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The Naked Truth

[As Read on GIO.]

My Literal Naked Speedrun through Sen’s Fortress…

Something I Would not Advise to Try at Home, Work, or Elsewhere…

I would like to first make a short disclaimer before I truly begin this blog in earnest: this post involves partial nudity on the part of my Dark Souls character, and also is not in fact a speedrun of the entire game- merely the area surrounding and within Sen’s Fortress. Also, it differs from most walkthroughs and speedruns in that I left all of my weapons and clothing and items (save for a ring which would break if unequipped) in my infinitely deep bonfire box. This all having been said, I shall now take you on a deadly and perilous adventure through a chaotic and insane castle-like fortress, home to golems, giants, and other foul creatures and devious traps… Enter, if you will, Sen’s Fortress with me…

Begin Transmission

1. So, I’m sprinting across the narrow bridge between two wooded areas, leading up to the front entrance to this imposing fortress. I’m already experiencing a large amount of foreboding despair, especially since I am continually reminded of the fact I have no estus flask or any other helpful and handy equipment, save for a ring which increases my stamina and health. Fat lot of good that will do if I get into combat, but at least I can make a few more evasive maneuvers if need be… Now, let’s chronicle what happens with each subsequent death of mine- each with its own number here.

I cautiously waltz through the entryway, assuming- as many players rightfully should, that there will be some ghastly trap or another awaiting me on the other side. The Sen’s Fortress area logo promptly appears as I cross the threshold, and I carefully trot through the dark yet receding shadows as I continue on my way. Suddenly, out jumps a trollish, snakish creature of some sort with a wicked, curved scimitar of massive proportions. Rather than engaging him in suicidal combat, I roll evasively around him and make for the doorway…only to bump into his partner, whom I had forgotten about despite my past experience with the game. Death number one.

2. This time around, I’m slightly more careful, and thanks to the fact that the enemies in Dark Souls spawn pretty much in the exact same places, I know what to expect as well. I’m quick enough to dart into the thin passage behind the two monstrosities, and whether it is due to their larger size or some deity looking out for me, they decline the invitation to follow me inside. Or maybe they just know I’ll get what’s coming to me. As I ascend the stairs, I can hear an ominous swishing noise coming from the next room. As I enter, it is with a sigh of dejection, because I immediately remember this painful room and the horrors it contains: many, many slicing and dicing instruments of terror (think, Prince of Persia’s pendulum-like axe blades).

Even better, there’s a very thin bridge leading across a dark and perilous chasm as the blades swing back and forth in my path across said bridge. Thankfully I have a pretty good stamina rating, so I make a calculated dash between each blade as it swings by, thankfully not getting nicked at all- as without armor it would most likely spell disaster, especially without my estus flask. I’m halfway across when I realize somebody or something is flinging electric bolts at me. Well, not one to be easily deterred I (foolishly? grudgingly?) continue on across the bridge, dodging the last few blades and shock blasts.

Suddenly, a wild snakish monster thing appears! On the bridge! Yeah, let’s go- whoop whoop! I somehow (luck maybe?) skirt around him as he swings and misses with his large sword- maybe to make up for something? One last pendulum slices by and I’m safely (if that applies in this game…) in a small hallway leading to the left and right, past some antique statues. I choose the left way and ascend another small flight of steps along the way, stopping as I come to another bridge- this one with slightly more death and pendulums looming ahead.

There’s even less room for mistakes here, and yet another snake guy waiting at the end of the way, launching his nice little presents towards me. Thankfully, luck is on my side yet again, as he manages to stumble sideways off of the narrow ledge when I knock him back with a kick. I’m thinking he’s a goner for sure, as that’s quite a deadly fall he just took. I cautiously move into the next room and see some loot at the back, but before moving forward, I notice an oddity in the stone floor- a raised stone that is surely a trap of some devious sort. After all, in this game, I question everything. I skirt around its edges and also notice a hollow recess in the wall where something must shoot out or something whizzes out or whatever. I think I just avoided a booby trap of some mal-intent.

I open the chest I saw a moment ago, and am pleased to have found a relatively large titanite shard- a semi-rarity in this game, and a necessity for leveling up weapons and armor. I explore around the room a little more and find a short set of stairs leading to an even shorter bridge than the others. I continue forward and encounter yet another snake guy, but thankfully I get lucky once more and push him off of some stone stairs. I think he’s dead, and this is shortly confirmed by a gaining of souls.

I run up the stone stairs- these ones a little more decayed than the other flights, and am immediately crushed by a large boulder that I somehow didn’t hear coming until it was too late. I tried to jump out of the way into the tiny alcove with some white light (obviously there to be traversed) however I am unsuccessful. And I thought I’d been doing pretty well up until now. Death number two.

3. Now that I can pretty well recall most segments of the fortress that I’ll be running into, I’m able to make it back to the stone stairway with the boulder that would make even Indy cringe, in pretty good time. I successfully dodge the boulder, but a snake guy descends the stairs after me as well. I’m unable to really shake him, so I backtrack to the last pendulum room and laugh as he helplessly slides off into oblivion after a solid hit from one of the devious traps. Thankfully, I’d already managed to kick the other snake people off the bridges, so I wasn’t having to watch my back every moment.

The snake guy goes down, and I ignore the white light for now- opting instead to head for the room at the top of the stairs, where I can see a faint glint of sunlight. As I arrive in the room, I notice the many statues knocked over on the ground, as well as the locked chest in the back. I immediately open the chest up and am rewarded with another ring. Just because I can’t really afford to worry about putting it on, I leave the ring where it was and head back down the stairs I just came up. Suddenly, I hear a rumble from behind, and another boulder (or the same one respawning?) drops behind me. Thankfully, luck is on my side, as I am able to sprint for the small alcove I couldn’t quite make before.

I’ve survived this far, so I may as well traverse this white light. After all, what’s the worst that could happen, right? I come into a room with a small little corridor of sorts leading to another chamber that is essentially pitch black, though a hissing snake man soon emerges from it. Now I have nowhere to run, so I know it’s going to be a tough fight. This one has a shield as well and wields a pretty powerful broad sword. Thankfully, I’ve always leveled my character up with a pretty good strength, and I’m somewhere around level 30 at this point. Still, fighting with no armor against a monster that can pretty much kill me in one or two hits sucks.

However, I get his health down to zero, and rest to lick my figurative wounds, seeing as he never once touched me. Looks like that shield slowed him down a little bit. Truthfully, this was the most harrowing fight I’ve ever had in a game that has some really intense moments. I trod through the short corridor and somehow don’t notice yet another pressure plate until I hear the ‘cah-chunk’ of my foot triggering it. I take one arrow to the back, but manage to move out of the way of the other three that follow. Great- now I’ve got about a third of my health left, so if I encounter anyone else I’m done for. Ironically, as I head back out of the room and down some stairs that look very much like the ones with the boulder (did I get turned around somehow?) I’m sideswiped by another boulder and die. Dang. Death number three.

4. Well for a Sen’s Fortress run without any equipment at all, I’m doing pretty great so far- only three deaths until now… After much pain and suffering, I make it back to where I died last time, recover my souls yet again, and get set to keep on going- albeit with a quarter of health left only. I’m probably going to meet my end sooner this time around, but oh well… I watch the same boulder go flying by several times (at least I assume it’s the same) and wait for it to go down a small chute before sprinting and jumping across the gap to another corridor side.

I duck into a side room this time to avoid another boulder as it tumbles by- not the same one obviously, as there is at least one stuck in the gap I just jumped across recently. Inside the room is a box which I punch until it opens up. Imagine my surprise when a set of arms sprout from it and pummel me to death. I’ve just encountered a dangerous new playmate. Death number four.

5. Okay, I’m back where we left off, this time with about three quarters of my health intact, somehow, and I’ve successfully and carefully tricked the box guy into getting crushed by the large boulder speeding down the stairs behind us. As he dies, I am rewarded with a lightning spear- a decently powerful weapon. I figure it’s not cheating if I grab it since I’ve earned it while here, and it sure would certainly make things to come later on slightly easier, so I indulge myself this one time.

A small steel platform descends from somewhere above into the room. I step onto it as the chains pull it back up to another room, this one looking almost like a prison cell of sorts, albeit with some grates across the floor. It’s pretty dark in here, so great things are sure to come. I cross a little bridge and go by some really, really small stairs, checking out the closed jail cell in the next portion of the room. Unsurprisingly, it’s locked and unopenable from this side. Great. So I turn back and go for the stairs, find a little lever (a big one actually), and pull it- sending a boulder crashing to my foes below.

