Warning: potential DLC quest (Knights of the Nine) spoilers ahead!
From Garn's recollections:
The entirety of the order of the Knights of the Nine met outside of the ruins of an old Alyeid stronghold called Garlas Malatar off of the Gold Coast. The Prophet believed this was where we'd find Umaril the Blasphemer and from the scouting report Sir Brellin brought us back he was correct - Aurorans were seen guarding the entrance.
"Assembled for battle."
Once everyone was prepared I gave the call and we charged into the ruin. A few of the knights immediately took up positions to overwatch the melee with bow and arrow while the rest of us went for the guards by the entrance. The Aurorans were no easy match for my knights, most of them still relatively inexperienced, but with our superior numbers we won fights we might have otherwise lost. Inside the mostly intact lower levels of the Alyeid ruin we found yet more Aurorans. Easily more of them than I'd ever encountered at one time before then. Vicious fighting filled the corridors and chambers with the sounds of sword on steel echoing all around us. It didn't take long before we realized that something was amiss - it seemed as if more and more Aurorans were appearing no matter how many we slew.
"Despite being electrocuted 57 times each the Knights prevail."
When we reached further into the stronghold I spotted it - a strange glowing black sphere floating on a platform above us. There was no doubt in my mind that its magics were affecting us somehow, possibly by summoning these Daedra. While my brothers were engaged in a particularly thick fight, distracting all nearby Aurorans, I made my break to look for a way to access the orb. Soon I found a stairway to a higher level and found myself standing in front of the artifact. With all of my strength I struck down on it with the Sword of the Crusader, smashing the sphere into a thousand tiny black shards. As an energy waved burst outward a hidden staircase revealed itself, lowering into the floor in front of me.
"Umaril and the Crusader face off."
It was only a matter of moments more before I reached Umaril's throne room. Perhaps recognizing Pelinal Whitestrake's garb, or perhaps well aware that I was on my way all along, he drew a massive Elven longsword and wasted no time charging at me. In the rare instance while I was on the offensive most of my blows seemed to glance off of his ornate Alyeid armor and the rest of the time he was absolutely tireless with his vicious strikes against me. If I had been using anything but the blessed Shield of the Crusader it would have been hacked to pieces within seconds. Despite Umaril's ceaseless assault I still found time to cast the occasional spell and quickly noted that lightening seemed particularly effective against him. I worked into a routine of dodging his blows, blocking them, and occasionally managing to push him back with a heavy shield slam, giving me a moment to hit him with a bolt of lightening before he lunged back towards me. Unable to adapt quickly enough he soon laid dead at my feet in a golden armored heap.
"Goin' up to the spirit in the sky!"
My battle was not done however. After taking a moment to my equipment and to cast a few healing spells on myself I invoked the Prophet's Blessing of Talos and was almost instantaneously whisked away. My first thought was that this part of the Outer Realms looked much more like Tamriel than expected, then I looked down and realized that I was in the sky high above the Imperial City. I panicked and began to scramble madly for something to grab onto only to discover that I was somehow floating in place, in no danger of falling. Looking back up, a confused and very angry Umaril again raised his sword to charge me. Wasting no time I assailed him with a volley of powerful consecutive lightning blasts sending him tumbling off of his feet and falling downward towards the city below. In an instant I, too, was falling, and that was the last thing I remembered before waking up.
Upon stirring the spirit of Sir Amiel spoke to me. He said that his vows finally completed, he and his fellow spirits of the original Knights of the Nine to rest could now finally rest in peace. Thanking me and praising me as the new Crusader the ghosts vanished before me in wisps of fine white smoke.
I dusted myself off and walked out of the crypt to be almost immediately intercepted by Sir Thedret, sword in hand, coming to investigate the voices he was hearing below. Overjoyed at seeing me alive he explained that after he and the rest of the knights had cleared out the last of the Aurorans they set out to track me down only to find my lifeless body laying beside Umaril's in the Alyeid king's throne room. Assuming I was dead they brought my body by dark of night to the order's crypt to keep my passing secret from our enemies, and there I was, alive! Before I could get much of a word in edgewise he ran back upstairs to tell the others. As I slowly followed him out of the priory I found him giving a speech to the rest of the assembled Knights of the Nine in the courtyard.
Victorious in my battle against Umaril the Unfeathered I was greeted by the applause and cheers of the rest of my order. This was the moment I had been hoping for since escaping my damp cell in the Imperial Prison so long ago. I still didn't know exactly who I had been yet I somehow knew then that whether I had been questing for the Crusader's Relics in my previous life or if I had simply been destined to be a Knight of the Nine all along, I was in the right place. I also knew what my next quest would be. There was no more running, I needed to face up to the responsibility that I had been putting off for so long and do my part to restore order to the Empire. I needed to go to Weynon Priory.
Fun fact: I made all of the Knights of the Nine NPCs "essential" so they'd make it through the assault on Garlas Malatar to hopefully serve as useful companions later on. If I hadn't the majority would have been slaughtered.
Warning: potential DLC quest (Knights of the Nine) spoilers ahead!
