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Lost and Found: Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

December 17, 2012

the witcher 2

 

 

So finally I’ve managed to get play through Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. As some of you might remember I was talking about playing through a lot older and some newer RPGs in October and discuss which features I think should be used more frequently in other RPGs and which features just really did not work out. Christmas, end of semester stress with exams and such have sadly delayed this post by a lot though, not to mention a particulat difficulty n actually managing to choose which game to play and stick with it. This problem seems to arrive from “clunkyness” or slow gam pace; more on that in my next post (hopefully at the end of this week). Other good news are that I have managed to almost playthrough Neverwinter Nights 2 now so that article should in theory be posted soon as well, if Christmas does not magic away all my time. So anyway here are my thought on some of Witcher 2’s features.

 

 

Story Setup

 

 

While the story in Witcher 2 has been praised a lot I think it has been praised for the wrong things. It is a good story don’t get me wrong, but as conspiracies go it relies on feeding the player small pieces of information to keep the player’s curiosity regarding the plot going, without revealing too much. In the Witcher 2’s case the information seems rather haphazard and there is no chance of puzzling anything together before the very end. Now some might say that s a good conspiracy plot, but to me there should at least a chance for the player to figure out what is actually happening from the information he gets. If we have a look at the information you get as Geralt before you get the grand master plan revealed to you, you know that :

 

-          Sìle is in Flotsoam for some other reason than the killing monsters, she has a heated discussion with Loredo about something, yet she seems to need the kayran for her own plans as well

-          The assassin is a witcher from the school of the Viper working together with Iorveth and later trying to kill him. He also seems to have no real animosity towards Geralt and says he knows him from before

-          Triss knows something about Síle that she won’t tell Geralt

-          Saskia is a leader of a rebel army and is in fact a dragon and wants to establish her own nation

-          Nilfgaard has something to win in this, probably in trying to sow discord before an attack

-          All the northern kingdoms suddenly want to fill in the vacuum left by Foltest’s death and are at each other’s throats

 

 

The fact that there are so many participants in this conspiracy with all their own motives adds depth to it, but it also makes the conspiracy something that is over and beyond the player’s understanding, so frankly why should he care about it? This could of course be a device by the developers to make the player see the world through Geralt’s eyes and that is fine, but we know from the start that Geralt is not really after revenge, he merely wants to know why Foltest was killed by a witcher and clean his own name in the process, this would mean that the conspiracy is the driving force of the game’s plot and it does not get off that well. To make matters more confusing there are the subplots of Geralt recovering his memory and what actually happened in those memories, which explain his real quest in the North. Also suddenly instead of chasing the assassin we are also chasing after Triss making me personally as the player wonder if the developers were not trying to force-feed the player motives for Geralt to continue the hunt.

 

 

What I did like about the story though and for which it should be applauded is that it presented two distinctively different paths to play the game. You could either join Roche or you could join Iorveth and the story unfolded differently within those two paths, making the choice between Roche or Iorveth a meaningful one, it also affected what happened to both these characters at the end of the story, some outcomes for Roche are only to be gained if you side with him for instance.

 

 

I also liked how, even if you could change how the game ended with you choices, it was an end no matter what choices you made and how you looked at it was a bloody and violent ending, the only difference was how much of it there was and at whom it was directed. This ties very well in with what Milady called for in one of her posts of making the hero more human and less omnipotent. No matter what you do Geralt can’t change that the outcome of the story is not going to be all rainbows and butterflies.

 

 

Sadly the overall story in the Witcher 2, like the one in Dragon Age 2, felt more like a prologue to the next game than a fully-fledged story that could stand in its own right. This is a notion I have difficulties at pin-pointing where it comes from. There is something with both game’s stories actually containing a rather unimportant main plot and more important subplots that lead on from the cliff-hanger-like ending, trying to explain what is to come, which give me a sense of it all having been a prologue blown out of proportions. All in all the redeeming factor for me in the Witcher 2 is that it features two distinct paths

to experience the story through and because that is so rare nowadays it made for an enjoyable experience. It was also refreshing that the fight with the “end-boss” was not mandatory and it gave the game a nice depth by stating that not everything has to be solved with violence.

 

 

Combat

 

 

When it comes to combat I am very glad the Witcher 2 has several difficulty levels. The problem the difficulty I’d like to play the game in is not featured. I ended up switching difficulty between Easy and Hard as I saw fit, Normal just seemed to have a rather arbitrary and weird way of distinguishing hard and easy encounters. Nekkers swarm like mobs where rather hard whereas single tough enemies like trolls turned out to be easy. The solution was to play the brain dead easy mode to keep the story flowing and switching to hard when I wanted a challenge. The problem I had with setting the difficulty to hard was that then suddenly the fights turned into a dodge and strike dance where single fights could last thirty minutes because I failed to dodge and get two-shot by enemies. Friends of mine also claimed that the controls were not responsive enough for that kind of combat. Personally I do not know, when I switched setting to hard, I used my age old proven technique of running away and throwing knives and placing traps before I actually wanted to engage in melee so that made me tax the responsiveness of the controls less.

 

 

A very downright underwhelming experience, were the boss fights though that required you to do timed-button-smashing in order to win. For me a boss fights are tests to see if you have gathered enough proficiency with the combat system in your encounters before the boss fights, but no other fights required that type of mechanics so instead the boss fights turned out to be something completely different and something rather easy.

 

 

The sign system could also have required some explanation, since it was hard to wrap your head around it and clumsy since you only could select outside of the game. This lead to me not really using any signs other than straight forward ones and just going swords all the way.

 

 

“Leveling”, Exploring and Gear acquisition

 

 

When it comes to levelling the game had a very good concept that was not fully backed up though. You only got experience form completing quests, which is good because it reduces the amount of pesky trash fights one has, which keeps the story flowing. It is good that there are trash fights so that you can have something to do when you just want to kill something, but they should not be forced upon you when you actually just want to experience the story.

 

Usually trash fights are justified as being central to getting experience and gear, well in the Witcher 2 gear is only gotten through crafting, to which the materials are only gotten through exploring and sometimes killing monsters and experience is, as stated before, only awarded through quests. The problem is: There are still trash fights and by this I mean trash fights in the way of I want to get from point A to point B but in doing so I have to fight hordes of enemies. Only a few of the fights could be avoided by running away. On the flipside though you only have to do these fights once. Once you have cleared the area the enemies will stay dead and not bother, which is great! I also liked how gear really did not seem to matter, you could get it fairly easily, but some of it still required exploration to get through and as such the game world got a bit more life to it, without succumbing to you have to have item X, Y and Z combined with set C in order to even have a fighting chance at killing this boss and experiencing the story. This way the game really embraced the fact that t was a single player game and that everybody should be able to experience the game for that is why it was made in the first place: So that the player can experience the game and it with RPG’s in extent the story.

 

 

Character development

 

I have not much to say about character development in Witcher 2 as there was not that much of it there, only that with time it seemed weird that if you specialised in a single tree you could almost get every perk of that tree and max it out. I missed out on the feeling that even in character development choice and consequence matter and you could not have everything. I do not know how important all those perks are on higher difficulty levels but on the lower ones they are not needed. Perhaps scaling the experience gained with difficulty levels in a situation like that would help? The higher the difficulty the more experience you get.

