I wanted to email this, but I couldn't find your address so I will just have to accept public scrutiny.
To DavidW, author of SCSII
I love this mod, and have been playing it a lot over the last six months and particularly the latest version (21). Here is some feedback for you and I apologize in advance if it includes things that have been discussed to death already, but I'm not really following the BG2 community, and I'm writing this from a computer without internet connection giving me no ability to double check if something has been done already by someone else. It ended up being longer than I had anticipated.
My history with this game goes back to when it was released, and I've played it quite a few times over the years. I've recently finished the SoA part of the game and Watcher's Keep three times with SCSII, and the ToB part almost two times. I've used Fixpack, a few things from Tweakpack, SCSII. The only thing I feel that I have left to do is to run my party through SCSII+Ascension.
Table of contents:
1. Enemy mage Spell Shield usage
2. Enemy mage rebuffing
3. Enemy mage spell protection removal
4. Enemy mage Spell Thrust usage.
5. Enemy mage spell protection removal during Timestops
6. Enemy mage offensive Chain Contingency usage
7. The “target nearest enemy” function of Chain Contingency
8. Enemy mage 3x Horrid Wilting
9. PfMW and enemy warrior weapon swaps
10. Warrior weakness against physical damage
11. Nerfing F/M; removal of Whirlwind
12. Casting Absolute Immunity on others.
13. Resurrecting equipped characters
14. Spell Immunities
15. Kangaxx and the other Demi Lich
16. PI and Simulacrum contingency bug
17. Monitoring your buffs
18. Dragons destroying PfMW
19. Monster suggestions
20. Out of combat buffing.
21. Final words
Mages don't seem particularly concerned about their spell shield being destroyed. Players know that keeping spell shield up is important and use contingencies to make sure it is. It would be interesting if this behaviour could be replicated in the AI, instead of it just waiting around begging for a Spellstrike. It's much better to use a contingency now in order to get Spell Shield up again rather then using it later on a stoneskin or pfmw that won't save you anyway. The game might become tedious if every mage plays optimally like this, but it would be nice to see it in the ones that are supposed to be more highly trained and experienced.
Most mages are smart enough to pre-buff with Protection from Magic Energy and Protection from Fire because they know that Horrid Wilting, Sunfire or Incendiary Cloud are dangerous even if they use GoI. However, once you've used Breach successfully once, which removes both of those buffs, they don't use contingencies to get them up again, making them easy kills. They seem to favour pfmw and/or stoneskin even against a solo spell caster. Pfmw is important to not get interrupted by MMM, but Stoneskin really isn't that great. The mage will get interrupted by either meteors or weapons with elemental damage. If a mage has contingencies left to use it seems reasonable that they would attempt to protect themselves against the Horrid Wilting that's surely incoming from the player. And as a player you would actually have to pay attention to their rebuffs, and make your spell choices based on whether they went for a new fire protection, magic energy or something else.
Enemies aren't particularly smart about removing your defences. They often use their high level spells against your spell shield (ruby ray, spellstrike). Even the demi-liches waste their spellstrikes that way, letting you just refresh spell shield waiting for the next one. This leads into the next point.
The consequence of this focus on high level antimagic is that you can ”outlast” most mages as a sorcerer by making sure you refresh your spell shield after they've used their removal spell because you have a minimum of 6 spell shields (or 5 if you've used 1 spell immunity), but in reality 2 more thanks to the ring of wizardry and a lvl 8 trigger prepared the day before. If enemy mages intentionally used Spell Thrust against Spell Shield, just like a player would do if he felt he had to be conservative with his spells, this strategy would be a lot harder. I imagine that a human vs. human mage battle would come down to who could launch the most spell thrusts because if you don't spell shield it, you will lose your spell immunity which you would need to get back up again to not become vulnerable to dispels. Spell Immunity and Spell Shield are both lvl 5 spells which means that you are screwed in the long term since the number of spell thrusts + ruby rays + spellstrikes far exceeds the number of spell shields. The enemy would be equally screwed of course, but they are already being exploited by this strategy.
