When The Faction's Fractioned

Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -

Thusfar, my 2011 has been spent almost exclusively with open-world RPGs. While I've spent some time dabbling with Forza Motorsport 3 and also went through a brief addiction to Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise, January has been dominated by two veritable juggernauts of gameplay - Fallout: New Vegas, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. While both have been incredible experiences in their own rights, New Vegas stands out for me as the better of the two games. Something about it just seemed better fleshed-out, more immersive and more entertaining than Oblivion has been up to this point. After pulling myself out of my most recent Oblivion session, I think I've finally managed to put a hand on what that something is.
 

Oblivion is fantastic, but it's sorely lacking in one particular area 
Oblivion is a great game, of that there can be no doubt. It looks gorgeous, it's compelling to play, and it's filled to the brim with hundreds of hours' worth of content. Since I bought the game nearly three years ago I've made many trips back to Cyrodiil, and each one has been just as great as the last, while at the same time providing a completely new experience. I'm currently playing with a stealthy character build and finding myself branching into aspects of the game that I'd previously neglected or in some cases didn't even know existed - brewing poisons to apply to my arrows, taking on the Thieves' Guild quests, pickpocketing NPCs and many others besides. Developers Bethesda promoted Oblivion as a game in which it was possible to do whatever you wanted, and they certainly delivered on that promise. The only real issue I take with the game is that it's kinda devoid of life. Sure, there's the NPC AI patterns, but I just don't get any sense of there being a living, breathing world underneath it all. Every character, every Guild, every quest line, all seem trapped in their own little bubbles, oblivious to and unaffected by what's going on in the rest of Cyrodiil.
 
 No matter what you do in Vvardenfell, not everybody is gonna like you
Back in the summer of 2009 I played through Oblivion's predecessor - The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I'm not here to start any kind of discussion which claims that Morrowind is a better game than Oblivion, or vice versa. For what it's worth, I think Oblivion made great strides of improvement over Morrowind in a lot of areas, but I also think that there are some aspects of Morrowind's design which remain superior to its successor to this day. One thing that Morrowind did infinitely better than Oblivion in my opinion was its implementation of factions. I spent a lot of time in Morrowind working for the Fighters' Guild, who had an ongoing rivalry with the Thieves' Guild. I soon reached a point where my affiliation with the Fighters' Guild meant that the Thieves' Guild refused to allow me to join. A similar relationship exists between three main Dark Elf Houses in Vvardenfell - you may choose to work for one, at the expense of employment by either of the other two. Beyond acting as an incentive to experience the game with multiple characters, the inter-faction bickering of Morrowind actually made me feel like my actions had repercussions in the game world. Oblivion features no such choices, and I feel like it's a weaker and less immersive experience because of it..
 
Taking sides is a big deal in the Mojave Wasteland
I could draw a similar comparison between 2008's Fallout 3 and New Vegas. In my eyes, New Vegas is a much better game than its predecessor, mainly because of its approach to how the player is viewed by the multiple factions that inhabit the Mojave Wasteland. The game must feature at least ten different factions, both major and minor. Getting friendly with one of them could well raise your standing with their allies, but is likely to harm your relationship with at least one opposing faction. New Vegas even takes it one step further than Morrowind, making sure that the player's allegiances have a marked impact on how the final stages of the main quest pan out. Reaching that point where I'd cultivated a promising relationship with two or three of the game's four main factions and having to choose one of them over the others was one of New Vegas' highest points for me, and resulted in some incredibly bitter-sweet reunions with former allies as the last third of the game played out.
 
This is the main point I'm trying to make: 

Well-implemented rivalries between factions, and weighty consequences for choosing sides, makes for a more immersive and more entertaining experience for the player.

 
The effect that a well-implemented set of factions can have in an open-world RPG is immense. For a start, it adds an extra level of depth to goings-on in the game from a gameplay perspective. Being a part of a dynamic game world that's constantly changing on the fly is never a bad thing, especially when wandering around in an open-world game like the ones I've been talking about. In Fallout: New Vegas, a player's faction allegiances and reputation are paramount in determining whether that encampment just over the hill is a friendly rest-stop or a gunfight waiting to happen. Another point to consider is the high replayability value it adds to a game. Both Morrowind and New Vegas feature entire quest lines that can be completely missed depending on the player's faction allegiances, meaning that jumping back in and choosing a different path can feel like playing a completely different experience. Finally, it encourages the player to become even more invested in the choices they make, heightening that sense of immersion in the game world. In the open-world RPG, where 'freedom' and 'choice' are the developers' favourite buzzwords, nothing is more important.
 
There's an old saying that goes, "No matter how hard you try, you can't please everybody". Nowhere is this more true than in the games industry, where player entitlement and developer ambition frequently collide with unpleasant consequences. You only have to look at the number of gamers who consider Oblivion a massive step backwards from Morrowind, or the fans of Black Isle's Fallout games who feel betrayed by the mere existence of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, to understand that. With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim currently pencilled in for a late 2011 release, my excitement for it couldn't be greater. My love for the open-world RPG format has already confirmed my purchase, and I know that I'm going to love the game to pieces no matter how it pans out. I just hope that Bethesda take a leaf out of Obsidian's book and attempt to recapture those faction relationships and interactions that were so noticeably absent from Oblivion and Fallout 3. After all, a more immersive and more entertaining experience is never a bad thing. 
 