 

 

All in all I think the Witcher 2 did a very good job in bringing in a few not so often seen elements into the RPG genre; like more than one path to experience the story and a different way to level and acquire gear so that the story is the main focus not the fighting. Other than that it is a standard RPG but because of the rarity of the above mentioned features I really liked playing it. Of course it has its problems some bigger some smaller but all games have these problems. The only wish I have is that the story would not be so convoluted and would not feel like a prologue.

Reconciling Gameplay and Story

November 28, 2012

 

 

 

A while ago Milady wrote an article discussing how she felt that the gameplay in for instance NWN2, but also other RPGs got in the way of the main reason a lot of us play this kind of games: the story. To her gameplay could be reduced to combat its most common manifestation and one of the most common denominators of the genre. She argued that by throwing endless amounts of enemies at the player “in brainless encounters” gameplay is distracting us from enjoying the story with is war of attrition- like enemies jumping at us at every corner and turn. According to her this is because RPGs try to combine the story element with the element of advancing levels and getting new shiny gear and such. Her solution for this would be to cut down the amount of “mindless encounters”, also known as trash-encounters and only keep the meaningful combat in the form of boss fights or random encounters that add to the story (she mentioned Zevran from DA:O) or the settings atmosphere. As an example she mentioned Planescape: Torment a game with very little combat and very much story (and even though you can kill a lot of NPC you are only going to shoot yourself in the foot by doing so).

 

While I agree with her on many of her points when it comes “mindless combat” I would like to offer some solutions how to make these types of combat situations work better in games as well as explain why it is important for me that we keep the “trash-encounters”. After all trash encounters do serve various roles in the game. Milady identified loot and character development through gaining levels as two of its purposes, but there are more.

 

“Trash-encounters” can be set up as a learning experience at the end of the game. The encounters themselves are actually not too hard, but since the point is you learning the ins- and outs of the combat it is far more important for the encounter to be easy than challenging. After all you will not be learning much if the game keeps beating you before you can actually try something out.

 

These easy encounters also serve as a kind of “relaxation” part of the game. Milady once explained to me why it in a dungeon or raid environment was important that “trash- encounters” existed. One of her arguments explained how they served as a point of relaxation between boss fights. By providing this it was ensured that boss fights could be more challenging as your mind had time to recover from the last boss fight. The principle is the same as having breaks between sets and to not work out to vary the types of muscles you work out, for instance at the gym. If I was constantly working out I would for one risk injury and also preform over all a lot worse.

 

Another reason why “thrash- encounters” are important is that they allow the player to feel powerful. You get those moments of “hell, I am awesome” when you beat that group of mobs and the good thing is you don’t really have to be the best player in the world to get that kind of feeling. It is one of the things that make games fun. Of course one should not over indulge n t because otherwise it is boring, but I can say I genuinely cherished a few of those moments in RPGs when I would just flick a fireball or do a dance of death and mobs would die without injuring me. That feeling is the main reason why I won’t put down some games. If I feel like the entire game is a marathon at 10% ascent I will quit it because I feel bored or I will only play it in snippets. The result is that the story experience becomes fragmented and the experience is not as good as t actually could have been.

 

Related to the “Godmode” argument above is also that combat in games feels very “hands- on”, mostly because it, for some more, for some less, releases adrenaline into our blood and it feels like we are actively participating in the game, not merely watching a movie or reading a book. Of course piecing together puzzles and talking to people in the game is active participation as well, but it does not feel as substantial or “hands- on” as it is purely mental participation and little happens on the screen. As such “trash- encounters” make the story easier to digest as you feel you are participating in it actively and it fills the blanks between when something is happening in the actual story. And it also gives you a nice break from the story when you just can’t be bothered by it. Kind of like minigames can do. In Witcher 2 I used to do the fist- fighting and dicing minigames, when I could not be asked with the story or I was stuck. In DA: O I used to explore the map looking for random “trash- encounters”.

 

The final reason I could think of why “trash- encounters” are good is that they artificially elongate the game experience. As such some key milestones in the story like act breaks and boss fights get more meaningful as you get thought of “finally I reached this boss”. How much one should elongate the game experience is hard to say and highly individual. One thing is sure though gamers do not like short stories. If it is a quick stroll through the park to kill the King of Shadows in NWN2 then the game would really not feel as good and the fight would be less heroic. Similarly if the siege of Denerim in DA: O merely involved killing the Archdemon the whole tension and drama built up for that would literally fall flat on its face. In other words it would be a shitty game and story experience.

 

Milady mentioned gear and levelling as a reason for including “trash-fights” yet I do think these two aspects are dwindling in modern RPGs as the main reasons for trash. Indeed in Witcher 2 you only got experience by completing quests and most of your equipment was crafted. Granted a lot of its materials dropped from enemies, but by far not all and you could even change it by saying all materials are awarded through exploration. Similarly in Mass Effect 2 and 3 (don’t remember 1 so well anymore) “trash” never gave you experience; quests did. And the weapons were not received by killing enemies, they were found or bought. So no I do not think that levelling or gear acquisition is the reason why we have trash encounters, at least in modern RPGs. In the older ones that was probably the reason yet we have moved beyond it now.

 

As such I do think only awarding experience through questing and gear through crafting and/ or exploration is a viable way to cut down on some of the trash encounters. A way I would like more though is to add a violent and non- violent approach to most of these encounters. Your reaction would then determine some of the information you get in regards to the story and might even lead you on totally different quests and story paths. By doing this you allow the player to choose what he/she would want to do. That is the most wonderful thing about games: If made correctly they can by virtue of adding player choice be the most individualised form of entertainment there is. Sadly we are not that far yet, player choice is not something that is necessarily seen as something great in the big studios. Let’s hope this ends sooner rather than later.

 

In the meantime if you are as frustrated as Milady by the endless trash encounters, maybe imagining a game without them or focusing on their positive sides will help you? Or alternatively if you think I am merely babbling nonsense please let me know. What are your thoughts on the matter?

The Good and the Bad Musings on the Elder Scrolls: Online Press summit Part II

November 14, 2012

 

 

 

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on the information released at the ESO press summit. The reason for this is that I felt like that I had not managed to address all the aspects I wanted to in yesterday’s post but had already written a post that was twice as long as my usual ones. Anyway I’d like to add to the topics of yesterday’s post the topics of:

 

-          World and Story (Quests and immersion)

-          Endgame and PVP and PVE content in general

 

In general I wanted to talk about these topics as they are a big cornerstone of any MMO and because Zenimax had some rather interesting and questionable according to me in these departments.

 

 

 

World and Story

 

 

Just to clarify a bit, when I write story in the heading it only touches a little on the overall choice of setting in the ES timeline and what we can expect from it. Story in this case is far more focused on the way the story is told and how the questing system seems to work.

