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Spoilers for the quest with the love potion and the witch in AC: Odyssey. Plus a glancing, vague spoiler for a quest in the Witcher 3, and for a possible entanglement in Fallout New Vegas.

Butch:

So I’ve pointed out some flaws in this game (as one does), but I haven’t been pissed off at it, really. Not often. Today, I am pissed off at it.

So yesterday got the dude out of Athens. Sailed to the island. Ok. Cool. Noticed (as did you) the question marks! This was also cool. After all, I’m of the opinion that games guide you some. If the game actively moves you away from something and plops you near something else, it likely wants you to do that particular something else. You show up and there are question marks and side quests, the game is nudging you that way.

So I let myself be nudged. Explored, did one of those ostraka whatevers (won’t spell it. Won’t.) Looted some. Went in a mine. So far, so good.

Then did the quest where there was a rich guy and a woman who wanted a love potion and a witch. THAT’S what pissed me off.

I won’t spoil if you haven’t done it, but, if you have, allow me to rant. May I rant?

Feminina:

I did that quest with the love potion and the witch! It was…weird.

You rant.

Butch:

OK, here goes.

Seriously, muscles, why so angry? Yes, I didn’t go to the track for a while, but I’m going now and hurting this much is just mean. I’m trying here!

Oh, wait, sorry. Wrong rant.

OK, so I didn’t have a problem with the quest, per se. Pretty straight forward fetch quest, not unfair, good variety, fine. My gripe is in the way it ended. Not the twist, the mechanics.

This game has done a pretty good job of sticking to classic RPG elements. There’s a good amount of choice. Choices seem to matter. The two times we did different things (the plague, banging the blacksmith) we got wildly different results. That’s cool. We can assume that, had we done more things differently, we’d have had similar drastically different results. Cool. An RPG should work that way. You should be able to do things in character and have those things matter.

This quest screwed the pooch on that in a mildly annoying way and an infuriating way.

Annoying way: I didn’t want to fight the witch. I wanted it to be none of my business. I picked “Guards! There’s a witch!” Let them sort it out. I’m not from here. She attacked me anyway. Now, ok, fine. NPCs have minds of their own, which is why I’m only mildly annoyed. But if you give a player a “Fight” icon, that should be what picks the fight. But, ok, NPC with a mind of her own.

Infuriating way: Once that fight started, everyone was right there, in the middle of everything, at night, dressed the same. There was pretty much no earthly way, in the moment, NOT to kill people other than the witch. I think I even killed the poor victim of the witch. By instantly poofing out of the cutscene to that, it made it impossible to avoid things Kassandra would NEVER do in character. I, and her, would NOT have attacked/hurt/killed anyone BUT the witch, but, in gameplay terms, that was pretty much impossible unless you just stood there letting the witch hit you, or you ran away (in which case, the witch would’ve likely killed the victim) which is ALSO something Kassandra wouldn’t have done. At that moment, due to a fiat of gameplay, it was pretty much impossible to stay in character.

And before I hear the voice of Mr. O, in his DM role, being all “Hey, shit happens,” no. In D&D, even in a crowd, you can pick who you attack or not. Sure, if you chuck a fireball and there’s collateral damage, then it’s on you, but with swords, this wouldn’t have happened and we’d’ve stayed in character.

So this isn’t just “I wanted her to live and she didn’t.” This was I couldn’t do what Kassandra would’ve done due to game design. That’s infuriating, especially in a game that’s done so well with RPG elements so far.

Feminina:

Ooh, that’s interesting!

Because I picked the “suck it up lady, the witch won” option, no one attacked anyone, and I sauntered off feeling kind of like a jerk but at least not having killed anybody I didn’t mean to.

I did feel like a jerk, though. Because Kassandra was all, “yeah, also you owe me some money for getting those ingredients for this spell you were tricked into ordering that totally didn’t work and made your hair fall out” which seemed like…adding injury to insult, perhaps. I mean, the poor lady was rejected by the (no doubt shallow, but rich) dude she wanted, and she had no hair! Surely she’s suffered enough!

But apparently she hadn’t. And don’t call Kassandra Shirley.

At least she survived. And honestly, the shallow rich dude and the conniving witch probably deserve each other.

It was an interesting quest, though. I kind of wanted to be optimistic about the end, like “that poor lady will regrow her hair and learn from this mistake and focus more on choosing her friends wisely and finding a husband of good character instead of one who’s just rich and sees only her lack of hair (or perhaps her frantic desperation to attract his attention and money).”

But on the other hand, in the old days when women’s livelihoods mainly depended on the men they belonged to, her desperation to attract a rich man is not that far from being a matter of life and death. If she can’t find a husband with means, who will support her? Being apparently well-off herself, she probably has no marketable skills, so if she remains unmarried, what does she do when her father inevitably dies? It’s all an amusing romantic farce, except that it’s deadly serious for these women.

Maybe she’s actually better off in your game, peacefully dead.

Butch:

Peacefully, perhaps, but I was aiming for a combination of the two, and wound up with the game, if not forcing me to kill her, making it very hard for me not to, which is what pissed me off. THAT sucked.

The last word I got was the rich guy saying “So she was a witch…..that explains a lot.”

So take that as you will.

