Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bark: An elegant facial hair, from a more civilised age

Movember is coming to a close, and it's time to get the begging bowl out.

Project Werewolf is progressing nicely (since I don't quite have the chops for a full-on Captain Price SAS handlebar), and I'd like to direct everyone to my MoSpace page if they would care to donate a little money to a really good cause.

My Mo is much more fearsomely bushy than last year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Byte: For the love of Lydia

It seems like I'm not the only one with a soft spot for Skyrim's Lydia. Herr Walker's tragic account of her untimely demise in his game is both touching, yet mildly disturbing.

John, my shield-brother, I feel your pain. And then I reach for the reload button.

Lydia, my love, I would never let such a terrible thing happen to you... not after all the effort and expense I went to enchanting your weapons and armour...

Byte: Don't cross the memes!

I suppose this was inevitable, given all the Chuck Norris jokes that happen in the General and Trade channels.

Chuck Norris vs. WoW - the advert.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Byte: Skyrim thoughts

Holy crap, this game is good. (Here be spoilers, by the way...)

I have to admit, I'd been tempted to wait until the price dropped to £20 or so before getting it, but I'm glad I went for the Day One purchase. I liked Oblivion quite a lot, but I was only ever really able to play it by avoiding levelling up like the plague, so to avoid the spectacularly broken auto-scaling system that levelled up enemies to keep you "challenged" - that is, dead at the slightlest provocation. Skyrim is much more like Fallout 3, in that if you go too far off the beaten track, there'll be a giant or something ready to hand your head back to you on a platter, but if you follow some kind of sensible progression, going through the main story and not straying too far into the spectacularly gorgeous wilderness, you should be okay for the most part.

But I'm rambling already. I suppose I should start at the beginning. If you've played Morrowind and Oblivion, it's probably not going to come as a surprise to find out that you start out the game as a prisoner. You're just about to get executed (for crossing the border into Skyrim at an inopportune time and walking into a bit of local trouble and being mistaken for a rebel) when suddenly a big, scaly deus ex machina turns up and starts gobbing fire over the pesky Legion guards that were (quite literally) about to knock your block off. In the confusion, you get to escape, notionally picking a side for who's going to walk you through the tutorial quest. In the opening sequence, the first thing that strikes you is just how beautiful the game is. The character animations (especially the lip-sync) is a whole lot more naturalistic compared to Oblivion, and the dragon is fearsomely impressive. But more on dragons later. The voice acting is improved, too, though a lot of NPCs do tend to run out of new lines of dialogue all too quickly.

Once you escape Helgen and get out into Skyrim proper, it's the sheer scale of the game that takes your breath away. Oblivion was pretty, and so was Fallout 3 in a post-apocalyptic kind of way, but Skyrim is a whole order of magnitude prettier. If you see a mountain on the horizon, you can walk there (at least in theory), but the standout feature for me, graphically, is the water. The rivers. The waterfalls. The streams in Whiterun. The lake outside Riften... The water effects in Skyrim are absolutely stunning. And the weather effects aren't bad, either. Snow. Fog. Rain. Mist. Blizzards on the top mountains. It's all there and just adds to the sense of immersion.

If you decided to follow the story quests rather than just play with the game world after finishing the tutorial, the first city you'll come to is Whiterun. You have to take a message to the local Jarl (the ruler of the city and local area) warning him about the dragon that smacked the shit out of Helgen, and obviously, the Jarl uses this as an opportunity to basically turn you into his latest dogsbody. Within a few quests, you'll be facing off with that very dragon with a few dozen local guardsmen to help. As set pieces go, it's pretty fucking spectacular. I was so taken aback I forgot to take screenshots. After this encounter, you get your first "Shout" and find out that you're "Dragonborn", meaning that you have a natural ability to speak the language of dragons, which obviously means you should immediately go forth and start killing them and stealing their souls. Well, okay then. If I must...

The greatest benefit of completing this quest is that the Jarl of Whiterun appoints you "Thane" of the city and assigns you Lydia, a "Housecarl", who I have been steadfastly trying to keep alive, given my terrible record in Fallout 3 with getting my companions and assistants killed. I'm really rather fond of Lydia, as she is tough, loyal, a good fighter, and very forgiving when I accidentally shoot her with an arrow or set her on fire with a spell. She still "carries my burdens" without complaint. (I really hope that's a euphemism, given that she has an "owned" bed in my - now fully furnished - house in Whiterun). She was vital in helping me defeat a dragon on the way up the 7000 steps to see the Greybeards at their base, conveniently placed on the top of a remote mountain (hence the 7000 steps - and no, I didn't count them, but it's a bloody long way). I think I may try to marry her. AND IN THE GAME! (*coughs*)

My character is now up to level 15, and is half decent with a bow, heavy armour and single-handed weapons. I'm also experimenting with dual-wielding destruction spells (perhaps an odd choice for someone primarily speccing as a Warrior). The Fallout 3 style Perks are a nice improvement to the levelling system compared to Oblivion. All skills contribute to you levelling up, so you can get to be a real all-rounder, being skilled in everything from Alchemy to Smithing or Lockpicking to Two-Handed Weapons and everything in-between.

I'm loving the game so far. It's not without the odd bug or glitch, but I've found it much more compelling than Oblivion. I can see myself playing this more than both Dragon Age games, and (according to Steam) I've sunk upwards of 200 hours into those. I could probably put 100 hours in Skyrim on just one character. It's vast, beautiful and utterly compelling - a perfect antidote to the scourge of the modern, military first person shooter. And thank Akatosh for that.