Dungeon Siege III Community Q&A, Part One

The Obsidian Entertainment Blog is offering the first part of a community Q&A that was conducted recently on their forums, with Dungeon Siege III lead designer Nathaniel Chapman answering the questions that, quite predictably, focus mostly on Obsidian's much-debated dungeon crawler. Here's a sampling:
WorstUsernameEver asked: Considering that the Dragon Age franchise (not to mention the Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic games) have shown that party-based role-playing games can be financially successful and Dungeon Siege III already uses a top-down perspective [camera] anyway, is there any particular reason you didn't build on the previous iteration's mechanics and instead went with an action-RPG/brawler hybrid?

Personally, I'd argue that the KotOR and Dragon Age games are not successful directly as a result of their party mechanics or their combat mechanics generally. Instead, I believe they are successful because they have great production values and present high-quality settings, stories, and characters that players find engaging. This is backed up by what you see reviewers highlighting as positives in their reviews for the games.

Having played a lot of more complex party-based combat games (like Icewind Dale or the BG games, or Final Fantasy Tactics) I've noticed that there's actually a substantial difference between (Party Based Combat Games with Story) (like IWD or BG2) and (Story Games with Party Based Combat) (like KotOR and DA). It sounds like semantics, but the difference is that in Dragon Age or KotOR, combat is the stuff you do in between the meat of the game, which is dialogue, exploration, and character interaction. Compare that with IWD, where clearly the combat gameplay is the primary focus and the dialogue, exploration and character interaction is supplemental to that focus.

So, because of that difference, I'd argue Dragon Age and KotOR are successful because of reasons other than their party-based gameplay. And, our ability to succeed at the elements KotOR and DA succeed at that is, crafting an engaging story, setting and characters is partly independent of our particular combat mechanics. So when I look at the success of games like Dragon Age and KotOR, the message I take away is not (party based games are successful.) Instead, it is (story-driven games with engaging characters and high production values are successful.)

And, due to the nature of the series, we knew were going to rely more on combat vs. storytelling to get you through the game. So, those things added up in my mind such that I didn't feel the success of other party based games was a strong reason to pursue party-based gameplay in DS3.

That sums up why we didn't feel a need to actively pursue party based gameplay now I'll explain why we avoided it.

The other reason why I think KotOR and DA don't focus as much on their party based games as the earlier PC only titles, is that the highly tactical, party micromanagement focused gameplay of the Infinity Engine games doesn't mesh well with a console controller. This directly leads to implications in the gameplay.

For instance, KotOR2 does use a version of the D&D rule set. However, the classes in say, KotOR2, are more similar to each other than the classes in D&D you don't have the equivalent of the d4 hit die mage in your party. Because you don't, you don't need to micromanage your party members as much you don't stand as large a risk of your mage getting killed if he's in the wrong position in KotOR2 as you would in IWD. Because micromanaging characters tactically in real time on a console controller is extremely difficult, it makes a lot of sense to design your party based gameplay such that your characters don't need to be micromanaged, which means the consequences for poor positioning and other tactical errors need to be diminished.

But, we couldn't take the approach that KotOR and DA2 took because we knew a majority of the game's focus was going to be in combat we weren't going to be able to have combat take a backseat to storytelling.

Lastly, we knew that both earlier DS games, but particularly the first game, were criticized for feeling more detached and less interactive than their competitors. We didn't want to go down that road, either. So, we decided to choose a combat system that we felt would be satisfying and fun to play on both the PC and on consoles, and that ended up being the heavily action-focused combat system we have. We may not have hit the mark on the PC controls for some people, and that's a fair criticism, but I don't think that our control issues are inherent to the combat system they're something, for instance, we could improve in a sequel.

I think that most reviewers' comments on the combat system have been neutral to positive, so I don't really have any regrets about the decision to go with the combat we have.