Retro Review: ES IV: Oblivion (PC)

5 10 2009

Oblivion PC

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Original release date: 03/20/06

You are the unfortunate prisoner, sitting in your particular cell, wondering just how you got yourself into this troublesome predicament. Across the hall can be heard the snickers of a fellow inmate, hurling insults your way as the guard and his escorts approach. While waiting you calm your fidgeting by playfully moving some chains back and forth, all the while watching that ever approaching shadow. Yet, with each passing second you feel a sense that something is amiss, a wariness that easily tops your own current troubles. The guards reach your cell but rather than focus on you, they tell you to move aside. Confused, you look as the guards are accompanied by none other than the great Emperor himself. As you sit there in astonishment, you watch as the man, clothed in silk and gold, turns to you and mutters an incomparably powerful sentence.

”It’s you — the one from my dreams.”

With a vague explanation and little comprehension of what he means, a secret door suddenly opens, leading to a misty labyrinth, cleverly hidden behind a stone infrastructure. Suddenly you are fighting side by side with the guards of the Imperial City, warding off hordes of mysteriously clad assassins. In mere moments you find yourself separated from the group, as well as lost in thought. Where do I go from here? Oh, but so much more awaits you within the confines of the dark underground; multiple corridors that lead to lurking enemies; chests with your first set of items; an array of weaponry ranging from a simple bow to techniques delving in the mystic arts. These all leading up to an understanding of just who you really are and what your mission is in this crazy new world.

And this encompasses just the first hour of play.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion truly is one of those titles that only appear once in a blue moon; in a time where dry points are strewn about the gaming scene. Continuing the impressive mark that carries over from its predecessor Morrowind, the game strives to give you a world that doesn’t end until you want it to. Along the way you will take the time to notice the attention to detail apparent in every single corner of the land of Cyrodil. From the breathtakingly high mountains near Lylonadil to the snowy wastelands of Bravil, impressive visuals help provide an incentive to go exploring. Murky caverns, forgotten ruins, and hellish portals to far off dimensions, can all be found within several miles of each other, and show that this is one twisted world you’ll not soon forget.

What can be forgotten are some annoyances that I had some problems with in Morrowind. For one, in the previous version, there were times when I wish I could simply get to my destination immediately. Bethesda realized this and decided to provide an option for those of us who had seen enough of the landscape already. Fast travel is an option now, giving you the chance to instantly warp to any location on the map. This saves players a tremendous amount of time and helps you get those quests done, minus the sluggish walking from town to town. The feature is merely optional though and if you are the type that likes to take in the lush surroundings, far be it from anyone to stop you. Nevertheless, the game is all about choices, and Oblivion provides a wide array of character classes, each with their own unique combat approach and style.

Speaking of combat, Oblivion definitely made the biggest improvement in this department, allotting a wide array of possibilities no matter what you choose to be. Want to be a burly warrior, clad in full heavy armor, wielding every massive weapon in the book? Be sure to specialize strength and endurance then, focusing on the various weapon skills and of the course, the art of blocking. That’s right, warriors can now block using their respective weapon or shield, allowing for more intense duels; especially if it is between two melee based fighters.

Mages now have a tremendous amount of spells to choose from, ranging from the mind numbing powers of illusion to the offensive forces of fire and lightning, known as destruction. And props to the new hot-key system, which lets you assign any type of sword, bow, or spell to a single button push. This saving you from frustratingly pressing the menu button to switch tools during combat sessions. Yet, the most important aspect of the game comes down to picking the best character for the job. And depending on the decision you make, will affect just how well your protagonist will perform.

For instance, I play as the tiger race Khajit, with my skills applicable to the very cool field of thievery. Thanks to the agility and speed bonuses provided by my particular kind, techniques delving in: acrobatics, lock-pick, sneak, and security, help me take advantage of my class to its full potential. Just as in Morrowind you level by the amount of times you use your specific skills, rather than each opponent carrying a set amount of experience points. And while skills like acrobatics may feel broken, since jumping continues to raise its level, the other attributes help to balance it out.