I know it’s only a matter of time before another boulder descends quickly after me, so I make the best use of my major stamina bar and rush down several flights of stairs, bursting out into the sunlight for the first time in what feels like forever- five lifetimes in fact, for my hero. However, this good cheer comes to an end when I glance down and see the drop is much too far for me to sustain and survive in this weak state. I head back through the hall, noting that there is some NPC of some sort stuck in a steel cage. Seems her (I think…) name is Logan, and he would really appreciate being set free.Also seems to be a witch, but she promises me sorcery spells galore later on, so I let her out and waltz off for the time being…

I run back to where I dropped down at one point in the long hallway, and find some stairs I’d missed before. I’m starting to get deja vu now because most of the stairs they lead to look like exact replicas of areas I’ve already been to, so the game is really screwing with my mind at this point- at least, more so than usual. I find a shortcut into the room with the big lever and find a small side passage I’d apparently missed on my last sweep of the room. How sloppy of me.

I notice a pressure plate and some arrow slots (or spears or something) blocking my way, so I carefully trigger the plate and back off before sprinting through after the (yes, arrows!) projectiles have fired. I enter a small room with a window, through which I can see some brilliant sunlight. Maybe I’m almost out of this place! Nope, just kidding- I enter a room down the way where there is yet another bridge and several pendulums. And here I was thinking that stuff was finished with…

This time there is absolutely no spare space between blades, so I’m going to have to do one crazy sprint towards the other side of the bridge, which is a lot thinner than the rest- this really just gets good. I haul donkey across what turns out to be actually a short bridge, encountering another snake man once I reach the other side. Thankfully, now that I am armed, I make relatively short work of him without sustaining any damage at all. I continue up some stairs and find myself approaching an even SMALLER bridge. Great, this thin thing will surely have a plethora of devious booby traps surrounding it as well. Seems as if the closer I get to freedom, the more determined to destroy me this place is…

I start my crossing of the bridge, more cautiously now, as I hear some pendulums in the distance… However, suddenly a surprise blast of lightning hits the ground at my feet, leaving me unharmed, but startled into action. In order to avoid a sure death, I begin a suicidal sprint towards the looming axes. Thankfully, there’s actually a small safe zone in between the axes, so I am able to let the axes behind me deflect his blast before continuing on up some stairs to the right. Catastrophe averted- for now. Oh look- some white light. I smell a difficult fight brewing…

I’m finally outside, but there is still no bonfire in sight, and there still seems to be quite some way to go. I actually go downwards, as there seems to be nowhere else to head, and I encounter the (easy, for my level normally) standard hollow, skeletal knight of the game. I make short work of him after dodging his slow attacks and sprint around the corner, taking one of his buddies by surprise- allowing me to backstab him for a rare one-shot kill. I’m felling pleased now, but not comfortable yet…probably better that way. There’s a chest back here which opens pretty easily and rewards me with yet another ring- which I ignore.

Seeing nowhere else to go, I scratch my head before heading back up to the ledge I was just on. Somehow, with all of my perceptive skills, I managed to miss a blatantly obvious staircase right in front of me. Time to get the eyes checked… Heading up several sets of stairs, grabbing a soul along the way, I start to slowly see myself approaching the highest point of this deadly fortress. Could I really be so near the end? Thankfully, I’ve been here before (and though I haven’t spoiled anything yet) and I know where the “secret” bonfire is on a ledge below a broken portion of wall near the soul I picked up. I take a little fall damage, but light the bonfire and rest my weary soul for a moment or two, leveling up four times in the process.

I take a shortcut back to where I just leaped from, dodging a firebomb or two this time- now that the hollows are alerted to my presence, and the enemies have respawned. I sprint up the stairs and make my way across some greco-roman looking pillar pathways relatively clear of enemies. I cross a bridge, go up some stairs, across some more pathways, into a room, and through some white light. I brace myself, as I hear distant rumbling undoubtedly emanating from behind the thin veil of light, and I know what lies ahead…

Oh look, an Iron Golem. This ought to be fun… Be prepared for a death, and maybe some subsequent ones, to come… This battle is bad enough with armor and good supplies and an estus flask especially, so this ought to be…interesting…

I manage to barely avoid some odd air-blast sweep of the titanic golem’s axe as he slowly approaches me, thanks to my diving skills. His range is pretty long, but thankfully I picked up the spear- this would be quite impossible without any tools whatsoever, so I think that cheating is allowed. I dash in for a few cheap blows, but even with my powerful weapon they don’t do much damage compared to the thing’s health bar total. He’s got about a tenth chunk off of it though.

He swings at me a few more times, but I duck under his tremendous legs, poking him a few times as I go, doing a little bit more damage. This is going surprisingly well thus far… He’s lost about a quarter of life now, but is getting faster with each swipe, and coming closer to meeting his target as well. I dodge several more strikes and manage to whittle him down to half of his overall health. The giant’s attacks are coming faster and faster now, and I’m taking a bit of residual damage from some area-centered blows, but not enough to kill me- yet.

Finally, I’ve got him down to within two more strikes, give or take and…he stomps me into the stone. Just like that, my progress lost for the fight, so near the end. Yeah…pretty disappointing… Well, I’ll spare you guys the details of my next (and final) life, but I did successfully defeat the golem on my sixth life. Although I didn’t go back through the area or anything, I think this really counts as conquering Sen’s Fortress- a lofty feat for players even with their equipment and skills. I may be a veteran or something thereabout, but this was still pretty difficult- even if it seems like I only died a handful of times compared to the first time I went up against this place. Hopefully you all enjoyed this lengthy blog, and will if I make more like it. Adios folks. Comment below- congratulating or degrading my Dark Souls skills as you will.

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The Art of Death

[As Read on GIO.]

A Dark Souls Retrospective

WARNING: Sharp Edges

Long time no blog, folks. Sorry for the massive time gaps between my blogs of late, but I’ve been quite busy, and actually still am. I’ve found some time today to write to you from an entirely different location than my normal humble abode back in Indiana. Today I write from my laptop in the good old city of brotherly love (you know the one). Anyway, in preparation for more death and destruction in a few short days, I’ve been playing Dark Souls lately- and now I’m going to be writing a little bit about the game as well.

Today’s main focus is going to be a relatively simple fact actually: that Dark Souls isn’t a hard game so much as it is a difficult one to master. What exactly does this mean, and what strange connotations do these words have? Well, hopefully, throughout the course of this blog you will come to understand my views just a little bit more comprehensively… So, we shall suffer through this together- after all, isn’t blog withdrawal a terribly wonderful thing? It just sucks you in for one more hit, even if you’ve gone clean for several days, or even weeks… (Which I haven’t, but three days feels like an eternity here with all the news and whatnot…) Now, without further dilly dallying, let’s get on this little adventure and see where we can ride.

Dark Souls is only truly hard in its introductory moments, which can be why it scares the so-called “unworthy” gamers away often times. However, for the prepared and well-advised player, Dark Souls isn’t such a difficult adventure as it would otherwise be. Now, don’t get me wrong- by no means is the game ever a cakewalk, however, when you begin to slowly grasp the controls, how your stats affect literally everything, and the ins and outs of strategic, role-playing related combat- you’ve got a really good chance of having a successful run from Lordran to Anor Lando and back.

Dark Souls’ introductory “tutorial” level that starts in the Northern Undead Asylum is only truly ‘hard’ due to the fact that you are not able to level up, kindle, or otherwise do anything helpful at the two bonfires in that specific area at that point in the game. Leveling up in Dark Souls is a little bit different than in most games in that you need only meet the soul requirement in order to advance your stats- albeit one stat at a time. So, essentially, the more you farm for souls or the more enemies you kill without deaths (unless you recover), the more times you can level up and consequently the better prepared you will be to take on the horrors of the surrounding, open world.

From the hub area of Firelink Shrine to the deepest reaches of the Abyss, bonfires are spread about sparingly as checkpoint and restart points- serving both as breathers and a reset/reboot that spawns most enemies (save a few, special ones) again for you to defeat or meet your demise from. These have multiple uses in and out of multiplayer (coop/PVP) as well as obviously while playing solo, and therefore immensely affect the outcome of your playthroughs and pathways you may take as well- thus helping to ease the difficulty of most challenges the more you progress.

