Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Crack Scrolls V: Dragoncandy

A dragon is no match for this feline warrior.
Game--The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

System: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Release: November 2011

Skyrim will suck you in. Binge gaming may ensue. Apologize to your loved ones if you start to play this game. They will miss you, and wonder where you've been months later when you reconnect at that random social gathering.

Like most Elder Scroll tittles, Skyrim is a massive videogame. For all the time spent--currently at 160 hours across two characters--I haven't come close to experiencing all the content. There's also DLC, which adds even more to this epic adventure. It has everything you'd expect from a fantasy game and then some. Players can create a wide range of classes, from a number of different races, and quest until the cows come home.

Beautiful landscape throughout the game.
The depth of the skill system is overwhelming at first, but once mastered it's a beautiful thing. Other games will force you down a strict traditional path of the warrior, rogue, or caster. You're either throwing lightening bolts, or blocking blows with your shield. Skyrim says fuck all that. If a character uses an ability, then they gain experience. It's not necessary to use skill points granted each level on abilities used in game. Anyone can throw a fireball, or pick a lock. Like in life, practice will eventually make perfect.

Obviously specialization in a select number of capabilities will define your character, but players are given free reign to figure out what works for them. You can be that archer who also summons creatures to aide them in battle, or the armored knight with a cunning tongue and pickpocket skills. Specialize in alchemy, enchanting, or become a blacksmith. Can't decide, then take up all three. The variety is mind boggling, and it increases the replay value tremendously.
Ah, the common folk.

Adding to the deep character development is a breathtaking world begging to be explored. The general theme for the game is loosely influenced by Nordic mythology. There are vast snow capped mountains, lush green valleys, caves, coasts, rivers, castles, and villages. The native populace speak in an accent the reminds me of Minnesota, and you won't go more than fifteen minutes before something random occurs. Be it a dragon attacking the local town, or a thief making a pathetic attempt to rob you.

Consistently while playing I kept thinking. Let's do one more thing. Just one moreI'll go to this town. Talk to one person, and be done. I traveled to that town, but got distracted by a murder that happened right as I strolled through the city gates. Next thing I know I'm off helping someone settle a local rebellion. Moments later I got sucked into a warrior cult who's leaders consisted of werewolves. Then I went hunting and fishing for a bit. I check the clock, it's one in the morning, and I realize another evening has been dedicated to exploring Skyrim.

Dragons take forever to finish their monologues. 
Story wise it's hard to give an overall definitive opinion. The game consists of major and minor quest lines. Each guild, the civil war, and the main story are major quest lines. With some exceptions the rest our minor. Some story arcs were more interesting then others. The dragon plot started off great, but sort of tapered off towards the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the Dark Brotherhood adventure, but didn't care so much for the Companions.

It was disappointing that the major quest lines didn't intersect very often. Also, with so many distractions from the sheer variety of this game, storytelling is hindered by a short attention span. You'll set out to save the word from the dragon menace, get distracted by a demon who wants to go bar hopping, which somehow leads you to an ancient cavern searching for a rare plant. All of a sudden you forget why you were fetching some item that was instrumental in defeating the wicked dragons.

Will you choose the Empire or the Stormcloaks?
Connecting the vast quest chains, and deep character development are the small minute to minute actions. Luckily most of these are fun, the gameplay mechanics are smooth, and the tasks are diverse. One minute you're picking a lock, the next you're launching an arrow at an unsuspecting foe. Both equally enjoyable, but each require different strategies. The game also provides interesting literature on a variety of subjects if you feel the need to do some reading. Explore, loot, read, sell/make items, and repeat. This constant rotation keeps the game interesting, and fans the flames of binge gaming.

The biggest issues with Skyrim are a semi steep learning curve, and the bugs. I spent only two years as a game tester, but my QA eye can't miss the blatant problems. Numerous visual issues, and full on crashes are not uncommon. Save often while exploring. I also found the constant chatter of NPCs to be rather annoying. Although judging from Reddit, that is now supposedly apart of the games charm.
Shot him in the neck. Still won't shut up about the Thieves Guild.

Skyrim embodies the cliche, variety is the spice of life. The games entertainment factor lies in it's diversity and solid execution. There's always something new. There's always something to do, and odds are you'll need a number of abilities to get the job done. Despite it's minor flaws Skyrim is a must own for any RPG/fantasy aficionado. Just be warned that your significant other will not be pleased if you purchase this game.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Constants and Variables

Game--Bioshock: Infinite

System--PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Release--March, 2013

When I first heard of Bioshock: Infinite my expectations were low. The prequel to the ever popular Bioshock couldn't possibly be better. How could it top the under the sea dystopian antics of Ryan and Fontaine? Especially after the sequel panned out to be a pale imitation of it's predecessor.

The answer lies in time manipulation and companionship. Similar to Half-Life 2, Infinite tells a tale through the interactions of the main playable character, Booker, and the non-playable character, Elizabeth. The relationship between the two characters is one of the driving forces pushing the plot, and it is well executed.

Many touching moments are shared between Elizabeth and Booker that are seldom seen in games today. There are also strong themes throughout the story that range from religion and industrialization; to temporal distortions and paternal problems. Not surprising, the city in the clouds has much in common with its sister in the sea.

Booker is sent to the city of Columbia with a simple task. Find Elizabeth to wipe away his debt. Taking place during the early 1900's the American city is a utopia for the privileged white elite. You know. Those kind folks who didn't appreciate Lincolns little war. They just wanted a safe haven to practice their faith, and protect their white babies. Turns out it's a heck of a lot easier to secede from the Union when you are a floating city in the sky. Of course Columbia doesn't reject their darker skinned brothers and sisters. Someone has to work in the industrial sector, and keep the place spic and span.

Naturally the town goes to hell in a hand basket shortly after Booker arrives. He has to fight his way through waves of armed forces using any gun he can find and Plasmids--I mean Vigors. That's the bottled goodness granting you magic from your finger tips.

There's decent variation between enemies, but the guns could have been better. Luckily the Vigors nicely supplement the lackluster arsenal. If you've played any of the Bioshocks, then you'll be familiar with the gameplay. The powers are different, but not to the point of confusion. Fire is fire. Lightening is Lightening. Bees are now Crows. etc. The new twists lie with your partner and the Skyline.

Elizabeth is your best buddy in a firefight. She will throw ammo, salts (used to refill your Vigors), and health packs when you need it most. She can also make all sorts of items appear with her temporal powers.

Not to be outdone. Booker can leap on to the overhead railing and zip around the area in style. The swashbuckling feel is enjoyable, and landing on unsuspecting enemies is rewarding. The rail device attaches to the left hand, which also doubles as a viscous melee weapon. Players can access melee, guns, or powers at any time without having to switch between the three. As a result the whole combat system feels more streamlined, and the action wasn't interrupted as frequently as past titles.

Infinite does a great job implementing new tactics into a familiar setting, while simultaneously redefining the Bioshock universe. The developers brilliantly found a way to explain why the formula would be copied from the previous titles. Elizabeth is gifted with some serious temporal powers that allow her to tear open time itself. This provides all sorts of interesting twists and turns throughout the story. By the end players will have a completely new perspective of this fictional playground.

If you are like me, then you'll immediate start up a new game to catch all the foreshadowing and innuendo. Bioshock: Infinite is easily my favorite game of the year, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming downloadable content Burial at Sea.