Ah.. Bethesda, you’ve really outdone yourselves this time..
Since 1994, and the release of The Elder Scrolls: Arena, Bethesda have been dominating fantasy games with their rich and varied worlds, intricate plots, arrays of guilds, side-quests, dungeons and creatures. Even the nine races of Tamriel scream diversity.
As a big fan of the franchise and a returning player, I’ve totally fallen in love with the world and it’s inhabitants, the lore is detailed and varied and the timeline between titles flows almost seamlessly, with plenty of information to fill the gaps.
Now before I go off on one and proclaim Todd Howard as the new face of God, I’ll focus on Skyrim.
As the fifth official Elder Scrolls game, it had to match the depth of story that Morrowind provided, with the wild, varied world of Oblivion, and I’m happy to say that it has succeeded, and not just succeeded, it’s managed to blow those two out of the water.
Skyrim’s landscape is dominated by the largest mountain in all of Tamriel – The Throat of The World, from it’s peak, you can see the world spread out before you like a map, from the harsh, icy cold of Windhelm, to the (somewhat) warmer climes of Solitude, each city in the world is totally different, with Windhelm – The home of the first Nords in Skyrim, towering over the surrounding landscape like a giant stone sentinel, Markarth – Built atop an ancient Dwemer (Dwarven) city that riddles the rock beneath with tunnels and great halls. Riften – Home to the Thieves Guild, dark and more than a little ominous, even the guards patrolling the streets are crooked. But by far, I’d say the most magnificent city in Skyrim is Solitude, build along the ridge of a great stone arch above the sea, with colourful and magnificent buildings aplenty, everything screams opulence.
Onto gameplay, the revised combat system which replaced the old “chopstick” fighting of Oblivion has brought in many a new feature, blows now feel solid and weighted, dual wielding is no longer a dream and the kill animations are stunning, absolutely everything has been overhauled since Oblivion and MAN does it show, the ugly, block-headed people are a thing of the past, and it’s now possible to create a character that doesn’t scare away Daedra just with it’s face. In fact, it’s now possible to create a character that can be classified as handsome. The new animations are smooth and lifelike (with a few exceptions, ie. running up the side of an almost vertical rockface) Even the dialogue has been gutted, you can now move around during conversations and it feels like a much more natural experience. The persuasion minigame is gone, in its place we have a hidden “Approval” stat which affects how characters react to you, people who like you will run after you with an item you’ve dropped, where as people who don’t will run off with it. I highly reccomend trying this, as it usually ends up as a brawl in the middle of the street with people fighting over the dropped item.
Absolutely everything has been tweaked, gutted, updated and changed to make the game a much more enjoyable experience, and with a much larger design team, Bethesda have given each of their dungeons and caves its own unique handcrafted feel and story (follow the books and notes!)
The other things are totally new to the series, instead of a class that you select or create at the beginning of the game, you start out with your standard racial bonuses to the relevant skills, then just do what you want. The idea behind it is that if you pick up a cool piece of equipment or armour, you can use it, regardless of your level or your character. This new system is augmented by a perks system, you literally look to the heavens and you can see the constellations that mark each of the skills that govern your character, each time you level up, you can add another perk, these can be anything from zooming in with your bow, bonus backstab damage for stealth characters, inflicting deep wounds with axes that cause your enemy to take constant damage from blood loss and even overcharged versions of spells by dual casting them to create a more powerful version.
And last but not least for the new features is the Dragon Shouts, you’d be surprised at just how much you’ll end up using them, spit great gouts of flame, sprint forward with the speed of a whirlwind, tear the steel from an enemy’s grip and even freeze people solid. The sheer amount of shouts means that the way you play, combined with your custom class and perks, what shouts you use and even what kind of person you are, defines your character even more and makes your game unique.
The last thing I want to mention on this rather large review is the quest arcs, the insane amount of quests in this game would stand alone as a normal RPG, but when you add in the Companions, College of Winderhold, Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood quest lines, you’ve got 200+ hours of gameplay. The main quest tells the story of the return of the Dragons to Skyrim, and it’s up to you (as per usual) to sort it out, with the help of the Greybeards and the remnants of the Blades, it’s probably the best main quest in an RPG I’ve played. There’s even a Civil War brewing in the country, choose a side and fight for what you think is right.
So, if you haven’t played Skyrim yet, you need to. Retailing on average at around the £25 mark, it’s not too steep, especially when you consider what you get for your money. Go kill yourselves some Dragons!
And if I find anything about arrows in knees in the comments section, heads will roll.
The Voice Of Madness
Assassin’s Creed.. Where do I begin, as a veteran of the series and an obsessive completionist, I’ve seen most everything good, bad and just plain weird that the series has to offer, now! This review is for Assassin’s Creed II, the game that perfected the formula of the series and stood alongside games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Batman Arkham Asylum and Bayonetta as contenders for GOTY.
