About the pace in the tactical battles

The pace of the game has often come up while discussing (and got mixed up with) balance issues (alpha-striking, OP builds, unfair enemy behaviors/capacities, etc)., with many players expressing a wish that the battles take longer, maps be bigger and/or skills less important.

Now that I’m finished with the first version of a guide for PP, I wanted to start this thread to discuss the pace of the game without going into balance issues.

In order to do that, the discussion has to be premised on the assumptions that 1) alpha-striking (defined as an overwhelming attack by the player on the first turn that leaves the AI opponent without any chance to win the match) is no longer possible, and 2) difficulty has been evened out, so that each difficulty setting corresponds to player’s expectations - easy is easy, and hard is hard.

In my current playthrough I have largely achieved this by 1) playing on Legend, 2) playing Honest Man, 3) no skill spamming (no skill is used more than once per turn per soldier, and squad wide skills no more than once per turn), and 4) no soldier has speed above 20 (though with light armor it can go up to 25) and no Frenzy. Everything else is fair game.

To be clear: I’m not saying that these self imposed restrictions should be made part of the game, or that everyone should play like this - I’m saying that they have largely [a new problem I have become aware of as a result of playing like this is enemy deployment/positioning, but that’s a different topic] worked for me.

However, I venture to say that I feel like the way I’m playing right now is closer to how the game is intented to be at least as far as the pacing is concerned.

A typical mission goes like this: the first turn is mostly positioning. Taking on the enemies from the deployment zone is usually suicidal, especially if there are Chirons around. More often than not there are different alternatives for positioning and interesting decisions to be made. Stay back to mount a defense, or take a forward position to attack from next turn? Split the team? How?

Sure, sometimes it’s possible to attack some enemies right away, but is it worth it?

Every subsequent turn continues to matter, and so does every action, because mobility is high enough to negate cover, damage is high enough to often one-shot kill, or disable, and accuracy/weapon range - to engage targets far away. And of course there are the skills, which allow to suspend pesky game rules to achieve quick and massive results.

Staying put is a decision, just like moving forward: wait and perhaps lose a hard won advantage, press on and risk over extending.

And a battle rarely lasts more than 5 turns, even the Lair missions.

It’s not a tactical puzzle, because there is no perfect information. There is a lot of information though, enough to make plans and formulate reasonable expectations as to how they will turn out.

It’s not a tactical simulation - if there any concessions to realism they are, overall, negligible: I have no military experience but I’m pretty sure that no one who has would use PP as an example of a game where players are encouraged to use real-world tactics.

The way I think about PP when it comes to pacing, is that it’s tactics without filler, or fluff.

For example, take Firaxis Xcoms. IMO, Firaxis did a good job of distilling turn based tactics to essential choices that matter and the most interesting situations happen when you activate several enemy pods at once. That’s when you get 1-3 intense turns that determine the outcome of the battle, where all decisions are hard and high-stakes. These are the turns really worth playing, when memorable things happen.

I think this is PP’s pacing (when everything works like it should), and
IMO it’s great as a rule, though perhaps some special missions/mission types should be different (kind of like that Council mission in the fishery in Firaxis Enemy Within).

Nevertheless, I’m not in favor of missions with too many scripted events, as you end up playing them dozens of times and it ends up being very boring.

It would be best if there was some mission type with a more exploration/suspense/horror theme, where you spend a few turns walking around and then the enemies appeared.

So in short, you say that with limitations imposed on player game has right pace? I may agree with you. I just have some doubts that I need to get rid of myself. :slight_smile:

I play a similar type of self-limiting HonestMan to you - with the exception that I allow Rally spamming within the limitations set out here: Link Rally to Officer Promotion

I don’t know how long most missions are, because I’ve never bothered to count, but with the exception of Lairs, they don’t feel like they go on too long - and those that do usually do so because something epic has happened (I still fondly remember stalking a group of 15 well-armed 1-shotting Crabbies through a maze of ruins, setting ambushes for them and taking them out one-by-one because I was completely outnumbered and outgunned and had to figure out how to use the terrain to even the odds in my favour - happy days… ;0)

You are clearly a much better player than I, because I honestly can’t see how you limit a Lair to just 5 turns without spamming skills. Lairs are a slog. They’re an interesting challenge, but who has a spare 4 hours to fight an intermediate battle every other day or so? If they were the Boss Fight of Panda Dens, then I’d have more time for them, but as it is, I simply let them mature into Citadels unless I have to take them out for some reason.

