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Decay

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  1. Like
    Decay reacted to Clephas for a blog entry, Fuukan no Grasesta: gameplay as of Chapter 6   
    Fuukan no Grasesta is the latest release from Eushully, the company responsible for Kamidori Alchemy Meister and Ikusa Megami Zero.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it is based in a unique fantasy world based off of the idea that a futuristic version of our world got fused with a world of demihumans and gods who granted magic in return for faith. 
    Fuukan no Grasesta's basic system is that of a dungeon-crawler... with a few twists.  First, the party shares an HP bar, which signals the party's destruction if it hits zero.  Each character currently recruited or hired has a basic HP stat that adds to the bar, with the protagonist, Judar Schwarka, having the largest (his hp is about five times the next highest character's addition).  This is necessary, as the game has numerous points where Judar is the only fighter.  Judar himself is a straight-out warrior/barbarian type, with the ability to wield swords, greatswords, and warhammers.  His natural element is darkness, and his attacks, which range from a row to an all-enemies on a single platform attack, are generally powerful, albeit useless against some enemies (there are a LOT of dark elemental enemies out there, but it is great for wiping out regular enemies). 
    Active skills in this game have a certain amount of uses each, rather than the game utilizing an MP system (which would make more sense, considering that magical energy is required for all powers and special abilities in the setting).  This makes traversing the dungeons a serious pain in the rear, especially since items are expensive, levels gained have little effect on stats (seriously... think maybe one stat going up by one, or three stats going up by one at the most, with Judar's HP going up every level).  This isn't as much trouble as you'd think, most of the time, simply because the enemy don't have huge gaps in strength based on level either, but it also makes grinding excessively unattractive, because there are minimal returns. 
    When you leave the dungeon, all items found inside, save for those used to power up 'container' items (special items that can take in usables and stock them for future use without taking up space in the inventory) or weapons, or weapons that have to be assessed to find out what they are.  You are given a pittance of money based on the value of what you found (seriously, it is shit money), and, if you are willing to spend what little you gained, you can get at least the most important ones (weapons and armor, usually) back... though it makes me wince every time, since money is generally scarce, no matter how far I get into this game.
    Upgradable weapons and armor are usually the most valuable, and it is usually good to have weapons of multiple elements on each character so they can switch as needs must, since elemental attacks make things a lot easier at times. 
    Early in the game, my advice is hurry up and get your party wiped out once, use money to restart, then go back and use the Hetares Dungeon from the append to quickly level your characters up (after you hit about level 15 it slows down, and that is about the point you should stop using it to level up) and get coins that can be turned into money.  Early in the game, this is pretty much the only way to keep afloat, as demands on your money are constant, and grinding in the main dungeon is generally inefficient. 
    Now, about allies... allies in this game are mostly recruited by hiring people you've gotten access to through the story/talking to them in the streets.  The expense for them differs...  and they only stay with you for a set number of days.  My advice is that you keep all available hires recruited at all times to keep your hp bar up, then only deploy the ones most effective for a given dungeon in the actual battles.  Having people vulnerable to the common element of a dungeon (vulnerabilities CAN be changed based on armor, but armor is much less plentiful and full of variety than weapons) in your formation is a good way to get slaughtered, and there is little point in pounding away with an element that doesn't do crap to the enemies in a particular part of the dungeon. 
    As you hire them over and over again and see their scenes, eventually (between chapters 4-6 for most) you'll be able to permanently recruit most of the characters, but this often requires some extremely hard battles or really persistent use of the said characters.  So far, I'd say Mikuri and Aguna had the hardest recruitment issues (though Aguna was worth it, since her fire magic is powerful and her hire cost is the highest by 2X).  Excel and the dwarf girl who looks nothing like a dwarf take the longest but are relatively easy to take in (though Excel's quirks are... a bit strange).  The two healers of the party are Ririka and Excel, and without them you are pretty much screwed in boss battles. 
    Throughout the dungeon are enemies called Disasters, demons of immense power who are usually dramatically more powerful than even the bosses of the areas they are in.  Since most of these have seriously badass area attacks, you'll have to pick which characters to fight them carefully and expect to lose at least once on many of them (especially since they are usually about twenty levels higher than the enemies around them and have proportionately higher stats than everything around them).  On the other hand, the rewards for beating them (in items, experience, and money) are generally worth it.  Until chapter 5's latest dungeon, I'd say it is barely possible for an adequately leveled party to take them down, given some luck and a good strategy.  On the other hand, at that point, the most recent one I ran into was having three turns for every one of mine and was using an all-area attack on at least one of those... and healing himself from the drain effect of his passive skill.  Annoying, to say the least.
    It probably says everything about this game that I never really felt like I was anywhere near the head of the curve until I hit the fifth chapter, despite my experience with jrpgs and dungeon crawlers.  While the system isn't as quirky as that of some of Eushully's other games, it is still nontraditional enough to through me off at times. 
    I'll keep comments on the story to myself until the final review, but these are my impressions of the gameplay so far.
    Edit: Sorry, forgot to comment on skills...  In this game, skills do not automatically level up with your experience.  Rather, you have to spend money in the menu to level up the skills related to your character's use of weapons, puzzle-solving skills, and others.  I suggest you max Judar's Lone Wolf skill as early as possible, as it makes him an ungodly powerhouse when forced to fight alone... when the skill doesn't bug out (which it does surprisingly frequently). 
  2. Like
    Decay reacted to Fred the Barber for a blog entry, One Weird Trick for Writing in Past Tense   
    I'm just going to jump right in and give you the answer: imagine you're telling someone a story about something that happened to you a month ago. It's that easy. Ingrain that mindset into your brain, and you, too, can write in past tense without sounding like a madman.
    Before I launch into an example, I do want to point out that there's nothing inherently wrong or right with writing in either the present tense or the past tense. Some things come off better in one or the other, and both are common choices in VN localizations. I have a personal slight preference for past tense, even though it's a little harder to write in, even once you know the trick, but either is fine.
    That said, I firmly believe that a localization should make a conscious choice for the tense in which the flow of narration proceeds and should then stick to it. All too often, even in professional localizations, there will clearly be an intended tense for the events in the flow of narration, but then the tense will slip back and forth between that choice and the alternative. This reads really unnaturally, and it frankly bugs the crap out of me, keeping me from being able to fully enjoy what I'm reading. It's one thing to intentionally switch, for instance by consciously employing the historic present (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_present), but it's another thing entirely to just be sloppily jumping back and forth because you don't know what you're doing.
    So, here, let me make up a story and write it the way I would tell it to you out loud if you were sitting next to me, and then let me write it the way it would hypothetically have been written in some of the localizations I've read recently. After that, I'll break down the pieces and explain why and how I'm doing things differently, and even a little bit of why things that may look questionable are okay, in this example.
    Now, here's the way you'd see this sort of thing written in a couple of the localizations I've read recently:
    "The night before" vs. "Last night" and "By that night" vs. "Tonight."
    This is, honestly, the big one, and the way I snuck in a present tense verb into the very last sentence after "tonight" is a clear sign of the problem (and is exactly how it would have been written in some of the things I've looked at recently, mixed-tense sentence and all). You cannot say "last night" to describe something that happened a month and one day ago; people don't do that. When you write "last night," that "last night" is relative to the person narrating the story, and you're narrating something that happened in the past, so that means "last night" should be, in all likelihood, in the future, relative to the story you're telling. The result is nonsense. The same thing happens with "tonight." The word is relative to the present you, not relative to the past you, and no gymnastics with the verb are going to prevent that interpretation. Trying to write these words into the flow of events in the past tense makes you sound like a madman.
    There are a lot of other words with the same behavior, to some degree or other: "now," (probably the very worst), "here," "this," "these," and so on. Picture yourself sitting across from someone, telling a story, and try to use those words in the story, and you'll realize they simply don't work correctly. Take "here" for example: "here" is where you are. If you're sitting in the office, telling your coworker about your amusement park trip a month ago, and you drop the word "here", they're going to naturally expect you mean the office, and when you're trying to use that word to refer to the amusement park, they're going to get horribly confused. Those words all have to refer to something around you at present, not something that was around you a month ago at the time of the story. You have to swap them out for words like "then," "there," "that," and "those." Basically, you need words with an appropriate sense of distance to them. I see this kind of line all the time in VN translations:
    Every time I see it, it makes me want to cry. I suspect there are a couple reasons why so many VN localizations fall into the trap of using words like this as part of past tense narration:
    They write individual isolated narration lines, often surrounded by long stretches of dialogue. Of course, dialogue isn't rewritten into the past tense, like the narration, but delivered naturally as the character delivered them, so you simply end up seeing lots of dialogue for a while, and you start to get some cognitive dissonance pushing you towards present tense. VN narration is always surrounded by images and voice acting, which lends everything a sense of immediacy. This gives an even stronger push towards the feel that everything is happening "now," unconsciously biasing the writer towards present tense. However, you'll never find this kind of word usage in the past tense in a professionally-published novel, where those two conditions don't apply. You could use those two reasons as an argument for why VNs should be written in present: maybe, arguably, it's just easier on the brain. I personally don't really think so, but ultimately, you can choose what tense you want. If you want to write present tense, go for it. If you want to write past tense, though, you need to overcome all of that and start using the right words.
    "Hadn't been able to sleep" vs. "couldn't sleep."
    This one kind of sucks because it's more verbose in the past perfect, but this is a necessary consequence you have to accept when the flow of events narrated is in the past tense. How should you describe events which happened prior to the flow of narration? Grammatically speaking, what happened before the past? That's the past perfect tense. "I went to the store, but before that I had gone to the bank to make a withdrawal so I could buy groceries." If you don't put the past perfect tense on events which already happened relative to the past, the order isn't as obvious. Yes, you absolutely can say "I went to the store, but before that I went to the back to make a withdrawal," but when you do this it's more like a mental rewind. You start playing the narration forward with the first clause, but then you say, but wait, before we can do that, I need to actually rewind the narration and tell you about this bank trip. In this example it's fine, but imagine you're telling a long complicated story (like, say, narrating a VN), and at some point you need to refer back to an event that was already narrated, maybe something days in the past relative to the flow of narration. You can't do a mental rewind in that circumstance. You can do a flashback, but usually such thoughts aren't a full-on flashback, which itself is basically that mental rewind that resets the flow of events; these are much more often simply the narrator reflecting on something happening in the past relative to the current flow of events. You need to put that recollected past event relative to your past narration into the past perfect tense.
    What's that present-tense clause doing there?
    "They've got great thrill rides there" is a particularly interesting clause, being in the present tense, so I want to talk about it for a moment. This is basically an aside (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aside), and as such it's bound by different rules. It's a statement directly addressed at you, the reader, rather than a part of the narration of the story. In the case of an aside, it's perfectly reasonable to make an observation about the present state of things. That said, in VN writing, I try to avoid this entirely. Of necessity, an aside is breaking the fourth wall. This is fine if you're doing it for a good reason (maybe you're Deadpool and you just love breaking the fourth wall), but not so fine when it's not stylistically important, and it's just making a simple observation. In this circumstance, it would be a needless disruption, in a VN. That said, it does feel perfectly natural when I'm just informally telling a story. IMO, this is one point where the process of telling a story and the process of writing VN narration diverge. The trick isn't completely foolproof; it's just a hell of a lot better than writing without any guidance at all, wandering aimlessly between tenses.
  3. Like
    Decay reacted to Darbury for a blog entry, On Bloodstains and Editing Visual Novels   
    I’m a research junkie. Before taking on any new venture, I tend to waste stupid amounts time reading up on whatever it is I’m about to tackle. So when I got it in my head earlier this year to try editing a visual novel, the first thing I did was start googling like mad:
    “visual novel editing tips”“visual novel editing advice”“visual novel editing examples”“should my baby’s poop be this color?” (Okay, I was multitasking. The answer is “yes,” by the way, but call your pediatrician if it stays like that for more than two or three days.)

