Saturday with Snowmane #2 - The new ESO trailer

  11:48:01 pm, by Damon   , 363 words  
Viewed 67918 times since 01/23/13
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

I'll admit I was one of the skeptics at first when Zenimax Online announced that The Elder Scrolls Online was being developed. Bethesda spent nearly two decades making the most incredible and detailed single player RPG experience that I've ever played, and then I heard that it was being made into an MMO... It scared me.

I was (am) afraid that it would just become another WoW clone, and I would look for whatever way I could do to justify to myself a reason to not like the concept. However, as of late, as I've been looking around at the various released information and trailers about the game, I've been slowly warming up to the concept of at least trying the game out.

Take this latest trailer that I will post below, which was published to the Bethesda Softworks YouTube channel on the 22nd of January, for example. It's a beautiful cinematic experience that's very fast paced with just the right musical score involved.

The trailer opens up to a Nord group of warriors smashing down a wall and entering into a cavern of sorts where they are attacked by what appears to be werewolves before the scene changes to a large battle taking place on a large fortress either shrouded in fog or up high enough to be in the clouds.

The scene is quite intense and chaotic as man and mer fire arrows back and forth as the assaulting armies set up rope bridges to cross into the fortress for battle. The trailer ends with the Nord finally climbing out of the cavern the werewolves were in, only to find himself in an old west style standoff with the other alliance faction members.

If even half of the effort was put into the story as it was this battle sequence, I may have to give ESO a shot when it's released. I've already signed up for the beta, that's how excited the game is starting to look for me. Of course, signing up requires agreeing to an NDA, which means the beta players wouldn't get to release details about the game if they are the ones chosen.

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Saturday with Snowmane #1

  12:58:57 am, by Damon   , 752 words  
Viewed 59338 times since 01/19/13
Categories: Games

Am I allowed to claim individual days? I doubt anyone would complain, so I am claiming Saturday as my day to post new blog posts. :p

There's not a whole lot eventful going on. I can proudly say that I can now call my first fanfiction a finished product. Only other thing of note is that I've been playing more EU3.

I swear every post is NOT going to be about EU3, but it's such a great game that I will post one last time about it.

I spent next decade after where my first post trailed off continuing work to stabilize my economy, and I am now consistently gaining +100 ducats a year after all my expenses are taken care of, and it's nice to have money for a change. In all my other play-throughs, I've been too aggressive, since I didn't (still don't) understand all the intricacies of the game, and would fall back on the desire to rapidly raise an army and march to victory like in real time strategy games such as Age of Empires.

I have been trying to avoid European wars, but I've been looking around, and I've decided that I wanted to get into a few smaller wars and systematically create a system of vassals, since there are always issues in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe.

My first target was a three province kingdom known as Siena, in central Italy, which was recently excommunicated by the Pope, giving me a free casus belli against them. In the five year Castille-Siena Excommunication War, as the game's history books put it as, I was able to sucessfully land an invasion force of twenty thousand men on the Italian peninsula and in no time at all, I was in control of the country, and able to force vassalization of Siena.

With Siena out of the way, I diverted my efforts into marching into Eastern Europe to engage the armies of Bohemia, who was the alliance leader of the enemy after joining the war in Siena's defense. It took another year or two of combat, but I took over Bohemia with little resistance, thanks to their war against nearby Austria softening them up. Unfortunately, they were too large of a country to vassalize, they had no money left for me to force them to pay me, and I had zero interest in outright annexing a handful of countries so far out of the way and calling them "Castille", so I was really only able to force them to annul their treaties with the other nations they were allied to, which wasn't that great of a treaty, in my opinion.

There were three other nations involved in the war, but save for Holland (who wisely stayed in Northern Europe and didn't invade me), they were One Province Minors (OPM), and all landlocked, so I didn't care enough to do anything to them. I just let them continue to sit there being insignificant to the war and then they surrendered alongside their Alliance Leader Bohemia with the signing of the treaty calling off the war.

