Review by PherdnutChiken
"If it was THAT good, I'd still be playing it."
First off, if you like adventure games and RPGs this one's worth your money or at least a week-long vacation rental, whichever is cheaper. As much of a critic as I am of the game, I do have to admit that I got my 1-200 hours out of it, even though I was hoping for months or even years of returning to it and discovering new things.
It IS a stunning technical achievement. The environments are breathtaking and occasional view from a mountain vista or the remarkable detail of a forest will blow your mind and they help you forget that you completely stopped caring about quests you're supposed to be on about a quarter of the way through finishing them.
Also, the blending of RPG mechanics with action elements is very well done and bodes well for the future. The stealth portion of the game is particularly fun until you discover how broken the invisibility/chameleon dynamics are. It's proof that RPGs don't have to be completely nonaction to be workable for a predominately RPG crowd.
Item and Spell Creation made for a really fun weekend of experimentation. Then I mastered them.
Many many bad things
Sadly, I don't think this game's diehard fanbase is the RPG crowd because in that department it's mediocre at best even it takes you 20-60 hours to realize it, which is why I don't blame the reviewers for missing the mark. I would have done the same thing if writing about it in a prompt manner were part of the job. We may have all rushed out and bought our copies after the stellar reviews and all the awards and claims it was the coming of RPG gaming Nirvana but I don't think we'll be doing that again in equal numbers, even it says Fallout 3 on the cover.
Absence of Relevant Choice
Aside from sliding you up or down on the Good/Evil bar which all city guards are mystically aware of, your choices mean nothing. From the very start at character building to the very end when you save the world the NPCs very rarely take note of what race you are, what benefits or consequences your choices have reaped for the world, what your standing in any of the organizations you join are, or anything else one might hope would be relevant like your status as Grand Champion of the Arena.
When Open-Ended Character Building Becomes Irrelevant Character Building
Everybody can become masters of everything. Ultimately all stat and attribute bonuses are irrelevant because they are all capped at 100 and nothing prevents you from bringing all of your stats to this level and most skills are easily leveled to the point that racial bonuses affect them anyway. In the short term the racial variations will have noticeable effects on effectiveness but towards the midgame they are meaningless.
Even if they remained powerful beyond level 5, the once-a-day abilities can still be used only once a day. Permanent resistances (not to poison or disease as these rarely come up and easily dismissed with a potion) are handy and so are magicka boosts since these are the only boosts that effectively go beyond other characters' maximums. One race gets both. For players who can't be satisfied with aesthetics alone, there is only one race worth playing in this game.
Dynamic Leveling - Don't Leave Home Without It - In Fact Why Leave Home?
This is perhaps the clumsiest element of the game's design. With one gamebreaking sidequest abuse exception, you will never get to wear the coolest armor in the game until everybody else gets it first. There is no benefit to be reaped by seeking out more dangerous lairs for better goods because the game already made the choice to play it safe for you by matching all the monsters, bad guys, and their gear/quest rewards to your level.
Yes, even unique quest award items will have their stats strengthened or reduced based on your level. This creates a false dilemma for players with a bit of foreknowledge and punishes players that dared to just start stomping through quests without any. Do you raid that dungeon now, or find some other way to level to 25 first to get the best version or at least noncrappy version of amulet X? Do you do any quests at all or just find some really lame way to level up by repeating skill usage for hours on end?
Leveling System Leads to Totally Unnatural Choices
In a nutshell, at character creation you choose race and skill cluster (standard fighter, mage, thief) which speeds the training of relevant skills. Then you pick ten major skills. The rest are minor. Major skills level slightly faster than minors but all skills can be maxed out.
All skills are levelled through doing. Keep smacking monsters or your own summoned critters with a sword and that skill eventually goes up (summoning too if you choose the latter option). Character levels only do two things for you. They increase your hitpoints depending on your endurance and they give you the opportunity to boost three attributes.
Here is where the devs hit a crit fail. How much of a boost you can give an attribute depends on what skills you levelled since the last time you levelled. Each attribute is tied to 3 skills and can go up 1-5 points on a character level-up. It's a 2 for 1 thing. 10 levels or more in relevant skills upgraded between levels and you get the maximum boost. So basically, to get three +5s you have to level 30 skills which includes the 10 major ones for leveling up. If you pick 3 skills tied to a given attribute as majors, the odds of ever actually getting a +5 in that attribute actually goes down. To get a 5 you will have to use those 3 skills exclusively over all other major skills because just one accidental level in another major skill and you're out a +5. Does it make sense that a guy with major skills all in strength should have a harder time boosting strength?
Play the game willy-nilly without a thought in the world as to how all this crap will work out and odds are good that you'll end up with a lot more +1 and +2 attribute bonuses between levels than you'd like. Think too hard about it and you'll be engaging in training dummy excersises to level up all the relevant minor skills in a city or town for hours before actually going out and questing.
Oh, but careful not to overdo it. If you overtrain your minors they'll all get maxed before you before you've maxed your attributes and it's nothing but +1s from that point on.
Strike a balance where you're not going to sweat the occasional +3 but will still spam some skill you wouldn't normally bother with and you're still not really playing the game naturally.
What a horrible mess.
So Here It Is
You are rewarded for repetition, not accomplishment. Levelling up is not something to get excited about so much as fretted over since it only means stronger monsters with better gear across the board and you don't want to fall behind the curve with nerfed levelling.
Levelling up and gaining power is basically irrelevant since there is no basis for comparison unless your stats suck (everybody else levels too!).
In the long run, you are punished rather than rewarded for accomplishing quests early on in your character's development in the form of weaker material rewards.
There is rarely anything to be gained from raiding one cave full of monsters over another since all the stuff in their chests will be the same and you've probably fought them all before. Human NPC dungeons are to be visited whenever you hit the magic level where new gear shows up.
On the one hand the game lets you run off and do whatever you feel like. On the other hand, the game does nothing to make you feel like your build, your choices, or your actions are any more or less relevant than the last character you played, if at all.
The fact that I'm not giving this game a 3 is testament to the fact that being that pretty and that technically sharp really does go a long way, but this is not "the greatest RPG of all time" or even a particularly good one based on it's actual RPG merits. Not by a long shot and I really hope Beth and the rest of the industry aren't too busy counting Beth's money to pay attention to the criticism.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/05/07
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