Now perhaps you don’t want to be a fuzzy cat. Then why not take a pick from over ten other possible character models, each having their own unique background and character traits. From the beer swigging, axe wielding Nord to the intelligent and mysterious Dark Elf, each race provides a different experience, not only in combat or appearance, but in the way people will perceive you.

Taking a couple of pointers from the ill-fated Fable, the people in the world of Oblivion are among the most active non-player characters ever seen in a role-playing game. Try walking into the local inn for a drink, there the citizens of the town will welcome you; recognizing you by the origin you chose at the beginning of the game. You will also notice how they seem to go about their own predetermined schedule, sometimes even bumping into each other for a quick conversation. What is sometimes fun is sneaking up on some unsuspecting duo and eavesdropping what they are saying. This can lead to an understanding of the area you are in, any local missions to undertake, or perhaps just a quick laugh at the convoluted exchange of words that can sometimes take place.

Another thing that might have some people talking is the accomplishments that you put under your belt throughout your progression of the main storyline. As you travel from city to forest; riding over bridges and passing by desolate ruins and landmarks, you will begin to find the Oblivion gates. These nightmarish portals have appeared all throughout the world of Cyrodil, unleashing legions of imps, mutant lizards, and powerful beings known as the Daedra. Your primary objective will be to find these gates, enter them, eliminate the opposition inside, and deactivate the terminal which keeps these fiery gateways open. No matter how much you enjoy the dark storyline of Oblivion, there are times when you just need a break. Thankfully, the game provides a plethora of sub-quests and guilds to join, all which let you deepen the role of your hero further.

I mean, I’m not one to brag, but I’ve single-handedly taken down hundreds of ruthless bandits in my travels. I’ve become the champion of the Arena in the Imperial City, where hundreds of spectators cheer my name as I enter and leave each event. Whether it be taking down a team of high elf archers or slaughtering a legion of trolls, the outcome is the same. Oh, and it would be foolish if I didn’t point out that I have among the highest honors in the thieves guild. Nothing like quietly breaking into a poor sap’s house late in the night and making off with the many goods strewn about their shelves and chests all ninja style. I guess I could tribute my success to the fact that I have the eyes of the tiger, allowing me to see into the darkness and help spot those deadly pit and needle traps. Though that’s not to say there aren’t more career choices out there. The fighters guild and mages guild have made their return from the original, along with a series of hidden clubs and cults that make the before mentioned ones feel like a walk through the daisies.

If there is one thing that has gotten on my nerves though, as I’ve slowly taken my time with Oblivion, it would be the sometimes exploitable AI. And there is no other class that experiences this flaw as much as the thief. For example, picture sneaking in through the front door of a item store at three in the morning; your shadow silently blending in with the night. Your confidence is then broken as the owner of the store comes downstairs and notices your actions. Que the following silly resultant of my carelessness:

Disgruntled store clerk: “Hey! What are you doing here? Get out before I call the guards!”

[There is a slight pause, but then I notice he’s not doing anything but glaring at me. So, I go over to talk to him.]

Disgruntled store clerk: “Welcome, I have the finest goods in all of Cyrodil!”

Jin the Khajit: “…”

Quite the punishment for getting caught eh? A small threat and a chance to sell some supplies and I was off gallivanting in the night again. Luckily, the guards of the game aren’t so stupid and will be sure to throw you in jail if you truly piss them off. This of course leads to more difficult encounters later on when you start dealing with craftier people, both human and alien alike.

So, say you are stuck on a difficult boss engagement, where he continues to bind your attacks and slide pass your feeble defenses. Perhaps you should go level up? Unfortunately, that’s pointless because the challenge of the game scales with your level. Ah, there is the solution, go into the options menu and slide the toggle down to easy. It’s alright, it’s only for this fight and then you can slide it back up again afterward. Probably the first role-playing game in years that allows you to alter the difficulty while you play, Oblivion definitely opens up some possibilities for the casual gamer. Personally I don’t care for it because it breaks down any wall that a player would have to improve themselves to go through. It would be like asking someone not to use their book on a take home test. The urge to cross that impassable rift is sometimes a little too overwhelming.

