Monday, 20 March 2017

A Good Prologue is a Short Prologue


or is at Least Mostly Skippable (!)

To the west you can see a natural light. For the first time in your life, you are looking at the outside world.


Got shivers when I read those two lines in preparation for this write-up, just like when I first read them, all those years ago. Proves you don't need walls of text to evoke emotion and the gravity of the situation in which the Vault Dweller finds herself. Less is more, and the writer aced this one.

Fallout doesn't waste any time in granting the player total freedom of exploration. Yes, there are some rats to kill and a vault to explore, if we like (it's only plausible that we would waste time doing so), but five minutes after the FMV we can loot that corpse and hit the Wasteland in search of the water chip.

The pacing of the whole campaign is impeccable, actually. Thank you, time limit! 

***

The Lord of Murder shall perish / But in his doom he shall spawn a score of mortal progeny / Chaos will be sown from their passage / So sayeth the wise Alaundo.


Candlekeep is similar in that nothing is stopping players foregoing introductory quests and tutorial dialogue and just bee-lining to Gorion's death and non-linear exploration of the Sword Coast. Perfect.

Please refer to this post for more info on the Baldur's Gate prologue.

***

The crossbow. Sometimes you've got to make a silent takedown.


This is not a prologue but who cares? No prologue is even better than a short prologue! Here, giving the player a simple but meaningful choice serves as a great way to engage them and set the tone straight away. Makes you instantly feel like a badass. The choice you make affects the immediate approach you take on this first mission of Deus Ex, and potentially the style of play adopted over its course. Perfect start for an almost perfect game.

I have completed maybe a dozen runs over the years and never played the tutorial because the devs wisely set it apart from the game itself.

Also, yes. Deus Ex is an RPG: An action RPG that has more meaningful reactivity than many classic cRPGs out there. In fact, a very strong argument could be made for why it's the greatest game of all-time.

***

A laughing boy. A woman with golden skin. A wall of screaming souls...


The Bear God's Barrow is my fave starter dungeon. It's well-presented, perfectly itemized and offers multiple pathways, optional Imaskari vaults to explore, and an uber-bear blocking your escape to the surface of Mulsantir. The interjections by our clinical but compassionate companion serve to add extra depth to these initial stages of Mask of the Betrayer, without becoming tiresome. I have covered its short yet content rich prologue here, in-depth.

Also, thank you for giving Safiya Persistent Haste by default!

***

And then there's waking up on a slab and having a skull float over and start talking to you...


The Mortuary of Planescape: Torment

Well, I already espoused some of its virtues at the end of my Numenera review (so please refer to that) but what I didn't say there was that TNO can hit the Hive five minutes after sliding off his slab. Great for replays, of which we've all conducted many.

***

One has to remember, in many cases the player just went through an exhaustive chargen process; the last thing I want is to be bored to death by spoon-feeding and overly long prologues. I just want genuine game-play and role-playing ASAP. It's not too much to ask, is it? Well, it seems even a few classics got it wrong...

Prologues that don't make the cut

It's a peaceful village. Except for the plants possessed by evil spirits. And of course, The Temple of Trials filled with those deadly spear traps and the man-eating giant ants. - The Chosen One.

While no one can reasonably argue against Fallout 2 holding Top 5 status in the genre, the decision to sully its beginning with the off-putting Temple of Trials is just puzzling as hell. Fallout didn't have a mandatory "tutorial" so why did Fallout 2 have to? And why force non-combat characters to impale ants and scorpions with a spear, or punch them to death bare-fisted? Blame the clueless suits at Interplay for only allowing skilled veterans to get through ToT passively, and in under five minutes.

You know, there's a reason a mod exists that places the exit grid to Arroyo just outside the entrance to ToT: it's because ToT sucks!

Not this shit again!

Ah, the Child of Bhaal has awoken. It is time for more... experiments.


