A Sense of Place: Thoughts on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I've not posted anything about Skyrim on this blog yet since I don't really have anything particularly original to say about the game that hasn't already been repeated a thousand times by legions of admiring fans and reviewers alike. I usually get bored of the TES series' signature quantity-over-quality approach to open world design (the smaller, more hand-crafted Gothic titles being more my kind of non-linear RPG), and have been known to say some pretty nasty things about Bethesda in general and Todd Howard in particular. For the sake of discussion, it would probably have been more interesting if I felt the same way about the fifth entry in the series...but after having spent more than 50 hours in the land of the Nords I must admit that the game provides a consistently immersive and satisfying experience with a surprising amount of genuinely worthwile content to explore.

I'm playing as an Imperial fighter (who just reached level 36) with a focus on heavy armor and one-handed swords. Skyrim's melee combat still has a bit of that weightless, haphazard feel which characterized Oblivion and Morrowind, but welcome improvements have been made in terms of things like attack animations, the impact of the weapons as well as the precision and timing required to be really effective - especially with the slightly more technical shield plus sword combo as opposed to the less subtle two-handed berserker approach. Even more importantly, though, having two equippable and freely customizable hands ensures that the player can easily mix weapons, shields as well as spells in innovative ways and change between combinations more or less on the fly using the handy Favorites feature (in conjunction with the well-hidden Hotkey system). Overall, there's a fluidity here that feels a lot better than the detached clunkiness of Morroblivion.

The enemy level scaling in Oblivion was deeply problematic and resulted in a lot of frustration during my one and only playthrough of that game (partly due to poor skill management on my part). Therefore, it's a particular relief to experience the much smoother progression in Skyrim, in which at least the more powerful enemies still manage to put up a fight even past level 30. As usual, some notorious power players will complain that the game is too easy, and it's obviously always possible to exploit the mechanics of an open world RPG system (though that's more related to stats and perks which is not was concerns me here), but I think it's fair to say that people who had issues with Oblivion in this regard will find Skyrim to a considerably less bumpy ride.

As for the much-discussed dragon fights, well, they do quickly get rather easy but what's consistently great about taking down these oversized airborne lizards is that you just don't know when and where they are going to attack. The sudden appearance of a dragon has a way of making you forget whatever it was that you were doing and just get in the action...

Somewhat ironically, whereas Skyrim is arguably more constrained by aging console hardware than the largely PC-centric Morrowind or the 360 near-launch title Oblivion were, with TES5 I feel Bethesda nonetheless has achieved a great deal more when it comes to the world-building than with any of their previous releases. The vaguely Scandinavian-looking environments are teeming with relatively realistic wildlife and the endless rolling hills of TES4 have been replaced by dramatic landscapes which are both more varied and more detailed, and therefore also more interesting to explore. I suspect this general increase in quality is partly the result of technological advances and rising consumer expectations in the graphics department rather than some sort of creative revolution within Bethsoft itself, but whatever the case Skyrim feels more meaningful and worthwile as a world than Cyrodiil or even the delightfully strange but rather brown Vvardenfell ever did. Much like past Elder Scrolls titles, most of the human settlements in Skyrim are curiously dull and prefab-heavy but at least this time around it's actually rewarding to just wander through the jaw-droppingly beautiful wilderness and discover hidden dungeons filled with challenging enemies and great loot.

Skyrim both has a lot more properly scripted and dialogue-supported side quests than any previous Elder Scrolls title and the game is much better at subtly steering the player towards cool new experiences. Almost every tomb or crumbling castle I've stumbled upon in the wilderness have shown clear signs of being part of some substantial side quest or other. Also, one of the greatest things about Skyrim's exploration is that there always seems to be a quick shortcut out of a dungeon once you've cleared it out and/or found whatever quest item you were supposed to collect. Walking all the way back from where you came was a tedious issue even as far back in the series as Daggerfall, so it's great to see the shortcut approach in no less than two Bethesda-published games this year (the other one being id Software's Rage).

