You know, like a lot of kids when I was young Halloween was easily one of my favorite times of year. Insane amounts of delicious, horrible candy, cool macabre decorations everywhere, and of course the costumes… oh the costumes! As an adult I still enjoy all of these things, plus we get the addition of drunken Halloween bashes and the seemingly ubiquitous “sexy” adult costumes to boot. Upgrade!
Still, for me Halloween as an adult has been largely a bust. This year wasn't going any different so I decided to try to head it off at the pass a little bit and get back in the spirit of the holiday – watch a couple of horror movies and, hey, why not play something Halloween themed too? I could have gone with one of the numerous horror or zombie themed games out there these days but instead If decided to cross Double Fine’s Costume Quest off of my XBLA backlog. I've been wanting to play it since the first reviews of it rolled in and what a better time than the week of Halloween itself?
Costume Quest isn't a horror game. It isn't even a scary game. It is, on the other hand, Halloween... as... fuck! It’s about a pair of siblings going out trick or treating when one of them gets kidnapped by a group of monsters that seem to be in the process of a massive candy heist. The theme of Halloween night and the childhood tradition of getting really hyped about getting dressed up and scoring mountains of candy is pulled off incredibly well. Even better perhaps is the relationship your character has with their sibling – the sometimes apathetic, sometimes love/hate relationship they have with each other really adds an authenticity to the experience. After all, if you had siblings you were sharing your holidays with them, for better or for worse. The writing is great and while I suppose it is kid friendly, this is clearly a game written by adults, for adults, and it’s hilarious.
"Spying on some grubbin scum."
The game itself is a sort of simplified take on the classic JRPG. Your party roams around in a top down “overworld” perspective talking to NPCs, collecting and searching for candy, trick or treating (of course) and doing various, simple quests along the way, all with a fun, highly stylized and cartoony presentation. The combat is fittingly styled after traditional turn based party battles, with different costumes (which are collected throughout the course of the game) granting different powers and abilities. When the fight mode kicks in the graphics amusingly shift into a more realistic, gritty style giving the player a glimpse of what the world apparently looks like in the imaginations of our protagonists. Excellent!
Costume Quest has an overall high quality, nicely polished feel to it, which is what I’d expect from Double Fine. Maybe my only complaint here would be the lack of any voiced dialog but honestly I think I’d rather read text than have these snarky kids represented poorly by horrible adult attempts at child voice acting. It’s also a nice, short game clocking in at maybe 8 hours tops which I appreciate as the JRPG mechanics would probably overstay their welcome with me otherwise. There is an expansion, Grubbins on Ice, but it didn't really sound like it offered enough to justify extending the experience any further so I opted to skip it for now.
"You bet your ass I used the Macross inspired robot costume!"
With what little I've written here I hope you can pretty clearly see the appeal of the game. Literally every one of my friends that I've described it to since I started playing thought it sounded awesome and I definitely enjoyed my romp through it. Perhaps some of the best praise I can give it is that it succeeded in helping remind me of what I loved so much about Halloween as a kid and rekindle a little of that Halloween spirit. Of course, all of this delicious candy I'm stuffing my face with doesn't hurt either...
As usual, these console screenshots were stolen from elsewhere...
I sure have been slacking on updates lately. Truthfully though, it’s not because I haven’t been gaming – I was simply in the mood to play a little more Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion after my last Garn update and so I decided to run out and pick up a used copy of the Xbox 360 GOTY version and go achievement hunting. Great plan, eh? Kind of at odds with trying to burn through my backlog though, especially with as little time as I've been gaming lately. 4 months later and I’m finally done. Ugh.
This was my first time playing Oblivion on console and I found playing the game with a controller surprisingly comfortable. With that, I also finally understand some of the odd choices they made with the interface in Oblivion – I always knew they were for the benefit of console players but the Oblivion interface actually works quite decently on Xbox 360. I admit it was a little odd not being able to apply mods or use the console for quick fixes but all in all it was quite a smooth experience and it was nice to play the game "pure" again considering my Garn playthrough is stacked with all kinds of mods.
I ended up rolling a female dark elf focused on stealth and archery. First, I don't usually play females in RPGs, usually opting to make my characters rough approximations of myself, but the whole point of this playthrough was to try doing things a little differently. Likewise, I know the whole “stealth archer” path is extremely popular in the newer Elder Scrolls games but I've never found the idea of going with archery as a primary weapon all that appealing. Very quickly into this game my opinion changed, however. While stealthing around and doing most of my killing from afar is definitely a little slower paced, it feels much more empowering than doing traditional melee or magic builds. Stealth headshots for huge damage insta-kills are extremely satisfying though I admit I did find myself using my sword more and more as my character grew in power simply to speed things along.