Again, there is a reason the Dungeon Be Gone mod exists and enjoys such a high download count: Chateau Irenicus is just too long and boring! The banters, interjections and scripted events are way over the top and mostly just fluff. That said, the first appearance of Irenicus was ok and it was great to catch up with old friends, aka the canon party. For ridiculously in-depth treatment of the Chateau please refer to this post. It covers almost every single word. And there are A LOT of words.


The first 20 minutes of Icewind Dale 2 has you running around the Targos docks killing scores of GOBLINS. So yeah, it sucks ass. After that the Prologue gets complex and nuanced - too much so for its own good (no walkthrough has covered all of its reactivity). But the main problem is its progression which cannot be fast-tracked like its predecessor: time-consuming FedExing is mandatory if you are to trigger the goblin invasion on the Palisade. This is the longest IE prologue and the worst because of it. Just show me the orcs, ffs.


The prologue for the Neverwinter Nights OC has already been covered by me, in-depth. tl;dr, it's bad but skippable.


Titles omitted at this point: Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick ObscuraMorrowind (chargen prologue), Oblivion (shit), Oblivion With Guns (shittier), Temple of Elemental Evil (its opening vignettes), Dragon Age: Origins (its Origins segments), Gothic, Gothic 2, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, and many others.

Next post: Reflections on Diablo II.

EoP

35 comments:

  1. It is a bit tricky making a good prologue/tutorial. If you closely integrate it with the game plot, it is more likely to be interesting, but that also makes it harder to just skip for players who end up bored anyway.

    PST's prologue probably benefited from that not being a very combat-focused game, allowing it to provide plenty of interesting things for players to do that did not involve sending them into combat while squishy 1st levels.

    I pretty much agree with your assessment of the quality of these various prologues, with the exception of IWD2, which I remember quite enjoying, partly for its impressive reactivity. Perhaps I was also so happy to be hearing an IWD soundtrack again that I did not even mind doing silly fetch quests while listening to it.

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    1. What do you think about the Curst prison segments of PS:T? I seem to recall it being hack n slash, and there was an AR-wide rest restriction, too. It was the first time that I found Grace's healbotting abilities indispensable.

      Despite the obvious non-combat nature of the Mortuary, it's good that they still allowed ppl to treat zombies as zombies, if they wished it. Pretty sure you could slay just about everyone in there, including Dhaal and Ei-Vene. The hulking skeletons were a real challenge for some TNOs, too (if you didn't disassemble them with arcane lore in order to get some spells).

      And indeed, the reactivity in Targos could do with its own write-up. There are dozens of checks on race, alignment, skills and class.

      Btw, here are some max skill checks if one wants to experience most of the content: Bluff 17, Intimidate 15, Diplomacy 18, Knowledge Arcana 9, Alchemy 9. I don't know the max for Survival and other skills. But yeah, I'm pretty sure that aside from the social checks they are not all that demanding.

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    2. It has been awhile, so my memory may be off, but I do not recall the Curst Prison being especially difficult, even though the prison guards were probably of above average toughness. I do not recall the resting restrictions being particularly relevant there either. I think there was a hermit somewhere in the Curst Underground who could heal you or help you rest or something? In any case, by that stage of the game it was quite possible to have accumulated a large supply of healing items.

      Obviously I am not saying there were not difficult fights in PST, combat was just not the main focus of the game. It often seemed weirdly random which fights turned out to actually be difficult. As I recall, one of the nastiest was the the underground area in the Clerk's Ward, mainly since it was easy to be unprepared for it. It represented a huge spike in difficulty with no particular warning. By contrast, the plot-critical boss fights often turned out to be relatively easy. Perhaps the theory was that the really hard fights should be made optional.

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    3. My party found the Curst prison pretty difficult in my last playthrough. It was a large area with a lot of guards who were pounding us, so I had to backtrack and rest->Grace heal->rest->Grace heal in the previous area, quite a few times (TNO has regen so you only need to rest once for him, but the others don't and need to be manually healed). I also didn't have all that many healing consumables in my inventory for some reason. Maybe I didn't have Annah steal enough of them from merchants, or perhaps I missed their itemization in other places? It's been a while for me, too.