 

According to this interview from June 2012 ESO works with quests, but instead of doing a so called “hub and spoke” design like in WoW, ESO opts for something they call “points of interest” (POI). A system that encourages you to wander around the world and explore. Rewards for these exploration might be “chests”, “bosses”, “unique events” or “books”. The way the POI system is enhanced is with the compass system we can find in for instance Skyrim, where it shows you points of interest on your radar or minimap. While I like the general idea of rewarding exploration a lot, there are some problems I have with some of the ideas implemented with it. For instance I am very glad we can at the moment turn the compass off, but I do hope that the visual cues to you going and exploring are also in the game. A lot of the time I played Skyrim in the beginning my eyes were literally glued to the compass, because it was the easiest way to find POI’s to go to. I hope that this effect of the compass is taken seriously and that the visual cues for the POI are actually also in the game to an extent that the compass becomes a short cut, but not mandatory in order to find the POIs. This could achieved by making sure that one can see divergent paths when looking at the screen or showing interesting objects like towers, ruins, caves etc. from afar but hten the player has to find a way to get to them.That said I do not mind hidden POIs either, but also make sure they are hidden from the compass as well because otherwise they would not really be hidden would they? The option to toggle the compass on and off does suggest though that Zenimax is willing to make sure the compass is not a mandatory instrument in exploring the world and for that I am glad, I do hope they do keep monitoring the effect of the compass though on the whole exploration front.

 

Another thing that struck me in the info released was that even though we have 9 playable races in 3 factions we also have only three starting areas. This already set my alarm clocks ringing and brought back unpleasant memories of the very railroaded levelling experience of SWTOR. It would in my opinion be the death of a game that literally has put exploration on its forefront when it comes to levelling, to force you to jump through the same hoops when you want to level an alt. Now from what I understood though the starting area lasts for only 4 levels, but can be played longer if you wish, and after that you are more or less free to explore the world. There is a path Zenimax studio has laid out for you that you can take but it sounded like they were open to the player taking his own path as well. As much as I would like to see more starting areas I think it is more paramount that the rest of the questing experience is as free as possible and not directed by the developer. For that I think I could suffer having to go through the same starting area several times; it would be optimal though to have several of them. Immersion wise I am not sure either how it is explained that Dunmer and Argonians start off in Skyrim, for Nords it of course is completely valid but would it not make more sense to design and add an area into Morrowind and Black Marsh (which apparently are higher level zones) that acts as the Dunmer and Argonian starting areas? It would definitely give each of the races a further unique appeal (as well as the factions). Because nothing is more depressing than if you want to be part of the Ebonheart pact but you really abhor the starting area in Skyrm (I know that’s what kept me from making a Nightelf for a very long time in WoW; at least I, back in the day, 4 other starting areas to choose from, that allowed me to play on the Alliance side without getting a miserable experience right at the start).

 

My biggest fear when it comes to questing is the whole fixation that MMOs have with personal story. And yes ESO seems to have one too, on top of that one seemingly ripped off from AoC, which involves you stealing back your soul from Molag Bal and Mannimarco. Sometimes I think developers live in this dimensional hole that filters what kind of feedback they get from the real world. Correct me if I am wrong but did not SWTOR, the most expensive MMO made to date, fail to a large part because of its emphasis on personal story? Even the definition of labelling your player avatar as the hero or “Chosen One” is very problematic as the title says there can only be one of them. Yet there are god knows how many of them running around. To me that is completely running my gameplay as it requires so much suspension of disbelief. If one would want to make a Multiplayer game with a story for the character, that labels it as the hero then for gods’ sake make a single player RPG with co-op mode not an MMO! The explanation given to this decision of story is kind of sneakily given as “it ties well with our death system”. The implicit premise here being it is requiring suspension of disbelief to have a game without permanent death and because suspension of disbelief is bad the absence of permanent death must be explained in a way that does not require suspension of disbelief. Yet to be honest if you ever make an MMO with any kind of PVE endgame content and such are not solely focussed on PVP then it is logical and we gamers are used to not having a permanent death system; suspension of disbelief does not really matter there, other factors are more important. As such it seems to me a bad trade off to give the player a personal story in order to avoid the suspension of disbelief concerning the death system, if the personal story causes an even greater suspension of disbelief.

 

It was also hinted at that what players chose to do in quests have permanent effects on the world around them. How does this tie in with the fact that there are other players opposite choices? Do you just stick all choice A people instance and all choice B people in one and prohibit them from interacting? Seems like a bad solution to me, yet the alternative is having paradoxes in the game which is just as bad. It was even said that people will hail you differently in parts of the world for doing different things. An example given was that NPCs recognise you as the killer of a big bad werewolf. And the developers went on to say they realise lots of people have killed said werewolf, but they did not regard it as a problem. Well sorry to burst your bubble but it is not a problem if and only if the game world does not acknowledge your feat in a way visible to others. If the game merely acknowledges it being an anonymous band of heroes doing the feat, then everybody can feel a part of the deed without clashing with each other. But if the game says heroes A to Z did this then suddenly everybody is going: “But wait a minute you can only kill him ones! And hero Å, Ä and Ö also killed him what about them?”. To me these kind of acknowledgements are good to have in a game but they should be vague and nonspecific. An NPC Soldier in a warzone might congratulate you on your valour on the battlefield after a quest; because he can say the line to others as well because it is plausible for others to have been valorous as well, being valorous is after all not a unique trait only possible in one person. But hero of Tamriel is!

 

Now to the things that I do like with questing in ESO is what they call multiple quest bestowers. Meaning that one and the same quest can be activated in different ways. You could find its POI, or an NPC might direct you to the POI or an artefact like a book might tell you about it. This makes sure that while the quests system seems largely exploration based, there will be opportunities for all of us who are not keen on exploration (I mean not everyone can be a Livingstone right?) get an easy avenue for their quest as well that is accessible to them.

 

I also hope that the exploratory factor in the questing process makes sure the player base is patient and non-spoonfed; after all exploration requires time and effort; fostering a more friendly game experience. The addition of being able to teleport instantly to your friends seems to undermine this somewhat. Just as teleporting to dungeons was a bad idea so is teleporting to party members. A lot of the social aspect of any party or dungeon after all happens when everybody is travelling to the meeting spot; before whatever you wanted to do together happens. It is like mingling and makes sure there can be some banter even in the dungeon. I don’t know how developers think people will just magically communicate in dungeons, above the required tactics and such. The only way in my opinion to achieve that is to make sure they have actually had some time to socialise before the group activity.

 

Other nice things present on the ESO world are nods to previous ES players in the form of Mannimarco the first necromancer, the Tribunal in Morrowind and the various guilds found in the other guilds and I think these elements will help the game to feel like it is an elder scrolls game as well, apart from how combat is handled and such, because it is a nod to the players who played the previous games. Just like the statues of the Sons of Lothar and featuring Rend Blackhand where nods to previous Warcraft title players in WoW.

 

 

 

Endgame and PVP and PVE content

 

 

This section will be a little shorter as not that much is known about these parts of the game. We do know however that there are adventure zones that have a single player, group and heroic group mode in the game and that at the moment PVP is limited to the big battle for the imperial throne and that there are no plans for “instanced battlefields”, but that arena style combat has not been completely taken of the board. It was also hinted at that endgame activities could if so chosen by the player contain maxing all your class’ skills.

