Bethesda RPG's (the Elder Scroll's seres, Fallout 3) have certain things in common. Giant worlds full of things do to and places to explore. Quests to fulfill, creatures to slay, things to steal, people to talk to...and steal from, then maybe kill.
What's not to love?
So no, I genuinely don't think they are bad games. In fact even though I'm not a fan I have to say I'm glad Skyrim exists. In a world full of FPS's that are 6 hour's long (oh right thereís multiplayer...who doesn't love multiplayer?) a game where you can say without a doubt
that you are getting your moneyís worth (at full price) with hundreds of hours worth of game time, a game that has no multiplayer because it knows it doesnít need it.....I can't help but admit it's a good thing.
In fact it makes me a little sad I can't like it.
but the fact remains that such games like Oblivion and Skyrim fall completely flat for me . The reason that these games just don't work is hard to explain (also completely 100% subjective, just to make that clear) but I'm going to explain why...and it starts with Fallout 3
Fallout 3 was definitely the exception to Skyrim and Oblivion. I loved the world of Fallout with its quirky retro 50's vibe against the backdrop of post apocalyptic wasteland. Crazy robots, lasers....a cartoon mascot with a mischievous grin. The world itself itís probably the best thing about the game and the Fallout series in general.
How many games have this guy?
So anyway, not too long ago I decided to replay Fallout 3.That was when I noticed those little "Bethesda" things creeping in that I hadn't noticed before
So the game starts with you being born and growing up in Vault101. Liam Neeson is your dad ,your mother is dead, your best friend (or maybe more) is Amata,the overseers daughter. Your Rival is some asshole Named butch, and the Overseer does not like you for some reason (he's also the guy you swear your life too). As you grow up you begin to get the impression life in Vault101...kinda sucks, but then you never know..because fate has something else in store for you. Long story short Dad disappears, the overseer flips out and has his goons go after your head. With Amatas help (and her dads 10mm pistol) you manage to escape the Vault....and then youíre on your own
It was when I entered the first town of "Megaton" for the second time (where new players are more or less supposed to end up) where I noticed the problem
I walk into town and the first person I meet is the sheriff....he seems nice enough, and the rules around here are fair.People might get a little freaked out if you glance at their stuff for more than a nanosecond (it's locked for a REASON!
) but its civilization more or less....
So again, I've just stumbled my way out of the vault I'm talking to the sheriff. Thereís a bomb in the centre of the town..Apparently. So I've agreed to disarm it
Yes, the atomic bomb in the middle of Megaton. Somehow in the conversation I've agreed to maybe disarm it.... you know...if I feel like it. Lucas Sims (the sheriff) is totally cool with that, I'm some kid who literally hasn't even seen daylight for the first time yet, but disarming an atomic bomb is really no big deal.
Ok ...well I'm on a mission, and the next lead on dad is some bar owned by a guy called Moriarty. In the bar I get the option to talk to some girl named Lucy West who wants me to deliver a message to her family. We havenít talked much, she doesnít know me, apparently I'm the best choice....aside from say a local she knows or some hired person who knows what they are doing.
These wastelanders certainly are trusting arenít they?
but enough of that, I should get some supplies, best place in Megaton is owned by a crazy women called Moira Brown.
Of course we start talking and she has some crazy plan for a "wasteland survival guide" and needs help...my help. Ok I can see why no one else wants to do that, first person she comes across seems as good as any..Except then she says something that kinds of worrying..."you have way more Wasteland experience than me!"
uh huh....so Moira brown had literally never left her Shack...ever...(that is one way to survive the wasteland I guess)
we live in the shack..we die in the shack
So now I'm helping Moira with her pet project....also the doctor wants me to help some kid out with his drug problem....and a man in a suit approached me in the bar wanting to do some kind of deal with him.....yeah
so this makes me ask...
why is my character getting bombarded with everyoneís chores as soon as she steps out of the Vault?
ok..I do get why. Its side quests, itís an essential part of the RPG....why am I complaining about being given quests like its odd? I know in games thereís always a little dissonance between story and game play, especially when it comes to side quests. I mean would commander Shepard really be wasting her time arguing with a couple about what is best for their unborn child in regards to gene therapy? (and for some bizarre reason her input is what has the final say?) No, I don't think so
I'm a spectre! and I'm telling you to get your baby gene therapy!
But in the case of Fallout 3 and oblivion (even skyrim) however....it feels weird, almost unnatural . I used Fallout 3 as an example because itís something odd I noticed which I didn't before.Although it may not look that way, it is really noticeable the way the NPC's act.....as if they have seen the Camera following my character around and know I'm the PC and giving me their quests is something why are supposed to do. You could argue that they don't know I'm fresh out of a Vault...excpet I think they already seem to know that when I talk to them.