"Into The Mouth of Madness!"
I decided to play her as a ruthless (but not quite evil) assassin and brought her through the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild quest lines first. I still find the Arena, Fighters Guild and Mages Guild quest lines to be rather tedious to repeat though, especially after not wrapping up the later too long ago in my Garn playthrough. It was interesting observe that I was almost shepherded along into being a semi-lawful, good character as I went through those later guilds and finally into the main storyline. By the time I was done my character didn't quite feel like the one I had started out with and I didn't feel like that change was all too voluntary either. Sure, I suppose I could have stolen everything not nailed down and killed random NPCs indiscriminately along the way but that really isn't what I was going for with her. Instead I found no real outlet to express my characters “alignment” (if you will) much of the time. Ah well, I suppose that’s more Bioware's bag than Bethesda’s.
More interesting, this was the first time I played through the Shivering Isles expansion! I enjoyed the campaign quite a bit overall though I think I’m really starting to sour on expansion and DLC packs that feel too much like separate content rather than continuations or additions to the main game content. With Shivering Isles, for instance, the tone of, well, everything about the experience really felt a little “off” after just beating the game’s main campaign. I know the expansion pack was probably intended to be played after the player had already abandoned the game for a while as sort of a "return to the game" experience and I’m sure it works much better that way. Regardless, I had fun stopping the Greymarch and who doesn't love the mad god Sheogorath?
Well, now that all of that is over with, more Garn posts coming soon!
Warning: potential side quest (Mages Guild) spoilers ahead!
From Garn's recollections:
Blackened Soul Broken
When I arrived at the Arcane University I immediately made my way to the Council Chambers to present Arch-Mage Traven with the Necromancer’s Amulet. The Arch-Mage was much less interested in the return of the artifact than he was the news of Caranya’s deception, hardly able to believe that one of his closest and most trusted advisors had betrayed him so. He then declare that I was to be his only advisor and that no one else on the Council or in the Guild could be trusted with his plans until the necromancer threat had been stamped out. With that he had my next task for me. I was to meet up with a small contingent of Imperial Battlemages to sack the ruins of Silorn, wherein the Worm cult was producing large numbers of Black Soul Gems. Most significant, they were apparently working on a special Colossal Black Soul Gem for Mannimarco himself to use as a powerful weapon. Traven was vague about his intentions but it seemed that he wanted the Colossal Black Soul Gem himself.
At Silorn I found Thalfin, Merete, and Iver hiding in wait behind some of the outer walls of the site. When I introduced myself they explained that, unaware of reinforcements arriving, they had already tried storming the stronghold but the door was magically sealed. In the ensuing chaos they lost a man and were forced to retreat. Their new plan was to wait for the necromancers to leave the sanctuary of their liar again and strike then, hopefully by surprise. Just then, both Thalfin and I heard the familiar sounds of stone sliding against stone and everyone rushed to take up better positions around the entrance.
"Necromancers vs. Battlemages"
Worm cultists came marching into the ruined courtyard in two columns, totally unaware of us, their lanterns casting a glowy bloom against the hazy gray of the stormy day as they swung. When the group passed the first of our hiding positions the attack was on. Minions were summoned, lightning, fire, and ice spells shot out in every direction, and the sounds of shield, axe, and mace ringing together joined the shouts and screams to make a chorus of battle. The plan was a success – we slew them all without taking any casualties of our own. All but one – the one who appeared to be their ring leader, walking at the center rear of the group when they first emerged, had ran back below the moment we sprung on them. While the Battlemages cleared the field and gathered themselves I continued into the now unprotected inner structure of the ruins of Silorn.
"Planning my attack..."
The inside of the ruin resembled most of the other necromancer lairs I have encountered up to that point. Macabre decorations accompanied by the odd makeshift study or alchemists’ lab, but otherwise nothing but a dusty abandoned dungeon filled with undead. These undead though, were commanded by the living, unlike most of the other places I had plundered as an adventurer. I'm not sure whether that made it better or worse. Regardless, I slew many a necromancer of varying skill, shuffling zombie, undead warrior, powerful lich, and spectres bound by the foul cultists to do their bidding. Many of these battles were quite difficult and I found my trek deeper into Silorn in search of the Colossal Black Soul Gem growing a challenge with every new room. Finally I reached one of the last accessible rooms in the ruin and found my target. The elf who ran was not just any necromancer – it was none other than Falcar, from Cheydinhal! Likely knowing he was cornered Falcar wasted no time pressing the attack. After a short but fierce battle I stood over Falcar’s corpse, Colossal Black Soul Gem in hand.
