Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Turn-Based vs. Real-Time Combat

Which is better? If you automatically choose left, you're probably on the wrong blog.

Although I'm only blogging about one, I am currently in the midst of two CRPGs: Pool of Radiance on my PC, and Dragon Age: Origins on my Xbox 360. The latter was my wife's suggestion, after she had read some reviews online. We've been playing for a couple of hours maybe three times a week. Mostly, I play the game and she tells me what dialogue options she wants me to choose.

I confess I am a bit of a sucker for games with good conversations, and Bioware games (Baldur's Gate II, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) do it best. [Later edit: mea culpa. PS:T wasn't a Bioware game. I should have said, "the series of interrelated games by Bioware, Black Isle, Interplay, and Obsidian, starting with Baldur's Gate." Even then, I probably am somehow technically wrong, so if someone can come up with a better term, please offer it.] If the characters are well-drawn, it's fun to learn their back stories, and dialogue options give a lot of room for roleplaying. Dragon Age is very dialogue-heavy, but the responses are interesting and the voice acting is top-notch.
I prefer Aeryn Sun, but Irene wants me to romance this chick.
Nonetheless, between Pool of Radiance and Dragon Age: Origins, I can honestly say I'm enjoying the games about the same, and I enjoy Pool of Radiance a lot more when it comes to combat.

Dragon Age's real-time combat system gives a lot more combat options, of course. You've got missile weapons, melee weapons, and spells. You've got traps, and poisons, and acid bombs. Each of your four characters has a plethora of special attacks and defenses that you choose as you level up. (Some are passive and happen naturally; some you have to choose.) The animation is beautiful and the sound realistic. You can line up different "tactics" for specific scenarios (e.g., when an enemy gets in melee range, switch to a melee weapon; when a party member falls to 50% of his health, heal him) so you don't have to micromanage each character in combat.

But here's the difference between the two: in Dragon Age, most of the time, I have no idea what the #&*$ is going on. Seriously. Combat begins. My party members go into their tactics. I select one of the foes for my lead character to fight. I start using his special attacks. Meanwhile, there's a cacophony of sound as friends and foes meet each other and cast spells. Colors streak across the screen. My character starts sparkling for reasons I don't understand--am I being affected by an offensive spell, or did one of my party members cast a buffing spell? Sten starts calling for healing but then suddenly he's at full health even though I didn't heal him. Liliana starts saying "trap, trap, trap" even though we're in combat and it's unrealistic to disarm traps. My character is suddenly paralyzed and I don't know why. The screen shakes and I go sprawling against a tree--what hit me? Then, all at once, it's over, and apparently we're all alive.
Yes, it looks cool. I just don't know what's happening.
Oh, look, honey, it's 10:00 p.m.! You toddle off to bed while I head over to my computer and enjoy the relative tranquility of turn-based tactical combat.

Turn-based combat is dead. I know it. I can't even remember the last game that featured it. Pool of Radiance: The Ruins of Myth Drannor, probably, which was boring beyond belief, but not because of the combat. I actually really liked that part. Anyway, here, in these older games, I can still enjoy it.

These are what I see as the relative advantages of turn-based combat.

1. I know exactly what each character and enemy is doing. When a foe casts a spell, I can see what the spell is, and I know how to counter it. I never wonder why I suddenly got paralyzed, or knocked down, or killed.

2. You notice details. In turn based games, when a PC gets an extra attack, you actually notice it, and it makes the battle measurably easier because of it. I can pay close attention to how much damage various weapons are doing. The effects of special attacks are very apparent. Check out my fighter performing a "sweep" in the video below. Notice how satisfying it is to see all the enemies fall, one by one. In a real-time game, you'd blink and miss it.

3. In turn-based games, you can fight armies. I don't think the Xbox processor would handle all the AI necessary to plot a battle against four dozen kobolds, five trolls, two fighters, and a wild boar.

4. Turn-based games are more tactical. When each character's turn comes up, I can pick the best strategy based on the totality of the battlefield, not the one foe that happens to be in front of me.

Now, I've given plenty of high praise to real-time games. The Infinity engine games (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale) were real-time. But they also had a couple of features that games like Dragon Age lack. First, you could set the game to pause when certain things occurred, like a character dying or an enemy casting a spell. This allowed you to check things out, re-evaluate, and issue a new set of orders. Second, the relatively large scale of the map let you see most of your enemies at once. In Dragon Age, the scope of what you can view is very limited, and it's almost impossible to get a sense of the entire battlefield. [Later edit: I just watched a video of the PC version of the game, and there are more camera options there, and you're not quite as close to the action, so perhaps my argument is more valid for the platform than the game.]

The battles I fought yesterday in the kobold caves produced some of the most satisfying, exciting, edge-of-my seat moments that I've ever experienced in a CRPG. I wish I'd saved my big "combat" posting for this battle. It was pitched at just the right amount of difficulty, and it came when my characters were at the sweet spot of character development--that point when you've raised enough levels to have a fair number of attack and spell options, but before you have so many that you get paralyzed with indecision and just rely on the same old standbys over and over. It came at a point when I had cool spells like "fireball," but not so many that I could just waste them.

Part of the source of the difficulty is that there are actually three battles back-to-back with no time to rest and heal (or save) in between. Then, shortly after, just when you think you're out of the woods, there's a fourth one of equal difficulty. During my first exploration, I blundered into them unprepared with low health, and I got killed in the second battle. Because I have a limited save policy, I had to start the caverns over again, but I knew enough to record it the second time.

The setup of the battle is that I'm exploring a series of caves that form a kobold kingdom, with the intent of stopping the kobolds from joining Tyranthraxus's minions. The video starts when I encounter a fighter named Fatima--a runway from a nearby barbarian tribe--who was a prisoner of the kobolds but had just escaped when I ran into her. She joins my party before the big fight.

Here are the highlights from the battle:

01:14: I know I'm about to go into battle, so I cast my available buffing spells.

01:50: Tyranthraxus's emissaries convince the kobolds to attack. Note that I'm facing dozens of kobolds, a handful of kobold leaders (they have bows), and four trolls.

01:58: First fireball (each mage can only memorize one). I accidentally cast it a little too far to the left, but look how awesome it is, clearing out that huge swath of kobolds and damaging the trolls.

02:52: See how Karnov's "sweep" clears out an entire front rank? Doesn't get much more satisfying than that. Octavianus has his own at 03:21.

04:03: I probably didn't need to use my second fireball here, but I was worried about killing all the trolls before the first ones started to regenerate and get back up.

04:34: Zink is a little sick of those two yipping bastards sniping us from the left, so he darts around the troll, behind their backs, and clears them out.

04:58: Karnov's backstab works perfectly on a troll!

05:06: They're surrendering, but Lame Brain isn't about to let them all get away.

After the first battle, there's nothing worth taking. Before I can do anything, the king fires some kind of missile weapon at us, causing pretty serious damage, and the second wave of kobolds attacks, this time pushing wild boars. The boars, note, have an annoying trait of getting back up after you've killed them.

06:40: What do we do with a front rank all lined up like that? Time for a wand of lightning bolt! (I should have started it with the boar instead of the kobold.)

07:17: The smug little dogs think I'm out of fireballs. Little do they know: I have fireball scrolls! Just look at that destruction.

09:20: A second lightning bolt (it turns out there were only three in the wand) finishes off two of the remaining three boars.

10:08: Lame Brain sucks up a backstab from a kobold so he can get into position to take out more of them with his sweep.

10:44: The AI has Fatima running around uselessly in a corner, which is probably good since she only has 4 hit points.

10:53: I fully intend to hit "YES" here and continue the battle so I can heal everyone before the third one starts. Lame Brain and Fatima are dangerously low. But I'm so used to hitting "NO" on this screen that I do it out of force of habit and lose my chance to heal before the third battle.

Tyranthraxus's emissaries are now thoroughly disgusted with the kobolds and join the third battle themselves. There are more trolls, kobolds, and boars.

11:30: Fatima goes down with a magic missile. I don't bandage her until 12:38.

