While games continue to become more graphically impressive, dynamic, and robust, they have also continued to lean towards a somewhat repetitive trend of online co-op/competitive, and most games end up sticking on some sort of deathmatch element onto an otherwise adventure-based game.
This is irritating for those of us who a) have friends who we actually physically socialize with and b) generally dislike associating with random strangers online. Maybe it’s because I’m from a different generation, but I don’t have that many online-only friends, and when I talk to my “real-life” friends, it’s usually on Facebook, text, or in person. And not a lot of them are gamers with the same systems/games as myself. As a 30-year-old, I just don’t like playing with 13-year-old gaming prodigies that don’t have the same intentions and entry-level skills that I do. I’ll admit it, I’m going to suck when I first start playing a game, and I want to know that the person I’m playing with also sorta sucks.
My partner and I enjoy gaming, but neither of us really enjoys the 2-player games that we have for very long. I think Little Big Planet 2 was the only game we ever played together for very long, and that was cooperative. Portal 2 got frustrating very quickly in the higher levels when we had to explain complex spacial concepts to each other, but was also pretty fun to play cooperatively.
We both love adventure games and have both sunk hundreds of hours individually in both Skyrim and Oblivion, two extremely engrossing worlds with so much to explore that we still play them to this day. I’m actually thinking about re-buying Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition (Gotye?) for the PS3 so I can re-experience the game and actually play through Shivering Isles, which I’ve never played. Very often, we discuss how amazing it would be if we played through some long quest together. We watch each other play; occasionally one of us says, “hey, you didn’t search that chest!” or “you keep walking past the switch!” We would love it if we could play either game together, cooperatively, in the same room, split screen (or somehow on two separate screens so screen real-estate isn’t lost), at the same time. One person could explore the left side of the dungeon, and another could explore the right, then meet back in the middle. In fact, the ability to create puzzles that require two people to complete them creates a unique bond between the players, and shared experiences and accomplishments bring people closer. I miss this aspect of gaming immensely. I remember beating Battletoads cooperatively with friends back in the early 90s. Yes, we beat it, even the hurdle level. I don’t know how, but we did. Two players.
So, this is what I want to see. I want to be able to play the next Elder Scrolls, open-world game cooperatively and locally.
There are a lot of potential hurdles and options here, which I should probably address:
Sleeping, Waiting, and Fast-Traveling: At first, this seems like it would be a problem, since the Elder Scrolls games have relied on this mechanic for awhile so that the game can tell stories that take place over long periods of time and larger scale without boring the player. One solution: make it so that characters can do all of these things, but they must do them together. Granted, I almost never sleep in the game since I’ve played Skyrim and have spent most of my recent time as either a werewolf or a vampire… but if this hypothetical game required sleep or waiting, both characters would just have to be near beds and away from enemies, and they’d have to wait together.
Fast travel could also still happen, but there are a few things to consider. Currently, when you fast-travel, time passes differently as if you spent your character’s time walking. So if you leave Markarth at 3am and fast-travel to Solitude, it might be 6pm the next day when the fast-travel is complete. If using this model, both characters would both have to enter a wait/loading screen. One would have to wait and not be near enemies, while the other fast-travels. They could also potentially fast-travel to the same location, and the farthest person away would determine the length of time it takes in the game world to get there for both characters…
The other option is the most obvious, to introduce a shorter, more instantaneous fast-travel power. For example, this power would allow a character to lose less time traveling, and essentially “teleport” to wherever they need to be. This could be expanded to a skill-tree or a leveled ability. So, gradually, your teleporting can improve to take minimal amounts of time, but potentially start out taking a minute in playing-time to get to a particular place. In essence, when you start out, you might be able to fast-travel only once a day and it takes a minute in real-time to get there, essentially putting your character in limbo for a minute while the other player is able to play by themselves. It also might take a lot more magicka, or be dependent on using souls, or be limited to smaller distances or to specific wayshrines or something… And over time, as you develop your skill tree, you can eventually teleport instantaneously (within reason), as many times as you want, near enemies, wherever you want, with less drain to your powers, etc.
This is the best option I can think of, and like dragon shouts, it could be integrated into the storyline as a main mechanic. Maybe there’s an interdimensional factor to all of this, like you’re a time-lord or something… This could be related to portals like those in Oblivion, etc… That way there could be enemies with similar powers that pop in and out of areas that you are constantly pursuing. It opens up lots of opportunities for storytelling creativity, and creepy enemies. Think of how interesting the Dark Brotherhood or the Thieves Guild could become…
You could even introduce something like magic-circles that make areas unable to be teleported into, just to keep the game linear enough to make it interesting and not overpowered…
As for who a co-operative team of players would be in relation to the storyline, well that could be a lot of things. Customization has always been a focus, but there could be some interesting ties here… Most Elder Scrolls games start with the main character as a prisoner that is released or escapes from prison, a chosen one to save the world. Maybe dual characters are twins, or siblings, or lovers, or even rivals. Or just completely unrelated with shared experiences; friends.
Or maybe the game doesn’t work that way. Maybe the game still focuses on one main character created by the player, and the second player gets to play as any follower that the first player chooses. In Skyrim terms, maybe the first player is the Dragonborn, and the second player is Lydia or Vilkas, and if the Dragonborn dies, the game is over, but if the companion dies, the game continues as a one-player game until the character is reborn. Or, what if the first player is a necromancer, and the second player gets to play as whatever undead character the first player reanimates.
Or better yet, what if the second player is just a lost-soul that can inhabit any dead body it chooses, whenever it wants. Maybe that can also be a leveled skill tree, where at first you can only inhabit animals and low-level creatures for a short period of time before you have to jump to another, etc… This would be amazing. And maybe over time the soul itself can get powerful enough to be a corporeal form that can attack on its own, like a shade or some leveled ectoplasmic creature.
