This is not a post on physical/magical armor on enemies.
So I ran through the alpha experience on normal difficulty using any armor upgrades I could on my balanced party (Red Prince as a sword/board fighter, Ibfan as a ranger, Loise as a cleric, and PC as primarily a dps caster). Fights were approached at equal level (at the very least).
I found that some fights were fine, and others were grossly overtuned. I'll go into specifics in a moment, but here are the general issues I consistently ran into.
Initiative: Almost every fight started with the opponent getting a full free round. This might be a bug (I hope), but usually the enemies got the entire first round to themselves. Sometimes Ibfan would come in dead last on that first round (and ONLY him), even if the other party members were standing next to him. The following round would be more normal. I can see enemies getting surprise rounds if they are actually ambushing the party, but if I'm talking to them and the fight starts, I'm not being ambushed. This free round also makes things very, very difficult when combined with other issues. It's very frustrating to just stand there and watch your party get annihilated and not being able to do a single thing.
Damage: Damage is frequently pretty high. When you have multiple sources of high damage, this kind of snowballs out of control for a player who has MUCH lower armor and health than even a single one of the enemies. Also, money is scarce, potions are uncommon (I had a very hard time finding enough potion bottles and mushrooms in particular in the first section), and resurrection scrolls are a rather limited (and expensive) source. The damage in fights is only appropriate for when death is cheap, which it is not. If you intend to make death expensive (which is fine in principle), the damage really needs to be scaled back. Having the party dying in the first or second round. . . or hell, having even one character die in the first or second round before the player has a chance to react is not suitable to this model.
AI: The way the enemy AI is currently configured, if you try to build a tank to try and strategically control the fight, you're doing it wrong. Enemy AI will frequently bypass your tank every chance they get and target one of the squishier members of your party (poor Ibfan!). Now, this could be interesting, but this would require that there be some sort of aggro-pulling mechanism that you could use on enemies for it to work as something interesting for the player. As it stands now, it's just frustrating and feels punishing if you chose a preset for a tank, and not another damage dealer.
I’m going to preface this by saying I picked up and upgraded the gear whenever I could for my characters. I sold, bartered, crafted, and picked up damn near everything I could get my hands on. Spell books are very expensive -- probably too much given how you’re trying to equip four party members on the same budget. Staff of the Magi does NOT need a one-round cooldown considering how you can dual-wield wands (why the hell did I not find out about that sooner?); if you get pair of wands approaching in dps, they are strictly superior to a staff.
Anyways, I approached each of the fights at the same general level, and it wasn’t very long before every single party member had the ability to cast restoration on cooldown. My only sin here is not realizing that you could cheese your way through everything by making a pure physical damage-dealing party and burst through everything.
WARNING, FIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.
I attempted this fight probably 8 times at level 4 before I found out from an online source that you got more experience from giving up the lizard and could just take out the assassin that goes after him. I had some genuine success from cheesing some of the AI by positioning most of the party just outside of the ruins on the side closest to the cave and having my toughest member start the fight and run back to the party. Being able to move my party in the first round would would have been nice, but the worst offender of this fight is probably not the one you think. There is a female mage stationed on the top that is WAY over-tuned. She single-handedly almost caused a one-round TPK on a full-health party with some of the members having non-trivial amounts of magic armor. Being able to do over 80 points of damage per member for an ice hail on a party is just ludicrous at that level. I usually had at least one of the other ranged enemy marksman/woman up at this point. I’d heal up and resurrect at least one party member, and then she’d launch another attack that would take yet another party member out. And I couldn’t get close enough to her to attack. She’d launch an attack, then backpedal out of range. (How many action points per turn does she get anyways?) She’s the real reason why I gave up. Griff was a piece of cake compared to her.