Nevertheless, there is always the option of keeping the difficulty at maximum for you hardcore players. On a somewhat similar note, the best relief for that built up tension, brought about by fluent challenges, can be found in the harmless field of sight-seeing. Weather effects that change as you journey from point to point, a time system that affects the sky and the schedules of the people, and fluid character motions all bring together a treat for the eyes; that is even furthered along if you happen to own a top of the line system. Oblivion is definitely one of the more graphic intense titles to come along in a while and will require a moderate system just to run it on an average setting. Those running it on a lower end computer will also notice the occasional dip in frame-rate and some lock-ups as well. So, keep in mind that you get what you pay for when it comes to the PC version. You get better visuals than the 360 version, but it all depends on how much you are willing to spend. Ah, the old double-edged sword.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion takes the best qualities of an MMORPG and action-RPG and fuses them together to form something special. The improved battle system, brilliant story-line, and sheer depth of the visuals help bring everything together, even better than its predecessor had. However, the PC version suffers from some performance problems that can really only be cured by having a nice system. Adding that to some other detriments is what brings me to give this version of the game a point less than I’d want to. When everything is said and done though, there is just too much to like about Oblivion, and those that get into all it has to offer will enjoy well over 60 hours of playtime.

In the end whatever system you decide to buy the game for is entirely up to you. It all depends on whether or not you think it’s the right time. The 360 and PSIII versions are superior, thus I would recommend them over the PC version.

Verdict 8/10 (PC) and 9/10 (Xbox 360 and PS3)





Interesting! – Duke Nukem Forever Game-Play

10 05 2009

Duke Nukem Forever is a game that has been in development for nearly a decade and a half.  When you take that into consideration, it means that the game has gone through three system generations.  A lot has changed since the Nintendo 64/PlayStation One days and it is interesting to see how far along the game has come since then.  The following video is a little taste of what the “current” Duke Nukem Forever is, and I must say it looks pretty damn good for a thirteen year old (development wise) game.

Thanks to Youtube for the link.

Now that 3D Realms has shut its doors, who will pick up where they left off?  Please, somebody finish this game already.  The Duke deserves better than this!





Entering Azeroth Again

9 05 2009

WoWBox

Heh, its been a nice month break but I decided to log back into World of Warcraft again today.  Haven’t logged in since 3.1 so I’m gonna have to get used to all the changes, as well as get a new spec going.  Good to be back though.





Retro Review: Animal Crossing

8 05 2009

ac

Animal Crossing (Nintendo Gamecube)

Original release date: 09/15/02

You are a loner; one who is moving to a mysterious land for no apparent reason whatsoever. You have nothing with you, no one to accompany you, and no past to speak of. While daydreaming of what awaits you at your upcoming destination, a mild mannered creature sits in the booth in front of you. Curious at where this poor creature could be heading to, the cat named Rover, asks where you are heading. You adequately reply that you are moving, but have no home to look forward to when you get there. Shocked by the poor fool’s response, he offers to lend you a favor in the means of a job. A little inspired, you look forward to a bizarre land that may offer something unique and intriguing, something that you have never experienced before.

Welcome to the world of Animal Crossing.

It is definitely a strange title that only the people of Nintendo could bring to America. It is also as far away from a “real” life simulation as possible, despite the fact that it plays like one. Borrowing from similar genre-related titles such as Harvest Moon, this game puts you in the shoes of someone just trying to make a living. Your mission is to get situated into a new house of your choosing, get a job going, and keep the money flowing. Things do not start off easy for you though, as you come in as a homeless bum. However, help does arrive in the form of a raccoon. Yes, the odd little mammal named Tom Nook starts you off with a job to get you situated. As with other titles in the genre, patience is required to play a game like this, so do not expect action right off the bat. There is much to do, and even more time to do it, which brings around a plethora of angles in which to approach this game.

Interactivity abounds, in ways that you will both love and despise. Unlike past simulations with their own time management system, Animal Crossing does not have a stop-and-go style. This game has a real time clock; which means that if it is 12:00 AM on October 12, 2006, then that is the time on both sides of the coin. It is ever flowing, and you will see other town members going about their day, doing their own thing. Though it is fun to stalk your computerized friends for hours on end, there is a slight problem to this design. Say you have a daytime job and can only get on at night. Well, you will find that most of your village pals are asleep and unable to help you put that money in your pocket. It can be frustrating, especially if you had a set task to do for that day. So, to sum it up in a simple phrase . . . you need to have a lot of free time to play Animal Crossing.

