Monday, June 25, 2012

New things

Mounted combat is pretty good, but it needs some tweeking to add spells.
Also, jousting tournaments in major cities would be great.

I finally received the inheritance for my wife's death (in Skyrim - for some reson I always feel the need to mention this), which means that only has Bethesda fixed this bug, but now I can marry Aela! Yeah!

Dawnguard is coming to PC in one month. Can't wait for that Werewolf skill tree!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Claws & Fangs

Had a fling with Muiri.

She could brew some sweet love potions, not to mention some concoctions that could rid me of those splitting headaches I’ve been having since falling off Shadowmere during an Elder Dragon attack at Bleak Falls Barrow a few months ago.

So I married her.

Her business was good too. A couple of thousands Septims in our pockets every few weeks allowed us some vacation time by a lake southeast of Riften. I had to murder a hag to take possession of her shack so we could have a roof over our heads at night, but that is what a Dragonborn must do to keep his love safe and dry under a dark, rainy sky.

One night back in Solitude, Muiri was cleaning dishes after a hefty meal of horker steaks and carrots. I was in the basement, sharpening my sword for an excursion the next day into a cave that was supposed to hide another Dragon Priest and his unique, powerful mask.
The clouds cleared, revealing the deadly moon shining brightly into my over-dilated pupils. The curse awoke in me.

The transformation was quick, as always, but the ceiling was too low for the massive size of this dark body.
Muiri heard the commotion of falling furniture and pots, and she came running down. Little did she know that a horker steak can hardly satiate the appetite of a werewolf. And little did I know how difficult the urge to feed is to control when the fur and the claws are out.

She screamed her last scream as my glistening fangs shred her soft, beautiful neck, feasting on the juices that exploded down my throat.

The next morning I could scarcely piece together the events of the previous night, until I walked downstairs to get my equipment.

Muiri was recognizable only from her tattered blood-soaked rags and a severed hand which still bore her stained wedding ring. She had been completely devoured by a powerful creature of the night…

After I ordered our Houscarl to clean up the mess, I left the manor and headed for this cave I had my eye on. This was the only way I knew how to drown the sorrow of my loss.

I stopped by Jorrvasker to pick up Aela, and we headed for the mountains.

Burrrp.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda Softworks, 2011


Context
Skyrim is the northernmost province of Tamriel, the fictional continent on which all of The Elder Scrolls (TES) stories take place.
A land largely covered in snow and ice, with numerous high-peaked mountains reaching through the clouds, separated by vast tundra-like valleys and misty swamps.
Aside from its assortments of bears, large feline predators, wolves, walruses, mammoths, giants and trolls, Skyrim is inhabited by the Nords, a powerful and proud norse-like people with names like Sven Battle-Born and Gunther Silver-Blood, as well as other humanoid races, in lesser numbers, such as the feline Khajit, the reptilian Argonians, the shadow-skinned Dark Elves, the silver-tongued Imperials, the magically-inclined Bretons, the warrior-blessed Redguard, the agile Wood Elves, the enraged Orcs and the apparently evil and magically-endowed High Elves.

Skyrim is torn apart by a civil war opposing the ruling Imperials from the province of Cirrodiil and the local Stormcloaks, a faction of rebellious Nords determined to only be ruled by another Nord, believing the Imperials’ strings are being pulled by the Thalmor, a race of Elves who plot in the shadows to rule the whole of Tamriel.


Humble beginnings
In this world, as a shackle-wristed prisoner, you are being led to your execution in the back of a wooden horse-pulled cart. You share your apparent fate with a thief from Cirrodiil and three Nords, including Ulfric Stormcloak himself, rightful heir to Skyrim’s throne, captured some time after assassinating the King.

No time is wasted with idle chit chat after you disembark from the creaking cart. The thief tries to escape and is quickly killed with an arrow to the… back. The first nameless Nord is kneeled to the block, and his head is chopped off with a massive blood-stained axe.

And now, it is your turn.

Your head is pushed down onto the gory tree stump.
The executioner’s axe rises toward the sky.
And drops…

…quickly interrupted by a massive dragon that begins incinerating the small walled village of Helgen. The axe wielder missed and burned in the flames of the incredible beast, as an Imperial grabs your hand and leads you to the relative safety of the keep. You briefly meet Ulfric Stromcloak and quickly plan your escape from the flaming carcass of Helgen.

You grab a sword and armour from a chest and fight your way through Stormcloak invaders, frostbite spiders and a cave bear, and finally emerge in the safety of a nearby forest. Hopefully by this time, you know what kind of person you want to be, what kind of hero you will build to rid this land of Dragons.

