The will likely be spoilers, but should I talk about something super new I'll warn ya. But consider this a pre-emptive warning! You're WARNED!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Portal: No Escape (no GlaDOS)

You guys watched the Portal fan film No Escape, right? It's pretty damn great.

Wow. I mean, what if Portal had combat like that? I know there are turrets, but what about people? People chasing you and shooting at you? That would be...interesting. I would likely be terrible at it. I get panicky in those situations and I'd portal right into some lava or whatever.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Here is Roland Jenseric's shopping list:
  • apples
  • onions
  • lard
  • cheese
  • milk
And here is Roland Jenseric:

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm replaying Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion a little bit at a time's research for my webcomic RPG. Yes, that's it! Research! But also, I'm replaying it because why not? It's a pretty astonishing game in terms of scope; it's possible to clock countless hours simply exploring the world, finding towns and picking herbs or whatever. The game can truly be whatever you want it to be, and the main plot is almost an afterthought.

Story in Oblivion takes a backseat to the player simply existing- which was a hard concept to grasp the first time I played it. The end of the tutorial stage finds your character emerging from a sewer into bright sunshine, at which point the game basically says "take the next step in the plot, or don't- whatevs. We don't care!" and there you are, standing in the middle of a vast land with nothing and everything to do. It's rather jarring when you're accustomed to more linear games, be they RPGs or not.

Ultimately, it's that endless exploration that makes Oblivion so great. I tend to spend my time wandering the countryside searching for caves and ruins to explore. I clean out the monsters, discover whatever secrets the place may hold, and go sell the spoils for big bucks. The whole "save the world" idea in the main storyline? Yeah, I'll get to that later. Right now I've got chests full of gold to unlock!

"Welcome to my home."

I've approached one thing very differently in this playthrough than I did in my last: books. There are hundreds of books scattered around the country, available for reading (or stealing) in homes, available for purchase (or stealing) in shops, and just plain lying around waiting to be found. Some of them provide a skill boost when opened, while others are simply...books. History, instruction, fiction, poetry, you name it- there are literally thousands of pages to be read. The first time I played, I opened every book I found in the hope of getting that stat boost. This time, however, I'm reading the majority of them (sorry, some instruction manuals are just dry) and it's astonishing how much time and effort has been put in by the developers on what can obviously be completely ignored. Again, that's Oblivion. It's your world to make.

(By the way, right now I'm really into The Mystery of Talara, but I can't find volumes 3 & 4. If anyone knows, please help a nerd out.)

fuck yeah, gonna pick some herbs

Even the leveling system is strange in Oblivion. I'm used to the standard XP method, wherein you need a certain amount of experience points in order to gain a level. XP is acquired by completing tasks, punching people in the face, etc etc. Not so in the land of the Elder Scrolls! The game employs a sort of "practice makes perfect" approach, wherein you aptitude in skills grows as you use those skills- then when you've advanced all of your major skills enough, you gain a level. It's a more realistic approach, I guess. If you keep blocking with a shield, you' know, get better at blocking. Still, it's a vague system and when you're a number-crunching RPGer, it's a scary new world. Change is frightening!

What's strange, though, is that no matter how much time I spend wandering the landscape and talking to people, I never get much of a grip on who my character is. Sure, it's "role-playing", I suppose, but my personality never shines through and whatever background she may have is completely in my head. The player character has no speaking voice- not that it matters, really; BioWare and Valve have proven that mute characters can still be fleshed out- and there are very few instances where I get to choose from multiple dialogue responses. Sure, I can be good or evil, a thief or a do-gooder, a vampire or a...not vampire, but in the end, I'm just a pair of hands wielding a sword and shield. It's weird to spend those countless hours in someone's skin- scaly skin for me this go-round, as I'm playing an Argonian lizard lady- and com out with no sense of who he or she is.

Maybe it doesn't matter.

If there's one area I hope to see improved for the forthcoming Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it's characterization. Not only in the player character, obviously, but also in the NPCs. Oblivion is greatly hurt by the fact that though there are hundreds of minor characters, there are only a handful of voice actors and but a few more facial models. The result is that no one stands out- everyone blends in and names don't matter. No one is memorable, and conversation with everyone is a bit of a drag.

And they're all so ugly! Good lord, Cyrodiil is home to some truly, truly ugly people. I mentioned that this time I'm playing as a lizard- really, I chose that race because I didn't want my character to be hideous. Not only are the NPCs are heinous, it's also nigh impossible to create a character who isn't equally gross. Yes, in Oblivion, a walking lizard woman is more attractive than a human. (I know there are mods for the PC version that make folks easier to stomach visually, but I'm rocking a 360.)

the best picture I found

And goodness, they're a needy people!

"Oh, you tracked down my long-lost twin brother and reunited us, thank you! Umm, now we want to reclaim our long-lost childhood home, but we're not sure where it is. Could you go find it for us? Thank you."