Furthermore, they don't use Timestop to its full potential when trying to remove your protections. They only cast 1 removal per Timestop which your spell shield will catch. Now, if you cast several removal spells from the same location they will all be caught in the spell shield. I don't know if it is intended or not, but if you cast the second spell further away, it will take effect after the shield is gone. I've personally tried to cast 3 Ruby Rays at a mage during a Time Stop without moving, and then stood there like an idiot with only a removed shield. With that in mind, maybe the average mage wouldn't be aware that you can cast 2 removal spells from different locations in a Time Stop, but it might be a trick that elite mages have picked up from experience.
I've never seen a mage use Chain Contingency offensively except for that 1 Horrid Wilting at the start that some do. Would it be fair if a mage hit your party with a 3x Horrid Wilting? Or what about using removal spells instantly, sending you a nice 3x Ruby Ray just moments after your spell shield was removed?
I personally think that the enemy target function of Chain Contingency should be removed because it's overpowered. I generally don't use it because with your 6 CCs, you can remove all the protections from a mage and kill him before he can react. From the enemies' point of view, they are dead before they even knew what hit them.
1. Use a random removal to get rid of spell shield.
2. 3x Ruby Ray.
3. Breach (assuming True Sight has been ticking).
4. 3x Horrid Wilting.
There is no defence against this afaik because it's all pretty much instant. If the enemy mage can't do this, the player shouldn't be able to. This strategy also completely devalues Spellstrike. Why would you use Spellstrike when you can use an instant 3x Ruby Ray instead? Another thing that devalues Spellstrike is Robe of Vecna + Improved Alacrity which gives you instant cast Ruby Rays. You can just launch however many RRs you want, and still have time to do other stuff with the rest of your IA. I want to pick Spellstrike, because I think it theoretically serves a purpose in forcing the opponent into using a lot of contingencies to get his defences back up, but there are too many workarounds. The Robe should be nerfed in my opinion (I don't have to will power let go of it on my own). A potential fix to the item could be to reduce the casting time reduction slightly (2 instead of 4?), but compensate by giving it a bonus 5th and 6th level spell. It doesn't seem very impressive, but those are the spells you need for tactical mage vs. mage battles; Spell Immunity, Breach, Spell Shield, Contingency, True Sight, Prot. Magic Energy, etc, they are all there.
And about the 3x Horrid Wilting. I think this would serve a purpose from a balancing point of view. It would essentially force you into protecting characters, at least the ones close to the enemy mage if we assume he can only cast it on himself, with Protection from Magic Energy which in turn would use up some of your level 6 slots. This would make you have less pfmw available. Protection from Magical Weapons is currently too strong compared to Improved Mantle and Absolute Immunity in my opinion. If your Wizards have to waste even more of their level 6 spells on protecting against Horrid Wiltings, it will make it attractive to use Improved Mantle. The downside would be that the game might become unplayable without an arcane caster in the party.
Another reason pfmw is too strong is that you are immune to normal weapons and that the dangerous monsters only use magic weapons. Pfmw is essentially Absolute Immunity. The solution to this is to remove the Hell reward that gives immunity to normal weapons, and give enemies with higher intelligence that carry weapons the option to swap to a normal weapon if you use pfmw. The average goon is probably not important or smart enough to carry two weapons, but if you are some elite high level warrior wearing a unique +3 or +4 weapon you've probably seen a thing or two and carry unenchanted weapons as well. These two changes wouldn't make pfwm useless, far from it, considering that all the demons and dragons and stuff still hit magically, but it would force an intelligent wizard to have other options available to him should he face a smart opponent that can switch weapons.
I've mostly been playing a Sorcerer. Solo, and as the main character of a powerful but reasonably balanced custom party (sorc,f/m,paladin,berserker, fighter7/thief, viconia) and it seems to me that characters that can't completely protect themselves from damage suffer a lot towards the end of the game because they take too much physical damage. An extreme example being that my berserker even with the +20% physical resist mace in his offhand and Hardiness got dropped from 100% to dead in a Timestop by Melissan (core difficulty). Irenicus' final form in Hell did something similar. I know that you can turn off their attacks during timestop, and I still beat the fight even with my fighter dead, but from a power gaming perspective I would much rather just have 3 F/M instead of a more varied fighter group.