In conclusion, while Bethesda's new open world RPG undoubtedly has many of the exact same flaws as previous TES titles - such as less than stellar combat, forgettable NPCs, lots of minor skill imbalances and a bit too much repetition to quite justify the scale of the game world - the improvements to the long-established formula are significant enough that, at least to me, Skyrim is the game both Morrowind and Oblivion desperately tried to be but never was. RPG of the year, then? Well, given the undeniable shortcomings of the compelling and well-intentioned Dragon Age 2 and my own lukewarm feelings towards CD Projekt's ambitious but somewhat forgettable The Witcher 2, I think that might very well be the case...

26 Comments
26 Comments
Posted by Egge

I've not posted anything about Skyrim on this blog yet since I don't really have anything particularly original to say about the game that hasn't already been repeated a thousand times by legions of admiring fans and reviewers alike. I usually get bored of the TES series' signature quantity-over-quality approach to open world design (the smaller, more hand-crafted Gothic titles being more my kind of non-linear RPG), and have been known to say some pretty nasty things about Bethesda in general and Todd Howard in particular. For the sake of discussion, it would probably have been more interesting if I felt the same way about the fifth entry in the series...but after having spent more than 50 hours in the land of the Nords I must admit that the game provides a consistently immersive and satisfying experience with a surprising amount of genuinely worthwile content to explore.

I'm playing as an Imperial fighter (who just reached level 36) with a focus on heavy armor and one-handed swords. Skyrim's melee combat still has a bit of that weightless, haphazard feel which characterized Oblivion and Morrowind, but welcome improvements have been made in terms of things like attack animations, the impact of the weapons as well as the precision and timing required to be really effective - especially with the slightly more technical shield plus sword combo as opposed to the less subtle two-handed berserker approach. Even more importantly, though, having two equippable and freely customizable hands ensures that the player can easily mix weapons, shields as well as spells in innovative ways and change between combinations more or less on the fly using the handy Favorites feature (in conjunction with the well-hidden Hotkey system). Overall, there's a fluidity here that feels a lot better than the detached clunkiness of Morroblivion.

The enemy level scaling in Oblivion was deeply problematic and resulted in a lot of frustration during my one and only playthrough of that game (partly due to poor skill management on my part). Therefore, it's a particular relief to experience the much smoother progression in Skyrim, in which at least the more powerful enemies still manage to put up a fight even past level 30. As usual, some notorious power players will complain that the game is too easy, and it's obviously always possible to exploit the mechanics of an open world RPG system (though that's more related to stats and perks which is not was concerns me here), but I think it's fair to say that people who had issues with Oblivion in this regard will find Skyrim to a considerably less bumpy ride.

As for the much-discussed dragon fights, well, they do quickly get rather easy but what's consistently great about taking down these oversized airborne lizards is that you just don't know when and where they are going to attack. The sudden appearance of a dragon has a way of making you forget whatever it was that you were doing and just get in the action...

Somewhat ironically, whereas Skyrim is arguably more constrained by aging console hardware than the largely PC-centric Morrowind or the 360 near-launch title Oblivion were, with TES5 I feel Bethesda nonetheless has achieved a great deal more when it comes to the world-building than with any of their previous releases. The vaguely Scandinavian-looking environments are teeming with relatively realistic wildlife and the endless rolling hills of TES4 have been replaced by dramatic landscapes which are both more varied and more detailed, and therefore also more interesting to explore. I suspect this general increase in quality is partly the result of technological advances and rising consumer expectations in the graphics department rather than some sort of creative revolution within Bethsoft itself, but whatever the case Skyrim feels more meaningful and worthwile as a world than Cyrodiil or even the delightfully strange but rather brown Vvardenfell ever did. Much like past Elder Scrolls titles, most of the human settlements in Skyrim are curiously dull and prefab-heavy but at least this time around it's actually rewarding to just wander through the jaw-droppingly beautiful wilderness and discover hidden dungeons filled with challenging enemies and great loot.