With that said, there are some convenient positives about this time clock. Holidays and special events like Christmas and Halloween all occur on their respective dates. That way you will be able to do all the special events of the game without forgetting the day you can play them. However, that leads you to a new thought, ”Lets see, go out with my blind date to the Halloween party, or stay home and get that cool looking jack-o-lantern.” Well, unless you are really desperate for companionship, park yourself in your room and get that rare collectors item, just don’t tell anyone.

Speaking of which, the town members themselves make the game what it truly is. They each have their own personalities, and depending on how you act toward them, will affect the way they act toward you. One such way of earning their trust is doing errands for them. You will find yourself running from house to house trying to return game boys, pieces of clothing, or missing pieces of furniture. At times you will even swear that you are some sort of vassal to these slave drivers. Anyway, while it does not sound very intriguing, it is surprisingly engaging, pulling you in closer to the virtual community. As you make friends you will get letters and sometimes invitations to special events. If you act like a jerk to them they will not talk to you and probably ignore you most of the time. So, basically how you act will affect the flow of the game, for better or for worse. From the thought of a large community, you must be thinking about the implementation of a marriage system. Well, unfortunately since you are a human surrounded by talking animals, there is none. Despite this, the town system is effective in the fact that it is constantly interactive, providing a much more enjoyable experience.

As you are playing along, you will no doubt be aware of the simple control scheme going on. Also, the main menu gives you a chance to play around with a varied amount of options. You have your pack; where you can carry and hold a certain number of items. There is also the wallet, which displays how many bells (money) you currently have on you. However, it is the interchangeable character model system that turns out to be the most interesting of the features. Using the menu you can switch your sexy outfits, choose different tools, and select different items to give or drop. Now if you are familiar with Harvest Moon 64, then you will be glad to know that you control the main character just like that. No quibbles or distorted camera motions to speak of either, which provides a major sigh of relief, as it is usually the antagonist in this genre.

Yet another option Animal Crossing sports is the handheld to console connectivity. Connecting the Game Boy Advance with the Gamecube, you can make design patterns on your clothes, unlock special items, and even access a new island. The most thrilling element though is the town song variance system. You can keep the lively little default theme or even create your own town song. Feeling particularly demiurgic, I put together a version of “Saria’s Song” from the Ocarina of Time. Ah, you got to love it. And even if your’ inventive spirit is a little doused; there are plenty of catchy songs the game provides, that you can use to make your own customizable theme. There is so much to do here, and the sheer amount of secrets the game hides is immeasurable.

Suddenly feeling a bit nostalgic?

Well be sure to check out the many classic NES titles hidden within. Games like Balloon Fighter, Tennis, and Pinball have made great transitions over to the cube and are a great break from a long day of errand running. You, of course, have to earn them by finding them in special shops and events. There are a lot more available old school games than the ones listed, and all of them provide more of that delicious, old-school experience. Well, if anything it prevents the couch potatoes from having to switch systems.

The visuals of the game are dated, seeing as this was originally a 64 bit title; easily noticeable due to the simple environment, blocky displays, and occasional blurry textures. Alternatively, the sprites are cute, and the backgrounds blend well with this style, but they just do not take advantage of the system’s graphical texturing. Going a little more into character models, there is plenty of expressionism to be found, and the emotions of the characters are very light hearted and funny. If a character is sad, he or she will frown, and there will be a little rain cloud above their head. If you make them happy, they will laugh, and little “Ha Ha Ha” symbols will circle around their body. It is just the simple humor and rambunctious critters that increase the charm and provide a flipside view from the norm.

Improvement definitely occurs in the audio department. Character discussions involve familiar mumble tones, as the text displays what they are really saying. The sound effects of the game themselves are right on as well. Throwing random items in the lake and banging an axe against a tree all sound like they should. Musically present are some traditional chimes and, of course, the changeable town song that pops in here and there when you enter a certain area. As said earlier, there are plenty of great tunes that come along later in the game, so good things come to those who wait.

