ESO News Roundup

  06:51:00 pm, by   , 122 words  
Viewed 9512 times since 07/17/14
Categories: Code

Earlier today, Elder Scrolls Online was released on Steam with a half-off sale which will run until the end of the weekend. Expect more ESO news out of QuakeCon shortly.

Update 3 is due sometime in August, and is expected to be very guild-oriented. It will include an assortment of symbols from which guilds can choose their official crests along with other customization options, as well as new public traders in various cities which guilds can compete over.

Pursuant to feedback, they also are working on making Veteran gameplay more friendly to solo players, and apparently have plans to eventually introduce a whole new Veteran system (something they've promised to talk about at QuakeCon). See the ZeniMax blog post for more details.

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Mafia II: Director's Cut - First Five Hours Impressions

  08:06:00 pm, by Damon   , 1383 words  
Viewed 10064 times since 07/10/14
Categories: Games

Hey, blog readers, I'm back once again with a new post. This time, I want to share a little bit on a game I've been playing recently: Mafia II. Up front, I'm saying I've not finished it, but by my reckoning (and Google) I'm just over two-thirds of the way done... Damn it, this game is short...

For those who don't know, the game is set in the 1940s and early 1950s and is centred around protagonist Vito Scalleta’s return home to Empire Bay - a fictional city based on New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Detroit - following his service in the US Army during World War II.

Upon returning home, Scalleta learns that his deceased father has left his family with a lot of debt to a loan shark and his forced to turn to his old friend and mafia man Joe Barbaro for ways to get work, leading to his involvement in the workings of the American Mafia and his becoming a made man.

The story itself is not bad, but it doesn't particularly stand out in my mind, and Vito Scalleta is a rather emotionless man, who, despite the existence of a good potential backstory, just isn’t a very emotional or real character to me. He is just a man who can do stuff, and there is little depth to his character, making it very hard to relate to and appreciate him and what he accomplishes as the story moves along. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his moments, but they are too few and far between.

This man has about as much emotion as Agent 47 does. While 47 is a cloned Assassin trained to be cold and efficient, Vito Scalleta isn’t. He’s supposed to have feelings, unlike the former, but they are so bland and uninspiring that they do nothing to further him as a character. He's simply your stereotypical "I'll do anything" Mafia man who loves beer and his family (both his blood family and the Mafia).

On to the world itself. The world has the appearance of being open, with gas stations, diners, the gun store, and more showing up on the map, but in reality, the game is very linear, and you’ll visit these places very rarely. When you’re on a mission, you can still visit the gas stations to fill your car, you can visit clothing shops to buy outfits to wear in your home when you’re there to end a mission or start one (and to lose your wanted level if you get in trouble on the way somewhere), and so on, but otherwise, there is very little functionality to these places.

That’s not to say you can’t free roam and explore. When you’re on a mission (each “Chapter” is a mission with a string of objectives), there’s nothing to stop you from just going out into the streets to shoot people, steal cars, get clothes, etc (unless it’s one of the few timed mission objectives), but it’s not the same as a true free roam, because you’ve always got a waypoint on your map saying to go do something, meaning you never feel like you can just relax and enjoy the bland city.

If there is anything redeeming about the map and world, it’s the police and how they respond. I’ve always liked the idea of a game where the police actually gave a damn if you were speeding, and in this game, they do. You have to keep an eye on the radar for when a cop car is around the corner and slow down or tap your “Safe Driving” button (which caps the car at that street’s legal speed limit), and wait until he’s out of the way before driving recklessly again.

Speaking of driving, there’s a lot of it in the game. I love driving around and exploring, but the massive city takes forever to navigate through, and the fact that there is nothing to do along the way only makes it that much worse. At least there is a decent sized soundtrack of period music that I’ve enjoyed listening to… Except for the part where is seems like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Baby It’s Cold Outside are the only ones that are ever on at any given time when I play.

The wanted system is pretty great. When you commit a minor crime like speeding, the cops will chase you to give you a ticket, and you can either slow down and pay it or evade them. And, with more serious crimes like homicide, when you’re wanted, you are wanted perpetually until you change clothes, meaning you have to break line of site and work your way to a clothing store where you can purchase an outfit to add to Vito’s at-home wardrobe, or run back to the wardrobe to grab clean clothes and clear it.

The same with vehicles. If you’re wanted and you’re in a car, the car gets a wanted level attached to it, meaning you have to ditch it or take it to a body shop and paint it, change the tags, or otherwise customise it.

Despite the reality of having a limited purpose, because you can’t free roam and there are no side missions to speak of , there are surprisingly a lot of options for car customisation, with two dozen colours to choose from, rim options, a license plate that can say whatever you want, and engine upgrades.

The aiming, running, stealth, and cover systems are very much like a Hitman game, to use the Agent 47 comparison again… Meaning they aren’t very original or groundbreaking. You kneel behind cover, you swing your entire body out of cover to fire, and then you duck back.

