In a genre of gaming known as 'role-playing,' it goes without saying that the biggest factor in a game's success is just how enjoyable a role is to inhabit. To grant the highest possible levels of player investment, fantasy RPGs generally allow players the ability to select not only the race of their in-game avatar, but the type of fighter they will be. A slash-first-ask-questions-later Tank, a long distance fighter who uses bows and rifles to control battle from afar, or a healer able to strengthen and protect those around them are just a handful of possible classes.
Fans of The Elder Scrolls may be sad to hear that the choice of classes has not only been adjusted, but removed entirely from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. But as the game's director explains, the choice was not only in the player's best interest, but a direct result of fan feedback.
We've already learned about the vast changes that Bethesda will be making to the combat mechanics of the game, as well as the complete overhaul of the game's menus. But taking away the player's ability to define their role seems like a step backwards, not forwards, and a decision that is likely to get fans fearing the worst.
Bethesda's work on Fallout 3 gave a slight glimpse that the team was starting to rethink the generally-accepted practices concerned with class selection. Fallout 3 put the main character through a series of in-class aptitude tests to determine their class, and skill points were alotted accordingly. The whole procedure could have been avoided, however, by simply asking the teacher to skew the results however the player would like.
Since the developers had previously stated that they had learned some lessons from Fallout 3, fans may have begun to think that Skyrim would be implementing a similarly manufactured choice.
These choices often stick out like sore thumbs in a game that is otherwise bent on creating a believable world in which the player can escape. In a recent interview with Game Informer, Skyrim's director Todd Howard explained that their decision to remove the selection of classes is a direct answer to this problem.
According to Howard, the classes will still be there for players to choose, but with Skyrim, they'll be doing away with the clunky manner in which they make the choice. With the new game engine giving players unprecedented amounts of detail and fluid story, the creators are going to make the customization of characters just as natural:
"What we found in Oblivion - you start the game, you pick your race, and you play for a while. Our intent was: you played for a while, you got to figure out some skills, and then depending on how you play... one of the characters asks you 'okay, what kind of class do you want to be? Here's my recommendation based on how you've been playing.'
"And sort of our thought process was, what if that guy never asked that? I was perfectly happy right before then, ya know, I was just playing the game and skills were going up, so we just got rid of that. You just play, and your skills go up as you play and the higher your skill, the more it affects your leveling. So it's a really, really nice elegant system that kind of self-balances itself."
With Dragon Age 2 recently revealed to be removing the robust race and origin aspects of its creation, the initial reaction to this news may be the same. But rest assured, the player still has the chance to choose their character's race, along with the skill perks that come with it.
The more complex and nuanced a customization selection becomes, the larger risk there is for a player to get pigeon-holed into a role they didn't want in the first place. Nothing is more frustrating in a role-playing game than realizing you made the wrong play choice and having to start over, replaying events for numerous times.
These are the frustrations that Bethesda has become aware of over the past few years, and Howard believes that adopting a free-flowing, anything goes class system is their best idea for fixing the problem:
"What we found in Oblivion is people would play, and even though they played for a half hour and then they picked their class, it's still - in the scheme of the games we make - not enough time to really understand all the skills and how they work. So people would play, and the general pattern would be they'd play for like, three hours and then 'oh I picked the wrong skills, I'm going to start over.'
"They weren't necessarily upset about that, but to us, someone who's making a game you're like... 'is there a way we can solve that? Is there a better way of doing it?' And we think this is it."
Hopefully Howard's explanation will help to quiet the storm of fan outrage that was undoubtedly brewing. Unlike the previous changes to the game, this seems to be targeted at those already familiar with RPGs, and previous games in the series. What may seem like taking power away from players is Bethesda's idea of giving them even more.
You won't have to make a tough decision, but choose the exact type of fighter your character will be. If you prefer to stick to one class or another you have the option, but now you also have the chance to put just as much energy and skill points into magic as hand-to-hand combat. Or fashion a fighter who is deadly from a distance, but still able to hold their own in close quarters. Or even a battle mage who can slash and cast, which we know means no ability to block. No matter which you choose, you'll always have your voice to fall back on.
There's no doubt that the developers have the best of intentions, and are doing what they can to bring a unique experience, while solving a problem that few others seem willing to address. What we don't know is how much this removal of rigid class types will water down the experience pool, and put players in danger of having a generic experience.
Bethesda has pulled off enough magic in the past to earn a bit of room to experiment, but serious RPG fans know what they like, and hopefully Skyrim can manage to please everybody.With nearly every change they've made, it will have to wait until the game is released to find if the experience has been improved, or simply 'mainstreamed.'
You'll have the chance to create your own kind of character when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is released for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC on November 11, 2011.
Source: Game Informer