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Tonal Dissonance regarding Enemies vs Player

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DarkAlphabetZoup's picture
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I recently finished playing Bloodborne. One of its strengths is the sense of place it strikes the player with, making them feel like a sensible part of its world. One major way it achieves this is a kind of logical consistency between enemies and the player, specifically a consistency between enemy mechanics and enemy aesthetics. What I mean is, the way enemies are presented artistically fits the way they're presented mechanically. Let's look at this in greater depth. All of the enemies in the game verbally interact with the player in very believable ways. When enemies scream insults or terrified curses at you, it feels genuine. The reason for this is because every enemy in the game, at least the first several times you face them is legit scary. They can kill you. They will kill you. When they scream at you, swear at you, roar at you or moan at you in frightening ways, it fits tonally with the player’s experience. The world feels consistent because those enemies are always a threat, so it makes sense that they’d act that way.

This post does not address the difficulty of combat in a general way, because that's played out by now. This post does not express a wish for Assassin's Creed to become more like Souls or Bloodborne mechanically. I have seen this misconception twice now in other places, and have decided to word this here to clarify. This post only highlights how much enemies can help the consistency and logic of a game's world when their aesthetics align properly with their mechanics, and how they can harm it when their behavior doesn't fit their context.

This resonance is something Assassin’s Creed lacks, and it makes Assassin’s Creed's worlds and enemy characters feel less believable as a result. I started playing Syndicate again after beating Bloodborne, and this is really worth mentioning because it’s quite jarring when one becomes aware of it.

Enemies/Blighters yell things like:
“You’ll be singing a different tune once I’m through wit ya!”
“You’re done for!”
“He’s as good as dead!”
“Spill his innards over the floor!”
“Take ‘is head off!”
“Cut 'is eyes out!”

They continue to do this when they can be destroyed in less than three strikes and the damage they can do to the player is disproportionately small compared to the power of the player's character. It is inconsistent and harms the world's sense of reality. Why? Because the lines suggest threat, but the enemies are absolutely not threatening.

What would the right thing to do be, to address this? For one, if enemies are this weak mechanically, then they should be fearful of the Assassin aesthetically, when they start fighting them. This isn't so much about the mechanics of combat, but of the aesthetics that should align to those mechanics, in order to have them make sense and feel reasonable. Naturally both should complement each other, and maintain a cohesive vision.

Things that make some amount of sense, thematically: “Keep him busy!” “Don’t pull any punches!”

Those were the only two lines in Syndicate combat which were reasonable in their mechanical context. A group of hostiles who knows they can be killed extremely quickly, so they’re a bit apprehensive, a bit worried, they want to team up and coordinate and work together to take the player down because they know that one on one they’re in great danger. It's fine! One line that was just goofy was, “Flank him!” In a street fight? Most of these enemies do not move at all, so this also seems out-of-place.

Ubisoft recorded all of these lines, spent time, money and effort making them, and they’re ineffectual in the final game because of the mechanical contexts they're applied to. Imagine the subtle difference in quality if they focused their efforts in more reasonable, logical directions.

Of course, the flipside of this coin is to make the actual fight difficulty harder (and not artificially so - ie Unity) but that's not what this post is addressing. Simply speaking, if the combat Ubisoft develops does not make the player experience harsh friction, then it’s fair to expect they work on the opposite side of the rope, as it were. Either combat threat should increase to match the dialogue NPCs deliver, or the dialogue NPCs deliver should be written and voice-acted in such a way as to match the current, less-than-threatening combat. Essentially: A game's aesthetics should match its mechanics, or else it will suffer a jarring disconnect. Right now, there is dissonance between the mechanics of combat and the aesthetics of how enemies react to the player character as they grow in strength.

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AC1 was good with this. In combat you sometimes heard guards making brash statements "I'm far better than you will ever be", "I can kill you with my eyes closed"; while at other times they reacted realistically to some of Altair's actions ""that's impossible, "how did you do that".

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Yup. AC1 was incredibly committed to its world-consistency. Incredibly committed. What's more, the enemy morale system did affect gameplay in a practical way, leading to the possibility for Shock and Awe combat.

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Here's another practical consistency that I expect most players don't know about. In the beginning of memory block 4, Altair gets gloves (you can even see them on the table during the conversation with Al Mualim). Guess what abilities are unlocked at that point in the game? Catch ledge and counter grab.

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aurllcooljay wrote:
Here's another practical consistency that I expect most players don't know about. In the beginning of memory block 4, Altair gets gloves (you can even see them on the table during the conversation with Al Mualim). Guess what abilities are unlocked at that point in the game? Catch ledge and counter grab.

Yeah, I picked up on that my during third playthrough of AC1. I really liked it, they really went into their game trying to make as much of it make sense in as satisfying a way as possible.

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I liked some of the things enemies shouted in AC2, like "take this man very seriously boys" and (not sure if this is quite right) "keep him surrounded, just like that Knight in Alba".

The general impression I got in AC2 was that these people you were fighting were for the most part experienced in battle, but they also recognized you as being more deadly than any one of them alone.

"just like that Knight in Alba" is an especially good touch: it references an encounter they had where they took on a similarly deadly opponent, and won through superior numbers and strategy. It explains why they believe they can beat you, and it gives the impression of them having more active tactical minds than their fighting AI probably actually does. It's also a thing you might realistically shout out if you wanted to boost the morale of your comrades and demoralize your enemy.

And that's the difficulty of writing combat barks: they're very short quips that have to communicate a complex thing that might not make sense in any number of contexts, and also might sound strange when repeated many times across possibly thousands of encounters throughout a game. (sure are a lot of guards in AC2 who killed a whole bunch of knights in Alba specifically, and nowhere else)

There are times where it might make more sense for enemies to not say anything at all. There's this commonly held belief that players think enemies are smarter if they talk a lot, but again, I think that's a contextual thing. Isolated enemies would seem smarter if they detected and approached you silently while you were unaware of them, before attempting to subdue you.

the posts a bit guy

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AC2 definitely did a pretty decent job as well, good bringing it up. They'd sometimes also say things like, "Remember your training!" That

I can get behind the idea of them not saying anything at all if they're by themselves. I'd prefer that to them saying things that are unbelievable.

Some of this reminds me that neither Arno, Jacob or Evie say anything while fighting their opponents, they just approach a situation coldly and efficiently. I remember we used to have the ability to taunt in some previous games, which wouldn't be terribly useful as a mechanic nowadays because we're rewarded so much for going on the offensive. Back then though, it was interesting that there was a button semi-dedicated to saying something back when a guard would say something about you.

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yeah taunting was a bad mechanic but the idea of giving the player a way to talk back was a good one. perhaps that sort of thing could be automatic and contextual?

the posts a bit guy

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That would be cool.