Thankfully, there are also several items to be found quite early on in your adventures which make for an incredibly easy experience (or relatively thereso) from the offset. Also, combat is easily the trickiest portion of Dark Souls’ more difficult segments- with the exception of the almighty platforming challenge that is the majority of Sen’s Fortress, so understandably so long as you avoid direct confrontations and run for your life, you can traverse all over the place just fine. However, at low levels, the vast majority of your foes can easily land a lucky one-shot on you, thereby ending your Dark Souls recreation of ‘Chariots of Fire’ in a pretty painful manner.

Now, as for the aforementioned items that make your first few moments in the game a lot more “laid back,” the tail of the first massive dragon you encounter in the game, and any bow and arrows, make for some handy and powerful weapons to pick off most enemies with. You can head over to the Undead Burg area and find a decent bow from either random pillaged corpses or from a back room once you have the residence key, and you can also purchase a wide variety of arrows from the shop keeper there as well. As for the dragon’s tail- it can be shot from below the bridge with arrows- thereby avoiding the majority of enemies and the dragon’s deadly fire, and netting you a free, powerful sword as well. After about ten hits, you gain the sword which already does 200+ damage, and can one-shot most enemies in the easier stages of the game, and the surrounding ones. It’s definitely a weapon to keep in your arsenal for a long while as well.

Now, as far as tips go for wielding more powerful weapons and wearing potent equipment, four stats to make sure are always pretty high are your dexterity, endurance, faith, and vitality attributes. All of your stats are important, and dexterity and strength are virtually the same in some instances, but I’ll explain why these four are definitely game winners in the beginning of the game especially.

Dexterity determines your attack damage, as does strength, but dexterity also controls what weapons you can or cannot wield. A high dexterity means you can wield weapons more efficiently and even that you can wield weapons that are generally meant for two hands- such as the battle axe, with one (meaning you can increase your defensive capabilities with a shield as well).

Endurance measures your amount of stamina, which is the green meter beneath your vitality or health meter (the red one). Endurance is just as essential to your survival as health, and sometimes even more so, as it attributes to the amount of times you can attack in quick succession, how many evasive maneuvers you can make, and how much overall stamina each movement takes as well. A high endurance can help when coupled with other stats that make for a faster and more agile player who may not always be powerful enough, but that can rush through areas and pick foes off one by one through attrition in choke points as well.

Faith may seem like a silly statistic to have on here, but due to the major fact that a higher faith skill determines what sorts of potent ‘miracles’ players can utilize, faith is very prominent in this game indeed. I recommend trying to increase this stat as well because you’re going to need essentially miracles and sorceries such as healing and soul arrows for a lot of boss battles and heavier enemy encounters. These are some of the more basic spells and miracles you’ll learn, but they still require a higher faith rating than what any class starts with (aside from sorcerers themselves).

Vitality is obviously key in this game as well, especially for less skilled or more rash players. Dark Souls may have some action-packed moments, but it is a very strategic game at heart. Therefore, a high health can be very beneficial- not just for the obvious reasons such as taking more hits, but for the fact that you can traverse areas faster if you have more health to spare through fall damage here and there, without having to estus up every few seconds. Vitality is great in abundance, but don’t think for a minute it means you cannot die or will be ultra powerful- even the lesser enemies do a ton of damage, and usually much more than you can at any one time as well.

Now, I’ve talked about some of the aspects that can make your start a little less rough on your character, but I’d also like to talk about some misconceptions people have most times regarding Dark Souls’ level of difficulty. As I’ve said, and in some ways hopefully proven as well- Dark Souls isn’t impossible at all if you’re prepared, and even less so if you’ve come prepared to die a few times. Face it: you will die. That much is certain. However, you don’t have to die needlessly fifty times just to get to the next area, and you won’t if you follow simple guidelines and instructions more experienced players may fill you in on. I’ve given you a few tips here, but there are plenty more out there. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for or get some assistance in the form of coop partners when facing bosses- in fact, I’d heartily recommend that! It helps to have two (hopefully) smart heads than one average one, especially since most bosses are so unfairly weighted against your level anyway.

So, a few things people hear about Dark Souls that aren’t quite accurate are that the game doesn’t have many shortcuts, is brutally difficult, and that it’s bosses only have one special weakness. Now, as most times is the case, these are rooted somewhat in truth, but are still slightly misconstrued versions of them. The game has so many shortcuts between areas, secret pathways, and new entrances that open up as you explore- it’s not even funny. Sometimes your enemies use these to get the drop on you as well, which can really suck as you must be on your guard constantly because of those sneaky bastards.

As I’ve probably convinced you (hopefully) already, the game isn’t ‘brutally’ difficult at all. It’s a challenge, yes, but easily (well, I say easily, but you understand) doable. Most people don’t complete it only because they get frustrated, make silly mistakes, and rage quit. Don’t let that be you. Be cautious, think clearly, don’t be afraid to run. You’ll do just fine- you’ll die a few times, but you’ll be alright. That’s why we’ve got bonfires after all! If they’d wanted it to be brutal, they’d have included the swamp portion of Demon Souls… (though there IS a swamp in Dark Souls as well…hmm…)

Now, as far as the bosses go- sure, there is usually one pretty great way of taking them down, and some are more subject to certain kinds of damage from particular weapons, however, you can take them out with whatever play style pleases you, and whatever powerful weapons you have on hand. Whether that’s lightning, divine weapons, or firebombs is up to you. Granted, there are some NORMAL enemies who require specific weapon types in order to defeat, which could bar progress in certain areas until you acquire said weapons- however, bosses usually just have an incredibly large health bar and powerful attacks (not to mention some menacing looks). Skeletons and ghosts are such examples of enemies requiring different methods to defeat- skeletons requiring divine weapons for the best effects and ghosts requiring specific stones to either banish or destroy them.

Now, as you can imagine, Dark Souls is quite the thinking man’s game- a game of strategy, almost comically (or ironically) like a much, much more bloody, action-oriented version of chess. Wizard’s chess, maybe… Jokes aside, Dark Souls is no joke at all, but isn’t nearly as bad as most people think it is, discouraging as it can be to die at the hands of the same foes and to lose your plethora of collected souls. However, while there isn’t a really good way of protecting your interests aside from spending them to ensure they make it through, caution and a good frame of mind can often win the day even in seemingly-impossible encounters. Remember to keep an eye on your surroundings and to analyze your foes before rushing at them and you’ll do alright…

Hopefully this blog is simultaneously helpful and interesting, despite the fact it took me a record time of only fifty minutes to complete- whereas I normally spend hours drafting these tedious things. Anyway, whimsical thoughts aside- stay safe folks, and have a pleasant day. Until the next time, I’ll just be signing off here…and maybe playing Dark Souls some more (ha, I DID bring my 360 with me too, since I’ll be here for awhile…and I’ve got to conquer Sen’s Fortress yet again after all…).

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Fable Anniversary Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Ten Years Can’t Keep the Game Down

But they can Certainly Hinder Progress

Though each successive Fable game has had its strong points and weak points, and I’ve liked certain additions (such as regenerative health in Fable 3), this faithful retouching of Fable 1 is still pretty nostalgic and refreshing to see back in action. Despite its own flaws, I’d say Fable 2 is my favorite game in the series- from story to extra content, however, the original Fable has always been a close second. I’m pleased that Fable Anniversary now allows new players to experience the magic of the first game without the detriment of poor visuals and controls by today’s standards. While at the core the adventure remains mostly unchanged and the gameplay is for the most part untouched, some tweaks and honest additions have gone a long way towards improving and modernizing the game- even if it gets a poorer score for it (due mainly to it being ten years and not much having improved).

Fable Anniversary is a faithful recreation of the main game’s content as well as the downloadable expansion The Lost Chapters, released the following year after Fable received mostly critical acclaim. As in any other Fable games, your character is a so-called hero- though ultimately you can choose to bolster your resume and legendary status through good or evil acts, or simply a neutral mixture of both. Your deeds, combative prowess, and progression through the story (in addition to your archery, magic, and swordsmanship skills) all add up towards your infamy or fame, and as a result your renown. The main story has its quirks, and for the most part remains unchanged- which is pretty good, as it was a decently received story to begin with, and certainly better than some of the other storylines in the series. As for The Lost Chapters, like some of Fable 3’s content, it takes place after the main story, and continues your hero’s legacy after he has established his own legend. (I say he for simplicity’s sake, but you catch my drift.)