Thanks for reading, guys. I'll see you around. 
 
 
Dan 
 
--- 
 
Currently playing - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (X360)
#1 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -

Thusfar, my 2011 has been spent almost exclusively with open-world RPGs. While I've spent some time dabbling with Forza Motorsport 3 and also went through a brief addiction to Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise, January has been dominated by two veritable juggernauts of gameplay - Fallout: New Vegas, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. While both have been incredible experiences in their own rights, New Vegas stands out for me as the better of the two games. Something about it just seemed better fleshed-out, more immersive and more entertaining than Oblivion has been up to this point. After pulling myself out of my most recent Oblivion session, I think I've finally managed to put a hand on what that something is.
 

Oblivion is fantastic, but it's sorely lacking in one particular area 
Oblivion is a great game, of that there can be no doubt. It looks gorgeous, it's compelling to play, and it's filled to the brim with hundreds of hours' worth of content. Since I bought the game nearly three years ago I've made many trips back to Cyrodiil, and each one has been just as great as the last, while at the same time providing a completely new experience. I'm currently playing with a stealthy character build and finding myself branching into aspects of the game that I'd previously neglected or in some cases didn't even know existed - brewing poisons to apply to my arrows, taking on the Thieves' Guild quests, pickpocketing NPCs and many others besides. Developers Bethesda promoted Oblivion as a game in which it was possible to do whatever you wanted, and they certainly delivered on that promise. The only real issue I take with the game is that it's kinda devoid of life. Sure, there's the NPC AI patterns, but I just don't get any sense of there being a living, breathing world underneath it all. Every character, every Guild, every quest line, all seem trapped in their own little bubbles, oblivious to and unaffected by what's going on in the rest of Cyrodiil.
 
 No matter what you do in Vvardenfell, not everybody is gonna like you
Back in the summer of 2009 I played through Oblivion's predecessor - The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I'm not here to start any kind of discussion which claims that Morrowind is a better game than Oblivion, or vice versa. For what it's worth, I think Oblivion made great strides of improvement over Morrowind in a lot of areas, but I also think that there are some aspects of Morrowind's design which remain superior to its successor to this day. One thing that Morrowind did infinitely better than Oblivion in my opinion was its implementation of factions. I spent a lot of time in Morrowind working for the Fighters' Guild, who had an ongoing rivalry with the Thieves' Guild. I soon reached a point where my affiliation with the Fighters' Guild meant that the Thieves' Guild refused to allow me to join. A similar relationship exists between three main Dark Elf Houses in Vvardenfell - you may choose to work for one, at the expense of employment by either of the other two. Beyond acting as an incentive to experience the game with multiple characters, the inter-faction bickering of Morrowind actually made me feel like my actions had repercussions in the game world. Oblivion features no such choices, and I feel like it's a weaker and less immersive experience because of it..
 
Taking sides is a big deal in the Mojave Wasteland
I could draw a similar comparison between 2008's Fallout 3 and New Vegas. In my eyes, New Vegas is a much better game than its predecessor, mainly because of its approach to how the player is viewed by the multiple factions that inhabit the Mojave Wasteland. The game must feature at least ten different factions, both major and minor. Getting friendly with one of them could well raise your standing with their allies, but is likely to harm your relationship with at least one opposing faction. New Vegas even takes it one step further than Morrowind, making sure that the player's allegiances have a marked impact on how the final stages of the main quest pan out. Reaching that point where I'd cultivated a promising relationship with two or three of the game's four main factions and having to choose one of them over the others was one of New Vegas' highest points for me, and resulted in some incredibly bitter-sweet reunions with former allies as the last third of the game played out.
 
This is the main point I'm trying to make: 

Well-implemented rivalries between factions, and weighty consequences for choosing sides, makes for a more immersive and more entertaining experience for the player.

 
The effect that a well-implemented set of factions can have in an open-world RPG is immense. For a start, it adds an extra level of depth to goings-on in the game from a gameplay perspective. Being a part of a dynamic game world that's constantly changing on the fly is never a bad thing, especially when wandering around in an open-world game like the ones I've been talking about. In Fallout: New Vegas, a player's faction allegiances and reputation are paramount in determining whether that encampment just over the hill is a friendly rest-stop or a gunfight waiting to happen. Another point to consider is the high replayability value it adds to a game. Both Morrowind and New Vegas feature entire quest lines that can be completely missed depending on the player's faction allegiances, meaning that jumping back in and choosing a different path can feel like playing a completely different experience. Finally, it encourages the player to become even more invested in the choices they make, heightening that sense of immersion in the game world. In the open-world RPG, where 'freedom' and 'choice' are the developers' favourite buzzwords, nothing is more important.
 
