Today's guest blog is by none other than long-time blog correspondent, r . And an update, believe it or not, I've got my own blog planned to write. Crazy, right? I got the idea after reading the previous guest blog I posted and some of the comments about how people view Morrowind having played Oblivion first, and I think I have a unique take on that idea.
If you want to read that Elder Scrolls book that's come out I suggest you stop reading this now, because the rest of the article will be a mixture of spoilers and very bad reviews. This is indeed the backstory to The Infernal City, a story about a floating island whose shadow causes the dead to rise from their graves. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, the backstory is simply not canon to everything that has happened so far in Tamriel's history. And since this is an official Bethesda publication, this nonsense is what's officially going to happen in Tamriel in the next few years. Firstly, there's a new Emperor with a stupid name like Sillius Soddus or Biggus Dickus or something like that. How exactly did he come to power? Emperors are supposed to come from a dynasty that has united the people and created the empire that they rule over. Chancellor Ocato can't just walk up to the nearest slightly regal-looking bloke and say "You'll do". And you thought Gordon Brown had an easy rise to power.
Then we have the business of the Ministry of Truth, freed from the grasp of Vivec, falling from the heavens (which if you go to where it is now, works out as a distance of about 50 feet) causing an impact so large that it makes a royal mess of Vvardenfell and most of mainland Morrowind. Now - there are two scenarios that could have happened here, according to my limited knowledge of physics. First, when the golden floating one froze the meteorite it lost all of its momentum. This means that if it then resumed its fall it would be falling a short distance from a position of rest, and would therefore make a mess of the Temple and that's about it. Second, Vivec stopped the meteorite in such a way that it retained its momentum, and would hurtle into the city at about the same speed as the lunatic in the Ford Transit who nearly ran me off the road yesterday. This would indeed cause a sizeable crater, which would probably make a good mess of Vvardenfell, bearing in mind that most of their population are located in and around Vivec. But it would of course kick up an enormous cloud of dust, water vapour and crumbled masonry which would block out the sun for a few weeks and probably kill everyone else too. At least this would give Umbriel plenty of dead people to resurrect, I suppose.
The last bit of lunacy is the Argonians deciding to break out the pointy sticks and conquer Morrowind. I'm sure that they are a bit bitter towards the Dark Elves for the aeons of slavery they've had to put up with, but could a race of primitive tribal reptilians who are used to fighting a guerrilla war in swamps realistically take on a race of adept and adaptable warriors who would probably run them through straight away with vastly superior weapons? As I said on the forum, this is a bit like a load of remote African tribes getting a bit hot-headed about the slave trade and deciding to take on the USA. I'm surprised that this book was allowed by Bethesda to be published. I imagine that if Jane Austen had followed the line "The Harrington-Smythes retired to the drawing room for a glass of brandy" with "Then a bunch of killer martians invaded with zap-guns" her publisher would not have been particularly impressed.
And to add insult to injury I've read the first few chapters of the book and they're rubbish.
In addition to Dragon Age: Origins, I've been playing a few other things. Steam is a useful service, but it's downright evil when it comes to ways of separating you from your cash, and I've played several things I wouldn't have touched if they hadn't been on special offer.
Space Trader: Merchant Marine
Space Trader... doesn't even come close. The trading section is fairly well done and - at first - the combat sections are pretty good too. The trouble is that what starts as optional combat that's over fairly quickly soon becomes (essentially) mandatory and hugely time-consuming. I only played it for about 2 1/2 hours, but then it only cost £1.19 so I don't feel too bad about it.
Tropico 3 - Steam Special Edition
It's not as good as the Sim City games though. Each campaign is time-limited so you don't get to enjoy your city - it's a rush to complete it and meet whatever arbitrary objective you've been set. It also means that after a while, each game takes on a sense of inevitability. Build houses. Build school. Build clinic. Build logging camp. Etc. The only variation lies in an island's resources - does it have any trees to cut down or will you have to farm papaya? It kept me amused for some time and I'll probably go back to it at some point, but it's probably not for most people.