Though with all things taken into account Fable Anniversary is basically a high definition recreation of the original game, that isn’t to say it hasn’t tweaked a few things or made gameplay a little more accessible as well. The visuals have improved greatly, and are now roughly on par with those of Fable 2, and closely behind Fable 3’s graphics. There are a few Xbox Smart Glass features tied into gameplay which allow for some extra menu options and interesting gimmick-related content. And there are also one or two optional control schemes which can be perused in combat and locomotion, in case the archaic yet slightly updated one doesn’t quite do it for you. All in all, these various minor additions to gameplay and interface quality improve the overall polish of the game in several ways, however minimal many of them may be. An improvement is an improvement in my book.

Now, I’ve spent the first half of my shorter than usual review talking about the bonuses and good portions of the game, so let’s go ahead and talk about some of the pitfalls and problems concerning it as well- both of the original and of the refurbished edition. For the greater part of the game, Anniversary performs much like the updated version of Tomb Raider 1 did- aptly named Anniversary as well: performing decently, but with a plethora of issues. While it is always nice to have updated visuals and lighting performances, the fact that many parts of the game are laggy, buggy, and downright atrocious at times sort of balances that out to the point that it’s not really worth the hassle. It’s hard to appreciate animations that would be fluid if it weren’t for the poor framerate, textures, and system crashes that litter the landscapes of Albion and are as potent and tyrannical as your brothers’ initial rule in Fable 3.

For a supposedly “updated” high definition refurbishing of a decade old game, Fable Anniversary may sport a new coat of paint but it still feels pretty “old” and out of touch in many ways. It isn’t a terrible game to be sure, but there are many avoidable quality issues that plague it and could’ve been removed with a little extra fine-tuning. Luckily, that still isn’t out of the question if a major patch or two is released, however I feel that is unlikely to be- as it would’ve been mitigated altogether before the game was released if the developers felt like doing so was in their best interest. The issues that consistently ruin the otherwise excellent experience thankfully aren’t constant happenings, though they occur often enough to be annoying and to impact my review score- and most likely those of others as well.

With the additions of said aforementioned ‘tweaks’ to the original game’s formula, truly not much has changed aside from the smattering of downloadable merchandise available alongside the game at release- most of which includes slightly better weapons and gear, and seems to simply be another way of getting as much money as possible from fans of the series through Dead Space-like monetary transactions. I’m glad that the developers remained pretty faithful to the core project on hand and didn’t change the experience much, opting instead to simply update it- however adding some minor additions to story, gameplay, or other facets of the game would’ve gone a long way indeed in terms of excitement, freshness, and interest.

There is no denying the fact that Fable Anniversary is a fun, faithful recreation of the original title, and definitely beats its predecessor in terms of quality and graphics, if retaining many of its same issues. Though Albion has gone back in time, and may still be different yet in the forthcoming Fable Legends, it is always intriguing to see it shown in a new- or even recast in an old, light. Just don’t get your hopes up thinking there will be a ton of additional new content added in, as this is essentially the same material packaged together from a decade ago, sans a little update to the current/last generation of consoles.

Concept: Retrace your footsteps through your hero’s first adventures in Albion, ten years later, in this nostalgic adventure where everything is as it seems and as you remember it, because literally nothing has changed. It’s one of those ‘for better or worse’ things…

Graphics: There are a few new looks, but for the most part everything is the same as it was, just given a lot better lighting and graphical update. Can’t complain about that, except when it lags or experiences other animation related issues.

Sound: It’s the same old soundtrack, which is one of the things that can’t be ruined or marred in any way, as it works elegantly and perfectly to match the tone of specific story moments each and every time.

Playability: The option to utilize several different control schemes is a wise choice to give players, as it offers the opportunity to play the game as it was originally intended, as well as how Fable 2 and 3 were meant to be played. Take the time to play once with both control schemes in order to ascertain which you like the most, and which works the best for you.

Entertainment: It isn’t the greatest game, and is far from the greatest even in the series, but it also is a faithful update of the original, and far from the worst in the series- yes, I am looking at the poor Kinect titles which can barely be counted as “a part of the series” even if they are associated by name.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0

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Deadfall Adventures Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Lost in the Desert with No Way Home

…And that’s How it Should Stay

Let’s start with something entirely too ironic to be left out of this review: Allan Quartermain, and that series of late nineteenth century novels. The fact that many adventure films, games, and protagonists owe their concepts and very existences to Quartermain and that this particular game centers on one of Quartermain’s grandsons is entirely too ironic to not be mentioned. Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, Uncharted, you name it. This terribly flawed game strikes a ‘bargain’ with gamers- promising to bring them a hearty adventure story with all the fine-tuned elements of a modern first person shooter and with a thinking man’s game of puzzles, only to ape other games and take your fifty or so dollars and leave you pretty much empty handed.

Since the story doesn’t try very hard and ultimately takes a back seat on the back burner for the duration of the story mode campaign, all you need to really know about the protagonist is that he is a Quartermain, and of relation to the ‘great’ Allan Quartermain as well, on down the line a ways. This less canny and cool Quartermain globe trots and embarks on a very misinformed quest for something obviously belonging to Indiana Jones’ series- one Heart of Atlantis, which reminded me heavily of the still-better Staff of Kings game… But I digress. In typically Indy fashion, you’ll encounter period-centric Nazis out for your blood, mummies straight from The Mummy Series, and even on a pretty much copied train scene from that movie, and for added measure- copying off of both Mummy and Indy Jones, Arab thieves and pickpockets as well! This game’s description may as well have been, “copy all elements from every other adventure saga and FPS out there.”

Basically, Quartermain is an extremely watered-down and very much less-cool Nate Drake as well, because his specific female companion in this adventure is one Jennifer something or another. Basically, she has the cliched attitude of “I’m coming and that’s final,” and Quartermain “grudgingly” goes along with it, although we all know how that will probably end. The dialogue is atrocious, as is, fittingly, the talent on the part of the voice actors as well. So don’t expect the telling of the story to be very strong either. In fact, just go ahead and forget about the entire story and just shoot whoever pops up in front of you, make your way as quickly as possible through the campaign, and put the game down and proceed to cry. The fact that Quartermian and crew try to “break the fourth wall’ a bit and joke about the cliched script only makes things worse, as it fails and falls flat too, along with the rest of the train wreck of a script. In fact, they would’ve been better off being silent protagonists, or better yet- having never been dreamed up in the first place.

Having successfully ignored the story, you will quickly begin to notice that the gunplay and other gameplay mechanics are mostly mediocre as well. None are really great, but also, on the other hand, not all are as terrible as the completely irredeemable story which goes beyond terrible and bridges the gap all the way into the ‘Tartarus’ zone. The gunplay is typical first person shooter fanfare, minus most fanfare, as it is pretty standard and operates just about like an older Call of Duty game or Medal of Honor title- say European Assault, or CoD 3 era… The regenerating health and simplistic “covering” mechanics are pretty much as current-gen as you will find, because everything else can be found in last-gen shooters pretty much, which isn’t necessarily bad- just very, very out of date and out of time. You’ll miss the slight auto-aim that most games implement nowadays, as annoyingly enough there is no assistance whatsoever to be had in Deadfall, and the controls are barely functional enough to make their way to line the crosshairs up on targets anyways.

“Check out all the realistic blood around my eyes!”

The framerate is scarily shoddy and lags immensely whilst in the process of saving or during heavy combat encounters, which often results in reloading the last checkpoint or death- resulting therefore in a mixture of rinse and repeat over and over and over each time. If you didn’t know the definition of insanity before, this may help you to find out firsthand. Speaking of the saving and whatnot helping to hang you up at checkpoints as well…yeah, there really aren’t very many checkpoints to be spoken for, and those that do appear are in some pretty bad locations. Hopefully though, you’re ready for what will basically be a full-game speedrun, because it’s essentially Iron Skull-on all the time here, and if you die…well…you’re screwed my friend. All I can say is watch the corners- those boobytraps are a real mother.

Now, on a note about traps and other environmentally placed hazards and such dangerous things, please take careful note that these rare (I jest) instruments of pain and misfortune are incredibly more potent than your standard foes, and will often send you to Davey Jones’ locker for good if you aren’t attentive to your surroundings. So take care and tread lightly. As for your enemies, they won’t be much of a challenge once you’ve ‘mastered’ the crappy aiming and can gun them down with relative ease, or at least as easily as the poorly constructed and tuned controls will allow. In this, the controls and enemy AI both reminded me of the poorly thought out 007 Legends, which is not a strong or even good comparison for any game to be made akin to, so beware.