 

The only worries I find here is that, if the battle for Cyrodiil does not feature a variable map with more objectives other than attacking and defending, the PVP battle might become stale over time. I do however like how emphasis was based on the fact that PVP is available from the beginning (level 10) and such was not entirely and endgame activity and I strongly agree with there not being a distinction between PVE and PVP gear. Yet the fact that you can enter PVP at level 10 and get “buffed” up to level 50 does not make up for the problems SWTOR faced with a similar system were PVP quickly became a question of how many low-level players are on my team and depending on the number all the higher level players would leave. I do not think the solution is to give all the classes their max level abilities like in GW2 as that would invalidate levelling above level 10. So another solution has to be looked into. Which that would be I do not know, but it is important to realise what kind of problems the choice of allowing everybody to compete in the same bracket brings with it. Especially when it comes to people at max level having better gear and abilities than the “buffed” players leading to a frustrating experience. Normal brackets of 10 levels would be a better option in my opinion. Buff everybody in the bracket to its max level and you will have a far more levelled playfield and make sure “twinking” is not as viable an option. The ability to become Emperor is on paper a great carrot, but because it is awarded to the player with the highest score I fear the battle for Cyrodiil will turn into a mindless zerg for the most points as every individual wants to become Emperor and teamwork be damned. I also wonder how with no cross faction communication one could draw on the benefit of three alliances, where 2 combine forces against one? Without communication across factions this would also be very sporadic and more or less non-existent.

 

My worries for the PVE content are the facts that it falls into the fact of saying the same encounter with new mechanics is new content. It is not that is artificial content! Especially if I am forced to go through easy and medium in order to get to hard, where I would like to be. That only leads to a frustrating grind before I can do the content I want to do and one should not implement different difficulty settings into MMOs other than as self-sufficient paths of their own with their own loot tables, so as to not invalidate the other paths or forcing them onto players. So I really hope ESO rethinks or at least tweaks this idea, their proposed system has not worked in the past and will not as far as I can see work now either.

 

It is however nice to see that completionists have a lot to do at endgame in the form of building their perfect character by maxing out all the class’(es’) skills or collecting all the books into their own personal library. This I think when it comes to endgame content is a very good move by Zenimax and with the class system intact it does not completely destroy alting as it did with TSW.

 

Ok that where all of my thoughts on those subjects! Now all we can do is wait for more information and hopefully some answers to some of our worries.

The Good and the Bad Musings on the Elder Scrolls: Online Press summit

November 13, 2012

 

 

Since Game Informer’s June 2012 coverage of “Elder Scrolls: Online (ESO), we have not had that much info on the game and even the website that was set in place was more devoid of life-signs than Jeremy Bentham’s body has exhibited in the past two centuries or so. Suddenly things seemed to have changed though. The website got a new layout and there was a metric ton of news flowing from an ESO press summit. As I went through some of the editorials, video interviews and a very lengthy and entertaining podcast a few things caught my mind:

 

-          The Idea of a Megaserver and its consequences

-          The combat system

-          The character development system

 

While I will discuss all these aspects on the basis of what was published from the press summit, a lot of it is subject to change and in some shape or form speculation. The purpose of this article is as such not to encourage or discourage you from playing ESO, merely to provide some things one should keep in mind when reading the ecstatic (that is far too mild a word) responses to the game. In short it’s my way of trying to reign in my horses and not get too hyped up (because I am one of those individuals who do get easily hyped up).

 

 

Megaserver

 

Azuriel over at “In an Age”, did a brief post on this and capitalized on the positive aspects of the “serverless” aspect of ESO, citing positive effects such as that low level zones will not get depopulated. Another argument brought up is the fact that there would be next no hassle to find your friends’ server or having friends on different servers (after all everyone plays on the same server right?). The way this system works is through a questionnaire you fill in at the start of the game stating how you want to play and then the game allocates you to an instance of the game where people who answered similarly are located. On top of this the game monitors your play-sessions and refines its choice of “where to put you” based on with whom you play etc. (Other social platforms such as Facebook are said to tie into this as well). So with all of the positive aspects of a megaserver covered I wanted to share some concerns regarding it. As you can see the whole system of player allocation through a questionnaire and then monitored in game data is what is supposed to make this idea work. In essence if the script allocating you is not “smart” enough the system fails. This is something that affects especially the time when you newly joined the game. Because the system needs more data and time to be more refined. Meaning your first few hours in the game will be a mad scramble to find your friends. The only way of avoiding this would be to coordinate your questionnaire answers with your friends… something that requires more effort than deciding that we all will play on server X when joining the game (something we have been completely fine with before). That the deciding factor at launch lies heavily on a questionnaire is also surprising as the only ways such a questionnaire could possibly work is by you giving your answers on a scale or through multiple choice answers. The problem with that is that while the system gets answers it can work with as they are all in a regulated space where the variance between answers is kept to a minimum, your answer and my answer can be different even if we gave the same answer. In essence leading to a high per cent for the system to interpret your answer falsely. And if the questionnaire is made more refined than we end up in a situation where players actually want to play the game but end up filling a questionnaire instead of playing the game, which does not sound like a nice scenario. While I do think that when it comes to player allocation ESO has a system that will prevail in the long run you only have one chance of convincing the player to keep playing. If finding your friends at first proves an insurmountable task than the player will feel lied to in regards of the megaserver systems positive aspects (and rightly so in my opinion). Good ways to avoid this is to make sure that identifying your instance as well as other and switching through instances is made very easy. But also being very careful with promises like: “All your friends are right there you just create a character, click “play” and go!” because in the end the former promise just really does not portray the reality of what Ryan KightlingerAcolytes Gaming Communitydescribes with:

 

Over time the system will learn who you would prefer to play with and automatically group you with those individuals who are of similar play-styles.  There will be multiple questionnaires that you will be able to answer to determine your specific grouping criteria (whether you prefer to play alone, group together, meet new people, seek a guild, participate in rp events, select age group, etc.).

 

Not so much “just create a character, click “play” and go!” now is it?

 

Another aspect of the Megaserver I am leery about is that it removes different server types and their rule sets. How is PVP regarded? Is it only available in Cyrodiil or will there be PVP in the open world as well? How will a positive answer to the latter affect people who don’t want this? I highly doubt the Megaserver will create instances with unique rule sets as it would undermine the point of having a Megaserver. Or what happens if there are not enough people to warrant an RP instance at any point, but these people still want to RP, but are put into an instance where the tolerance for RP is low?

 

Last but not least I do hope the Megaserver does not mean an all instanced gameplay à la Age of Conan or Star Wars the Old Republic. Right at the start of the introduction movie to ESO the developers state how they wanted to create an immersing world. Loading screens between every zone are my polar opposite of immersion as they hamper other things like exploration as well. We have seen it in countless games that when the developers opt for instanced zones the way in which to explore the zones are diminished as its entry and exit points are clearly laid out. No more can I explore Wetlands by falling of the dam and trying to find my way back to Loch Modan or trying to climb over a mountain in Redridge Mountains to see what’s on the other side (an angry Imp from Burning Steppes). I sincerely hope that ESO will feature a seamless world, something I have been aching for quite some time. All these are questions that have to and I hope have been taken into account when choosing a Megaserver technology.

 

In the end I do think the choice of a Megaserver will serve ESO in the long run… if ESO can hold itself over water for there to be a long run and in order to do that keep the slander on how bad the launch experience in games with servers, in regards to finding fiends, was and the promise as this will not be the case because of the Messiah in the form of the Megaserver non-existent, because if Zenimax won’t, ESO will fall flat on its nose on that department. (And if it won’t I will haply eat my hat or anything else you make me eat for I would be happy to see that promise fulfilled).

 

 

Combat System

 

So ESO has been described to have retained an ES combat system of aiming and pushing your mouse buttons for attack/ block and charge up. In addition to this there will be 6 buttons for other abilities. All in all a compromise between the classical ES and the classical multi-ability MMOs combat system. Worth to add here as it relates somewhat to combat s that every class can equip any type of weapon or armour you choose to fancy. Your abilities depend on your class and your chosen weapon proficiency (say you are a Sorcerer going for a two-handed sword your abilities would differ from another Sorcerer, but also to that of a Fighter going for a two-handed weapon).

