What I'd like to know is how you think Bethesda approached dual-wielding when they finally put it in, given they weren't too excited about it by your reckoning. I'm also curious how else they might've implemented dual-wielding if they'd have added it at other points in the franchise (what would dual-wielding in Morrowind have looked like without a janky mod to do it?)
I have no idea if they were enthusiastic about it or not. I think it only became a design priority because there was significant and consistent fan investment in the idea, but that doesn’t mean the devs didn’t have fun with it.
Dual wielding would have been antithetical to Morrowind‘s combat–fighting in that game, with its predictable strokes and static footwork and and grounded aesthetic, wouldn’t have allowed for the round arcs and balanced twirls that give dual wielding its balletic appeal. What’s more–and you can trust me on this–both attacks would have been keyed to the primary mouse button in a continuation of Morrowind‘s firm “nothing should feel particularly good” policy.
I’d argue it wasn’t until Oblivion that the game felt up to having two weapons at a time, and once that happened, there was no particular reason not to besides the development effort involved. Tell me it’s impractical to attack with two swords at once and I’ll point out that swinging a mace at an unarmored man, wielding a battle-axe with a head as big as a pig, and bringing a dagger to an ogrefight are all choices that are ludicrous by conventional martial logic–and key to heroic fantasy. Dual wielding feels individualistic and cool, and therefore heroic, and therefore as though it should be effective. Why shouldn’t it be?
Da Mage asked:
Unlike almost most RPG series, The Elder Scrolls has never really had a morality scale, and apart from quests in Morrowind, most quests only ever have a single solution. Would the next Elder Scrolls game benefit from such a system? Even if it was just a system that forced some player-choice to be designed in quests.
If you’ll indulge an anecdote:
When Arvind first demoed our game Unrest at a convention, he had people play as Tanya the peasant girl. Her chapter presents a singular problem with no easy solution and a dozen nested complications: how should she react when betrothed to her childhood bully? In addressing the issue Tanya is presented not only with various perspectives, options, and appeals to safety–economic, social, and physical–but the reality that nothing she can choose is safe and nothing she can do will make everyone happy. Somebody has to be disappointed. Somebody may get hurt. And if she’s really unlucky, none of it might matter at all.
One player sat down and worked through the introductory dialogues with apparent interest. Upon coming to the first real choice–the first chance to express an opinion on what Tanya is going through–he stopped. He read the dialogue choices a few times. He seemed surprised. Then he said to Arvind, “All of these seem reasonable. Just tell me which one’s Paragon.”
I don’t like morality systems.
I don’t have a problem with quests presenting one unambiguously good and one unambiguously evil solution. I don’t have a problem being told if I’ve made the “right” or “wrong” choice. Fantasy is as good a place as any to play with (or just wallow in) uncomplicated ideas of good and evil, so there’s no point getting snippy about karma meters in and of themselves. The real problem is that when you introduce to your game a prominent scale of Good and Evil, few titles resist the urge to make everything about that system. In other words: if your game only has Good and Evil points, every choice ends up being about Good or Evil. Never Honor or Compassion. Never Safety or Freedom. Never Happiness or Peace, Crunchy or Smooth, Love or Friendship. There’s nothing wrong with unity of theme, but if you’re not doing anything with that theme, interesting variety is usually preferable.
Bioware’s Paragon and Renegade were very conscious attempts to break out of the pigeonholing I’m talking about; the whole point was to replace one specific qualitative judgment with narrow scope and loaded definitions with a broader, murkier tension. While Good/Evil morality systems come down to helping others versus being selfish, Paragon and Renegade choices can manifest as a wide variety of political, personal, and tactical choices. Quest writers can come up with all kinds of varied situations and be confident Paragon/Renegade can be used to describe the player’s options–somehow. Which is the new major problem. The categories are so broad that almost nobody will identify completely with either label; someone taking each wacky new space opera situation in turn and choosing whatever feels best is unlikely to consistently support either brand. And it turns out, “not consistently supporting either brand” is something the game outright punishes by taking choices away from you.
If you make every decision in Mass Effect by acting however feels most natural for your character, you’ll end up with a weaker character than someone who makes all decisions based on which color the text is. You need to specialize in Paragon or Renegade to unlock all possible choices–and specializing specifically means ignoring the full range of possibilities already available to you. And even if this explicit warning not to betray the brand wasn’t incentive enough, the implicit message in color-coding the choices is that playing a consistent character means picking one consistently. If you present philosophy as a broad dichotomy, you encourage people to make exactly one choice very early on, and all subsequent times they reinforce that choice, whatever the circumstance, amount to rote confirmation. So, no, I’m not crazy about the idea of Bethesda adding this sort of thing to their games. It’s not needed to implement or enforce a policy of player empowerment.