All that said, the thing I most miss in this game is the sense of menace! As I’ve said elsewhere, my favourite missions in XCOM were the Forested areas, where you were creeping through the dark, jumping at every strange noise emanating from the shadows. That never got old for me, and that feeling of dread & tension is completely lacking in this game.

I’m also going to contradict myself here, because with the exception of Lairs, I don’t really feel like I ever get enough time to savour the tactics of any particular mission. There are exceptions - the Crab-hunt described above was one; and I vividly remember another where I was forced to set up an Overwatch screen in a Goo Zone, to tempt the Scylla out into a deathtrap because I couldn’t take the fight to her. But those kinds of moments are few and far between, and stand out more because of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the mechanics of this game play much better than any other TBS I have tried; but they get squandered in the general morass of OP play (on both sides) and the unrelenting speed of the encounters.

Which raises an interesting point. I am aware from several interviews I’ve read with the likes of Jake Solomon, and the recent PP Q&A, that there is a prevalent feeling amongst TBS game developers that slowly developing tactics are somehow boring and wrong. The term ‘overwatch creep’ gets bandied about liberally, and all of the meta-builds that we see - from artificial timers to spam-filled skill sandwiches - are designed to encourage players to push forward without any regard to tactics and get stuck in as quickly as possible.

This, in my opinion, is a Bad Thing. If a player wants to take his time and preserve his soldiers, that’s his prerogative - especially in a solo game - and denying him that choice is removing a large amount of player agency from the game.

That said: there’s nothing wrong with a bit of carrot instead of stick. Meld in Enemy Within was a fabulous mechanic for me in that resepect. It meant that you had to choose between overextending yourself for that one extra canister that would get you the Perk you’d been promising your favourite Squaddie for ages, or playing it safe and not getting shot to sh!%. And it was YOUR choice! You weren’t being forced to race against an artificial clock, and you weren’t getting bounced into a slugfest because your dropzone had stupidly been set right on top of the enemy Queen.

I think there is a lot of scope for mechanics like that in this game, which have so far been completely squandered. In the early game, this is how Scavenging Canisters can work; but by the mid-game onwards, the Crabbies are so powerful that it’s not even worth doing a Scavenging Mission because the risk/reward ratio is completely f!*£%d. Haven Rescue Missions would mean so much more if every Civvie you evaced during the mission got you extra WP or a Resource reward at the end of the mission - but as it stands, they’re just hindrances you hide away in the furthest corner possible, unless you’re the kind of player who likes to use them as Siren fodder.

So in general, while most missions are a-bout the right length… … … I feel that they are lacking certain elements: be it meaningful tactical choices, a sense of tension or simply a turn’s more time for the situation to develop and for you to actually feel like you have some agency other than simply reacting to what’s coming at you.

Excuse the ramble, and I hope that makes sense.


After all the patches I would say lairs are moderate on Hero, especially if you don’t upset the DDA (though actually at one point I thought it should have gotten upset, as I did like 10 extreme steal research missions in one turn in a row). On Hero I didn’t run into a single acid Chiron during the whole game. On Legendary lairs are a bit more stressful.

Anyway, my approach is always push/rush to the Spawnery with at least a couple of guys, don’t wait until the path is clear.

I think there is such thing as real overwatch creep, and it’s a bad thing. For example, what happened in Firaxis XCom before Meld is that I would follow a simple protocol: no soldier shall move further than the first soldier that moved. So if I don’t activate a pod with the first soldier, I will not activate it this turn. And sometimes I would get everyone in cover and hit OW until a pod meandered into range and got blasted away (after a while I just knew when it could be done). This is not the payoff of sophisticated, careful planning, or smart tactical thinking - it’s as meta as it gets.

In a way, it comes with the territory of turn based sequential gameplay - let the opponent start moving first. So, yes, then the devs add mcguffins, timers, or tactical advantages for the bold…

(And as I was writing this post, I read that Firaxis is releasing a ‘small’ XCom in the coming weeks, where among other things, there will be something like an initiative roll, which is another way of coming at this problem).