The next decade of the game was spent allowing war exhaustion to deplete and making some more money, because the war was drawn out so long that I had to take a loan to continue maintaining my army at its fullest fighting capacity while recruiting more men to make up for the loses.

That's my whole EU3 experience for the last session of play. More trading and economic work, a few minor royal marriages, and the vassalization of an Italian nation. Oh, and my king died, leaving his heir with a weak claim to the throne to take over the nation, although his claim won't be an issue, and it will be gradually rising each year thanks to my prestige, his father's strong claim, etc.

I've also been playing a little Grand Theft Auto lately. Not any of the new ones, just III, Vice City, and San Andreas. The games were pretty cheap to download, so I decided "Why not?" and I got them.

Except for San Andreas, I haven't really played them long enough to present an opinion on them, so that's a post for the next "Saturday with Snowmane". Unless something more interesting than the games I am playing comes up. Then, we would talk about that. Unless it's politics. Or religion. I can't stand either of them, since it's always such a touchy subject.

I'm rambling now, so I should probably leave now haha. Bye! :)

What does Snowmane play?

  05:10:12 pm, by Damon   , 639 words  
Viewed 21992 times since 01/15/13
Categories: Games

In an attempt to start revitalizing the UESP blog, I have been graciously granted writing privileges, so I figured I might squeeze in a posting or two before I forget that I can write and that the blog exists. :p

There isn't much worth saying about myself, as my userpage does a pretty good job already in detailing who I am.

I haven't got much to say really, but I guess I'll just do a "What Am I Playing?" post like what's been done in the past.

Europa Universalis III: Chronicles is a grand strategy game set from 1399 to 1821. The premise of the game is that you can pick one of a couple hundred different nations around the world that vary in size, and you manage the nation during these years of exploration and conquest. There's a little bit of a learning curve though, as the game requires intense micromanagement of various aspects of the game, such as the economy, trade and production research, army, naval, and government research, managing inflation, diplomacy with the other nations of the world, etc. In short, it's my kind of game.

While I am a diehard TES fan, UESP being the only gaming wiki I've dedicated more than 2 hours to, strategy games will always hold that special place in my heart, since I was raised on real time strategy games like Command and Conquer and Age of Empires.

For my particular EU3 campaign, I am playing as the Kingdom of Castille, what would eventually become modern day Spain, and I am doing "The Grand Campaign", which means I am playing the game from the first playable year, 1399, until 1821.

After nearly three decades, I've conquered Granada, a one of the small nations sharing the Iberian peninsula with me, I've converted them to Catholicism, and I've established myself as a major trader, being the major trader in all the top dollar (or ducat in EU3) Centers of Trade (CoT) as well as successfully constructing my own powerful CoT near the Gibraltar Strait to compete with Portugal's Lisboa, which eventually collapsed, making my CoT the go-to for Portugal as well as the African nations across the strait, and other nations, who have to pass through to reach or leave the Mediterranean Sea.

While I have a fierce army and navy, I try to stay out of wars with other European nations, as they can sometimes get really drawn out, and it's always extremely exhausting on my economy to raise the kind of army needed to be a significant force against the largely superior French army or English Royal Navy. The only European nation on my agenda right now to attack is Aragon, as I need to own and posses a "core" on three of their provinces to do the optional mission to reform Castille into the Kingdom of Spain. Any other European nation, I will only take (as of this moment) if I get discover something that I could stand to gain from.

As far as my nation goes in terms of progression, I intend to focus more on trade and eventually colonization when I get my Government level high enough to research the "Quest for the New World" national idea, which would enable the recruitment of naval Admirals for exploration of the ocean's terra incognita and Conquistadors for the land. I won't strive to have the largest colonies in this playthrough, since I am still new to the game and want to play rather safely and out of the way of other nations for now, but maybe when I finish Castille's Grand Campaign, I'll pick another nation to play as more of a military power.