Speaking of Irenicus, the Irenicus you face in the first fight with the sword, dragon, beholder and the sarevok thing, is behaving very strangely. He doesn't seem to do much, and when the rest of the guys are dead, he just kind of moves around casting invisibilities. He is also susceptible to vorpal attacks and got one-shot by my Planetar. Not that I had any problems with him dying faster so that I could move on to the next fight, but I don't know if it's intended. I read that you imported that fight from another mod so it's understandable that it isn't as polished as the rest.
This was an issue when I played the game 10 years ago as well, and I'm not saying that it's up to you to fix it, but is the F/M really supposed to be so much better than pure fighters? I'm sure that there are various rebalancing mods out there but I wouldn't really want to “taint” my SCSII install with those. The grand mastery unnerf in particular doesn't really do anything, because when it really matters and something has to die yesterday, all your warriors will have Greater Whirlwind running. A fix could be to remove Whirlwind and Greater Whirlwind from the F/M HLA pool. It would prevent the super high damage from 10 attacks a round with the best two-handers. Maximum attacks per round for a F/M would be 6 with two-handers and the gloves, and 8 (?) with Belm in the off-hand. Still impressive considering all their defensive capabilities, but not quite what a pure fighter can do with Whirlwind.
While on the topic of pure fighters dying, an idea I've been toying with in my head is to make Absolute Immunity castable on others. I think it could be interesting to be able to save a fighter that gets targeted by something that hits very very hard or has a vorpal attack like the planetar. Additionally, it would clearly differentiate the spell from PfMW and give sorcerers a new tough lvl 9 choice. Enemies would naturally see it as important to quickly dispel the warrior that gets the immunity. The potential for abuse, or it drastically changing the game, seems low considering that the opportunity cost of a lvl 9 spell is pretty high.
Btw, I love that enemy mages imprison your planetars; very neat, but they don't seem to make it enough of a priority. The statues on WK1 did eventually imprison my planetar, but not until it had already killed almost all of their warriors. I also think that the planetar should be something you summon for a quick surgical strike to force the enemy into reacting to it, and not a high powered party member that can last throughout a longer fight; duration should be drastically reduced. It's just too good, especially with those instant cast Heals it has. Why is a mage summon a better healer than a lvl 40 cleric? I could live with the quick fix of just removing Heal from its spell book because it's clearly dumb. I'm surprised they didn't just give it Chaotic Commands as well.
Something I would love to see would be an option to resurrect characters with their items still equipped, and their inventory as it was when they died. In the harder fights with a large party, someone always seems to die, and it's a chore to always have to manually equip their items. You are not supposed to be able to equip your armor in combat, but I can live with having to manually pick that piece up. And it's always the same damn dude dying; credit to the AI for picking on the weakest member!
When I played my solo sorcerer I played around a lot with the various spell immunities and a feature that would be pretty cool would be an option to see what school a spell belongs to in the combat log. I occasionally tried looking up what school the player version of a particular spell belonged to in order to defend myself, but that really wasn't consistent. For example, the confusion cast by Umber Hulks and those Myconid spawn mushroom dudes can't be defeated by any of the spell immunities, but it does get picked up by spell trap. There were some other things I couldn't seem to defend myself against like some random stuns (not the symbols). I have no idea if this is intended behaviour or not. The important stuff does seem to work, but I'm confused (pun intended!) about those Umber Hulks.
You requested some feedback on Kangaxx, and there does seem to be one small thing that could be improved. His first form doesn't seem concerned about projected images. The way I beat him solo at lvl 28 was to make sure I mainly used images and simulacrums on his first form. He let my completely unprotected image cast timestop and imprison all his demons. The demi version however seemed to actively interrupt my images with meteors and dispel them. My strategy ended up being to play defensively and exhaust his spell book which just about worked. It seemed like he regenerated his health too fast to whittle him down with minute meteors, and I ended up having to kill him with timestops, improved haste and a black blade. I don't remember the original Kangaxx at all, but fighting this guy solo was an incredible gaming experience, and you really feel like you've earned that ring.
