The return of the classic Thief series is a move by developers which has been met with equal amounts of excitement and criticism from fans. Many criticisms have focused on the removal of the magic/technology conflict, but more frequently the emphasis upon combat shown in a recent trailer.
In the original Thief games, combat was something to be avoided as Garrett, the protagonist, was skilled at infiltration and espionage not cracking skulls. Often even taking on a single guard was an engagement you were likely to lose due to their better training and armour, but here Garrett is seen taking his foes down in single strikes. Some have claimed this is due to the success of Dishonored, a game with heavy inspiration from previous Thief titles but with heavy focus upon assassination.
Following these accusations, developers countered them citing how the game discourages players from violence. One article notably quoted senior producer Stephane Roy their exact direction and the differences between Thief 4 and Dishonored. In it, Roy clarified that while players did have the option of advancing by murdering guards, it was not a move which would be fun and a point of frustration. The idea was that whereas Dishonored had used its narrative and player choices to push away from combat, Thief 4 would use its mechanics to do the same. The actual weapons Garret carried were intended to direct players away from killing everyone in sight, yet also added that “you can do aggressive stealth.”
Such statements were backed by a Q&A panel with a group of the game’s developers. In it, level designer Daniel Schmidt cited that the melee system within the game was intentionally “not very good” to keep players from going on rampages. The Q&A similarly addressed concerns surrounding the game. Another major issue was Garrett’s voice effectively walking people through the gameplay demo and continually pointing choices out rather than letting players figure them out for themselves. This was put down to something left only for journalists and as a tutorial system.
While this does diffuse some of the anger towards the title, it does raise entirely new issues. Intentionally flawed and problematic combat systems intended to represent lack of skill have been met with mixed results in the past. A recent example would be the highly acclaimed The Last of Us which was criticised by some prominent video game commentators for poorly handling the concept.
How well developed the mechanics and ideas behind Thief 4 will be is something which will only become known on the game’s release. At this moment in time, take this as confirmation by the developers that it will not encourage brutal violence.
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