That's really all I have to say right now, but maybe if something comes up that's worth talking about, either in EU3 or elsewhere, I'll pop in to say it.

Elder Scrolls Online -- Initial Thoughts

  09:27:54 am, by Daveh   , 791 words  
Viewed 128583 times since 05/05/12
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

My initial thoughts on the recent Elder Scrolls Online announcement as a veteran Elder Scrolls fan is a mixture of both excitement and worry.

I'm excited to see yet another chapter in the Elder Scrolls series unfold with hopefully more adventures and lore to be discovered. I've enjoyed all seven ES games in series to some extent, even Redguard and Battlespire which weren't entirely well received by the fans.

I'm also excited to see what the ESO director and experienced MMO developer Matt Firor and his large team of 250 developers comes up with. I've long been a MMO fan with years playing MUDs and more years enjoying EverQuest after that. While I'm older now and my gaming tendencies have changed I'm still looking forward to playing another MMO. Unlike a good portion of the ES fans I've always wanted to see an ES MMO game so long as it was done "right".

However, I'm very worried that this is just an generic MMO clone with "Elder Scrolls" attached solely for increased exposure and revenue. After reading the Game Informer article everything just reeks of "generic" and almost nothing of "Elder Scrolls". I realize that some sacrifices in design must be made when moving from single player to massively multi-player but you can't just take a WoW/EverQuest/DAoC clone and put an ES logo on it and call it "Elder Scrolls Online". I'm hoping and assuming that all the smart people at Bethesda and Zenimax Online realize this but the initial release information doesn't do much to persuade me otherwise.

I'm worried that the features that are important to the single player ES games won't make it into the MMO. The description of features so far already changes the basic skill based character development to experience points and real time combat to button clicking, both of which make me uncomfortable. The devil, of course, is in the details of how these systems are actually implemented in the end and it could easily go either way.

I'm a little worried about the quality and quantity of lore in ESO. There was only a little lore related information in the Game Information article and some it seemed "off" for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. A strong presence of good lore has always been important in the ES games and I expect nothing less from an ES MMO.

I'm already worried about the initial lack of community involvement by the developers although it only has been a few days since the initial ESO announcement. My opinion is that having an open communication between the developers and community for an MMO is critical for it to succeed in the long term. The initial announcement is almost the worst things they could have done: release rough information on an ES MMO which all but makes it appear to be a generic MMO clone. Any ES fan could tell you that an ES MMO was generally not wanted by the community and if it was it had to be done "right". I think there needs to be a very obvious presence from both Bethesda and Zenimax Online (both Matt and developer leads) to both help calm the fears of ES fans as well as begin getting as much feedback as soon as possible.

I'm a little worried about the graphics. Although I'm usually the first to say that the graphics are not as important as other things like game play and performance they still are critical to the overall look and feel of the game. From the screen shots so far I'm in general underwhelmed and a little put off by the character models specifically. I'm hoping that since the game is still 12-18 months from release there is still a good amount of graphical polishing left although the fact these screen shots were probably picked as they looked "the best" makes me cautious.

Finally, I'm worried that labelling this as an "Elder Scrolls" MMO will result in the game's failure to be much quicker. If this was just another MMO it would succeed or fail on its own merits. However, with the title of "Elder Scrolls" the game has a much higher barrier to succeed. You have a lot of dedicated ES fans used to the high quality of the existing ES games who will shun the game and quicken its demise if it doesn't live up to its name.

In summary it would appear that I'm just a little excited and very worried about Elder Scrolls Online. While it has some potential to be great there is even more potential for it to fail miserably. My final opinion, however, will wait until next year when the game is actually closer to release.