Skyrim both has a lot more properly scripted and dialogue-supported side quests than any previous Elder Scrolls title and the game is much better at subtly steering the player towards cool new experiences. Almost every tomb or crumbling castle I've stumbled upon in the wilderness have shown clear signs of being part of some substantial side quest or other. Also, one of the greatest things about Skyrim's exploration is that there always seems to be a quick shortcut out of a dungeon once you've cleared it out and/or found whatever quest item you were supposed to collect. Walking all the way back from where you came was a tedious issue even as far back in the series as Daggerfall, so it's great to see the shortcut approach in no less than two Bethesda-published games this year (the other one being id Software's Rage).

In conclusion, while Bethesda's new open world RPG undoubtedly has many of the exact same flaws as previous TES titles - such as less than stellar combat, forgettable NPCs, lots of minor skill imbalances and a bit too much repetition to quite justify the scale of the game world - the improvements to the long-established formula are significant enough that, at least to me, Skyrim is the game both Morrowind and Oblivion desperately tried to be but never was. RPG of the year, then? Well, given the undeniable shortcomings of the compelling and well-intentioned Dragon Age 2 and my own lukewarm feelings towards CD Projekt's ambitious but somewhat forgettable The Witcher 2, I think that might very well be the case...

Posted by SturmMajere

i didnt read the whole post, cause the opening was so off-putting. you've said some "nasty things" about bethesda and todd howard in particular? like what? aside from discussing the quality of their games, what could you possibly have said that would be construed as "nasty"? and why? and furthermore, why should i care what else you have to say when you start off with such a ridiculous statement?

Posted by Egge

@SturmMajere: You're taking things a bit too literal, I fear, or else I can't possible imagine what would be construed as "ridiculous" in the statement you refer to. Since you seem so specifically interested in what was meant by that sentence, perhaps I should add that I have described Elder Scrolls games as "tedious", "broken", "uninspired" and "bland" etc. in the past (which, if you're a video game, is not a nice thing to hear), and the no doubt ambitious and hard-working open world designer Mr Howard has been called the "Master of Mediocrity" or something to that effect.

Maybe "mean" is a better word than nasty, but I've definitely said more intentionally hurtful things about Elder Scrolls (an RPG series which I feel has had a negative overall influence on my favorite genre over the years) than I've said about most people I don't like in real life.

Posted by Neferon

I think it's amazing what they did with this game. I haven't found many people that didn't like it, unlike the other games in the series. Now I'm curious though..

@Egge said:

... but I've definitely said more intentionally hurtful things about Elder Scrolls (an RPG series which I feel has had a negative overall influence on my favorite genre over the years)...

What percieved negative influence did TES have in your opinion?

Edited by TheDudeOfGaming

At first, there was no light, and God said: "Let there be light dude." At first there was no perfect game, then God said:"Let there be Bethesda, and let them make Skyrim." Amen.
As seen in scripture according to the Dude.

Posted by Neferon

@TheDudeOfGaming said:

At first, there was no light, and God said: "Let there be light dude." At first there was no perfect game, then God said:"Let there be Bethesda, and let them make Skyrim." Amen. As seen in scripture according to the Dude.

Not just any scripture, The Elder Scrolls! (tm)

Posted by Praxis

@Egge: I definitely agree with you that this is the closest Bethesda's ever come to realizing the kind of game they've been trying to all along. That said, I'm having trouble convincing myself to go any further with it after the Thieves Guild quest line completely broke. In other games, this is usually where I'd tell myself to persist with the main quest line in order to see the next compelling story development or interesting character interaction. Problem is, Bethesda games have historically had neither of these things, and I haven't experienced either so far in Skyrim, thus I'm at a bit of an impasse.

I've always thought of the Elder Scrolls as a series that is entirely about the gestalt. Most of the moving parts (combat, characters, etc.), when examined closely, don't add up to much, but when combined they work just well enough. That is, until the game world invariably collapses under its own weight.

