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Some cauldron-related spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn

Butch:

So last night I had a dream that I was playing Horizon and, all of a sudden, 12 new map icons appeared and the game told me I had all these new activities. Seriously. It’s getting out of control.

But I did knock down some stuff last night, and I saw Mr. O playing MEA (unless you started) so I did catch up a little. Ha.

Took out Cauldron Xi, which was a neat change from other cauldrons, even if it did involve a lot of running. And fleeing. And swearing.

Then I was GOING to take out the bandit camp, but magpied first. Did a vantage point (I’m at 11 out of 12, we have to talk about that at some point…more mother stuff), and found the prison place. Killed some behemoths (way to go me) and got the “find three baddies” quest, which was handy cuz one was at the bandit camp I was going to anyway! So I went there. Multitasking!

Cleared it, but MAN took me a long time. Why? Cuz weird quest shit. I was all sneaky. I was doing the “lure dudes out, pick ’em off” thing one does. And I manage to lure out the baddie I was supposed to be tracking down for that prison quest! Nice! Just her and me, OUTSIDE the camp, plenty of cover around. So I killed her, did the cutscene, the conversation, etc., and I come out of the conversation IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING CAMP surrounded by, like, 4317095 dudes.

Best laid plans.

So I ran like holy hell. Some of them chased me. This is relevant.

I got back to the entry to the camp, took out the camp, just fine, and….nothing. Quest won’t end. No one’s around. Everyone’s dead. Bandit camp quest WON’T END. Why? Well, it turns out, two dweeby bandits who chased me when I came out of the cutscene wound up WAY OVER THERE. Took me forever to figure this out, find them, kill them, end the quest.

So I hit save.

So l got two things, but this is a long email so I’ll just do one now:

Cauldron Xi: So that was cool. I’m very happy for the rewards. But I’m confused. Who was doing what to what there? At the end, there was that “Defend the Core” bit, and dudes came, and then machines came, and everything was trying to kill everything else. I couldn’t figure out who I was trying to defend the thing from. The place was full of machines and dudes long before I got there. They were all standing around the damn core. If they wanted to do anything to it, why didn’t they? And did the cultists manage to override the core before I got there? They were right there.

We don’t bash on this game much, but one beef I do have is there are times they try to explain stuff with Aloy talking, and she’s talking when all sorts of other shit is going on. She came out of the core, and she was talking when a) it was raining which makes noise, b) all the quest rewards were popping which makes a noise and is distracting and c) there was a fight going on with a bunch of yelling dudes, heavy weapons and glinthawks.

Needless to say, I got none of what she said.

So maybe you have insight. What WAS all that?

Feminina:

Dude. DUDE. Yes.

I share your confusion. I agree that Xi was a nice change of pace for a cauldron, but damned if I know what they were doing. I assumed the cultists were trying to get control of the core in hopes of making the cauldron churn out more machines, or different kinds of machines, or something? But why they were just hanging out, I don’t know. And WHY oh why they were all fighting machines when I came back out of the core? I really don’t know. I was deeply confused by that. I mean, it was OK with me, because I more or less just lurked and let them kill each other, but it was confusing.

The machines don’t want people messing with the core? The core sensed that it was being messed with and sent out a signal summoning machines to come defend it? (Maybe we haven’t noticed that as much in our own work with cores because we just override it and take its codes, as best I can tell, whereas–maybe–the cultists were trying to reprogram it?)

But man, this is all rank speculation. I have no actual clue what was going on there.

And dude, that bandit camp where you had to find the criminal! All that stuff happened to me! Well, a little differently. I had completely forgotten about the “find three dudes” quest when I went to the camp, so I kept hearing someone yelling “come and get me, then!” or whatever and thinking “who the hell is yelling at me?”

Then I was stealthing all over in the middle of the camp and found her almost dead because I’d shot her several times from a distance but she needed to survive to do her final speech, and I was still like “what the hell?” I only realized later that this was one of the criminals I was supposed to track down. Fortunately, even though we were in the middle of the camp, no one noticed her little speech and I was still able to sneak around and kill everyone else. Thanks for being discreet, lady!

