Oblivion’s been out for years now, Fallout 3’s already seen two downloadable content packs with a third on the horizon, and so I’d wager Bethesda’s on the verge of saying something (perhaps at E3 2009?) about their fifth The Elders Scrolls romp. That’s V as in five, not “vee” as in vermicelli. Or Vicodin.
Don’t think they’ve been working on a fifth installment for awhile now? They have. It’s not just that Bethesda’s Paul Oughton spilled the beans last October when he said of the company’s development lineup “At the moment we’ve got Fallout 3 for this year and potentially there’s a new Elder Scrolls title in 2010.” “Potentially” means it’s advanced well past a twinkle in Bethesda’s eye.
The Elder Scrolls V? Or my recent trip to Scotland?
That said, I recently pulled Oblivion off the shelf for another go. You know, see how it stacks up, three years old. Hindsight’s tetchy-tetchy, and lest those of you unfamiliar with my past thoughts on the game assume I’m some kind of RPG-killjoy, know that my original review for Computer Gaming World was a full five-star editor’s choice cascade of superlatives.
On to the list:
1. Don’t recycle your voice actors. Okay, I get that Oblivion’s a Really Big Game and you probably blew two-thirds of your budget snagging Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean and Lynda Carter, but stellar as the less-well-known acting talent is here, modulating accents and vocal timbres doesn’t scrub out the distinctly evil-overlord-shtick guys like Craig Sechler have going on (who does this sound like?). Given the choice between “voiceless text” and “recycled voice acting” audio? I’ll take text plus my own imagination, please.
2. Don’t make the world map one-third the total screen size. Let’s see an honest-to-goodness full-screen map. Or at least a full-screen map option. You know, like windows in Windows? Minimize-maximize? It’s bad enough that the PC version was a straight port of the console’s squashed tabulation interface, but even on a TV screen with a gamepad, it was like trying to read a map looking through the slit in a medieval helmet. Give us a map that’s worthy of the game world, and if you don’t mind, make the zoom level continuous ala GPG’s Supreme Commander. Or if that’s too tall an order, at least more granular zoom levels, please.
3. Don’t keep the same first-person combat engine. Lay Fallout 3’s optional pause-based limb-targeting combat on us. Some of us like to plot our battles in lieu of crash-‘n-smash brawling, especially seeing as scuffling takes the lion’s share of game time in these games. I’m a lowly level 15 Nightblade currently, and with 39 days under my belt (game days, that is) I’ve slaughtered over 300 creatures, mostly by wading in and pulling the trigger mindlessly. Add a little more tactical depth than just strafe-slashing or spell-casting. Tailor the game to third-person with a first-person option (instead of the current reverse emphasis) and reboot the combat system Dynasty Warriors style. Medieval hand-to-hand in first-person’s kind of bland after you’ve whack-block-whacked your thousandth foozle. Third-person works infinitely better if you want a truly kaleidoscopic (and thereby more gripping) combat engine.
4. Abolish quest personas garrisoned at the abyss end of random generic dungeons stocked with level-iterative hell-spawn. I’m presently hacking and slashing my way through Deranged Zombie Numbers 15 and 16 as I spelunk toward the bottom digs of a cave-maze to chat up some Mage’s Guild exile who’s decided — like every other cave-dwelling nutjob — that cohabitation with a bunch of brainless corpses is all de groovy. If you’ve seen one dungeon in Oblivion, you’ve seen…well, if not every last one of them, certainly the lot. If we’re stuck exploring barely iterative gloomy blue-gray grottos and lairs, at least make the inhabitants’ motivations plausible so we’re not unearthing blithe Leave it to Beaver crackpots living la vida mundane in Dante’s eighth or ninth circles.
5. Get the camera out of NPC faces. Take advantage of the medium’s low-cost option to be anywhere, anytime, for more dramatic storytelling. Anyone else weary of Oblivion and Fallout 3’s zoom-on-face approach during conversations? Yeah, sure, Argonians look rad enough with their mottled rainbow scales and slit-style pupils, but the head-on jam sessions coupled with the repetitious voice acting and off-the-shelf facial ticks wear out their welcome early on. Get the camera moving and grooving. Throw in some signature directorial motifs for important talking heads. Meet-and-greets with characters like Jauffre and Martin ought to stand apart from random chitchat with some grumpy Orc kvetching about Kvatch outside a tent in Anywheresville. Start with the 180 degree rule…then by all means smash it to pieces.
That’s my first five. Stay tuned for five more shortly, or add your own below.