One thing I have been thinking about is that this is something that could happen with the variation to the Scavenging missions (where there will be infinite enemies… A mechanic I like very much, as it is genuinely menacing) and that ambush missions need a rework, because what happens currently is not the Pandas (or other enemies, after Leviathan) are ambushing and getting the drop on the player, but the player is ambushing the Pandas and getting the drop on them. I mean, the turn starts and you have them standing around you in a circle waiting to be executed… Yeah, you got me surrounded, right :roll_eyes:

Nice that you @VOLAND trigger the topic. Perhaps it is a little early because we don’t even know that the devs want to solve the biggest problems of the game …:wink: But we can still dream and look positively into the future.

That’s exactly what I hated most about FiraXCOM. That does not mean that I found the approach to the opponents bad, but this stupid “one field further” pod activate.
The podless system is much better with PP. Nevertheless, the tension and horror are missing in the initial phase. Could be countered with less open maps or smaller fields of vision for the soldiers.

I think 5-10 turns is a good mission time to have, at 10 turns you will already start feeling it will become more like a slog, but 5 can be very quick…if you have set out your moves pretty much from the get-go like can happen if you are rushing lairs.

unlike VOLAND I do feel skill spam has to be somehow curbed, note that there are many ways to do this that don’t even require cooldowns or turn limits, I just think that these are the easiest to implement. (for example to limit skill spam you you could have teams that mentally exert itself a lot…lose significantly more stamina on the strategy layer…this is just one example)

personally I feel the fun of a longer mission should be from back and forths between the AI combatants and the player. how to achieve this…well there are a significant amount of options, but I don’t know what option would be best. but I would avoid:
-slowing the player, you can add mission length by making players slow, causing a higher movement tax…moving on its own though isn’t that interesting.
-making enemies tankier, bullet sponges come with the drawback that positioning becomes much less important then simple damage output…on the other hand very high lethality only makes weapons valuable as long as they hit certain tresholds and forces the player to kill quick or he loses men so that isn’t the best option either.
-map blinding the player, when a player is blind he will play more cautiously…as he is afraid of losing troops or getting crippled from the fog of war, this creates tension. however, as this game has an overwatch system it would also promote using this constantly…at the moment the game actually does the opposite is most cases (the majority of pandorans, save perception head tritons have less perception/stealth then the player…allowing the player to make a plan and get its troops into position before the fight actually starts) nor does it have pod activation where an enemy gets free movement…

from the above I actually feel that the game is already at or very close to where it has to be, players can get into the action fairly quick. they are not afraid of moving about because they can’t see anything or would be instantly killed by a single misplaced trooper. now all these things can be pulled completely out of proportion with certain skills and abilities…but the assumption was that those problems where worked out.

my main problem happens when the fight is on, very often I’m pretty much forced to disable or kill enemies outright because you cannot allow a back and forth to happen. not just because that 40 dmg grenade launcher can bug out and delimb my troops with an 80 dmg blast, but because the enemy happily waddles into the middle of the open and uses it…and it won’t ever miss. the enemy is not afraid of getting shot and will barge through overwatches to land melee, explosive and psychic attacks…I only occasionally get back-and forth gameplay with faction troops, tritons (not kamikazi iconoclast) and MG crabs (if they don’t also have a launcher).
extended fights are hard to generate, because as soon as you have the power to plow down all the grenade launching crabs before they can get a grenade off into your team, you also have the power to do the same to the MG ones…unless they happen to be well covered and reasonably far away. so I feel one of the ways longer mission times could be generated is by introducing more gun toting enemies that have high self preservation. (in effect the only one that comes close to this at the moment is the triton)

to make the issue even worse, extended fights would automatically link into the overall difficulty of a fight, what a hard extended fight is for a player with a lower skill rating could be much easier and faster for a player with a higher skill rating, and the speeds would vary from position to position in the game ( player A might be awesome in the startup but poor by endgame, while player B is better at endgame tactics), or sheer luck (position of bases, timing of evacuated/lost missions/lost troops/available recruits) on top of the selected difficulty. I think this is the problem that the DDA is intended to resolve, but I think the current DDA cannot define the problem clearly enough to work with my vision of an extended fight.

now my post is starting to degrade into ramblings, so I’m going to end the comment here.

Note that I’m playing without skill spamming - one skill per soldier per turn, squad wide skills one use per turn, so I do think it has to be curbed, at least for experienced players. (If it was to be curbed for everybody difficulty would have to be adjusted a lot for rookie/veteran, which is why I suggest that it be a difficulty option).