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  2. Lovely article! Your dedication to analyze every aspect of a game amazes. This was a nice break from the usual walkthroughs.

    Icewind Dale 2: This is the worst prologue ever, period. I think the first time is epic (THE VERY FIRST TIME); between learning the rules of the 3th edition and exploring this bleak town, it's certainly eerie.

    Morrowind: The prologue is just a glorified chargen. Even so, it's so powerful that EVERY word spoken here has become a catchphrase in Morrowind's community. It certainly does a lot with little.

    Arcanum: Some graphics problem didn't let me play this, but the start was great at introducing the fantasy-technology mix that surrounds the whole game. The acolyte at the start talks a little too much but it's interesting. And I love his VA.

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    1. Most importantly, Morrowind chargen is a quick process before you are out in the world and free to explore on your own terms. Can't say that about Oblivion's tutorial dungeon, or Skyrim's dragon-in-your-face followed by tutorial dungeon. Absolute garbage.

      And yeah, Arcanum started off well and only got better until after Tarant, where it mostly fell apart.

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  3. Absolutely agree with you on the skippable/short prologues. I do enjoy doing 100% playthroughs, but sometimes I just want to get over the prologue and go out to the "proper" game world. Definately Fallout 2 and Baldur's Gate 2 make me think twice, before starting a new game, and I had some playthroughs that ended after these chores, just as if they've sucked all the pleasure out of the game for me somehow. Or maybe these are just another reasons, why I prefer their predecessors overall.

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    1. Yep, some of these prologues can spoil what I consider to be a defining characteristic of a classic RPG: replayability/experimentation.

      Presenting the player with literally the worst area in your game at the very start (Temple of Trials), is pretty stupid. I mean, the combat-centric nature of the Temple of Trials can make even veterans reconsider their opening build. For example, before I worked out how to manipulate ant/scorpion positioning (management of AP for hit-and-fade tactics is time-consuming), I used to Tag melee for the Spear just to improve my accuracy and make it go that much quicker (knowing I could make up for that "waste"). Otherwise, it's just no fun missing over and over with a to-hit chance hovering around the 30% mark, and having the bugs take chunks out of you until you're dead.

      And yes, like you, I do consider Baldur's Gate and Fallout to be superior to their sequels, which are of course bigger, host more content, and flaunt an improved engine, but it's not all about that for me.

      I much prefer the pacing, story and writing in the original games.

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  4. Icewind Dale 2 prologue is just tedious, I agree - which is why I use the 'Undead Targos' mod. It makes some plot items available from the start, cutting down on the unnecessary backtracking. Fair warning - I've found the final palisade battle very tough with this mod.

    My favourite prologue is Arcanum, howvever, if only because of Virgil's dialogue if you are playing a low intelligence character. (loved the voice acting)

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    1. Never really looked into it, but the Allows you to complete the Targos fedex quests more rapidly sounds like it might be right up my alley, so thanks for the heads up.

      Know what puts me off replays of Arcanum? The string quartet. Now, I love me some classical but I find the composer's work here a lil' repetitive and raspy.

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  5. Oh I had to check out what was the meaning of "Oblivion with guns" XD. I absolutely agree... I am a big fan of Morrowind prologue, I've played it at least ten times!

    I also liked Da:O and ToEE beginnings while I totally hated Lionheart...come on, it was so bad!

    What about NwN2? I found it quite immersione and pleasant.

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    1. "I am a big fan of Morrowind prologue, I've played it at least ten times!"

      Is that all? Must be about 40 times for me. I think there was a mod that started you outside the Census office, too. You just do your chargen and off you go. But I never tried it out.

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    2. "Is that all?"

      Hey for me this means a lot! ^^'
      I'm the one that always makes lots of pointless saves in "interesting safe zones", especially immediately after the prologue, to avoid restarting the game. I hated the fact that I died more than once on Fallout 2 ToT, and I'm ashamed that I also died in the beginning of Torment, after attacking everyone including Morte (hey I was young!).

