Category: "Welcome"

Skyrim's Lost Potential

  10:33:17 pm, by   , 468 words  
Viewed 41550 times since 07/31/13
Categories: Welcome, Elder Scrolls

We expect a movie critic to actually have seen a film's ending before giving a rating. Food critics who eat only part of their steak and skip the side dish altogether won't really know enough to give a review on their meal. Likewise, a major video game in modern times like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim cannot be judged properly until it has run its course. It stands as a perfect example of how such games are expected to have at least one major DLC. This expectation is built into the pricing model, the game design, and even the expectations of the fans. We don't just judge a game, we judge a game's promise, how much enjoyment we expect to receive from it in the future. Thanks to Bethesda's announcement on April 15, we know that we have seen the last of the Skyrim DLC, and while many of us may still be spending countless hours with it over the next few years, we can now look back and judge whether Skyrim's potential was realized. Upon doing so, however, I can't help but conclude that this seems like a game which stills needs one or two more additions of DLC to be complete.

The ways Bethesda could have resolved the civil war quest line are as numerous as they are exciting. Whether it's the Empire finishing off the Stormcloak resistance, the Stormcloaks securing their borders, or some less orthodox third option, it doesn't seem complete without players getting a chance to ensure their choice becomes High King. We only got four missions dealing with the Eight Divines; that doesn't seem right. That whole thing with the Forsworn and Madanach just sort of ended. What about the under-utilized Orc strongholds, and all those teasing loading screens about how Orsinium was rebuilt on Skyrim's border? As AKB wrote in his April blog entry "Consequences Matter", many of Skyrim's quest lines "don't conclude, they stop". Clearly, there were many areas ripe for new or expanded storylines which would have added significant depth to the overall game.

Instead of fleshing out these areas which felt, for lack of a better word, unfinished, Bethesda pulled the plug on Skyrim DLC. We can only speculate on their reasoning for doing so. Perhaps the profits from the first three were lower than expected due to the technical problems encountered with implementing them on the PS3, and maybe the economic downturn was a factor. They may have wanted to focus on making a launch game for the next generation of consoles. But I don't think the notion that Skyrim had run its course creatively holds much merit.

Despite its unrealized potential, I think Skyrim stands as one of the best games ever made. I just wish the artists had made a few more brushstrokes on their masterpiece.

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Steam's Potato Sack Part 3

  05:11:12 pm, by   , 573 words  
Viewed 9699 times since 06/04/11
Categories: Welcome, Games

Part three of my trip into Steam's Potato Sack sees the same formula as the last two. Three games; one I hate, one I like and one that comes in the middle.

Killing Floor
I suppose this might actually be quite a good game, but I hate it. The trouble is that you need to play it with friends and I don't have any that play this game. You can go on the Internet to find people willing to play with you but I've done this kind of thing before, going right back to playing Quake over a 28.8kbps modem back in roughly 1997. You can find people it's worth playing with, but it's much more likely you're going to run into a bunch of idiots instead. I tried to play it on my own and was overwhelmed after about two minutes, and quit. Sorry, but games need to have a decent single player mode so that misanthropists like me can enjoy them. This doesn't so it goes on my hate list. Tough.

Super Meat Boy
I almost put this game in the "Hate" category, but it's got just about enough going for it that I put it in "Meh" instead. The story is that you're Meat Boy and someone called Dr Fetus has captured your girlfriend, Bandage Girl. You have to guide Meat Boy through a series of levels and rescue her. It's a platformer, and I'm not a huge fan, but there's quite a lot of skill involved, so it's more than a simple Mario game where jumping around at random will usually get you quite a long way. If you're interested in platform games, the Wikipedia article will tell you more. Apparently the game has a rating of over 90% on MetaCritic, so there must be plenty of people who like this kind of thing, but I'm not really one of them. The music's good though.

Audiosurf
To be honest, this is a pretty dull game with a really good twist, but the twist makes it brilliant. The idea is that you are moving along a road that twists and turns, and bounces up and down, and you have to pick up different coloured blocks to form groups of colour that then count for points. The fun part is that the shape, incline, and length of the road, as well as the location of the blocks, is determined by a music track that you give the game. If you play some kind of thrash metal in the background you're going to be in for a pretty busy journey, while playing Clannad is likely to produce a largely empty one. When I gave it Yes' version of Simon and Garfunkel's America, the road bounced up and down like it was full of potholes. As one final twist, you get to see who else has played on certain tracks, and it's interesting to see that there are obviously a load of old rockers like me out there because even Yes and King Crimson tracks had been played before. So the idea is really basic, but I can see it being quite fun to play at parties, and it's a good excuse to bring out some old tracks from the ol' MP3 collection and hit the road. This is one of the few games in this set I can see myself playing again and again, so it's got to get a "Like" rating, hasn't it?