Personally, I don’t like the idea of linking use of skills to stamina, because I fear it will lead to a lot more R&R…

I agree - there are issues, of course, but they are relatively small, when put in perspective.

On this, @walan , as I have said many times, I have no doubt that balancing will be taken care of - the question is how. The balancing has also to be done in a balanced way…

I know what you mean, but I’m kinda happy with that.

In PP, if you want a soldier who can take multiple attacks in one turn, you have to invest in STR, and heavy armor.

Back and forths do happen, but they are pretty brutal.

I understand your point of view.

First, I can say your are a very good player who can challange yourself to have a game as you like. Low hat.

Now, I’m sorry but the pace of the game is linked with the balance of the game.
Let’s explain my point of view.
As the ennemy can spawn from everywhere in number AND with powerfull units, we must have the opportunity to alpha strike.
I agree the problem is you can alpha strike all the time the only limit is your will.
We should have a cooldown to soldier’s perks to limit a bit.

I already encouter 3 acid chiron at the begining of my turn what can I do ? Flee ? Yes it’s an option.
But there are some scripted mission you have to do.
I have encounter a sylla very close to the drop point so without using all my fire power in one turn you are lost.

So the balance enter in action. Without big amount of PV from ennemy units you can enter in another pace like exploration, embush etc…
But the maps are often too tiny and the range of fire is high so you have to kill as fast as you can (chirons, grenade launchers, and the famous sirens).

Concerning the scripted missions, well it’s a point of view because random missions are also boring at this point.
But the grind can be hidden by more incentive, loot, blue prints, ressources, spot location, fragment of research…
I agree with you, the game should be more smoothy. More interresting, with more implications.

What can we do ?
Add cooldown to perks AND reduce a bit the ennemy PV and armor. It can be fine to have bigger maps so we have some choices to do.
And Maybe change some perks, some are not relly usefull and some are mandatory and overpower (armor down to 0 on member desactivation, 5th fire in a raw).
The perk should be more usefull even at the begining but a bit less powerfull and the end.
Or more perks to compensate, even on the personnal line, and maybe some ones hidden that can be discover by using some actions or equipement or just at leveling).

In my opinion, the game as a lack of exploration, scan and foraging all question mark spot is a very boring task.
I suggest to add an another spot type : ancient ruins.
As we discover havens we can learn more about ruins location and we can decide to explore. Find clues (as a gauge), items, blue prints, history fragments.
But the cost is bigger exploration maps, often dangerous because infected or trapped by ancients and so on.

In lairs, I’m very disapointed when you finish the only reward you have is a ridiculous amount of points to factions.
No loot to attempt to grap in the maze ?
The lairs are very frustrating because we can see the objective at the firt round or maybe walk all over the map to down the last objective (1 or 3 sentinels).
But the back of the medal to explore more is you have to retreat to the landing point by youtself, as in trap missions. And i dislike this part, it’s long and boring.

I’ve not explain all my feeling but I gess I have to stop here :slight_smile:

It is, that’s why I say that both alpha-strike must be gone and the difficulty evened out:

I have never encountered 3 acid Chirons together, so I don’t know what I would do.

However, if it’s a situation that can only be solved by what is essentially an exploit (alpha-striking, which basically amounts to an unlimited first move), or I just don’t feel that it corresponds to the difficulty level I’m playing, I would report it, starting a topic here.

Which, IMO, is the best thing that players can do when they come across some mission that is more difficult than they expected: report it on the forum in as much detail as possible, and better with screenshots, as well as the context (difficulty level, date in game, type of mission, how they are playing, ie how many injured and dead- to see if it’s the DDA).

I mean, the problem when you get 3 acid Chirons in front of you when you not playing on hard, or legendary, is the difficulty. That doesn’t get solved by giving the players the chance to use godmode, or an infinite first turn.

I can honestly say that I have never faced a situation that I felt was unfair (not counting bugs, of course), i.e. that required resorting to exploits or I didn’t bring on by myself by doing something stupid (e.g. going on an extreme mission with a squad that wasn’t up to it). That doesn’t mean I’m the greatest player ever - it literally means that it didn’t happen to me.