11:43: By now, I'm fairly terrified of losing. I don't want to waste what I think is my last fireball scroll, but I don't see any other option.

12:11: "Hold Person" surprisingly works on one of the fighter/mages.

12:24: Sometimes I love my NPC swordsman.

13:05: Okay, I take it back. I don't always know everything in turn-based combat. I have no idea what that spell just did.

13:31: When this battle began, did you imagine that it was Zink who would go down? Lame Brain has been darting around trolls and boars with single-digit hit points for the entire battle. With 2 hit points left, he takes down the last troll at 13:51.

The battle is over. My party is bruised, and Zink is unconscious, but otherwise I came out pretty well. I use my "cure light wounds" spells to get everyone on their feet.

I want you to notice at this point that I don't save it. That's right: even after all that, I'm sticking to my one-save-per-map rule--a rule I have never regretted more than at 15:03. That pause you see just after the battle starts is me swearing and yelling at the walls. I'm sure I'm going to die here and have to do it all over again.

15:44: Thank Tyr. I have one fireball left. Most of the kobolds die in flames.

16:25: I hate to waste Lame Brain's turn, but he's almost dead. I quaff a potion of extra healing.

16:34: Lot of good that did.

17:03: The third and last lighting bolt is put to use. I feel like maybe I wasted it.

17:58: Koren, who usually sucks at this, triumphantly takes down a boar with a thrown hammer, and then because I forget to re-arm her, at 18:30 she takes down one of the last kobolds with her bare hands.

I made it through another one. I have no more healing spells. I have to use a potion just to revive Lame Brain. And I still haven't killed the kobold king! For all I know, he's hiding around the corner with another army. And I still don't save. Saving is for the weak.

19:56: I am sure I'm about to face another battle. I march grimly to my doom.

19:59: Ha! I'd normally consider this a "let down," but in the condition my party is in, I'll take it as a gift from the gods.

20:17: Interesting encounter. I guess I could have used him in the graveyard, but frankly the vampire wasn't all that hard.

20:33: I come across the kobold king's mostly-useless treasure horde. There's no way I'm trying to lug all that copper back to Phlan, let alone 50 chains of bones, 6 fungus-covered tapestries, and so on.

21:15: The pause is me consulting my map for the quickest way out of here.

21:57: Fatima takes off just as she was beginning to grow on me.

I emerge to the fresh open air and promptly save the game before resting and healing.

I say this without hyperbole: that is the greatest 20 minutes of CRPG playing that I have experienced since starting this blog, rendered all the more satisfying because I resisted save-scumming. You can argue about my tactics--I don't know why I didn't try "stinking cloud," for instance--but you can't argue with the results. And I don't think I will ever have a battle that sweet in Dragon Age.

I'm guessing one more posting to mop up the rest of the quests, and then one as I storm Valjevo Castle. I'm not looking forward to the ending of this one.


  1. I'm in the middle of playing Dragon Age on my PC and in that version at least, you can pause the action at any time during combat. I usually pause after each command is completed and issue my next command, making it much like a turn-based game. I have also completely ignored the tactics system, despite mastering the very similar gambit system in Final Fantasy 12.

    That said, there are definitely times where I get confused. The PC-only overhead view is fantastic, and I can't imagine playing the game without it.

  2. Dear CRPG Addict,

    Great descriptions of your epic battle in the kobold caves. It proves your point. I could understand what was happening! Pool of Radiance is a mosaic; Dragon Age seems like an impressionitic painting.

  3. I tend to agree with you here. I find turn based combat to be more enjoyable than real time for the most part. I think the two exceptions are the Infinity Engine games where they struck a nice balance in translating a turn based system into real time while providing the auto-pause options to allow for good planning.

    The other exception are the Elder Scrolls games and Mass Effect. For these games real time is well suited for them. But when it comes to rpgs from the third person perspective, I would rather have a turn based system over a real time one... Or at least the auto-pause options from the infinity engine so I can take the time to plan a response for certain situations.

  4. Temple of Elemental Evil was the last turn-based CRPG, I believe - in the mainstream, that is. The superb indie title Knights of the Chalice was released in 2009, and I'm sure there are even newer ones.

    Personally, I strongly prefer my combat to be turn-based. But I make an exception for single-player RPGs with a 1st-person-perspective, where the real time flow can actually enhance immersion and combat turns would possibly break it.

  5. Anon, I agree: real-time works in TES because you only have one PC and they make it pretty obvious what the various attacks and spells are doing.

    Trudodyr, thanks for that tidbit. I actually HAD ToEE but I threw it away, unopened, in the "great game purge" that I talked about in my first posting.

    Sounds like the PC version of Dragon Age is more defensible, then. I appreciate the clarifications.

  6. I do love a good turn-based game, but I don't mind real time if it's done well. Certain games are better real time, and others turn based.

    It's hard to explain why I didn't like the combat in Dragon Age compared to Baldur's Gate 1/2 or Neverwinter Nights 1/2 which had a similar system.

    The camera thing is certainly part of it, I definitely prefer a birds-eye or isometric view (or similar) when I have to control all my party members.

    I do wonder if they were caught in two minds between trying to get the Diablo-style action-heavy combat and the tactical overview of Baldur's Gate in the same game.

    A more action-focused game where you control just the main character and give orders to your team (as in Mass Effect) might have worked better, or allowing for a more distanced view and a slower, more tactical approach (not feasible for consoles?).

  7. I'll add my voice to the Dragon Age on PC crowd (I wouldn't imagine playing a CRPG on a console anyway, for exactly the lack of control/tactical depth). Like Tom above mentionned, I was constantly pausing, cycling through all PCs to issue commands, then unpause a bit, watch them go and stop again. I'm not sure if even you can cycle the view from different characters in the console version... Add to this a host of hotkeys for control and once you get used to it it's as turn-based as Baldur's Gate goes. In fact, with all the references around ("Gather your party and venture forth?") I overally had the impression of playing Baldur's Gate with more modern 3D graphics. Dragon Age was also hands down one of the best role-playing experiences I've ever had with the great dialogue, the depth of the scenario and the influence your choices have - if you look at a FAQ after playing the game, you will be amazed at how complex the programming is, some scenes can have up to 10-20 different outcomes and dialogues depending on what you did or said during the whole game. The "epilogue" part was an amazing and involving idea for example.

    But generally, yes, turn-based is way more interesting and rewarding for taking time to understand the system and the different parameters that affect it.

    Apart from the Elder Scrolls example already cited, I'd note that real-time works well in old first-person dungeon crawlers : Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, Lands of Lore, Ultima Underworld... In all these games, combat was quite tactical due to 1) enough variance in weapons which actually mattered 2) enough varience in enemies and their weaknesses 3) the possibility to use terrain/walls to your advantage/disadvantage 4) a slow enough pace so you could actually follow what's happening and make decisions.

  8. Good show!
    Some questions and comments:

    Why buff with several Prayer spells? Do they stack? If so that is news to me.

    No Charm Person spells memorized? Would have been great on the one Envoy that wasn't held. If succesful it could have made things much easier.

    I think it's cool that you are not afraid to use your scrolls and wands. [imagine a thumbs up emoticon here]

    Nice to see that backstab working! As a big fan of the backstab tactic that almost brought tears to my eyes.

    If you didn't "waste" a Hold Person on a Kobold you would have had a greater chance of holding the two Envoys, assuming the computer game follows the pen and paper rules.

    13:05 - that was a Mirror Image. The IE games did a great job of visually representing spell effects, though I admit I don't know how faithful that is to the p&p game.

    Is it just me or does the fate of the Kobold King remind you of the fate of a certain Beholder under Waterdeep?

  9. Also, keep in mind that while it's not an RPG, Civilization has been keeping turn based combats quite alive and addictive for more than a decade now.

  10. If you're ever really pining for turn-based combat, there are plenty of Japanese console tactics games that I find scratch that itch. The Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea games all have something to recommend them, even if you're not going to get a story that compares with PC RPGs.