There was a slight learning curve to the controls in general, because a few of the controls didn’t feel like they were in intuitive enough places, but for the most part, it’s a playable game. Just don’t play this for hours and then move on to Grand Theft Auto, because they are different enough to confuse you when you play after a while.

The controls and the remainder of the gameplay and story that I haven’t touched on have proven mundane enough that I can’t even motivate myself to write them out.

And, what’s the deal with clothing in Mafia 2? Firstly, there are only a handful of options (admittedly they are all very mafia-esque, so they don't bother me personally to wear) and a handful of colours a piece. With so few and so uncustomisable outfits, why even bother having the feature? If I was scripted to wear certain outfits in each mission, it wouldn't bother me, but since a half-assed feature was implemented, I can't help but feel annoyed that the feature even exists.

And, the main purpose for outfits is to clear your wanted level by changing your clothes... So, you buy an outfit or go to your home wardrobe. But, the purchasing of items is meh. I can draw my gun, shoot the wall or the cashier (more often than not it’s her, because those 40s hairstyles are meh), and I can just steal the stuff off the shelf. Honestly, what’s the incentive to spend money if I can get for free, shoot any responding cops, nick a suit to change out of my wanted clothes, then waltz out the front door? I only change my outfit to get un-Wanted anyway, so it's not like shooting a handful of more cops before nicking a suit is an unreasonable option to me with the COD-like health regeneration.

Oh yeah, health regens on its own, but I'll let that point slide; this post is long enough already.

To cap off, here are the good and the bad, in my opinion:

Good:

  • Wanted System and breakable laws
  • Soundtrack
  • Graphics
  • Weapons available
  • Car customisation

Bad:

  • Pseudo-open world
  • Linear gameplay
  • Lack of side missions
  • Excessive driving
  • Lack of melee weapons
  • NPC AI

Meh:

  • Combat and cover system
  • Clothing options
  • Melee combat

For a final verdict, this is a rather mediocre game. It’s not the most amazing thing ever when compared to similar games, and the limitations imposed on the player coupled with the average story and character development will only give this game one or two replays before I set it aside and stop playing.

Review of The Hero's Guides to The Elder Scrolls Online

  02:03:00 am, by Alarra   , 711 words  
Viewed 12462 times since 07/02/14
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

 The Elder Scrolls Online team has recently announced that from now to July 6th, if you buy The Hero’s Guides to The Elder Scrolls Online from the Bethesda store, you’ll get one free month of gameplay of Elder Scrolls Online with it.   The Hero’s Guides is a set containing three lorebooks and a small portfolio that has Alliance War art and the copy’s number (from the limited run of 10,000) in it.  I recently purchased it and read them, so I’m reviewing them (spoiler-free) to give you an idea of whether you think it’s worth the steep price. 

 Agents and Reagents: The Bounty of Mundus – The journal of Gargrell Sorick, an apprentice at the Wayrest Apothecary.  Apart from the introduction and last few pages, the book follows the same format: illustrations of the different alchemy ingredients, listing their effects as seen in-game and some extra background info on them (such as how to harvest them).  I rate this as my second-favorite of the three.  Mostly this book will appeal to those really interested in lore and those who might want to use a little background info for fanfiction or RPing.

Gathering Force: Arms and Armor of Tamriel - A book describing the armor and weapons used by each race, written by Longinus Attius, an Imperial Fighters Guild hall steward.   Like the first book, it follows a set pattern: a color picture of a champion from each race, and a couple pages with sketches of the race’s armor and text describing what materials they use and how they’re designed.  Also like the first book, this will only appeal to those who are super-interested in these little details of the world.  This was my least favorite of the three books.  Though it has more named characters than the first one, they have no depth whatsoever and in most cases aren’t even mentioned apart from their picture.  At least in the alchemist book we get an idea of the personalities of the three major characters.

Kyne’s Challenge: A Hunter’s Companion – The tale of a group of mostly Nord hunters and their adventure across Tamriel, as they attempt to fight as many different beasts as they can in order to pass along the information to more inexperienced Fighters Guild members.   This is easily the best of the three books.  It’s an actual narrative rather than a collection of information, it is longer, has deeper and more engaging characters, and has some interesting plot twists along the way.  It’s definitely an enjoyable read.

Overall, the quality of the materials of the books is pretty good: they have soft faux-leathery covers, gilded or deckled pages, ribbon bookmarks, and so forth, with very nice illustrations.  However, all in all, the content of the three books is nothing spectacular.  The Kyne book was a good read, far better than the others, but the other two books were something of a disappointment, and the Kyne book alone does not make up for those.  It was interesting, however, how some of the things in these guides tied into each other and also into the Improved Emperor’s Guide to Tamriel that came with the Imperial Edition of ESO (for example, Flaccus Terentius, the author of the Emperor’s Guide, makes an appearance in the Kyne book).  In my opinion they did fit the “Elder Scrolls” feel, more so than the two Greg Keyes novels, I thought, and they did provide some extra background information.  However, if you’re just looking for a fun story, I’d point you toward the Greg Keyes novels (The Infernal City and Lord of Souls) instead.

