Shortly after the release of Bethesda's Skyrim, Ted Brown wrote a quite amusing little article on that game's bad menu structure, shortly followed by a deeper user interface analysis of Skyrim by Eric Schwartz. In the former post, you find the following lines:
"This was tense! I swung again, hitting, but now I was out of Stamina, and a swing from my opponent took more than half my health away. I couldn’t Shout and blow him back, or I’d kill my companion. Sighing, I:
Guys! Gals! Gamedevs! This is unacceptable!"
What happened there is exactly the reason why I didn't finish Oblivion and Fallout 3. Even a more console oriented title like Fable 2 had similar problems (leaving a submenu always leads to your "cursor" ending up on top of the previous menu, for example). That's why I was really looking forward to KoA: Reckoning in that regard, and the game is surely superior to its competition in terms of UI design and controls. For example, in order to do what Ted Brown was trying to do in the Skyrim example above, in Recking I would:
This looks a lot better! Why, then, in order to switch from a sword to daggers, I have to:
I mean, this is still quite ok, because once you know that the inventory is the top most menu in the menu screen (!), and that in the inventory the weapons are the top most menu (!!), and in that menu the primary weapons are the top most menu (!!!), pressing A three times in a row is quickly done. Still, they have this neat (although not new) solution to avoid menus in combat and apply it only the consumables menu! In a game as combat oriented as Reckoning, changing a weapon shouldn't be such a hassle.
This is especially painful because the solution would have been so incredibly easy: put a weapons menu on RB. The same radial menua as for consumables, just for weapons, on the same button, just on the other side of the controller.
"And how to enter the stealth mode, then?" some of you might think, since that is triggered by RB. Well, that's easy: stealth mode would be triggered by pressing the left stick (LS). That button anyway has no function in this game, except if you use it for running. (You can choose between pressing A to toggle running, holding A to run or holding down LS to run. My guess is that someone in the team said: "Hey, there's a button we're not using," and someone answered, "Well, in some games it's used for running. Let's make that optional.") But this option is obsolete, anyway, so using LS for stealth would be a good solution, I think.
In case you wonder how to incorporate primary and secondary weapons into a radial menu similar to the consumables menu, here's how it could work:
This would have been an elegant and simple solution of problem widely present in western fantasy RPGs.
It seems weird to me that western RPG developers still have a problem with UI design for consoles. Maybe it's because most of them come from PC development, or maybe they tend to look at or even play more PC RPGs, simply because there are more than on consoles. Maybe this doesn't have anything to do with PC RPGs.
Demon's Souls raised the bar considerably on what a good RPG UI for consoles can be, and Reckoning shows what engaging combat means. Even though not perfect, these two games will hopefully shape the future of controls and UI of console RPGs.