Tuesday, February 07, 2012

New Vegas improvements go missing in the wasteland

I've been meaning to write a thing about Skyrim for a while now - or, to be more accurate, a thing about Skyrim via the barren lands of New Vegas. This review of Skyrim prompted me to write the below ramble. I think I've covered most of the things I wanted to whine about, but I may throw in the odd update.

It seems to me there's a lot of things Bethesda simply ignored en route to Skyrim via the glorious path that was New Vegas. Of course, NV was put together by Obsidian and where Obsidian listened to the things players practically begged for, Bethesda seemed to throw up their hands, proclaim "didn't read lol" and just built Skyrim on the much older Fallout 3 model.

Why they did this, I have no idea. Things that Skyrim was crying out for yet are somehow strangely absent:

1) Hardcore mode. How the Hell this goes AWOL from New Vegas to Skyrim I have no idea, but given all the hunting, skinning and eating you can do it seems absolutely insane that Bethesda left this out. You can mod it into the game, but really - this was a hugely popular feature of NV (I wouldn't play without it), and should have been in the game. It's not like Skyrim would be negatively impacted in any way by its inclusion, so....where is it?

2) Actual impact stemming from faction choices. One of the greatest things about NV was all the faction interplay, sizing up the options, working out which side was the best shot at a future for Nevada and siding with one, becoming mortal enemies to the other, playing sides off against themselves or going rogue and doing your own thing. At one point I reached a tipping point and had so many options open to me, so many choices, so many possible directions the game could go in that I had to physically stop playing for a day or two while I weighed up the direction the wasteland would take. Games: serious business.

Reputation

I loved that dressing as NCR and wandering near a slave camp was a guaranteed shootout. I couldn't get enough of mods that added in faction ID cards that you could forge to wander on into the enemy base. I tasted the sweet sweet bitter candy of pushing one side too far and having to steer clear of dangerous roads at night, instead hiding away in whatever friendly NPC location I could find. It made everything a little more tactical and, you know, interesting.

Here? I can side with the Imperial Legion, throw on some Imperial Legion Armour, walk right into Windhelm while rocking that armour to the max and jump up and down on the dining table of Ulfric Stormcloak. Nobody stops me, challenges me, queries why the legendary Dragonborn - who has decided the Empire is awesome, thanks - is no more than ten perilous feet away from the saviour of the Stormcloaks.

If this was New Vegas, within minutes of walking into the camp Cesar would be wearing me like a skinsuit and bits of my companions would be nailed to multiple crosses along the Nevada highways. Or I'd have those NCR goons warning me I had a few days to change my ways before dedicated murder teams would be shooting bullets into my skull. Or Mr House would not take kindly to me poking around the Lucky 38 and I'd be dealing with his stupid robots.

In Skyrim, I'm tap dancing my way through the homes of my enemies for the sake of being allowed to do every single mission that I can, and I feel like this is quite the step back from the advances made in New Vegas.

3) Companions. In Fallout 3, they were pretty uninspired for the most part, didn't have many interesting things to say and were quickly relegated to walking gun turrets / crap carriers. Don't even get me started on that game ending, but anyway...

New Vegas blew me away where companions were concerned. Every single one of them was a fleshed out character, they all had a great set of (involved and lengthy) personal quests that could directly impact perks that could bring you, future relations, the ending they received (yes, they all had multiple and varied endings depending on your actions and faction choice) and their general comments were endlessly entertaining. I mean, don't even get me started on Cass.

Epiccassvictory
Too late, you got me started on Cass. Cass is amazing, from her random babble in the wasteland (the line about "Shh, we're hunting..." still cracks me up) to the quest you help her with, the difference in depth between this character and anyone given to you as a companion in Skyrim is mindblowing.

There's one mission in New Vegas later in the game involving Cass, except at the time I didn't make that connection and as a result I rather stupidly walked into a trap consisting of about 9 tooled up douchebags, whose sole purpose was turning her into liquified goop.

I was given the choice of simply handing her over for a reward, or signing my own death warrant as they went on and killed both our asses. By this point, I was so connected to the game world that for the first time ever in a game I was not only positively furious that they intended to splat a pretend persons brains across the floor, I was 100% balls out determined that this would not take place. What followed next can only be described as an orgy of death, explosions, shotgun shells and my character no doubt giggling to himself while smearing the blood of his vanquished foes on his face and chopping off their limbs with his fire axe.

Lydia is fun to launch off a cliff with Fus Ro Dah a couple of hundred times.

Like I said, the difference is mindblowing. Not only are the companion quests and character depth missing in action, the Skyrim characters also appear to be stupider than characters in a game released back in 2010.

In my humble opinion, the pathfinding in Skyrim isn't as good as NV. I can run all over the place in NV, turn around and be 99% sure Cass or whoever will be right behind me. In Skyrim, they'll often simply stop following me even when on a flat surface, or just....vanish. Somewhere. Or chase a wolf into a river then over the edge of a waterfall. In fact, I kind of suspect the reason you can kill your companion with weapons and magic but not by blasting them off a mountain with Fus Ro Dah (try it!) is because the only reason that shout exists is to overcome the issue of pathfinding and companions endlessly getting stuck in stupid places.

Seriously, why can't I kill Lydia by blasting her from the top of a mountain? Makes no sense otherwise.

Finally, the problem of doorways - specifically, companions becoming a lump of granite in a doorway and refusing to move. You'll notice in New Vegas that you can run into your companion and they'll just shift out of the way. In Skyrim, you're just running into a brick wall and hoping it eventually gets the message.

I haven't played Fallout 3 for a long time. Do companions do the "You shall not pass" thing there too? Either way, Skyrim companions were definitely brought into the world with a -INT score.

4) The interface. Oh God, the interface. Everything that needs to be said can be found here, but for my money the best vanilla UI in a Bethesda game is - you've guessed it - New Vegas. There are still problems, but most things are easily accessible, trading is straightforward (and you can see what ammo is needed for your weapons with no fuss) and the companion wheel....wait, let's back this up right now.

Wheel

The companion wheel introduced by Obsidian remains the number one way to have your companion do stuff. It's fast, simple, reasonably sophisticated and lets you toggle tactics on the fly without too much dickery. Crucially, it also separates talking and doing. I don't need to have a chat with Veronica if I just want to take stuff or have her hang back while I shoot some dude in the face from afar. Similarly, should I want to listen to her various awesome hipsterisms, I can click the dialogue option and start waffling.

So of course we get to Skyrim and the companion wheel is replaced by slow moving text options. Whether I want Lydia to trade objects or alter her fighting technique, I have to wade through dialogue options, sometimes scrolling and often cursing. Look at this:

Lydia
The option to trade items is hidden offscreen unless I scroll down to see it - meanwhile, visible options include "what does a housecarl do", which you are going to select ONCE IN THE ENTIRE TIME THAT YOU PLAY THE GAME.

I cannot flip enough rageburgers at silly, silly decisions like that one. I loves me some Skyrim. I loves me some Lydia despite her vaguely Antichrist-like vibes. I especially loves me some blasting Lydia off the highest waterfall I can find.

But while charting the journey and development of these titles from Fallout 3 to Skyrim, I have to ask myself the question:

Did Bethesda even notice the improvements in New Vegas? And if so, why weren't they incorporated into Skyrim?

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