 

What I like about this system is its flexibility, you can be anything! Although I do think 6 abilities or if you so wish 8 with the mouse-buttons is too little, it will help in avoiding the trap of making classes feel the same (at least it should) as there is not an overflow of abilities that you can use at the same time in the system. This combat system will also provide some joy for players who look for a faster type of combat. Personally I prefer it slower and not as unforgiving as it leaves the outcome of battle shrouded in mystery. I also think that this system will not turn out as revolutionary as Zenimax thinks: After all Tera, Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World all have identical combat systems. All in all I do not think it is bad, merely not my cup of tea. In support of this system Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Conkle explains that “in our game it does not work that way [there are no rotations] every ability, no cool-down. Of course there will be Magicka [and Stamina] … would you just not want to use the spell whenever you can? … Isn’t that more fun?” In response to that I can say that as there will always be people that want to play the most efficient way, so will there always be rotations. You would have to take away abilities to get rid of rotations. Now arguably a rotation in ESO might be simpler and shorter and thus allow you not to be as much enslaved to it, but I do not think it will remove the “convention” as Mr. Conkle put it of rotations. Yet it can serve as a happy medium of a heavily rotation based and a no rotation based game.

 

What I do like about the combat system is how AI’s where described to react to your and their own abilities and so trying to take you down as a team and not as a mindless zerg. Mmorpg.com described it as follows:

 

One of the great things about PvE combat was that the monsters work together against you. If you come upon one monster in a hallway, you pretty much know what you will get. However, some monsters work in teams. The monster AI is designed to work against you when you face multiple mobs. For example, we saw a foot soldier and a fire mage during a presentation at the end of the day. When the dev attacked the foot soldier he dropped oil on the ground. The fire mage blasted at us and immediately lit the oil aflame and burned the area. This was a small example that Nick Konkle gave us during his presentation. He did say that the more you face groups of monsters, the more challenges players have in store. The AI strategies will change so the combat remains fresh and does not become a rinse and repeat style.  But that we’ll just have to see to believe.

 

It is great to see that for once a game tries to make the “trash” mobs in the game actually more than just trash mobs. I was already very happy when TSW had this implemented but they did not go as far as trying to add teamwork to their opponents (then again zombies are per definition mindless so I do not think they would have headed such lessons anyway…) It is a nice touch of older MMOs to once again give even the most common enemy tools to fight against you and not just have its purpose of existence to be moved down by the dozen. The latter will of course happen but at least now it can fight back and I don’t have to sigh every time I come across mobs in the world, which without recourse feel more like annoying mosquitos than enemies to be taken seriously. In the same article it was also stated that:

 

The game also has a Finesse System which adds a nice little bit of bonus to the action. You are rewarded for how well you dispatch foes and how “good” you are fighting in general. The finesse system rewards you with chests and drops for how well you kill stuff. These rewards include bonuses to XP, items, and also kill-cam deaths like we’ve seen in Bethesda games since Fallout 3. The finesse points also pop up discreetly to the right of the screen as you go through combat so during a fight you can see how well you are doing. If you learn to get good with your character, the finese system will become a major aspect of your character. We loved it, and were pleased to see you could simply “stop” the kill-cam stuff by pressing button if you don’t care for the slow-mo John Woo sort of action.”

 

I find the Finesse system very interesting and a good move from Zenimax, as it actually gives some tangible reward for playing well and coming up with ways of improving your character so that you play the best you can. On the other hand these rewards should not prove to overpowered neither am I glad about the XP bonus. I enjoy leveling and as such I feel penalised playing well as it shortens a part of the game that I enjoy. Maybe there could be an option to turn the XP gain off or not implement it at all?

 

All in all I think the combat looks to be solid and well thought out, with only a minor worry being raised over the XP gain from Finesse points. I like the new spin of Finesse points (even though AoC had the whole business with kill cams already) and I think it is a very good system. Kudos also for being able to interrupt the kill cam! And of course I am a huge fan of how the AI system seems to shape up. Even though some familiarity with it will always cheapen its novelty over time. Albeit the combat in itself is not my cup of tea I cannot help but feel a bit giddy about it.

 

 

Character development system

 

As I pointed out earlier character development in ESO is very open. Your character can wear any armour type and weapon of his/her choosing regardless of the selection of class. This extends so far as also for classes to encompass every role, as each armour type has certain bonuses attached to it: “Light armor helps your magic, medium armor will boost stamina, and heavy armor boosts defense and/or health”. Your selection of weapon for instance also defines what abilities you will get. It was also revealed that you can master all the weapons and armour types and skills like “Sneaking” (which is available to anyone) on one character if you so wish. I see this being problematic in turns of balance though, even though it is great that everything seems very open and up to the player to explore. As every class has unique abilities with every weapon I fear though that the sheer number of abilities will make it hard to balance or lead to a situation where we only have few classes (SWTOR). None of these situations would be a very good situation to be in. The addition to sneaking to everybody might also incite everybody to either try getting the sneaking skill resulting in a ghost war or no one getting it as other armour types provide much better bonuses over the board, leading to taking away one very fun and random variable in combat.

 

I do admit though that I very much like the idea of you being able to learn every ability for your class, as with classes being around and being unique, it does not harm alting but gives something for the player who does not like having multiple character something to look forward to.

 

One of the biggest concerns though is that the character development system is too complex to be understood (NWN 2 and in some cases TSW) that it will drive players off. A very nice tutorial was described though, which I do believe will largely mitigate these problems:

 

Taking into account the highly customizable nature that weapons and armor give you, as well as the attributes you obtain through leveling up either Health, Magicka and Stamina, you begin to understand the scope in which TESO allows you to make the character that is only limited by the player’s imagination. This is also prominently featured via an intuitive interface that helps you strategize on path you want to take.  Each weapon type is listed in its own window, complete with drop down menus with a horizontal tree that shows, at the corresponding weapon level, each skill you will earn and even at what point the weapons skills split to become more role specific. This will help the player decide what they want to focus on and start to move their weapon proficencies and focus towards that goal.

 

Nonetheless one should hope that the choices in the system are to an extent “real choices” (if I go one way in a “split” I cannot have the other ability at the same time as its opposite) and that the choices don’t seem to lack-luster (like in MoP). All in all I do think character development is a very strong point for me in ESO.

 

 

Final thoughts

 

Some final worries I have are ESO getting fixed on a personal story and trying to make sure that the player’s choices while questing have lasting impact, as this video suggests. As this post is getting very long I will just refer you to this post where I discussed it in more detail. A final good thing about ESO is that it has been said to have a fully customizable UI, something I enjoyed in SWTOR and that some features like the classical ES compass pointing out points of interests (at this stage) can be toggled on and off for true exploration! And might I add all my books get added to my personal library to be read at my pleasure!

 

I wish the guys and girls at Zenimax all the best and will definitely stay tuned for more info and the subsequent beta test. I do hope though that some of my worries are also something that has occurred to them as well. Or what do you think are my worries merely the ramblings of a gamer gotten burned too many a time? Am I being too sceptic?