It's not bad but if you strip away the pretty graphics it's just a real-time strategy with the ability to hide stuff and fake other stuff. For instance, you can use the fake attack ruse or fake an armor factory. Well any decent strategy player uses fake attacks anyway, and the Allies in the original Command and Conquer could create fake buildings so it's hardly a new idea.
Maybe it's just the beta. There's only one map and it's too small but other, larger, maps will make an appearance in the final version. I doubt I'll be bothering though.
Bob Came in Pieces
Your craft can be reconfigured using parts that you find scattered around the landscape. You may need to push something on the other side of a hole too narrow to pass through, for instance, so you have to string several long thin parts together. Or you need to hit an object really hard so you can add loads of rockets to one side of your ship to make it go faster.
Each level has a unique theme with puzzles to solve, some of which are very inventive and some of which are incredibly frustrating. Once you've completed a level you can try to do it again, faster, to unlock various achievements.
This is a brilliant, inventive game. I really recommend it.
I just read Dave's comments about Dragon Age and since my Internet connection seems a bit better today, I thought I'd add my own thoughts.
The comment about cutscenes and dialogue resonated with me because I had exactly the same thoughts when I started playing the game. The game seemed to involve large amounts of watching the screen separated by short periods of looking for things to click on. Later, this became large amounts of watching the screen separated by short periods of running around holding the TAB key down because I finally discovered that it showed me what was clickable. I played for about half an hour and then quit because I was feeling annoyed with it. The game seemed linear and dull compared to other RPGs.
The next day, I got the "I payed £30 for this thing so I'm damn well going to play it" feeling and reloaded. After a while a strange thing happened... I actually started to like it. Fast forward to the current and the Steam community page informs me that I've logged 136.9 hours playing it - including time spent on Dragon Age - The Awakening, for which I shelled out another £20. Given that I also bought the DLC, what changed my mind?
First, the combat. At first it seemed fiddly and annoying and, having had my backside spanked solidly by the darkspawn several times, difficult. Once I got the hang of it and stopped throwing all my characters into the fray whether they could handle it or not, it became lots of fun: which spell to use next; had my uber-attack become available again? Some might argue that a combat system which requires you to press pause all the time isn't very good, but I've always been more into strategy than action games so it worked for me.
Second, the story. It's well-written and succeeds in drawing you in.
Third, the other NPCs. They all have their own stories and after a while I genuinely felt warmly towards them.
Fourth, the voice acting. It's only when you see other games do it so well that you appreciate just how bad the Oblivion voice acting is. Not all of it's perfect, but it beats "You know, I saw your fight against the Gray Prince" into a bloody pulp.
Finally, I realised that it's not TES. This may sound obvious, but I often go into RPGs expecting Morrowind or Oblivion and that's not fair. When I started judging DAO on its own merits, I quickly decided that it's a good game.
I won't be spending as much time on it as I did with MW or OB, but I'm definitely glad I bought it.
I'll start this long delayed blog update with another update on the games I've found myself playing in the past month or two:
I seem incapable of writing for myself, it seems. *sigh* I'll try and change that as soon as I can. In the mean time, yet another guest blog, this time by newcomer Tom10320. Oh and guess what! It's NOT Morrowind-focused this time!! Enjoy.
I first rejected Oblivion in December of 2006, dismissing it as ‘too much like Baldur’s Gate’. What I had seen from my brief glance at the back of the tattered-looking case was an RPG with too much colour and smarminess that would never run on my PC. And what the hell was that on the front? I replaced the box and went to try HMV. I was perfectly happy in my own little world for the next year after that. I never gave the game a second thought, patiently playing Unreal and Age of Empires on my (then) year-old PC.
So in December of 2007 I was rather disappointed to find that tattered-looking box in amongst my pile of loot. Still, better not make a scene, I thought. And I can’t argue – it’s on PS3. So after lunch, where I was stuffed with turkey, along with what felt like Georgia and most of Russia on the side, I snuck upstairs while the adults were moaning about next year’s Christmas and slipped the disk into the drive.
I was not prepared for the role-playing experience that befell me.