Thus begins Skyrim, the fifth instalment of The Elder Scrolls series of video games.


First Impressions
First, let’s get this out of the way: Skyrim is good, very good. I have been playing almost every day since the release, with over 100 hours on my character. Yes, the addiction is beginning to wear off, however every time I load up my main save file (take note: use at least 3 saves), I can play for many hours before forcing my self to stop. I just don’t dream about it anymore at work, in the car, in the shower, etc.

Second, let’s get this one out of the way also: The game is vastly superior on PC. No matter if it’s the visuals, the game play or the bug count, it’s all better on PC. The controls do need some getting used to, however once the user has figured out how to use quick keys and make choices as to what should be included in the Quick Menu, the game plays very well. Tip: Tailor your Quick Menu with your play style, don’t overload it with every single piece of equipment, potions, magics, powers and shouts you have. Enter what you usually use during normal play, such as your main weapons, your favourite magic combos and maybe a couple of potions and rings. I’d say about 12-15 items in your Quick Menu should do it, with 8 of them with assigned keys. I regularly switch between 2 daggers and the Nightingale Bow. I don’t need to equip each dagger for each hand. There are some quirks to the system, but it’s nothing game breaking.
So far (100+ hours) I’ve yet to encounter a single game breaking bug. I’ve crashed twice and encountered a few anomalies here and there such as floating rocks, falling mammoths and a weird bug involving the corpse of a witch I just killed staying upright and not being marked as killed during a Companions (the warrior faction) quest (I reloaded the autosave upon entry to the cave and it was fixed), but most of the worst was triggered with the 1.2 patch and immediately fixed with the 1.3 patch.

Skyrim was very stable, right out of the box.


Understanding the Beast

Now, how to play an Elder Scrolls game, especially Skyrim, without getting bored or lost? Easy: RELAX! This is a game built to be enjoyed slowly, savoured meticulously with every minute of play time. Yes, it’s ok to stand still on top of a rock and admire the scenery. No, you don’t need to complete every quest of a faction’s quest line one after the other, although you can. No, you don’t need to catch every butterfly and pick every flower. Yes, you can complete the main quest first, or last, or never! It’s ok. The Elder Scrolls games are all built to allow the user to play any which way he/she wants, without holding your hand with a focused storyline or a “rail” mechanic.
You can overpower your character but you don’t have to. The option is there but no one is forcing you. I’ve read reviews that say this is a flaw. It’s not. It’s a design decision; it is one of the many great things that make the Elder Scrolls games unique and great.

No other video game encourages exploration of its game world like Skyrim does. It’s part of the addiction and the fun of playing. Where Diablo would hook its players with the experience bar, Skyrim keeps us glued to our screens with little black icons appearing on our compass, compelling us to head in that direction and find out what treasure can be uncovered in the depths of caves, dungeons, dragon lairs, forts and shrines. Oh and Skyrim also features the experience bar… IT’S HOPELESS!!!


Crafting
The user can also create his items, weapons and armour. The game can be exploited to make immensely powerful equipment, a feature that many reviewers have complained about, not realizing that the game is designed to provide this possibility. Again, complete freedom.

Skyrim also offers other forms of crafting besides smithing, such as alchemy and enchanting. It also provides the user with the means to cook and chop wood. The problem with these is that they’re for role playing purposes only, as they do not offer experience, and they do not have an attached skill. If cooking would reward the user with alchemy ingredients or maybe items to boost a companion’s stats, and if wood chopping would result in enhanced stamina or parts for furniture (the user can buy houses in Skyrim), that would be something, but as they are now, these features are utterly useless.


Perks
This brings us to perks. Perks were brought in from the Fallout games, and they are basically skill enhancing bonuses and extra abilities, categorized by skill groups such as Pick pocketing, Enchanting, One-Handed weapons, armour types, etc. Every time the character levels up, the user can put one point into the perks tree. So the character can gain extra damage with bows, better resistance with armour, more potent potions and poisons, etc. The system is very effective at customizing the character any way the user wishes.


Skills
Skills, such as enchanting, blocking, sneaking, etc. are levelled up through use, just like all previous Elder Scrolls games. This is a great and unique system that allows the user to customize his character based on his play style. Skyrim also features Skill Stones that, when activated, will help level up certain skill sets (Warrior, Mage or Thief) faster. The Skills Stones can be found early in the game through exploration, and they are but one type of Stones scattered throughout Skyrim that provide extra bonuses to a character’s skills.


