I agree with the classification of New Vegas as a sort of Fallout 2 forced into the Bethesda style game, it’s a very apt way to put it.
But I can’t agree that the world of Skyrim feels “alive”. A more dense world, better suited to the Bethesda style, sure, but not alive. There are improvements, but there are still massive problem that keep it from being immersive.
The first, and probably most superficial complaint, is the inane, plain stupid dialogue. Having the same two or three canned lines poorly shouted at the player every time they approach or interacts shatters the illusion of Skyrim being a real place every time. New Vegas may have some wordy lore dumps, but at least I don’t despise most of the residents of New Vegas for yelling about mudcrabs or their pets or profession every time I make the mistake of getting near them. This wasn’t so bad in the Morrowind era when not every line had to be spoken. I get that you can’t have console players read text, but that leads to the next major issue.
Quest markers. These are probably the worst offender. Now the journal from Morrowind and Oblivion is completely gone, replaced with simply a brief summary of the quest objective for major quests, and a single line for “miscellaneous” quests.. So how do you know where to go? Just follow the arrow, don’t question it.
And you can’t just turn the arrow off - very few quests give you enough information to complete the quest if you don’t have it. You can’t just ask the innkeeper about the location of someone, like you could in Morrowind.
For me, one of the most immersive parts of Morrowind was finding your way around. When you asked about a place, NPCs would give you directions - “Turn left at the fork in the road, look for the fort on the right, then follow the path up the hill to the ruins.” Wrong turns and detours were part of the fun, part of being in a strange place, something to master. Again, the need to reduce the amount of text for consoles seems to have been a big part of this. Voice acting is expensive, so I can see how practicalities would make this hard. It’s certainly easier to just mark an object as the goal of a stage of the quest, and let the arrow fix the rest.
There were additions to Skyrim that would make giving verbal or written directions difficult to implement. One was the Radiant quests, sending the player out to semi-random dungeons. If a quest can be given from dozens of possible start locations, it becomes a lot harder to give specific directions. But it could still be done.
And the Morrowind quest system wasn’t perfect. Finding the right journal entry could be a chore, and the list of keywords to ask about got ridiculously long at points. But it never hurt my immersion like the quest arrow does.
So is it worth it to trade the convenience and labor saving for loss of immersion? In a commercial product, probably. It doesn’t stop me from wishing that I could practice my orienteering skills in Skyrim.
The last complaint is a bit harder to define, but the world doesn’t feel systematic, or rules driven. You are limited to whatever interactions are scripted in. And this is probably looking for too much, and I should know better, but let me give an example.
I just got Hearthfire, the DLC/expansion that adds player buildable houses. I love this stuff. But you’re stuck building the same thing in the exact place where the devs choose, with a few choices to what you build (a kitchen or an armory, that sort of thing). But what if I want a house on an island off the coast? Or a house with a orchard? Open the Construction Set and build one, which is awesome and I’m so glad Bethesda has kept releasing the Construction Set. But I want to build it in the rules of the world, requiring in-game resources and work to create.
And there are dozens, if not hundreds of reasons, that asking for that is unreasonable. And I think at the Skyrim level of graphic fidelity, maybe it is too much. But getting a taste of it with Hearthfire, I wanted more freedom. Why can’t I plant plants wherever I want? Why can’t I start a farm? And that’s probably a different game and unreasonable expectations. It makes me want a Dwarf Fortress I can explore in first person, a Minecraft with smaller blocks, NPCs, and the ability to build towns from the ground up.
So I guess I want a first person city builder. Derailment has come full circle. We’re still out there, Forget Amnesia!
Finished the main story in GTA V, about 40 hours to 80% completion. Good stuff. Stream of consciousness thoughts. Spoiler free until the end of the post, clearly marked.
The character switching works as an editing tool (“skip to the good parts”), if you end up deep in the boonies and don’t feel like hiking back, just switch to a different character. Also seeing what the characters are up to when you drop in on them added a lot of depth to their personalities.
The fact that all the playable characters are psychopaths to varying degrees is actually acknowledged by the story, not as much of a dichotomy between the story and what the player does in between.