Posted by SturmMajere

i'm curious what negative influence this guy thinks TES has had on RPGs. if i'm not mistaken, i think his profile picture is of a character from ultima (iolo? sparks? i dunno) which would lead me to believe he's an ultima fan. and as far as i'm concerned, bethesda games come the closest to replicating the ultima experience than ANY other game ever. how can you argue with that? how is that anything but a stone cold fact? no game has done the ultima (specifically ultima 7, as its the only one i ever played) thing better than bethesda's games, period.

Posted by Egge

@SturmMajere: I have never played an Ultima game; my avatar (as well as that background game world picture) is from Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant (1992).

My main problem with TES is that the open worlds Bethesda creates are usually big merely for the sake of being big; with lots of relatively mundane terrain and minor settlements and repetitive dungeons which just aren't that interesting to explore (I hasten to add that Skyrim is an enormous, amazing improvement in this regard, though). I like the Gothic games better because they have sizeable worlds which are still more detailed, hand-crafted and therefore simply more fun to explore. As far as combat is concerned, I vastly prefer turn-based/party-based systems (such as Temple of Elemental Evil or Wizardry 8, my two favorite modern RPGs) and TES has obviously always been focused on realtime mechanics ever since Arena. In conclusion, a quantity-over-quality approach to game worlds and somewhat boring realtime combat systems are the two primary issues with TES and to the extent that this enormously popular franchise has influenced the rest of the genre that's a real problem for me. However, it's perhaps fair to say that few companies have actively tried to emulate Bethesda's singleplayer RPG design, so maybe its influence can be overstated.

Posted by Egge

@Neferon: TES has long been characterized by huge game worlds with a lack of genuinely interesting content and a rather sloppy implementation of realtime combat which has lowered the bar for what's acceptable in a singleplayer RPG. "Influence" is perhaps the wrong word here, though, since - as Todd Howard has pointed out - so few developers have actively tried to copy Bethesda's design philosophy (we do have the European series like Gothic, Divinity Divinity and Two Worlds, but it's an open question whether they were actively trying to emulate Morrowind and Oblivion or taking inspiration from much older RPGs than that). But to the extent that people's expectations of what a singleplayer RPG should be like has been affected by TES, I would see that as a problem. Skyrim deserves a lot of praise for realizing more of the potential inherent in the open world formula than any previous open world RPG, though.

Posted by Fruitcocoa

Way to much of this game lean on you, as a player, being an RPG-freak. I am one but Skyrim is a little bit to much of "Well, it's good but this is what Oblivion tried to be but failed". Don't get me wrong - I really like this game, but it's far off my Game Of The Year list. It feels like an old game, even though it looks fantastic. While Skyrim is a cool place to be in, I ended up never taking the road anywhere, which ended up with me trying to bugging up a mountain. This is truly Bethesda's problem, because I wouldn't ever tried to do that in Red Dead Redemption.

Skyrim is great but, as you wrote--Quantity over quality.

Posted by SturmMajere

@Egge: having never played a gothic game (i played risen though) and having HATED wizardry 8 for being too hard, weird with the sci-fi stuff, and non interactive, i guess we're just on opposite ends of the spectrum. i did love might and magic 6 and 7, and they were similar to wizardry, so theres that.

but i dunno, i think bethesda has perfected the open world rpg to a degree that no one else has even approached

Posted by Egge

@Praxis: Yes, "compelling story developments" and "interesting character interactions" are things I've never associated with the main quest in a Bethesda game either, but I think Skyrim is at least noticeably better than Morrowind and Oblivion in this regard. The characters are still terribly wooden and forgettable, but I like the combination of morally ambiguous political conflicts and the more straightforwardly apocalyptic dragon problem.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Knowing what I know about dragons, I'm already metagaming in my head until I can get the game. One game I'll never advance far enough in the main quest to worry about them, the other I'll do that on purpose, just to see how it feels. Maybe even have a dragonhunting game where I just run around in the overworld picking fights with dragons and little else.
 
