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I've noticed, lately, that many games seem to be suffering from the dreaded 'Oblivion Syndrome'.
No, I don't mean that the games give you a meaningless Horse Armour download. No, I don't mean that they have Sean Bean in a starring role (although that, at least, wouldn't be such a bad thing). I don't even mean that they aim slightly higher than they achieve.
No, I'm talking about the bane of console Oblivioners lives: Dynamic encounter scaling.
For the uninitiated, let me explain in non-medical terms. In Oblivion, the creatures in the world adapt to your level. So, when you're a neophyte adventurer taking your first steps, you might find a necromancer's apprentice lurking near some ancient ruins. If you were to visit those same ruins later in the game, the apprentice might be a fully-fledged Necromancer now, offering you more of a challenge. Go to the ruins when you're a mighty, renowned hero, and you'll find twelve Necromancers and an undead horde.
And yes, this kind of scaling does indeed ensure that the game gives you an even challenge as you progress throughout it. No area is off-limits because its inhabitants are too difficult to defeat, and you're always going to have a good fight ahead.
Where it doesn't make sense though, is that you end up with basic bandits with full daedric armour and oversized magical axes bearing down on you every time you leave a village, and entire cavern networks full of minotaur lords. And yes, they're a more even challenge. But they're also rather unfeasible from a logical point of view (as if logic applies to games, I hear you cry), and, moreover, they devoid you of any sense of advancement as a character.
Call me old fashioned, or just a little sadistic, but I actually like the feeling in traditional RPGs where there are areas that you just can't really go yet because the inhabitants are too powerful for you- yet. I like going back to early areas of the game and seeing just how strong my characters have become now since I first went there. Sure, it can mean that open-ended games are a little hit-and-miss with how they present their enemies, as you could wonder into a dungeon full of liche lords that tear you to shreds. But equally, you might enter a cavern full of pathetic goblins which you can slaughter while laughing heartily. And that, for me, is some of the thrill- you never really know what you're going to face through the next door. Morrowind balanced this expertly, and you knew when you really shouldn't be going to another area by the way a frenzied Guar would suddenly tear you to shreds.
But love it or hate it, Oblivion Syndrome is here to stay, it seems. And moreover, its spreading. Already the Syndrome has become widespread amongst certain RPGs. And it's starting to cross genre boundaries too. Could we have a nigh-impossible Syndrome epidemic on our hands? We sent Asian reporter Trisha Takanawa to find out.
"Thanks Splinter, but I have no idea what you're talking about."
Ok... Thanks for that, Trisha. Well, I guess that sums it up, doesn't it? She hasn't noticed it. In fact, a lot of you probably haven't noticed it. But nevertheless, its sneaking in to our gaming lives. Puzzle Quest is the first key example I can think of, but you'll also see examples of it throughout RPG titles like the Witcher and even Two Worlds, although with Two Worlds its less of an issue since most of the enemies are easy anyway. But it seems like the concept of dynamic scaling is here to stay. Perhaps it's a good thing. Perhaps it's easier for the developers to implement, rather than set out placement for creature types dependent on game world region. Perhaps.
And yet... I'm still not convinced that I like the idea of a humble bandit stalking the outskirts of a rural village, sheltering in some abandoned ruins, leaping out at you with his shiny glass armour and glowing magical sword.
Maybe I'm taking the whole thing too seriously. I don't know. But I know for sure that I don't like the idea of this spreading across too many games. Like I said before, I'm all for more difficult creatures popping up as you go through the game. But I want my sense of advancement back, too. And, while you're at it, how about some more games with great, emotionally involving storylines, too?
But that's another issue, and another blog post, I fear.
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