    I'm tempted to go back and try one of these Gold Box games, but it'll be hard to return to AD&D 2nd ed as I think 3rd ed shed so many of the stupid, pointless rules and made all of the classes more interesting.

  11. I've had some discussions on RPGCodex about turn based versus real time (including pausable RT), and the Gold Box games versus the IE games.

    I long had the opinion that the GB were superior, but gradually I've come to consider IE combat superior to GB combat for three reasons:
    1. Wider variety in monsters, spells and items. You could even meet other adventurer groups with named individuals.
    2. Better AI. All creatures can have combat scrips.
    3. Moddability. The Sword Coast Strategems mod was what really tipped the balance in favour of the Baldur's Gate games for me.

    If you want to read some of my discussions check out these links:

  12. For good turn based combat I love the strategy game Age of Wonders - Shadow Magic. The AI is not the best though, but there are some incredible fan made maps made.

  13. You threw away The Temple of Elemental Evil? When you get around to playing it in 2025 or so, be sure to install the Circle of 8 mod before playing, or is that against your rules? If it is that'd be a shame for the game is simple fantastic with it and terrible without it.

  14. How could I have forgotten the wonderful King's Bounty games released recently? They may not technically qualify as RPGs but they sure as hell are great turn-based games. I hope to see you tackle them in the future.

  15. "Bioware games (Baldur's Gate II, Planescape: Torment" (snip)

    Bioware had nothing to do with Torment. It was made by Black Isle and published by Interplay. They just licensed the engine from BW.

  16. There's at least one turn-based RPG in the works that I've been reading about (don't remember the name offhand). There's some excitement about it.

    You should have never thrown away ToEE. It is probably the best modern version of a "Gold-Box" style game that there is. I wish that they had gone on to make a ton of sequels instead of going out of business.

    I'm actually not sure why there aren't more turn-based RPGs, being as RPGs, by nature, are turn-based games when you play them at the table. I kind of wish they would make a comeback.

    Single character games are fine in real-time, but if you expect me to control a whole party in real-time, I won't be able to do it. I am in the minority in that I have never liked the Infinity Engine (and before that, I detested the Eye of the Beholder engines) because I feel they have taken away from the combat in D&D computer games. Just my opinion.

  17. There is a zombie survival crpg being developed by some famous devs with tactical turn based combat. Dead State,11.0.html

  18. I've never played a real time RPG that I like. There, I said it. Eye of the Beholder was the beginning of the end for me.

    Does anybody else on here have any thoughts about the NES version of POR or any of the classics on older consoles?

  19. There's still a lot of turn based RPG's out there today, but most of them are JRPGs and you probably wouldn't like them :)

  20. I hear you on tactical clarity in turn-based combat. I can't even stomach Infinity Engine combats because there's no grid, you can sorta line up your dudes and hope they're not circumvented but sometimes enemies just slip through your ranks, that sort of thing should never happen in a game of tactics. Sure you can press space to pause and read the message log to understand what's going on but if that's what's going to happen, might as well make it a purely turn-based combat system.

  21. I have fond memories of playing 3 first-person AD&D games back in the mid-1990s: Ravenloft: Strahd's Posession, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, and Menzobarranzen. They were real-time, and a great deal of fun.
    Despite that, I think I tend to prefer turn-based RPGs most of the time.

  22. You want turn-based combat? You just have to go indie.

  23. It's been fantastic reading about Pool of Radiance all week - thanks for that! My recollection is that PoR is the only Gold Box game I played to completion... definitely going to have to fire it up again when things quiet down a bit.

    I do love Dragon Age, but I don't think I would have enjoyed it at all with tactics on (in much the same way that I probably would have thought Baldur's Gate was thoroughly silly if I had played with Party AI on.) I'm willing to bet that you wouldn't think much of Pool of Radiance's combat if your party consisted of one playable character and seven hireling AI-bots. I would definitely recommend to turn off those ridiculous tactics and take full control of your party! As with Baldur's Gate, most of the action ought to take place while the game is paused. :)

  24. regarding turn based combat: I just grabbed frozen synapse (not an RPG, unfortunately) and its implementation of turn based *simultaneous* combat is simply fantastic. But yes, these days turn-based is the sign of an indie game.

  25. I stopped playing CRPGs at some point in the 90s primarily because of the switch from turn-based to real-time. Well, I didn't actually stop, I just went back and played the old ones again (or tried some that I missed the first time around).

  26. That damn castle, I never finished this game, my teenage mind could never grasp whatever I had to do at the castle. I just did circles around the hedges. Please go into detail on how you actually enter the castle when you get up to the hedges.

  27. Based on some of your responses, I realized I wasn't specific enough in my posting. It's not all turn-based combat I like but turn-based TACTICAL combat--where you can actually maneuver your party members into positions and such.

    A few months ago, Irene and I started playing "Lost Odyssey," a JRPG which is unmistakably turn-based but in the most boring possible way.

    Petrus: When I view the spell effects on my characters, it only shows the CASTER as "praying." Perhaps that means the whole party is being affected--thats what "prayer" is supposed to do, right?--but I thought I'd better have each spellcaster cast it, just in case.

    I find that charm person hardly ever worked, although magic missile isn't quite as badass in this game as it is in Baldur's Gate, so perhaps I should have sacrificed those slots for charm.

    I get it. "Copies himself"=Mirror Image. DIdn't do him a lot of good.

    Thanks for the correction, Anon. I know very little about the game industry for all the playing I do, and I've always been confused about the relationship between Bioware, Black Isle, Interplay, etc. Sometimes you see them all on the same game together, sometimes separately.

    Second anon, you just have to go through the maze until you find the door. I had found some maps to the hedge maze in a mansion, but there aren't THAT many squares in the hedge maze, and it wouldn't be terribly hard to map. (I won the game earlier today; my blogging is trailing my playing.)

  28. Your blog post speaks to my heart. I too love Turn-Based Tactical games, but they are so hard to find these days.

    Someone mentioned Frozen Synapse. I got that (username plutonick in server UK2). I recently got Front Mission 3 for my PS3 in order to satisfy my love for turn based games and Mechs. Also, just recently, they release Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls for PSN. It's very similar to Bard's Tale, but it was developed in Japan and has plenty of Anime features.

    Why nobody mentions Jagged Alliance 2? I loved that game. It's not really fantasy, but it has strong RPG elements.

    You know, I even bought a used Nintendo DS in order to get my hands on some turn-based tactics games, but they just can't compete with the games of my childhood, such as the Gold Box series.

  29. I have a suggestion regarding your master game list. Please play the original Ultima V, not a remake. Otherwise we'd miss your comments about improvements from IV to V in game engine etc. Even though Lazarus has the same story, it's not the same game.

  30. charm working was very stat dependant. I managed to charm the commander in the sokol keep battle which made things pretty fun!

  31. CRPG Addict:

    Regarding JRPGs, most of them are TB and as you said - it's no tactical TB. Thats why they have 'tactical RPGs' as a separate genre. Try Tactics Ogre (SNES) and Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1).

    Someone already mentioned Knights of the Chalice. That is a new hope of western tactical RPGs. Indie scene all the way. Can't wait for the sequel. You need to add that one to your master game list (I know it's a long way... but still).

    BTW, great blog!

  32. @The CRPG Addict:
    In TES games, especially Oblivion and the upcoming Skyrim, real time combat works first and foremost because the designers had consoles in mind and only then ported Oblivion over to the PC. the same has been said very recently about Skyrim. And it is clear where the fast-paced combat in Dragon Age 2 in contrast to the very tactical combat of Dragon Age: Origins (at least on the platform it was created for: the PC) and the Mass Effect games comes from. You should really do yourself a fever, ditch the console for RPG purposes (although I suspect they are the only option to play together with your wife), install DA:O (PC), ramp up the difficutly and enjoy a tactical RPG, maybe one of the last of them.

  33. I wonder how many copper coins and fungus tapestries the swordsman took for his share. Also, were does he hide that stuff?

  34. @Malazan: I've played a few of the Japanese tactical RPGs, and (with the exception of a very few such as Shining Force) have found them to be little more than computerized tabletop wargames with over-generous helpings of uninteresting (at best) dialogue between scenarios.