    It didn’t look good. I stumbled on a blog post Moogy had written on VN editing way back in 2009, but that was pretty much it. Still, to paraphrase Cadillac cribbing Brené Brown quoting Teddy Roosevelt, better to dare greatly and fail than just sit around and whine. So I dove in head-first … and landed head-first. I’d been hoping my experience in writing and editing ad campaigns would help me make short work of things. I mean, how different could it be?



    Very different, as it turns out. I made a ton of rookie mistakes, followed by a bunch of slightly less rookie mistakes, topped off by several “Did you seriously just do that?” whoppers near the very end. Yet somehow, 36,000+ lines later, I managed to stumble across the finish line, just having edited my first visual novel. The result, MDZ’s translation of Koisuru Natsu no Last Resort, turned out pretty nicely, all things considered. (It should be releasing any day now. I’ll link to the patch when it does.) Of course, I still can’t read any of the scripts without obsessing over the countless things I wish I’d done differently.

    Which brings me to the point of this blog. Back when I first started, I couldn’t find any good resources on VN editing. Don’t worry – this won’t be one either. I’m still a rank amateur by any standard, so I wouldn’t presume to offer authoritative advice to anyone. But what I can do is discuss the various editing challenges I faced, my approach to them, and the many, many different ways I fell flat on my face. I might not have the right answers, but at least I can point out some of the things you might want to start considering if you’re planning on editing a VN.

    Here's another way to think about it: In the (insanely great) Dark Souls games, there are bloodstains scattered throughout the game world marking places where other players have met their demise. Activate one, and you can see a spectral re-enactment of their final few seconds. Point being, if you see a bunch of bloodstains massed around a door, you can be sure something there’s something truly nasty lurking on the other side. It's probably a good idea to stop, watch, and learn from others' mistakes before going any further.