Anecdotes on (re)education and standing up against the “Asshat”

November 4, 2012

(No picture today as most so called “Asshats” are anonymous)

I thought I was done posting for the week but I guess I was wrong. Navi has declared an “Anti Asshat week” and because I really think we should expose this topic a bit more from time to time, I thought I would do a quick post about it, sharing some anecdotes from the not too distant past on my encounters with the “Asshat(s)”. As some of you might be aware since yesterday’s post I do occasionally level my characters in WoW and do this primarily through dungeons (what can I say I hate the new quests), home front for all kind of socially despicable behaviour, ranging from verbal abuse to ninja-looting and ninja-pulling.

 

Ninja-pulling is particularly ripe and is something that annoys me, but more so my trusty tank with whom I do these dungeons (and frankly without whom I’d soon land in an asylum if I’d continue to run them on my own). The usual procedure when trying to rectify this problem, is that we (me and my tank) call it out and ask them to “please wait for the tank to pull”, if the behaviour continues we will just not tank their mobs neither heal them. Sadly nowadays that does not help us much as DPS classes can no problem handle adds on their own. In an ironic twist this has also led to the fact that most DPS expect the tank and healer to know this and pull more than they can handle, as they think the tank will come to rescue and die subsequently. Too bad death is not even a nuisance in the game anymore so even that won’t always discourage them. That leaves the “vote to kick tool” as a last resort but that does not always work (due to it mysteriously being on cooldown^^). On the flip side of things we have also a few times been met by an apology and a promise not to pull again (whether or not that promise was kept was a bit comme ci, comme ça). But it does good to see a polite response and an apology nonetheless.

 

When it comes to ninja-looting the procedure is very much like that in ninja-pulling, sadly with the consequence most often being silence on the offender’s part and a subsequent “vote-to-kick”. I think the only thing one can do in those instances is trying to ask if they understand the loot system, explain that their behaviour is not ok and try to get the item back to the player who actually needed it. It’s also more frequently been common that people need items because they are enchanters and all you can do there is try to explain to them that even if you are an enchanter one should ask before needing if it is ok that you as an enchanter get the item. This applies to any gathering profession as well although to see someone ask if there are any skinners/ miners/ herbalists in the party only happens to me when my tank asks those questions and I think we as a community should bring this old standards back into the game if not for any other reason than that it would foster a more polite atmosphere in groups. Even giving away gear that you need, but someone else needs more is a gesture that should be used more often as it directly supports “being nice” to others.

 

Verbal abuse is I think, the problem most people face and are more offended by. The only thing you can do here is to actually stand up: As Milady accurately pointed out in earlier post on the issue:

 

Players should try to foster a healthy game environment and stop heeding the trolls who will tell them that “this is the internet.” No, the internet is you, me, our neighbour. We are part of the problem if we do not engage with it. Silence sadly equals to agreement. I assure you, confronting the trolls on the public spaces does very often yield results in the manner of public support and troll-silencing, but someone has to step up for her beliefs.”

 

If we don’t do anything about that sort of behaviour, or any negative behaviour for that matter, it is wishful thinking that it will fix it of itself. Navi was explaining how most people seem to just shut up for the greater good of getting the dungeon done quicker and be done with it. I personally witnessed this in a mindboggling instance, where a party member was defending another when we called him out for ninja-looting. The defender’s explanation was that the issue should not be blown out of proportion and we should focus on getting the dungeon done. To me this kind of behaviour is just a very sad reminder of how lost the community is when it comes to actual social gameplay and teamwork, aspects that made me enjoy MMOs in the first place. And I think that the newer faster levelling speed, where gear is a non-issue and is changed every couple of days only worsens aspects like ninja-looting as they become more accepted, I mean why do anything against it when you get better gear the next few levels. The new assembly line running of dungeons also makes standing up for verbal abuse “not worth the time and effort” as you will lose time by arguing and having to spend more time with the offender, than if you just shut up and moved on. After all, the next dungeon run is always 30 minutes away from you having started your group… Slowing down the speed at what people can do dungeons and how fast they level would in my opinion prove as great subtle incentives to stand up for non-accepted behaviour like ninja-looting and verbal abuse. Navi suggested that if you don’t want to stand up against verbal abuse in the public chat you could always send a private message to the person supporting them. I have to say I do this a lot and even though you are supporting the person I have to ask does it really help that much because if everybody is sending private messages of support, than the abuser is still not shown in a public way that what he is doiing is wrong. In fact you have just given him proof that he is powerful enough to shut you all out from the public forum and thus his behavour won’t change and in the end we wanted to do that did we not?

 

As I’d hate to end this post in such gloomy thoughts I would like to remind you that for all the “asshats” that are out there, there are also many friendly and nice people. A sad as it is that the abundance of “asshats” makes these encounters even more cherished, don’t let the harsh and hostile atmosphere in games discourage you from looking for those friendly persons and awesome moments of teamwork or just general chit-chat, if you do that then the jerks that want to bring you down have won for real!

I’d also like to share an interesting article from the Guardian that I found that reports on Halo 4 devs speaking out against sexism. As sad as it is that our female gamers (but other gamers as well) are more likely to get verbally abused on the internet is lightening to see devs speaking out against it. Here is for hoping that they also take action and that the lifetime-ban I heard about for making sexist or discriminatory comments against others is not a mere rumour or PR-trick.

In the mean time I offer my full support to Navi and her her friend! Best of Luck!

Please mind the closing doors; the Dungeon-bus is leaving the station!

November 3, 2012

Finally, as my life starts to resemble some form of normality again, since all my essays have been handed in and I’m back home from a wonderful visit to my girlfriend, I have time to write a new post. This post contains some of my thoughts I had during a discussion with Milday and Doone on the topic of why raids and dungeons just felt better in WoW Vanilla and what had changed in the way dungeons and raids are designed. Tying in to that a recent run in the Blackrock Depths instance in WoW also fuelled its own share of thoughts into this post.

As I have pointed out previously I am still subscribed to WoW, but most of my activity in Azeroth consists of roleplaying and I am not very keen on the whole end game, nor rushing my character to max level. As a testament of this my sturdy priest maintained itself on the rather pitiful level of 34 (considering there are now 90 levels) for something that approached 2 months. This did of course not bar him from visiting Outlands, Northerend and a host of other zones tailored to characters with a much higher level (part of the fun in roleplaying in those zones was actually getting there). Anyway during my absence from the blog I nevertheless decided I would slowly level the Priest and another Rogue up so I could satisfy my curiosity for the zones in Pandaria (Blizzard why did you put a level-lock on your freaking portal to Pandaria? Why?). As much as I enjoy levelling I also enjoy dungeons and I dislike a lot of the changes to a lot of the quest lines in the Old World, hence I decided to brave the cesspit of the Dungeon-finder. My Priest has during his levelling period worked on his tailoring and enchanting professions, so when the formula for “Smoking Heart of the Mountain” drops, I promptly need on it and get it without any hassle. When I after a semi annoying but in the end successful dungeon run (how often do they fail anyway) try use the formula a read text on it catches my mind: “Requires Black Forge”. For those who do not know the Blackrock Depths instance contains a “Black Forge” and “- Anvil” that certain crafted gear, mostly crafted with the blacksmithing profession, require. Anyway long story short I promptly got my trusty tank to “two-man” our way to the forge and through many adventures, nearly suicidal pulls and some orientation problems we finally found it.