"Oh, you're back, and you've found our home! Thank you. It's overrun with ogres, you say? Hmm. Could you go kill them and then come back here? Thank you."

"Oh, you've killed all the ogres? Thank you. Can you now please escort us to our home? And protect us! Despite this large warhammer on my back, I'm afraid I cannot defend myself. Thank you."

And so on.

spriggins creep me the hell out

In related news, there's really little I hate MORE in videogames than escort missions. I really, really hate them. Really. There's nothing worse than having to protect some jerk who can't defend themselves, who can't run, and who dies after, like, one hit. I hate escort missions. Hate. HATE. HAAAAAATE. I hate them.

Ahem. Anyway, yeah, Oblivion is cool. I think I'll become a vampire lizard. And I'll steal horses. And let the people I escort get eaten by bears or something. That'll show 'em!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Back to the Free Marches

Hey Dragon Age II fans, there is more Dragon Age II out there for you to make out with! That's right, the game's latest DLC, "Legacy", is here. What's it all about? What do I get out of it? Is it worth the hefty 800 point pricetag? Are these jeans "cool", as the kids say? I'm sure all of these questions and more are burning up your brain, so let me give you some answers. I'm even going to save the spoilers for the comments section!

First, let's get this answer out of the way: no, your jeans are not cool. Only Bugle Boy jeans are cool. Now...on to "Legacy"!

It doesn't matter where in the campaign your character is situated in order to trigger the content- Hawke can be scrambling for coin in Act I or standing listlessly in his/her estate after the game's end. Conveniently, "Legacy" begins when you interact with a statue that appears in Hawke's current home- it leads to a cutscene between Varric and Cassandra Pentaghast, wherein she inquires about an adventure he's neglected to mention...and so the adventure begins.

I will say this: while you are able to play "Legacy" at any point, after one playthrough you'll see that certain minor occurrences in the DLC are effected by Hawke's...err, family situation. Meaning, if you play with a post-campaign character, it will be evident that there will be certain benefits to playing again with a Hawke mired in Act I or early Act II. Likewise, there will be little bonuses to bringing along certain party members- story bonuses, really, if you care about that sort of thing. Which...why wouldn't you? I mean, what kind of person are you?

The gist is this: the Carta, that wacky gang of dwarven criminals, has been attacking your home and family. Varric traces them to a camp in the Vimmark Mountains, and this is where the action begins. As Hawke tries to discover the motive behind the attack, she's drawn into her family history, Grey Warden history, darkspawn history...hell, even the history of Thedas, the Chantry, and beyond. Much of the story concerns Malcolm, Hawke's father, and I loved the fleshing out of the family. I like my Hawke a lot, and I'd like to see her story continue; whether it will in Dragon Age III is a bit impossible to predict, but at least BioWare seems intent on providing some damn beefy DLC to satisfy.

And pretty beefy "Legacy" is- it's a few hours' worth of content, no doubt. Why, I even heard tale of one player who took 8 hours to complete it on the HARD setting (by "heard tale", I mean "read online"). There are bosses to battle, sidequests to complete, decisions to make (speculation in the comments!), puzzles to solve, and lots of loot to grab. Many of the gameplay gripes folks had after playing DA II have been resolved here: repeating dungeons? None to be found. All of the areas are brand-spanking new- from the desolate surface in the mountains to the murky, partially-submerged Deep Roads, none of this has been seen before, and none of it repeats.

Enemies are much tougher here than in the game proper, and the predictable "wave" attacks have been abolished. Combat requires more strategy, and I definitely got my ass kicked plenty. Genlocks (both regular and alpha) finally make an appearance, as do alpha hurlocks- both have been redesigned to fit the DA II aesthetic, and both bring the pain. Having a healer in your party is absolutely essential, and while you do pick up some potions along the way, it's a good idea to stock up on whatever you need before beginning "Legacy" as there are no shops throughout and you only get one chance to return to Kirkwall during the quest.

One of the best things about "Legacy" is also one of the smallest: that it's fully-voiced, every character. It's kind of a drag to play DLC and in the cutscenes, party members simply stare blankly because no new dialogue has been recorded. In "Legacy", however, there's all-new dialogue and party banter. New party banter! It's a highlight of the Dragon Age series, and "Legacy" doesn't disappoint at all.

In fact, overall it doesn't disappoint at all. While it's not essential content for a Dragon Age II experience, fans will certainly find plenty to love in both story and gameplay...and I can't help but think that the stage is being subtly set for Dragon Age III. Or maybe I should just say that they've got me speculating about it. I should also say that I'm pretty bad at speculating, so maybe none of this will have to do with Dragon Age III. I should also say that I unapologetically love Dragon Age, but then you probably already knew that.