Skyrim - the first five weeks

  01:32:01 pm, by   , 1825 words  
Viewed 80512 times since 18/12/11
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls

I've been meaning to write something about Skyrim for a couple of weeks, but any time I had a few spare minutes I decided they were better spent actually playing the game than writing about it. Today, I finally feel sated. I don't mean I'm done playing it, because I'm not, but I no longer feel the compulsion to spend every spare hour in Skyrim, and even loaded something else instead (X3: Albion Preview in case you're wondering - I'll probably blog about that soon). Steam tells me that in five weeks I've spent 221 hours playing Skyrim and that I've already gone past Fallout: New Vegas (206) so It's definitely time to put down a few thoughts about the game.

The sheer scope of the game is incredible. I spent some time trying to come up with a one-word description and eventually settled on "mindblowing" - and don't tell me it's really two words and should be hyphenated; I know and I don't care. One problem with modern English usage is that so many words are overused and end up as mere synonyms for "pretty good", but I'm using "mindblowing" in the sense of "Bloody hell - there's more? How the hell am I supposed to keep track of everything?" Skyrim is almost too big. At one point I found myself trying to work out how to advance the Thieves Guild quest line and it took a trawl through my huge list of outstanding quests to jog my memory that one quest without any obvious thieving connection was the one I had to do. Yes, it's my own fault for leaving quests too long and also my fault for playing while under the influence of whatever type of alcohol has taken my fancy, but it's undoubtedly a big game.

Let's start by looking at my last post about the things I wanted to see in the new game.

The World

The land of Skyrim is certainly a massive improvement over Oblivion's Cyrodiil, so much so that my first several hours were spent simply exploring the province rather than doing quests. There's so much more to find than before, and there are areas of utterly stunning beauty.

Interiors look much better than in Oblivion, but while there's a little more variety than before there's still a certain sense of sameness. That's especially true of taverns, which are almost all identical inside. Most of the dungeons are rather linear too: you just have to keep moving forward, knowing that when you reach the end you'll face a boss. I know I'm being a bit unfair here, because there's only so many ways in which you can design a mine or a ruin, but given the way the "hand designed" nature of the locations was hyped I'd expected a little more.

The Characters

There have definitely been improvements here. For a start, the voice acting is better. Having so many different voices is a huge improvement in itself, but the quality of delivery is much better too. Some of it's better than other bits - Joan Allen is superb as Delphine but only the fact that Karliah is an essential character saves her from my wrath at Moira Quirk's performance with her voice.

By and large, NPCs don't do stupid stuff any more, although I don't imagine there's a single player who hasn't seen at least one weirdness. Letting other NPCs move around while you're talking to someone can occasionally lead to some oddities too - for instance I eventually had to watch my own marriage from several yards away from the altar and my beloved because somebody had pushed me out of their way and I couldn't move back.

There are still a few annoyances, such as the way NPCs almost always say the same things to you when you pass them, but that's almost impossible to fix unless someone comes up with a way of auto-generating realistic dialogue.

Lockpicking
Meh. This is probably as good as it can get. I find myself wishing I didn't have to give the skeleton key back though.

Persuading
Getting rid of disposition entirely is one way around the problem, I suppose. The persuade/intimidate/bribe mechanism works well: at early levels I usually had to bribe people but as I gained levels and got more Speech skill points, the other options became an option too. Having the bribe option as a catch-all is a good solution, because it means you never get locked out of options entirely. It's possibly a little over-simplified but on balance I think it's a good solution.

Music Switching
Much, much improved. It's not quite as good as it could be - I still get one or two places where I realise I'm under attack because of the music, but it's certainly better than in earlier games.

Alchemy
Almost perfect! I'd still like the ability to learn about effects from books or teachers, but the new system is really good.

Random Encounters
Possibly a few too many wolves but about 95% perfect.

And on
In other words, my list of gripes has been almost entirely addressed and has certainly made the game more enjoyable.

I like the new Smithing mechanic. No more messing about waiting for a bandit to wear a glass helmet; just get the perk, find or buy the material and make it yourself. Combined with the improved enchanting system, replete with its own set of powerful perks, there's no longer a need to keep waiting for some particular item to appear in random loot. This makes customising your character a lot easier.