As far as walking back, it was only a problem if you didn't have Recall/Mark, at least in Daggerfall and Morrowind. With those spells, which some might consider conveniences like Clairvoyance, you just zip back to the entrance or the quest giver and your done. You don't even have to walk outside at all. The weird dungeon design that plops you back at the exit is OK, except for maybe plausibility, but I found that exiting a dungeon, as long as the exit's direction was clear, was never really a problem because a dungeon feels a lot shorter once you've cleared it of hostiles.
 
I still feel like roguelikes scratch my itch better when it comes to emergent situations, though it's heartening that Skyrim seems to allow for some of them. I wonder if there's a possible middle ground between roguelikes and a game like this.

Posted by Praxis

@Egge: I know that the carrot-on-a-stick mechanic of Bethesda games has never been (and might never be) plot progression, and so complaining about it by extension sounds somewhat hollow, but at a certain point Bethesda either needs to invest more into the fiction of their world, or just abandon the pretense of having an epic overarching story. Being a nameless wanderer with unspoken motives who travels the land slaying dragons would be about as compelling as anything I've encountered in the main quest so far, if not more so, and it would leave Bethesda in a better position to make more guild quests, which are the ones people really care about anyway.

Posted by Egge

@ahoodedfigure: When it comes to giving the player an option to easily bypass time-consuming chores, I vastly prefer Skyrim's seamlessly integrated shortcuts to the more active, spell-related process of earlier TES games. But I guess my preferences in this regard were formed quite a few years ago during all those countless hours I spent being hopelessly lost in Daggerfall's dungeons and trying desperately to wrap my head around those confusing 3D maps. I was not an experienced RPG gamer in 1996, and for much of my time with the game I had absolutely no idea there were any teleportation spells to acquire (it's not like the game went out of its way to inform me of that, either; but I guess that's precisely the kind of thing I don't miss about old school RPG design).

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Egge: Well, I have a fondness for Daggerfall but those maps and dungeons are largely demoralizing nonsense. I don't really seem them as old school, though. Old school to me is pretty much all the other projects that existed back then, where all the dungeons were hand-crafted (though often hard to get out of), except for roguelikes. Roguelikes even limited their dungeon space so it didn't take you very long, and timelapsed for long distance movement.
 
But yes, there are inherent problems with spell systems like that, if your character doesn't have the aptitude. Daggerfall would actually make me a bit horrified that they get so big, and I still feel like there should have been intermediate sized dungeons that didn't go quite as nuts, and have huge ones for those who wanted to just wander aimlessly forever (but didn't have any quest to accomplish!).
Posted by Egge

@ahoodedfigure: The "old school" comment referred specifically to the occasionally admirable design of letting players figure out everything for themselves (including whatever spell combinations might make their time spent with the game so much easier). But it's certainly indicative that so few other classic RPGs relied on the kind of awkwardly semi-procedural approach to world and dungeon design which Bethesda have been so inexplicably fond of for so many years now.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Are there still some procedural elements in Skyrim? Like landscape features in regions that don't have a lot going on?
 
Oh: 
 
Can you wield a weapon/spell in your left hand and a shield in your right? Can you wield two shields? (people keep saying you can but I have yet to see anyone demonstrate it)
 
What do you think of the alchemy system as compared to prior games, if you tried it?

Edited by owl_of_minerva

I was also pleasantly surprised by Skyrim. I found it fun to play, less annoyingly level scaled, and the aesthetics were markedly improved. The setting and lore in particular are great albeit wasted on their usual awful writing and quest design. It is still deeply flawed though. The loot system is broken and interesting options have been streamlined out (levitation, spell creation, etc.) making for a rather lackluster endgame. The problem especially with the loot system is that with smithing you can make better equipment than you'll ever find, and enchanting paired with smithing breaks the game. There's never a reason to explore after that, as the loot is terrible as is the infinite quest system. Ultimately it becomes a formulaic experience. Despite a raft of improvements and being "good for what it is", it's action RPG lite, in a sub-genre that has rarely had satisfying RPG mechanics in the first place. It's not even close to Gothic.