Again, why do I get given quests? Why do anything? And I feel even if I were to ask the NPC's themselves the answer would be
because itís an RPG...and youíre the main character
Not because it makes sense for my character to do so, or for the story (no, I imagine in universe Lucas Simms would give me a warning not to touch anything..then expect me to be dead within hours)...but because it feels like the creators of the world shrug and say "umm....thatís just what you do"
Oblivion and Skyrim in my opinion even worse offenders. Thease games gives you complete freedom, which is the main draw of the series, you can do anything or be anything
And thatís my problem
I can do or be anything...but the game doesnít really care
You are a blank slate. There isn't really dialogue, just vague statements and words alluding to what your character would be saying (I'll admit that FO3 is only slightly better in that regard)
I get that, itís to give you the freedom to role-play however you wish, to define your character...in fact the "make it up yourself!" mantra seems to be what most people say (and love) about Skyrim and Oblivion...I get that, some people dislike the "growing up" intro in the Vault, which is understandable from a role play perspective as its seriously limiting (hence why I believe there is a mod to have you wake up in a shack somewhere in the wasteland)
But I don't like it. I don't think I lack imagination, I can get totally lost in worlds that appeal to me, but itís not my job to come up with story or characters....I could envision my character any way I want with back-story, motivations personality but if It feels like the game (more or less) treats me the same. I'm not a character; I'm a blank space in a world full of NPC's
...a blank space for them to give quests too. Thatís the fundamental difference I'm talking about, in the worlds of skyrim and oblivion when you look closely there is something
Making it even worse are the NPC's in oblivion who don't act like normal humans (or humanoids),
you know if I ever wanted to do a thing I could talk to that person who knows about that thing that I'm not going to do...............................I saw a mud-crab the other day
I admit Oblivion was probably brilliant back in the day, but it has not aged well when compared to Skyrim...and even with Skyrim there's no real motivation to do anything, I snuck my way through a few dungeons but when I figured there was no real reason or end I stopped playing and traded it in, I donít feel like Iíve got much of a personal stake in any of it.
Itís like for all the talk of worlds that are "immersive" and "real" they feel as shallow and artificial as ever
So with that said are they any RPG I have enjoyed?
Fallout New Vegas, counterpart to FO3 is an example of how to do an open world RPG. While it is buggy and has its flaws in my opinion it is vastly superior to FO3 (and I actually think it was unfair it got the "expansion pack" label at the time)
it has a better story, not that I think the main quest of FO3 was bad (except for Liam Neeson being a horrible and father and an idiot) but FO:NV's story is not only larger and grander in scale but its structured so that a lot of the things I do feel connected to my main goal.
I have to find my father...after I collect enough Nuka Cola Quantum for the crazy lady!
it has better characters...mainly your companions who all have their own stories, issues and personalities Not to mention Mr. House and Caesar being interesting and memorable. Even though the "Courier" has no pre defined past they don't feel nearly as blank as my Oblivian/Skyrim charachters . In FO3 the companion thing falls flat, they are there and they help you in combat but thatís pretty much it, thereís nothing to them except a karma requirement and a few lines. With charachters like Jericho I get the feeling there's the potential for a good quest (where Jericho learns the meaning of friendship....or some crap like that)..if I could recruit him (which I can't)
not to mention F:NV has some of the best moral choices Iíve ever seen in a game...FO3 on the other hand is an example of how NOT to do morality in a game (but thatís another issue altogether)
FO3 does work better as "go in any direction and see what you can find" game, Bethesda does shine in the "little details" area...whereas F:NV feels a little more restricted in where you can and can't go (at least at the start) but anyway, F:NV is a game that has the scope of a bethesda RPG without sacrificing the focus
Or take a game like Dragon Age: Origins...its been a while since I played that, but from what I remember I had freedom with my character, but my character also had a really cool back-story I could get into (Female city elf) she was a character who actually had a stake in what was going on which made me see it through to the end even if I did absolutely suck at the game itself
Itís obvious now that I'm more "story driven" than anything else...which is true, hence why I'm more of a fan of Biowares approach than Bethesda's (neither is "better" than the other its just personal preference)
I will however bring up Dark Souls, which is rather similar to Skyrim.Blank slate character, "bare-bones approach" to storytelling, yet for some reason I liked it better than Skyrim. I think it was because from the opening I felt like "oh shit, this is serious"...seeing your character wasting away in a cell...to crawling out into the harsh unforgiving world of dark souls (reminds me of that part in Dark Knight Rises) so I guess my point there is I don't always need the story dropped in front of me through cut scenes and fully voiced protagonist....sometimes "show, don't tell" can be just as effective
The main thing with Skyrim and Oblivion (and maybe Fallout 3) is that they sacrifice focus for freedom, and this is not bad....obviously there are a lot of people who like that, and with games getting a bad rep for "railroading" perhaps absolute freedom is something we need alongside good single player and games actually worth a $60-$100 price tag in terms of content
that said I prefer to have focus, I don't mind not having the freedom to kill who I want or the game being slightly linear or my character being voiced...in fact I think I prefer that. Its one thing to have the freedom to do what I want but itís nowhere near as fun if I don't have a driving motivation