Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Have gross, will travel

When I was packing up yesterday for a short trip I was not sure if it was worth bringing the 360 along or not. 'It's only one night,' I thought. Then I remembered what happened the last time I went somewhere with nothing to do (drinking, blogging, regretting, hangover-ing) and made space for the system in my suitcase. There was just enough time last night to put The Stick of Truth to bed. Aside from an extended trip through a mans rather crowded lower intestine I have but one complaint: level cap.

I hit the level cap with about two hours to go in the game. Had I not looked at my character screen I would never have even noticed but once I did combat lost all meaning and become little more than an obstacle between me and the credits. Character growth, however small, is what drives role playing games. Every battle needs move you forward in some way, preferably more than monetarily. Final Fantasy X is one of the prime examples of this done right: every few battles the player was in sphere grid, improving a character. Sometimes it was big, sometimes it was more hit points, but there was always progress.

Putting an arbitrary cap on player progression is fine, just put it high enough that it will not be hit during a normal play through. Maxing out abilities is for post game shenanigans. As it happened in The Stick of Truth, the last two hours felt pointless from a combat perspective. I had the armor that I was going to use, I couldn't learn any more abilities, so why I am bothering to kill this nazi zombie underpants gnome?

If I remember correctly, and being a cranky old man I may not be, Obsidian has done this before, specifically in Knights of the old Republic. I suppose it adds more weight to which abilities you choose when you know that you cannot have all of them. It would have in The Stick of Truth had the very first ability, beating a guy over the head with a bat, not been so good. That ability, when maxed out, caused five points of the bleeding status effect. This means they would lose between one and two thousand more points per turn before I hit them again. I created the following combat flow chart:

  1. Bash nazi zombie whatever over head until bleeding profusely
  2. Light on fire
  3. Fart on profusely bleeding, immolated head
  4. Go back to 1 if enemy still alive
Non-boss enemies rarely made it past 4. This is still not an excuse for a level cap, it means that the enemies should have scaled with the player's level. Let the player feel more powerful even if all that changes is the number of zeroes at the end of a damage counter.

The Stick of Truth was still a very good RPG. It was gross, worse than the movie and I didn't think that was possible, but that was the point. And do you know who we can blame for everything we don't like?

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