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Some feedback from SoA portion (v21)


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I thought I'd post some thoughts after finishing SoA part of the game. I get to play very randomly and am still playing v21 I installed early this year, so some of these things might have already changed. About half of SoA was played in multiplayer with a friend, and it's surprising how well it worked considering the mod doesn't officially support multiplayer. The only exception was "Improved Shapeshifting" component, which we didn't get to work and the paw-shifting caused crashes on one of our systems. Apart from that issues were very few and far between.


Firstly though, let me just say you've done a stunning job! I really like the design of the mod, and the way it wraps so much of the content into a more comprehensive, coherent and believable experience. Both the systematically made changes and the handcrafted encounters felt like they really belonged. Level of polish is also very high considering all the changes and options. We played this game for the first time (having played BG1 first) and I was quite worried about the mod changing things in a way that doesn't feel intuitive for someone who doesn't know the game, but that was not the case. It actually felt more immersive to have more effective AI around, even if (and especially because) we had to escape from few fights and rethink our approach. There's something very compelling about NPCs behaving in a way from which you can actually take notes on to improve your own repertoire. This mod really helps bring the mechanical depth of the game into surface, which sadly felt hidden under the messy AI & kit/class/item usage of opponents at least in unmodded BG1.


The overal balance of the game felt very well thought out as well. Our party consisted of Wild Mage, Berserker, Thief, Minsc, Jaheira and Aerie, and there was nothing that would've required any exploits or cheese to pass, while still providing quite a few satisfying fights. In hindsight I would've cranked all the options to toughest (we had most improvements, but not everything) as mid-game we had so much better grasp of the mechanics and encounters and things got quite easy for us. Still, some of the special encounters gave initial trouble even at later acts.



That being said, I did have some minor critique, which might be nitpicky but perhaps it's of some use:


- There was one exception where I felt a change was problematic for a new player. I assume that in vanilla Spellhold you get thrown into the fight against Irenicus right after talking to the patients, which means you don't have access to Jon's key before fighting with Jon and the game leads you to have words with Saemon Havarian (if you haven't attacked him before that). However, if you have the non-hardcore version of "items get taken away in spellhold" component, you'll take Jon's key from his office before the battle and have access to the portal perhaps before you should. The problem I had with that was a) there is little reason to go back to upstairs (to meet with Saemon) at all, and b) if you even "scout" the portal area the cutscene to Underdark triggers (you don't have to click the portal). This is like a mousetrap for someone who dislikes savescumming. It's a very minor issue, and maybe I'm wrong about the vanilla behavior, but I felt a bit shafted there.


- Enemy bee-lining to protagonist / party member from across the map when not engaged into a fight at all. This happened very rarely, but it felt out of place when it did. One example I can give is Temple of Amaunator at Umar Hills. When you first enter the temple, if you scout ahead with one hidden/invisible party member the Shades/Shadows that spawn near the crystal near Mazzy's cell will instantly track down the protagonist even if he/she is on the other side of the map and even if he/she is invisible. They also disregard the scout and everyone else in between (if they're invisible). It just doesn't make any sense to me. If you let them catch up they won't attack if the PC is invisible, but they'll clutter and surround him for no reason (good spot to Turn/blast them all at once, but it doesn't make it less odd). I understand the need for out-of-sight tracking when already engaged in combat (partly because it makes sense to look for known offenders, and partly because of how complex genuine tracking would be AI script-wise) but if they shouldn't know anyone is around in the first place?


- For the final fight, I opted for the Tactics/SCS hybrid with 2 rounds. While I really enjoyed the challenge (this was the only fight in SoA I had to make a round-by-round plan for every move for every character for the second fight vs Jon & demons) I did have some minor issues with the encounter as a whole. Firstly, the first Tactics round felt tad too much of a simple puzzle (inconsistent abilities of shattered aspects leaving in way too obvious hard counters while preventing some counters illogically), and both the mood and the writing felt slightly off putting (Jon turns into a very generic video game villain for this moment). Also, the dragon of Pride didn't get the staying power boost of dragons and overally the inconsistent (to the rest of the game) abilities of the shattered aspects didn't really grant SCS AI the juice it needs to work.


- In the second round, on the other hand, I felt like the AI of Slayer-Jon was a bit too much crippled on purpouse to make sense. I mean, he didn't swap target fast enough if PFMW kicked in (from contingency/cc) during his timestop+attacks which made him act more like a beast than an intelligent enemy (granted he's in slayer form but he still casts spells and speaks like a person). He also attacks completely non-threatening summons close to him unlike most intelligent SCS enemies. I completely understand why it's necessary to hold back on AI to allow more diversity in player parties / choices, and it's probably just a problem of the high power level enemy just being way too effective in practice. Still, I think it could make sense for him to concentrate more on stripping spell defences (casting more, attacking less) and then disrupting casters (as they're most likely the ones that strip him from defenses) instead of attacking quite mindlessly (even if chunking the party members with no access to PFMW would probably be the most effective tactic for him).



Also, few minor bugs/oversights:


- When using "Faster bears" component without "Improved Shapeshifting", using druids shapeshift to bear ability leaves a status effect that messes walking speed of said character. It also blocks movement haste effect from Boots of Speed completely. Clearing status effects with ctrl+R fixes it.


- When using the component that changes Power Word: Blindness to single target, the game text description of the scroll isn't changed. The spell description is, but not the scroll.



And one feature suggestion:


- Considering how SCS manages to change things in a very systematical way, I was wondering if it would be feasible to add an optional component for systematical xp scaling for both BG1 & BG2 contents? I mean something that would preferably cover all experience gains (kills, traps/scrolls & quest rewards) and allow user to set a percentage value for overal experience gains (for example: 50%, 75%, etc.). After playing the game once I think I have a good grasp of how much XP there is around in the game and I could scale the XP gains so that the levelling feels natural throughout the campaigns, without feeling like getting a bit punished for sidequesting by overlevelling what could otherwise be balanced encounters. It would also help adjusting additions like "all strongholds" or "unfinished business" to the game. I had no additions and felt like it was better to stop levelling at the original SoA cap in late act 5 - granted I cleared everything that made sense in act2 (but with Watcher's Keep moved to ToB). The power level jump when entering ToB levels felt out of place for SoA content, and with perhaps the exception of the final fight I felt right about that decision (though now I feel I'm overlevelled for Watcher's Keep). I know SimDing0 made a tweakmod that allows XP adjustment for BG2 content, but I haven't seen anything for BG1 content. And since I don't know the data structure of the game I have no idea if these kind of tweaks would alter added/modded content as well.




Finally, thanks again for your hard work on the mod! And if I may ask, is there certain parts of the game (enemy types, encounters, balance adjustments etc.) that you sort of leave for other mods to handle? Or do you in general aim for complete "overhaul" in the scope of SCS changes? Just curious what setups synergize particularily well with SCS.

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Forgot one early game oddity:


- Torgal's (part of Improved De'Arnise Keep) "cloak of fear" -like ability bypassed Resist Fear. I don't remember seeing any fear-causing thing bypassing fear immunity, so it definitely felt inconsistent. Happened to cause some very amusing emergent gameplay, but I somehow think it's not supposed to work like the way it did.

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