Even setting my unquestionably crotchety feelings aside–I’m always happy to have branching quests, but Bethesda features these rarely or or else in severely limited capacities. I’m fine with that. Elder Scrolls games are mostly about exploration anyway–they used to be about exploration and actualizing a character through build, but the second part, while by no means absent, is minimized of late. I rarely feel that core experience is impacted when I do get to make an interesting decision, so there’s not a lot of point in wasting effort on it.
Da Mage also asked:
Has Bethesda starting using their combat as a crutch to avoid making content? As the combat systems as gotten better, more and more quests have devolved into dungeon slogs. Will this trend continue, or do you think they will move back towards more dialogue based quests again?
On reflection, I don’t agree–or at least I don’t agree with how the trend is perceived. Arena was all dungeon slogs and Daggerfall was the granddaddy of dungeon slogs. Morrowind had a lot of social quests because they were cheap and easy to make when you don’t need to hire voice actors or make NPCs move, but it, too, was well stocked in dungeon slogs. Only Oblivion had a lot of high-effort and interesting urban quests, and for all the crap I talked about its combat, I don’t think Bethesda shared my viewpoint–I think they were as cocky and prepared to lean on it then as they were with Skyrim. They probably felt like they could have made all of their quests dungeon crawls–but they didn’t.
Why did they focus on dungeons in Skyrim? Probably because they decided people liked those better.
Where do you think the next one is going to be set?
Before we answer that–probably the most pressing question on the fandom’s mind–it’s useful to look at how Bethesda approaches designing a gameworld.
Creating a setting from broad strokes to nitty-gritty details is a heroic proposition, especially when you’re coordinating hundred-plus unwieldy teams of artists, writers, game designers, and quest leads. You need to make sure all of the elements join into one cohesive whole–and you need to make sure that happens on time, difficult to do even when your gameworld coincidentally looks like the part of the world where your offices are located. If you’re wondering why more big-budget games don’t come up with crazy unique settings, this is why; even hiring creative people doesn’t guarantee they can share their vision with one another well enough to put out something that looks and plays well.
Post-Morrowind Bethesda’s approach to team coordination is straightforward and just a little bit disappointing: they find a few central big ideas, something the entire preposterously large team can rally around, and make almost everything speak to these elements. That’s why the setting for Fallout 1 is a pastiche of wild westerns, 1950s sci-fi, 1980s comics, 1990s grunge, terrible psychotropic post-apocalyptic B-movies from every era, and anthropologically focused 60s hard sci-fi–and then, once Bethesda got the project, the setting became a distinct striping of 1950s America and post-apocalyptic movies with “excessive patriotism” thrown in as the game-defining wildcard. It meant the game could grow much more practically complicated while feeling cohesive, but it also meant a lot of the subtlety, interplay, and potential for interesting contradiction was lost.
Similarly to Fallout 3, it isn’t hard to reverse-engineer Skyrim‘s palette: Viking north. Romans. Dragons. So much of the game’s mechanics, art direction, and story hinge critically on these three elements alone. If Bethesda is going to set TES6 in a place known for being bizarre and inscrutable, like Akavir, Valenwood, or Elsweyr, they would be very hard-pressed to make these places something other than the sum of a few carefully-chosen parts–and thus, inevitably, less novel than they should be. Nothing kills mystery and wonder like laborious repetition.
If forced to guess, I’d bet on TES6 being set in and around the Thalmor capital. I expect the core aesthetics to be those introduced in Skyrim, plus one carefully chosen fantasy or geographic element. My second guess is the Black Marsh–it’s a pretty easy-to-define location that has one established and overarching new element, the Hist, that everyone on the team can grasp and build around. I wouldn’t be super happy with either of these, but I would respect the company for working within its strengths–even though I think this is one area they could stand to improve.
The Best of 2016
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2016.
Stop Asking Me to Play Dark Souls!
An unhinged rant where I maybe slightly over-reacted to the water torture of Souls evangelism.
Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.
Why Google sucks, and what made me switch to crowdfunding for this site.
Punishing The Internet for Sharing
Why make millions on your video game when you could be making HUNDREDS on frivolous copyright claims?