    Let me be your Yoko Ono bloodstain. 
  4. Like
    Decay got a reaction from Conjueror for a blog entry, Fallout 4 Is Not Very Exciting to Me, and Here's Why.   
    In the Fallout 4 thread here, I was seemingly cynical on the game for no reason. I have reasons, I just didn't post them. So to not be that bitter pointlessly cynical guy, I'll talk about why I'm still not very excited for FO4. I'll start by talking about Bethesda's older games, because a lot of posters here weren't around for them, and I'll establish the trends that make me skeptical of more Bethesda-produced open-world RPGs. Bethesda started the Elder Scrolls series as just some self-insertion sandbox for their in-office D&D campaign. This is fine, Arena was a charming game in its own right. But it had nary an ounce of narrative to it, which was normal for anything other than adventure games at the time. The world was threatened and you were given a vague directive at the start, you went from dungeon samey dungeon, and eventually found the bad guy, killed him, and won the game. With Daggerfall, you had a bit more introductory story. The world was in trouble and only you can save it. You had to accomplish several tasks before confronting the big bad. Every once in a while you met with an NPC who had small amounts of exposition. There were more side-quests strewn about with some pretty basic objectives, mostly without any story behind them. The game was procedurally generated (not on the fly) so that's to be expected. There were also books around that explained the world a little, it was pretty interesting. You went from dungeon to samey dungeon, killed the bad guy, won the game. By this point, people started expecting more from not just RPGs, but from games in general. Narratives were becoming a big thing, Bioware and Black Isle started doing their things with storytelling in RPGs, and Metal Gear Solid in action games. Bethesda felt like they had to adapt, they had to tell cool stories with strong narratives in their games, too!

    Morrowind was actually a pretty dang good first attempt at this. The world building was surprisingly strong, the setting was unique and interesting. It held inspiration from Heart of Darkness, which was fairly bold for a fantasy RPG. There was a complex political climate with clashes between colonizers and the colonized, on top of this world-threatening event that's going down. You met many of the people deeply involved with the sticky situation the island finds itself in, including the local god-king Vivec who is holding the island hostage by artificially suspending a giant meteor above it (including preserving its inertia) and claiming that if followers stop worshipping him, the meteor will crash and kill everyone. Welp. There's lots of cool stuff like this strewn about. But here's the thing, it's all relating to the setting and the backstory. Anything beyond that is pretty threadbare. Your mission was to find the savior the dark elf prophecies speak of so this person can save the world from some looming evil. You go from dungeon to samey dungeon, and BIG TWIST: you were the savior the whole time! You save the world, game over. You saw a lot of cool stuff along the way, but it felt more like a sightseeing tour than a proper narrative. You were an agent following the whims of others the whole time, too. You get the sense that no one at Bethesda had any experience writing these kinds of stories. But the world-building was so cool that you wanted to keep exploring for hours on end, seeing the unique sights of Morrowind and getting involved in their conflicts. The main quest kind of sucked, but the side quests were a lot of fun. They themselves didn't have particularly strong stories and were mainly filled with one-dimensional characters who just wanted a task done, but there was some real neat stuff thrown in there, like the last dwarf alive, in some plague colony, with his lower body replaced by mechanical spider legs. Cool! It was also the first TES game with an extensive mod community.






    (Morrowind was full of bizarre flora, fauna, and architecture)


    Oblivion was a disaster in a lot of ways. The industry was firmly planting itself in support of strong narratives in not just certain kinds of games, but ALL games, now. While Half Life did a lot for storytelling in shooters at the time, it was nothing in comparison to Max Payne, an intense third-person shooter with a lengthy, twisting plot and plenty of dialog. There was Warcraft 3, a real-time strategy with an epic fantasy story attached (the previous WC games had stories that were more window-dressing than anything). If your game didn't tell a long, complex story, it was junk. It didn't matter what kind of game it was. Even Rockstar got in on the trend with their nonsensical murder simulators, Vice City and especially San Andreas. Bethesda could not afford to release an open world RPG without an absolutely epic story. But here's the thing, they SUCK at at storytelling! They're good at writing backstory, at worldbuilding. Every other facet of their writing is terrible. But gosh darn if they weren't going to try. They splurged on several very expensive voice actors to deliver their surely incredible dialog, then only had a handful of VAs rest for the rest of their hundreds of characters. Oops. The dialog in the main questline was as generic as possible. There were no truly interesting hooks to it, the player didn't have to make any difficult decisions, and the characters were as flat as cardboard. You were tasked to find the savior, did so by going from dungeon to samey dungeon, doing a LOT of busywork in closing those damn oblivion gates, and BIG TWIST: there is no twist! You find the savior and he defeats the final boss, saving the world for you. You weren't even the main hero! Bethesda's one saving grace, their world-building, failed them here. Cyrodiil was originally written as a dense jungle with interesting, dynamic cultures, but was retconned because they deemed verdant plains and deer-filled forests to have more mass appeal in the US and Europe. They spent a lot of money developing a complex AI system where every NPC would have needs and wants, and would seek out their own methods to fulfill them, and then disabled it because it didn't work at all. One thing Bethesda did do is up their game on the side quests. A lot of them were generic, but there were these main guilds in the game, and each one had their own storyline, and some got reasonably involved. They were mostly kind of middling, but the star of the show was the Dark Brotherhood questline, where you join a guild of assassins. There were twists and turns to its story, shady characters with grey-area motives, many assassination contracts had complex setups, and there were multiple endings to the quest line. It felt like its own game. Looking back on it, it's really nothing special, but it was like a small pond in the middle of a scorching desert, an oasis players took solace in and gathered around as a shining example of how to do questing in an open world game. One man wrote and designed all of these quests, Emil Pagliarulo, and his work stood out so much from the rest of Bethesda's offering, they handed him the reigns to all of Fallout 3.

    Fallout 3 was a cool game, although it didn't feel very much like a real Fallout game. I'm not talking about the shift in perspective and gameplay, but the shift in tone, storytelling style, and world design. And you know what? Bethesda's writing still sucked. It became clear that Emil Pagliarulo is not an especially skilled writer. When taken out of the sea of shit the rest of Oblivion was, Emil's quest design and writing was shown to be fairly amateurish and not actually all that interesting. The story still felt uninspired. It was a personal story to find your father (and maybe save the world in the process), but therein laid the problem. The player character was still nameless, mute, and devoid of personality. Can you really tell a personal story involving family with that kind of setup? Well, you can, but you can't get anyone to care. And while the world design was reasonably interesting in its own right, with plenty of unique sights to see, the setting overall was a total failure. It was meant to be 100 years after the apocalypse, but it felt like it was just one year, with no organization, barely anything in the way of factions (other than two shadowy organizations), and people still scrambling and scavenging to survive. I still had more fun with it than I did with Oblivion, but it felt so lacking in so many areas. A couple years later, New Vegas came out developed by a different studio, one staffed by members with experience developing previous Fallout games, Obsidian Entertainment. And it totally clowned Bethesda and their attempt at a Fallout game. It had its own set of downsides, but gosh was New Vegas fun. Many characters individually had more depth to them than the combined depth of all of FO3's characters combined. The quests had a wealth of options, diverging branches, and alternate outcomes. The dialog was often witty and compelling to listen to. The world truly felt like how a post-apocalyptic world should feel like, with budding governments, organized banditry, and more overt faction wars competing for territory with the citizenry caught in the middle. They even managed to make the story feel personal despite your character being a no-name cipher. Many of the dungeons felt more unique. There was more loot with a crafting system. The combat, armor, and weapon systems felt more balanced and more fun. The one point I will concede is that aimlessly exploring the wasteland felt a bit more frustrating and less rewarding.