I spent the first three hours of my Oblivion career in shock, wandering about the City Isle (as I had not yet discovered fast-travel, which, while widely despised, was to become my best friend) and marvelling at the graphics, at how no two people were the same, at the rippling water, and at the Imperial Palace. All the while my TV sat making a beeping noise that for some reason only occurred while playing Oblivion. I was to listen to it for another 1200 hours, not that I knew it yet. I went on a killing spree in the Market District, looted the guards for their armour, wondered why ‘Methredhel’ could not be killed with my iron warhammer. A feeling, one that I’ve always wanted to explain but couldn’t, came over me during my first few hours of Oblivion, one that I have never had since. It was enjoyment, the knowledge that I was playing a damn good game.
Over time, I became used to things. The fast-travel, the levelling. I enjoyed hunting bandits and marauders for their high-level armour; I didn’t care that level-scaling was kicking in one bit. The moment I found my first Orcish cuirass was one of my best ever – I was to wear it for hours and hours, through the entire Main Quest. I was almost in tears when I sold it.
In August 2008, I noticed that Oblivion was the fourth in the series, so I went on the internet and found the first three. Great, I thought, more fun! I couldn’t find the first two for love nor money, so I went hunting for the enigmatic ‘Morrowind’. After 600 Oblivion hours, I had become well aware of ES lore, and wished to explore further.
Morrowind was nothing that I expected in any way. The visuals were dated. No fast-travel. My weapon never hit anything. The movement, dear Lord, was so painfully SLOW. And strangely enough, I missed level-scaling. Well, it was embarrassing getting owned by a Khajiit with an iron dagger while I stood in a full suit of steel armour. It went back on the shelf and I concentrated on Shivering Isles for a while. I forgot about anything except the shiny, easy-to-pick-up glory of Oblivion.
I soon realised that something was lacking in my experience. At first I thought that the giant mushrooms of the Shivering Isles were inciting some kind of random emotional response within me, as the last place I visited in Morrowind happened to be Sadrith Mora. But then I realised my problem. I was bored. I didn’t care for retrieval/dungeon crawl/assassination quests any longer. It was time I turned to one of the great loves of my Unreal world: mods.
I thought vanilla Oblivion was a good game. After finding a PC copy of Oblivion on eBay for about £10 and installing a select few mods onto my ageing, creaking computer, I discovered that it just couldn’t get any better. Texture packs, weapons and creatures to name but a few ran straight off the Nexus and into my Data folder with such speed that I forgot where I was going for a while. The mods alone added another 100-200 hours of playtime onto my already bloated Oblivion career. But yet something was still missing, and I began to think again about that nagging number ‘4’ on the title screen of Oblivion. Why did people love Morrowind so much when it was, for want of a better word, awful?
I considered digging back in to the Ashlands for a while, but a quick glance at the fog that prevented me from seeing my iron sabre in front of my tower shield quashed any thought of that. The brainwashing put upon me by Oblivion’s eye-burning HDR saw to that. I continued to believe that Oblivion was superior just because it had reflective water.
And so I lived in my own quiet little world for another year or so. I got a new PC, and Oblivion came back with a vengeance after a brief spate of Fallout-mania resulting in my admittance to the ‘UESP School of magic’. I never glanced twice at the weird star/moon icon. That is, until I wrote this.
Getting the chance to think about Oblivion made me realise something. I was doing it in the wrong order, wasn’t I? Through no fault of my own, I became a console gamer, attracted to large buttons, quest markers, 10-minute tutorials and simple combat, simply because that was what I saw first. But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t have the patience for Morrowind, hence my love of fast travel. I like my swords to hit when I swing. I like the simplicity that masks Oblivion’s huge and complex world.
This perhaps highlights why I just could not bring myself to even try to get to Balmora without a 13-cell view distance, animated grass and blurred distant statics. I couldn’t accept the gameplay without the visuals, and now that I have those, I’m beginning to understand the infatuation. But I won’t be joining those legions of fans, simply because I’ve had Oblivion around me for so long that I can’t imagine life without it.
I guess I’m just different, at least at the UESP. But I love Oblivion over Morrowind: a brainwashed, console-driven love, fuelled by HDR, temptation of instant transport and easy loot, but a love nonetheless. And something like that can’t be taken away.