SKYRIM: DRAGONBORN DLC

Ever since Bethesda’s much anticipated release of Skyrim in 2011, one key question has been haunting our collective mind: “When are they going to let us fly a dragon?” Fast forward 2 years and it would appear that we have finally reached a compromise. Well, kind of…

The third DLC in the Skyrim roster, Dragonborn returns our chosen hero to the familiar, ash-soaked island of Solstheim – previously depicted in Morrowind‘s Bloodmoon expansion in 2003. On arrival it is discovered that the land has been plagued by a mysterious uprising of ash creatures and has fallen under the will of a second, ancient dragonborn: Miraak. Using a collection of new shouts and the arcane knowledge found within a set of powerful ‘Black Books’, Solstheim’s freedom and the fate of Tamriel lies in your hands.

If you’ve read my previous post on the Elder Scrolls, it’s pretty apparent that I am a big fan of the series and have a fair amount of background knowledge on each title – Morrowind in particular. Needless to say I was pretty excited with the announcement that Bethesda were set to recreate the architecture and atmosphere that I had previously grown so fond of, and they honestly did a very good job of it – ignoring their insistence on blanketing everything in a thick layer of snow, that is. Finally, all those classic armours, items and landscapes in vastly updated graphics – there was even the promise of no Cliff Racers to drool over! So what could possibly go wrong with a setup as flawless as that? Well, uh, quite a few things actually.

Voice acting. What is this weird joke Bethesda have been carrying on through their audio? If all their previous games have set the Dunmer with a deep, rough drawl, where has the inspiration suddenly emerged to equip all our blue-skinned friends with what I can only deduce as a dodgy attempt at a Yorkshire accent? Previous characters throughout Skyrim have certainly been victim to a serious lack of emotion, but Bethesda managed to cross the line into obscurity when they made this production choice final. Disregarding that, the island’s denizens are fairly well crafted, if a little two dimensional.

Ah, but now it is time to explore this Miraak character we have been hearing so much about; this demonic, overwhelming energy that has engulfed the land in darkness. Emerging from the void in a particularly engrossing cinematic, we are treated to a James Bond-esque monologue, detailing his evil plan and why you are too puny to step in his way, fully clothed in flowing, dark robes and one of Dragonborn‘s new Cthulu inspired masks. All in all, Miraak is pretty well placed as a villain, encompassing those dreaded feelings of ‘he’s actually quite intimidating’ and ‘I hope he doesn’t come for me’ in a nice little package. What Bethesda are really pushing for here is that knowledge is power and, as it turns out, Miraak is pretty knowledgeable – he’s even been cheating a little bit with the help of a devious God. This wisdom, though, can equally be acquired by yourself in travelling through the winding passages of the Black Books.

These sections right here are easily the most interesting and original out of the entirety of the DLC. Upon reading each book, the player is transported into the realm of Apochrypha, which is mainly composed of bubbling, tentacle-infested water and, well, books. Each section forms a labyrinthian maze of literature to explore, all the while fending off attacks from the shade-like Seekers and fish-headed Lurkers. Every aspect of this new feature screams Lovecraftian design and horror and no reference made is at all hard to miss. On completion of each Black Book, the player is allowed to acquire one of three unique perks or powers which are certainly very welcome, if a little overpowered. As of writing my current character is level 51, so in terms of necessity there is little – but thank you for the little escape!

If you’ve read this far just to hear my original claim about riding dragons, then I do believe you are in luck. Yes, in Dragonborn you can now, ahem, ‘fly’ one of those winged beasts – but, not exactly in the way that statement should imply. Using ‘Bend Will’, a new shout that allows you to turn enemies into allies, the player can mount and use a dragon in combat, however you are confined into a particularly disappointing sequence of circling the battle area, with commands limited to ‘attack that’, or ‘land here’. It was a bold concept for Bethesda to push out if they had no intention of fulfilling their word on the matter, however understandably so: with so much landscape and detail to render, there would’ve been doubtless performance issues had the player been allowed to roam freely.

In terms of the plot, you would not be mistaken in feeling a little bit of deja vous. The side quests are fairly unique in part, but we’ve come here to fight that Miraak bloke, haven’t we? Already in place is the expectation of fighting your way into the big, final showdown against the nasty, old boss who’s been hounding your progress for ever so long. On playing, however, I was surprised to see that Bethesda chose to, essentially, take the Alduin route and just roll out another ‘you can only reach this place by dragon’, ‘you will not get the glory of winning it alone’ story. In a series that prides itself on intricate lore and detail, re-using tried and tested formats is fairly enjoyable, but certainly not at the peak it could have been.

