Playing Games: Better Late Than Never Edition

  09:16:51 pm, by Daveh   , 840 words  
Viewed 4752 times since 04/05/10
Categories: Games

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:

  • Dragon Age -- This was in an earlier edition where I was trying (and failing) to play it on my laptop. Thanks to the wonder of Steam I reinstalled the game on my considerably more powerful desktop and attempted to start over. For some reason I didn't get very far before succumbing to boredom and moving on to something else. Perhaps it was replaying the start of the game over again, even though there were some differences playing as another race/class. Part of my lack of enjoyment comes from the feeling that I was watching more of the game than actually playing it. I don't necessarily mind well placed cut scenes or dialogs but I play games to actually play the game not spend five minutes listening to some NPC expound on the details of the last 100 years of history in an imaginary universe. I've never been one to really enjoy the lore of any game, just point my sword in the way the bad guy and let fate sort it out.

    This is one of those games I might pick up in a few years and end up enjoying but for now it will have to wait on my virtual bookshelf.

  • Fate -- I picked this up while traveling as it sounded like a decent Diablo-esque game that I could run on my laptop. Unfortunately, the game disappointed me from a general lack of "polish".

  • Torchlight -- This appears to be almost identical to Fate at first glance but while the game play is almost identical Torchlight has a much better finished feel to it and is overall much more enjoyable. It is so fun I caught myself thinking about installing it on my desktop despite having other games to play and finish.
  • Mass Effect 2 -- Although this game suffers a little from the "too many cut scenes" that I disliked Dragon Age for I enjoyed it much more overall. Its been a while since I had fun in a Sci-Fi action/rpg and the game doesn't disappoint for the most part. The strongest irk I have for the game is how the planet scanning and resource acquisition works. Its not really a bad idea but the "scanning" implementation could have been made better a number of ways and more fun as a result. My work and hobby of working with visualizing large sets of complex data (well, relatively large/complex I suppose) has me thinking of a half-dozen better ways to do it and almost has me looking to see if there is an editor available for the game (almost...).

    Although I have been recently sidetracked by the next game I fully intend to pick ME2 up again and finish it soon.

  • Mount and Blade: Warband -- When I was looking for a new game last month I avoided the original "Mount and Blade" game due to the relatively poor reviews from the various game sites and picked up ME2 instead (of which I don't regret). Last weekend, however, I noted a new standalone "expansion" available on Steam, although it is not an expansion so why it is labeled as such I can only guess. Reading some reviews I found that although the "official" game reviews were low (6-7ish/10) the "user" game reviews were relatively high (8-9ish/10) and the game actually sounded like something I'd enjoy. A long weekend and too many late night game playing hours later and it turned out I was correct.

    The "official" reviews are pretty much right in many of their opinions. The game's graphics are relatively poor compared to today's blockbuster games (not too bad though) and the overall game "polish" is low (probably the more serious charge). Fortunately, I've never been one to judge a game solely by how it looks. Graphics are great but it is the really the freedom, depth and complexity of the game play that attracts me. This explains my love of games like Dwarf Fortress and text MUDs which essentially have no graphics.

    What the official reviews seem to miss, but the user reviews get, is the game's freedom and depth. To a certain extent the world is open to play however you wish, much like Oblivion was. You are free to play as a "good guy" and take sides with a kingdom fighting and defending for them or take the "less good" path and attack caravans and villages. So far I haven't been able to play too much with the game's depth and get into advanced warfare or politics but I've seen the various options available to me should I have will and time to pursue them.

    For all that I like about the game play there are many things I dislike. Overall the game feels unfinished or underdeveloped in many areas that could have made it even better. I may well cover these in a subsequent blog article.


Another Blog I Didn't Write.

  10:16:46 pm, by Cactus   , 1270 words  
Viewed 10711 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.
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.


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.

Playing Games (New Year Edition)

  11:18:07 pm, by Daveh   , 360 words  
Viewed 19305 times since 01/12/10
Categories: Games

To start off the new year I'll begin with what game I've been playing lately, although it might more accurately be titled "Games I'm Not Playing" as my playing time has been limited the past few months with the holidays and work.

