So, I’ve been playing Oblivion on the PS3 for a bit now, and as I’ve gotten into it more and played it more with my fairly generic Breton battlemage type (I, for a lark, went with a created class because customization is what I really like, even if all my choices were just things I thought would be useful) I’ve been thinking that this game would be a perfect game to run through with multiple characters. It would be easy to, say, build a Robin-type character, or an Angel-type (even with the vampirism if you wanted), or a Buffy-type, or a Wolverine-type or … well, name a character. And you can even invent characters on your own of any type, and make them any type you want, or even hybrids. The customization, then, is outstanding. But there’s a slight problem:
The game is so large and involved that by the time you finish it you probably wouldn’t want to try it with a new character again.
That isn’t quite the right way to put that. What I’ve been noticing is that the game, right now, guides me through the quests — or at least the obvious ones — so well that I’m always doing something. I’ve been playing for a while and I’m on something like the second stage of the main quest, and haven’t gone to Shivering Isles yet or retrieved the relics for the Pilgrim quest. I haven’t finished the Fighters Guild or Mages Guild yet. But I’ve already done a ton of quests and probably played for about 10 – 20 hours. Presuming that the quests are interestingly different with a different character, just to get back to this what I’d consider an early state would take me about the same amount of time. Yeah, that’s a little … excessive. 10 hours into Persona 3 I was well into the main plot and many of my S-links.
So what this does is discourage you from playing multiple characters, which encourages you to play through as many of the quests as you can with one character. But this ruins the customization; at least part of that is to be able to play multiple characters with completely different settings, and thus make a replayable game. Being so involved, though, means that replaying the game is not something you’re likely to do, and so a big part of the benefits of such a great customization system are lost.
Now, from what I’ve heard, Skyrim has gone even further in this direction by removing restrictions for entering some of the guild quests. You no longer have to steal anything to be asked to join the Thieves Guild; you will be approached even if you don’t have any skills or actions worthy of being a thief. And some of the comments I’ve seen have suggested that this is because players don’t want to play the game more than once to complete all the content, and so it has to be possible to do it all in one shot, and presumably without too much extra work (ie stealing things for the sake of raising your skill level even if your initial skill was set really low).
This, for me, is a problem, though, because it takes away something that everyone seems to think important: replayability. It’s something that gets listed in reviews all the time, and we even have it as an important category in our reviews. And here it seems that a game is being designed deliberately to reduce replayability, because people would like to have one character run through and get all the quests instead of having it be the case that different characters get different experiences (ie my mage-type joins the Mages Guild, my fighter-type joins the Fighters Guild, and my lawful character refuses to join the Thieves Guild while my thief-type seeks them out). Thus, the game’s massive potential for customization plays itself out as a far more generic experience than it needs to be.
Okay, okay, although I haven’t played Skyrim yet from what I’ve heard it isn’t that bad; it’s still different for different classes. But the trend is worrying, all the more so because it’s so unnecessary. What you want to do to make everyone happy is this:
1)Make it so that every different class-type, if played as that class-type, has both a similar and unique experience in the game as the others. So magic users are encouraged by the game to join the Mages Guild, rogues are encouraged to join the Thieves Guild, and both are encouraged to do things in a magical or sneaky way if possible.
2)Make it so that this can be ignored, and that you can ignore some of the unique content if you don’t want to play it, even if you are a mage, and that if you plan things carefully you can do other things or hybrid (ie fighter-mage, mage-thief, etc) with that sort of character. So don’t impose the unique content on the player.
3)Following from 2, make it so that if you plan really carefully and put a lot of effort in — even with some grinding — you can experience all of the content in one run … but it will take a lot of hours and a lot of forethought.
If you do 1), most people will get at least one really good story experience, even if there is content that they are missing. If you do 2), then people can select to some extent what content they want to experience while still maintaining 1) for those who just want at least one good story. Doing 2) should give you 3), which should satisfy those who want to do everything with one character.
Note that this is, in fact, how Persona 3 works. There are guides that can tell you how to max all the S-links in one playthrough. I’ve never done it, and the S-links that I’ve left off have not hurt me mechanically in any way. I’ve just either ignored them or not had the time to finish them. So I’m in 1) and 2) with that game, and some others are in 3), but we both get the game we want. And the game is replayable because I can always try to get different S-links the next time, or play as a different character that would hang out with different people than the character in my previous game would have.
The main point here is that replayability and allowing someone to experience all the content one-shot are not, in fact, mutually exclusive. But sacrificing replayability by making everything too easily accessible is a bad idea. Making it an effort to do everything in one shot should give everyone what they want, which is the ability to do it all in one shot without having to build the world assuming that that’s what will be done most of the time.