Hypothetical Ideal Game: First-Person RPG Edition

I’ve been playing a bunch of different games recently, like Oblivion, Two Worlds, Dwarf Fortress and Mother 3.
Well, for a given value of ‘recently’, I suppose.
Oh, and Atmosphir. I got into the beta. It’s great, though since I’ve been playing Oblivion lately, there’s one thing about the controls that I keep tripping over. That’s more because I’ve been playing Oblivion recently than any kind of fault in Atmosphir, though.

ANYWAY, whilst playing Oblivion, I remembered when I was writing about Two Worlds and how it’s not as good as that game in certain areas. I mentioned that Two Worlds was actually superior to Oblivion in one area; its weather, specifically the mist and fog effects. I don’t remember if I saw it raining in Two Worlds, but Oblivion‘s rain is pretty close to how depressing rain is where I live, at any rate. I was thinking, ‘Oblivion would be better if it had Two Worlds‘ weather…’

The logical extension of that thought is, ‘what would my ideal first-person RPG be?’ This is one part praising certain mechanics or elements of specific games that I happen to like, and another part game design, as I try to explain WHY I like them, and why they fit in.
Currently, my idea of the ideal first-person RPG sorta goes like this:

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (base game) + Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul (yay, difficulty!) + Two Worlds (weather effects) + Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (the soundtrack) + The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (general character of the region)

Oblivion because… well… it’s Oblivion. It’s the best (read: only) first-person game, RPG or no, I’ve actually played and done well at, aside from Morrowind. I played the Ultima Underworld games years ago, but didn’t do anywhere near as well with them. It’s a great game that allows a number of different ways to be played, even without modding it, which is another brilliant feature, that really extends the playability of ‘Oblivion’… even if it’s not quite Oblivion any more, afterwards.
So Oblivion is the base game, here, but that doesn’t mean all things listed after it simply modify as detailed. Oblivion‘s good enough to play by itself, and if there were a mod to, say, quietly filch Two Worlds‘ weather, I’d jump on it and probably never let go, but I’d (probably) really like an entirely new game that took all the good features of Oblivion, then added the stuff from the other listed games. Oblivion‘s just the game I think has the most great features of the lot; requiring a small amount of skill from the player even IF the character’s skills are all at 100 – Speechcraft (not much skill, admittedly – I should seek out one of those mods sometime…) or Lockpicking (the ability to recognise when a tumbler will ‘stick’, either by sound or sight – try guessing which is easier for me, huh? – if you don’t just have the game autoattempt it for you) – for example.
This isn’t an exhaustive list; games that illustrate what I’d love to replace a given element with don’t always come to mind, if I’ve even experienced anything like what I’d like to see in the first place.

One ever-so-slight ‘problem’ I had with normal Oblivion was that it wasn’t much of a challenge; I invariably play a mage, and Destruction is a very efficient school of magic for exploding stuff, even if you never find the (celebrated) Enemies Explode spell. Without changing anything, it’s pretty easy to get far into the game and still only be using Weak Fireball, Shocking Touch and Cold Touch, two of which you start with if you pick Destruction for a major skill. Normally, like Morrowind, most enemies you encounter are based on your level, so unless you really neglect your offensive skills, you can always (easily, in my experience as a mage) beat anything you encounter, except bosses. It makes the game a little more… I don’t know. ‘Swashbuckling’. ‘Movie-style dramatic’, rather than dramatic because it really was a close fight between that Bandit and me.
Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul drastically changes things; I routinely find myself running away from things like Minotaurs, Trolls, Bandits and Mystical Imps at level 1 – stuff you either shouldn’t be seeing for a long time, or weren’t a challenge originally. Highwaymen are still rather wimpy, though.
Probably doesn’t help lighten difficulty any that I pick the Atronach birthsign for both of the mage characters I’ve played with this mod, which adds something else to difficulty with not being able to rest to recover magicka between fights, but triumphing against a Troll because you fought intelligently rather than just tanking it and poking it with Flare, thanks to the health even a mage has after enough levels, results in a sense of achievement I otherwise just don’t get from the game. Oblivion’s natural difficulty – or lack thereof – isn’t something I noticed as a problem in the first place, but I really don’t want to go back to that now that I’m playing with OOO.

