It’s hard to guess if the developers of the upcoming Thief reboot knew exactly what they were getting into before signing on. Most fans can understand that the process of updating the franchise would mean some changes were inevitable, and given Eidos Montreal‘s success in rebooting the Deus Ex brand, they’re more experienced than most.
But after fans lashed out at the addition of an XP system awarding players who killed enemies with precision (and without cause), those in charge of the game took note. As such, the team has confirmed that Thief will not include the system, replaced by something they believe fans will accept.
To offer a bit of context, the controversy all started when the game was shown off at E3 2013, following Garrett as he infiltrated a guarded building. Besides highlighting the burglar’s stealth skills, one section of the mission involved the player zooming in on an unsuspecting guard, and firing an arrow directly into his head. At that point, XP was awarded for the Headshot in the corner of the screen.
That might seem like a no-brainer (forgive the pun) these days, but devoted fans of the franchise were infuriated. XP rewards, they claimed, showed that players would be encouraged to kill – frequently and efficiently – in order to level up their character. If Garrett were a killer, that might make sense; but as a master thief, leaving bodies riddled in his wake implied the developers did not, in fact, know the series they were placing themselves in charge of.
Even gamers who aren’t familiar with the game can understand the dilemma, since there’s no reason to boast that your game “can be completed without killing” if in-game systems actively reward players who do. And while the developers remain adamant that they’ve made melee combat something to be avoided, the XP system spoke far more than their words.
Luckily, in a Q&A on the studio’s blog, lead level designer Daniel Windfeld Schmidt explained that the fans’ concerns were heard loud and clear:
“I am happy to announce we no longer have an XP system in Thief.
“We wanted to put emphasis on stealing things, and put the rewards on the stealing aspect. We want to allow the player to decide the “how to” — we shouldn’t judge how the player wants to achieve their goal, only reward them for achieving it.”
The game’s director Nic Cantin reiterated the changes:
“Yeah, it is not there anymore… At first, we wanted to outline the progression of the player with XP, but it was reducing our motivation to steal. The main goal of a thief should be to gain loot. Garrett is already the Master Thief, so we saw no need to have XP as a core mechanic.”
Although the two maintain that the game was always able to be played without emphasizing the XP system (which might raise questions of why it was present in the first place), they acknowledge that the fans were right, and have found a solution. That solution lets players purchase upgrades to skills (be they stealth or action-focused) with gold, thereby encouraging them to steal – something more in keeping with a Master Thief.
While their change of attitude might solve the immediate issue raised by fans, it’s hard to believe the announcement will help to overcome fan reservations like they hoped. Admitting that fans knew better might be the honest course of action, but that also supports those who claim that the internal delays at the studio, and the decision to cast a new actor as Garrett are all cause for concern.
Add the fact that the marketing, trailers and screenshots all continue to highlight Garrett’s abilities to attack, subdue or kill guards, and it’s hard to gauge exactly what kind of experience the game will offer – or be designed around. We’re willing to give the team the benefit of the doubt until more of the game is shown to the public, but at least in this one area, fan feedback has been taken to heart.
What do you think of Eidos Montreal’s reaction? Are you happy to see them seek out fan criticism, or is this yet another sign that the entire project will be an uphill battle?
Thief is expected to release in 2014 for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.