In a high level SoA party without HLAs he's just about beatable assuming you can keep a warrior alive to finish him off, and the weapons to hit him of course. A berserker is obviously a nice thing to have. The main problem seems to be to have enough magic removals for the entire fight, and I definitely needed scrolls. Once you have a full party with HLAs he becomes very easy.
The demi in WK arguably is too easy both solo and with a party. It's only half the Kangaxx fight, and he doesn't seem to regenerate health. Maybe he could be improved somehow? A quick fix could be to let him summon more creatures. Currently it's pretty easy to just imprison the two demons and the planetar in a timestop. It might be interesting/funny/scary/hard to have him fill that small room with a lot more stuff.
If a projected image or simulacrum uses a contingency, which I assume they are not supposed to be able to, you get stuck in an empty contingency spell select screen. The pop up that asks you to cancel or dispel has buttons that don't do anything, and you are forced to restart the game. I have no idea where this bug comes from but I'm using the Gog.com version of the game, fixpack, a bit of tweakpack and scsii.
It's important to monitor your buffs, and BG2's interface really isn't designed with that in mind. That portrait fills up, and most of the icons have the same colour. It's mildly annoying having to go into your character screen mid fight to double check a buff. Thankfully, pfmw is one of the more recognizable ones. I don't know if it's within your power to do something about it, but it would be a great improvement to the game to have the kind of list you have in your character status sheet somewhere on the screen. A quick fix would be to simply remove the permanent buffs that the Amulet of Power gives you from the portrait, which would save you one row. And other permanent buffs too for that matter. I'm keep saying quick fix, but I honestly don't know anything about how this engine works; sorry if I sound silly.
You are pretty much immune to dragons if you buff yourself with SI:Abjuration, PfMW and an appropriate elemental resistance. It doesn't seem “realistic” to me that dragons would survive for hundreds of years if they couldn't defeat any random wizard capable of casting lvl 6 spells. One obvious solution to this would be to give dragons spell protection removal spells, but that would just turn them into fighter/mages with huge models – not cool. Something that might be interesting to try out would be to give dragons a chance to destroy PfMW and similar immunities with each strike due to their “immense strength and size”, or however you want to motivate it from a role playing perspective. That way they would actually be attacking instead of just standing there looking dumb. I don't know exactly how effective this should be but if PfMW only lasted, on average, 1 round against a dragon you wouldn't be able to just stand there at lower levels. Not until you got plenty of spells and proper contingencies anyway. I haven't really thought about how targeting would work if there are unprotected fighters and a protected wizard, but even when I'm playing with a party I only send my wizards in at the start to weaken the defences. I imagine if you had to fight a dragon in real life with medieval type weapons, you would have to rush him, and hope you killed him before he killed all of you. Casualties would certainly be guaranteed unless it was sleeping, but dragons don't seem to sleep in BG2.
There are a couple of areas of the game that feel really weak still compared to at what point in the game you face them. The elven city for example has some fairly challenging wizard fights, but when you reach what you think is the climax at the Tree, the elemental guardians are pathetically easy for a party of the appropriate level. Considering that they are defending Irenicus who is trying to become a God or whatever by extracting something from the Tree, they should be the most powerful elementals you can dig up. They would probably still be easy, but at least they would be bigger and look more impressive. Those named princes maybe?
If you want to work more on Watcher's Keep, one small area that could be improved is the one with the two big safes where you pick up the mallet to destroy the glass of the machine. It's the final fight of that level, and they put up zero resistance. After how cool the maze is, and how scary the two fights with the demons holding the gems are, it feels like a bit of a let down. But what it does do is highlight how tame the unmodded game really is. The current configuration is a group of salamanders and the two named minotaurs. I don't know exactly how it could be improved and still maintain its flavour since the monster types there just aren't very challenging. One of them is carrying the Axe of Unyielding so maybe he could be given the same power that the upgraded version has (10% decapitation with no save) even if that alone would hardly matter.