Two Worlds‘ weather effects. The game’s fog and mist effects just look that real. I’m really not sure how they got that so right, and yet a lot of other things in the game, like… well, character models… look so odd.
Then again, years ago I was impressed about how realistic Final Fantasy VIII‘s graphics looked compared to FFVII‘s. Graphics aren’t that major a thing to me; I honestly prefer sprite-based or ASCII graphics to 3D stuff, and wish more games followed the examples of Breath of Fire III and BoFIV. They’re just… part of the game, and I don’t understand how graphics can be anything from a major concern to everything, as some people on Guild Wars seem to me to think, from what they say about World of Warcraft’s visuals. Part of me still suspects they just don’t want to admit they don’t want to pay continually for a game after they bought it. ’cause I’ll happily admit I don’t enjoy that model.
Graphics will rarely turn me away from a game. Far more important is whether I like the plot and gameplay mechanics. All the same, having Two Worlds‘ weather effects in a game like Oblivion would be nice.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. This is just a really nice game in general, and it’s what I was playing when everyone else was playing Diablo II, I think. Even with really strange graphical problems due to using the same graphics card as came with the ancient computer that was mine at the time, I loved it. Still do.
So, the music. Arcanum gave us a decidedly-fantasy world in the throes of an industrial revolution. Steampunk with magic. Well, magic-punk with steam power? Not magitek-punk, as magic and technology do not get along. Well, to get to my point, the world in Arcanum was decidedly Victorian, or just teetering on the edge of a Belle Époque if some of the problems in the world ever cleared up, and Arcanum‘s soundtrack, similarly, was in the style of the era, or close enough to my ears. Go ahead, download and listen to it, as Sierra and Troika Games put it up for download years ago. It’s the kind of music you can see (hear?) being composed by people living in a world like Arcanum‘s.
Oblivion, whilst it has orchestral music, doesn’t have anything that stands out; for want of a better way of explaining it, it’s modern orchestral, of the typical kind of pieces composed nowadays… for videogames, as I admit I haven’t listened to many other new orchestral pieces composed for different reasons and audiences.
I like it, but it’s the same as so much else that I have no reason to listen to Oblivion‘s music in particular; Arcanum‘s soundtrack I still keep going back to, and that music’s getting close to a decade in age. There are good modern-orchestral pieces that stand out – anything by Masashi Hamauzu, or Hitoshi Sakimoto, but they both compose pieces so different that they probably wouldn’t be considered the same genre, anyway – and then there are pieces that simply stick to the conventions and do nothing new.
Both Arcanum and Oblivion have large and pretty-detailed worlds, but Arcanum has music that matches its world, or what we’d expect from that world, from history. Oblivion‘s music is pretty generic. Though I admit that also matches Oblivion; see my next, and final, point for today.