And then, like you, I found that even though I’d killed everyone I could find, the mission just didn’t end. I wandered all over the place looking for someone else to kill, and eventually, rather than finding the dude in the watchtower or whatever that I must have missed, I went across the river and killed a few wandering randits I saw over there, in case it was their fault and then…then I turned back to the camp and it was ALL FULL OF BANDITS AGAIN because I’d left the combat area.

Oh man. I was so mad. I turned it off for the night and killed the hell out of everyone next time I played, but dude. That was rough. So that particular bandit camp is just a pit of confusion and misdirection for everyone, is what I’m thinking.

I will give bandits props for moving into a deserted camp full of dead bodies FAST, though. I mean, I barely turned my back on the place.

Butch:

Ok, good, it wasn’t just me. I really thought I missed something. Cuz she DID say something there, upon leaving and completing the quest, but I heard absolutely none of it.

Lurked. I ran. Really, really ran. I was so into running that, from a staircase, I jumped clear over a dude with a heavy weapon. Just jumped over him. Have a nice day, punisher! You go punish some stuff!

It had a feel of devs saying:
“Ok, we can’t have all the cauldrons be so similar. We have to mix it up some.”
“Well…ok, how about one got all overgrown and caved in and there are dudes instead of machines.”
“Sounds good. But we should put some machines in there so it doesn’t feel like a big ol’ bandit camp.”
“Hmm….like a corruptor?”
“I dunno…been done…maybe just make everyone fight, like all chaotic like. Those other cauldron boss fights are all chaotic. This’ll fit.”
“Yeah, but why?”
*****Long silence*****
“ROBOT DINOSAURS!”

HA! “This is the most vocal bandit ever.”

I heard her talking and lost her. We were outside the camp, it was nighttime, she was wearing make up. I killed her, but then got jumped by someone else. So I heard her all “Don’t waste my blood! Before I grow cold!” and I’m running around all “Hey, I’m trying here, don’t go cold yet. Give me a minute.” I had to switch quests to that one to get the objective marker to find where the hell she was.

WHAT???? They came back????

I guess I didn’t get too far away. That sucks. And now I’m congratulating myself, because after the whole “pop back in in the middle of everything” experience, I almost said “I’ll just pop back to that campfire, save up, the criminal’s dead and I killed, like seven bandits….”

Phew.

Prime real estate, though. You have to jump at the opportunities in the market, man. With all the corrupted zones disappearing, the urban sprawl of Meridian, it’s a growth market.

But moving on to thought two that I had: The criminal. First, eww. “Drink my blood?” Eww. But Aloy’s quasi-empathy was neat. “I have enough stories of my own.” That’s finding some common ground.

But mechanically, I was struck that there wasn’t a single dialog choice in all of that. Not a one. It was one big cutscene. Now, I can see not wanting to give players a choice to drink blood, cuz T for teen, but usually in a situation like that there’s at least one choice as to how to say something. Bioware, Bethesda, CDPR, there would have been at least some say as to whether to be aggressive, or sympathetic or whatever. Even if the outcome was the same.

Weird choice. I wonder why they did it like that. It was striking that they did.

Feminina:

Yeah, that’s true, I remember she did say something when she came out that I totally didn’t hear because of all the people fighting machines everywhere.

Maybe we should have left the subtitles on.

It’s also true that it’s kind of interesting how Aloy’s response to the bandit’s plaintive wails about cold blood was set rather than involving a choice. In some ways, this feels like just another example of the way Aloy’s choices are pretty limited in most of the game. We can’t refuse quests, we rarely have significant dialogue options…maybe the only REAL impact we’ve seen from a choice is in killing/not killing Olin (the brain/heart/fist choices that pop up now and then may have subtler long-term effects we can’t see clearly, but all we know for sure is that they affect the other person’s response in the moment).

This is not actually a role-playing game, it’s a lot more like Uncharted/Tomb Raider, where only with the last Uncharted did we even see a few dialogue options, and for the most part it our only choices were which weapons to use and how to approach a fight. Maybe it just represents the continued slow convergence of roleplaying with action. It remains mostly action, with mostly choice-free cutscenes and occasional choices tossed in for garnish.