The game starts out with a cinematic showing what happened in the last game, as soon as gameplay starts, you notice an immediate change in graphics quality. The cinematic uses video and stills from the previous game and whether intentional or not, it hammers in the massive advance that the last two years have allowed. As soon as you get hold of Desmond, you can feel the change in sensitivity and smoothness the new animation and controls bring. Combat feels better too, unarmed attacks now feel like they should, and the inclusion of blocking with your fists is a godsend. After a brief (and not unsatisfying) escape from Abstergo, an intro to your new team and a few conversations and a look at the new Animus. We are catapulted back in time to relive the memories of a 15th century Florentine nobleman, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze. The game throws you right into the thick of things with a brilliant introduction to the new (and unrestricted, yes, you Desmond!) combat, the new parkour system and the stunning beauty of an Italian city in the thick of the Renaissance era. It’s now that you realise that this isn’t just a world to run around in. It’s a world to EXPLORE. Everything from houses and stands, to churches and landmarks just beg to be climbed. After more dialogue and a few ‘go here, get this, come back’ quests. We finally don the robes of the Assassin. Heavily modified to suit the tone and style of the game. And we finally get a sword! As soon as the game puts steel in your hand, everything changes. The fantastic fist-fighting from earlier pales in comparison to the elegant brutality of the weapon based combat. All the skills from the last game are back, and the counter kills are more bloody and brilliant than ever. Slicing and dicing guards like giant Christmas turkeys.
Obvious as it is, I’m a massive fan of the series. The gameplay and story of this game have won it a place on my shelf, and even in my heart, for years to come.
The GOTY edition as available for about £10 now, so if you haven’t played it. Do. You’re missing out.
Nothing is true.. Everything is permitted..
Right then! I think it’s about time I write my first review for the site and I’ve chosen none other than the spectacular Fallout 3 by Bethesda Studios!
As far as as the introduction goes, I loved it, the cinematic starts with the camera focused on a flickering LED then pans out as the (then revealed) radio flickers back into life, playing the classic (and slightly haunting) Set The World On Fire by The Inkspots. The camera then pulls back, showing the interior of a bus, and for now, everything looks relatively normal.
Until the camera picks up speed and backs out of the torn open end of the bus, showing us for the first time, the destroyed ruins of D.C. along with the menacing figure of a Brotherhood Of Steel member in power armour.
The series of images that follow are both beautiful and haunting, showing us the extent of the destruction that nuclear war has caused, and the final line to the voice-over haunts you for the rest of the game – “War, war never changes..”
The way the game leads you into the world of Fallout is both ingenious and unique, leading you through the various stages in your life within Vault 101 to shape your character for your adventure, from birth, to your 10th birthday, onto your final school exam, the game allows you an amazing level of freedom for a tutorial, and when you finally get to let loose as you escape the Vault.
Now, I’ll get this out of the way as quickly as possible.
The combat in this game is terrible. The guns feel like they’re made of plastic, the accuracy is a joke and even the melee weapons are useless, the baseball bat you receive at the start of your escape feels more like a cardboard tube.
The only saving grace is the V.A.T.S system, which bypasses the need to use the god-awful aiming, blowing enemies apart into an eyeball strewn paste.
After escaping the murderous inhabitants of your normally peaceful home, you finally step outside (after a final chance to edit your character) and are immediately blinded by the sunlight. As the glare clears, you get your first look at the outside world and the insanely high level of detail Bethesda have put into this game.
Dust covered earth, broken roads and highways, shattered towns and cold grey skies stretch as far as the eye can see. The first semblance of civilization you come across is the town of Megaton, with its walls cobbled together from scavenged airplane parts and a live atomic bomb sat happily in the center of the town. “What a terrible idea!” I hear you say, well, someone else thinks so too, and lays your first moral choice at your feet, you can either deactivate the bomb, or rig it to explode, erasing the town (and everyone in it) from the map.
There was a lot I loved about this game, the characters were varied in their opinions and routines, and yet everyone was uniformly mad, the world was (reasonably) open and there was always some ruin to explore and loot, but.
And I mean BUT.
The Metro Stations that you had to use to reach ANY part of the map were both linear, dark and just BORING. There was almost no variation in firearms and the central area of D.C. just felt boxed in, and the initial thrill of seeing so many classic american landmarks utterly ruined doesn’t last as long as you’d hope.
And yet despite all of its flaws and problems. The game was amazing, and for a game that is now more than four years old, it still seems to hold up graphically compared to current releases.
All in all, an amazing experience, and given that it’s currently retailing for about £5, if you haven’t played it. You need to.
Otherwise you might just get eaten by a Yaoguai.