Well, I've played the FE beta long enough to believe that I have some decent feedback to give. Almost everything that I'm going to say already has a thread (sometimes three), but I'm hoping I can bring a little bit of my own touch to the discussion. There are some things I want to touch on only briefly, either because they've been talked about so much already or because the devs have indicated that they're in the works:
- AI. We all know it needs work. They're working on it.
- Clubman zombie rush and spears as the ancient version of the nuclear warhead. The traditional benefits of a spear are 1) the ability to set them against a charge and 2) the ease of training peasant armies in their use. Armor piercing, especially on traditionally non-armor-piercing weapons such as spears, needs to be toned down. At most, it should be put onto metal swing/impaling weapons, not onto wooden thrust/impaling weapons.
- Faction and spell differentiation.
More important, in my mind, are the basic rules of the game, the foundational elements that make the game Fallen Enchantress rather than, say, GalCiv. The basic rules can be split into two categories: strategic and tactical. Of these two categories, the tactical has the greater number of errors and overlooked details, most of which have been addressed in other threads, while the strategic has the larger individual flaws. I'm going to hit some of the major gameplay issues and propose solutions for each one. Hopefully I'll say something worth hearing.
There are several elements of the strategic gameplay that are schizophrenically dualistic, among them
- the earning of gildar,
- item purchases and sales,
- city growth, and
- the relevance of food.
These elements tend to tie into one another, but for the purposes of analytical clarity, I'll do my best to separate them out. TL;DR: by trying to treat the RPG mechanics on a high-gildar scale and the civilization mechanics on a low-gildar scale, we end up with an unpalatable result.
Gildar: The key problem here is the vast disparity between taxation and item sales. A single lucky goodie hut can provide the income for hundreds of game turns, especially early in the game. Compare taxation income at, say, turn 25 against the 700 gildar sale of a very expensive, as-yet-unusable weapon. There is no incentive to raise taxes when we stand to gain such incredible wealth as a matter of course just from wandering around the map. If we do not have to manage our gildar, then why have it at all? Alternatively, if we don't abuse item sales, every single gildar is precious; +1 maintenance per turn on a building is an enormous penalty.
Proposal: Merged with the proposal for "Item purchases and sales", below.
Item purchases and sales: In addition to the problems I've listed above, there are issues of verisimilitude and consistency with the item shops. In a post-apocalyptic world where humanity's an endangered species and I can't scrape together 4 gildar per turn in taxation without inducing 16% of my population to quit their jobs in protest (despite the dangers of inaction), I somehow have access to a merchant with a bottomless purse, a venture capitalist with a vault so vast that he's willing to fund the experiment that is my entire kingdom for decades on the basis of a sale of a single poison-dripping dagger. Moreover, while my people may have just spent a decade researching the secrets of blacksmithing/horsemanship, he's already got a limitless supply of metal/horses to provide to my champions. It doesn't matter that I haven't managed to build a mine or a pasture yet; it doesn't matter that I can't outfit my rank and file; the merchant will meet the needs of my champions no matter what materials would go into this effort, and best of all, he does it in zero time, with zero production loss. To all of this, I say: who is this handsome stranger who is richer than all of the nations of the world combined, and why can't I just seize his limitless purse, his magical mine/pasture/crystal cavern, and his blessed forge where I may smith what I want, when I want, as fast as I want, at no cost?
Proposal: Kill the merchant. Entirely. Eliminate it from the game with the most extreme of prejudices. Gildar is gathered painstakingly from your cities or your mines and is used to pay your soldiers' wages and upkeep, not to buy limitless magic items as if this were a post-scarcity universe. There are no more endless pockets of wealth just out of your sovereign's reach. You outfit your champions the same way you outfit your rank and file: with production from the cities, costing materials and time but no gold. Monster drops are folded into production: a wolf pelt allows you, say, 20 production worth of leather in zero time, for a champion or for a unit. Demon horns might produce magic staves or some such. This way, we really get that post-cataclysmic sense, we actually have to raise taxes above "none", and we get rid of the equipment dissonance between units and champions. If I have the crystal, I can make the magic sword for my hero; I don't have to dump 250 years' worth of taxation into some merchant's hand while I'm simultaneously outfitting an entire division of rank-and-file soldiers with the same mass-produced magic sword at no cost beyond a division's worth of crystal.