I never had 8 sirens, 4 acid Chirons and 20 Arthrons crowding my deployment spot. If I had had something like that, I would write about it. And take a picture of it. Because something like that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

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(I didn’t want to write, but I’d rather write) If you go along this path, then theoretically for the Beginner’s difficulty, it may be enough if you remove fat from enemies (HP-20%?).
And we can edit the above rules:
2) remove manual saving in tactical combat (+ three auto-saves on the Geoscape), or disable DDA; 3) limited spam skills, 2 times per turn - high cost in WP and max Willpower parameter = 14?; 4) max Speed parameter = 17?

And how do you look at that idea:

  • let the Devs make a balance for the Beginner (with max attention to the “Guide to the Little Things”) and the Veteran (with the balance center here), (70% / 30% - Devs / Consultium)
  • and the Hero (the balance center is here) and the Legend, with close cooperation with the Community and Moders (50/50% - Devs / Consultium-Moders)
    • open beta test ([rebalance test] button near the New Game in the start menu), only for PC - until the work is completed
    • to the base game, without DLC and without mods

I don’t think that such involvement of Council will be possible.

These are crude figures as part of the discussion of balance points. If the build will work well and be perceived by the players, why should the Devs be dogmatic.

Or perhaps better to reduce their capacity to remove damage (-20% damage). Or perhaps both.

It also depends on how effective the planned tutorials are going to be, because if the players are more familiar with the mechanics, they can deal with tougher opponents.

I repeat myself, but there are many different ways to address the balances issues, and the devs are definitely the ones in a better position to judge what’s best.

All I can say for certain is how my experience is being with a particular set of restrictions. I do think that probably reducing max speed to 20, adjusting some armor/augmentations and how frenzy works would be the most efficient way of dealing with extreme mobility.

had an interesting idea

Ahh that ‘mission at the fishery’ in Enemy within , I had dreams about that mission. I play pretty much as you do and sinse the last tweak am fairly happy with the way difficulty now works.

@noStas if I where a developer in this game there is no way I would give any part of it away under the direction of a players or fan council. I’d listen to suggestions, possibly build a test build that only members of that circle can enter and play and listen to their feedback on the impact of their own and dev idea’s. and then I could considder moving part or the whole suggestion to the main branch.

but the council has no power whatsoever with regards of where the game will go, it only has a consulting purpose. If I where a dev…any decisions regarding the final product would remain on my side.

this would be different with regards to modders, a modder is responsible for his own mod and that would not be tied directly into decisions regarding the base game.

Or ‘The Nantucket Whale Disaster’ as I fondly remember it.
One of my favourite characters, Suzy ‘Moby’ Wong, crashed my first Ironman run of EW when she outran more Chryssalids than I care to think about back to the evac point and blew the ship. She’s the reason I now play HonestMan, to prevent losing a game in that sort of crash.
Ever since, she has reappeared in every XCOM-style game I play, as a Twitchy, Paranoid character with scars all over her face and a pathological hatred of Bugs - though she doesn’t like to talk about it.

She’s even my lead Heavy in Phoenix Point.

Happy days…

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Because, generally, devs are in a better position to judge the balance of the game. I assume they gather data meaning they can compare what skills/weapons/builds people use, and how they perform better then individual players. Player perspective is important of course (there is a quote I like from Overwatches lead, that perception of balance is more powerful then balance itself) but it’s only one of couple things devs need to take into account, and it shouldn’t sway developers decisions by itself.

Games are always being tested - I am sure, you read stories of E3 demos, and how closely players are watched, to see if the UI is intuitive, or if they engage with mechanics, what they focus on. I am sure there are behind closed doors tests, focus testing etc. Indie devs don’t have resources available to bigger companies, and they use what they have. Family, friends, and it seems they want to form a small group of fans for this very purpose. One may provide feedback, but not be a backseat developer.

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(70% / 30% - Devs / Consultium) - The Consultium can only offer (but immediately get an answer - why not or let’s try it) and test rude mechanics.

@conductiv, @Wormerine
1 step - Concilium
2 step - open beta test ([rebalance test] button near the New Game in the start menu), only for PC - until the work is completed

(50/50% - Devs / Consultium-Moders) - Devs give control of the game as soon as modding opens. Why wait if this energy can be used right now?

My goal is to engage the Community and Moders for Actively improving and deepening gameplay, here and now, and not a year after the failure of the game, in Steam (also).