What’s annoying is that there were so many work arounds that games do all the time to prevent you from killing an NPC you obviously had no desire to kill. NPCs often run away at the end of cutscenes, or somehow become impervious to your blows all the time in games. They could have let me stay in character.

Grumble.

Feminina:

Maybe the moral is, “never involve the police in anything.”

Seriously, man. You know better. You’re an assassin! Do your killing yourself, or not at all.

Butch:

Well, I ended up doing just that. Unintentionally.

But you know what else was a little off about that quest? Unlike Supideo, got a sense rather early that something was amiss. Didn’t know the witch was trying to get the guy, but still thought “Wait…..just….wait…” There could’ve been, maybe should’ve been, a way to say to the victim there “Uh, hey….maybe….”

But maybe, like Supideo, that would’ve been tipping their hand.

Speaking of Supideo, been a while since we’ve seen themes, hasn’t it? I just did three story quests and a side quest and, while I don’t have any gripe about the gameplay (save the end of the last one there), not a lot going on themewise. It’s funny; we get to Athens, seat of great thought, and things to think about dry up.

Feminina:

Enh. It didn’t seem any weirder to me than picking flowers for the blacksmith. People want weird things for weird reasons. Who am I to judge, as long as they’re willing to pay me for it?

When you think about it, there’s very rarely any option in games to reason with the person giving you a quest.

“Look, man, do you REALLY need your great-grandfather’s handaxe? I mean, really NEED it? That particular one? Because you could get a perfectly good, sharp, unrusted new one in town today that wouldn’t require paying a premium to have someone risk their life in a goblin-infested mine. Save your money! Just saying.”

It’s pretty much always just a matter of accept it, or not. (Or accept it and then don’t do it.) Although talking people out of paying you to do stuff would be an interesting option, if you really thought they were making a mistake. Maybe you could get a lot of XP and Paragon points in exchange for missing out on a payday.

But then, too, what do I know? Maybe that handaxe is magic! Maybe that potion worked! I don’t know until I get the thing and someone else tries it.

All the good thoughts in Athens have already been thought. The game doesn’t want us assuming we have anything to add to that historic discourse.

Butch:

I dunno, though. I feel like there have been some quests in other games (I wish I could remember, but this has not been a good week for my memory) where, somewhere in the middle, you hit a crossroads. You could have someone be all “I know what that really is….if you use roses or some shit, she’ll get prettier instead….” and you have to make a choice. Something.

The closest thing my addled brain can come up with was “Possession,” from TW3 way back when. This was the one with the guilt monster, and there was a choice, smack in the middle, where Cerys rushes in and tells you to throw a baby in the oven. You had a choice to do it, or to say “hell no,” and the quest played out differently then. It was very late in the quest. A crossroads. Not just a “Oh, NPC says so, so ok.”

There can be some complexities, sometimes.

Feminina:

Oh man, yeah. Throwing the baby in the oven. THAT was a thing.

But even that was kind of the final step of the thing. Do you or do you not trust the person who says they can defeat the monster?

Just like the final step of this quest here was “do you or do you not let the witch get away with what was, at the very least, blatant false advertising?”

It’s not as if earlier on in the story Geralt had the option to say to the person who hired him “you know, maybe the guilt monster is in the right here, have you ever thought about that? You should probably just give up and try to make peace with your fate. Have you considered religion?”

There can be complexities, but they’re rare, and they’re not usually along the lines of convincing the person who hired you that they actually want something other than what they hired you for.

I could see Fallout doing that, with different levels of success based on your charisma, maybe. There was that quest where you could go back to the person who hired you and lie and say you couldn’t find the thing they sent you for. Which is not the same thing, but it’s close-ish.

Butch:

True, that was kinda sorta at the end. But still, mixed things up.

All too rare, really, the chance to mix things up after you’ve learned something about the quest/quest giver. Maybe it’s just too much to program.

Feminina:

Yeah, the more complications you add, the more work someone has to do to account for the different outcomes. Way easier to just have a quest that goes “find me x” > go find x > return to quest giver > receive result.

One thing I will say in terms of the quests that do have choices: we’re doing an astonishing number of things differently, which is nice in terms of giving us the chance to talk about what was different.

Not everything, by any means, but more than zero things. And considering zero is roughly the expected number of things for us to do differently (not counting romance), this is interesting. I wonder why this game, particularly?

Butch:

By “astonishing” you mean, by my count, three. I’m thirty hours in. Three things.

We are easily astonished.

Really, only two, as I didn’t bang the blacksmith because I have standards, which has always been a difference between us.

OK, that came out a bit more judgy than I meant it.

Feminina:

When the expected number is zero, three is a lot! Or even two! Because it’s true, the blacksmith was basically a ‘romance’ choice, which I did acknowledge is an area in which we often take different approaches.

Judge all you want. I won’t apologize for the simple fact that everyone must looooooove meeeeeeeeee!!!!!

Anyway, the blacksmith was a perfectly nice guy. Perhaps not as passionate as Sexy Grandma, but then, few are.

Butch:

She was even passionate enough to sway me. Which is saying something. Cuz….I still feel a little dirty.

Feminina:

Given that I once slept with the guy who shot me and left me for dead in a shallow grave, I’d feel dirty if I DIDN’T sleep with a passionate older woman.

Butch:

Fitting that we end today with a humdinger of a T SHIRT!!!!!

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