And, in this instance, they didn’t feel that garnish was necessary or didn’t have the extra $50 for multiple dialogue recordings or whatever.

Absolutely in a BioWare game it would have been a scene with a dialogue choice, but even though this feels kind of like an RPG, it isn’t nearly as much of one as we may unconsciously expect based on the inclusion of some early conversation options.

Butch:

Maybe. But I HATE subtitles. And I bet if we had, it would have been all:
Aloy: Wow…this cauldron was obviously–
Bandit: ARGH!
Aloy: which is so important to–
Punisher: They’re everywhere
Aloy: I’ll have to make sure I–
Bandit: AIEEARUGAIGAH
Aloy: So glad I know that.

But, so…Then why have the garnish? If you’re going to have weighty choices like “kill important character or not,” then stick with it. Sure, it’ll never be a pure role playing game in that we don’t create the character from scratch, but I still think a game like The Witcher is still a role playing game.

It’s odd. They make such consistent choices in how they approach the way the game is designed, and yet they couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted a (limited) role playing game like the Witcher, or an open world action game like TR or AC.

I suppose maybe it was because the whole dialog wheel thing was necessary to get all the story out. If every single Q&A session was just one longassed cutscene, we’d fall asleep. So, once you get to the point where you’re using dialog wheels for that, you probably should throw in a choice just to make it seem like you’re not using dialog as a check the box sort of exposition device, even if you are.

Feminina:

I also hate subtitles. Someday, we’ll get a game that is sensitive to background noise and will automatically turn subtitles on for you ONLY when it knows you can’t hear.

Or, you know, the game’s sound designers could watch out for this kind of issue and maybe have Aloy duck back into the quiet cave to make her observations or something. I guess.

The union of action with RPG is not entirely without awkwardness, it’s true. What are we playing? Shouldn’t we be able to decide if we want to do that? Why did we get to decide that one time, but not this other time?

And indeed, it’s a good question. Why have a few scattered roleplay elements, if you’re not going to really work the roleplay aspect? To include some element of choice without the work of scripting a whole bunch of genuinely different pathways, I suppose, and as you say, to keep people awake during long cutscenes…is this enough to make the inclusion of occasional meaningless choices, and EXTREMELY occasional meaningful choices, worthwhile?

Dunno. I mean, I don’t hate it in this game, but you’re right, it’s a little inconsistent.

Butch:

Either one of those things managing the sound would be cool.

Well, the other games you mentioned didn’t rely on a lot of conversation for plot. TR didn’t have as complex a plot, AC did but it didn’t make sense (and probably could used some conversation) and UC doesn’t count because no one does cutscenes as well as Naughty Dog (which are hard to do).

If we want plot, we have to deal with conventions that get us plot.

Feminina:

We do want plot. We definitely want plot. And we are willing to deal with conventions and nonsensical interludes to get it, like how we ARE Lara Croft and stay with her at all times, unless the villains are discussing something that clarifies some point in the minimal plot and she’s not there, in which case we’ll just be a camera on the wall for a couple of minutes.

At least this game isn’t doing those disorienting point-of-view switches. We’re pretty much all Aloy all the time.

Butch:

Games, as great as they are, still haven’t nailed the best way(s) to get narrative across. We still haven’t seen a game that has nailed it.

Feminina:

But it’s so interesting to see (and critique) all the things they try! Whether or not they all work equally well, it’s fascinating to see how the medium is developing.

Butch:

It’s what keeps us going.

Well, that and the t shirt empire.

Feminina:

A vast sprawling T shirt empire isn’t going to run itself!

Butch:

And I have all this burlap lingerie that’s just taking up space.

Feminina:

It’s a travesty that that’s not being used. But then, maybe people need a bit more of our pear brandy to get them in the mood to buy.

Business plan: invite customers in for a free sample of pear brandy; dazzle them with the fine selection of T shirts; throw in some burlap lingerie at a “special discount”; tell them all about our amazing inventory management system.

They will literally not know what they’ve just experienced.

Butch:

Who said it wasn’t being used?

Feminina:

Well, it’s true you DO have ready access to the pear tree…I shouldn’t assume.

Butch:

Never assume, man. Never assume.

Feminina:

I don’t imagine I ever will again.

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