So how does this brief synopsis of my adventures in BRD have any relation to the topic I was going to talk about? Well you see it describes one of many things that have been thrown off-board in WoW’s (and many other MMOs) development; the idea that dungeons could be something more than just a tourist bus through an area, where you after a successful tour are awarded with better-than-standard-gear. A dungeon should in my opinion be treated like any other visual setting in the game. It should be immersive and contain everything I expect that setting to have. A city should have houses with special functions (inns, prisons, seat of power etc) to explore; a forest should have trees (duh), wildlife and caves and rivers; a tower should contain several floors with several rooms that serve certain functions applicable to the tower. Is it a guard tower in the wilderness? I want a garrison with sleeping areas, an armoury, a training yard etc. Is it a mage tower? I want a library, a study, anything to make it convincing. But nowadays dungeons are more a tourist tour through a secluded area of the game and it is so wrong and lazy!

If we were to look at the layout of some Vanilla dungeons and raids and compare them to the ones we have in the more modern expansions of WoW, such as Wolk or Cata (and most likely MoP, but I don’t have any first-hand experience with the dungeons or raids there so I will leave that out), we can find some explanation as to why the more modern dungeons feel underwhelming when compared to the older ones. For this purpose I will look closer at the instances of Blackrock Depths, Blackwing Lair and Karazhan from Vanilla (while Karazhan was released in TBC, it was designed during Vanilla, thus falling in the category of a “Vanilla dungeon”, as far as layout goes), Halls of Origination, Gundrak, Blackwing Descent and Ulduar from Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm.

Firstly we can look at some things like the sheer size of the dungeons. Blackrock Depths is a city in its own right, with several sections containing structures like a bar, a garrison and prison, all fitted out with their individual small rooms and cells that serve only as decoration. BRD contains 19 boss encounters. Karazhan is a veritable maze (I cannot count the times our lovely Priest healer got lost there) and contains 12 boss encounters (per run). Blackwing Lair is also fairly large it has huge amounts of trash and some sections of the dungeon, an entire floor actually, are only devoted to these. All in all it contains 7  boss fights. On the other hand Gundrak contains 4 to 5 boss fights, depending on your difficulty setting and all these bosses are connected to each other in the way of boss room, hallway, and boss room. There are no intersections or small rooms along the way, like in BRD for example. Halls of Origination follows this same layout, although the hallways are longer but four of the 7 bosses actually reside in their own corners of a wide open floor, with next to no trash between them. Blackwing Descent contains 6 boss fights and the trash is only located in the hallways connecting the boss rooms. There are no other rooms except boss rooms. Ulduar sports 18 boss encounters with some longer and shorter hallways between them, yet the trash is actually kept to a minimum, yet the raid is given the choice in which order to do some of the bosses. Out of this brief description we can clearly see how the “decorative elements” of rooms/cells, intersections etc. have been cut out of the designs of the dungeons. We can also see that the number of boss encounters has diminished; all the 5 man dungeons (BRD, HoO, and Gundrak) were the largest of their respective expansion and we can see a significant drop in the boss encounters in these. And it is fairly logical to assume that the less boss encounters there are, than usually the smaller the dungeon.

Now why is the size of the dungeons important? Should we not have a chance of being able to run our 5 man dungeons, without having to plan a 3 hour “gaming-shift” in advance? And are the number bosses really that important?

The reason why size (pardon the pun) matters in this case is that it conveys its own share of realism and thus immersion. Blackrock Depths for instance is a dungeon set in the dark iron dwarf’s capital city of “Shadowforge City”. It would be more than a bit underwhelming to be in a city (a capital nonetheless!) without it having houses and places to explore would it not? It would undermine the fantasy that we are in a city! The number of bosses does not really matter. After all I enjoy Blackwing Lair almost as much, as my all-time favourite Karazhan, yet BWL has far less bosses. But as I stated before; the more bosses we have the more rooms and hallways we have (if we don’t do a Trial of the Crusader type of instance) and thus more opportunities to create these “decorative elements” and make the dungeons itself an immersing experience. And I am totally in favour of having smaller more easily runnable dungeons, but that does not mean they have to have no “decorative elements at all does it? Or must all dungeons run on a rigid course of hallway, boss room, and hallway and boss room? It certainly makes them efficient and easy to develop, but to me that does not make dungeons an adventurous place that tries to immerse me in its setting; it makes it into a tourist tour of the dungeon, forcing you to only adhere to a set path to complete the dungeon! My main point here is that the effect that dungeons are supposed to convey has changed over time. In the olden days they were a setting and its job was to immerse you in that setting. If you were in a city there should be everything you expect there to be in a city and so forth. Nowadays the purpose of dungeons is solely to give you better gear and tour you through a secluded area of the game.

Another thing that made dungeons like BRD great was the fact that they were tied into other activities in the game. Amongst these were long (attunement) quest-lines, class quests and crafting. Why did it make them great? One word: Interactivity! The reason a lot of people enjoy computer games has been labelled escapism. We “escape” (I like the word transfer more) ourselves to a different reality and get a creative output through it. The more we can interact with this artificial reality the more convincing and more enjoyable it is, as it allows us to “transfer” ourselves more fully into it. This is the reason RPGs sell, they market themselves as “interactive stories”. Crafting as an activity in the game is pure interactivity as you create something through interacting with different items in the game world. The reason why it is important to also tie crafting for example into a dungeon is because makes the dungeon a more interactive, a more immersive place. Quests do this in the same way by tying the dungeon to the world outside of the dungeon. I am not saying every dungeon should be related to crafting because the exclusivity of giving this sort of interactivity is what makes it fun. If you overdue it, it becomes quickly boring by virtue of being mundane. It would also overcomplicate things of crafting could only be done in dungeons or if every dungeon was related to professions.

A wise (wo)man once said that, the reason many players of older generations of MMOs feel bewildered while playing the new generation of MMOs, is that whether or not the MMO was a theme park or  a sandbox, both tried to be world simulators and that is not the case anymore. I think this is what lies at the heart of why the development has gone the way it has gone. I just wish we could see more actual cities like Shadowforge and actual Temples like the Sunken Temple (the old one) and not the shallow replicas we have in the form of Grim Batol and Gundrak. I wish once more to be an adventurer in a dungeon full of exploration, not a tourist on a bus piloted by the developer, sightseeing their pretty but shallow creation.

Lost and Found: Deus Ex: Human Revolutions

October 16, 2012

 

 

So as promised, here comes the next entry in a new series I’d like to call “Lost and Found”. In which I play some older type RPGs (with a few exceptions here and there), and discuss what I liked about them, what could have been done better, how it could have been done better and what I did not like at all. What makes this differ from your standard review? Well for one I do not want to do this about any new upcoming titles, the aim with this series is to shed some light on some innovative game mechanics that could be brought back to life and if they were “broken” how to easily fix them in newer titles. Thus the selection of games I so far will be covering are: Deus Ex: Human Revolutions, Planescape: Torment, Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic I & II and Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2 (possibly Witcher 2 if I feel like it). Why these games? Apart from all being RPGs they are all very distinct in their own way as far as game design, design philosophy and setting go, so I thought I would be able to give you a rather full spectrum of what old RPGs have to offer. Anyway Let’s talk about Deus Ex: Human Revolutions!

