Posts tagged Skyrim
There were many things that happened in 2011, and for my own convenience, I have chosen the most awesomest of those things in narcissistic list form. Here are my choices for the best of TV, movies, books, podcasts, music, and games.
1. Breaking Bad
“I am the one who knocks!” Walter White growls to his wife. Though it appears he immediately regrets saying it, and perhaps doesn’t quite believe it himself, the primary arc of Breaking Bad season four is Walter’s horrifying transition into The One Who Knocks. It’s a direction the series has led throughout its run, but this year’s episodes showed Walter improvising madly, making heart-stopping decisions that season one Walter likely would have never even considered. As Walter’s pride and self-delusion reach an all-time peak, his relationship with Jesse bottoms out in a violent altercation, his wife secretly prepares herself for a life without him, and his brother-in-law is sniffing dangerously at the perimeter of the fortress he has built of lies and murder. And, in a show that prides itself on shocking moments, one of the final shots of the season (showing the ultimate fate of Gus Fring) is one of the most gruesomely memorable in television history. Of course, the show earns those shocks through its careful, logical exposition, meticulous attention to character detail, and emotional rawness. Breaking Bad still has 16 final episodes to go, and if they can somehow maintain the quality of what has come before, I have no doubt that Breaking Bad will not only be remembered as one of the greatest works of televised fiction ever made, but one of the defining works of art of a generation.
2. Parks and Recreation
If Breaking Bad is pure adrenaline, then Parks and Recreation is pure joy. In its first two seasons, P&R was a sporadically funny show that seemed to be striving not to be “The Office with Amy Poehler”. Once it returned from a long hiatus for its third season, the show found its voice and caught fire, going on a run of incredibly hilarious and touching episodes without a misfire in the bunch. This year, P&R gave us the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness, Rob Lowe commanding himself to “stop pooping”, Adam Scott’s hilarious on-camera meltdown during the Pawnee harvest festival media blitz, Andy and April’s amazing wedding episode (has any other show ever had a good, let alone great wedding episode?), drunken revelry at the Snakehole Lounge, and, of course, everyone’s favorite tiny horse, Li’l Sebastian (R.I.P.). Parks and Recreation currently has the best cast and the best comedy writers living inside my teevee.
3. Portal 2
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfectly executed video game, but Portal 2 comes pretty damn close. I am famously impatient with puzzle games, yet I managed to play through both the single player and multiplayer campaigns of Portal 2 without once referencing a walkthrough, which is pretty much unheard of. The game’s puzzles are challenging (moreso in the fiendishly difficult multiplayer levels), but I managed to work through all of them with heavy experimentation and logical (and creatively illogical) thinking. It also helps that the non-game elements of Portal 2 are ferociously entertaining, mostly due to the hilarious voiceover performances and the story that is cleverly told by moving through the game’s varied and massive environments. This is one of the most successful fusions of gameplay and storytelling I’ve ever experienced.
4. The Tobolowsky Files
I didn’t know it until I started listening to his highly addicting podcast, but Stephen Tobolowsky is one of my heroes. A recognizable “Hey, it’s that guy!” journeyman actor who has played every role from Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day to Shakespeare to Butt-crack Plumber, Tobolowsky is also a raconteur who tells riveting stories from his varied life. Did you know that Tobolowsky is indirectly responsible for how the band Radiohead got its name? (He tells the story in episode 44.) Or that he was in a long, tumultuous relationship with a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright? While he tells a number of funny and entertaining tales of his acting adventures, what truly drives The Tobolowsky Files are his more personal reflections, of his family, his childhood, and his recent struggles with a broken neck and heart surgery. All of it is eloquently told by a master narrator with a genuine, emotional resonance.
5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Okay, I got the crazy idea to write 11 days of posts about this one game, so I think I’ve said just about everything I could possibly say about Skyrim. Now that the game is released and I’ve actually sunk several dozen hours into this thing, it is unquestionably a masterpiece. While it doesn’t have the narrative drive of Bioware RPGs (such as the Dragon Age series), the non-linear nature of Skyrim allows you to essentially create your own story as it is happening. This kind of open-ended gameplay comes with a number of technical and role-playing challenges, this is the best example of “sandbox” gaming I have ever played, a beautifully rendered and hellaciously fun experience.Share on Facebook
But seriously, Skyrim is a fantastic game from top to bottom. It easily meets my expectations as a deep and superb role-playing experience, and the critical hype is entirely justified.