Repetition occurs in all sims and it will come early to some folks, which is my only small irk. One such example would be the flow of the game. Since this game is in real time, it can definitely be hard to get certain items or meet particular people. There is also only so many times that you will want to fish, do odd jobs, and search for that one unobtainable treasure. Neighbors will also often bug you with familiar tasks again and again; providing frustrating moments that will make you wish you were the only person living there. Though the traditional reoccurring style of simulations may turn off some folks, there is still some hope. Using unique codes corresponding to certain items, you can trade these sequences with people from the Internet. By doing this you can snag that obscure trinket or hidden piece of furniture you have been wanting for so long, motivating you to continue along.

At the end of the day, you are exhausted and ready to crash, knowing you have another engaging day ahead of you. It is bizarre Japanese style simulating at its finest, and provides enough twists and turns to keep the “Average Joe” comfortable for a while. There just happens to be something in simulations that puts you in the shoes of your character, more so than most role-playing titles do. Take that unique character creation and put it in an ever moving land, and you have something remarkable. This distinct world is ever moving, and it is this factor that can make or break it for those full time workers. Nevertheless, time is always progressing, and even if you are constantly occupied in life, your virtual world awaits you on the other side.

Verdict – 8/10





Pokemon Gold and Silver Remakes Officially Announced!

7 05 2009

PokemonHeartGoldSoulSilver

Well it looks like the announcement that we were all expecting finally came today.  Pokemon Gold and Silver, which many believe were the best two in the series, will be remade and available in Japan this fall.  The remakes will be called Pokemon Heart Gold and Pokemon Soul Silver, and most likely will feature some new additions, alongside that great sixteen gym adventure that the originals were famous for.

Based on the Japanese release date for the games, we can probably expect NA versions sometime between the spring and summer of 2010.  Just how long can the now 11 year old series continue to remain at the top?  Well, as long as people are willing to buy the games, and it looks to me like they haven’t had enough.  One thing is for certain though, capturing Ho-Oh and Lugia on the DSi will no doubt bring back some memories.

Source – http://www.pokemon.co.jp/info/game/g090508_01.html





Duke Nukem to Live On? — We Should Hope So

6 05 2009

3dr

Interesting news on the gaming front today.  Supposedly long time developer 3D Realms closed its doors this week, leaving a lot of people speculating if Duke Nukem would go with it.  It wasn’t until Take-Two stepped in that we got a clear answer: nope, well not yet anyway.  It looks like the game that has been in development for thirteen years now, Duke Nukem Forever, will continue its slow development under the publishing license of Take-Two.

We can breathe a sigh of relief for now, since who doesn’t want to see Duke Nukem “Fornever” see the light of the day.  Though I’m sure we’ll all miss making fun of it’s slow development time once it makes its debut sometime in 2020.  Now that I think about it, I wonder if I ever got a refund from Babbages for when I reserved this game back in 1998 . . . oh well can’t remember.

dukenukem

Keep fighting the good fight Duke.





How to Recruit Like-Minded Players Into Your Online Guild

6 05 2009

ac1

After playing through several different allegiance oriented MMORPGs, including Asheron’s Call, Everquest, World of Warcraft, and many others, I have discovered one important thing: people tend to be selfish. Though the intended idea of an MMORPG is teamwork and fellowship, most of the time it tends to be the exact opposite. Many players seem to try to get the most out of you by asking for favors or free items to help progress their character. Others will join an allegiance for the primary purpose of using its services and then leave once its usefulness has expired. Just how can a guild leader avoid these situations? Well, it is simple. Just do a little research beforehand and follow the tips after the jump.

The first step in creating a great guild is to find the purpose behind it. Have you played the game enough to truly understand how things are run? Do you have enough friends and supporters to help create the foundation for the guild? Will it be primarily PvE (Player vs. Environment) or PvP (Player vs. Player) based? All these have to be thrown into the equation before you follow through. Too many leaders create a guild without having the proper backing and then wonder why their group fell apart only after a week or two. Get in touch with people that have guilds of their own and ask them for advice. Each successful captain of his or her ship has a story to tell and experiences to share, which are sure to help you on your quest to create the ultimate guild.