Morrowind. This one’s a doozy, the most difficult one to explain in the current not-short-when-explained list. It’s also the one that takes the award for ‘most impossible to add to Oblivion without it not being Oblivion any more’.
The region of Tamriel Oblivion takes place in – Cyrodiil – is… well…
It’s pretty typical. Plainsland. Forest. Swamp. Mountain. Snowy mountain. A typical checklist of terrain. Ancient Ruins dotted around the place. A city, a bunch of towns, and many small assorted villages and hamlets – actually, the city, towns and villages aren’t a problem; they’re great. They seem just the right distance apart. It’s just everything else.
Don’t get me wrong; Oblivion has a great world, but there’s still something about it that just seems ‘typical’ or ‘generic’ to me. It probably comes from living somewhere that’s actually quite like it; the UK and other pretty-closely-associated land. We have plains (most of the countryside, or at least most near the roads), we have rather boggy areas (anywhere it rains, it seems, but we have proper wetlands, too; look at Ireland), we have mountains (Scotland), and we have woods and forests, too (though not as many as there used to be). It’s too familiar, even if I’ve never been to a proper wetland, just live in a land where it’s usually more or less wet, or normally only go past a lot of the countryside in bus.
Morrowind‘s ‘world’, Vvardenfell, is swamp and ashen wasteland, and not all that much else. I never really got a feel for Cyrodiil whilst ambling around trying to save the world; even in the midst of an invasion, it still looks like idyllic rolling plains, quiet forests, cold mountains and altogether-too-damp swamps, all drawn from a UK template. I don’t know. It just never clicked as more than a place, somewhere that could be real, for all the similarity to the UK-and-company I listed above.
Vvardenfell always seemed hostile. Partially because it was; I’m reasonably certain Morrowind is tougher than Oblivion for more reason than only my lack of experience at first-person stuffs when I first picked up Morrowind. But also because that part of Tamriel was always dark and overcast, in my memory, with storms of ash. It wasn’t just hostile to you, it didn’t like the NPCs either, and they knew it too. It had things like Cliff Racers, and whilst not exactly liked by any player, they did add to the overall atmosphere of hostility Vvardenfell always had. And though Vvardenfell was actually bigger than Cyrodiil, it didn’t have a great amount of variation in the terrain; some people see this as dull, others (me, at least) as a bit more realistic – the UK doesn’t have a lot of swamp, I think. Is Cyrodiil where a lot of different terrains meet? I think so, and it’s not helping Cyrodiil grow an identity for itself.
Vvardenfell also had ancient ruins, but they didn’t stick out so much; Ayleid ruins in Cyrodiil look like they’re self-cleaning, for all the wear they’re supposed to have gone through since the Ayleids were forced from their throne, and it’s really difficult travelling far without tripping over one or another, but the Chimer ruins in Vvardenfell were actually pretty difficult to find, due to Vvardenfell being huge and Morrowind not giving us a map like Oblivion did, but also because they were covered in ash. I’d at least expect Ayleid ruins to be heavily overgrown or buried by now, but… only the one, and that’s in the latter case.
In short, Vvardenfell has a personality. And Cyrodiil, though it has a personality, has a much weaker one. I liked how the Oblivion Gates altered the landscale in a very localised area; maybe if older ones affected a larger area? Maybe if the area affected was more than just a few metres from the gate, but spread out – effects getting thinner – for a much further distance? Cyrodiil just doesn’t hang together as well as Vvardenfell does, and it’d be difficult to change Cyrodiil that way, as part of the problem is Cyrodiil itself.

That’s all that comes to mind, at the moment; for this hypothetical maybe-ideal first-person RPG, I mean. I have ideas for more articles on this theme, and I’ll hopefully get around to writing them at some point. And continuing with the Blaze & Blade articles, miniviews-in-many-formats, and anything else of which I made a short series.

Two Worlds: Initial Thoughts

This game has some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in a game. Normally when reviewing something, even I usually start with graphics, right? After all, even before you touch the keyboard or controls, you’re seeing the game. However, this isn’t really a review. It’s thoughts on the game

So, yeah. This game has some very, very lamentably-poor voice acting in it. I wish the unnamed main character… I wish he were a silent protagonist, but sadly he is not.
Take a ten-year-old, and ask them to read from any given Superman strip. Note down what they emphasise. Then, notes in hand, turn your attention to the script of the game. Give the notes to the very disinterested voice actor given the main role. The worst thing about the main character is that his voice sounds like
it’d be pretty good for the role. The actor just didn’t bother to
deliver the lines properly, though..
Unfortunately, not only does the main character talk in cutscenes, he also chatters whenever you find an item you can take in the wilderness, too. Whenever you pick a herb or mushroom. Whenever you rip the heart out of a wolf’s rapidly-cooling chest. Whenever you extract a rabbit’s bladder.
Happily, NPCs aren’t usually as bad. Gandohar sounds the most human of the lot. Every other voice runs from ‘mediocre’ to ‘painfully uninterested’.

Alchemy. Taking ingredients from the corpses littering the ground around you is slightly more satisfying than it ever was in Oblivion. Otherwise it’s more confusing and less useful, though I haven’t yet found a trainer to give me the first point in the skill.
Most of the ingredients you… uh… ‘find’, have heavy negative effects attached; such as damaging you for drinking potions made with them. Fair enough; that’s what happens when you eat a poisonous mushroom. I didn’t know wolf meat (… okay, wolf heart) was just as poisonous. It’s also, thus far at my meagre 0 points of skill, impossible to predict the effects of a potion. Odious concoctions that taste like a stab in the gut? Okay, I can make those. Useful things that take advantage of ‘permanent effect’ ingredients I find around the place?
…no, can’t have me making those.