I’m aware that this review has maybe appeared a little bleak, but that shouldn’t be seen as a deterrent – Dragonborn is unquestionably a worthy DLC and certainly worth shelling out for if you are a fan of Skyrim and its universe. But, as is with all things Bethesda, it has its numerous bugs and defects that should not go undetected. If, like myself, you play this title on a computer, then I strongly recommend checking out the huge number of community-created mods that patch up all the leaks Bethesda left behind. These can be found through the Steam Workshop, or, for a lot more power and depth, it is advised to use the Skyrim Nexus, which can be found with full instructions here. Solstheim itself forms a decently sized addition of explorable land to the vanilla game and introduces a good number of new enemies and items to tinker with, so should not be passed up just because of a few minor shortcomings – for those familiar with Morrowind‘s Bloodmoon, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the much-needed makeover given to those horrid little Rieklings. Overall, let it be said that I fully endorse this DLC, if just to snatch a glimpse of the ashlands once again – a safe and enjoyable purchase.

Dragonborn is available on Steam, Xbox 360 and Playstation

Buy it on Steam here

Visit the offical website here

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MERCENARY KINGS: NEW PROJECT FROM TRIBUTE GAMES THAT NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT!

Earlier today, Jonathan Lavigne’s blog, Pixeltao, revealed the future of Mercenary Kings – the upcoming installment from newly-fledged developer Tribute Games (Wizorb). Since its demo showcase at Dream.Build.Play, a lot of people – myself included – have been very excited about this game, which combines the arcade style and fun of Metal Slug with RPG elements of crafting and character customisation. What they need, however, is your support.

With a project just launched on Kickstarter, Tribute Games are looking for $75,000 to fund and create Mercenary Kings, which will include the art of Paul Robertson (best known for his work on 2010’s Scott Pilgrim game, alongside the founders of Tribute Games), as well as local cooperative play (online tba). With hopes for releasing on both PC and console, any donations and backing will all be extremely helpful in bringing this title to our screens and up to its full potential. Credits and rewards are offered for generosity.

LINKS

Tribute Games website

Mercenary Kings Kickstarter page

Pixeltao blog

Paul Robertson’s Tumblr

QUAKECON, CARMACK AND CONSOLES

Whilst everybody was out drinking, making friends and having fun last night, I was watching the QuakeCon livestream with full concentration, eager to hear from the divine wisdom that is John Carmack – legendary developer and head honcho at id Software. With news on such projects as Doom 3 BFG Edition, the highly anticipated Doom 4 and Carmack’s own thoughts on future console OUYA, this keynote certainly had my utmost attention and in no way repentant for being the antisocial bastard that I am.

Firstly, id has announced that it will be putting a halt to its mobile development. Carmack was regretful to state that, due to other projects demanding attention and Bethesda’s own ambitions, it was becoming too difficult to manage further updates on iOS titles, however was interested in returning to the platform sometime in the future. In the same vein, Quake Live, the popular, free-to-play Quake 3 clone, has also had to shed its development team in the light of recent changes in id’s current priorities. Saddening as it is, hopefully this will guarantee much more detail and time invested into upcoming desktop and console releases.

Doom 3 BFG Edition, scheduled for release October 16 on Xbox 360, PC and PS3, has been crowned with a new trailer, showing off its new HD visuals and ‘Lost Mission’ expansion. Included in the pack will be the Doom back catalogue, which will hopefully give the series a full resurrection into modern gaming – having had no new titles since 2008.

Known mainly for its dark atmosphere and jump scares, it seems that Carmack has instead decided to steer BFG in a different direction from its original release – perhaps to cater to a modern market that is not quite so supported by the ‘hardcore’ gamers of old. Doom 3 will now include a lot more health, ammo and (most significantly) a toggled flashlight – a courtesy that was not rewarded so liberally in the past. Personally, I’m not too happy with these changes, as they are essentially transforming a game that was, at one point, considered genuinely frightening into an action fps. Do what you have to, id, but God help you if you’ve removed Nightmare difficulty.

In his keynote speech, Carmack went on to address the new, Android-based console, OUYA, as a ‘longshot’ for developers – unsure of its potential in value: “It’s neat that they want to cater to indie developers, but I don’t think that’s something a business can run on” (ShackNews). Focusing mainly on offering a fresher, cheaper service, it is obvious as to why id would have little interest in this future release, as it gives off more of a sense of being a hardware version of Steam Greenlight, rather than a fully fledged competitor in the modern console market. Nonetheless, I am still very excited about the OUYA project, which you can read about in more detail here.

Image obtained from PixlGeek.com

QuakeCon has left Doom 4 as secretive as ever this year, with little to no information regarding the project being leaked, or any hint at a release date as of yet. The other development teams being pulled into the project is a good sign, however, and may secure a lot more progress for a possible 2013 preview – Carmack’s eternal insistence of ‘we can’t talk about it’ will always cast a shadow of obscurity for the time being.