The enemy AI is programmed smartly enough to aim for your general location and take you out with deadly ‘efficiency,” however, strangely enough, they are also stupid enough to stand in plain sight as they do so- making dispatching them easy if you know what to do and avoid taking too much fire and having to reload a really far off checkpoint. Funny enough, it is only when they take cover that they are hindered by the mortal coil and them become stormtroopers who, true to that title, suck at shooting anything down but can dodge plenty of blasterfire themselves. For the most part, your enemies function exactly the same in combat, providing no real challenge until you discover the undead mummies chasing you around as well. As if things weren’t bad enough already.

The mummy AI is a little different than the other enemies, though no better in the long run, aside from providing a thankfully different combat approach and a slight bit of tactics and strategy as well- though I must stress that it is a very small amount of strategy and still can be accomplished with brainless shooting that would make Captain Price and crew proud. Simply shine your flashlight on mummies Alan Wake style and then fire away with a continual hail of bullets and eventually they will fall to the ground, slightly deader than they already were and with more lead in them as well. That’s about it in terms of the ‘special’ additions required to take these tougher foes out, though you’re also welcome to try your hand with a combat knife as well- though I can guarantee you the knife mechanic is laughable at best in most cases and slower than Black Ops 1’s, which is amazingly possible somehow.

“The flashlight- still better than most of the guns.”

The only other real gameplay mentionable in Deadfall Adventures is the puzzle gameplay which is really, truthfully less puzzling and more head-bangingly annoying instead. Whereas these moments could’ve been the relatively saving grace of an otherwise totally mediocre game, they instead made it just as mediocre as before without really helping in any way other than lengthening the so-called “story” and campaign. Most puzzles don’t really require much thought and aren’t so much puzzles as simple shifts in the game’s pace- such as shooting marked objects and rearranging tiles to match a certain pattern for example. Others are pretty much impossible to figure out without countless hours of retrying them or looking them up on the internet or blind luck. I won’t even begin to explain some of the most obscure answers I finally found on my way through the game, as they are pretty insane indeed.

Thank goodness we at least have the prophetic in-game journal ready with mostly unhelpful or game-ruining hints and the occasionally decent tip as well. The one decent thing about the puzzles is that they at least allow you access to treasure which in turn fuels your upgrades, adding to your health, power, and other small categories in different ways. Nothing game-changing or really memorable, but nothing nearly as terrible as what I’ve seen in the rest of the game, so it can’t be all too terrible after all, I guess… Just be aware that pretty much any place with treasure or puzzles is guaranteed to have a plethora of cunning (more like poorly placed) traps to take you out in one fell swoop and send you packing your bags back to thirty minutes earlier, at the last checkpoint.

As with many games these days, this one has its fair share of bugs and assorted glitches- ranging from the hilarious and degrading to the strange and slightly insane. Your screen shakes and quakes whenever you near an object that the developers apparently thought you wouldn’t ever touch for whatever reason, causing you to panic and get the heck out of dodge generally, as you have no idea what the hell is going on. You’ll constantly be able to magically reload your dual wielded weapons inexplicably, though you are still holding them in both hands- don’t ask me how, as Quartermain is obviously a superhuman, albeit the worst I’ve ever met. And another strange occurrence I witnessed was some oddly untextured, floating head and gun that yelled at me like any other enemy and proceeded to shoot me to death. I just stood there stunned because I was too busy laughing and later wondering just how an entirely untextured character made it into the game, and much less- why he was missing anything below his head…

As if things couldn’t get any worse, the game also features an obscene amount of multiplayer and cooperative content- as if anyone would thoroughly enjoy the game enough to play it, though I suppose there are always a few people who manage to enjoy crappy games out there. Survival mode is mostly forgettable, though once you’ve accomplished the task of completing the campaign itself, survival is a walk in the park and not as buggy by comparison- though it is a direct clone of basically every survival mode out there and not unique at all.

The other team-based and objective-based modes are just as non-unique, though they can actually prove to be decently amusing at the least, if not actually fun at times. They are pretty much your standard fare of team deathmatch, capture the flag, and a few other content based modes that are direct copies of other ones as well. So don’t expect much in the way of creativity, or new maps, as those are mostly pulled directly from areas in the campaign itself as well, for added insult to injury.

“If they ever make a sequel, I will dual wield middle fingers to ward it off.”

Seeing as I doubt very many people play this game to begin with, especially with all the negative reviews of it on pretty much every site out there, it is hard to believe that anyone would really take the time to play a sub-standard multiplayer component anyway in such a forgettable title. Plus, the quality itself and the fact that nobody really has heard of the tittle all the way up until it’s release is a telling factor as well, I’d say. Deadfall Adventures had an honorable and thoughtful goal of mixing elements of shooters and puzzles together, but it totally falls flat and fails to be really fun or even remotely pleasing in most aspects. Some moments may pique your interest slightly, but the Medal of Honor games of old are much better done than this so-called ‘new” shooter. Don’t waste your money on it, bottom line. I’d even recommend the heavily-flawed Turning Point: Fall of Liberty over this game, as that one is six years old and about five dollars or so.

Concept: Copy Indiana Jones and fail, fail, fail.

Graphics: Though the environments are all pretty bland and cliched in their own right, the graphics aren’t really that bad at a distance. When you get up close however, objects are blurry and things look muddied as they run into one another as well.

Sound: The voice acting is pretty bad and forgettable, but the soundtrack is average and not too bad overall- reminding me more than once of better adventure games.

Playability: The gameplay is often marred by lag and framerate issues, and the controls don’t allow much in the way of actual control, which makes things harder than they should be and very inaccurate in the activation of items and the shooting or otherwise dispatching of foes.

Entertainment: Though I am almost positive nearly nobody recalls the Quartermain novels of old, and wouldn’t be caught dead playing this game even if they did, the adventure story doesn’t feel very adventurous or even remotely very much fun, and I too wouldn’t want to be associated with it.

Replay Value: Very Low.

Overall Score: 6.0

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The Walking Dead: Season 2- Episode 1: All that Remains

[As Read on GIO.]

Beginning Anew, Remembering the Old

Quality Continues with Clementine in the Lead

Hey there folks. It’s been a little while since I wrote an actual review here, so I’ll start with this one, an appropriate place to start as any on the first of a new year. I’ve had my time to play through the start of Telltale’s second season of their The Walking Dead series of episodic storytelling, and Clem manages to hold her own- which is great characteristically and for the title as well. It leaves me looking forward to a hopeful remainder of a second season of episodes, and to what else may come. We’ve dipped our toes in the water with season one, so Telltale is pulling even less punches this time around, as should be easily recognizable from the beginning episode of season two “All That Remains”. Seriously, no punches are pulled this time around- as if many were last time anyways. I was interested as to how they would manage to do it, but so far Telltale has, as far as I can see, managed to incorporate the “Clem will remember that” moments from last season’s antics, as well as any other people you encounter from that season here. So, the narrative continues, even if it is picking up where Lee’s tale left off, sad as that was (*spoiler!).

Now, I’m going to try to do this review without spoiling much, or anything- if at all possible, so try to cut me a little bit of slack if I seem to be getting vaguer and vaguer as we go through, as there is much to be discussed and hopefully not thoroughly spoiled for those of you who have not had the pleasure of experiencing and playing just yet. Though mainly due to procrastination I have not completely finished my anthology-ish review of the complete first season, as I have left off its episode five, my overall score for that season was a highly commendable 8.75 and I also gave the 400 Days epilogue/season bridge an 8.5 as well. This having been said, while you may think I am giving this first episode a relatively “weak” numerical score in comparison to the others of the strong first season and fine interlude, I have thoroughly enjoyed this episode and been harsher with my grade of the same problems that I was able to concede were “rookie” first season mistakes, that also appeared here in some instances. All in all, this is the Clementine roadshow now, and although she was a focal point and character of importance in the first season as well, she truly begins to spread her wings and fly this time around.

