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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NEXUIZ

If you liked Quake 3, you’ll love Nexuiz. No, seriously – it started off as a mod for it back in 2005. Now, updated on CryEngine 3 with a whole range of new graphics, weapons and mutators (think Unreal, but with a lot more variety), Nexuiz has certainly entered the modern age of arena combat.

Right, before I go all fanboy on this game, I’ll deal out some of the faults that I have encountered so far. Firstly, it can crash. A lot. I had to do 3 installs through Steam before I could even get to the menu screen and that’s not just me. It would appear that those of you boasting a shiny new AMD card will get the smoothest experience – the game having been built in collaboration with them (about 10 minutes of company logos on start-up will reinforce this into you a good number of times). Furthermore, it seems that people have been having trouble finding games to join, but I managed to get everything running perfectly and, my God, does this bring back that intensity of the past. A very big concern that I should bring up especially is that there doesn’t yet seem to be a real system of filling player spots in matches. When someone disconnects, no one takes their place. Simple as that. A couple of times I’ve felt compelled to switch teams manually, just to bring back a fair balance. Obviously, this is really an issue that needs to be addressed – and soon!

Developer Illfonic (having bought the rights from original creators Alientrap) did a really good job at finding the sweet spots that worked so well for Quake 3 originally, especially so in Nexuiz‘s pace. You’ve still got your ridiculous run speed and jump height bundled in, making every corridor a deathtrap and every open space a bouncy castle of pain. This is what really sets arena-based games so far apart from any other genre: there is a high level of skill and reaction involved if you actually want to be doing any serious damage – or indeed avoid constant death. I would certainly say that this form of fast-paced combat has been missing in a lot of recent titles, and it’s definitely been exciting to experience it on such a level again – even now I’m typing at about triple the speed, my brain still rushing from the sheer excitement of ‘Quake 3 Still Lives’.

One aspect of Nexuiz I’m not so geared up on, however, are the mutators. I haven’t noticed any kind of tutorial as of yet, but otherwise it seems to be pretty random in selection – please correct me if I’ve been horribly blind here. You’ll receive positive effects, such as infinite ammo and fast regeneration, and even whole team boosts. In some senses, the mutators are almost comparable to Mario Kart, with a whole range of crazy outcomes – enemies take damage when jumping, for instance. Personally, I’ve had enough of my screen being constantly put into greyscale (I’m so sorry, guys – when you all look the same, I’m going to shoot you regardless).

Nexuiz was really a refreshing change for me, and I urge anyone of similar interest to try it out. Of course, there’s no real storyline or plot behind this (red vs blue in space), but there would never really need to be. This is a lovely package of online, team-based combat, packed full of all the usual gametypes you’d expect – capture the flag being a personal favourite of mine. If you can bring yourself to look past its faults and crashes, I think you’ll definitely come to love Nexuiz and the old-style intensity that it so lovingly has crafted. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a hell of a lot of fragging to do.

Visit the website here

Buy it on Steam here

SECTION 8: PREJUDICE

If I had to describe Section 8: Prejudice in comparison to other games, I would probably say that it is a mash-up between the design elements of Halo, the upgrade leveling of Call Of Duty and, of course, the fast-paced, arena combat of Unreal Tournament – on which its engine is based. To many people, that combination of inspiration would sound absolutely brilliant, which is why it is such a shame that this 2011 release from TimeGate Studios ended up so very abandoned.

In terms of a single player campaign, you’re not going to get much out of Prejudice. Consisting of a couple of levels of ‘kill this/take control of that’, it’s got a repetition and ease that gets monotonous very quickly  – but, that being said, this is a frag-fest at heart and rather than nitpicking its faults, there are actually a lot of stylish, exciting additions that set it apart from being just another Unreal clone. Weapon and armour design could be seen as reasonably generic for a ‘future combat’ scenario, but nonetheless the style and aesthetics do seem very smooth and in no sense uninspired – there is a definite Halo feel, which is never a bad route to take.

With every kill you are effectively gaining experience for both your character and your weapon, unlocking future upgrades, such as grenades, ammo-types and tools that can give you an advantage on the battlefield, as well as being able to customise your loadout to form a certain class of soldier. In terms of movement, you have both a rechargeable jetpack and advanced sprint, helping navigation within the map and the ability to attack from a variety of different angles and paths, e.g. quickly scaling structures and environment for effective sniper spots. Both of these abilities work extremely well and are certainly a nice touch to the genre, however the advanced sprint has a delay in its use, which can result in it only kicking in after a few minutes of running, which can be slightly frustrating, especially so when you are rushing back to defend a command post.

TotalBiscuit gives an excellent insight into Section 8‘s gameplay, as well as expressing his own disappointment with its seemingly empty servers

Obviously focusing on multiplayer, Section 8: Prejudice contains a variety of online gametypes, which range from survival mode to territory gaining. My personal favourite has to be Assault, in which one team must defend its control points from being stolen by the opposition. When there is only one point remaining, however, the game switches to sudden death, meaning that any killed players cannot respawn. This certainly adds a nice twist of intensity, which I feel is lacking from a lot of games in this style – when you can constantly re-enter the battlefield, where’s the punishment of death?

On the note of respawning, this is certainly something that TimeGate has developed very well. Instead of your standard ‘appear back at base’ routine, Section 8: Prejudice lets you literally drop into any point of the map, plummeting through the air to your destination. Anyone familiar with the old MDK games might draw similarities between these drops and its stage introduction levels, with the danger of being killed whilst airborne due to enemy turrets and weapons. However, in the same vein of the weapon upgrades, additional armour boosts can be fitted to protect your soldier, allowing you access to much more heated sections of the warzone.

Overall, Section 8: Prejudice is a very cool, exciting title which can easily be enjoyed by any fans of deathmatch and arena styles of play. The weapons do seem to lack the sound and sense of impact you might find in other games, but that is hardly a complaint, considering the low price and replayability of this title in particular. I’m still in the early stages of playing Section 8, but I don’t see myself getting bored anytime soon. If it wasn’t for the lack of other players, I can definitely see this becoming a new favourite, extremely reminiscent of the Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 deathmatch setups that inspired it.

Visit the website here

Buy it on Steam here