"Traven seems quite happy with his plan, all things considered..."
I parted ways with the Battlemages, who were sweeping through the inner ruins much further behind me, and immediately set back to see the Arch-Mage. Traven didn’t seem at all surprised to see me back with the gem and immediately took it from me and held it in both hands. His mood was grim as he told me that I would deliver the gem to The King of Worms myself but not before it had been infused with an extremely powerful enchantment that would keep me from being turned into one of his thralls, giving me the chance to strike him down. His orders were simple enough. He then proceeded to tell me that I was to be Arch-Mage of the Mages Guild after he was gone. Before I could put two and two together Traven’s body lay dead on the floor, crackling with arcane energy. He had infused his own soul into the Colossal Black Soul Gem. No, I didn’t see that turn of events coming at all but Traven had left me with no real option but to finish carrying out his plan, both to honor his sacrifice and to put an end to Mannimarco and his cult. I took some time to gather my head and then set forth for Echo Cave to the far north of the Imperial City to see my task through.
"Echo... Echo... Echo..."
The entrance of Echo Cave was guarded by a powerful necromancer who challenged me as a I approached, claiming that he was the only one who held the key and he would not part with it while a living breath still rolled through his body. Naturally, I obliged. The King of Worms picked a worthy wizard to guard his lair, as he was quite skilled with all schools of magic, not just conjuration. He used illusions to hide himself while peppering me with fireballs and curses, yet to hide from me without running is just prolonging your enviable defeat, and soon I was walking through the great rock labyrinth of the cavern, torch in hand, seeking my audience with this false king.
"Who needs captions?"
Echo Cave was without a doubt the headquarters of the Order of the Black Worm - it was positively teaming with Necromancers, some guarding, others researching, and still others going about their Order's more menial duties. Each one, though, fed their blood to the thirsty edge of my Daedric longsword. Thankfully Mannimarco's cultists didn't appear to be expecting attack as guards were never placed in sufficient number as to be a real threat to me. Some of the higher ranked necromancers were skilled sorcerers, many probably defecting from the upper ranks of the Mages Guild long before I ever sought to join it, but one on one, or even one on two, I could manage them well enough. Finally I reached the last area of the cavern, a large chamber with a sizable underground stream running through it. The King of Worms sat on his throne on the other side of the stream, no doubt very much expecting my arrival.
"So, we meet at last!"
I cautiously stepped across the narrow stone ledge leading to the throne. I thought for a moment that I might have actually caught him by surprise but all at once he stood, raised his hands, and I was trapped. Not only by his magic, but giant bony spikes rose from the ground like the grasping fingers of great giants and turned that side of the stream into a island. Paralyzed, my blade dropped from my hands, my back straightened, and my chin rose to bring my gaze directly into his eyes. Mannimarco expressed disappointment in not being able to meet Arch-Mage Traven himself and proceeded to mock him, the Mages Guild as whole, and me of course. He told me of his plans to enthrall me regardless. The joke was on him, of course, as he was about to meet Traven in a very unexpected way.
"The King of Worms strikes a pose."
Mannimarco cast a quick spell no doubt meant to turn me but nothing happened. Confused, he attempted it again but this time his words of power were met with the response of a powerful blast knocking him off of his feet. I was released from his paralyzing spell and immediately reached for my sword. In a blink of the eye the King of Worms had regained his feet and started summoning. Liches appeared, at first two, and then three. I had no choice. I would need to kill him right then before he summoned a whole undead host to overwhelm me.
I concentrated long enough to summon a Daedric warrior from Oblivion to help distract some of the liches and focus on gaining ground on Mannimacro himself. I successfully landed a few blows as he tried to back up and weaken me with further curses. Another blow and he stumbled backwards, clearly injured. He composed himself and prepared a powerful fireblast to send my way but my reaction was quick and I sent it bouncing off of my enchanted shield, landing in the surrounding waters and producing a huge wall of rising steam. For but a moment this caught his eye, just long enough for me to land a forceful swipe of my sword cleanly into the sinewy meat of his neck. The liches suddenly vanished leaving my Daedric minion swiping at thin air, searching for his foes, and the bony barricades crumbled into dust and vanished before me.
Mannimarco was dead. The King of Worms was dead! The cost was terrible but the Mages Guild would rebuild, and few would ever know how close it had come to total annihilation.
Once again Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul conspired to fuck me, despite being level 40 and have pretty decent gear. Practically all of the enemies in these two dungeons had been replaced with much more difficult ones. Spectral warriors and spectral wolves were everywhere and a large portion of the necromancers were replaced with the much more difficult Keepers of the Dead. Ugh! Tedious.