Frayed Knights Pilot Critique Part III

(See also: Part I, Part II, and Part IV)

And here we are in part 3. I never expected to write more than a single post about this, but as I dug deeper and deeper I began to discover the inner workings of the pilot and the design philosophy behind it all. At this point I have to say that it feels… eclectic. It’s neither one thing or the other, it never stays behind one line of thinking and it always surprises me with a new layer of detail (considering it’s a pilot).

For instance, the environment seems empty at first since the rooms, hallways, stairs, etc, are all huge and filled with copious amounts of empty space. Sure, there are occasionally a few boxes laying around, a painting on the wall and a few skeletons, but nothing that really fills the places up. There’s always this huge empty space wherever you go. But upon closer look one discovers that every single room is packed with details. There is a description for almost every single object and I’m not even sure if there’s a “default” description for anything. Every single thing that you can look at has some story behind it, nothing is just random. On top of that, the architecture of the place actually matters since there’s always a raison d’être for each room. (Although where do the cultists go to the bathroom is never explained… mmmhhh, well, ignorance is bliss in this case)

Lampshade Hanging at it's finest, but this dialog has a lot more going for it than comedy.

With so many details and dialogs to discover, I’m really glad that I’m an explorer. I always went through every corner of each map, just to see if there’s something there waiting for me. This is why in my first and second play-through I opened every door and blatantly stole borrowed everything I could take with me. But for the sake of doing something different, on my third run I just wanted to blow through the pilot, exploring only the necessary rooms. In other words, a speedrun.

Alright, let’s do this. I close every dialog that comes up, and go straight to the stairs. I open the first door, battle some cultists and get the key so now I can open the steel gate, you know, the one with the invisible keyhole. I still wonder how that key can open such a massive door. Let’s leave it at “It’s Magic” and move on. Anyways, I go upstairs to prepare for the final encounter. Yay! I’m almost there and… ah? I don’t remember seeing this dialog before.

Let’s see, the party is pointing out that they left a ton of doors untouched and that there may be a lot of enemies there. Enemies that can charge at any moment and catch us off-guard. Well, I’m trying to do this in the fastest way possible, so… what the hell, let’s try this. I just continue onwards, ignoring the warnings, and lo and behold, I was attacked from behind. Somehow I expected some kind of invisible barrier, saying that I can’t continue unless I explore everything. When those guys were dispatched I was immediately faced with the final encounter. I’m not sure, but I think they were at least a little tougher than they normally were since my party got wiped out of the face of the earth. At least I took one of those templar bastards with me.

Alright, I got my behind handed to me, I’m not a sore looser, I can take a defeat.

But I tried to speedrun again. I just had to see if it’s possible to win. Not that I need to prove my gamer cred or something… So, I tried again but this time on the final encounter I remembered to use the awesome fire staff of pure awesomeness. I just forgot about it since it’s an item with only three charges and there’s no way to replenish it. Then I remembered that this is the final battle and if I don’t use it here I won’t have any other opportunity. As yet another unexpected attention to detail, when Chloe uses the staff a different humorous dialog appears every time.

And I won! Can I get a hip hip hooray? … No? … =(

So, rewinding a little, I didn’t expect the game would take into account the different ways of play and then punish/reward accordingly. Especially after playing what seemed to be a fairly linear RPG. I was greeted with the opportunity to choose, to be different, to actually participate in the in-game story. It’s not just a toy with a set of rules carved in stone, the game will take into account my input and allow several ways to complete the same task. I can’t cheer on this enough, so here goes my opinion in one word: AWESOME.

Speaking of awesome...

Let’s keep this good vibe going shall we? Let’s take a look at yet another design aspect that Frayed Knights hits the nail squarely on the head.

One of the common mistakes in game design in general is offering immediate feedback in games that also have quicksaving and loading. Bad idea people! If the player knows right there on the spot that he made a bad choice or had a bad dice roll (ugh), then he’ll be more than happy to load and try again. And repeat that process ad nauseum until he is satisfied with the result. This is just one of the problems of quicksaving, but I’ll get to the save system later, for now we are talking about immediate feedback.

So, why bring this up now if I’m not going to rant about the save system? Well, because apparently Jay knows how to solve some of these problems, and one way to do this is by giving consequences to player actions that take a while to surface.

Just imagine it, you made a bad choice but you don’t know that yet, so you go on and use another save just in case. Three hours later, the ramifications of your previous decisions surface and now you have a really strong urge to reload. But that would mean three hours down the toilet wouldn’t it? And you still don’t know the consequences for the other possibilities, so that could also mean even more hours down the toilet.

Most likely, the player will just go on, preferring to live with a stain on their record than to waste various hours trying to do everything perfectly. He would be taking responsibility on his actions, and facing the consequences without all the metagaming that quickloading implies.

But how does this relate to Frayed Knights? Well, there’s this one very special encounter in which the player is faced with three possible choices: Completely ignore the lower part of the dungeon, let a female prisoner out of her cell and contemplate on the problem but decide to let her rot there (I’m still wondering exactly how the Frayed Knights open the cell door…). The beauty of it is that there’s no feedback, there is no possible way that the player can tell what’s going to happen later. Again: AWESOME.

Wow, I seem so happy and pleased with the pilot. That never happened in the previous parts.

Also, in a hopefully unrelated note, I just vomited a lung along with my left kidney and a live rat (don’t look at me like that, I didn’t know it was alive!). I’m not saying it’s related to my current happy happy joy joy state, but just to be sure let’s fix that up real quick:

Random battles. Ah yes, I’m feeling much better now. They are … well, random, there’s no way to avoid them, and there’s always a fresh supply of monsters. Sometimes they can wipe out your entire party, sometimes they are just annoying cannon fodder and sometimes they disrupt the meat of the game (exploration) with mindless button mashing. Hate them. Hate them with a passion.

Alright, I know that I said that I won’t give Frayed Knights a bad rap about this precisely because a more organic approach (i.e. you see the enemies, they don’t just appear out of nowhere) is a lot more difficult, time consuming and expensive. Regardless, I recently thought of one thing that can be done to improve things without much hassle:

kobolds, natures own guerrilla
Kobolds, nature's own guerrilla.

Have a limit for random encounters in every place, that way the player can choose to clear areas or blaze right through them. Of course, some kind of feedback that tells the player how many encounters there are left would be necessary. A Hint system perhaps? Something like this: A button called “search” or something similar is added to the main GUI, and when the player presses it, a message appears informing the current enemy count. It’s the best approach I can come up with apart from having the actual number on the screen as part of the GUI (or a danger gauge instead of a number). Also, this system would work like a charm with the sleep mechanic, since now it’s a lot more clear if it’s currently safe or not to rest.

And with that I conclude this third part. Verbose doesn’t really cut it isn’t it? Especially when considering I’m critiquing a Pilot and not a full game. Heh, what can I do? When something interests me I tend to write about every little detail. Thankfully there are only a few other subjects left to address, so my next part is probably going to be the last one. On the other hand, one of the mayor subjects is the save system and the other is death mechanics… so you better prepare in advance for the next part, it’s going to be a long one.


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