 

So what did I like about Deus Ex: Human Revolutions? One game feature above all continued to give me a lot of satisfaction, and that was the fact that the game could be played as a pacifist. That means that instead of using your fancy guns to mow down enemies you’d be trying to avoid enemies, snipe them with your tranquilizing rifle or stealth up to them and knock them unconscious. Mobs even reacted to you throwing things around corners or opening and would investigate these disturbances, making your job in stealth and subterfuge in order to take out as many mobs as possible a very enjoyable and sometimes challenging task. Another great thing about the game was that it rewarded exploration in various ways. These include experience points, shortcuts, and positional advantages towards enemies, items and lore. For someone, who loves exploring this made the game give me a lot more hours of play, than just playing the campaign on rails would have.

 

There are a couple of objections however that I have in how some of these very positive features were handled. Firstly it was very wrong in my opinion to award a pacifistic play style more experience points, than a violent one. Why is that? For one it offers a very strong incentive by giving you more options to design and progress your character, due to it giving you more experience points. This would lead many players to play as pacifists even though they would enjoy the gun-ho style a lot more, but trade it for the benefit of a wider option in their character progression. One could say that this is not necessarily bad since an option was provided and the player than made a choice between the both of them, certainly it is better than having no option. Yet that is not entirely true as the options were not delivered equally, one had an advantage the other did not have and thus we have no true choice only a sad essay of it. I think the game would have benefitted much more from having awarded both play styles with the same amount of experience and thus giving the choice of play style one-hundred per cent to the player.

 

My second problem if is with what I considered a slight over tuning of the “tactical cloak” augmentation that rendered you invisible to enemies. A remedying aspect of it is though that you could still be heard if you ran or bumped into something and felt by enemies, if you touched the NPC in question. The problem of it was though that it severely limited the creative application of the game elements, in order to reposition enemies. Many a times I simply activated my “tactical cloak” and ran out of a tricky situation, which made these encounters rather cheap to beat. Once again you can always say that the blame was on me or the player in question for not resisting the urge to use the augment. But is that not being a bit too harsh? After all it is not cheating the “tactical cloak” augment is a part of the game and can thus be seen as a fair ability to use. No, it is rather a form of laziness in the game design if one can bypass tricky situation so easily by having one augment selected over the range of several others. After all that’s why we call such augment/ abilities/ talents etc. “over powered” because they have so much more value over other in specific situations. So how should one fix the “tactical cloak” augment? The easiest way would be to remove it, but as an ardent fan of the shadowy and roguish characters in any games that would be a huge shame. I suggest thus that one should for instance make the surveillance system be able to see you in stealth and position these in key areas of (SPOILER ALERT) for instance the grand hall in Hengsha as you escape the Tai Yong Medical headquarter (SPOILER ENDED). That way the augment would still be in game, have its usage, but restricts the way it could be used as a solution for every tricky situation.

 

The exploring had some issues as well, as its promised contribution to the lore of “Deus Ex” (mentioned in the tips on the loading screens), was a bit meagre in my opinion. You find a lot of ebooks detailing the plot of a romantic novel or parts of research done into human-computer interfaces etc. All of this is highly interesting in its own way, but it really does not flesh up the backstory of the world. True there were some historical articles to be found in the game as well, but they were few and far between and never fully explained the backstory, merely sketched it, which made it sometimes hard to immerse yourself into the storyline and the crucial parts of the plot. So the solution to this would be to add more of these items instead of focusing on the details of novel plots and biological research. If we could have both it would be perfect, but in my opinion you need a good account of the backstory, before one adds these polishing details to the setting.

 

Before I start the next section will involve some spoilers so skip it if you are one of the few who have not yet played Deus Ex: Human Revolutions and would like to figure out the boss encounters on your own (there really is not too much to figure out).

 

What started out nicely and did not work so well then? Well it has been said before, but I’ll say it again: The boss encounters really had a lot more potential in them, than what was realised in practice. Most of them had really nice mechanics, which should have allowed for really nice tactics in order to defeat them. But apart from the first boss there was no need to follow any of these. For instance defeating the first boss required you to use the objects in your environment to beat him, yet a few quests further back one can with a little exploration find a rocket launcher which makes him a very easy encounter. I will say though that this was the best encounter in the game, as the only cheesy solution of beating him actually required exploring. The second boss’ abilities could be completely ignored though by using a stun gun on her. The fight than turned into on huge “stun-lock” of about 15 seconds before she was dead (without the Typhoon augment it might be considerably longer, nevertheless you could still ignore her abilities and mechanics due to the fact that you could stun her.) Other augments also made her invisibility useless as you could still track her (not that you needed it if you just followed the ripples her footsteps leave in the water, or just stayed put and let her come to you and stunned her). The third boss was the biggest joke of the all as he could be taken down with a single “Take down”, or, like I did it, made to run in a straight line in front of you, stop for a few seconds in a corner, as you were in cover, shooting at him and could not be hit by his shots (he would not throw any grenades while doing this). The last boss was also not very difficult but I will not bore you with the details of that fight. The other fix aside from making bosses immune to stuns and certain augments, is that there really is no need to have a huge stack of different heavy weaponry and its associated ammo BEFORE and INSIDE the room where the encounter takes place. These kind of things trivialized the encounters beyond anything that was really feasible, which was a shame as a lot of the bosses had interesting mechanics in the form of grenades, jumping over walls, invisibility, faster un speed and typhoon ammo etc. So please makes us discover these kind of weapons through exploring the world, don’t just hand them to us and make sure your bosses feel like, you know bosses, and not like the standard grunts!

 

All spoilers should now have been ended and you can safely continue reading.

 

Last but not least what I did kind of like but did not like at all was the fact that, you as a player could not interact with the storyline and change it, the only thing you could change was the ending, which involved a really nice set of choices, that once again were a bit under realized as the background of the setting was only explained in fragments. What my biggest problem with the story though is that it is very short and on top of that very much on rails and the only choice added to it is at the end and once again we have the famous epilogue as the only consequence of said choice. I am completely aware that this is an industry standard when making these kind of games that the choices are not really prevalent, but I will still say it again, a good RPG should have a better system of showing you your consequences INSIDE the game, than the epilogue, which to be honest is outside the game as it happens AFTER your play through. This in my opinion s extra important for games with such a short storyline as  Deus Ex: Human Revolutions.

 

So what can we take with us? Adding a pacifistic choice in play style is very good and I like it a lot, just make sure that if you do this, or any other kind of choice regarding play styles, that no single play style is given incentives over the other. Exploration should be incentivised as it prolongs the time of a play through; it can also serve in giving the game more depth by giving you multiple routes inside the story. If you however add a lore incentive to exploration make sure the incentive is there. Perfect examples of this were the highly detailed codex pages in Dragon Age: Origins or the witty commentary in the Diablo franchise on various things you discovered in the game world. Also make sure your bosses actually are bosses and don’t give the players tools to ignore their mechanics and don’t ever give the players armouries full of weapons before and during a boss fight, especially if those armouries contain weapons that trivialize the fight! And if you are going to make an RPG even if it is an action oriented one, give the player the opportunity to influence the story and don’t cut out on the story in favour for action and end up with a very rigid, on rails-like story, that on top of all is short.

 

I sincerely hope we can in the future have another RPG pick up some of these very interesting features and improve them, or at least improve the ones they have, that are similar to these. So what do you guys and girls think did I do Deus Ex: Human Revolutions justice? Is there a way we can see a game in the future apply some of this features in a more proper and do we even want it?

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