I suppose this particular episode could have very well been titled something ironic along the lines of “Growing Pains” as that would be true both in terms of Clementine’s bid for survival amongst her fellow companions and the zombie apocalypse, as well as her evolution as a young girl and character. Twisted ironies aside, the zombie apocalypse is no cake walk- particularly for a girl barely striking double digits. Clementine, as with but on a somewhat slower-paced and smaller scale than Carl (Chandler Riggs) from the television counterpart, is forced to grow up much faster than normal. “All That Remains” finally gives players the full reins of control over Clem in her fight for survival, and bold though that is, it works just as well to their advantage- if not more so, than Lee’s control ever did. No longer quite so naive and gullible as she once was, in no small part thanks to the horrors she has already witnessed- multiple zombies feasting, cannibalism, and much, much more, Clementine finally stands on her own, mostly without the support of a father-like figure, and fights for herself and her new-found companions. It’s good to see that she can be her own person, small though she may seem, and a larger than life character in her own right. I can only hope, in a paternal type of way, that Telltale doesn’t have the guts to kill her off in the near future as well, though sadly I wouldn’t put it past them…

Players who purchase this particular episode are finally able to see what we’ve all been speculating deliriously about since the ending of season one and the hints added by 400 Days: just what Clem’s been up to and where she is at as well as how she is faring on her own. New and returning faces make appearances (two guesses who, on the returning side, as I am sure it has already been spoiled for you here or elsewhere), and new problems arise because of these and other encounters. The characters remain similarly shaped to the archetypes of the first seasons’ but also allow for some more room to grow and some more multifaceted growth and change in the ways they will interact with different players’ choices as well along the way. This only improves an already gripping and replayable experience, even at the expense of starting off virtually the same as many characters from last season (Larry, Kenny, etc). The plot twists and turns in some great ways- bringing to mind some of the highlights and most questionable moments of season one, while retaining the sense of despair (not always overwhelmingly so, but close), and seeming brutally realistic and fresh at the same time.

Some of the new characters aren’t as accepting as others of Clem or other travelers and survivors they come across, but with time, that is made a little more clear- and may be made more so in the future as well. I did like that, while some seem to be cut from the same mold as characters from season one in more ways than one, they aren’t direct copies as there is a lot different and broader array of folks this time around- from pregnant women on. Ironically, instead of pitying this particular pregnant woman, I disliked her the most initially of the new group Clementine interacts with, hormones or not- her actions were just plain unacceptable at times, and cruel to boot. Most of the more action-packed moments are recycled from season one, though in different tropes and settings thanks to Clem’s journey made between seasons as well. Killing zombies, attacking survivors, talking to the more unstable members of the cast, and scavenging for supplies make up the bulk of the non-story related gameplay. Because of Clementine’s vulnerability and youth, she is both gifted with the ability to appeal to older folks more readily at times, and also at their mercy when it comes to being trusted with weapons and defending herself. Not that she’s as gung-ho about murdering folks as the borderline sociopath Carl is becoming, but you catch my drift I see…

There’s a little bit more riding on your (rather, Clem’s) shoulders this time around, as- instead of further developing Lee’s mysterious character, you are deciding just how Clementine is going to grow up, and whether she’s going to be a cold, calculating character, or a respectable survivor. It’s good to vary your tactics in speech however, and not follow one complete path, as Telltale realistically weaves a narrative where it is impossible to feel satisfied with every choice and to always choose one response type each time. No matter which direction you go- sassy or polite to your elders and peers, they will react mostly to your looks and age more so than your experience- though in the apocalypse, ironically enough you have the same or more so even than the adults in your group. Thankfully, one of the biggest sticking points of the first season has been improved, though not completely remedied and fixed- by which I am of course referring to the action sequences. These feel a little bit more fluid, and take their cues from the successful action of The Wolf Among Us this time around, instead of the first season’s brand of button pushing. As a small girl, it is unrealistic to be able to force your way out of situations, so most encounters are made more harrowing by the fact that you must constantly be on your guard and ready to flee from your attackers. Oh, and don’t think that just because Clem is a poor little girl in the apocalypse means the punches are pulled either, as you can get her killed just as easily- if not more so than Lee, and it is ten times worse to observe the pains she has to go through just to survive as well. At least she still has her hands for now though…

Aside from a few smaller moments that have obviously been remembered, Telltale is mostly tight lipped in this first episode in regards to your consequences and decisions carrying over from last season’s episodes, however, that only leaves more room for what comes later on in this season- so I’m not too disappointed as of yet. I’m more interested in seeing what the future holds for Clem and her companions than dwelling on the bloodstained past as it is. New obstacles and foes are on the horizon and are slowly being discovered, and I loved that thus far while many questions have been somewhat or totally answered, others are just now rearing their ugly little heads as well in classic The Walking Dead form. We may never know why the zombie apocalypse happened in the first place, but hey- some things just never change anyways… The biggest letdown and simultaneously interesting point is that the first episode of this second season relies a little too much on the foundations set by the successful first one, without having as much to spread its own wings as a result. However, it does usher in new faces and new content, and therefore is a success in my mind regardless of score due to this.

At the very least, being able to see things from a fresh, younger perspective keeps this otherwise overly similar moments more tense, exciting, and new- even if they are inevitably cut from virtually the same seasonal cloth as the first encounters. I’m loving that it’s still The Walking Dead, it’s still quite up in the air and unsure just who will live and die, and it’s still as tense as ever though. That’s all a fan can ask for. I am also equally eager to see and getting ready to cringe at just what is going to continue to happen to Clem especially in the coming episodes, and just how dark these days might get as well…

Concept: Take control of the darling Clementine this time around, with no Lee to save you or otherwise spare you from the horrible reality that is the zombie apocalypse from the mind of Robert Kirkman and the folks at Telltale weaving this new tale.

Graphics: The dark tone, yet comic look is much the same as the original season and the 400 Days episode without much change aside from some lighting and angled effects.

Sound: The tense and dreary tones continue to inspire and instill fear and anxiety in the hearts of even the most ready zombie apocalypse survivors.

Playability: The controls work a little bit better in action sequences, but are largely the same as their season one counterparts in handling and layout.

Entertainment: Although whether or not it is entertainment or moral torture is not clear, even now, the captivating world and continued cast of colorful characters astounds.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Helpful Hint of the Day (HHOTD) #1

Halo CE: Anniversary | “Leave it Where it Lay” Achievement | (c) RC Master | Microsoft/343/Bungie Assets from Halo CE: Anniversary

Tagged , ,

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim- Legendary Edition Review

[As Read on GIO.]

This comprehensive review is intended to serve as a sort of product ‘buying guide” as well as an actual review for the game and content in question. If you waited all this time, holding off on buying Bethesda’s epic title so that you could pick up the essentially Game of the Year version with all the side content included, then you’re in luck. The Legendary Edition is certainly for you. In this lengthy review, I will first review the main game itself, and then break the side content down into the three major downloadable packs it is split up across- Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. I will give you essentially four reviews in one, and show you just why I think this comprehensive title is so close to a perfect score in terms of quality and entertainment that it just kills me to only give it that 9.75 out of 10. However, as has been noted for the past two years since its initial release, the title is not without its occasional hiccups, so I’ve been more than fair with my appropriate scoring I believe. I hope you will enjoy this review, especially since I once tried to peddle my wares through my Hearthfire, and Dragonborn reviews that were never actually posted due to technical difficulties. If you were wondering, as stand alone content goes, I gave Dawnguard an 8.25, Hearthfire a 7.0, and Dragonborn an 8.5 out of 10. Without further delay, I will begin my main title overview and review.

♦♦♦

I, for one, still hold a dear place in my heart for The Elder Scrolls IV saga of side and main content, so it only makes sense that I would feel the same for its bigger, more ambitious brother as well. Skyrim is truly a modern role-playing game in its very essence and nature. From the now regenerating health to the graphics and massive world, it not only dwarfs Oblivion in nature and story at times, but it sheds the archaic RPG skin for a newer, shinier, and finer winter pelt. Skyrim keeps what works, ditches what little doesn’t, and evolves the formula beyond what my wildest dreams could’ve hoped for prior to its release. Do not be deterred by the fact that Skyrim’s beginning is eerily reminiscent of that of Oblivion’s- what with being a prisoner and escaping and all. Without ruining entirely too much, a large dose of irony tinging on the comical/dramatic mixes in with the beginning, as your character- the Dovahkiin, escapes thanks largely to his biggest enemy of all: the dragon(s). Ironic, no? One second, you’re a political prisoner of sorts, about to meet an unruly end, and the next you’re being chased by a fire-breathing behemoth through snaking, winding passages. Certainly an explosive introductory sequence if there ever was one.