Now step two is all about presentation. Depending on the game you are playing, there are several little appearance features that you should take advantage of while forming your guild. For instance, if you are playing Asheron’s Call, be sure to get a nice villa or mansion in an interesting or exotic location. Decorate the front and inside of the settlement in order to show off your experience and tastes. If you are playing World of Warcraft, design a cool looking tabard (cloth worn over the breastplate) that represents the identity of your future allegiance. If you are a PvP guild, go for a darker looking tabard with a fierce animal or weapon on the cover. If it is PvE oriented, have a lighter color like blue or green that represents exploration and adventure; or hey, it can even be pink with bunnies on it to show that your guild is mostly for laughs. Whatever you decide is ultimately up to you, and the decisions you make will be the guiding light in reaching other like-minded people out there.

The third step is incredibly important and it all depends on who you know beforehand. A good way to ensure that you find the right people for your guild is to make it “invite only” for the first few weeks. This means, only invite friends, family, and the people those two groups recommend. Run a few quests, raids, or PvP sessions with these new recruits and see if they pan out the way you expect. As you continue to get more and more members through this method, you will establish a positive reputation for having a unified group. More and more free agents will be drawn to this and seek a chance to get in on the fun. The longer your guild is around, the more people will look to join it. Now the next part may take some extra work and may not be for everyone, but if you can find the right connections, it will be worth your while.

You probably guessed step four, as it is the centerpiece for a lasting guild relationship: the website. Though one could say that all a guild has to do is just meet in game, you have to remember that there will be times where that is not possible. In the MMORPG world people have agendas, appointments, work, school, and so on. Also, some of your guild mates may not have access to a computer that has the game downloaded on it. By having a website, players can meet in an easy to access venue to discuss pretty much anything. In fact, a better term to use instead of website would be message boards. And unless your friends are spoiled brats, they probably won’t mind if you don’t have some elaborate website with interactive graphics attached. I personally recommend either Provision or GNU for your message board choice; primarily because they are free and easy to operate. Hooray for free things! All in all though, there are dozens more to choose from, so just surf the internet or ask a guild mate that specializes in Information Systems for assistance.

Step five is communication and in a game like World of Warcraft that revolves around instancing and questing, it is essential to have some live chat going. Ventrilo and TeamSpeak seem to be the popular ones these days, and from personal experience, neither are difficult to set up. It will require you getting access to your own private channel (which may cost a few dollars depending on the program) and then relaying the network address to your guild mates. Naturally, a headset and microphone are important as well, as they are the keys to communicating on the channel. Yes, hearing lots of people all at once can get annoying sometimes, even more so if someone leaves their microphone on with their music playing full blast. Luckily, that is what the ignore button is for.

Okay Mr. Leader. You now have a background, establishment, website, communication service, and means of accepting people into the guild . . . now what? Well, just do your thing. Based on the game you are playing, run whatever it is that interests you and your guild the most. Have polls on what everyone would prefer to do at certain points in time. If you are a raid based guild, have everyone leave a note on when it would be most convenient for them to get together. If your guild is predominantly PvP oriented, then just assemble a group every time you are on, or just join a previously started one (hey, you’re the leader, you shouldn’t have to ask to get in). Also, be sure to let the achievements of your guild known when you do something groundbreaking. If the MMORPG you are playing has a primary message board, post on that. Partnering with other guilds is also a great way to establish contacts and make connections. It’s all about who you know, both in the real world and the fantasy world.

Just remember that a guild is what you want it to be. It should stand for what you enjoy doing the most, what your beliefs are, and the people you choose to accept. Like-minded individuals will always find their way into a guild that is kind, accessible, and full of opportunity. The more you bring to the table, the more people will line up to get their fill. No matter what the game, just make sure you routinely check on your guild, your website, and the communication server; nothing like one of the three going wrong right before a meeting or guild event. I’ve definitely learned that the hard way. Nevertheless, no matter what you do or where you go with your guild, just remember one last important thing: have fun with it.