Posted by Egge

@ahoodedfigure: I can't tell for sure whether any procedural input went into making this game (which in and of itself is a good sign), but quite apart from all the expected side quests and proper locations which show up on your map the world is also filled with minor landmarks and non-randomized encounters which must have been put there by actual human beings.

You can have spells and one-handed weapons in either hand, but you can't have a shield in your right hand (...and therefore you also can't dual-wield shields). Technically speaking, shields belong to the "Apparel" category which, unlike "Weapons" and "Magic", for whatever reason cannot be assigned to specific hands (shields automatically go onto the left hand).

I never dabbled much in Alchemy in earlier TES games so it's a bit hard for me to compare (and in Skyrim I have only gained points by using Alchemy but not invested any perks into its corresponding skill tree). But there sure are alot of different ingredients in this game as well, and I find myself finding and picking up much more stuff as I walk across the lands (this reminds me more of Gothic 3 and Risen than Oblivion). An ingredient has 4 initially unknown properties and potions/poisons are mixed at alchemy stations found in most towns and in quite a few dungeons as well (in addition, these stations can be bought as an upgrade for any of your houses).

Posted by Neferon

@Egge said:

@Neferon: TES has long been characterized by huge game worlds with a lack of genuinely interesting content and a rather sloppy implementation of realtime combat which has lowered the bar for what's acceptable in a singleplayer RPG. "Influence" is perhaps the wrong word here, though, since - as Todd Howard has pointed out - so few developers have actively tried to copy Bethesda's design philosophy (we do have the European series like Gothic, Divinity Divinity and Two Worlds, but it's an open question whether they were actively trying to emulate Morrowind and Oblivion or taking inspiration from much older RPGs than that). But to the extent that people's expectations of what a singleplayer RPG should be like has been affected by TES, I would see that as a problem. Skyrim deserves a lot of praise for realizing more of the potential inherent in the open world formula than any previous open world RPG, though.

I understand what you're saying in that TES games do not have the most engaging combat of any game I've played. Though there is an enormous difference between Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. Skyrim is the first one of these where I do enjoy the combat aspect of the game, just for the combat itself. The shield and sword combo felt a lot better than it did in Oblivion. I've played through some of all the other series you mentioned, but in my opinion none of them stand out for their combat implementation nor do I feel that they have a true open world, more like a non-linear approach. Also, all of these games suffer from the "spreading it too thin" syndrome. Which , I suppose, is inherent in games of their size.

It is exactly because of the fact that Skyrim is so huge, that I admire the amount of detail they still put in it. Oblivion, and I loved that game, felt very bland. Skyrim feels much more varied and polished. Also, while the main quest of the game did not particularly interest me, the whole Thalmor-Empire-Stormcloaks-scenario intrigues me. Main own critique of the game would be about balancing, writing. Some skills just level too fast not to exploit, taking away from the immersion. The writing is very poor in some places and excellent in others, "forgettable NPC's" is quite true ;). But I would like to see more developers copy this type of open-world game to see what they can do with it.

To me, TES series is in a good place and going in the right direction. The games give me what I hope to get from them and I'm very impressed by what they did with Skyrim. Seeing as you talk of expectations and influences, what would you like to see in Single Player RPG? :)

Posted by Egge

@owl_of_minerva: Well, when it comes to things I personally care about in large-scale RPGs like this, Skyrim is pretty close to Gothic 3 (which, apart from the spiritual successor Risen, is the only Gothic game I've actually finished). With Elder Scrolls I always wanted more hand-crafted environments and dungeons which were more fun to explore than Daggerfall's dreadful labyrinths and Morroblivion's repetitive caves and tombs, and Skyrim delivers in that respect (it's far from perfect, of course - I'm seriously growing tired of seeing liches jumping out of sarcophagi at the end of every bloody dungeon - but it's a lot better than earlier entries in the series). Games like Gothic still have much more satisfying melee combat and plot/NPC interaction, of course.