    @Anonymous: You do realize that Oblivion and Skyrim are the 4th an 5th entries in a series whose first 2 were PC-only (DOS, no less) games with the same real-time combat?

  35. CRPGAddict said: "13:05: Okay, I take it back. I don't always know everything in turn-based combat. I have no idea what that spell just did."

    Mirror Image duplicates the caster, raising their armor class. Since I smited the mentioned caster immeadiatly afterward, it did not do much at all!

    I really wish that tactical turnbased combat would come back. I think the problem is that "realtime" is a buzz word. I still remember seeing an advertisement for a racecar simulation game that listed "Realtime Action!" as one of the features... I had to laugh because I was getting SO tired of Turn-based Racecar games...

  36. I don't think it's just a buzz, the trend has been going on too long for that. I suppose game designers or producers generally try to enhance their titles appeal by making their mechanics as lifelike as possible: We live in a realtime world, that's why a "good" game should reflect that.
    It's the same with the old CRPG's habit of having your character/party move around on a grid (and only do 90° turns, in the case of 1st-person-perspective).
    In my view, those people fail to understand that these abstractions, while originally caused by technical limitations, can open up new dimensions of gameplay and are not to be discarded solely on the basis of having been around since the 80s.

  37. Most of the time, I personally prefer real-time combat systems, mostly because I like a good mix of tactics AND skill. However, in most RPGs, it really depends on the game.

    When a game is basically all tactics and spamming, I'd rather it be turn-based. If it's more of an action game or action RPG, however, due to the skill factor it should be real-time. In my opinion, anyway.

  38. I found Dragon Age fun the first time but I have yet to muster enough interest to finish my second play through. I also find the wordiness of Bioware's games increasingly wearying - seems like everyone I talk to wants to give me their full autobiography with little prompting.

  39. The good thing is that MobyGames seems to have most Indie games--at least, the most popular ones.

    JJ, I wonder that all the time, 'cause when it came to training him, *I* had to give him 200 platinum pieces each time. And wait and see how he repaid me!

    HunterZ, anonymous had to be trolling about the Elder Scrolls. He had to be.

    Thanks, Lame Brain. My confusion was that the game doesn't tell you he cast "Mirror Image"; it just says that he's "duplicated." I was worried about suddenly having to face two of them.

    After laughing for a while at your "turn-based racecar games" comment, I wondered if any prankster had ever mocked up a "turn-based" version of Doom. To my surprise, it turns out there's a real game.

    Trudodyr: "These abstractions, while originally caused by technical limitations, can open up new dimensions of gameplay and are not to be discarded solely on the basis of having been around since the 80s." This pretty much summarizes the raison d'etre of this blog. Very well-written.

    Zink, I think you nailed it. I don't mind that TES games are real-time, because part of the gameplay is reacting quickly. Although the statistics control your damage and such, the physics of swinging, blocking, and out-maneuvering are based on skill. In Infinity-engine games, on the other hand, all the button-mashing in the world doesn't make your characters attack any better, so it would be horrible if the game didn't allow you to pause and plan your strategies.

    In DA, I don't think there's an ability to pause--at least, not on the Xbox version--but now I wonder if I haven't just overlooked it.

  40. I seem to remember Mirror Image creating actual dupliates, not just improving AC. Not that you could see them or manipulate them, but if the caster was hit it would say "duplicate destroyed" or something. I may be thinking of another game, or it could it be a platform difference (since I played the C64 version).

  41. One indie source that's keeping turn-based, truly tactical combat alive in RPGs is Spiderweb Software - their Avernum and Geneforge series especially. I've played a couple of their games, I had some nitpicks, and you're of course getting indie-budget production values, but overall they were good resurrections of the old school RPG experience. I keep meaning to go back and check the more recent releases.

  42. CRPGAddict Said: "I wondered if any prankster had ever mocked up a "turn-based" version of Doom. To my surprise, it turns out there's a real game."

    Are you talking about the Doom Roguelike?

    Or are you talking about Doom RPG?

    I really wish someone would port Doom RPG to computer, that game was actually pretty fun.

  43. There is a doom board game. Pretty good too. And a Gears of War as well. Doom roguelike is excellent.

  44. I just bought Wizardry for the PS3 today. It's just like Wizardry from ages ago, except done with modern graphics. Turn based, square-grid mapping, and gobs of monsters. It's cool so far.

  45. Other indie games with turn-based tactical combat:

    Spiderweb Software. They have a whole bunch... they tend toward big series with lots of sequels but they just made a completely new game too.

    Exchalon: Book 1 and Eschalon: Book 2. Haven't tried them myself but I hear good things. Theyr'e single-character rather than party-based though.

  46. Keir, that's how Mirror Image works in the D&D pen and paper RPGs, so I'd assume the spell behaves similarly in PoR.

    Mr. Addict, I clearly remember reading that the XBox version of Dragon Age is way more action-oriented, has easier combats and removed the tactical side of pausing the action to issue individual commands. I believe you'd enjoy the PC version ALOT* more than the console version.

    * ...I jest. Please don't smite me.

  47. I had my wife look it up while we were playing earlier tonight, and it turns out you can re-map the controls to allow pausing.

    My arguments fall one by one. I still like POR better.

  48. CRPG Addict:I can explain the relationship between Black Isle and Bioware. First, Black Isle was the in house RPG division of Interplay. Bioware developed Baldur's Gate 1&2 and Interplay published them through the Black Isle label. They then licensed the infinity engine from Bioware to publish a few of their own games. The Ice Wind Dale games, Ice Wind Date 2 which has the distinction of being the last infinity engine game, and Planescape Torment.

    Also note the engine was heavily modified for PS:T. Also for IWD2, but that was mainly to implement 3rd Edition rules.

  49. Oh, and an extra note on Interplay/Black Isle. After Interplay collapsed, some of the former employees formed Obsidian Entertainment, which started out by developing sequels to a couple of other Bioware games. Neverwinter Nights 2 and Knights of The Old Republic 2. Most recently they did a sequel to Interplays most beloved series Fallout. They made Fallout:New Vegas.

  50. I literally just shed a tear in my eye from the memories of the Champions of Krynn series I played as a young child learning to play RPGs on PC...and dying constantly. I had totally forgot about these games and will now look to find these games to play again.

  51. Definitely check Knights of the Chalice if you want your Turn-based combat fix done up in a modern/oldschool style.

  52. for Knights of the Chalice

    they even have a shrine to their favorite TB games of all time...

  53. SER, I appreciate the explanation. I suppose I could have looked that stuff up.

    Whether I had the terminology or not, I guess the point is that Baldur's Gate inspired a host of games from a few related companies, starting with the Infinity Engine, that greatly improved the role-playing possibilities of CRPGs through dialogue.

    I keep hearing about Knights of the Chalice. Sounds like a lot of fun. I wish it wasn't so far in the future.

  54. Believe it or not, there are actually quite a few turn-based indie RPGs being produced right now to fill the gap left by all the major development houses. You can get a very good sense of what's out there by browsing

  55. Good timing on this discussion:

  56. Thanks, Canageek. Good article. That Findley guy sounds like a real jackass.

  57. "games with good conversations, and Bioware games (Baldur's Gate II, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) do it best."

    Really ? Barring BG2 (and minus Torment), Bioware games have horrendously horrible dialogue. NWN1 especially is absolutely worthless in every single non-technical aspect, only becoming somewhat playable in expansions, which, again, were not made by Bioware.

  58. Yes, I fixed the "Bioware" bit above. In any event, you don't think NWN1 has good dialogue compared to what? Hardly any other games of the era have dialogue options AT ALL. Look at the vaunted Elder Scrolls series, which I otherwise love; there are about six times in Morrowind and Oblivion that you have real, role-playing OPTIONS in your dialogue.

    In NWN1 you could talk to just about anyone and choose your options based on your disposition and alignment. If you had bluff, persuade, or intimidate skills, there were special options for those. The options even were varied based on your intelligence. You don't consider any of this good?