Skyrim is, unquestionably, an Elder Scrolls game, and if you played Morrowind or Oblivion, much of what you will find here is familiar: a vast, utterly explorable world you can discover at your own pace and in any order you want, a variety of playing styles (melee, sneaky, conjurer, spell-thrower) that can be mixed and matched as you see fit, and an almost overwhelming sense of choice. Each evening as my character steps out of his modest home in Whiterun, he can go just about anywhere and do anything from picking flowers to ripping the souls out of mudcrabs to investigating his role as dragonborn, savior of the world or some shit like that.
The game looks fantastic on my year-old PC at High settings. The character models are worlds better than they were in Oblivion. Gone are the NPC Shrek-faces, the population of Skyrim look believable as north-dwelling people. My dude is an Argonian, and so far, I haven’t met a single other Argonian in the entire game, and only one Khajiit (apparently, lizards and cats are not fond of snow).
So far, Zeedu the mage has been fairly helpful. I’ve played hide and seek with children, helped people deliver their crap to neighboring towns, and haven’t murdered a single person who didn’t have it coming. I’ve even avoided doing much stealing, as my dude wants to prove he is the most powerful being in Skyrim because of his innate awesomeness, not because he has sticky fingers.
Oh yeah, and I’ve taken down several dragons. A couple of them took a few tries, but the fights were exactly what boss battles should be: challenging, but not tossing-my-monitor-out-the-window-difficult.
I’ve run into a few bugs, but nothing catastrophic. I’ve had a few crashes to desktop and at one point my character had an arrow stuck in his side that I could not get rid of (eventually I had to find a kludgy fix on the web that required me to use console commands). One rather amusing bug occurred when my Argonian approached a camp of giants. He had no malice in his heart, but the giants nevertheless took exception to his presence, and killed my dude with a single swing of a club that sent him hurtling hundreds of feet into the air. Had I not reloaded, my Argonian would likely be orbiting Neptune by now.
The story is your typical “you must save the world, but first can you clear out that cave of cow-eating trolls” mishmash, but honestly, the appeal of an Elder Scrolls game is that you essentially get to create your own adventure, picking and choosing how you want to interact with the immense and beautiful world.
The main problem I have with Skyrim at this point is a highly viable alternative for my gaming attention that arrives in a couple of weeks: Star Wars The Old Republic. I played the beta this past weekend, and found it to be extremely addicting. I am a sucker for the Bioware formula, and adding compelling characterizations to the WoW whack-a-mole style will be very appealing to me, for a while at least.Share on Facebook
Aspect of Anticipated Awesomeness #2: Awww, You Shouldn’t Have
I’ve always wondered about the incestuous relationship between gaming websites and game publishers.
Websites that exclusively report news and previews about games need the publishers to advertise on their sites, while the publishers need those sites to give their games a good review to promote more sales. I asked a friend of mine who works for a game developer about this issue, and he says that much of it is politics. Many journalists (note that I am saying “many”, not “all”) who write reviews for gaming websites are freelancers who want to work in the game industry, and believe that giving a favorable review when it is expected of them will get them noticed by the right people.
As of this afternoon, Skyrim is getting some ridiculously good reviews. It currently holds a score of 96 out of 100 on Metacritic, which is absurdly high, and a number of the most visible game sites have posted slobbering raves, including Gamespot, IGN, PC Gamer, and The Escapist. Now, it is entirely possible that Skyrim really is that good (and I hope it is, since I’ve dedicated 11 days of blogging to it), but at what point do the compliments start to sound insincere?
Earlier this year I purchased a game solely based on glowing reviews. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings currently has a very high score of 88 on Metacritic, and many game sites told me that any RPG fan should play it. Well, I was suckered in, I bought the game and it didn’t take long for me to realize I’d been had. No, I didn’t play the first Witcher game, so I expected to be a bit lost in the story, but the game made no attempt to explain who any of these people were, and even the internal logic of the plot outside of the larger game world made no sense. The combat was sluggish and non-responsive. Drinking a potion meant having to sit down out of combat, watch a tedious and pointless animation, and comb through an incomprehensible menu system to figure out what any of these elixirs did. The inventory UI was a maddening maze and the graphics were glitchy. Ultimately, I gave up on the game for two reasons: 1) I realized that all I did while playing it was curse, out loud, repeatedly, and 2) after finally finishing an infuriating and utterly illogical boss fight, I realized that my character’s sword had vanished for no apparent reason.