City growth: The game doesn't seem to know whether it wants few cities or many cities. There's a prestige mechanic that increases growth across your entire civilization, but there's also an easy-to-research Inn that allows you to quickly derive a much greater benefit from multiple cities. Add in extremely cheap settlers, subtract any penalties for city founding, and we get the impression that sprawl is the way the game is supposed to be played. The eight-tile hard founding limit and the six-tile soft expansion limit are the only restraining factors.
Proposal: Incentivize whichever one is desired, and penalize the others. Having my prestige growth of 1 spread across two cities is not much of a penalty if by having two Inns I can get double the growth. Cities should be harder to found; it should require an influx of gildar and a chunk of time, and/or low population should hemorrhage gildar. Perhaps Normal-level city taxation should only break even upon reaching city level 2. Naturally, this would require bumping up starting gildar; either that, or eliminate the penalty for the capital only. This would also force us to manage taxation while providing an incentive to expand only when our economies can support doing so. You should potentially consider increasing growth slightly, perhaps in a way related to "Food", below.
Food: Cities have two immutable stats upon founding, Grain and Production. Grain, however, feels like a throwaway stat. In the real world, food is the main practical driver and limiter of population growth. Where food is abundant, populations expand; where it is scarce, they contract. In FE, for any given city, food acts as a binary check: do I have sufficient food to support the next population point? If so, grow; if not, don't. In the current city-sprawl, low-pop-growth-in-dozens-of-cities based system, food is almost entirely irrelevant for hundreds of seasons. And especially in the late game, where techs provide big food bonuses per grain and I'm only going to be growing a city by .5 to 1 population a turn (due to the number of cities I have), why should I consider the food level of a city location if it's not going to affect my city for another 300 seasons? Food needs to provide immediate feedback; otherwise, it feels like a static and mostly-irrelevant consideration.
Proposal: There are a lot of potential ways to go here.
- You could use a geometric curve for food per grain: at the start, a city with 1 grain can support 10 citizens, 2 can support 30, 3 can support 60, 4 can support 100, 5 can support 150.
- You could cap the number of military units based on grain, or alternatively allow grain (either surplus or absolute value) to provide players with free or reduced military upkeep. Capping units would solve the clubman zombie rush, but it sounds like you're already working on a fix for that, and a good thing, too; still, it works, especially in real-life terms. Military logistics were extremely important, and feeding an army was, well, difficult. Free or reduced military upkeep could exacerbate city sprawl if players aren't otherwise disincentivized from founding cities hither and yon. A compromise would be to allow a city's grain level to provide free upkeep for that number of units stationed in that city. This dovetails nicely with the supply train idea, as a friendly population feeding your troops means your troops don't have to forage, they can stay indoors, their equipment won't take as much punishment because they're not on the road, and so on. This would also fix the fact that cities don't seem to have any gravity within the game and are often left defenseless.
- Another solution I've seen in many threads and which takes its inspiration from Civilization is to use surplus food as a very small boost to city growth. People like to make babies. They like it even more when there is unused capacity for agriculture. Heck, the reason people in subsistence agricultural civilizations had so many kids was to generate help in exploiting that capacity. 1% of surplus food per turn is probably a good number. Cities founded late game, having more surplus food from "+food per grain" techs, will grow faster at low population, as they should.
Strategy wrap-up: Cities or scenery?:
- Cities currently feel very dry.
- The double-minded way that the game deals with gildar, where taxation is scrounging and +maintenance buildings are punishingly expensive unless you happen to sell a rusty dagger (in which case price becomes no object), combined with the static growth of towns, breaks immersion in a world that's barely hanging by a thread, where food and protection alone ought to draw the terrified masses to your sovereign's side.
- Natural resources should take on greater import, and your champions should benefit the most from them rather than the least.