  59. I don't think he is talking about options so much as the writing. As gamers we tend not to hold the writing in our games to as high of a standard as say a movie or book, so his argument may not make sense to some.

    I might just be putting my frustrations with in game writing into Nym's mouth up there. I wish I lived in some alternate reality where Kurt Vonnegut jr. wrote for games.

  60. I guess. I don't remember the writing being memorably bad, but perhaps I have a high tolerance for pedestrian text as long as I can choose from a variety of response options.

  61. As a note if you read the links in the article I attached this very article is cited.

  62. Re: turn based Doom and race-car game - there are board games based on both, too. Some of the best race car games I've ever played have been of the board variety!


  63. Cribbage is basically just a turn-based racing game, when you think about it.

  64. Hello Addict.

    To tell the truth, I don't really care if combat is turn-based or real-time, as long as it's properly done and integrated well in gameplay. Emphasis on overly tactical combat in CRPG does bore me, though. When every single combat lasts for tens of minutes, distracting me from plot and exploration, it's just not fun anymore. Maybe I'm just lazy or spoiled by modern games. You know, "these days it's all big choices and visceral combat"(c). I prefer combat to be part of my RPGs, not their main aspect.
    Don't get me wrong, I love tactical games, X-Com and Jagged Alliance are in my "all-time favs list", but it's different genre. If I want ultra-tactical combat, I'll fire up Ufo Defence, but if RPG is overstocked with tactical combat, it's just not for my taste.
    This is true for other way around, if RPG is too much depends on reflexes. Like in new The Witcher 2, first boss require player to memorize it's attack pattern and then do not screw up in action. Your stats and gear do not really matter in this fight, it's all about reflexes. Great RPG about choices and consequences becomes third-rate action game with crippled controls. Sure, it looks very dramatic, but playing it lacks RPG feel.
    Following your example of DA:O (like others have said, PC version plays in more traditional way with overhead view, tactical pause and interface just like in Neverwinter Nights), Tactics is a sort of auto-battle option, saving you from tiresome micromanagement against every group of undead and darkspawn. But you cannot count on Tactics in more challenging fights, and you have to manually control every party member to success. This game has good balance of pace and tactics in combat. DA:O throws at you too much fodder enemies, especially near the end, and it handles difficulty in pretty arguable way, but that's another topic.


  65. I'll pile on with the comments above: the PC version of DAO was quite tactical, and I made heavy use of pausing. I especially enjoyed controlling my mages while I let my fighters sort of go up and absorb damage. Honestly, mages are WAY better than rogues and warriors in DAO. I mean, by the end of the game, mage-warriors are arguably better than normal warriors, although you should keep one ace meatshield in your party regardless.
    Also, not to sound like a broken record (which I almost certainly am on this issue...), again, this reminds me of the tactical fighting in Langrisser. I feel that you may end up enjoying it more than I would've guessed previously, although it's a bit more hardcore (-lots- of units) than this is.

  66. Imho, Bioware hit THE sweet spot with the Infinite Engine's series of games. I prefer real time with pause over turn based or pure real time games.

    I think that you are confused by Dragon Age Origins because you are playing the inferior Xbox version that misses one of the most important feature: isometric view. The game is not menat to be played in third person and pause or not, it becomes quite frantic and it's hard to understand what's going on. It's a known problem of the consolle version that they tried to solve in DA2... by dumbing down everything.

    But I get your point, it's harder to keep track of what's happening in real time games and while that's the point of the challenge, it contradicts the nature of tactical and party based combat.

    Once I make the same remark to a DA2 developer called Peter Thomas in Bioware's forum. I asked him why there was so much difference between DA:O and BG in terms of "feel" even if both games were RTwP.

    He told me that the main difference in term of rule system that's the cause of it is that BG has synchronous actions measured in a single currency: D&D good old turns base. When you get the flow of it, it becomes natural to pause the gamew with a certain rythim and you allways feel in control.

    DA:O and other more action oriented CRPGs has asynchronous actions measured in real time seconds. That means that there is no rythim to catch: basically, they do not want you to feel in controll. So you are forced to play it in real time (using pause just to take a look at the "battlefield") or pausing every second if you want to issue each order.

  67. I do agree with you on the perfection of the Infinity Engine games. The rest of your posting is much appreciated--I'm really very bad at the technical aspects of CRPGs.

  68. I enjoyed both the blog post and all comments so far :D Now, about the dialogue of NWN I agree with CRPG Addict that it had a lot of options and I liked it a LOT, as well as the expansions.. I don't know if I;m in a minority but still..

    I also likes the turn based combat system of Betrayal At Krondor, which I have very fond memories of, but feel bad as halfway in the game I got a new PC and moved on and unfortunately never returned to finish it..

    As for completely tactilar RPGs (well rpg term fro them is debatable..) I agree with a previous poster that said that if it gets TOO tactical I'd prefer a strategy game like XCOM2..

    Btw, think of how nice the role playing options improved of the Adnd computer adaptations.. The first era was with the Gold Box games.. And other minor like Spelljammer.. Then we got Eye of The Beholders 1-3 .. Then the second era with Darksun 1,2,Menzoberranzan and Ravenloft 1,2.. Few years later IE games with masterpieces like BG2 and PS:T .. And finally Neverwinter Nights 1,2.. :)

  69. Dead State. Go look at Dead State being developed by Double Bear.

    Fallout 1&2 style game with turn based CRPG set in a zombie apocalypse, it should be an incredible game.

  70. Dead state is very much on my radar. The only reason I can see why I would not buy it is if they don't release a PC version that I can get to run in linux (native or wine).

  71. The original Pool Of Radiance is soooo epic! I've never been able to find a combat system that I've enjoyed as much. I just finished playing the NES port. Unfortunately the Nintendo version kinda sucks. It's basically the same game, but with many limitations. The graphics were even worse and you couldn't customize your character sprites nearly as much. Still hit the spot though. But seeing that POR screen shot on this blog makes me want to play it through again, but the original not the NES port. I would love to see a modern remake of POR, but with proper turn-based system and 5/6 person party. Epic!

    "the guards eye you suspiciously..."

  72. I think grid based movement vs. freeform movement is as interesting a debate as turn based vs real time. The advantage of grid based movement is that you have a much clearer picture of where everyone is and how much distance you can cover.

    Also, the fireball spell in Infinity Engine games have three weaknesses compared to Gold Box games. 1, you select the target before the spell is prepared where in PoR you select the target between preparation and casting the spell. This makes it hard to know what you will hit. 2, being freeform rather than grid based, it is more diificult to know the exact area of effect. 3, the real time nature of the game makes it hard to know how long preparation takes and thus how much distance enemies will cover during preparation. This mkes the first point even worse.

    1. That's a good point. I never did quite master fireballs in the IE games--it was easy to miss your opponents as they charged towards you or hit your own characters--but I do recall that they allowed you to damage enemies off-screen. So I'd typically use them by having my thief sneak until he saw the enemies and then launch the fireball from just outside their ability to see and respond.

    2. Sorry--I started off with "that's a good point," meaning to address your comment on grid-based versus free-form, and then I immediately launched into fireballs.

      While it appears that some games might still retail turn-based combat, I'm not sure that we'll ever see a resurgence of grid-based CRPGs. But reading your comment, I realized that's one of the features I like best about the Gold Box engine, and one of the reasons I think it vies as one of the best combat systems of all time.

    3. "and then I immediately launched into fireballs."

      No worries, that must be a gut reaction to every CRPG:er in every encounter. :-)

      About fireballs: Fireballs (in IE games) are at least possible to use without friendly fire. Ice storm is completely impossible to use without hitting your own party.

      I think most people associate turn based and grid based, but there are quite a few games that do turn based without being grid based. I can't remember any game having a grid without being turn based though.

      On the other hand I think Real Time with Pause could work better if there were clear visual cues as to what your area spells will hit together with the AI recognizing that you are casting an area spell and trying to avoid that area.

    4. Right. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor was turn-based but not grid-based. The only reverse games that I can think of are first-person, including Dungeons of Daggorath and Swords of Glass.

