Oblivion and Dragon Age 2

I’ve been playing a lot of Oblivion recently. I’ve had the game since it’s release, but I didn’t get into it in the past because it didn’t run well on my old PC, and because I kept getting distracted by the quirks of the leveling system, and because the whole thing felt too big and aimless. I re-bought the game on Steam some time last year, modded out anything I didn’t like, and now I’m having a ton of fun.

The thing I’ve been loving the most is the feeling of risk, and of the unknown. The world feels vast and dangerous. I initially had difficulty gauging the strength of enemies on sight, and I still have some trouble, and it’s so refreshing when I get it wrong and get in over my head and actually have to run away. The times I get it exactly right and I take down a tough enemy thanks to good planning and quick thinking are even better.

I like that the combat is on a relatively small-scale, too. Obviously, a lot of this derives from engine limitations, and the design decision to not have the player accumulate a persistent party of NPCs. But it makes fighting feel intimate and meaningful and tense in a way that not a lot of other games do.

I’ve also learned to love how broad the game is. What I used to think of as directionlessness I now see as equally refreshing. There are so many quests and so much to do that, in effect, the game is asking me “What do you want to do next?” rather than just dictating “Do this, now this, now this”.

I love how varied the quests feel. Sure, a lot of it boils down to “Go here, kill this”, but it’s dressed up very well. Having ways of interacting with the world that aren’t merely killing, and not having to fight through a dungeon in every single quest, means that the game is able to surprise and delight me with where its quests go.

Now the obvious deficiencies with the game are still present. The sparseness of the voice-acting, and the way dialogue interactions are presented hurts the most, since it limits the impact of every story the game tries to tell. The way the world revolves around the player, even when the level-scaling is modded out, also hurts immersion, though this is counteracted by the freedom the game provides.

And all this makes me think, once again, back to Dragon Age 2. The repetitive areas and quests and combat, and simplified interactions (kill it or talk to it, and the game decides which one you’re going to do) – are a problem in that they hurt the world-building and storytelling. I feel disconnected from the world and just stop caring about character and motivation. The game didn’t really give me a reason to care. I just went into autopilot.

There’s just too much combat in Dragon Age 2, and it becomes too routine. It’s fine that it’s easier (it’s probably for the best), but that doesn’t mean it needs to feel so dull and repetitive.

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