Magic Rocks

Introspective: I am annoyed about this thing in the new Thief and am writing about it.

A lot of little frustrations and disappointments can weave themselves into a big amalgam of anger and malaise, at which point it’s hard to pinpoint which things are enraging me more. I’m in a state like that right now.

Thief 2014 guards throw rocks. Special rocks. Magic rocks. They’re as accurate as a scoped rifle. They hit like the stroke of a sword. It’s a wonder why the guards carry the sword in the first place, or why anyone bothered to invent the bow, the crossbow or the firearm. I wonder why Garrett uses a bow when he should have access to these magic pebbles.

In Thief, the Dark Project one of the specific joys that occurs is the frustration of guards when Garrett escapes but is still visible. They guards can see him, but he’s out of sword’s reach. The game actually has animations for the event. If there are bowmen or magicians available, sometimes they’ll fetch one. It’s a nice representation of of a very human dilemma. In Thief II, the Metal Age, bowmen (or the the crossbow-wielding Mechanists) are more common, and will bark Fly swift and sure! or Doom hastens its way to thee! as they shoot at Garrett.

The Thief 2014 magic throwing rocks pulled me out of the game. They don’t even pitch one of their bullets the way I’d expect Nolan Ryan to wind up a hundred-mile-an-hour fastball. They toss it like darts at the local pub, though they fly like they’re shot out of a hand-cannon.

As an AAA game with super-nifty graphics that exceed my card, and 25 gigabytes of assets, I’d expect Eidos Montreal could afford to equip some guards with a swanky blunderbuss, or a clockwork-punky crossbow. But no. Rocks. Accurate, hard-hitting, plentiful rocks.

To be fair, I’m simultaneously annoyed at the place where I first got pelted with such rocks. In the Burrow of Stonemarket, a segment of Blackfurrow called Watch Alley is made like a corridor shooter, double-filled with guards and with sparse routes off the thoroughfare. It’s early in the game, and I’m not sure what the developers had in mind except to make this particular zone exceedingly difficult and frustrating or to encourage the player to go through it by knocking out all the guards.

This is disappointing, given that the original Thief titles allowed for a versatile approach to levels. Hug the darkness and sneak past the guards? Doable. Toss a distraction down a side avenue? No problem. Knock out the guards one by one and hide their sleeping bodies in a dark hollow? Have a ball! But this segment wants you to knock them out, which is easy. Sneaking past them is rather difficult and requires luck. Distracting them? Well there are no side routes to send them while you could sneak by.

For the moment, I’m reminded at how Thieves (later Rogues) always got a raw deal in AD&D, partially because magic trumped practical solutions, and was readily available. Why create a big rolling ball trap to dispatch interlopers when a glyph can spit out fireballs just as handily? (Also, the thief could only disarm the former, but a Mage could disarm both) But also most human referees found the transgression of property rights too distasteful. The Chaotic Evil Cleric needs to sacrifice a few virgins to his deity? No big deal. Sacrifice twenty! But a thief steals a trinket from the local swag shop and your foul deeds will plague you and your kin for generations sevenfold! Thieves were often short-lived and died horribly again and again until that player rolled up a new Mage.

From this experience, I now suspect that Eidos Montreal developers didn’t really want to make a Thief game that glorified stealing, but were doing it transitionally until they could get on the ground floor of a Call of Duty title.

First-person games are for shooting, by happy shooters. Maybe people who like sneaking and stealing play first-person games. We don’t know. Frankly, we don’t want to know. It’s a market we can do without.

I think it’s time to give Dishonored a try.

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