The beginning of such a great game is heavily downplayed by various technical and graphical and narrative issues that mar the first few moments, but don’t let this stop you from heartily enjoying yourself for hundreds of hours to come. Once you take your first few baby steps, things get a lot better and improve tenfold easily. It is this conversion of sorts- this moment where you go from mundane prisoner to escapee, that makes your transition and adventure truly magnificent to marvel and look back upon later on in the game’s waning moments, when you’ve exhausted all content and wish to start anew. After these initial missteps, Skyrim really finds itself, just as you will, once you’ve experienced what it has to offer and “drank the kool aid” so to speak. I would definitely compare your emergence into Skyrim’s snowy peaks and beautiful world to your baptism in Bioshock Infinite, and that of a real baptism- were it to be as invigorating and magnificent in that exact moment as well. It’s just one of those amazing, epic moments in gaming that go beyond compare, truly. In this way, the surrounding environment and its character, allure, and facets, are just as big players in Skyrim’s story as any other characters are- lack of speaking parts aside.

Skyrim’s graphics and landscapes combine to create a mystifying sense that you simultaneously are and aren’t in some far off, fantastic land. Whereas Morrowind’s landscapes were for the most part clearly steeped in fantasy, and the nether realms of Oblivion’s namesake areas were demonic in origin, for the most part, Skyrim looks…well, normal (from a  wilderness perspective). This is not a complaint at all, but rather a compliment of the highest order. Skyrim balances its elements of fantasy and realism by crafting a truly immersing and beautiful environment, while filling it with mythical and fantastical creatures ranging from giant ice trolls to dragons and imps. Exploring this realm and the regions it is comprised of adds a sense of true discovery with each newfound location and secrets to be had at each turn. Whether you turn from the main quests to the side content to be had at each turn, or you first follow the main pathway to its completion- there is plenty of exploration and roaming to be done in the land of dragons, and it is completely worthwhile at each and every turn. You will occasionally encounter a glitch or two along the way, and while they may momentarily break your experience in terms of enrichment and realism- you will soon get over it and be on your merry way again, hacking and slashing away or sneaking about. Combined with the environment itself, another great selling point in Skyrim’s world is that it actually feels and looks alive- from the bustling settlements to the rich and varied wildlife to be found out and about.

Speaking of content, it is truly amazing how fast you can rack up an unsightly amount of quests to complete- side or main or otherwise, and how quickly you will become obsessed with trying to whittle them down to fewer in numbers, as each outdoes the last it seems. Try as you might to avoid opening new quests while your backlog is gigantic, you’re bound to accidentally talk to the right character and either progress further along your current quest or start a new one as well. Thankfully, this plethora of content keeps the game more than alive enough for even the most obsessive compulsive gamer who tries his or her hardest to complete the game to one hundred percent. When you truly do attain that lofty goal however, you should rest a little bit on your laurels before starting over again- it’s hard enough to get through once, after all. You can have over one hundred open quests going at one time, and still be discovering new areas of Skyrim, and being given new quests and goals as well. It’s truly astounding that not only the world, but the story is this large in breadth- easily dwarfing that of Oblivion’s, as many quests as it may have had as well. Just the diversity of quests here is astounding as well, as you have your expected fetch quests and combat trials, as well as several that I hadn’t really seen a quest akin to in other role-playing games. Bethesda’s really done well by players in this respect.

Delving into the backstory, side stories, and main story of Skyrim’s expansion of the Elder Scrolls universe is really something, and not something to be taken lightly- as time consumption goes anyway. Without ruining much, although I suspect it has already been more than ruined for those of you who haven’t yet played the game yourself, Skyrim’s main conflict is well thought out, and every book, non-playable character, and side story fleshes out and branches out from it as the story drives on. I was truly impressed by the sheer level of polish with the writing, and the amount of world history as well. Skyrim is much more unique and believable than the previous titles in the series, and definitely a testament of the power of imagination in role-playing games. It might not necessarily be my favorite game out there, or even my favorite or most revered RPG- but it’s certainly high up on that list for a good many reasons. From the new look at the Dark Brotherhood to the Grey Beards, each faction and guild or group of clandestine murderers is truly immersing and interesting to look at and complete quests for, across several playthroughs, or in one where you don’t choose too many over the others. Many story threads will lead you to new and more impressive places, or perhaps to lower and more hidden ones- showcasing the impressively varied dungeon designs of the game. The puzzles, the traps, and the numerous exits make an easily accessible and enjoyable dungeoneering format as well for players to experience without annoying backtracking and escaping- for the most part.

You may go into the game with a specific character skillset or build in mind, but trust me- you don’t really know what you’re going to want until you’ve experience a little bit of this and a little bit of that, from weapons focuses to spells ones. There are benefits to each of the major classes and ways to play the game, but the heavy focus on spells and variety of ‘schools’ for you to focus your abilities on make for a thoroughly impressive and addicting casting design. Whether your blasting lightning out of one palm or flames out of both, it feels empowering, awesome, and is definitely a strategic necessity against many tricky enemies. Your Dovahkiin isn’t just limited to casting spells however- they can learn new spoken shouts and words of power, which act in three parts to bring various explosive effects to rear against your foes. Simply yell, and you could send your enemy flying off of a cliff and to his death- it’s amazing, ridiculous, and totally needed in the next Fallout games as well (if that were possible to implement). Experimentation is strongly encouraged when deciding whether to wield a spell set and a weapon, or two spells in each palm, or some other dreaded combination of the two. Thanks to implemented perks, that have always worked well in the past for the Fallout series, you can experiment with more skill sets than you most likely have in the past- instead of feeling obligated to staying true to whatever class you chose at the beginning of the game. Unlike the often confusing menus of Oblivion and other role-playing games, Skyrim’s simplified and streamlined menus are user-friendly and handle weapon and spell and inventory management perfectly. Sure, it can be time-consuming and a pain sometimes, and you might find yourself short on funds or heavy on inventory with nobody to sell to, but it’s still worlds better than most other titles.

I wouldn’t say that Skyrim’s combat is revolutionary by any means, but it is definitely a well-thought out step above that of previous Elder Scrolls games in more ways than one. It is harder to exploit, making it much more of a challenge, but it is also much more realistic and enjoyable as well. Your shields are much more help and actually save you, unlike other role-playing games where they seem to be more of a hindrance than a help, and you can cast healing spells or attacking curses at the same time as you swing your sword or mace. It is in the small ways that the multitasking and combat required skill helps to make the experience invigorating and worth the exploration for experience. Skyrim also does a good job of balancing enemies with your current level as you progress through the game, slowly getting more difficult to conquer, but never really becoming impossible with the right equipment or tools. As terrifying as they are to behold when on rampage, dragons are relatively easy to strike down once you’ve gotten the hang of things, and the rush when doing so only dwindles when you’ve done it several hundred times later on. Don’t think taking out dragons will be easy forever though, because aptly named elder dragons and larger foes come along later on to rain on your parade, and make combat much more difficult than before- but not unbearable. Also, you can feel free to change the difficulty at any time as well, ranging from easy to insane, with no change in game experience or gains.

Skyrim’s most recognizable drawback and issue is simply its amount of bugs, which rival almost the size of its open world. It’s launch was a lot more glitchy than it currently is, with many patches under its belt now, but it still has more than its fair share of bugs- ranging from minor to slightly more major across consoles and computers. Some of these glitches are more comedic than annoying, which is a relief when thinking back upon some of Oblivion’s worst, most villainous glitches and their malicious effects. For the most part, these issues don’t really detract too much from the title’s allure or accomplishments, as the sales figures to date have shown. As much as you might not believe it, believe me when I say the game can truly be addicting and be the only game you will play for hundreds, nearly a thousand hours, if you really get into it. Sometimes, for several hours you won’t even really accomplish much in terms of quests, and simply roam the world- exploring and enjoying the experience. It’s a magnificent world to explore as well, which only adds to the enjoyment.

