Where do you stand on levitation? Was it worth being removed because it broke the game or do you view TES games as fundamentally broken (like me) and that's why they're fun?
The problem is, there’s two kinds of broken.
The first and most obvious kind is unbalanced; open to player exploitation, outside of the developer’s projected cycle of challenge and reward. That’s the “good” kind of broken; it’s a tool for the player to experience content on their own terms rather than something categorically detrimental to the experience. It can be a problem when the exploits are too obvious, but if players have to find or research them on their own it usually increases rather than decreases enjoyment of the game–the challenge becomes figuring out how to beat encounters easily and the thrill becomes voluntarily reveling in these advantages. It increases the player’s sense of personal freedom when a developer doesn’t block off all the advantageous mechanical alleyways that make exploits possible. Bethesda’s been cracking down on the “good” kind of broken for a while now by removing or streamlining spellcrafting, enchantment, and the ability to make your character faster or bouncier; it’s not an outrageous assumption that they’ve been keeping flying out of the game because it’s just too hard to design encounters around.
However, I doubt that’s why they got rid of levitation. Levitation in modern TES games stands to be the “bad” kind of broken. The increased demands of the engine require towns to be separate instances–you can’t just pass from the wilderness into the Imperial City because the Imperial City, outside its outer walls and very crude stand-ins for its inner structures, doesn’t exist in the main gameworld. Players essentially teleport to a separate gameworld when they interact with the outer gate; it’s only through environmental cues that the illusion of continuity is preserved. Flying over said gate and into the “city” will reveal the only thing that does exist in the main gameworld: a bunch of bleary-textured and totally inert buildings meant to look good from a distant ridge. This is the main obstacle to levitation in modern TES games, although I’m sure there are issues with draw distance as well–the old Morrowind trick of thick mist everywhere doesn’t really hold up in 2016, although some kind of attractive swirling maelstrom might do the trick.
The bottom line is, it’s not that levitation makes the game too easy–it’s that it frequently makes realistic, reasonable, and natural actions of the player result in immersion-breaking hugely ugly hacks and dead ends. Some people won’t mind downloading a mod and accepting the tradeoff–just like they don’t mind the shitty or absent voice-acting in quest mods, for example. But there’s a difference between accepting something a mod’s ugliness and getting it served up by a professional developer. We won’t see levitation again until the technical issues are smoothed over or outsmarted.
Here's one. What feature from Arena or Daggerfall (positively) surprised you and makes you wish they include it in the next game?
As I hope I’ve made clear, by far my favorite dead feature is Daggerfall’s “good” broken create-a-class feature. The ability to customize not just skills and hit points, but game difficulty, experience gain, and conditions under which health and magicka are regenerated was outstanding and added sorely-needed replayability to a gameworld whose massive scope makes it ironically lean on new content. What’s more, I really think this is something that would appeal to modern gamers, because this kind of customization and control hasn’t been present for a long time. I’m sure Bethesda would balance things so you couldn’t–for example–take a dozen redundant “disadvantages” that give a whole lot of max for a very reasonable min, but that’d only take a little of the fun out of it.
How could Bethesda take their bland sword and sorcery stab-fest, and turn it into something with a bit more character?
I wouldn’t call their sword-and-sorcery stab-fest bland exactly. I think Oblivion and Skyrim are blander than Morrowind. I think Arena and Daggerfall are somewhat blander than either of those. But in terms of generic fantasy IPs, they’ve not exactly done badly for themselves–few competing titles stand out as more interesting, it’s just that the bar for fantasy innovation has been set preposterously low. For innovation here, look to indies–larger studios often lack the agility to rally around a unique, artistically divergent mythos requiring all-new assets and designs.
But to answer your question–better writers. I might have to do a wrap-up post on this point specifically.
NEXT TIME: THEY CALLED IT BATTLESPIRE
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