    5. As i was reading this post, it was the fireball example that first jumped to my mind first, I'm glad I wasn't the only one. Honestly, i liked the way you had to try to time the fireballs to land where the monsters were in BG. It upped the realism for me. And that you learned pretty early to cast it on a spot rather than casting it on a specific monster (you never knew where they were going to head off to.)

      My only complaint with the infinity engine was that because of the lack of a grid, it was much more difficult to keep your spell casters protected in the back, it seems like the monsters would shove right past your fighters.

  73. Um, BG wasn't real time, it was turn based. It just mapped each turn to a certain number of seconds; you could turn on pause on turn end in the options, which made it into a fully turn based game.

    1. I think you're defining "turn" using D&D definitions, as in a fixed amount of time in which you can accomplish something. By this definition, it's hard to think of many games that AREN'T turn-based.

      I'm using "turn-based" to mean literally you and your enemies take turns in combat. BG isn't "turn-based" because everything happens at once.

      If my definition isn't the standard, I apologize for the confusion.

    2. No, that is literally what happens. They took the D&D mechanics then just animated them at a set rate. If you turn on 'pause at end of turn' you can play it totally turn based. But yeah, each player attacks in initiative order, and gets a number of attacks per round based on their stats.

    3. It still isn't "totally turn based". Totally turn based is when one "piece" makes a move and completes it, and then (based on initiative and luck) it's the next piece's turn.
      The Infinity Engine games are closer to real time (as Chet pointed out actions take time even in real time games) than turn based, since they include the concept of _simultaneity_ within each combat round. So Minsc may hit a gnoll on one part of the battlefield at the same time as a gnoll hits Imoen on another part of the battlefield.

      I disliked the concept initially, and I still miss the grid and opportunity attack rules of the Gold Box games, but I grew to like the combat in the IE games since they feel more "realistic", like a chaotic battle, than a chess match.

    4. Well, what happens there is Imowen and Minsc are going on the same imitative count; The same things happens in non-real time 2nd edition D&D played at the tabletop. I get that it isn't chess-style turn based, but mathematically it is identical. Translation; We need better terms, rather then a binary switch.

    5. The mechanics interest me less than the approach to playing. In what I'm calling a turn-based game, you plot each character's moves one-by-one; in BG (and Dragon Age, you issue general orders and watch them fight. If "real time" is just an illusion and the game is really "turn-based" behind the scenes, it still doesn't change this approach to playing.

    6. I agree. I take turn-based to mean that the combat pauses when it's time for any player-controlled character to make a move. You could add pauses in BG, such as when a character is injured, or at the end of a round, but it doesn't pause when it's time for Imoen or Minsc to take their turn.

    7. One of my favorite gaming moments came while playing Diablo 1 with a couple friends. They were both fighters and I was a mage. I'd sit in the back ground healing most of the time while they cleared rooms. But, because Diablo was tile based, we'd occasionally come across choke points (doorways mostly) where they'd block the door and i'd fire-wall the whole room. It's interesting that Diablo ditched the turn based part but kept the grid while Baldur's Gate ditched the grid but kept the turns.

  74. Do my fellow readers enjoy 'pulling' and 'kiting'?

    One thing I didn't love about Baldur's Gate was that combat consisted of one guy running in circles while the other five unloaded stones and arrows into the mindlessly pursuing monsters.

    1. Only if it thematically fits what you are fighting. If you are fighting something that would obliviously follow one target irregardless of the outside attacks then yes. Otherwise it counters any verisimilitude that has been built around monsters as intelligent opponents.

      On a related note I think the first "agro management" example in games is coming up when our dear addict gets to the Krynn gold box games. The Kender had a taunt skill that would anger opponents into attacking them over more strategic opponents.

    2. I find the monsters rejoice a lot more in Krynn than they do in the Realms. Will Chet be able to pass up the opportunity to title a blog post: 'CoK is really hard'?

    3. Ug, Agro management. See also the reason I stopped playing Dragon Age.

    4. I don't recall using that tactic in Baldur's Gate, and I played a LOT of it, so there must be some reason it doesn't quite work. I do grant you that ranged weapons are a little overpowered. That's especially true of BG2 when your characters have like 8 attacks per round, with fire arrows and paralyzing bolts, and combat becomes a hail of arrows that you inflict upon hapless enemies. I try to mix it up by refusing to allow one or more characters to use missile weapons for role-playing purposes.

      Tristan, I do think I'll be able to resist. This is a family blog. I liked the "monsters rejoice" reference, though.

    5. Use the Sword Coast Strategems mod when playing the Baldur's Gate games. It makes cheesy tactics on the player's part less possible, and the monsters smarter. Definitely one of my all time favourite mods, and it dramatically improves upon BG1, which IMO is a rather mediocre game in its vanilla state.

  75. i loved to read this. and like the fact that there are those out there that still prefer the turn based combat to this real time stuff. i enjoy real time when it's done correctly. i am very picky about strategy and get frustrated when i can't have the time to make choices based on the situation. it's why i have criticized the later final fantasy games when the earlier ones had the turn based combat system. the late ones have the real time mixed with very little turn based options. i like to plan out EVERY DETAIL OF EVERY MOVE. it may seem slow and dull but it makes it that much more exciting to win a big boss battle when you know you came up with the plan to bring it down. and not just hack and slash at it with weapons and spells.

  76. exactly right.
    just started playing Dragon Age, thought it's gonna be like the manageable, understandable, tactical combat system of Baldur's Gate, but it's a mess.
    RPG is a dead genre. games like Fallout, Baldur's Gate, or Planescape: Torment created the PERFECT recipe for an RPG decades ago, the only RPG since that has ever came near to that level was KOTOR.

    1. okay, one and a half decade ago, got a bit carried away there... :p

    2. I haven't played Dragon Age, but I can't imagine a tactical system without a top-down (or isometric) view. Third or first-person doesn't give enough information to issue commands in real-time situations.

    3. I think the Wizardry series (up through V, at least) does a decent job. What it loses by not having individually-maneuverable icons, it makes up for its limited saves and thus having to economize on spells.

      Runciter, I'm willing to be a little more broad about what's an RPG, but either way, I wouldn't say that it's a "dead genre." The latest wave of indie games and Kickstarter projects (many by the makers of the classic games you cite) is very promising.

  77. Count me in on the turn-based side. Though I don't have an aversion against realtime, I enjoyed the Infinity games just as much, but when it comes to pure action rpgs I don't enjoy them as much. One thing I always get in debates with my friends is how I'm the only person around who doesn't like Diablo. Sure I played it, and I think they are ok games, nothing more. I don't get the hype at all.

    1. I agree. I played the first Diablo but found the second one actively boring.

    2. ...and quit after a few hours, I meant to add.

  78. Turn-based fight certainly adds an intellectual component to a game. Real-time combat is good for your adrenaline addiction. The Mass Effect games basically ask you if you'd like to play an RPG or a shooter. And neither component is completely convincing, in my opinion. Real-time combat needs good graphics and a good computer. The "armies" of Oblivion and Skyrim looked pretty laughable because the games couldn't handle more than maybe 10 characters at the same time. Maybe in the future real-time combat will get better, especially if all the role-playing options of RPGs can be adequately translated into a real-time-environment (maybe characters shouldn't always be automatically hostile). Maybe another difference to make here is that shooters are designed to give you the feeling of being superior, of being Chuck Norris or Arnold Schwarzenegger in an 80s movie - RPGs should allow for hesitation, even failure, and compromise. Therefore, in shooters it's logical that each NPC is hostile towards you. In good RPGs, one should have a choice.
    The Bioware/Interplay discussion is interesting. The original Fallout games are mostly missing from the discussion - and both Fallout 1 and 2 were released before Baldur's Gate. I wonder how much impact Fallout had on the infinity games - especially since there is a complex network of contributors that connects these worlds. And when Bethesda bought the Fallout franchise, that network got even bigger.