♦♦♦

Dawnguard

(As Written in My Previous Review…)

Although its already been firmly established for the most part, Dawnguard is pretty much a pack solely created to give players who’ve already exhausted every other venue of Skyrim’s features another chance to play the game, and some new missions and quests to go along with new weapons, armor, forms, etc. Is it really any wonder then why so many people decided to pick up either a copy of Skyrim because they hadn’t and wanted to see what the hype was all about, or Dawnguard for various reasons pertaining solely to Skyrim? No, it’s really not- as even for a DLC, which doesn’t require as fine a polish as the game it was created for, Dawnguard still shows its cards only when it is absolutely necessary- and keeps players enthralled unto the very end, and even past the threshold of death’s cloak and resurrection…

Similar to many RPG games, many of Bethesda’s own games, and a few plotlines within Skyrim itself- Dawnguard focuses mainly on two warring racing for the duration of the quest and its main subcategories. On one side of the battlefield, you have the olden Dawnguard- or the vampire slayers of their time. On the other, you have the undead who’s soulless entities unscupulously feed upon the warriors and weak of the land without any prejudice. Blood is blood, at least that much both sides can agree upon- for different matters. While the Dawnguard are trying to prevent the coming scourge, the vampires however, wish for eternal night- so as to feed whenever they wish, ina world where there is absolutely no escape from your doom.

From each side, you will learn new skills and gain access to both weaponry and talents, such as crossbows, summoning trolls to your side in your defense and to repel intruders, the powers of a vampire lord, or new and different transformations- whether you be a werewolf or a vampire, or some sort of sick hybrid somehow. Multiple plotlines, a few sidequests, and more details bound together only serve to magnify and multiply the outcomes and collateral that come along with your greater responsibilities, or lack thereof. If you are expecting completely different locales however, you’ll be a tad bit disappointed- as most of the gothic areas look about the same later on, and each more macabre than the  last.

While the perks and the associated skill trees that come with them are marvelous and innovative yet, and choosing whether to magnify your werewolf side or vampire side if you are one or the other- truthfully, even with all of the abilities provided to you at these levels, it is still a bit disappointing at times. This is mainly because of the same annoying camera angle for transforming makes an appearance here, which is even more annoying now due to the fact that your form changes often to monstrous sizes- making for an even worse time in a fight with tiny enemies in front of you. Third person playing has never been Bethesda’s strong suit in their games such as Skyrim, and it sorely shows here once more. It’s a shame they always want to try to stick it back in however, even though it’s far from game-breaking- it’s still quite a petty annoyance to have to deal with. The mechanics for transformation during battle kind of throw things off as well, as enemies slice away at you as you take seconds to fully transform- and you are unable to do anything but cringe away from them as they do so, until you can easily wreak havoc upon them when you are done. Locomotion gets a bit tedious in these forms as well, as you must constantly switch back and forth in order to proceed into various locations for optimized effects.

Aside from such minor issues however, the addition of new enemies- not simply limited to the vampiric type, new weapons, and new areas of all shapes and size make for a wonderful and mostly enjoyable time. Sure, on a full run-through, you could only eeke out about twelve hours worth of gameplay- but think of the numerous and striking choices facing you, the multiple quest endings, and more that could’ve played out differently. With this one DLC, Bethesda has all but ensured that you will play for at least another thirty hours or so if you enjoyed Dawnguard- mainly because you’ll want to see things from all of the offered perspectives, if nothing else… This is simply another grand quest to add to the smelting pot, and not a terrible one at that.”

♦♦♦

Hearthfire

This particular part of my comprehensive review will no doubt be the shortest, as it centers on the downloadable content with the least amount of true substance aside from its two major gimmicks and additions: adoption and architectural construction. Hearthfire allows you to purchase land, build your own houses, libraries, greenhouses, and castles upon it, and then to adopt your very own children as well. You can also glean a little bit more information about the world history that is everchanging and going on about you throughout Hearthfire, however, it is of much less consequence than the other downloadable content, and the weakest link in the trio unless you are just desperate for a few more quests and the ability to forge and craft your own place to live, that relatively encompasses all you’ve wanted thus far. Aside from that, and a well-thought out and actually quite good crafting process, Hearthfire is accurately priced on its own, and really doesn’t offer much more in the way of substance.

♦♦♦

Dragonborn

 

Dragonborn is undoubtedly the best of the three downloadable content additions to Skyrim’s already massive world, not just because it branches out and leaves for Morrowind’s coastal regions, but because it has the best story and dwarfs that of Dawnguard with its expansive upgrades and skills. New armor, weapons, foes, spells, shouts, skills, and the new world of Solstheim make for a new experience and a truly reinvigorating expansion for an otherwise old and possibly (by this point in) boring game. Round this off by introducing the very first dragonborn, and forcing you to fight him- all the while delving into the Daedric realms of Oblivion-like Apocrypha, and you’ve sure gotten yourself a pretty good deal for your money. Thankfully, all of this is included with the Legendary Edition free of extra charge. Lucky you.

Apocrypha boasts tentacled, slimy, floating creatures and a literally always-moving world to go with its demonic origins and wealth of knowledge to be found. The world reminds me of the movie Labrynth, as it continually pushes and pulls you deeper and deeper, and you begin to question if you are truly lost or just enjoying yourself. Apocrypha looks like something out of a Lovecraftian story, but Morrowind’s island known as Solstheim ranges from giant mushrooms to villages to snowy peaks (later, and back in Skyrim of course as well) in a greater, more diverse landscape. Diving into Apocrypha to battle or contend with Hermaeus Mora is not only eye opening, but quite interesting to behold as well. However, as bad as that Daedric Prince may seem, the real bad guy in the equation is Miraak- first of the dragonborn.

The story itself may lack in some areas, but these two characters alone more than make up for it with their overly shown personalities and vastly different views on the problems you face. Whereas you may be disgusted with the prince of knowledge and power, he is a much more appealing character than the power-hungry, ambitious Miraak. Your final battle with Miraak may seem like a little bit of a letdown at the time, but it is only truly because you’ve leveled up so far to this point that it is hard for him to deal with you- especially with your newfound powers to be used once you set foot in Solstheim. Several new shouts and weapons can be found in Solstheim such as the Dragon Aspect and Bend Will shouts, which allow you to take on the armor/power of a dragon for a day, and to tame dragons and ride them, respectively.

Dragon Aspect can only be used once per day, but it lasts for a long while, and is well worth it- especially since you have an accelerated clock anyway. It takes the form of a dragon-like armor, and increases your melee and shout damage bonuses over time. Playing the earlier moments of Skyrim with this invaluable shout make things a whole lot easier as well, if you choose to do so by completing or attempting Dragonborn partly through the game’s main quest.Bend Will’s tiered layout is also extremely helpful- working sort of like the classic Animal Friend perk from the Fallout series (current generation titles). With the first word, you can call animals to your aid and control them; with the second, you can hold mortal NPCs as your thralls and do much the same; and with the third you can tame and ride dragons. You don’t control the dragons, but you tell them where to pick you up and drop you off, which is cool enough.

Essentially, Bend Will makes you a Jedi Knight, and Dragon Aspect makes you feel like more of a Dragonborn than ever before. While dragon riding is an honorable attempt, it works rarely, and looks terrible in all its glitchy majesty on the screen. Thankfully you don’t have much need to use that part of the shout often. Overall, Dragonborn is pretty impressive as extra content goes, despite some flawed mechanics. The dungeons are even more inventive than those of the main game, the new adversaries are amazing to behold and battle, and the quest line is way too much fun to do- in addition to open exploration.

♦♦♦

Well, that’s that then. That’s my ultra-comprehensive review of Skyrim’s Legendary Edition. I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and that the several reviews in one have been incredibly helpful, especially as the holiday season draws ever nearer. Now, I will give you the final, overall rundown of things…

Concept: Pack the best content that Skyrim has to offer in one, slightly down-priced package, rivaled only by the Elder Scrolls Anthology that just recently released for PC gamers to enjoy for the next seventy years.

Graphics: Despite occasional hiccups that often accompany large, expansive games, Skyrim has some of the best graphics out there, and is certainly the best that the Elder Scrolls series has yet to have seen to this day.

Sound: From the background noises such as dragon roars and wind, to the haunting melodies and soundtracks, Skyrim’s far reaches have plenty of music to accompany them, and boast a hearty offering in this category as well.

Playability: The game handles well in almost every scenario, with only a few minor inconveniences, mainly to be had in the Dragonborn downloadable content that is included, thanks to the semi-failed dragon riding gimmick that is present and hardly if ever works as intended or painlessly.

Entertainment: I cannot stress how entertaining this game is to play through again and again. In one playthorugh alone, you can rack up easily over five hundred hours and still not have found every location or completed every single quest. That is what is really impressive to me. If it was possible to get over three hundred hours in Oblivion and not find everything, then it is totally realistic to accumulate one thousand here and not have everything collected or discovered in your world.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 9.75

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