So, no, I don’t trust game reviews anymore, not after the Witcher 2 boondoggle. Whether the reviews for Skyrim, which are even more universally redonkulous, turn out to be accurate, I shall find out tomorrow.Share on Facebook
In preparation for the 11/11/11 release of Skyrim, I am highlighting one aspect of the game each day until it arrives so I can stop trying to come up with these little introductions for each post. Oy, what was I thinking?
Aspect of Anticipated Awesomeness #3: Creationism
For Skyrim, Bethesda designed a brand-new technology engine that they are calling the Creation Engine. Though it is based on the engine that was used for Oblivion and Fallout 3, the Creation Engine will give the game instantly recognizable improvements in graphical detail, non-player character AI, the questing system, and more.
Gone is the creepy, insta-zoom death stare from NPCs featured in both Oblivion and Fallout 3, conversations will be far more organic in Skyrim. Your character will be able to develop friendships that will affect people’s attitudes toward you, and you can even decide to get married (as far as I know, cross-species mating is allowed in Skyrim, but not same-gender marriage, making that aspect of the game seem more like The Elder Scrolls: Alabama).
One of the great advantages pen-and-paper roleplaying games will always have over video games is the human ability to create an adventure story in real-time, with believable interactions and consequences. It appears that Skyrim wants to be a step forward in that regard, dynamically changing the goals and destinations for quests based on your character’s previous actions.
Even the way that the Creation Engine renders snowfall is highly detailed, as snow will actually accumulate in real time, rather than merely being a static texture drawn on the ground. If my character stands still in a storm, will snow pile up on his head? I intend to find out.
This highly detailed article gives an excellent overview of the technological advancements used in this highly ambitious game.
Also, on Day 7 of this series, I mentioned Skyrim is bucking the current industry trend, which is moving more towards smaller, cheaper games that can sell profitably without huge development budgets. Well, today Joystiq released an article where a Bethesda VP discusses this exact issue. I won’t say that Joystiq stole my idea, but I will say this: Joystiq stole my idea.Share on Facebook
In preparation for the 11/11/11 release of Skyrim, I am highlighting one aspect of the game each day until it arrives so I can be a hired murderer, a career choice only slightly less repugnant than blogger.
Aspect of Anticipated Awesomeness #4: The Dark Brotherhood
The most memorable series of quests from the last Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, was the Dark Brotherhood. They are a secret group of heartless assassins that will agree to kill pretty much anyone for a price. Besides being killers for hire, the Dark Brotherhood are also a dark cult who worship an avatar of death. To even open up this quest chain in the game, your character must murder any innocent person, after which one of the Dark Brotherhood’s envoys visits you and offers membership after completing a series of tasks, all of which involve copious stabbing.
In Oblivion, the Dark Brotherhood had a secret headquarters your character could roam around once they reached membership status. What I found interesting is that this band of homicidal psychopaths would treat fellow members with great respect, and even referred to each other as “family”. Eventually, the quest chain would lead your character to face a truly horrible choice, one that actually made me think deeply about the moral ramifications of what I would decide to do, an experience I have rarely had in any game.
From what I understand, the Dark Brotherhood is back in Skyrim, and apparently, your character can once again join their murderous ranks. I have purposely been avoiding spoilers about their role in the game (and believe me, those spoilers are out there), and I hope to discover how to join them on my own without having to consult a game guide. Of course, this means is that the NPCs in Skyrim better watch what they say to my character. He will be more than willing to help children find their missing toys or assist little old ladies across the thoroughfare, but cranky townsfolk who are particularly rude or insulting may awake suddenly on the final night of their lives with a member of the Dark Brotherhood’s twisted “family” standing above them, dagger at their throat.Share on Facebook
In preparation for the 11/11/11 release of Skyrim, I am highlighting one aspect of the game each day until it arrives to make me feel guilty that I’m spending more time improving my game character than I am improving myself.
Aspect of Anticipated Awesomeness #5: Splendid Isolation
Like a lot of fans of Bioware’s excellent Mass Effect series, I was somewhat dismayed to read that the third and final installment of the Mass Effect trilogy is going to feature an extensive multiplayer element. The first two games were heavily story-based, single-player experiences that followed the epic journey of Commander Shepard and the team he assembles (and occasionally romances) to save the universe from universe-eating machines. From the beginning, Bioware has been vocal about keeping Shepard’s story as a trilogy, and while they may continue to create games in the dense and fascinating Mass Effect world (which is fine with me), Mass Effect 3 will be the end of Shepard’s story.