    (an example of the branching structure of one side quest in New Vegas)


    Would Bethesda learn from their mistakes in Oblivion and Fallout 3, and Obsidian's triumphs in New Vegas? Yes and no. Skyrim was fun. Bethesda's world-building strength has returned to them Skyrim was gorgeous, varied, and a joy to explore. They incentivized exploration in some really smart ways. Character leveling didn't feel so broken. The story, though, was still a problem. Bethesda is still shit at writing. You are the chosen one, overcome these trials, delve through dungeon through samey dungeon, kill a dragon or two, and save the world! It was still stock fantasy fair, without a hint of depth or creativity. That's okay though, because exploring the world is fun. What about the questing in the rest of the world? Well, the faction quests felt like stepped-up versions of Oblivion's faction quests. They had a bit more dialog, a bit more story to them, but most of them were still kind of mediocre. The characters were still largely one dimensional. Most of them did allow you to make a decision or two, which could affect the outcome in some inconsequential manner. The stand-out side-plot in this game was the civil war. It created an interesting political climate, but how much did it really impact the world? You could side with one faction or the other, and each had their own quest line. The faction I sided with lead up to a cool battle where we laid siege to a major city, and assaulted it. There were missions that lead up to it that determined the effectiveness of the soldiers, siege weapons, etc. When you finally got into the battle, and catapults were going off, spells were firing, and soldiers were charging the gates, it was so cool! Then the scripting broke at multiple points, requiring reloads. Well, it's an Elder Scrolls game. Then you won the battle, some buildings were smoldering a little, and a different man sat on the throne. That was it. You could go into towns occupied by the opposing faction and no one would bat an eye at you. It felt like the battle had no impact whatsoever. It was all a bit underwhelming. Bethesda repeatedly teases the players in their games, make grand promises, and fail to deliver time and time again.

    I'm kind of getting sick of being disappointed. I'm getting sick of being a no-personality mute who is little more than an errand boy. I'm sick of the samey dungeons in every single game. I'm sick of the quest design that feels like you're going down a straight predetermined line instead of doing things your way. I'm sick of the shoddy writing, the shallow characters with crystal clear motivations, the stale and generic dialog, and the simple boilerplate storylines. Yes, Bethesda makes some great worlds to explore, but you know, I've played every single Bethesda game. I've played plenty of other compelling open world games. I've kind of had my fill. I watch the Fallout 4 trailer and am filled with apathy. I'm not saying Bethesda should ditch the open world, not at all, but I need something more. I'm looking forward to E3 this year. I'm a long-time fan of Bethesda's games, and I desperately want them to prove me wrong. But I won't hold my breath for it.

    ----------------------

    On a side-note, The Witcher 3 has been giving me that something more. Its characters are all fascinating, even the minor ones. The story is a compelling search for your adopted daughter in trouble. The quests are sprawling with many avenues of approach and outcomes, even the side quests. The writing is entertaining and never fails to capture your attention. You are prompted with so many decisions on such a constant basis, all of which have some impact on the world big or small, that it no longer feels like you're playing a god controlling the fates of these characters, but you ARE Geralt of Rivia, in the world, making these decisions. It's an incredibly immersive experience. You end up never wanting to reload and take back your decisions, because they become so personal. And the open world is not sacrificed even a little in the face of this narrative experience, with a huge world to explore with an enormous amount of things to discover. The Witcher 3 allows us to have our cake and eat it, too. What is a Bethesda game in the face of this?






    (as I write this, I'm itching to jump back into The Witcher 3)

  5. Like
    Decay got a reaction from Darklord Rooke for a blog entry, Fallout 4 Is Not Very Exciting to Me, and Here's Why.   
    In the Fallout 4 thread here, I was seemingly cynical on the game for no reason. I have reasons, I just didn't post them. So to not be that bitter pointlessly cynical guy, I'll talk about why I'm still not very excited for FO4. I'll start by talking about Bethesda's older games, because a lot of posters here weren't around for them, and I'll establish the trends that make me skeptical of more Bethesda-produced open-world RPGs. Bethesda started the Elder Scrolls series as just some self-insertion sandbox for their in-office D&D campaign. This is fine, Arena was a charming game in its own right. But it had nary an ounce of narrative to it, which was normal for anything other than adventure games at the time. The world was threatened and you were given a vague directive at the start, you went from dungeon samey dungeon, and eventually found the bad guy, killed him, and won the game. With Daggerfall, you had a bit more introductory story. The world was in trouble and only you can save it. You had to accomplish several tasks before confronting the big bad. Every once in a while you met with an NPC who had small amounts of exposition. There were more side-quests strewn about with some pretty basic objectives, mostly without any story behind them. The game was procedurally generated (not on the fly) so that's to be expected. There were also books around that explained the world a little, it was pretty interesting. You went from dungeon to samey dungeon, killed the bad guy, won the game. By this point, people started expecting more from not just RPGs, but from games in general. Narratives were becoming a big thing, Bioware and Black Isle started doing their things with storytelling in RPGs, and Metal Gear Solid in action games. Bethesda felt like they had to adapt, they had to tell cool stories with strong narratives in their games, too!

    Morrowind was actually a pretty dang good first attempt at this. The world building was surprisingly strong, the setting was unique and interesting. It held inspiration from Heart of Darkness, which was fairly bold for a fantasy RPG. There was a complex political climate with clashes between colonizers and the colonized, on top of this world-threatening event that's going down. You met many of the people deeply involved with the sticky situation the island finds itself in, including the local god-king Vivec who is holding the island hostage by artificially suspending a giant meteor above it (including preserving its inertia) and claiming that if followers stop worshipping him, the meteor will crash and kill everyone. Welp. There's lots of cool stuff like this strewn about. But here's the thing, it's all relating to the setting and the backstory. Anything beyond that is pretty threadbare. Your mission was to find the savior the dark elf prophecies speak of so this person can save the world from some looming evil. You go from dungeon to samey dungeon, and BIG TWIST: you were the savior the whole time! You save the world, game over. You saw a lot of cool stuff along the way, but it felt more like a sightseeing tour than a proper narrative. You were an agent following the whims of others the whole time, too. You get the sense that no one at Bethesda had any experience writing these kinds of stories. But the world-building was so cool that you wanted to keep exploring for hours on end, seeing the unique sights of Morrowind and getting involved in their conflicts. The main quest kind of sucked, but the side quests were a lot of fun. They themselves didn't have particularly strong stories and were mainly filled with one-dimensional characters who just wanted a task done, but there was some real neat stuff thrown in there, like the last dwarf alive, in some plague colony, with his lower body replaced by mechanical spider legs. Cool! It was also the first TES game with an extensive mod community.






