Sunday, October 04, 2009

Oblivion Skills: Speechcraft

First things first, I want to thank Chocolate Hammer for shooting me a link.  I always appreciate it when another blogger notices me.

That being said, let's talk about some of the stranger skills in Oblivion.  In my last post on the topic, I mentioned that some of the skills are pretty difficult to level.  Speechcraft is definitely one of them, but in order to understand just how strange a skill this is in Oblivion, we need to go back to its predecessor, Morrowind.

Continue reading below the jump

In these games, you have an "influence" level with people.  At 100, you're their best friend, someone for whom they'd spill state secrets if you would just ask.  At 0, they're likely to attack you on sight, even if you're powerful enough to kill a god by looking at him the wrong way.

Your current level with most people is based on a few things:  Your reputation, whether you're part of the same faction as them, any previous interactions you've had with them or their town, etc.  But let's say you want to change your standing.  You have a few options.  Bribery is the most straight forward.  After that, you could insult them, threaten them, compliment them, or tell them a joke.  You never know exactly what you're saying when you select those options, but the person reacts accordingly.

Well, I say "accordingly," but the truth is that each person seems to react differently.  Some people will respond to threats positively, though only temporarily.  Some people don't take kindly to bribes.  Some people just hate you and won't respond to anything.

I remember playing through the game and having a rough time with said system.  There were times I needed someone to like me, and spent nearly an hour trying to sweet talk them and then reloading the game because the results were always random.  Other times, I would abuse the fact that you could taunt someone into attacking you.  This had the nice benefit that if are attacked first, then killing the person isn't a crime.  Heh heh.

So now we come to Oblivion.  What did they change?  I guess people thought the "mash a conversation button over and over" strategy was too boring.  Bribery is still an option, though it suffers from diminishing returns pretty badly, and it's not much of an option early in the game.

This time around, when you want to influence somebody, you will joke with them, insult them, threaten them, and compliment them all at once.  Make sense?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

Bethesda turned speechcraft into a mini-game.  You get a wheel with each of the four options, and differently sized pie-slices in the middle.  You pick a big pie slice to get a big reaction, and a small slice to get a small reaction.  The character will react to each of the four options differently (as represented by facial cues), so you have to try to choose a big pie slice on the options they like and a small slice on the options they dislike.  Of course, the arrangement of the slices is random, and they'll rotate each time you choose one, so it's at least somewhat challenging.

You have to play this mini-game everytime you want to raise your influence with someone.  As you raise your skill, you can raise the "influence" cap with people and you'll have more time to make your choices, although by the time you get said increases you probably won't need it.

Overall, this new incarnation is just strange.  It doesn't really reflect reality in any way.  You can't goad people into attacking you anymore.  Really, the only reason to get people to like you is to get better prices from the merchants and to get quest information.  That's it.

The really bizarre thing is that all of the above can be completely bypassed by a charm spell.  That's right folks, a wizard can simply make a spell to completely skip the long periods of speechcraft by casting a spell.  Nobody notices (or cares) that you've just cast a spell on them.  If you train in that school of spellcasting, you get a bunch of other options out of it as well.  And best of all, because of the way the spell creation system in the game works, coupled with the fact that the game pauses while you chit chat with people, it becomes trivial to make a charm spell that will max out your influence with someone very early in the game.

So this system tends to either result in a lot of metagaming or in immersion-breaking tedium.  It still drew me in for countless hours.  I guess we're going to have to work out what that was in another post.

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