So it seems completely weird and counter-intuitive to suddenly introduce multiplayer for the final episode in this story. I am not opposed to multiplayer games, I played World of Warcraft for years and met some great people that I still keep in contact with off-line. I just think that single-player and multiplayer games are completely different animals that require different mechanics, development cycles, and storytelling methods, and trying to shoehorn one into the other mid-stream seems like a bad idea.
The Elder Scrolls series has been unapologetically single-player from the beginning, and remains so with Skyrim. The advantages to single-player gaming are abundant: the experience centers around the player character, and the story can be crafted very specifically to how they interact with the game’s world. When you need to stop playing for the night, the world freezes and waits patiently for you to return, picking up your adventure exactly where you left off. You don’t have to deal with the drama and ugliness of the multiplayer world, where you may be forced to interact with hordes of idiots using their anonymity to intentionally behave like racist, homophobic, griefing ass-weasels.
From a business point of view, I can see the advantage to going multiplayer. If your game requires a subscription to access (such as WoW or Rift), that’s a steady income stream that is constantly flowing in, rather than a single-player game where you only get a single purchase (if you’re lucky and people actually buy the game, rather than being thieving pricks that are stealing a pirate version). For multiplayer games that do not have an ongoing subscription, such as the upcoming Diablo 3 (or Mass Effect 3), you maintain an ongoing fan base that plays the game on an ongoing basis and will be more likely to purchase further content, plus there are players who have little interest in solo play and would rather pit themselves against human opponents.
I admire Bethesda for sticking to their guns and keeping Skyrim single-player. The business of gaming seems to be moving in the direction of Angry Birds and Farmville, and as PCs will likely vanish in the next few years to be entirely replaced by tablets and smartphones, the days of epic solo games like Skyrim are certainly numbered.Share on Facebook
In preparation for the 11/11/11 release of Skyrim, I am highlighting one aspect of the game each day until it arrives and makes my video card get off its lazy ass and work for a change.
Aspect of Anticipated Awesomeness #6: The Pretty
No matter which platform you choose (PC, Xbox, or PS3), Skyrim should be able to bring the pretty. (Screenshots stolen … er, courtesy of Gamespot.)
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In preparation for the 11/11/11 release of Skyrim, I am highlighting one aspect of the game each day until it arrives so I can pretend I’m a lizard. Well, more than I do normally.
Aspect of Anticipated Awesomeness #7: Argonians
The first decision you have to make in any Elder Scrolls game is which race you want to be. Typically, you have a choice between different kinds of human, a few varieties of elf, and a handful of beast races, such as orc or khajiit (cat people). My favorite, though, have always been the argonians.
The argonians are a reptilian/amphibian/humanoid mix that come from the southern marshlands. They usually have names like Ocheeva or Dar Jee, but sometimes give themselves more descriptive monikers, such as Hides-His-Eyes or, my favorite, Skink-in-Tree’s-Shade. They have a natural affinity for magic and stealth, have high resistance to disease, and can breathe underwater almost indefinitely. Argonians are cool.
I chose to be an argonian in Morrowind, the first Elder Scrolls game I ever played. I liked their design, they looked appropriately reptilian, but believable as a sentient race. They had a very lizard-like, skittish walk, and often spoke with a low, raspy hiss.
The character designs for Oblivion, on the other hand, was a major step backwards. Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck the designers were thinking when they came up with the new look for the argonians. They looked like pencil erasers that had been chewed on by a dog, with slitted, googly eyes that stared in random directions and this weird mouth that eschewed any relationship to a jaw line. All of the character designs in Oblivion were pretty awful, but the argonians looked especially ridiculous.
From what I’ve seen in advanced screenshots, the character designs for Skyrim are a vast improvement. Argonians no longer look like parade floats that are on the edge of bursting. They look more menacing than their Morrowind versions, and have tribal designs integrated more fluidly. The detailing on their horns and scales is impressive. And their eyes are back to being piercing and set back in their brow, and don’t look like ping pong balls glued to a boiled ham, like they did in Oblivion.
Now I need to come up with a name for my Skyrim argonian. How about Likes-Salty-Snacks? Or Scratches-Itchy-Toes?Share on Facebook