    (Morrowind was full of bizarre flora, fauna, and architecture)


    Oblivion was a disaster in a lot of ways. The industry was firmly planting itself in support of strong narratives in not just certain kinds of games, but ALL games, now. While Half Life did a lot for storytelling in shooters at the time, it was nothing in comparison to Max Payne, an intense third-person shooter with a lengthy, twisting plot and plenty of dialog. There was Warcraft 3, a real-time strategy with an epic fantasy story attached (the previous WC games had stories that were more window-dressing than anything). If your game didn't tell a long, complex story, it was junk. It didn't matter what kind of game it was. Even Rockstar got in on the trend with their nonsensical murder simulators, Vice City and especially San Andreas. Bethesda could not afford to release an open world RPG without an absolutely epic story. But here's the thing, they SUCK at at storytelling! They're good at writing backstory, at worldbuilding. Every other facet of their writing is terrible. But gosh darn if they weren't going to try. They splurged on several very expensive voice actors to deliver their surely incredible dialog, then only had a handful of VAs rest for the rest of their hundreds of characters. Oops. The dialog in the main questline was as generic as possible. There were no truly interesting hooks to it, the player didn't have to make any difficult decisions, and the characters were as flat as cardboard. You were tasked to find the savior, did so by going from dungeon to samey dungeon, doing a LOT of busywork in closing those damn oblivion gates, and BIG TWIST: there is no twist! You find the savior and he defeats the final boss, saving the world for you. You weren't even the main hero! Bethesda's one saving grace, their world-building, failed them here. Cyrodiil was originally written as a dense jungle with interesting, dynamic cultures, but was retconned because they deemed verdant plains and deer-filled forests to have more mass appeal in the US and Europe. They spent a lot of money developing a complex AI system where every NPC would have needs and wants, and would seek out their own methods to fulfill them, and then disabled it because it didn't work at all. One thing Bethesda did do is up their game on the side quests. A lot of them were generic, but there were these main guilds in the game, and each one had their own storyline, and some got reasonably involved. They were mostly kind of middling, but the star of the show was the Dark Brotherhood questline, where you join a guild of assassins. There were twists and turns to its story, shady characters with grey-area motives, many assassination contracts had complex setups, and there were multiple endings to the quest line. It felt like its own game. Looking back on it, it's really nothing special, but it was like a small pond in the middle of a scorching desert, an oasis players took solace in and gathered around as a shining example of how to do questing in an open world game. One man wrote and designed all of these quests, Emil Pagliarulo, and his work stood out so much from the rest of Bethesda's offering, they handed him the reigns to all of Fallout 3.

    Fallout 3 was a cool game, although it didn't feel very much like a real Fallout game. I'm not talking about the shift in perspective and gameplay, but the shift in tone, storytelling style, and world design. And you know what? Bethesda's writing still sucked. It became clear that Emil Pagliarulo is not an especially skilled writer. When taken out of the sea of shit the rest of Oblivion was, Emil's quest design and writing was shown to be fairly amateurish and not actually all that interesting. The story still felt uninspired. It was a personal story to find your father (and maybe save the world in the process), but therein laid the problem. The player character was still nameless, mute, and devoid of personality. Can you really tell a personal story involving family with that kind of setup? Well, you can, but you can't get anyone to care. And while the world design was reasonably interesting in its own right, with plenty of unique sights to see, the setting overall was a total failure. It was meant to be 100 years after the apocalypse, but it felt like it was just one year, with no organization, barely anything in the way of factions (other than two shadowy organizations), and people still scrambling and scavenging to survive. I still had more fun with it than I did with Oblivion, but it felt so lacking in so many areas. A couple years later, New Vegas came out developed by a different studio, one staffed by members with experience developing previous Fallout games, Obsidian Entertainment. And it totally clowned Bethesda and their attempt at a Fallout game. It had its own set of downsides, but gosh was New Vegas fun. Many characters individually had more depth to them than the combined depth of all of FO3's characters combined. The quests had a wealth of options, diverging branches, and alternate outcomes. The dialog was often witty and compelling to listen to. The world truly felt like how a post-apocalyptic world should feel like, with budding governments, organized banditry, and more overt faction wars competing for territory with the citizenry caught in the middle. They even managed to make the story feel personal despite your character being a no-name cipher. Many of the dungeons felt more unique. There was more loot with a crafting system. The combat, armor, and weapon systems felt more balanced and more fun. The one point I will concede is that aimlessly exploring the wasteland felt a bit more frustrating and less rewarding.






    (an example of the branching structure of one side quest in New Vegas)


    Would Bethesda learn from their mistakes in Oblivion and Fallout 3, and Obsidian's triumphs in New Vegas? Yes and no. Skyrim was fun. Bethesda's world-building strength has returned to them Skyrim was gorgeous, varied, and a joy to explore. They incentivized exploration in some really smart ways. Character leveling didn't feel so broken. The story, though, was still a problem. Bethesda is still shit at writing. You are the chosen one, overcome these trials, delve through dungeon through samey dungeon, kill a dragon or two, and save the world! It was still stock fantasy fair, without a hint of depth or creativity. That's okay though, because exploring the world is fun. What about the questing in the rest of the world? Well, the faction quests felt like stepped-up versions of Oblivion's faction quests. They had a bit more dialog, a bit more story to them, but most of them were still kind of mediocre. The characters were still largely one dimensional. Most of them did allow you to make a decision or two, which could affect the outcome in some inconsequential manner. The stand-out side-plot in this game was the civil war. It created an interesting political climate, but how much did it really impact the world? You could side with one faction or the other, and each had their own quest line. The faction I sided with lead up to a cool battle where we laid siege to a major city, and assaulted it. There were missions that lead up to it that determined the effectiveness of the soldiers, siege weapons, etc. When you finally got into the battle, and catapults were going off, spells were firing, and soldiers were charging the gates, it was so cool! Then the scripting broke at multiple points, requiring reloads. Well, it's an Elder Scrolls game. Then you won the battle, some buildings were smoldering a little, and a different man sat on the throne. That was it. You could go into towns occupied by the opposing faction and no one would bat an eye at you. It felt like the battle had no impact whatsoever. It was all a bit underwhelming. Bethesda repeatedly teases the players in their games, make grand promises, and fail to deliver time and time again.

    I'm kind of getting sick of being disappointed. I'm getting sick of being a no-personality mute who is little more than an errand boy. I'm sick of the samey dungeons in every single game. I'm sick of the quest design that feels like you're going down a straight predetermined line instead of doing things your way. I'm sick of the shoddy writing, the shallow characters with crystal clear motivations, the stale and generic dialog, and the simple boilerplate storylines. Yes, Bethesda makes some great worlds to explore, but you know, I've played every single Bethesda game. I've played plenty of other compelling open world games. I've kind of had my fill. I watch the Fallout 4 trailer and am filled with apathy. I'm not saying Bethesda should ditch the open world, not at all, but I need something more. I'm looking forward to E3 this year. I'm a long-time fan of Bethesda's games, and I desperately want them to prove me wrong. But I won't hold my breath for it.

    ----------------------

    On a side-note, The Witcher 3 has been giving me that something more. Its characters are all fascinating, even the minor ones. The story is a compelling search for your adopted daughter in trouble. The quests are sprawling with many avenues of approach and outcomes, even the side quests. The writing is entertaining and never fails to capture your attention. You are prompted with so many decisions on such a constant basis, all of which have some impact on the world big or small, that it no longer feels like you're playing a god controlling the fates of these characters, but you ARE Geralt of Rivia, in the world, making these decisions. It's an incredibly immersive experience. You end up never wanting to reload and take back your decisions, because they become so personal. And the open world is not sacrificed even a little in the face of this narrative experience, with a huge world to explore with an enormous amount of things to discover. The Witcher 3 allows us to have our cake and eat it, too. What is a Bethesda game in the face of this?