Archery has been seriously improved. My first character is a stealthy archer and was delighted to find that arrows now do rather more damage than they did in Oblivion, where you may as well have flicked chewed-up wads of paper at enemies for all the good they did. It wasn't long before he was doing double damage, with a 3x bonus for sneak attacks, with a self-crafted Daedric Bow imbued with a Fire enchantment, and even powerful enemies began to drop in a single shot.

Magic, too, is actually worth using. I tried to like magic in Oblivion, I really did, but it was so ineffective it wasn't worth bothering. In Skyrim, most of the spells work well, and some of the new additions, like the Clairvoyance spell, are fantastic. The lack of spell-crafting is interesting. On the one hand, we won't get loads of people submitting dull combinations of spells for a Useful Spells page, but I do slightly miss the time spent messing around trying to come up with a genuinely useful spell.

It almost goes without saying, but the graphics are superb. The music is superb too, although the game does everything it can to downplay it. Under the default settings, the music is turned way down, and even putting the slider up to the max leaves it... in the background a bit. I know the music shouldn't be the main point of the game, but Jeremy Soule fans - and I count myself as such - should be able to make it more prominent. I can't wait to see if Santa brings me my signed copy of the soundtrack!

Dragons: as good as I had hoped, even if it can be bloody annoying when they circle around without attacking or crash-land in one place only to glitch into another.

It's not perfect though.

The first thing that hits me is that Skyrim has developed the Fallout 3-style invisible walls. I'll often find that I need to reach some objective on a hill. Upon reaching the general area it becomes clear that there's no easy path so I can either hike around the entire hill to find the path you're supposed to take or try to go rock-climbing. There's often a fairly smooth-looking path up the side of the hill so I set off, jumping up the hill (or riding up it on my horse). Suddenly, I can't go any further: some invisible wall is blocking my way and I now have to make a dangerous trip back down the slope. Why do this? Why make me take the One True Path? Really annoying.

The main quest is very good, and I thought the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild quest lines were really excellent, but the Companions and College don't stand up so well. Both lines are too short and the latter asks more questions than it answers. The daedric quests vary quite a bit too: I liked Boethiah's and Sheogorath's quests in particular, but Malacath's and Mephala's were a disappointment. Too many of the other quests are either "take this to X", "Fetch something from Y", or "Kill Z", and these can get a little boring after a while. In general, I suppose I have to give the quests a thumbs up, but I think some could definitely have been better.

Pace my earlier praise for the voice acting, some of the actors are a bit distinctive to re-use as non-prominent NPCs. Christopher Plummer is great as Arngeir, but hearing him crop up as other NPCs can be a bit odd. Ditto Claudia Christian - my Babylon 5 spider sense tingles every time I hear her voice.

And of course, there are the bugs.

Now I know that an open world game like Skyrim is going to be pretty much impossible to get right from day one, but sometimes I found myself wondering if the Quality Assurance team really did any work or just sat around on bean bags texting each other all day. Some of the bugs are bloody obvious too. For instance, I found myself wondering whether picking up two items from The Litany of Larceny quest would break it, and rapidly found the answer to be "yes". At one point during development, UESP offered to test Skyrim and we were rebuffed. If we'd been involved, I'm absolutely certain that many of these bugs would have been caught and fixed before release.

In Conclusion

This isn't everything I could mention, but it's the points that immediately come to mind. I imagine there'll be a "And another thing..." post at one point, but for now let me say that on balance: I absolutely love this game. It's worth every damn minute of the 5+ year wait. Those 221 hours are only the start of what I'm certain will be a couple of thousand. The only question is: where next? Obviously there's a lot to decide about the Thalmor, and it'll be very interesting to see how the next game handles the civil way: will Skyrim be independent or a part of the Empire? Will there even be an Empire?

When TES VI rolls around, of course, we'll be on a new generation of consoles, which will open up whole new worlds. That's all a long way away, which is just as well because it'll take until then to fully explore Skyrim.