- The two-tier cost system-- high gildar costs and rewards for your champions, other resources and low gildar costs for everything else-- could possibly work if there wasn't already overlap between the tiers, but as it stands, the excessive multipliers on which your champions operate cause the system to break when that gildar trickles down to the rest of your empire. There's too much dissonance between the traditional (and unrealistic) roleplaying side, where a basic weapon costs hundreds of gold pieces, and the traditional strategy side, which operates naturally at a scale many orders of magnitude greater than the roleplaying side, but for which the game has drastically deflated the value of gold by comparison. There is only one fix, and that's to normalize the system. It's a good thing that we have all of these other largely unused non-gildar resources that could easily get across the idea of scarcity...
The problems I'm going to talk about on the tactical level are
- initiative and
Initiative: The initiative system, depending so heavily as it does on your units' weapons, results in bizarre and undesirable loadouts, such as sending a spellcasting champion into battle with a dagger. This might work if you're into virgin sacrifice, but what if you just want to carry the traditional staff? In that case, you'll probably end up punished by going from +6 to -6 initiative. Furthermore, there's already an encumbrance system in the game, yet some armor types provide additional penalties to initiative beyond whatever encumbrance applies. A dagger should be able to swing quickly, but it doesn't make me move faster. (I'm pretty sure my parents taught me not to run with knives, actually.) In the real world, there's no difference between wearing fifty pounds of plate and fifty pounds of maille, and neither of them will affect the speed at which I chant a mystical sutra.
Proposal: Start thinking about initiative in a holistic way.
- Retain base initiative.
- Eliminate inherent armor penalties based on bulkiness, as we already account for them in encumbrance; eliminate encumbrance from weapons (or, alternatively, make a second weapon-based encumbrance rating and eliminate direct initiative mods on weapons, but that's more work than it's worth).
- Beef up encumbrance penalties.
- Eliminate spellcasting turns and apply initiative bonuses or penalties to individual spells instead.
- Then, when battle is joined, arrange the initial set of turns according to base initiative and make each action define the succeeding action's initiative based on the bonuses and penalties of the relevant action types. Movement of any sort will apply any bonuses/penalties from encumbrance. Nonmagical attacks will apply any bonuses/penalties from the weapon. Spellcasting will take bonuses/penalties/multipliers from the spell used; hence, "Takes two turns to cast" becomes "Initiative x1/2", and the system carries the added benefit of granularity for fast or slow spells. Waiting should be a quick action; say, initiative x2-4. This could end up giving some weird stuff-- with a +initiative dagger, by this system, you could occasionally move-and-attack faster than you could move (depending on how low your initiative is and how low the "wait" initiative multiplier was set). The solution could be to 1) eliminate initiative bonuses entirely and use only penalties, or 2) cap initiative at the lower of the value of any bonuses/penalties applied (so a -1 move followed by a +6 attack is -1, not +5). Overall, the system allows for immobile tanks who can still attack quite quickly so long as they don't move, casters with spell delays unified into the initiative system rather than using an extraneous "turns until cast" mechanic, mobility that's tied directly to armor, and the avoidance of crazy itemization for min-maxing.
Lethality: The devs are working on equalizing weapons and armor, but there's one matter I haven't seen addressed yet, which is ping damage. To my understanding-- and correct me if I'm wrong-- it doesn't matter how well I've kitted out my squad of 3 heavy knights; they're still green troops, which means that they have 6 hit points between them, for a total of 18, and a unit of 9 clubmen will ping them for 9 damage per action. Two such units-- eighteen hunchbacked, grunting, proto-sapient cavemen-- will club my 3 technologically advanced Glorious Get of the Celestial Axe to death in one turn. Am I understanding this mechanic correctly? If so...
Proposal: Apply ping at the end of a unit's attack, not once per member of the unit. In other words, if the entire unit would have its attack reduced to 0 because every member's blow glanced off the opposition's armor, then raise the total damage to 1. Don't raise each single member's minimum damage to 1.
There are other details that need work: access to the Hiergamenon, tooltips that are useful (I need to be able to see what tactical spell effects on my units mean!), explanation of the Wildlands (I found the Imperium, I believe it's called; I thought I was supposed to be able to claim it, but if so, I'm not seeing a way to do it), but most important to me are the systems that make up the core of the game. Everything else can be tweaked, but you can't change the foundation once it's set. Houses built on sand, and all that. I hope my feedback has been helpful.