Combat
Combat in Skyrim has received a lot of flak since its release. “Repetitive”, “Mindless”, “Too easy”, “Too hard”, “Boring”, etc. are some of the criticism Skyrim has endured. The bottom line is that, like the rest of the game, combat is dependent on the user’s play style. For example, I use a bow to snipe enemies from afar, and if a foe is able to reach me, close quarters combat is executed with a pair of enchanted daggers. One paralyses my enemy, the other adds frost to the base damage of the weapon. I could’ve enchanted my daggers with Soul Trap and Poison, I could’ve enchanted my bow with paralyse or Magicka Drain (great against spellcasters), etc. As a Thief/Assassin I can also sneak behind an enemy and backstab him (large damage bonus), which also works on paralysed enemies during combat. A user can also cast certain spells that will enrage foes and make them attack each other, among many other possibilities. There’s nothing boring or mindless about that.


Murders, rebellions, dragons, Oh My!
The story of Skyrim is as interesting as it is short, or so I have read; I have yet to complete the main stories. On one hand, the character is hired by the Blades (a secret group of warriors who protect the Dragonborn with their lives) to investigate the resurgence of Dragons, who are supposed to be extinct. Turns out they are being revived from death by Alduin, the Boss Dragon, and it is your job, as the Dragonborn, to destroy him and his plan to eradicate the world.
On the other hand, there is the rebellion against the Empire. You must choose a side and help either quell the rebellion or remove the Imperials from power. This civil war was triggered when Ulfric Stormcloak murdered the King with his Shout, or Thu’um (a power supposedly possessed only by the Dragonborn).
These storylines seem thin when synopsised so simply, however each of these stories and others are told through events that trigger a series of quests that allow exploration and the discovery of powerful weapons, armour and magics.
It has been told that all the quest lines in the game are very short, but just like all the other aspects of Skyrim, the length of each quest line is determined by the user’s play style. They can all be rushed, gulped in one quick swallow, or savoured slowly like an old scotch; and by Talos are they gripping!


Delicate sound of thunder
Jeremy Soule has composed the music for both previous instalments of The Elder Scrolls, and his master touch continues to amaze in Skyrim. Some pieces have been borrowed from Oblivion and possibly Morrowind.
From the smooth classical exploration themes to the thunderous symphony and chorus of the dragon battle theme, his work completes one of the best video game soundtracks in recent memory. Jeremy Soule is the John Williams of the video games industry, and not only does he prove it again with his work on Skyrim, he cements his position for years to come. Simply extraordinary.
The voice actors also do a great job in each of their many roles. Some have returned from previous games, such as Linda Carter, and we have new additions to the cast including Christopher Plummer, Max Von Sydow, Joan Allen, Michael Hogan, Stephen Russell, Kari Wahlren, Claudia Christian and of course Jim “Butt-Kicking… For Goodness!!!” Cummings, among many others.
The voice cast is much larger then previous games in the series, however the world is so huge and filled with so many NPCs (non-player characters) that even with such a large cast, there is repetition in the voices to the point where a user can easily recognize the actors speaking, some even speak with themselves in a few instances. Casting Stephen Russell as the head of the thieve’s guild was a stroke of genius, and a very special wink to gamers.
The sound design is excellent, from footsteps in the sand to the clinking of armour and weapons, to the roar of dragons flying overhead.


The End
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is not a perfect game. Some aspects leave to be desired. However the sum of its many complex parts make it completely endearing and irresistible. The fact that we as gamers can shape the game however we see fit, coupled with the great music, voice acting and the vastness of its world make it one of the best games ever made. It is in a genre all by itself, unique, spectacular.

10/10

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

75 Hours

75 hours in.
Level 32 Thief/Warrior – No magic.

I have the Nightingale Bow and the full armour.
I have the Dark Brotherhood armour.
I am a werewolf.
I am Arch-Mage.

This means that I completed all of the Thieves Guild quests, except for those that lead to Guildmaster.
I have begun the Dark Brotherhood quest line, but barely.
I have begun the Companions quest line but only to the point of becoming a werewolf.
I have completed the College of Mages quest line.

Becoming the Arch-mage was a complete surprise, and slightly disappointing. I enjoyed this challenging quest line that allowed me to take possession of some good items and spells unavailable in the stores, but it was over way to fast. I explored a couple of dungeons, including Labyrinthian, and bam – Arch-mage! WTF??! I AM A THIEF!!!