  • Wolfenstein -- As I mentioned in the last column, I did pick up this game and play through it relatively quickly. As a FPS I would rate it about average or perhaps slightly above average as I did begin to play through it again at a higher difficulty level.
  • Dragon Age Origins -- I started playing this game on my laptop while working on the road which diminished my enjoyment of the game as it was barely playable. I restarted playing briefly on my desktop computer before Christmas but have yet to continue it and am far from finishing it.
  • Dwarf Fortress -- If you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon that is Dwarf Fortress I would recommend quickly checking it out. While it is an ASCII text game it has an incredible depth and complexity that you don't find in typical strategy/resource games. If you don't mind the inconsistent interface or having your dwarves being eaten by carp occasionally I would suggest trying it out. Be sure to check out the tutorials in the wiki as there is a significant learning curve. Just remember the DF motto: Losing is Fun!

    I've been chronicling my most recent attempt largely for the amusement of others although I've had pretty good luck as the game goes so far. No dwarf-eating carp, elephants or lava yet (just a few wolves, cougars, and moods). I'm currently trying to get a little further than I've previously gotten to in the game including some experimenting with magma, if I can ever find it in the map anyways.

I haven't had much time to see what new games being released this year I might be interested in. There is, of course, Fallout: New Vegas whenever it is released and Diablo 3 might be this year as well. Besides that there is the continuing hope that Bethesda releases some news of ES5 sometime this year as well.

Why Morrowind Was Better [Guest Blog]

  04:48:19 am, by Cactus   , 1453 words  
Viewed 41024 times since 29/12/09
Categories: Games, Elder Scrolls, Hobbies

Gosh, it's beginning to look like I can't write for myself. And that I'm bias towards Morrowind. Well, wrong on both accounts. Personally I love both games. Truth is no one has come forth yet for Oblivion. I may have to write one myself. Anyway, it's time for a new guest blog, this time by UESPer Kestral.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for many was and is the epitome of the Elder Scrolls series. Morrowind came before Oblivion, 4 years to be exact, and does lack some things that Oblivion had. I seek to delve into what is missing on Morrowind’s part, but why Oblivion is still the lesser of the two.

I remember the first glimpses that I saw of Morrowind. A foggy view of the Temple Canton of Vivec, thinking of it as a high and mystical place. I researched into Morrowind very much, and did find it to be interesting. I discovered that to me, Morrowind would be a difficult fit.

There not being Fast Travel, no map markers, and a varied level of gameplay intimidated me. I did not care for the graphics, I accepted Morrowind for what it was and not what it looked like.

I went ahead and picked up an Xbox GOTY version of Morrowind, picked my stats, and went on. I met Jiub, surfaced from the underbelly of the ship, into a strange new land. Seyda Neen, passed the pleasant Redguard, and went into the Offices. I was greeted by the lovely man who asked me what my background was. I filled the forms out myself, and was a tad concerned on what to pick.

I chose for a magic character with a bit of combat in. I went though the offices and I was done with the Char Gen portion. I went through Seyda Neen, passed by the nice little Wood Elf who misplaced his ring; I paid no mind and went on with his ring in my pocket.

Vvardenfell was truly an alien land to me. I knew none of the cities, methods of transportation, skills, people to know, what comes first, and what doesn’t. I followed up on what I was told with and went to Balmora. Not noticing the large bug that I later found that could take me to Balmora easily, I walked to Balmora.

I thought how frustrating it was to walk across a seemingly wide expanse of land before me. And I thought that how difficult it would be to get from here to there in later portions of the game. Needless to say, I continued on and was startled by a loud yell.


A Bosmer mage had fallen out of the sky... certainly not something in Oblivion. I checked his body and took his loot. I figured that I should save and did. I was intrigued by his scroll of Icarian Flight. Unknowingly, I used the scroll jumped, I soon fell to my death somewhere near Balmora.

I reloaded myself, and cursed myself for using the scrolls and told myself to never use them again. I soon discovered a scrib. I had an extensive fight and thought to myself ‘Why can’t I hit him!?’ I killed the thing and went on with my journey. I later discovered that I needed to use a weapon with a favored skill, and a have a better agility skill.

When I reached Balmora, I saved the game and stopped.

For a month.

