.

Butch:

That’s pretty much what I’ve done. “Got anything to say? Ok, say it. Now bye, cuz Wolgraff.”

And Roderick is a healer, so I’m good. And Scarlett has the leech thing, and I got a perk (talent? Whatever) where when I resurrect I get full health, so it’s all good.

Plus, my Wolgraff is a death machine and Jahan is my wimp. Though he did do a good job of running and drawing the attention of the boss in Marandino’s place. Until he died. Jahan died, that is.

Plus, I have a budding romance between Wolgraff and Bairdotr, and who wants to mess that up?

But he does have themes. And a LOOOOOONG backstory. Free up some time.

Feminina:

It’s basically just like walking around your base checking in with everyone! “Anything new? No? OK, bye.”

I’ll pick him up. I am curious about him. And about the exciting dynamics of two wizards hangin’ out, chattin’ magic…murderin’ dudes…it’s gonna be great.

Butch:

It always is.

He is a very interesting character, I’ll give him that.

And, well, in terms of how all those NPC quests fit, we’ll talk. Later.

He is kind of a wimp, though. But I haven’t been really magic heavy, so maybe I’m just playing him all wrong.

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