One thing that makes Oblivion so interesting is the sheer number and variety of quests. You never know what’s coming next. In a lot of ways, you can view each sidequest as an episode of the overall story of your character. Some are gruesome, some are funny, some are facinating, and a few are just stupid.
Anyway, the typical RPG quest is simple:
- Go kill X, or:
- Go acquire object Y
Games can’t do much beyond these two, but some games do a good job of pretending they are working on a deeper level. For example, in Oblivion you might be given a quest to “Convince the Earl of Esquire to make peace with the Duke of Ted”. On the surface it sounds pretty elaborate. I mean, “convince” implies negotiations. But when you get there the Earl is just going to say, “I cannot agree to peace because my people have need X. So, unless you could acquire object Y for me, we have no choice but to go to war.” So now this is just the same old Quest type #2, although with a few extra steps to dress it up.
And so for modern games the real challenge is to to disguse these same two quests, and to make them seem like more than they are. Oblivion is great at this. (Sometimes.)
One example is the quest “The Siren’s Deception”, which you get in the city of Anvil.
You start off meeting a woman in town who tells you she needs your help. It seems that her husband was drinking at the local tavern and was taken in by a pair of women who lured him out to their cabin with the implied promise of sex. Once he was undressed, they robbed him and sent him back into town in his skivvies. The women made off with his ring, which was a family heirloom, and the wife would very much like you to recover this ring. The husband is too humiliated to go to the guards, and there isn’t a whole lot they can do in this case anyway. Apparently these women have been doing this for a while, but nobody will come forward because they are too ashamed.
These are the girls your mother shouldn’t need to warn you about unless you’re a senseless dolt.
So I go to the tavern and in the evening the two women show up. If I was a male character, I’m sure they would have invited me to their cabin like their other victims. Since my character was female, they invited me to join their gang.
The ringleader explains their MO: They target married men (who will want to keep the whole thing to themselves, to keep their wives from finding out) who have been drinking. This is actually a pretty clever plan. A drunken middle-aged man is going to have a hard time resisting the chance for a ménage à trois with a couple of fetching young girls. Once the trap is sprung, the men are unlikely to win a fight while outnumbered, naked, and drunk. So far the girls have been able to bring in a nice bit of cash without hurting anyone.
Did I say fetching? Erm. In Oblivion, the sexy women are the ones who don’t look entirely like men.
It’s probably just my crappy GFX card, but I could swear she has a 5 o’clock shadow.
Either way, the player is invited to the cabin. Now, if this were a truly freeform game, then you could choose to fall for their ruse (as a male) or join the gang (as a female), but there are limits on how much freedom you can give the player if you hope to ship your game this decade. So, once you get there conflict is inevitable. You can’t talk the girls into giving up or handing over the ring. You can’t leave without resolving the situation. You have to fight your way out.
Climbing up the hill towards the cabin at dusk. How I wish the grass would render for me. Still, this looks pretty good.
So, even though the dialog is clever and the story is amusing and unexpected, this is – at the heart of it – a “go kill the monster” quest in a fancy disguise. In this case, the “monster” is a couple of homewrecker bandits with no common sense.
I say they have no sense because no matter who you are they will still invite you up to their cabin, even if you’re a little old lady or a hulking Orc. When a huge guy strides in wearing Daedric plate mail and carrying a flaming axe the size of a ship’s rudder, these girls should have the sense to let him alone and look for an easier mark. Still, this was an amusing quest and I really enjoyed it.
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
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