First things first, let's get our bearings straight. I'll take a random screenshot from a combat portion of the game (click on the images for a larger size):
And there are some pretty things to see in the sky:
|The finest skybox that 2010 has to offer|
What if we look slightly downwards?
But now look what happened to our view of the sky/ceiling:
For comparison, let's see what happens if we look up:
|Skylights for days!|
Because we can't see the gameplay-critical information. That 4th cover point is completely obscured, and we can't even determine that the railing is a railing and not a wall. We also can't see the floor on the right, so we miss another path to move down or worry about defending.
Now, what happens when we add enemies?
We need to give as much screen space to them as possible, and there's even a risk that there could be something right on the other side of our cover that a flat or upward-looking view would obscure. Also, the vast majority of enemies in the game are ground-based, so knowing where they are in relation to their cover and ours is critical.
Here's a video of me playing this section.
The mouse wobble at 0:30 was due to a weird thing where zooming in with the sniper rifle sometimes causes the mouse acceleration to go wonky. It isn't just because I'm bad at the game. I beat Dark Souls, so I'm a real gamer.
Additionally, the game designers are limited in how much "pretty stuff" they can put in the "gameplay" part of the screen, since if that area becomes to visually cluttered, you would have a hard time recognizing which things are cover and which are just pretty doodads. It must be a very difficult balance to make something visually interesting, but still immediately recognizable as "valid cover" when the bullets are flying and you need to relocate quickly.
How would you fix this? I'm no game designer, but I have some ideas.
- Place the camera higher above Shepard's head with a wider field of view, so that you could still see the ground in front of obstacles, but also more of the sky. The downside of this is that you lose some view of your character, which makes it feel less like an intimate third-person action game and more like a top-down tactics game. I made a terrible, crude mockup of what this might look like:
- Regularly place enemies at higher elevations, so the player naturally looks upwards more often. If you put more gameplay in the "pretty" section, then it becomes the "gameplay" section. But again, you run into a problem: if the background of the "pretty" section is too busy, you won't be able to see the enemies. For a military simulator game where part of the point is trying to pick out enemy soldiers camouflaged against a similar-looking background, that would work, but for a game where you want the enemies to stand out, that's a problem. The game puts a big red box around enemies, even when they're behind cover, so it isn't going for "try to spot the enemy against a background" as part of the difficulty. However, if you still need to think a lot about finding good cover and moving between cover spots, then you would have to alternate between looking down to find cover and then up to shoot at flying enemies. Not the end of the world, but it does change the feel.
- Find some way to put pretty stuff at ground level without making it hard to spot enemies or cover. I'm sure that's easier said than done.