    (as I write this, I'm itching to jump back into The Witcher 3)

  6. Like
    Decay got a reaction from EldritchCherub for a blog entry, Fallout 4 Is Not Very Exciting to Me, and Here's Why.   
    In the Fallout 4 thread here, I was seemingly cynical on the game for no reason. I have reasons, I just didn't post them. So to not be that bitter pointlessly cynical guy, I'll talk about why I'm still not very excited for FO4. I'll start by talking about Bethesda's older games, because a lot of posters here weren't around for them, and I'll establish the trends that make me skeptical of more Bethesda-produced open-world RPGs. Bethesda started the Elder Scrolls series as just some self-insertion sandbox for their in-office D&D campaign. This is fine, Arena was a charming game in its own right. But it had nary an ounce of narrative to it, which was normal for anything other than adventure games at the time. The world was threatened and you were given a vague directive at the start, you went from dungeon samey dungeon, and eventually found the bad guy, killed him, and won the game. With Daggerfall, you had a bit more introductory story. The world was in trouble and only you can save it. You had to accomplish several tasks before confronting the big bad. Every once in a while you met with an NPC who had small amounts of exposition. There were more side-quests strewn about with some pretty basic objectives, mostly without any story behind them. The game was procedurally generated (not on the fly) so that's to be expected. There were also books around that explained the world a little, it was pretty interesting. You went from dungeon to samey dungeon, killed the bad guy, won the game. By this point, people started expecting more from not just RPGs, but from games in general. Narratives were becoming a big thing, Bioware and Black Isle started doing their things with storytelling in RPGs, and Metal Gear Solid in action games. Bethesda felt like they had to adapt, they had to tell cool stories with strong narratives in their games, too!

    Morrowind was actually a pretty dang good first attempt at this. The world building was surprisingly strong, the setting was unique and interesting. It held inspiration from Heart of Darkness, which was fairly bold for a fantasy RPG. There was a complex political climate with clashes between colonizers and the colonized, on top of this world-threatening event that's going down. You met many of the people deeply involved with the sticky situation the island finds itself in, including the local god-king Vivec who is holding the island hostage by artificially suspending a giant meteor above it (including preserving its inertia) and claiming that if followers stop worshipping him, the meteor will crash and kill everyone. Welp. There's lots of cool stuff like this strewn about. But here's the thing, it's all relating to the setting and the backstory. Anything beyond that is pretty threadbare. Your mission was to find the savior the dark elf prophecies speak of so this person can save the world from some looming evil. You go from dungeon to samey dungeon, and BIG TWIST: you were the savior the whole time! You save the world, game over. You saw a lot of cool stuff along the way, but it felt more like a sightseeing tour than a proper narrative. You were an agent following the whims of others the whole time, too. You get the sense that no one at Bethesda had any experience writing these kinds of stories. But the world-building was so cool that you wanted to keep exploring for hours on end, seeing the unique sights of Morrowind and getting involved in their conflicts. The main quest kind of sucked, but the side quests were a lot of fun. They themselves didn't have particularly strong stories and were mainly filled with one-dimensional characters who just wanted a task done, but there was some real neat stuff thrown in there, like the last dwarf alive, in some plague colony, with his lower body replaced by mechanical spider legs. Cool! It was also the first TES game with an extensive mod community.






    (Morrowind was full of bizarre flora, fauna, and architecture)


    Oblivion was a disaster in a lot of ways. The industry was firmly planting itself in support of strong narratives in not just certain kinds of games, but ALL games, now. While Half Life did a lot for storytelling in shooters at the time, it was nothing in comparison to Max Payne, an intense third-person shooter with a lengthy, twisting plot and plenty of dialog. There was Warcraft 3, a real-time strategy with an epic fantasy story attached (the previous WC games had stories that were more window-dressing than anything). If your game didn't tell a long, complex story, it was junk. It didn't matter what kind of game it was. Even Rockstar got in on the trend with their nonsensical murder simulators, Vice City and especially San Andreas. Bethesda could not afford to release an open world RPG without an absolutely epic story. But here's the thing, they SUCK at at storytelling! They're good at writing backstory, at worldbuilding. Every other facet of their writing is terrible. But gosh darn if they weren't going to try. They splurged on several very expensive voice actors to deliver their surely incredible dialog, then only had a handful of VAs rest for the rest of their hundreds of characters. Oops. The dialog in the main questline was as generic as possible. There were no truly interesting hooks to it, the player didn't have to make any difficult decisions, and the characters were as flat as cardboard. You were tasked to find the savior, did so by going from dungeon to samey dungeon, doing a LOT of busywork in closing those damn oblivion gates, and BIG TWIST: there is no twist! You find the savior and he defeats the final boss, saving the world for you. You weren't even the main hero! Bethesda's one saving grace, their world-building, failed them here. Cyrodiil was originally written as a dense jungle with interesting, dynamic cultures, but was retconned because they deemed verdant plains and deer-filled forests to have more mass appeal in the US and Europe. They spent a lot of money developing a complex AI system where every NPC would have needs and wants, and would seek out their own methods to fulfill them, and then disabled it because it didn't work at all. One thing Bethesda did do is up their game on the side quests. A lot of them were generic, but there were these main guilds in the game, and each one had their own storyline, and some got reasonably involved. They were mostly kind of middling, but the star of the show was the Dark Brotherhood questline, where you join a guild of assassins. There were twists and turns to its story, shady characters with grey-area motives, many assassination contracts had complex setups, and there were multiple endings to the quest line. It felt like its own game. Looking back on it, it's really nothing special, but it was like a small pond in the middle of a scorching desert, an oasis players took solace in and gathered around as a shining example of how to do questing in an open world game. One man wrote and designed all of these quests, Emil Pagliarulo, and his work stood out so much from the rest of Bethesda's offering, they handed him the reigns to all of Fallout 3.

    Fallout 3 was a cool game, although it didn't feel very much like a real Fallout game. I'm not talking about the shift in perspective and gameplay, but the shift in tone, storytelling style, and world design. And you know what? Bethesda's writing still sucked. It became clear that Emil Pagliarulo is not an especially skilled writer. When taken out of the sea of shit the rest of Oblivion was, Emil's quest design and writing was shown to be fairly amateurish and not actually all that interesting. The story still felt uninspired. It was a personal story to find your father (and maybe save the world in the process), but therein laid the problem. The player character was still nameless, mute, and devoid of personality. Can you really tell a personal story involving family with that kind of setup? Well, you can, but you can't get anyone to care. And while the world design was reasonably interesting in its own right, with plenty of unique sights to see, the setting overall was a total failure. It was meant to be 100 years after the apocalypse, but it felt like it was just one year, with no organization, barely anything in the way of factions (other than two shadowy organizations), and people still scrambling and scavenging to survive. I still had more fun with it than I did with Oblivion, but it felt so lacking in so many areas. A couple years later, New Vegas came out developed by a different studio, one staffed by members with experience developing previous Fallout games, Obsidian Entertainment. And it totally clowned Bethesda and their attempt at a Fallout game. It had its own set of downsides, but gosh was New Vegas fun. Many characters individually had more depth to them than the combined depth of all of FO3's characters combined. The quests had a wealth of options, diverging branches, and alternate outcomes. The dialog was often witty and compelling to listen to. The world truly felt like how a post-apocalyptic world should feel like, with budding governments, organized banditry, and more overt faction wars competing for territory with the citizenry caught in the middle. They even managed to make the story feel personal despite your character being a no-name cipher. Many of the dungeons felt more unique. There was more loot with a crafting system. The combat, armor, and weapon systems felt more balanced and more fun. The one point I will concede is that aimlessly exploring the wasteland felt a bit more frustrating and less rewarding.