Skeleton Ambush in the Woods :
Resistances out of control and a really obnoxious skeleton marksman made this fight way harder than it needed to be. Magical spells don’t do as much damage one would think, and they have too long of a cooldown when you take into account resistances. I had major problems managing the skeletal axeman because my wands were fire (I really needed money, and didn’t realize that you could run into things that were completely immune this early in the game), a bit more than half of my damaging spells were fire, and the others were always on cooldown. And then there was the marksman. The skeleton marksman did a crazy amount of damage and would target a single squishy party member and stay on them the whole time. (And how does skyshot not have a cooldown?) I got through this fight by engaging from a different angle and forcing the marksman to focus on the blind magister (I really kind of wanted to save him, but the party comes first), and using the teleport gloves to teleport the axeman around the map so that I could work on him last. Having such high (multiple!) resistances this early in the game is a bit punishing, especially since physical damage isn’t mitigated or made immune in the same way. Players who unknowingly make magic-based parties are going to be in for a very hard time, but that’s a larger, more widespread issue.
Witch in the Cave
This is the fight with the witch in the cave full of rotting corpses and blood roses. This fight is mechanically wicked, and I had to abuse the AI and positioning to get through it (Also, necrofire is awesome). Once again, she and her minions got all the turns first (And she always seemed to have 6 AP. . . why??). I had to pull back to the other side of the bottleneck leading into the cave and roast all of the zombies first, which was fine. It was the decay effects which seemed weird and abusive. She throws blood on the field, the beetles make you bleed, and then the zombies turn all the blood (which is all over the place) into cursed puddles, and then the witch bypasses any and all armor by casting a heal on you. This mechanic kind of seems broken, especially in this fight. Once I realized that a decayed heal bypassed armor (and resistances apparently), I proceeded to abuse it for my own purposes (All four of my characters have heals, so once I realized the witch had decay on her, she didn’t last very long at all.). Broken mechanics aside, if the AI of the witch and two of the beetles hadn’t stayed in the room, I would have been screwed since my ability to sustain myself through the damage of the fight was in serious jeopardy. Maybe remove the blood rain from the witch’s spell list so that players have the ability to dodge the blood puddles? That might give them a chance to actually fight in the room.
The magister damage on this fight is beyond broken. I tried this fight three times before trying any positional cheesing (ie, pre-positioning to abuse AI/leashing/range), and every single time it was a total party kill even before it got to the last enemy. It was almost a total party kill with the first spellcasting Magister’s turn. I never had a chance to act. Ever. I only got through this fight by pre-positioning my ranger and character on the side wall, the cleric at the top of the ruins, and using my fighter to trigger the fight. And then, once I managed to get a turn, using source magic to summon the void worm to distract everyone while I murdered the magisters. Then abusing the high wall and the worm’s AI (for some reason it couldn’t reach me and wouldn’t move) once all the magisters were dead. If I have to isolate the problems, it would be that A) the entire enemy force gets to act first in the first round and you don’t, and B) the spellcasting magister that casts hail/ice storm on the party is over-tuned above and beyond everyone else. That hailstorm not only stripped off all of my magic armor, and took out most of the health of my characters, but it also froze everyone in place, which meant that the enemy got two free turns, instead of just one. Player characters are nowhere near that powerful, so it isn’t the spell by itself. It’s the stats given to the enemy npcs.
Sorry for the very long document, but while there are still balance changes possible, I wanted to be thorough with what happened and reasoning. To reiterate, this is NOT primarily about the differences between physical and magical armor on enemies; this is (mostly) about the survivability of fights for a player controlling a party of four with the resources available. This isn’t a complaint about the limited resources either; this is just a comment on tuning with regards to those resources. If resurrection was a regular spell available to player characters, the cost of death wouldn’t be so high, or if higher quality equipment was easier to come by, it probably wouldn’t be quite as bad. But in many cases, I think that by reducing some of the damage, or modifying a couple of npcs in particular, the problem could be taken care of. Players shouldn’t have to rely on AI leashing or other quirks to get through fights. Some reloading is to be expected, but it’s a bit much when you consistently die in the first round before getting a chance to act.