I recently started playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for PC, and one of the first mods I installed was Alternate Start Arrive by Ship by Robert Evrae. As someone's who played hundreds of hours on the PlayStation 3 version, I think I've seen my fair share of that lame tutorial dungeon. I know how to play the game. As a veteran player, all I want to do is roll a new character and get started in the world. There are certainly more offensive tutorials, but the one in this game can be a bit of a crawl.
In the vanilla game, you're asked to fill out your characters stats over the course of a very linear dungeon. With the Alternate Start Arrive by Ship mod, I instead arrived in Cyrodiil as an immigrant. Rather than choosing my class, birthsign, and race over the course of a playable prologue, I filled out some papers in a small room, and I was ready to go. In addition to just choosing the three above mentioned traits, I also filled out my character's background, fleshing out the protagonist just a little bit. Instead of just being a nameless prisoner, you can select your social standing, criminal history, occupation, and possibly even afflicted diseases. Through this simple and lore-friendly interface, I can not only get started in the game world much faster, I can also roll a more fine-tuned character from the start. In my instance, I started out as a penniless Legion veteran afflicted with demntia. In gameplay terms, this means that I start with a full set of Legion Armor, very little money, and a drain on my personality and willpower, meaning lower prices and less magic. With a little intuitive paperwork, I've made my game much harder without ever touching the difficulty slider.
Players familiar with The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind will likely notice the similarities. Though the tutorial in this mod is much shorter and less linear than the one in that game, the core structure is the same. You go into a room, fill out your character sheet, and get a tiny impetus onto the main quest. In the Alternate Start mod, you find out about the Emperor's death through a mysterious vision in your sleep, which is troubling enough to invite you to investigate, but not nearly urgent enough that it's immersion-breaking should you decide to go loot dungeons for a hundred hours instead. In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, you're unravelling a mystery at first, not delivering a world-saving MacGuffin with the threat of planetary annihilation hanging in the balance.
Instead of slogging through the Imperial Sewers, I instead swam across the Imperial City Waterfront and approached Fort Homestead, which for all intents and purposes may as well have been a tutorial dungeon. As I delved into the dungeon, killed marauders, and explored the surrounding countryside, tutorial messages popped up as my health or stamina ran low, giving me the low down on some of the game's workings as I went. Instead of making me go through a dungeon at the start, why not have the game start right away after rolling my character, with the game pointing in the direction of an easy dungeon to explore, which servers as a method of communicating essential information to the player?
To further demonstrate what I mean, let's look at the tutorials for Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. In the former, your character's skills, attributes, and even alignment are decided through a thirty minute tutorial dungeon in the form of childhood memories. Though the idea of exploring your character's history as they grow up is kind of neat, it's also a very clunky and obtuse way of rolling a new character. Of course, the thinking in the case of both Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is that these opening crawls give players a change to mess around with the different skills available before actually committing to anything. That makes sense, but there's a better way to do it, and the game that does it is Fallout: New Vegas.
Like the aforementioned mod, Fallout: New Vegas starts in a single building in which you select all of your character's statistics. Now, the dressing is still there, as you have to fill out a psychological examination as a roundabout way of selecting your tag skills and traits. After that however, you're free to leave and explore all of the Mojave at your leisure. For newcomers, or those who simply want to absorb as much of the content as possible, the Courier is directed to Sunny Smiles, who will show the player the basic mechanics of the game. Instead of a tutorial dungeon, Obsidian opted for a tutorial town, a tiny sandbox with which the player can interact with various elements of the game at their discretion. There's choices to make, skills checks to pass, items to buy, things to steal, computers to hack, locks to pick, and enemies to kill, all whilst remaining the boundaries of a "tutorial", one in which the player has not committed to anything. All of this can be done without leaving Goodsprings, and once they do, they're given the option to re-roll their character now that they've seen a bit more of what the game is like. For seasoned players who want to get right in the thick of things, they can leave Doc Mitchell's house and hit the road right away, no fuss no muss.
Despite being similar in a variety of aspects, all of these open-world RPGs take a slightly different approach, but only in the case of Fallout: New Vegas do I feel like a good balance between accommodation and efficiency has been found. Instead of forcing us to take advantage of an older save game or slogging through a tutorial dungeon, give us a simpler, more intuitive beginning to the game, one that accommodates every kind of player.
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