    (an example of the branching structure of one side quest in New Vegas)


    Would Bethesda learn from their mistakes in Oblivion and Fallout 3, and Obsidian's triumphs in New Vegas? Yes and no. Skyrim was fun. Bethesda's world-building strength has returned to them Skyrim was gorgeous, varied, and a joy to explore. They incentivized exploration in some really smart ways. Character leveling didn't feel so broken. The story, though, was still a problem. Bethesda is still shit at writing. You are the chosen one, overcome these trials, delve through dungeon through samey dungeon, kill a dragon or two, and save the world! It was still stock fantasy fair, without a hint of depth or creativity. That's okay though, because exploring the world is fun. What about the questing in the rest of the world? Well, the faction quests felt like stepped-up versions of Oblivion's faction quests. They had a bit more dialog, a bit more story to them, but most of them were still kind of mediocre. The characters were still largely one dimensional. Most of them did allow you to make a decision or two, which could affect the outcome in some inconsequential manner. The stand-out side-plot in this game was the civil war. It created an interesting political climate, but how much did it really impact the world? You could side with one faction or the other, and each had their own quest line. The faction I sided with lead up to a cool battle where we laid siege to a major city, and assaulted it. There were missions that lead up to it that determined the effectiveness of the soldiers, siege weapons, etc. When you finally got into the battle, and catapults were going off, spells were firing, and soldiers were charging the gates, it was so cool! Then the scripting broke at multiple points, requiring reloads. Well, it's an Elder Scrolls game. Then you won the battle, some buildings were smoldering a little, and a different man sat on the throne. That was it. You could go into towns occupied by the opposing faction and no one would bat an eye at you. It felt like the battle had no impact whatsoever. It was all a bit underwhelming. Bethesda repeatedly teases the players in their games, make grand promises, and fail to deliver time and time again.

    I'm kind of getting sick of being disappointed. I'm getting sick of being a no-personality mute who is little more than an errand boy. I'm sick of the samey dungeons in every single game. I'm sick of the quest design that feels like you're going down a straight predetermined line instead of doing things your way. I'm sick of the shoddy writing, the shallow characters with crystal clear motivations, the stale and generic dialog, and the simple boilerplate storylines. Yes, Bethesda makes some great worlds to explore, but you know, I've played every single Bethesda game. I've played plenty of other compelling open world games. I've kind of had my fill. I watch the Fallout 4 trailer and am filled with apathy. I'm not saying Bethesda should ditch the open world, not at all, but I need something more. I'm looking forward to E3 this year. I'm a long-time fan of Bethesda's games, and I desperately want them to prove me wrong. But I won't hold my breath for it.

    ----------------------

    On a side-note, The Witcher 3 has been giving me that something more. Its characters are all fascinating, even the minor ones. The story is a compelling search for your adopted daughter in trouble. The quests are sprawling with many avenues of approach and outcomes, even the side quests. The writing is entertaining and never fails to capture your attention. You are prompted with so many decisions on such a constant basis, all of which have some impact on the world big or small, that it no longer feels like you're playing a god controlling the fates of these characters, but you ARE Geralt of Rivia, in the world, making these decisions. It's an incredibly immersive experience. You end up never wanting to reload and take back your decisions, because they become so personal. And the open world is not sacrificed even a little in the face of this narrative experience, with a huge world to explore with an enormous amount of things to discover. The Witcher 3 allows us to have our cake and eat it, too. What is a Bethesda game in the face of this?






    (as I write this, I'm itching to jump back into The Witcher 3)

  7. Like
    Decay got a reaction from sanahtlig for a blog entry, Fallout 4 Is Not Very Exciting to Me, and Here's Why.   
    In the Fallout 4 thread here, I was seemingly cynical on the game for no reason. I have reasons, I just didn't post them. So to not be that bitter pointlessly cynical guy, I'll talk about why I'm still not very excited for FO4. I'll start by talking about Bethesda's older games, because a lot of posters here weren't around for them, and I'll establish the trends that make me skeptical of more Bethesda-produced open-world RPGs. Bethesda started the Elder Scrolls series as just some self-insertion sandbox for their in-office D&D campaign. This is fine, Arena was a charming game in its own right. But it had nary an ounce of narrative to it, which was normal for anything other than adventure games at the time. The world was threatened and you were given a vague directive at the start, you went from dungeon samey dungeon, and eventually found the bad guy, killed him, and won the game. With Daggerfall, you had a bit more introductory story. The world was in trouble and only you can save it. You had to accomplish several tasks before confronting the big bad. Every once in a while you met with an NPC who had small amounts of exposition. There were more side-quests strewn about with some pretty basic objectives, mostly without any story behind them. The game was procedurally generated (not on the fly) so that's to be expected. There were also books around that explained the world a little, it was pretty interesting. You went from dungeon to samey dungeon, killed the bad guy, won the game. By this point, people started expecting more from not just RPGs, but from games in general. Narratives were becoming a big thing, Bioware and Black Isle started doing their things with storytelling in RPGs, and Metal Gear Solid in action games. Bethesda felt like they had to adapt, they had to tell cool stories with strong narratives in their games, too!

    Morrowind was actually a pretty dang good first attempt at this. The world building was surprisingly strong, the setting was unique and interesting. It held inspiration from Heart of Darkness, which was fairly bold for a fantasy RPG. There was a complex political climate with clashes between colonizers and the colonized, on top of this world-threatening event that's going down. You met many of the people deeply involved with the sticky situation the island finds itself in, including the local god-king Vivec who is holding the island hostage by artificially suspending a giant meteor above it (including preserving its inertia) and claiming that if followers stop worshipping him, the meteor will crash and kill everyone. Welp. There's lots of cool stuff like this strewn about. But here's the thing, it's all relating to the setting and the backstory. Anything beyond that is pretty threadbare. Your mission was to find the savior the dark elf prophecies speak of so this person can save the world from some looming evil. You go from dungeon to samey dungeon, and BIG TWIST: you were the savior the whole time! You save the world, game over. You saw a lot of cool stuff along the way, but it felt more like a sightseeing tour than a proper narrative. You were an agent following the whims of others the whole time, too. You get the sense that no one at Bethesda had any experience writing these kinds of stories. But the world-building was so cool that you wanted to keep exploring for hours on end, seeing the unique sights of Morrowind and getting involved in their conflicts. The main quest kind of sucked, but the side quests were a lot of fun. They themselves didn't have particularly strong stories and were mainly filled with one-dimensional characters who just wanted a task done, but there was some real neat stuff thrown in there, like the last dwarf alive, in some plague colony, with his lower body replaced by mechanical spider legs. Cool! It was also the first TES game with an extensive mod community.