      Despite my lack of patience (I plan my character builds carefully before starting the game), I think that skipping the "Now... before your officially releeased" part is not necessary. I'd even replay that prologue immediately with the mod that makes Jiub the Nerevarine, just to see if there are some changes...

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    3. Yep, that mod is really just for the hardcore replayers for whom Morrowind is a way of life.

      From memory the scorpions can poison you in ToT, and this can eat away at you unless you find a cure. I haven't cleaned ToT out in many, many years. Nothing happens there that is remotely far-reaching, so it's all about speed/passive runs or using that mod I mentioned to skip it entirely.

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    4. "Yep, that mod is really just for the hardcore replayers"

      I remember that in that section I used stealing every thing that wasn't nailed to the ground, so I spent a bit of time, despite being it one of the shortest prologues ever!

      "From memory the scorpions can poison you in ToT, and this can eat away at you unless you find a cure."

      They usually weakened me enought to be killed by Cameron (creating a fighter/talker wasn't a good idea since I failed both speech and combat), and the first time I was shocked as I believed this to be a friendly contest!

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    5. I used to take everything not nailed down, too. One of the initial joys of Morrowind. You could get quite a bit of wealth just by looting all the crates in Balmora. It wasn't worth it when they released Tribunal though, because the assassin gear would sell for a pretty penny. And you probably know that if you didn't report the attempt, they would keep spawning, scaled to your level, thereby giving you a permanent income that could help out during rough spots (which wouldn't happen often, ofc).

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    6. I remember I had trouble finding people with cash. That glass armor was so rare and expensive... anyway even if scaled that assassin wasn't a pushover (in my game he even killed Ahnassi).

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    7. Never had any problems with them. They weren't scaled like in Oblivion, where enemies can start to trouble you by about 30th lvl, even when you're optimized. Then again, on-rest assassin spawns aren't much of a bother when your Redguard has Adrenaline Rush...

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    8. The problem was that I was at low level (nd badly equipped) and even if these guys and their weapons do scale... they always wear a complete set of one of the best light armors of the game.

      I found Oblivion to be easier, since everything is scaled: before finding the (ridiculous) bandits in glass armor you find those with fur armor, and so on. The strange thing is that I always preferred the first levels of these games (I mean Oblivion and Skyrim especially), when it's easier killing and being killed, later every character is a "bullet sponge", and this makes combat really tedious.

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    9. Yeah, they scale into dmg sponges and also hit like trucks - with enchanted weapons. I found Oblivion much harder at Lvl50 than at 30, and much harder at 30 than at 10. It's the lvlscaling that does it because the combat role of the character and its stat optimization is pretty much mature by lvl10, but after that you're only letting the enemy catch up to you in power.

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    10. Sure, the hardest part in Oblivion for me was the Shivering Isles add on, that I played last. I remeber I downloaded a mod to make weapons more lethal, in order to speed up combat.

      I like how instead Morrowind had only some hard combat parts, for example Salas Valor in Tribunal and the werewolves in Bloodmoon. Well the Red Mountain itself was a bad place to visit... so yeah, there were some dangerous situation, but you weren't ambushed by some overpowered muggers!

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    11. Have you ever tried Obscuro's Oblivion Overhaul? It made Oblivion so much better. Very hard at the start if you explore to far in the wilderness but your char gradually became very powerful (so it's rewarding). I remember reaching the low 40s in that run, at which point I went to Shivering Isles and got pulverized by even the bottom-feeders there. The reason? I forgot to install the Shivering Isles patch for OOO (it was a separate download, at least at that time). That's the difference between OOO and vanilla Oblivion.

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    12. I've never used it but I've heard of this mod one thousand times!

      Unfortunately I played Oblivion only twice, and then the Neirhim total conversion once... I wasn't a great fan of this ES episode (I hated the whole "close the gates" thing). It seems that this mod would improve the gameplay a lot.