Graphically, the game is… well, it’s pretty good in some areas;
environments are lovely, not quite to Oblivion’s level but just a bit
better than World of Warcraft. Weather effects are stunning; fog
actually looks like fog, rather than a simple whitewash that
doesn’t impede your vision at all. Fog is potentially deadly, for what
it does to your range of vision. Which is a good thing, honestly.
Character models, on the other hand, are… well, they’re where it all
falls apart. Past the intro sequence, I don’t think I’ve seen a NPC
open their mouth to speak; instead, they just… nod their head, and
somehow their voice emanates through teeth and closed lips. The main character, though his mouth actually opens to emit that dull voice, is worse. Entirely independent of the voice, he jerks and gestures like a Muppet. Or a Sesame Street puppet.

Story-wise, the game seems to drop you in the deep end. Our unnamed protagonist is seeking his sister, kidnapped or otherwise-just-vanished a couple fo months previously, and has travelled to Thalmont since receiving a letter suggesting he could find his sister there.
A letter sent by the kidnappers. More of a ransom demand, in retrospect, though they seem to want community service more than gold.
Done well, this would be… um… passable.
Unfortunately, it’s not done well. As mentioned, the game seems to drop you in the deep end. In medias res. As a literary technique, that can be a wonderful thing. Only one book ever handled this poorly enough that I had to check*. In games, however, all it’s ever done is make me feel like there’s a prequel out there I never played. Unlike most stories beginning in medias res, games seldom drop entirely into flashback-mode, where the past becomes the present of the narrative. Instead, if we’re lucky – for a given value of ‘lucky’ – we get exposition, instead. We’re just told.
If we’re unlucky, that vague feeling that there was a prequel we never played never goes away. Writing this, I just checked GameFAQs to make sure I hadn’t skipped something accidentally; this is the ‘Epic Edition’ of Two Worlds I’m playing, and the name of the expansion integrated into the game is the same as the main quest, so… but it doesn’t seem I missed anything after all, hm.

Also, the game seems undecided over whether to take the route of having an identity-less protagonist, or giving him a personality. On the one hand, we get no name for the guy; identity can form without a name, but it’s much more difficult to refer to a nameless person. ‘Him’. ‘He’.
The trouble is, though Two Worlds lets you customise the main character
a little, he has his own personality, and therefore is not yours.
There’s no attachment gained from making his arms slightly longer and
giving him blonde hair.  So they can’t have intended an identity-less protagonist, where in ‘The Elder Scrolls’ style, the character’s personality is defined wholly by the actions of the player.
But it’s all so… so stock, generic personality. He has an identity, but he has such a prosthetic, fake, shallow personality that it doesn’t impact on me at all, beyond ‘you call that a personality? That’s NOT a personality!’
But I’m only a little way in. I might get proven wrong later. His only interactions have been with two non-significant NPCs, Gandohar, and another mysterious cloaked guy whose name didn’t stick.

Controls are… eh. The game is just about similar enough to Oblivion that I keep hitting the wrong key for spells. Turning is unresponsive, too. Mostly just don’t have anything to say on this.

Lastly, difficulty. I’m playing medium because I just don’t like starting on easy; that’s essentially admitting the game’s medium difficulty mode defeated me before I even start playing. But enemies take a long time to kill, and if I ever run into more than one enemy at a time, it’s usually a straight run for the first Health/Mana restoration shrine so I can be more or less invincible whilst I whittle them down, or else the nearest town and NPC who’ll kill stuff for me.
I suspect this is screwing me in some way, though. I don’t know whether enemies in this game respawn yet, and you gain skills by levelling and then spending points, rather than training skills to gain levels. Could be troublesome later on.

Okay, I’ve compared this game to Oblivion enough for today. I really need to get around to installing that and digging up all the mods my last save used.

* ‘Mirror Dreams’, by the way. Constant references by the main character to events that would have also made a brilliant book contributed to this. Otherwise great, both it and ‘Mirror Wakes’, the sequel.