I thought Morrowind was good and all, but not my thing. I had put it on hold, and kept it tucked away in my room somewhere. I soon was bored one day, and researched further into Morrowind. I learned of what I should’ve done. The early quests, the ring, exploits, and such.

I made a new character and did the aforementioned. I had more fun doing the quests, and traveled to Balmora by the newly discovered Silt Strider. I then gave up at Balmora because I got bored.

It wasn’t for some time- and several instances of playing the game and stopping, and even getting the PC version- until I appreciated Morrowind to its fullest.

I was inspired one day to make a new character, inspired by our resident Cactus. I made my new character, a Dunmer battlemage of sorts, Darvinum, and loved the game from thereon. I played the game, only used exploits for things like speechcraft, and left the rest to pure gameplay.

I went from place to place. I cannot remember which guilds I did, but I remember at least 2 guilds that I went through, I also remember going through the Imperial Cult. I loved that Cult.

I went from here and there and no longer minded the no fast travel. But what I did mind were the directions. ‘Go north from this road until you reach a specific tree, then head east.’ I frequently got lost and had distaste for the Ashlands. I plundered the Vaults of Vivec later on with my full chameleon outfit, and made large amounts of money. I went around, training, and just doing quests. I became Nerevarine, and was known throughout Vvardenfell.

Darvinum must have been my most favorite character I ever made in any Elder Scrolls game. I did so much with him, and remember doing so much in a little amount of time.

Now, this play through let me examine Oblivion to Morrowind in their fullest. Oblivion looked much nicer, I’ll give it that, and Oblivion had a much more similar mechanic, but there was something bland about it. To begin with, the voice actors. Morrowind had fine voice acting, everyone was different from each other. The Nords were Nords, and not Orcs too. The Elves were their own race, and not their own. The Dunmer especially, had a better voice than any other race.

Another was the items. In Oblivion, you’ll merely find a wide variety of the same type of items. In Morrowind, there were many items. Not merely Iron, Steel, Glass, Daedric, Leather, etc. There was Netch leather, Nordic armor, Ice armor, Ordinator armor, guard armor, Chitin, and some more. The same goes for Weapons and clothing. Oblivion had a limited wardrobe, while Morrowind had a large one. The weights and prices were realistic considering. Daedric armor and weapons were to be precious, and not found in every single dungeon. They were to be sprinkled out through the whole land, and not in the hand of every Marauder aspirant fresh from the cutting block.

The quests also were better. Even though Oblivion was larger in landscape, Morrowind was surely more refined and detailed. Almost everyone in town had a quest affiliated with them, and there were a lot of people needing some assistance. That isn’t enough? Join a guild! And not just the Mage’s, Fighter’s, Dark Brotherhood, and the Thieves Guild like in Oblivion; how about the Imperial Cult, or a Great House, or the Legion, or the East Empire Company. Oblivion had a lot do, but Morrowind had even more.

Almost everything Oblivion had, Morrowind had and more. It’s been well over a year since I’ve been playing Morrowind, and I still play with it then and again. Whilst I have played Oblivion more in total in hours, and it still is easier to get more engrossed in Oblivion (my new character already has 20 hours knocked on), Morrowind was still better.

Morrowind takes a different kind of person. Not someone who is more in touch with classic RPG roots, but someone who prefers a more action adventure RPG. Someone who enjoys a richness of an environment, the realism, and the uniqueness of it. If they are a DND’er, perhaps Daggerfall, another fine title, would be more of their choosing, but for me, Morrowind is.

But Morrowind is not everybody’s game. A more ‘modern’ gamer, who is more interested in games with nice graphics, and a more shooter spin on things, would not like Morrowind. I know several people who like RPGs, but who do not like Morrowind. It’s a strange thing, and I find it difficult to think why they dislike it just accept for what it is, and go on.

Morrowind truly is a gem, and I wish to hold onto my copy until the day something unfortunate happens and it is destroyed. Even then, I will still carry on the memories of Morrowind. For those who refuse to try Morrowind, please do; and for those who have, and didn’t like it, so be it. Morrowind truly was the greatest Elder Scrolls title. The series which- as of late -the series is in need of another one.

A Meditation on Beards [guest blog]

  02:19:30 pm, by Cactus   , 765 words  
Viewed 23105 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.