There's an old saying that goes, "No matter how hard you try, you can't please everybody". Nowhere is this more true than in the games industry, where player entitlement and developer ambition frequently collide with unpleasant consequences. You only have to look at the number of gamers who consider Oblivion a massive step backwards from Morrowind, or the fans of Black Isle's Fallout games who feel betrayed by the mere existence of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, to understand that. With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim currently pencilled in for a late 2011 release, my excitement for it couldn't be greater. My love for the open-world RPG format has already confirmed my purchase, and I know that I'm going to love the game to pieces no matter how it pans out. I just hope that Bethesda take a leaf out of Obsidian's book and attempt to recapture those faction relationships and interactions that were so noticeably absent from Oblivion and Fallout 3. After all, a more immersive and more entertaining experience is never a bad thing. 
 
Thanks for reading, guys. I'll see you around. 
 
 
Dan 
 
--- 
 
Currently playing - The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (X360)
#2 Posted by Sweep (8842 posts) -

Wandering the wasteland in Fallout 3 was easily my favourite part of the game, and I can't complain that it was slightly too barren - after all, it was a fucking wasteland. But some more settlements and factions, relationships and the like, would be awesome to mess around with in a game like Skyrim. Imagine if you could force two factions to flat out go to war! It would be like Mount And Blade, except slightly less terrible!

Moderator
#3 Posted by natetodamax (19191 posts) -

I really do like the faction stuff in New Vegas. On the Melee/Unarmed character I'm using now, I tried to stay relatively neutral with the NCR and Legion because I wanted to side with Yes Man (the NCR because those guys are everywhere, meaning I would get attacked a lot if they were my enemies, and the Legion because being friendly with them means I get to share their loot at Cottonwood Cove). Last time I played, I took on a quest for the NCR which had me attacking a Legion encampment. I did it anyway, and as soon as I killed a Legion soldier the game popped up at least 5 quests on screen telling me I failed them (they were all from Caesar). The reputation stuff is pretty cool in that game.

#4 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11621 posts) -

Yeah, if Skyrim has mutually-exclusive factions, then that would be great. It's kind of goofy that my main character can be the champion of Cyrodil, the guildmaster of the Fighter's Guild, the Archmage, The Listener, the Grey Fox, and the lord of Madness all at once. 
 
But consider that the main story no doubt revolves around this civil war in Skyrim. That sounds like a faction choice to me. And then you fight Dragons.

#5 Posted by dankempster (2252 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: Don't forget the Arena Champion! But yeah, I'm with you - I shouldn't be able to do all of those things with a single character. The moral implications of one individual having all those titles is pretty messed up, to say the least. As for Skyrim's civil war-based plot, I wouldn't be surprised if that's a choice that Bethesda make for you, much like the Brotherhood of Steel versus Enclave situation in Fallout 3. Then again, we know next to nothing about Skyrim, so it's very possible I'm jumping the gun and it's taking a more New Vegas-y approach. I guess we'll have to wait till the end of the year (or whenever it gets delayed to) to really find out. 
 
@natetodamax: As weird as this will sound, seeing all those quests pop up as failed was one of the greatest moments in New Vegas. I sided with the NCR in my playthrough, so seeing all of that pretty much confirmed for me that I'm going to have to play it again and side with the Legion before the year is out.
#6 Posted by murse2008 (242 posts) -

What you say is very true. Modern games are however tailored to the army of whiners out there who will complain about the fact that they couldn't do a quest because of a certain decision mid-game. It the same reason that death is not applied strictly in most AAA games either. Mainstream gamers want a slightly interactive rollercoaster ride that takes them through all the sights and sounds without annoying them too much. Mainstreamers gamers also make up the majority of sales, since the games industry can only grow by including such gamers (there are only so many true nerds in the world). If you want to observe the culmination of the design philosophy for minimum player "annoyance" I will direct you to exhibit A: The single-player campaign of every Call of Duty game since 2007. Every developer wants Call of Duty sales and therefore every game will become more like it. An addictive multi-player component with a fast-paced, brief, and on rails single-player experience (leaving the player so bamboozled with media that they don't stop to notice the flaws). If you want examples of such linearization and acceleration occurring in non-FPS genres look no further than "game of the year" Mass Effect 2 and the up-coming Dead Space 2.

#7 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -
@dankempster:  @ArbitraryWater:  You know what's funny guys? I had a VERY different experience with the fighter's guild than you did, Dan. I learned about their collusion with ANOTHER faction, and I rooted out all the corrupt members in a bloody coup.  There's even a THIRD way to solve the problem inside the Fighters Guild that I was disappointed I didn't find out about earlier, since involved more indirect tactics and less bloodshed, something that my stealthy character is very good at doing.  So even though I wish the consequences of my actions were a bit more apparent beforehand, or what I would say to people was more dynamic (including trying to talk as opposed to always fighting, or having more options when you talk), ultimately I liked that the guilds were messy and intertwined. That Oblivion is all shiny-happy and distinct doesn't sound so hot.  Games like these are often wish-fulfillment, but that seems like it's going overboard. 
 
And yet, if Oblivion did more to solve game-breaking quest problems then I'd still say it was a step in the right direction, because I'm still in the process of and stumbling around clutching a picture of my thwarted chance at completing the main quest.  I take back what I said about the Creeper.  The Creeper is straight evil.

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