If the second-character is a ghost, this also fixes the teleportation/fast-travel/sleeping issue and makes it a non-issue. Actually, it opens up so many cool, dynamic stories that I wish I was playing it right now. Bethesda, seriously! This is fucking awesome.
Story idea coming… The main character is a necromancer that is dabbling in Daedric forces/worship. He’s a prisoner and prays to one of the Daedric princes, and the prince gives him powers but binds a soul to him as a sort of “watcher”, or even as a curse, or maybe the prince asks you to escort this ghost to its final destination, which is the “main quest” of the game. Player One is in his cell and Player Two is a ghost. There is a rat scurrying around in the dungeon, and Player One kills it by stomping on it. Player Two inhabits the rat and sneaks through the bars to go fetch the cell key and return it to Player One. Etc etc etc… Having the game start out immediately with a Daedric prince influence is really interesting. And Daedric often equates to surreal, like Dali and H.R. Geiger and Lewis Carroll had a creepy baby together. As in Skyrim, the main character would have a choice to pursue the story and side with dark or light, maybe even becoming a Daedric “thane.”
While a soul couldn’t necessarily “die” while Player One can die, maybe it’s possible for the soul to be captured by other necromancers/mages in the world and the main character kill that necromancer in order to free the soul. Could even be bound into a soul gem somewhere and need to be recovered and released.
I could see the soul possession trees become quite interesting over time, a bit like the smithing trees in Skyrim. In Skyrim, you can make tons of things out of leather, iron, and steel in the beginning, but over time you can make Dwarven, Daedric, Falmer items, etc… The Soul Possession tree would allow you to possess humans and animals at the beginning, then gradually you could possess other creatures, from giant spiders, to draugr, to spriggans, Daedric monsters, and Dwarven machines, etc. Maybe it’s also good to only show up in settlements as particular things as well, such as non-hostile things like freshly dead humans, dogs, cats, livestock, etc. Maybe there are also time limits on inhabiting certain things due to decomposition, so it might be easier to be a stinky dead cat for awhile longer than a stinky dead human. And maybe there is magic to counteract this that can also be leveled up to “repair” the dead bodies. How crazy would it be to pull an arm from another dead body in order to repair the one you’re inhabiting…
Think of the cool assassin/infiltration missions that could exist. Player one works stealthily and creatively to reach and kill a particular important character, and then Player Two inhabits that dead character in order to infiltrate more deeply into a particular quest, using that character’s influence to move Player One further into the quest, location, etc.
Maybe Player Two can also gradually gain powers of suggestion as well, such as an ability to push living characters slightly into one direction or another. For instance, maybe it’s important to keep a person alive, but bad if Player One gets spotted by him. Maybe Player Two can jump into that person momentarily and plant a suggestion to look away, or blank out his vision, or be paralyzed, or lose his balance and fall off a ledge…
Also, maybe the way Player One kills things has an effect on how well Player Two can use them for various things. I imagine that if you poison someone they’re not going to look as dead as if you cut their head off. Understatement of the day?
I imagine that a dead body also can withstand a lot of hits, but is probably going to get messed up pretty quickly since it can’t heal. So, as the Second Player, you’d have to take care of the bodies you’ve got. You might be able to become “human strong” for a lot longer than Player One, but if you get hit too many times, you’re just going to fall apart and be useless. Player One can heal, Player Two cannot.
I really don’t want reanimated bodies to glow like they do in Skyrim, but I do think there should be some sort of indicator that Player Two is in them. Maybe black eyes or something… Or different posture, skin tone… something. But it’s important that if you’re using a human body to infiltrate somewhere, that they remain somewhat normal looking, but maybe a little “off.”
Carrying things. Well, maybe a ghost can’t carry anything. Probably not. But maybe if it inhabits a humanoid character it can. So, this might not be something the character can do right away, but over time it can use a human body long enough to take things back to a house, trade & sell, etc.
Guilds. I definitely think that the Fighters’ Guild and the Arena need to return, mostly because it would be fun to play the Arena as Player Two while Player One throws money into the ring. Obviously Player Two would need to inhabit a dead body and stay in good condition throughout the battles. This could be where Player One finds body parts to repair Player Two so he retains his identity. Also, Mages Guild should return, and maybe another brotherhood in addition to the Dark Brotherhood, but maybe something like The Mythic Dawn or a Necromancers Brotherhood. I could also see all of the Daedra/God followers be handled more like Brotherhoods and Guilds as well, with ongoing quest lines and memberships depending on which one(s) you decide to worship.
Quest/dungeon potential. Having this dynamic for Player One and Two makes for some really innovative puzzles during quests. Perhaps there are Dwarven ruins that contain robots that need to be moved in order to complete labyrinthian puzzles, or move out of the way in order to open doors, or use their strength to move obstacles… Or a quest where Player Two needs to inhabit rats in order to squeeze through small areas and tunnels and retrieve items. Or maybe in the Dark Brotherhood questline, Player Two can eventually inhabit The Night Mother’s and become the ruler of the Dark Brotherhood and lead them. Maybe something with gargoyles and other statues being inhabited in order to influence worshipers, etc. Maybe a quest where you have to become a hawk or a dragonfly and reach a high point or scope out an area. There could even be a quest where Player One and Two both inhabit the same body for some reason… The list goes on and on and on…
And yes, if you so desire, you could play this game cooperatively online as well… But we really need the option to play it locally the same way…
So, the ball is in your court, Bethesda. I’m just putting it out there… Am I the only one who thinks that this would make for a great game?