Updated: Aug 23
Welcome back everyone. In an earlier article we asked you, our dear readers, to suggest other video game franchises that you felt had devolved or went downhill over time. The response was fantastic. We covered three of them in the previous article, now we will cover the final three.
4. The Elder Scrolls Series – Morrowind to Oblivion to Skyrim
This one is perhaps a little more controversial, but there appears to be a fair number of people who feel that The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was a better game than either of its two sequels TES IV: Oblivion and TES V: Skyrim.
Full disclosure – I have completed Oblivion on Xbox 360, but I have hardly touched Morrowind or Skyrim, as I am waiting to playthrough both Skywind* and Skyblivion* before playing Skyrim – with a hat load of mods of course.
Some of the critiques I have seen include;
Morrowind was more challenging than Oblivion, partly due to its lack of hand holding. In Morrowind there were no map markers to follow, so you had to work out where you needed to get to, often by talking to people to get information and directions. Mission critical items were not highlighted either, so you would have to hunt for them.
Levelling up in Oblivion was less impactful since enemies levelled up to match yours.
Oblivion’s and Skyrim’s environments were less interesting than the varied locations of Morrowind. No giant mushrooms, no Silt Striders, no expansive marshes and swamps. The environments of Oblivion and Skyrim were seen as ‘samey’ in comparison, with most of Oblivion resembling medieval European countryside and most of Skyrim being cold and faintly Nordic.
Morrowind had more varied and interesting enemies.
Morrowind had a proper faction relations system. Joining one faction may make you the enemy of another. This would prevent you from carrying out missions for the other factions, effectively ‘locking away’ that content for that particular play-through. The overall number of missions was *apparently* around 500 to accommodate this. Therefore, if on successive playthroughs you joined different factions you would have access to missions you would not have before, greatly increasing the longevity of the game. Oblivion and Skyrim’s faction systems were toned down and were thus less impactful.
Becoming a vampire or werewolf may make you an outcast and pariah in Morrowind, less so in Oblivion and Skyrim, reducing the relevance of vampirism and lycanthropy.
These are just some of the critiques I found, there were many more. The general consensus appears to be that whilst Morrowind is now dated in terms of graphics, it is still a superior game to its successors.
*NB – Skywind and Skyblivion are work in progress mods that aim to re-create Morrowind and Oblivion respectfully in the Skyrim engine. A recent trailer for Skywind suggests it is shaping up nicely.
Skywind Gameplay Demo
5. The Thief Games
The first two Thief games, 1998s Thief: The Dark Project and the year 2000’s Thief: Metal Age were widely regarded as some of the best stealth games in existence upon release, and some commentators assert that they remain so to this day. 2004’s Thief: Deadly Shadows was also well received, with its horror themed ‘Robbing the Cradle’ level being described as one of the scariest levels in the history of video games.
Thief 3: Deadly Shadows - Robbing the Cradle
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for 2014’s reboot of the franchise, known simply as Thief. Much of what made the earlier Thief games unique had been stripped away, perhaps in an attempt to make it more accessible and appealing to a wider audience. The result was a game that was so watered down that it ended up appealing to no one.
Criticisms levelled at Thief (2014) included;
Thief (2014) dumbed down the franchise by introducing hand holding.
The A.I. was now brain dead and thus far less challenging.
The rope arrows, so iconic in the earlier games had been watered down as well. Previously, rope arrows could be fired into any wooden surface. If the devs wanted to prevent you from using them in a specific area they simply did not place wooden objects nearby. In Thief (2014) you could only fire them at specific objects in the map, which were of course highlighted with immersion wrecking markers.
Rope Arrows in Thief (2014)
The map system had also been ‘gamified’. In earlier Thief games your map was hand drawn and there was no marker showing where you were – you had to work out your current location by matching your surroundings to the locations on the map. The maps were not all 100% accurate either. Some were only partially completed, whilst others were out of date, so that door you were looking for may now be bricked up. This was far more realistic, challenging and immersive than Thief (2014’s) typically ‘video gamey’ map, complete with quest and ‘you are here markers’.
As with Dead Space 3, Thief (2014) was seen as an example of what happens when a publisher attempts to cater for too-wide an audience, and ends up not catering sufficiently to anyone.
6. The Halo Saga
It is difficult to over-state just how significant the Halo franchise was back in the early 2000s. Back then Halo was the video game franchise everyone was talking about. Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 were the killer apps of the O.G. Xbox, and Halo 2’s online modes were arguably the first killer app for Xbox live.
Halo Combat Evolved’s control scheme was arguably the first console FPS control set up that worked well, and nearly all Xbox and PlayStation FPS games that came after it used a similar set up. The franchise set the standard for console FPS games in other ways too, with many of its innovations, such as the two-gun system, dedicated melee attack button, liberal use of grenades and regenerating health being adopted by many console FPS games that followed.
The franchise’s popularity only increased from there, with Halo 3 often described as one of the best games on the Xbox 360 in terms of both its single player campaign and its extremely popular on-line scene. Halo Reach, which by its release in 2010 was the fourth FPS Halo game released (but canonically was actually a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved) was also well received. The franchise even spawned a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game, Halo Wars, one of the first RTS games made with a console controller in mind.
The franchise spawned numerous books, several films and of course the machinima Red vs Blue. The Master Chief became a ‘breakout character’ who was recognised by gamers and non-gamers alike. The idea that Halo could fall from grace was unimaginable to many.
But original developers Bungie left the franchise to work on Destiny, passing over the reins to the newly formed 343 industries, and this is where the problems began.
Halo 4 was criticised for the introduction of the Prometheans, which some felt were less interesting antagonists than The Covenant or The Flood, however it was Halo 5 that really left fans seeing red. Its plot, which made no sense unless you had already watched the films, read the books and played Halo 4’s Spartan Ops missions was widely ridiculed. On top of that, clumsy characterisation, uninteresting dialogue and tedious linear missions were all criticisms levelled at Halo 5. Another decision which polarised fans was resurrecting Cortana and then making her the antagonist, deftly undoing all the Chief’s character development from Halo 4.
Halo 4 was supposed to be the first in a new trilogy, we can only hope that the third instalment - Halo Infinite - will be a return to form.
The following are the franchises that didn’t make it onto this list. If you suggested these, please let us know your thoughts on them. At what point did they start going downhill and why? What did you like about earlier instalments and what did you dislike about more recent ones? Did the franchise dip in quality but then redeem its self with subsequent releases? If so how and why?
· Call of Duty
· The Sims
· Asheron’s Call 2
· Supreme Commander 2
· Sim City
· Need for speed
· Sonic the Hedgehog
If there are any further franchises you feel should be added to the list feel free to share them and your thoughts about them in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to on-line multi-player. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at email@example.com
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