On Decision Paralysis

I was originally going to write about the Pillars of Eternity Beta today, but that would require me to get past the character creation screen. Also, it doesn’t have graphical settings other than resolution and isn’t optimized, so it barely runs on my laptop.

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The Problems With Character Creation

A problem this game has (that’s shared with a lot of other games including the vast majority of computer D&D games and Divinity: Original Sin) is that it’s impossible to know your first time through how useful your character creation decisions are. Pillars of Eternity (PoE from now on) had 6 races, and 11 classes. It also asks you to make decisions distributing stat points (in a way that resembles but isn’t actually identical to D&D point-buy), where you character is from (which also impacts stats somewhat). Depending on your class, you may also have to make some decisions regarding spells or abilities (Druids have to determine their animal form and the damage type used by their Wildstrike feature.)

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When all you have to go on is a character creation screen, it’s very difficult to know how useful any of this is. To take Divinity as an example, it asks you to fight a lot of undead around levels 5-8, which is difficult if your party happens to have a rogue or archer type, since they’re resistant to piercing damage. I don’t know if PoE is going to ask me to fight things that are going to absorb fire, so how useful is Wildstrike: Fire over the course of the game? It’s also unclear how useful “talky” abilities are, until you’ve played a bit of the game. Some games (specifically Obsidian ones, to be fair) make these skills extremely useful and let you talk your way out of (or into, if that’s your thing) anything. In some others it’s better described as a waste of stat points that could be serving you better in a combat-related skill.

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The number of decisions you’re asked to make with almost no knowledge of the coming game is rather high, and it leads to paralysis about what to pick. It’s also impossible to know who your future party members are, and many other things that might influence your decisions. It would be awkward to have a tutorial before character creation, but that might help in some ways. I’m ok with the freedom to make bad decisions, but I’d prefer games were better about not allowing them to be made unknowingly.

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One thought on “On Decision Paralysis”

  1. The one thing that comes to mind is as long as a decision isn’t permanent, making that decision up front isn’t so big a deal. But once you as a developer have made a decision permanent, it’s a Big Deal and the player better have a good idea ahead of time what that decision is. Making it blind leads to frustration.

    Here’s a post I did on the same topic some time ago: http://talarian.blogspot.com/2014/02/decisions-decisions-information.html

    Definitely an interesting topic, and one a lot of traditional-style D&D-esque games suffer from.

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