    (Morrowind was full of bizarre flora, fauna, and architecture)


    Oblivion was a disaster in a lot of ways. The industry was firmly planting itself in support of strong narratives in not just certain kinds of games, but ALL games, now. While Half Life did a lot for storytelling in shooters at the time, it was nothing in comparison to Max Payne, an intense third-person shooter with a lengthy, twisting plot and plenty of dialog. There was Warcraft 3, a real-time strategy with an epic fantasy story attached (the previous WC games had stories that were more window-dressing than anything). If your game didn't tell a long, complex story, it was junk. It didn't matter what kind of game it was. Even Rockstar got in on the trend with their nonsensical murder simulators, Vice City and especially San Andreas. Bethesda could not afford to release an open world RPG without an absolutely epic story. But here's the thing, they SUCK at at storytelling! They're good at writing backstory, at worldbuilding. Every other facet of their writing is terrible. But gosh darn if they weren't going to try. They splurged on several very expensive voice actors to deliver their surely incredible dialog, then only had a handful of VAs rest for the rest of their hundreds of characters. Oops. The dialog in the main questline was as generic as possible. There were no truly interesting hooks to it, the player didn't have to make any difficult decisions, and the characters were as flat as cardboard. You were tasked to find the savior, did so by going from dungeon to samey dungeon, doing a LOT of busywork in closing those damn oblivion gates, and BIG TWIST: there is no twist! You find the savior and he defeats the final boss, saving the world for you. You weren't even the main hero! Bethesda's one saving grace, their world-building, failed them here. Cyrodiil was originally written as a dense jungle with interesting, dynamic cultures, but was retconned because they deemed verdant plains and deer-filled forests to have more mass appeal in the US and Europe. They spent a lot of money developing a complex AI system where every NPC would have needs and wants, and would seek out their own methods to fulfill them, and then disabled it because it didn't work at all. One thing Bethesda did do is up their game on the side quests. A lot of them were generic, but there were these main guilds in the game, and each one had their own storyline, and some got reasonably involved. They were mostly kind of middling, but the star of the show was the Dark Brotherhood questline, where you join a guild of assassins. There were twists and turns to its story, shady characters with grey-area motives, many assassination contracts had complex setups, and there were multiple endings to the quest line. It felt like its own game. Looking back on it, it's really nothing special, but it was like a small pond in the middle of a scorching desert, an oasis players took solace in and gathered around as a shining example of how to do questing in an open world game. One man wrote and designed all of these quests, Emil Pagliarulo, and his work stood out so much from the rest of Bethesda's offering, they handed him the reigns to all of Fallout 3.

    Fallout 3 was a cool game, although it didn't feel very much like a real Fallout game. I'm not talking about the shift in perspective and gameplay, but the shift in tone, storytelling style, and world design. And you know what? Bethesda's writing still sucked. It became clear that Emil Pagliarulo is not an especially skilled writer. When taken out of the sea of shit the rest of Oblivion was, Emil's quest design and writing was shown to be fairly amateurish and not actually all that interesting. The story still felt uninspired. It was a personal story to find your father (and maybe save the world in the process), but therein laid the problem. The player character was still nameless, mute, and devoid of personality. Can you really tell a personal story involving family with that kind of setup? Well, you can, but you can't get anyone to care. And while the world design was reasonably interesting in its own right, with plenty of unique sights to see, the setting overall was a total failure. It was meant to be 100 years after the apocalypse, but it felt like it was just one year, with no organization, barely anything in the way of factions (other than two shadowy organizations), and people still scrambling and scavenging to survive. I still had more fun with it than I did with Oblivion, but it felt so lacking in so many areas. A couple years later, New Vegas came out developed by a different studio, one staffed by members with experience developing previous Fallout games, Obsidian Entertainment. And it totally clowned Bethesda and their attempt at a Fallout game. It had its own set of downsides, but gosh was New Vegas fun. Many characters individually had more depth to them than the combined depth of all of FO3's characters combined. The quests had a wealth of options, diverging branches, and alternate outcomes. The dialog was often witty and compelling to listen to. The world truly felt like how a post-apocalyptic world should feel like, with budding governments, organized banditry, and more overt faction wars competing for territory with the citizenry caught in the middle. They even managed to make the story feel personal despite your character being a no-name cipher. Many of the dungeons felt more unique. There was more loot with a crafting system. The combat, armor, and weapon systems felt more balanced and more fun. The one point I will concede is that aimlessly exploring the wasteland felt a bit more frustrating and less rewarding.






    (an example of the branching structure of one side quest in New Vegas)


    Would Bethesda learn from their mistakes in Oblivion and Fallout 3, and Obsidian's triumphs in New Vegas? Yes and no. Skyrim was fun. Bethesda's world-building strength has returned to them Skyrim was gorgeous, varied, and a joy to explore. They incentivized exploration in some really smart ways. Character leveling didn't feel so broken. The story, though, was still a problem. Bethesda is still shit at writing. You are the chosen one, overcome these trials, delve through dungeon through samey dungeon, kill a dragon or two, and save the world! It was still stock fantasy fair, without a hint of depth or creativity. That's okay though, because exploring the world is fun. What about the questing in the rest of the world? Well, the faction quests felt like stepped-up versions of Oblivion's faction quests. They had a bit more dialog, a bit more story to them, but most of them were still kind of mediocre. The characters were still largely one dimensional. Most of them did allow you to make a decision or two, which could affect the outcome in some inconsequential manner. The stand-out side-plot in this game was the civil war. It created an interesting political climate, but how much did it really impact the world? You could side with one faction or the other, and each had their own quest line. The faction I sided with lead up to a cool battle where we laid siege to a major city, and assaulted it. There were missions that lead up to it that determined the effectiveness of the soldiers, siege weapons, etc. When you finally got into the battle, and catapults were going off, spells were firing, and soldiers were charging the gates, it was so cool! Then the scripting broke at multiple points, requiring reloads. Well, it's an Elder Scrolls game. Then you won the battle, some buildings were smoldering a little, and a different man sat on the throne. That was it. You could go into towns occupied by the opposing faction and no one would bat an eye at you. It felt like the battle had no impact whatsoever. It was all a bit underwhelming. Bethesda repeatedly teases the players in their games, make grand promises, and fail to deliver time and time again.

    I'm kind of getting sick of being disappointed. I'm getting sick of being a no-personality mute who is little more than an errand boy. I'm sick of the samey dungeons in every single game. I'm sick of the quest design that feels like you're going down a straight predetermined line instead of doing things your way. I'm sick of the shoddy writing, the shallow characters with crystal clear motivations, the stale and generic dialog, and the simple boilerplate storylines. Yes, Bethesda makes some great worlds to explore, but you know, I've played every single Bethesda game. I've played plenty of other compelling open world games. I've kind of had my fill. I watch the Fallout 4 trailer and am filled with apathy. I'm not saying Bethesda should ditch the open world, not at all, but I need something more. I'm looking forward to E3 this year. I'm a long-time fan of Bethesda's games, and I desperately want them to prove me wrong. But I won't hold my breath for it.

    ----------------------

    On a side-note, The Witcher 3 has been giving me that something more. Its characters are all fascinating, even the minor ones. The story is a compelling search for your adopted daughter in trouble. The quests are sprawling with many avenues of approach and outcomes, even the side quests. The writing is entertaining and never fails to capture your attention. You are prompted with so many decisions on such a constant basis, all of which have some impact on the world big or small, that it no longer feels like you're playing a god controlling the fates of these characters, but you ARE Geralt of Rivia, in the world, making these decisions. It's an incredibly immersive experience. You end up never wanting to reload and take back your decisions, because they become so personal. And the open world is not sacrificed even a little in the face of this narrative experience, with a huge world to explore with an enormous amount of things to discover. The Witcher 3 allows us to have our cake and eat it, too. What is a Bethesda game in the face of this?






    (as I write this, I'm itching to jump back into The Witcher 3)

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