Zinedine Zidane Riding a Vespa Scooter Through Hammerfell [Guest Blog]

  06:37:21 pm, by Cactus   , 831 words  
Viewed 24556 times since 19/04/10
Categories: Welcome

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.
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The title of this blog is what you could consider an unlikely scenario in the Elder Scrolls universe. There are many others - Martin Septim raising from the grave and professing a fondness for cannibalism. A congestion charge being introduced in the Imperial City Market. Raminus Polus running into the Bravil branch of the Fighters' Guild in nothing but a pink bra and shouting "Celery!". The Ministry of Truth falling to the ground and wiping out Vvardenfell in a cataclysmic explosion. The Argonians invading Morrowind. Sadly, I'm not making the last two up. Greg Keyes made them up. Now, in my fanfictions I've had some pretty crazy scenarios - civilisation dying out on Vvardenfell after the rise and fall of the Sixth House, a plot by several Daedra Lords to destroy Nirn completely and something involving the Dwarves and a parallel universe that I haven't finished writing yet. But I make a point of coming up with scenarios that could realistically happen.

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.

Another Blog I Didn't Write.

  10:16:46 pm, by Cactus   , 1270 words  
Viewed 10656 times since 04/04/10
Categories: Welcome

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.
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I’ve spent today in anticipation of writing this entry playing Morrowind, getting some experience on the prequel to Oblivion that I feel has gathered much more dust on my shelf than it deserves. And you know what? I couldn’t. In fact, I spent more time fiddling around with the Morrowind Graphics Extender trying to get HDR, SM 3.0 water and infinite view distance to work than actually playing the game. I succeeded of course, but that’s not the point. Morrowind just doesn’t feel right when I play it. I’m pretty sure that that’s because Oblivion has been getting in my way.

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.

Mistake.

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.

A Meditation on Beards [guest blog]

  02:19:30 pm, by Cactus   , 765 words  
Viewed 23012 times since 13/12/09
Categories: Welcome

It's time for another guest blogs, gents. This entry, as before, by Forum-goer r. Thanks for the thought-provoking and hilarious entry.



You know, I think the Elder Scrolls games have to be the least beard-centric fantasy games ever made. And I honestly have to wonder why.

Computer games are meant to be a form of escapism, and one has to remember that most people are in a position where they either don't want a beard or it would be socially unacceptable to grow one (if you work with children, are a woman, or ginger, for example). I have a fine crop of face fungus myself, but I'm in a folk band so it's not so much a decision as a duty. And, of course, I often find myself on the receiving end of looks from strangers who are presuming (often rightly) that because I have a beard I have adopted a certain lifestyle choice. I am of course in a minority. Most men are happy to let their stubble grow a bit, then shave it into a funny shape in front of the mirror so they can see what they look like with a Hitler moustache or Colin Meloy's sideburns, then shave it off completely and enter the Real World.

By this reasoning, every computer game should include some form of facial hair. If it's presenting a means of escaping reality, surely all games should make it very easy to have a bit of a chinstrap going on? Not the Elder Scrolls series, apparently.

As usual, it's Oblivion that does it the worst. One area where I will concede that Oblivion has one up over Morrowind is in its use of magic, and it is actually possible to play a purely magic-based character without having to exploit glitches all the time. So, I ask you, why can't you make a character that looks like a proper wizard? Long grey hair can be achieved fairly easily, but the counterpart Gandalf beard cannot. I've always imagined it would be quite a laugh to make Jesus in Oblivion, donning a white monk robe and some sandals, duplicating bread and wine, walking on water and healing people, but as we know, Jesus had quite an impressive beard going on. So, unfortunately, it's not possible to replicate the Nazarene in Oblivion terms. It's not possible, in fact, to get any form of facial hair bar some designer stubble, growing which seems to have the unfortunate side-effect of causing chapped lips and severe anaemia in your character. Even the Nords, who are typically very follically blessed, bear more of a resemblance to the Australian rugby squad (and that's just the women).

Morrowind will allow you to have a proper beard, but only in some cases. You really have to be a Nord if you want a beard, unless all you want is a goatee or Fargoth's blonde shower curtain. I have actually played a Nord monk before, which makes about as much sense as NASA building a diesel Space Shuttle or Lurpak branching out into microwaves. But, you can have long hair and a beard as a Nord (come to think of it, you can make Jesus as a Nord). Hence, I have had quite a few Nord characters. My bold and slightly rakish knight was a Nord. I wanted an Imperial but Imperials apparently aren't allowed to have the Aragorn-esque arty stubble I was after.

And - get this - the two most magicka-geared races, the Bretons and the High Elves, can't have beards at all. It's widely known that any male practitioner of magic must have a beard, whether it's a billowing Dumbeldore-esque setup or a platted warlock goatee. My Altmer wizard had some mean magical abilities, a proud auburn mane of hair and the kind of sartorial elegance that only a senior mage can have, pairing Goldbrand with the Expensive blue and gold robe. But, of course, a beard would have just completed the whole image. I am glad to see, however, that the Dwarves, who are a famously hirsute people, may only be represented in ghost form but the ghosts have beards.

When the next Elder Scrolls game comes out, I don't care where it's set, or what the storyline is, or that getting Joe Pasquale to voice the bad guy may not necessarily have been the best decision, or if the Relentless Levelling Of Everything from Oblivion is still there, I just want to be able to have a beard. Remember - a man without a beard is about as appealing as a woman with one.