October 25, 2009

Onward, Toward Oblivion

Okay. So me and the Elder Scrolls series have a nasty history. I picked up Morrowind when they released the pack that had it and its two expansions, after rave reviews and heaps of praise from the masses. That game makes my list of Top Five Most Hated Games (that I've played- obviously, there are some titles where the very concept disgusted me, so I didn't try em). I hated the muddly, brown swamp look of the world, hated the enemies that would ambush you while you slept, hated the awkward combat and the boring landscape and the crappy navigation, hate hate hate hate. There was much rage. It wasn't pretty.

And when I first picked up Oblivion... well, I liked it for a while, but that like pretty quickly turned to a rather intense dislike. Let's get this straight- Oblivion is an amazing game. A really stunning creation. And for the most part, it's a gem. But there are two design decisions that were made- seperately, they're okay, if not wonderful, but when they work in tandem, when they are both in the same game... they inspire utter, utter hatred in my heart. Enemies that level with you- I don't much like this in games, but eh, I can get over that. Not a big deal. But when you can level by raising noncombat skills, and thus level without gaining combat ability, this autoscaling of enemies becomes unforgivable.

When I first played, I didn't know that enemies scaled. And I had a BLAST. I went into the Imperial City, the huge, capital city, and bartered, negotiated, investigated, did all manner of delightful noncombat activities, and leveled, leveled, leveled. And when I finally stepped out of the big city, now level 18, and ready to explore the rest of the vast world... there were bandits in magical armor with flaming longswords waiting to greet me. I had leveled all that way without using any combat abilities- well, not very many, a few. And now I was faced with fighting enemies that would have been challenging at my level if I HAD levelled with combat skills. It literally took me ten minutes of fireball throwing kiting to take down ONE of these bandits. I just didn't stand a CHANCE.

And so I scorned and cursed the game, and cast it from my DVD drive, never to return again. But that's not where the story ends... not by a long shot. I got a new hard drive this weekend, and so I was looked through my current hard drive, seeing what I could transfer to this new, second one. And what do you know... Oblivion was still installed. I had nothing better to do, so I booted it up, started a new character. And this time, I chose to be a combat focused character. Stealth, swords, and destructive magic my specialties. And now I've played around five hours into this character, and I am LOVING it.

I remember, when I picked up Final Fantasy VII for the first time, and I really wasn't digging it. I was still in Midgar- of course things get better once you get out of there, and even near the end. It IS an amazing game, but it hadn't really started to impress yet. And I was bitching to a friend about how it wasn't what I'd hoped. He told me to keep going, but he also told me that I had to approach it with a certain attitude, that I had to have a certain point of view, and that would make the game amazing. At the time, I remember thinking (not saying, I respected him too much for that) that I thought that was a load of crap. In my mind, if you had to approach a game a certain way for it to be good... it wasn't a good game. Its quality should shine through. I didn't use that approach, and I ended up finding out that it was an amazing game all the same.

I think, though, that my attitude there was a bit immature. If you play Ocarina of Time from a graphics whore's perspective, you WON'T appreciate the marvel of the game that it is. If you approach the Metal Gear Solid series looking for concise, logical plot structure, you won't appreciate that to the proper degree either. I still don't agree with my friend fully, but there ARE wrong ways to play a game. Oblivion, I still think, is a deeply flawed game. But if you're willing to work with it, you'll discover it's also a remarkable, wonderful title as well. And this goes for quite a few titles in our medium.

You don't have to play a game the way it tells you to, and you shouldn't have to. But I have yet to see a game that is fully realized in every element- gameplay, characters, story, graphics, art design, level design, stablity, and more. If you can't be open minded, you're... well, a Madden gamer.

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