Overall, QuakeCon appears to be extremely promising this year, with a definite interest in developing for the Oculus Rift – the ‘first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games’. This isn’t something I really care about, as such, but it will certainly be worth keeping an eye out to see the results of these new technologies and if they can really ‘revolutionise’ the current formats of gaming. Honestly, as long as there are controllers and keyboards, this will never be, as PixlBit stated, more than ‘a hobbyist’s product’.

Just keep bringing the zombies and shotguns, Carmack, and you will never go wrong.

ASSASSINS CREED 3

Probably one of the most highly anticipated games of 2012 is Ubisoft Montreal’s new addition to the Assassins Creed series, with Assassins Creed 3.

AC3 takes place during the 18th century, in the early stages of the development of the United States of America. Players will experience 30 years of the dawning of democracy in the New World. This new installment to the franchise comes forward with completely different environments having you jumping through tree’s and climbing mountain tops as opposed from building to building again.

Players take the role of a brand new Assassin named Ratohnhake:ton, but he prefers to be called Connor. Players will go through Connors childhood as he grows up on the American Frontier. Like most assassins,  he goes through a traumatic experience in his life when he must witness his village be destroyed and his people killed by white colonists. But instead of him going into a mad rage and killing everything wearing a military uniform; he is out for the people, to correct the many injustices others are going through. He isn’t out for personal revenge, he wants to help others to make sure they don’t have to go through what he had to.

Your combat style is quite different, it now deals more with momentum and speed instead of just mashing the X button. (Which I am guilty of.) Dont worry, you still get to sneak up behind people and make a stealthy kill – they haven’t changed the series that much. But Connor’s weaponry differs from swords and hidden blades. Connor prefers to either dual wield tomahawks or a tomahawk in one hand a very intimidating  pistol in the other. Like I said, a pretty big difference, but keep in mind this game is set nearly 250 years after Revelations.

If you’re not an American history wiz, then AC3 will surely test your knowledge on the Revolutionary War. You are going to fight in many battles you have probably heard of, such as Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Valley Forge. You will visit many cities you may have visited in real life, including Boston and New York. And you will experience many events that shaped America like the Great Fire of New York. The supporting cast is also filled with names that many people know such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Charles Lee.

 

Still know that the game is not based on winning the Revolutionary War; it just so happens that Connor is growing up right in the middle of it. The game is just focused on Connors journey from a child to an adult. You will also notice that your environments will change throughout the game. From as simple as day to night and winter to summer; to fighting in a battle during one point in a game, and later going back to that battle field. The world will change just like it does in real life. Not much has been mentioned about the Multiplayer system, but Ubisoft said it wont disappoint. Assassins Creed 3 is set to release on October 30th.

 

Thanks for reading my first entry. Feedback is appreciated.

-ThatsTristan

Creds to: Game Informer Issue 228 & 232

TWO DAYS UNTIL E3…

In a couple of days, the massive event E3 will kick off, which means we’ll get to hear a ridiculous amount of announcements. In fact, there are so many rumors of what we’ll see that it is staggering. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Nintendo: 

Nintendo’s show is going to be primarily focused on the introduction of the Wii U (and hopefully we’ll see a name change), its features and the games. Until now, we’ve heard that a launch title will be Super Mario Bros. Mii, but thats about it. We know that Valve and EA are competing for providing a network service for Nintendo, so I guess we’ll find out more about that. There has also been a rumor floating around that says a Star Fox – Metroid fusion is on the works, which I believe seems very cool. Oh and a personal favorite: Pikmin 3.

On the other side, we will also see new gamed for the 3DS. Titles such as Luigi’s Mansion 2, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance and Pokémon: Conquest. However, I really hope that they reveal the next Super Smash Bros. (which is rumored to be cross-platformed.)

Playstation:

So far, we’ve heard about Sony’s Super Smash Bros. ripoff: Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, but not many details have arisen. Also, an Assassin’s Creed for the PS Vita has been announced. So far there’s not much Sony exclusives that we know about, but don’t worry: they’re likely to announce many things. Perhaps we’ll get to see a small peek of the PlayStation 4.

 Xbox:

There are only two things worth talking about for the Xbox: Halo and Gears of War. Game Informer released an image teasing the next Gears, which we now know is going to be a prequel to the trilogy, featuring Cole Train and Damn Baird and Kilo Squad as the protagonists. And Halo 4 will start of where we last left it off: wandering in space. So far we have seen a couple of images featuring new Spartans, but not much.

 Non-exclusive games:

Where to begin… We have Assassin’s Creed III, Resident Evil 6, Skyrim: Dawnguard, Dead Space 3, Lara Croft, Black Ops II, Borderlands 2, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Crysis 3, Darksiders II, Metro Last Light and Far Cry 3.

No matter what type of gamer you are, which console you prefer, or which genre you usually play, E3 will surely have something for you.