For whatever reason lately — I think I blame the last SWTOR weekend — I have had a deep need to play games with dialogue trees. On Friday night I finally finished my first complete Mass Effect 2 playthrough, which took about 35 hours all told. I immediately bought Skyrim and played that on Saturday. Then on Sunday I had the opportunty to talk to someone about Saints Row: The Third and watch a few hours of their gameplay.
Mass Effect 2 is almost two years old, but it’s still commonly considered to be one of the best computer RPGs ever. The plot is.. well, not as good as the first one I hear, but it’s still epic. The graphics are still good. The world is well-realized with alien races and political intrigue and you can explore an almost endless sea of planets (if you want) on your way through the story. ME2 is a lot more of a FPS than most games I play, but it fits well into the story and combat is pretty entertaining with the various damage combinations you can put together with your squad. I found myself becoming quite fond of my team and I was surprised at how bummed I felt when one of the favorites died at the end because of my poor decisions earlier in the game.
In short, I was an idiot for waiting two years to play this. The greatest compliment I can give the game is that after finishing my bad-ass FemShep run I almost immediately started over as a Paragon (ie. sweetness and light) ManShep.
Saints Row: The Third launched on November 15th of this year, and is essentially a hyper-stylized version of the Grand Theft Auto games. While the GTA series has tried to become more and more realistic, Saints Row 3 (and 2, I understand) went the other direction and aims for goofy fun. The character creator is almost overwhelming, and you can assign clothes and cars to your posse in remarkable detail. The missions themselves are incredibly similar to standard GTA tasks, but they include more amusing weapons, set pieces, and thumpy thumpy house music. SR3 is not for people who want some morality in their games, but it is amazingly fun and glossy and occasionally breath-taking.
So now we come to Skyrim. Ah, Skyrim. Look, I really wanted to like this game. I was so excited to buy it after reading a week of everyone’s exaltations about what an amazing experience it is. And yet.. after six hours of gameplay I just cannot make myself start the game up again. I actually became angry — why does everyone else like this game, and I hate it? The graphics are amazing, the environment is reactive, I can go anywhere and do anything I want. It’s a fine game. What is wrong with me?
Part of the problem was absolutely the user interface. If you haven’t gotten the game yet please do not ignore the frequent complaints about the UI. On the PC, at least, it is HEINOUS. I have played a lot of games and am generally good with interfactes, and I had to look up on the internet how to sell junk to a vendor. Settings are not where you expect them to be — you have to set up windowed mode before loading the game, for example — and the ones that you can find are not intuitive at all. The interface isn’t a dealbreaker if you love the game, but for someone already struggling to enjoy it the stupid UI will definitely compound your frustration.
However there was more to it than just the UI, and after a lot of thought I think I’ve figured out a big part of why I didn’t enjoy Skyrim: I don’t like not being a hero. Look at the one of the very first scenarios in SR3 — you are a stylish gang leader flying around on top of a giant vault that is chained to a helicopter, music pounding, while you take out enemies in a blaze of glory with a semi-automatic in each hand. In one of the very first scenarios in Skyrim I was a young, dirt-covered girl lost in a deep cavernous hole, hoping to find some shoes. And I died over and over and over.
I realize that my character would likely gain power as the story progresses, but I think I just don’t like not being heroic in some way. Yes, RPGs rely on character progression so it would be impractical and boring to start out as too much of a god, and yet in Mass Effect I was a humbled space hero and in SR3 you play a tough gangster. In Skyrim I was a small girl with a stick.
I get enough of feeling powerless and lost and having poorly made shoes in real life. As I learned this weekend, when I play a game I want to feel awesome.