    1. Fallout was before my time; I was in grade 5 or 6 when my Dad got BG I think. Lets see, I was in grade 8 in 2001, so yeah, grade 6 or 7 as he got it from a friend who wanted to do multiplayer. It was after Tales of the Sword Coast came out, but before they did a later pressing as it came on 6 disks! (Our HD wasn't big enough to install it to hard disk at the time. You wouldn't believe the load times! and the disk swapping, we'd have 4 CD cases spread out on the counter in front of the computer). Later disks improved and they fit more on each.

      Anyway, I don't think Mass Effect is the best example of real time; it was meant to be a hybrid, and by 2 the combat was quite fun (For me at least). If you look at some dedicated real time games (Warcraft II or III, Starcraft, Total Annihilation.) they can get quite complex. It isn't just on twitch reflexes, I hear professional Starcraft players spend months perfecting there build order, layout, tactics and such. I don't really LIKE that type of play, but I can respect that there is a lot of thinking.

      I'd love to see a game with a faction system that tracked your actions; Help one wander in the wastes, possibly word gets around, possibly not. Help Brotherhood and they will help you more when they see you, but perhaps you get the cold shoulder from Renegades; they don't attack you, but might not help you deal with raiders like normal.

      Some games have bits of this, but it tends to devolve into 'these guys shoot you on site, these guys love you and give you things'. I'd like to see something more granular. Perhaps you get worse prices, some dialog is closed off, etc. And don't just track actions like murder; Say if you sell a bunch of weapons in town the milita likes you more, but deepening on who you sell them to the sheriff likes you less. Medical supplies make everyone like you more, and toys make the kids happy. Stuff like that.

      Then make certain factions fight; Do you want to get involved? Can you tell who is shooting at who from a distance? How well are they going to tolerate friendly fire?

      I think all this stuff would do more to encourage that type of hesitation more then real time vs turn based.

      Also; Real time combat doesn't necessarily need great graphics or a great computer. Warcraft I came out in the early 90s. Total Annihilation ran a full 3D game on less then 10 MB of graphics RAM. Skyrim and Oblivion are limited by the size of the world and the AIs in them, but if you coded something smaller that you could hand-optimize more then you could get away with larger armies. Actually, if you look, there are mods for Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Skyrim to add larger armies. There was a famous early one for Fallout 3 called Enclave Commander where you could call in forces to fight for you, for example. It just gets rather crazy, rather quickly and you can barely tell what is going on due to all the explosions and allies and opponents running every which way.

      The real problem when you have entire armies in RPGs is that you wind up in RTS area, which a lot of RPG players don't want.

    2. Wikipedia (maybe not always the best source) says that Fallout 2 was released in September 1998, Baldur's Gate came out in December 1998. Development of these games must have been somewhat parallel, which is quite remarkable if you keep in mind that, for example, Chris Avellone (a guy with an almost flawless body of work) worked on both of them. Fallout 1 was a 1997 release.
      About Mass Effect, it's like a dual class character, it does two things good, but neither of them very good (I agree though, it was a lot of fun. I really liked all 3 games - even if combat got a little repetetive. The storyline was strong enough to hold my interest).
      Of course, strategy games are a different beast. You don't have the responsibility of playing a character. Competetive real-time strategy was never really my world. I enjoy them, especially the civiliization building games, like Age of Empires, or Dune 2. But I hated the responsibility of learning keyboard commands by heart to achieve maximum speed.
      The gradual faction system was really well done by Morrowind, in my opinion. Each character's sympathy towards you was measured on a 0-100 scale and lots of things influenced that measure, your race, your factions and quests you already did. The more they liked you, the more did they tell about certain topics. Then Oblivion turned that part of the game into a mini-game which was not a good choice.
      About the graphics, modern RPGs probably place more value in looking good than strategy games. And the better they make characters look, the fewer they can display at a certain time. For most of my life, I never really had the state-of-the-art computer that would have allowed me to install these mods. The FPS rate dropped pretty fast with more than, say, 3 close enemies.

    3. Morrowind did a good job of also requiring your skills to progress to a certain level before allowing you to advance in the faction. In Skyrim, you can become the Arch Mage without ever casting a spell more advanced than "Lesser Ward."

    4. Wow, did not realize Fallout was so new. I'll probably give it a try along side Chet when he gets there in 7 years or so. I own most of them on GoG, but the one time I tried to play 2 I got stuck in a house, blocked in by a little girl, who was blocked in by my follower so I shouldn't shove her out of the way. Killing her of course agros the whole town. This kind of made me quite and uninstall.

    5. A bit late to the party, but I remember exactly the moment where any kind of suspension of disbelief failed me with Oblivion: In one of the mage guild quests, you had to cast a spell of each spell school or so on a pillar - and just in case you didn't have any, in the side room you could find a chest with all scrolls needed for this - no extra magic necessary.

      I was looking forward to Oblivion after Morrowind, but in the end, I stopped after the main quets because it was so much worse.

      Years later I played and enjoyed Skyrim, becvause I already knew it would be even worse, and I took advantage of a lot of mods to change the great sandbox that Skyrim is into some better.

      Then I realised that I never played Shimmerin Isles, which supposedly was quie good,a nd installed Oblivion again.

      After Skyrim, the same game that felt so horribly dumbed down, hardly an RPG really, after playing Morrowind suddenly felt like a total old-school RPG - because compared to Skyrim, it was.

  79. What a great article. A link to this should be forward to every game developer out there who puts out CRPGs.

    I've been struggling myself to find the same gameplay depth and pleasure you get from a good turn-based CRPG in the newer real-time titles, but it's pointless because the bottom line is that real-time simply isn't as suited and as enjoyable for CRPGs.

    Bioware and associates got it more or less right in the Baldur's Gate series where the game engine was real-time but options (hence, optional !) were added to bring it closer to a turn-based experience, which was a big part of what make those games such a memorable gaming experience.

    They botched it in the post-Dragon Age era by omitting those same *options*, which would have been equally easy to implement, instead forcing the player to either manually pause all the time (far from the same as precise auto-pausing or turns) or just hack'n'slash through it as if playing a FPS.

    Turn-based games are obviously not a relic from the past as only a very ignorant casual gamer-type person (such as certain executives responsible for the operations of certain game developer studios) would put it, but an altogether different breed from real-time ones, each kind of gameplay more suited to specific game genres, and in some cases interchangeable.

    Veteran gamers miss the classics because they were privileged enough to experience them and the newer games feel like going from gold to copper, and newer players are simply denied a chance to even know what the taste of gold is, because game companies are too busy following the bandwagon and releasing more flashy, noisy FPS-like games - in the end, all gamers lose.

    This is what the current (inexperienced) generation of developers, coders and executives working at game studios must be taught by demonstration and by the voice of we, their customers, in order to put some direly needed "." in their respective "i", and articles such as the above one are a great starting point. Show it to them, people !

  80. Ultima (I-V), D&D, Wizardry, Bard's Tale, ...
    RPG were not empty shells in 90's
    (I know, I'm old)

    1. Fallout I and II, Baldur's Gate....... Yeah, I heard there was a lot of good stuff, though I only caught the tail end of it.

  81. Final Fantasy Tactics is a masterwork, not only in tactical gameplay and character development (mix different abilities from different classes!) but in story music and art. PS1 version recommended, other ports have lag issues.

  82. Have been lurking around your blog for a few weeks - have gotten into a retro PC game mood myself lately, and have enjoyed reading your write-ups on various games.

    Just wanted to say that turn-based combat is not dead - it's just not really present in the stuff EA is churning out these days. Bioware is too good at what they do for their games to end up being lousy, but being in bed with EA has been a change for the worse, from a game-quality standpoint, in my opinion.

    That said, DA:O was quite good, as was the expansion. DA2 was a big let-down, though. I find myself with similar feelings about the chaos of real-time combat. Unless it's a game where you only control one player (like Divinity 2 - have you played that? Because you should), I have difficulty knowing what's going on. DA:O ultimately did ok for me in that respect because I played it on the PC, and as a prior commenter noted, you can pause, issue new orders, get a top-down perspective, etc. I only use the "programmed routines" stuff as a fail-safe to try and cover me in case I missed something.