I don't use Smithing and Enchanting much for my character, but the mere fact that a player with the right perk specializations can create more powerful stuff than can be found in dungeons wouldn't significantly detract from my own gaming experience. There are still skills to increase, new unique environments to see, shouts to gain (even though I rarely use any other than "Bullet Time") and so forth, so as far as I'm concerned not having cool new armor to look forward to doesn't have much of a practical effect on the inherent value of exploring the game world etc. But I realize a lot of this is down to individual preferences, and the relative importance of loot as an incentive versus sheer "immersion" in the game world surely varies a lot from player to player.

Posted by Egge

@Neferon: I feel the same way about the combat in Skyrim - but, to be fair, that doesn't necessarily make it genuinely good (...just much less bad than in earlier titles). Games like Gothic and Risen in particular have very precise, almost mathematical combat systems (much like Witcher 2 but with less emphasis on arcade-style reflexes), which really do stand out when compared to the incessant flailing which remains an unmistakable element in Skyrim's (melee) combat.

And "spreading it too thin" is precisely what I would say games like Gothic 3 and Risen do not do. For the longest time, the only practical difference between non-linear and open world games has been that the latter type of games tend to be huge and boring while the former are a little smaller but much more detailed and interesting (for the record, I do count a game like Two Worlds II as definitely belonging to the open world category; whereas Risen just as surely isn't open world and Gothic 3 remains a difficult borderline case). With Skyrim, Bethesda is finally beginning to blur the lines between these two types of game designs and that's an amazing accomplishment.

As for what I want out of singleplayer RPGs, the answer is as simple as it perhaps unrealistic: I want party-based systems instead of single-character gameplay as well as a return to the glorious tradition of Western-style turn-based combat. Temple of Elemental Evil and Wizardry 8 remain my favorite "modern" RPGs, and these days only niche indie titles (such as the wonderful Knights of the Chalice) offer that kind of tactical and uniquely rewarding experience.

Edited by BlinkyTM

I liked Arcania Gothic 4 but Skyrim I think is a little better. Just because of all the stuff to do, I think I completed every quest in Arcania in like...10-15 hours. I'm around 40 hours in to Skyrim and I haven't done any of the main quest or any of the Guild (Did one or two companion Guild quests) yet.

I haven't finished Risen because it's just not very good. Combat is really bad and it's a pain to figure out what you need to do to complete quests.

Posted by Neferon

@Egge: True, the combat isn't good. Though I did enjoy it, which is the important bit. I can't say the same for the Witcher's, Gothic's or Risen's. A difference of taste I'm sure. If we're looking at good combat systems I'm more inclined to look at games like Devil May Cry, Dark Souls or the Monster Hunter series. All these games tend to be unforgiving, the first is very reflex-driven and the other two are marked by long attack animations that leave you open if you're not careful. Sadly, I feel that the developers of Dark Souls did not present enough pure combat challenges later in the game. Monster Hunter - I find - has an incredible amount of depth. You are forced to analyze all your opponents attacks. Slowly learning their complex attack patterns, slowly learning the limits of your own. Always trying to get more attacks in between theirs and being punished for being too greedy. A very satisfying system once you start to get the hang of it.

What you want out of combat in single player RPG's sounds completely different from the games being made today. I played most of the old BioWare games to death, and Baldur's Gate's party mechanics were always very interesting to me. Around the time of Neverwinter Nights they seems to have abandoned a lot of that type of gameplay. Dragon Age and Mass Effect do have it, but there's much less dynamics and reliance on a well executed strategy. AoE and headshots will do ;)

It would be interesting to see a big studio adopt this party type tactical gameplay again, but I doubt it will happen. The majority of gamers find it less appealing than the simplified smaller party combat or single player format. Simplicity in general seems to be the trend. "Whatever you do, do not confuse the player!" It makes for different types of games, not necessarily worse or better. Right now it's all about drawing in new people to gaming, give it a decade or two and it'll all be about keeping those people interested.