I shoot an arrow in the air and where it lands I know where. (a knee)

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I've said it before about Oblivion and I'm saying it again about Skyrim (but more): I like wandering around.

There are, of course, the quests.  I do those.  I like the sense of direction they give.  But I don't get teleported to the quest hub.  I can fast travel to somewhere near the quest location, but after that, I have some travel to do.  So I travel.  Sometimes in the direct direction.  Sometimes toward the dragon shrine that popped up as being somewhat nearby.  Sometimes in circles as I chase down the dragon that clearly wants to fight me but keeps landing somewhere else to fight bears.  Poor thing doesn't know what it wants.

I wander and as I wander, I wander across.  I wander across caves and castles and within the caves and castles I may fight bears and bandits, though not usually in the same place.  These bears and bandits are not a burdensome challenge nor a fount of bountiful loot, but I get to hit people in the face with my shield and that is enough.

That's the nice thing about the leveling system: it levels with you.  I level up and thanks to that I can do cool new things such as block magic damage with my shield.  The NPCs follow with.  So I get stronger and so do they and I do it a little bit faster.  Fire mages still hurt and a pair can often kill me.  Cleansing the Shrine of Meridia was difficult (not a fire mage, but a tricky one anyway), but turning into a werewolf helped, except the time I took a full blast right out the door.

This creates an excellent hybrid system in which I can either follow some rails for a Developer-Approved quest line or I can wander off into the world.  If I want to just engage in some violence, I can wander off and find it.  If the possibilities overwhelm me, I can follow the quest arrows.

A too-strict leveling system doesn't allow for this.  If I am level 50 and the area is level 10, there will be nothing to gain from it.  Loot will be too weak, quest rewards too small, and enemies so trivial as to be like gnats, but without the high miss rate when swatting at gnats.  Under an excessively strict system you move in the Developer-Approved areas and leave them when they tell you to.  This is needed in some cases where zones are chronologically linear, that is, that the story in zone B comes after the story zone A and assumes you've done certain things in zone A.  In that case, making zone A level 15 and zone B level 20 is an easy way to ensure that I do the story in the order that makes sense.  That's fine.  It is not without cost.

There is a way around it, to keep the zones all parallel in time, but maintaining grand narratives.  One way is to make the isolated content, the instances or dungeons, longer and able to run stories on their own.  Another is to make the stories old, make them bits and pieces that we discover, and in that way, can always make sense.  Maybe we find the ending first and wonder how it happened.  Or we find the beginning first and wonder how it ended.  Maybe we find the middle and we have this strange tension of not knowing how it began or how it ends.  That drives us to complete the story, but does not mandate any particular order or direction, while still perhaps pointing us to places we'd want to go.

Now if you'll excuse me, that castle looks a bit suspicious...


Doone said...

I play open world games exactly the same way. Obvious I guess, after all I suppose the game is targetting that kind of player. The quests are always too abundant to be interesting in most cases for me. So I just try to find interesting locations and do quests there if I get bored.

I fancy myself a hunter and that's pretty much what I spend all my time doing in Skyrim. Scouting around, sneaking around, trying to get a one-shot kill from my quarry or setting up kill zones to kite them through as I wear them down.

Let me know what you find in that castle ...

Klepsacovic said...

I found a nightmare machine. Eventually I cleared that up, but in the process I murdered an innocent person.

Then I hired a mercenary and sacrificed him to some evil demon. She was mad that I killed all her cultists.

I ended my day the way I wish I could end every day: breaking into an embassy to kill racist foreigners.

Doone said...

LMAO Now I'm gonna have to play some Skyrim before the weekend is up!

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