    Back to the point - games like the Fire Emblem series (on Nintendo systems) and the Banner Saga and Shadowrun: Returns on the PC all have turn-based, tactical combat. I believe Divinity: Original Sin also has the option for this, as well. I'm guessing if you play PoR on your PC and DA:O on your Xbox that your PC isn't really a gaming rig? I really don't touch consoles except for Nintendo, because you can't really get those games anywhere else. Everything else is on the PC. It's still the best game system there is, in my opinion.

    Anyway - great blog, keep it up. Looking forward to when you get to EotB, Star Control 2, and some other favorites of mine.

    1. Looking through my titles for recent TBS combat:

      Spiderweb Software games
      Banner Saga
      Expeditions: Conquistador
      Frozen Synapse
      King's Bounty
      Numerous roguelikes

      They're also all over Tablets.

    2. I only use laptops these days, and even when I have a fairly new and powerful one, it always seems just below the recommended requirements of whatever new game I want to play.

      But a few other considerations go into whether I buy a game for the PC or the console, including whether I'm going to want to play it with my wife and whether I'm going to want to sit on the couch and play on my big TV. I played DA:O on the console for the former reason and Skyrim for the latter. As much as I agree that the PC is the superior platform, it's tough to play a PC game in the state of complete relaxation that you can get with a console, especially when playing with another person.

      Anyway, I admit I was a bit premature in saying "turn-based combat is dead." There were genres I didn't know much about in 2011, including a lot of independent games and JRPGs.

    3. Well, according to publishers, it was dead in 2011. The reason we're getting Turn-based combat now is largely thanks to crowd-funded games.

    4. Excellent site - i stumbled across it from looking at pages on Legacy of the Ancients, which to me was the first RPG that had such a lasting and still nostalgic effect on me. Games like that were rare, hours spent with pencil & graph paper of which LOA was the first. This lead to Bards Tale 1,2,3 (i think ives till got the hand drawn maps 25x25sq real dedication to finish) Ultima (not sure which ones i played now as wasnt massive fan) and Pools of Radiance (which i never finished) -- this is your 2nd walkthru ive read, love your work. Bringing back lots of fond memories. Oh and tactical wins hands down for me as was the closest to D&D in a video game and adds that strategic element, movement speed, positioning (front/sides/rear) and subsequent bonuses for doing so. Baldurs Gate was the essential D&D party experience RPG, and although i never liked when they rebuilt to be real time in Never Winter Nights, i do understand why it was done. Baldurs Gate 1&2, Icewind Dale after a few play throughs of each you do get tired/bored of the style, Thats how good they were though, they made you play them till you were literally sick of doing so. Dragon Age was top shelf though and was to me a modern take on Baldurs Gate. Witcher 2 had better combat than Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim (the AI blows so combats dull) and now Dark Souls with its unforgiving combat/death system is taking real time into more appealing dimensions. The new Dragon Age Inquisition looks impressive, targeting specific parts (head, body, limbs) as well as the scale on which the combat takes place (ie Dragon will retreat, fly off if hurt or straddle a cliff top) -- Anyways now to go read your thoughts on Bards Tale (the RPG series i spent most time playing) keep up the good work!

    5. Alas, if you're a fan, I think you'll be disappointed with my reviews of The Bard's Tale, especially II and III.

  83. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I think good pathfinding and target trajectory is also extremely important for RTwP games.

      Because you must ensure that your team-mates are able to take the safest and fastest path to where you target them. And for f*ck's sake, please don't cast a fireball at a barrel just because it's in front of the enemy.

      It's pretty sickening to have to baby them on a micro-managing level at neck-breaking pace.

      So far, no RTwP games (or is there ANY game at all?!) that have no such problem.

    2. try final fantasy new xiii on windows pc, more high graphics and more fun

  84. I don't mean to be nit-picking, but just so you know, it's "save scumming" according to everything else I've seen, not "save-scrumming." By the way, I thought Final Fantasy VII was a great turn-based RPG, and it's being remade for the PS4.

    1. It's an extra "r" in a 7-year-old entry. There is literally no possible way that you could have been MORE nit-picking. If you "didn't mean" to, you sure didn't put up much of a fight.

    2. It was the hyphen that threw him over the edge.

  85. Old post, but there has been a revival of sorts of turn based games, most exemplified by the XCOM series and the new isometric RPGs that are getting some mainstream success. I am playing Pathfinder:Kingmaker which alas is real time with pause, but a modder has created a functional Turn Based Mod that works great. Let's use 1st edition Pathfinder RPG rules in a CRPG. Great stuff.

    1. Ugh, I despise real time with pause. It's the worst of all worlds.

      I loved the new XCOM games, and I hope that XCOM 2 won't be the last. It'd be a shame for a franchise like that to be left twisting in the wind.

  86. I'm definitely in the turn-based tactical gameplay camp having played quite a few of the Gold Box series on the C64 as a kid. Civilization 1 & 2 was also my jam in college. I'm glad to see that there has been a bit of a turn-based "revival" in the past few years. I think a lot of the revival started with the success of the new and updated XCOM (2012) series because I see it has influenced a lot of newer turn-based strategy games, since I noticed they incorporated a lot of the same enhancements that XCOM had (from watching playthroughs). XCOM2 added even more character development and character "classes" (soldier types) compared to the first making the game even more RPG'ish and a more interesting story. Even the famous Julian Gollop, the original creator of the XCOM series in the '90's, has been inspired by the new XCOM with his upcoming release of Phoenix Point which takes the tactical combat to yet another level with it's body part/equipment piece targeting system (like disable a sniper's arm or gun). I just don't know if I have the hardware to play these games yet, since I'm kind of behind the technology curve (desktop 12 years old), hence playing more retro games these days.

  87. The_Liquid_LaserMay 4, 2021 at 4:40 PM

    I have to agree. I like turn based combat better overall, even though there are some real time games I've enjoyed a lot.

    My favorite D&D games are the gold box ones. This combat is awesome. Later D&D games are better in almost every other way (graphics, NPC interaction, etc...), but the combat in the gold box games is so fun that I still think I like these games better overall.

  88. It's interesting to read the older comments about the death of turn based RPGs when we've gotten a bunch of them in recent years (Divinity, Wasteland) and are even getting turn based Baldur's Gate 3 in the near future!
    It feels like PoR is the first game to really do complex party based tactical combat well, to the point that it hasn't changed all that much in modern Strategy RPGs like Fire Emblem! Sure, stuff like Ultima IV had turn based combat and Wizardry and other dungeon crawlers let you change your party order, but I find actually being able to position your characters on a large battlefield really increases the complexity of the combat and prevents things from getting boring quickly. Will definitely try this out next time it's on sale on Gog.

  89. for this, it depends a lot for me on:

    if the game is single character or multi-character.

    if the game is single character, then i most often want it to be an action rpg of some persuasion with an over the shoulder camera. from that perspective, i'd obviously prefer real time combat - so long as the combat doesn't devolve into nonsense free-for-alls with too many enemies. [eg: while i felt it was over-grim and it had very little to actually do with lord of the rings, i basically liked middle earth: shadow of mordor...UNTIL that game flung eleventy zillion orcs at you for no other reason than "here's some fake difficulty, enjoy."]

    on the other hand: games that are multi-character simply do not work for me as real time affairs. i couldn't manage it back in the bad old days when it was de rigueur in first person dungeon crawls like eye of the beholder and such, so when that idea got ported upward - to games like baldur's gate and beyond, i simply bailed on those games.

    i understand they're landmarks of the genre, but they were SO ridiculously difficult to control for me because of the multi-character nature of the setup that i just couldn't handle playing them much past their opening hour or two.

    so: open world, single character rpg? i'd LOVE it if it were turn based, of course, but if it's not, then action combat's fine so long as you don't get overwhelmed.

    open world [or even closed world] multi-character rpg? HECK NO to real time anything with those, thanks.

  90. Both Pathfinder games: Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous allow players to switch between RTWP and Turn-Based combat. In fact you can switch in combat if you wish.


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