Final verdict:  If you’re really into the lore and background information, and can afford it, it might be worth a look, and now would be a good time to do it, with the 1-month-of-ESO deal.  I like having them – books and Elder Scrolls are two of my favorite things – but I would’ve been far more satisfied if it would have cost a more reasonable amount.  Despite the good quality of the items, the content in them is not worth the $100 price tag.

If you’re interested, head on over to the wiki - I’ve recently finished the pages for the books, and they contain detailed synopses in case you wish to know exactly what happens in each one.

The Selectives Lorecast

  12:02:00 am, by   , 92 words  
Viewed 10068 times since 06/30/14
Categories: Elder Scrolls

This recently-started podcast series focuses on the finer points of TES lore. The first focused on discussing the Unreliable Narrator, that annoying/wonderful little dilemma which makes editing the lore section absolute hell.

The second was just uploaded. I've only just started it myself, but special guests include Lady Nerevar of TIL and Michael Kirkbride. Topics include Lorkhan - my favorite topic in the lore! I'm on the edge of my seat ... mainly because I'm looking forward to the video, but also because Kirkbride's ever-present cigarette has sent me into a raging nicotine fit.

Why Oblivion's Main Quest isn't up to par

  02:08:00 am, by Damon   , 663 words  
Viewed 4793 times since 06/29/14
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

I'll cut to the point for this post, as I've got nothing particularly interesting to add to it. I was playing some Oblivion on my brother's Playstation for the first time in forever, and I remembered why I never play Oblivion, but still am madly in love with Morrowind.

Let's just cut to the chase - first off, it's not a very original idea to fight off a demonic invasion of the world, so to begin with that could have been polished a little more. But, I'll just let that point slide for now. This second point is what really grinds me about Oblivion...

SO MUCH of the MQ is a fetch-quest.

  1. Get the Amulet to Jauffre.
  2. Fetch a sigil stone to close Kvatch's gate.
  3. Fetch the Count's ring
  4. Fetch Martin
  5. Find Barus and then fetch the 4 commentaries
  6. Fetch the Xarxes
  7. Fetch a Daedric Artifact
  8. Fetch Tiber's armor
  9. Fetch the support of the Counts to aid Bruma
  10. Fetch the Great Sigil Stone
  11. Fetch the Amulet
  12. Battle for the Imperial City

That's the gist of the MQ. It didn't feel particularly interesting, and despite feeling relatively short next to Morrowind and Skyrim (in my own opinion), it felt like it just DRAGGED on. And, after a while, you start to get tired of being the errand boy. C'mon, Marin! I know you're Emperor and I'm a Blade, but there are a dozen of them in the fortress! It's someone else's turn to go fetch items.

That's where I felt Morrowind excelled (yes, I know I love Morrowind and talk of it a lot - because it IS the best). The quests varied a little more than straight collection quests.

For instance, Morrowind, you had to initially fetch some notes for Caius Cosades, but once that was done, you were out in the field exploring and experiencing Vvardenfell, being sent by Caius to visit Great Houses, tribal clans, explore dungeons, or just go do whatever you fancy, as Caius on numerous occasions dismises the player specifically to go visit guilds or quest, because you're one of the secretive spy Blades (not the ceremonial warrior Blades of Oblivion who are personal guards to the Sovereign) and you have to keep your cover identity as a citizen and adventerer/mercenary intact.

You were constantly being immersed into this province's culture, and the world felt more real than the standard fantasy towns of Cyrodiil that you had to rush through, as the Main Quest always felt pressured to be finished, because everything was urgently needed (which is appropros for what the story is, but it makes it harder to experience the open world, in my opinion as a roleplayer and not a power-gamer).

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with errand boy quests on the side (such as Skyrim's Radiant quests where you go out to gather herbs, deliver papers or items), but those quests are supposed to be fun little atmospheric quests to help you experience people, those quests enable you to visit other people and experience all these different areas, because it's a casual thing.

Oblivion sent you to quite remote regions that typically had little to see, because the map was so... bland. The Lake Arrius caverns and the area around the Shrine of Azura, for instance, were around trees and rocks. The same thing I could look at in my  yard. And, the Shrine itself, while a nice representation of who the Prince of Dawn and Dusk is, is still a bland and boring experience, compared to others. For instance, Azura's in Skyrim stood on a Mountain and was visible from long distances, and when you approached, being so many times larger, it felt monumental and it was an experience to hike up the mountain to find it.

But, I'm starting to digress. Point is, Oblivion is subpar for the Main Quest, thanks to the nature of fetching things all the time. Then, I broke away into irritation at the landscape, because I was rambling.