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    13. OOO makes Oblivion decent. FWE does the same thing for Fallout 3. I hate myself for how much I have played Bethesda's post-Morrowind garbage. :P

      Nehrim, yep. Played that for maybe four hours because it was just burn-out on Oblivion in general. What I liked most: just like in Gothic and Morrowind, they let you move from outside to inside a town without loading a new area.

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    14. Fallout 3 was the one in the serie I hated most (maybe as much as Fallout Tactics but I finished both anyway) so I never tried or even hard of that mod.
      Post Morrowind? I played half of Skyrim but I liked it until you become an overpowered unstoppable force. Too easy (don't know if the dlc change that).

      Nehrim wasn't bad but a bit too combat focused: raising the combat abilities as much as possible made the first part bearable. Oh beautiful maps by the way!

      Since you namedi Gothic... I didn't like the prologue of Gothic 2. I never played the first, so I felt it incomplete (this did not happen with Risen 2)

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    15. Skyrim DLC just makes the game even easier. Oblivion is the hardest game released by Bethesda after Arena and Daggerfall. It's ironic that the lvlscaling is the reason for that. :P

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    16. It's also ironic that Baurus and Jauffre did NOT scale! I struggled to save them at the end of the main quest...they should have been essentials...or better, they should scale.

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    17. Had to think for a minute before I knew who you were talking about: I don't remember the end of the MQ at all lol. Mind = blank. I think plot-criticals would just get back up after taking a beating, though. It's a bit lame when the weak ones just take a hit, fall down, get up, take a hit, fall down, get up etc etc. ;)

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    18. "I think plot-criticals would just get back up after taking a beating, though. It's a bit lame when the weak ones just take a hit, fall down, get up, take a hit, fall down, get up etc etc. ;)"

      True, in fact I preferred Morrowind choice, it's more funny when you know that not even Vivec is immortal.

      Jauffre & Baurus are present from the beginning, and they are present on several quests so they become less and less stronger/useful as the story progresses, and this is a pity, to me they are as important as the good old Caius Cosades in Morrowind.

      One of the thing I loved of the Oblivion MQ is that you are NOT the demigod protagonist (as the Nerevarine/Dragonborn), but rather a friendly helper.

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  6. You know, I always enjoyed Chateau Irenicus. I thought it did a good job of setting the mood and establishing a personal antagonist with the right level of foreshadowing.

    That said, in general I agree with you. I despise the starting dungeon of Oblivion (and the game doesn't improve). And I didn't think much of Skyrim's prologue either. Though dodging dragon was cool. Morrowind's was perfect. Build your character, establish the skill system, and get out. A couple simple starter quests...and one nasty trick with the Firebite Mage in the starter dungeon...and you've got enough gear to start wandering the world. Morrowind still wins best game of the ES series (and best BethSoft game period) hands down.

    Neverwinter Nights having bad prologues is tradition (and as bad as NWN1's was, NWN 2's Harvest Fair and whole sequence through leaving Mudville was worse).

    I do like Witcher 3's prologue. You see Geralt doing what he does, establish his core relationships, and then hunt and ride. And all the Kaer Morhen can be reduced to under 3 minutes from the time you leave the Guest Room and Yennifer, to the time you 'wake up' and start Witchering.

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    1. I thought Oblivion's Dark Brotherhood questline was ok. But yeah, that level scaling was a major turn-off and the world building was a far cry from Morrowind.

      Never tried Witcher 3. Don't think my laptop could handle it.

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    2. The DB plotline *almost* made Oblivion worth replaying...heavily modded to crush the level scaling and fix the leveling system, that is.

      And yeah, I had to become a console scum to play W3. :P And I was right about the prologue time. Even better, when you play in Death March (highest difficulty level), it auto-skips all the tutorial elements. So it's straight narrative. Of course, Death March really is hard. Even for an old timer like me. :P

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    3. If I ever become a console scum or get a proper gaming PC I will be sure to try it. :P

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  7. InExile managed to make the most boring prologue in the history of Role-Playing Games in TToN. :D

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