Another area of Watcher's Keep that strikes me as very lame is the endurance challenge. It doesn't seem like much work at all to stay alive against some normal orcs. The goal, imo, should be surviving, and killing everything should seem futile. Towards the end you should be sweating, and praying that the ghost dude comes back to tell you that you've passed the challenge. Here's how I see it going: you would start out with the orcs that are there now, giving people who haven't read the spoilers a false sense of security. When you've killed off say 10 or 15 orcs, the guy comes back, and people would think that they were done, albeit faster than normal. Instead there is a second wave of stuff that's actually hard to survive against. At an appropriate time you are saved by the NPC. If you somehow manage to kill everything in this second wave which should be very very hard, you might get some item for your troubles. If Nalmissra's party notices that you have this item, they comment on it, saying that they have one too.
I should have written about this earlier with the rest of the mage stuff, but a feature that I think would cool is a restriction on short term buffs out of combat. The logic of course being that it isn't “realistic” that the player knows exactly what is ahead and what kind of buffs he should be running. I'm thinking about stuff like true sight, pfmw, the globes, SI, Spell Trap, etc. What this does is to force you into using contingencies, and later chain contingencies at the start of fights to buff yourself just like the AI does which is cool as fuck in my opinion because all your shit goes up just as their shit goes up, and that contingency sound rocks. And for some reason it makes you feel more powerful. Additionally, it's a less tedious way to play since you don't manually have to buff yourself for 10 rounds before every important fight. It also prevents sorcerers from having an overpowered number of Chain Contingencies for offence. It probably wouldn't be for everyone, but I pretty much already play like this and I enjoy it very much, and I'm sure that other people who haven't thought about it will like it as well once they get used to it. Now, you obviously don't need to mod the game to do this on your own, but if it isn't a lot of hassle to implement, it removes the ability to rationalize away your self-imposed ban when things get hard.
Finally, I would like to say that SCSII is fucking amazing, and thanks to the modifications you've done, it easily has the best magic system of any RPG ever. I'm blown away by how good it is. The way it raises the difficulty without feeling dumb is nothing short of amazing. If things get overwhelming, you pause the game, think things through, and what should work, actually works. Of all the features the one that makes me smile the most, believe it or not, is that the AI is able to move out of cloudkill etc, and even remove it. I recognized how cheesy that was when I was a kid playing this game 10 years ago already. Another specific feature that I love is the Improved Fiends. The Glabrezus is so very scary looking with mirror images up; at first I thought it was some new monster because I didn't remember them at all. The fights in the maze in WK are amazing, and the way they just rain down Unholy Blight on you is cool as hell. I would love to do a themed build with fiend summoning, but the fact that you don't get experience from their kills makes it a bit meh. Please please let them give me experience. Anyway, thanks for reading.
One more thing, that mage you can Freedom in the Underdark, he got chunked instantly when he performed his ritual at the first gate (earth), before he could actually enter the portal. I thought it was funny as hell that his hubris got him killed, but I'm not sure that's how I remember the quest going. His one second demise might have something to do with the very big elemental that probably wasn't there before. I do remember fully completing that quest in SCSII so maybe it had something do with where I stood when the elementals were summoned and they ended up all targeting him. Either way, there really wasn't any way I could prepare for what happened since I was already standing fairly close to him. Foolishly I didn't reload to see if I could replicate it.
Another quest related quirk I discovered when I played early this year with what must have been version 20, was that Faldorn would go invisible in her fight against an AI controlled Cernd, and stay invisible for a very long time while Cernd just stood there. When her invisibility ended, she would cast it again. Resting didn't fix the problem and I ended up having to kill her with the console which then triggered Cernd's victory. The three times or so I've played the druid grove since then Cernd has landed the first blow in wolfwere form, interrupting her and killing her in seconds. She is still casting a spell the first thing she does, but I don't know if it's that invisibility.