Now, my style of play is very random. I try to always be on a quest, but I don’t really care who the quest giver is, or what I’m doing it for, as long as I get paid. Proudspire Manor has a high upkeep!
I also don’t use magic all that much; I prefer a bow and a couple of magic one-handed weapons. Currently, I use the Nightingale Bow, the Mace of Molag Bal and the beautiful Dawnbreaker, a very good sword against the undead.

I heard some horror stories about the Dragon Priests, but Mordekai was surprisingly easy to truekill. An arrow in the knee, a Shout and a couple of dual stabs and he was poofed. The Staff of Magnus is a pretty good weapon against magic users and I’m sure it will come in handy against the other Dragon Priests – Krosis was also a pushover.

I completed the Mages questline in one fun sitting, about two short hours. A little bit underwhelming, and now the college of Winterhold has a Shadow Warrior as an Arch-Mage.

Go figure.

Next, Kain will tackle the final quests to become the Thieves Guildmaster, and delve deeper in the Companions quest line.


FUS RO DAH!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Choices

On a side note, I can marry Aela the Huntress in Skyrim.
On the other hand, my real life (?) wife is threatening to leave me if I don't stop playing this fucking game every single fucking night.

Hmm...

Character history

My first character was a Khajiit “something”. I was leaning toward a stealth character, but the perks and skills used was all over the place as I did not yet know the use for each, or how it impacted the game world. His development was unfocused, and playing for the sake of trying out the game and get a feel for it became boring after a while.
I bought Breezehome, became a werewolf and almost finished the main quest line with the Companions (I think). Yes, a Khajiit thief that never steals and instead becomes an honourable warrior using destruction magic and no smithing. Hmm.

Since I seemed to be unable to establish a role-playing structure for Elsmere, after about 22 levels and 30 hours of playtime I decided to roll another character.

Kain was born.

I made a Nord Rogue, with a combo dual-daggers/bow combat style and almost no magic. I chose Nord because with Elsmere I found it difficult to justify a Khajiit being the Dragonborn. It seemed to me he should be a Nord and honestly, I feel better about it now.

Does this make me a racist?

Anyway I picked a bunch of perks in 1-Handed, Archery, Light Armour, Enchanting and Smithing. The Sneak tree is almost complete, but I just can’t seem to spend that point in “pressure plate avoidance” since I usually see them, the perk is useless to me.
I completed the Nocturnal quest for the thieves’ guild but I’m still not Guilmaster for some reason.
I began the Dark Brotherhood quest line, but their values are against mine so I’m only doing it for the cool equipment and Shadowmere at this point.

I discovered the giant glowing testicule in Saarthal for the Mage College.

I became a werewolf again. This will become my main melee combat option very soon. I like werewolves. They don’t glow in the sun like vampires.

I also just bought and furnished Proudspire Manor.

Hardest enemy so far is the Draugr Dreadlord. They shout Disarm, the bastards!

How do I become Head of the Thieves’ Guild?
If I’m the only Dragonborn in hundreds of years, how come so many people can Shout (Ulfric, Dreadlords, etc)?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Arrow - A Short Story

No one will buy my stuff!
I leave the inn, walking slowly, overburdened from my last venture into the bowels of a dark cave.
Suddenly, a loud grumble ripples the clouds and the terrorized villagers flee in every direction like cockroaches in a sudden light. I feel a warm wind sweep the street as I slowly make my way to my valiant steed.
I am almost there; the saddle is mere feet from my grasp.
The Blood Dragon lands with a massive thud and closes its deadly jaws on my horse, sending it flying somewhere in the forest beyond.

My favourite horse.

My bags drop to the ground as I unsheathe my sword from its scabbard, shield at the ready. Crouching to one knee I scoff at the weak frost breath of the monster. Before it can gasp for another breath, the muscles of my powerful Nord legs thrust me towards its left eye, blade first. A gush of blood and fluid streak across my shield as my sword Firebrand cleaves the cornea of the beast, burning its way to the brain.
A torrent of frost spews from the Dragon’s maw as it screams in pain, its life force leaking from every pore of its scaled body.
The carcass drops to the ground, bathed in its own blood flowing from the gape in the left side of its massive skull.
Swirls of light engulf me as I absorb its soul into my own.

I am Dovakhiin.

Dragonborn.

A shout nearby grabs my attention, lost to the sudden pain that is racing through my body.
Holding her now empty bow, my clumsy companion Lydia shakes her head apologetically.

And my journey in Skyrim is over.

I took an arrow to the knee.