Tone is close to Ballad of Gay Tony - pretty tongue in cheek, which makes it a little hard to take Serious Events… seriously.
Random events are introduced Red Dead Redemption style, popping up with a flash and a colored dot on the radar. Everything from armored cars to rob, purse snatchers to stop (or not), and much crazier stuff. These do a lot to make the world feel more alive, but it feels like they could go a lot further with them. They appear in the same places, it seems. Why not at random locations, make it less predictable?
On a similar note, wish there were more “odd jobs” like Trevor’s gun running business. Seems like it could keep replayability up, give a little focus to the after end game.
The Strangers and Freaks encounters are some of the high points. Lets us meet crazy people that have us do crazy things, without worrying about things like the Main Plot.
Heist Supply missions were some of the more freeform missions in the game, and I wish there was more like it. This seems like the kind of thing that could be generated - “Hey, a convoy of (cool things to steal) is entering Los Santos. Go steal it however you want.”
I feel like Rockstar’s not as hot on directed sandbox stuff as I want them to be. They’re in love with telling a movie style story, which is awesome, but seems like there’s so much more that could be done with the world they’ve built. I don’t think any other game has put together a sandbox that feels as believable. The city’s stylized, compact, a “mental model” version of Southern California, but things still make sense. The railroads actually go somewhere if you follow them. I mean, that’s a set dressing thing, but it makes a difference. I buy Los Santos as a city. That looks silly when I write it down.
Retrying missions has been streamlined. It feels like I had to retry a lot, but maybe I’m just bad. Most deaths were from being out in the open in a gun battle, something you can no longer do and expect to survive. Certainly makes the player feel less like a super hero, but it took some getting used to.
They finally figured out the money problems - namely, the player having too much and nothing to do with it. There are some serious money sinks: properties worth tens of millions of dollars, million dollar helicopters.
The weapon switching/inventory setup is a huge improvement. You carry every weapon you’ve every purchased, with different categories sharing ammo. It’s ridiculous (super magic pockets), but it’s a lot more fun. Ammo is maybe a little too common? The game gives you a ton of it in story missions, making ammo management something you can ignore. I think it loses something there, I like the resource management aspect of it. Running out of ammo also encourages you to swap between weapons, and I don’t think that ever happened.
You die quick if you’re not in cover or have a ability active. This turns combat into finding cover and staying there until everyone is dumb enough to stick their head out. Maybe they could have used enemies that flushed the player out of cover (grenades?), but I get that it’s a delicate balance in cover shooters between the player feeling safe and the player being mobile.
Ok, SPOILERS START HERE
The Heists are some seriously high points. Escaping from the jewelry store robbery on dirt bikes was nuts. A completely linear path through a tunnel, but still nuts. The others were also intense, but I felt none really eclipsed the fun of the first one.
A couple cool little callbacks to GTA 4:
The “IAA”/UL Paper guy shows up. Packie shows up as a hired gun.
And damn, Trevor kills Johnny Klebitz, the player character from The Lost and the Damned in his opening scene. This lets you know Trevor is a Bad Person.
Playable torture was… distasteful? It fit Trevor’s character just fine, just felt not good. And yet shooting hundreds of other people is just fine, right? Still, not extraneous, gives the player a reason to hate Trevor if they’re really not a fan of that. Kind of felt like it was played for laughs, when the guy stumbles out of the car at the airport.
Don’t know if there’s one takeaway I had from the story. Friends are cool? Family is important, if for nothing else but a measure of your success? Murder and crime is cool, as long as you’re on the winning side? Maybe it’s a mistake to look for anything deeper, but I kind of wish there was something there.
I feel like the trailers showed snippets of almost every major moment in the game? I went “ok, I remember seeing this” a lot. Kind of took away from the magic.
Lots I didn’t touch on. An evolution, a refinement, nothing game changing. But still, what a game. Four years in development, at least 250 devs, $100 to $300 million dev budget. The credits stretched on. GTA San Andreas scale with the fidelity of GTA IV. Elements pulled in from Max Payne 3 and Red Dead Redemption. Still more that could be done with the sandbox, I’m very curious what multiplayer and DLC is going to look like.
Too many words.