Wednesday, December 19, 2007

...About Last Night. And Oblivion.  

So, yesterday was one of those days that I can't stand and it was especially worse in combination with today. Don't know if this happens to anyone else, but what went down was that the wife and I both had the entire morning off. Neither one of us needed to be anywhere until well into the afternoon, so of course we both wake up at 6am because we can't sleep. We're not usually morning people, so getting up that early skewed our biological clocks for the rest of the day, and we ended up turning in a lot earlier than is our norm.

Of course, we both needed to be at work first thing today. Naturally, we were both dead tired and would have paid cash money to sleep in. Not only was I doing my best impression of the living dead getting to my first appointment, I sleepwalked through the rest of the day and crashed on the couch as soon as I got back.

Nothing makes you feel old quite like needing a nap at four in the afternoon.

So, about Oblivion.

I got into it a lot later than most everyone else did because I knew it was huge and that I wouldn't have enough time to devote until it was already old news. I did my best to avoid spoilers because I wanted to come into it fresh, and I succeeded. The only downside to avoiding all the chatter was that I fell right into what I see as one of the biggest flaws in RPGs:

Making players pick their skills before they know which ones will be useful.

This is a problem because (in this particular situation) I didn't really know what I was going to like and what I wouldn't-- and by the time I figured it out I had already put in way more time than I was willing to ditch in order to start over properly.

For example, I had some bizarre idea that I would use speechcraft more than I would lockpicking. Don't ask me why I thought this; in hindsight, it seems like one of the most asinine things I've ever done in an RPG and doubly so in Oblivion. Anybody who's played the game knows that you're not getting anywhere without being able to get through locked doors.

It wouldn't have been too bad, ordinarily. I played my fighter-type character well, and finished the main quest without much difficulty. It was only when I wanted to see some of the other questlines that the problem became significant. Since my fighter focused on combat-based skils and so on, his stealth and magic skills were practically nil. I found the Thieves' Guild quest to be nigh-unplayable, and as much as I wanted to see the Dark Brotherhood storyline, I found myself completely halted by some simple locked doors. I mean, my character saved the world and defeated uncounted creatures along the way, yet I can't get into a house because the door's locked?

I broke every single lockpick I had acquired on my run-through and couldn't locate anyone selling a spell to open a door tougher than "Easy", so I basically hung it up and washed my hands of it. If I had known then what I knew by the time I got stuck, I would have picked an almost completely different set of skills and leveled my character up in much different way. Although some may say "that's what a second playthrough is for", I call bullshit on that. I may have had time to go through lengthy RPGs more than once when I was a kid on summer vacation, but anything over 20 hours is too much of a commitment these days. Playing through Oblivion twice? Not gonna happen.

If any developers are reading this, please consider granting players a limited "do-over" option. For example, if i had the option to ditch 2 or 3 of my skills and get different ones early on after learning the game, I would have gladly done it and my overall experience would have been better for it. Another option would be to not require players to choose disciplines until they've already put in a few hours and got a feel for things.

I'd really like to see some of the things i missed in Oblivion, but I just can't see myself devoting any more time to it when I have so many other things clamoring for my attention. Several people I've talked to say their average playtimes top 100 hours, and I'm just amazed that anyone can put that much time into something that's not an MMO these days. As for me, I'll always look back on my time with the game as a good experience, and something of a missed opportunity.

What next?

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