From Garn's recollections:
The Tainted Blade
Upon reaching the Priory of the Nine we were greeted by Lathon, squire to Sir Roderic, the knight who I had encountered in the original pilgrimage I embarked on after first meeting the Prophet. After I sent Carodus to begin his initiation Lathon told me of the grave news regarding Sir Roderic. Sir Roderic had completed his pilgrimage and begun his own quest for the relics. After a vision in which he saw the corruption of Sir Berich he sought out the traitorous knight's tomb in the wildness to the southwest of Bruma. Although he and Lathon were able to recover the Greaves of the Crusader, Sir Roderic was slain by Sir Berich’s wraith, who Lathon swore was wielding the legendary Sword of the Crusader itself. Thankfully Lathon was able to escape with the greaves and handed them over to the order’s possession.
"Lathon reveals my next task."
With Lathon’s information I knew where next I was to travel. I equipped the now completed set of relic armor and gathered the few knights who were at the priory to announce that a pivotal moment was now upon our order: we knew where the last of the Crusader’s Relics was located and what we must do retrieve it. I then dispatched riders to recall the rest of the knights as well as to attempt to locate the Prophet before setting off north with Lathon as my guide.
"How did this get here?!"
The seasoned squire lead me to Underpall Cave which, at first, seemed like any other cave around Cyrodiil that was large enough to be inhabited by humans. Once I reached the main chamber, however, there was some kind of a ruined fortress built into the back half of the cave which, I had properly imagined, was built far back into the rest of the cave system. The keep itself was large and maze like and infested with all manner of undead. The structure took me quite some time to fully explore and I slew and turned many a foe but eventually I located what seemed to be the last and largest chamber of the system. It was a cavernous room filled with stalactites and stalagmites with a small underground lake occupying the bulk of the space. The thick scent of the musty air was almost choking and my meager torch did little to illuminate the massive room around me but this was the least pressing of my concerns.
"Impromptu funeral pyre."
Shortly after stepping into the room the shade of a spectral warrior materialized. I dropped my torch and drew my Daedric longsword but then another appeared. As I engaged the first spirit yet another appeared over my shoulder. Soon I was completely surrounded by these ghostly warriors, each raising a weapon and coming at me with vicious ferocity. The aggressive attacks of this company of specters had me pinned into a corner in short order. I was holding my own with blade and spell but I had to frequently cause diversions that would give me enough time to heal myself. After cutting through about most of the apparitions I spotted what I knew had to be Sir Berich’s corrupted wraith watching me from afar. Suspecting that it might be controlling some if not all of the spectral warriors I sent an arc of lightning cracking at it. The hit seemed effective but not enough to take down the wraith alone.
Soon I had exhausted my arcane energies and found myself having to resort to martial combat alone. More troubling, I had to fumble through my vials of healing potions several times to keep my wounds from overwhelming me. Thankfully the Crusader’s Relics proved a powerful defense with their numerous ancient blessings and enchantments. Eventually I employed a tactic of luring as many of the remaining spirits as I could into a side chamber to finish them off one at a time with sword, shield, and a little trickery. When I emerged back into the main cavern I found the wraith waiting for me again, the corrupted Sword of the Crusader glowing angrily in its hand. I raised my longsword to my eyes and began the duel. With my other enemies gone the wraith was no match and soon I had the last relic in hand. Before leaving I returned to fetch Lathon so that we could recover Sir Roderic's body for a proper burial.
"We don't tolerate your kind 'round these parts!"
Back at the priory my brothers and I gathered around the tainted sword and debated how best to restore it. It was soon decided that we should attempt to reconsecrate the relic at the Chapel of Arkay in Cheydinhal. I chose to go alone as to not draw further suspicion to my cause. The trip to Cheydinhal was quick and uneventful, yet swinging open the door to the chapel I discovered another group of armored Aurorans in the middle of the now familiar process of desecrating the chapel and slaying anyone who would stand in their way. I managed to put down two of the Daedra though several others chased after a fleeing priestess and ran out into the city where several of the city guard joined the fray. A chaotic melee soon broke out in the Cheydinhal streets but the Aurorans were defeated by our combined efforts and surprisingly without anyone dying, though some chapel goers were quite seriously injured. Back in the chapel I placed the sword on the alter and, still somewhat of a skeptic in the power of the divines, asked Arkay to purify the relic. A strange glow swept over the sword and though I couldn't say how I could tell that the blade had been changed.
"Virtual Church Simulator 2006"
When I returned to the priory I was met by Sir Thedret who told me that the Prophet had made his way there and that the rest of the order was assembling in the priory’s chapel to hear him speak. As we entered the chapel he had already started giving a sermon to the newly reformed Knights of the Nine. After the sermon concluded The Prophet spoke to me in private. He congratulated me on completing my quest and told me that my victory now was nearly certain providing I could pass the next challenge before me – if I could slay Umaril in the physical word he could arm me with the relic of the ninth divine, the blessing of Talos, which would allow me to travel into the realm of Oblivion and destroy the Unfeathered’s spiritual form and end his pack with the Daedric lords one and for all.
This actually turned out to be one of the more difficult quests in the game for me despite having a fully decked out character by this point.
The fight at the Underpall Reflecting Pool section was about 200 times more dramatic than I described it thanks in large part to the fact the Obscuro's Oblivion Overhaul made that particular room home to the necromancer lord Fayth Noor meaning I had to fight not one but TWO bosses and their minions at the same time. To make matters worse Fayth Noor silenced me almost immediately and his horde of Spectral Reavers ganged up on me and beat the ever loving hell out of me.
Afterwards, when the Aurorans were attacking the Chapel of Arkay I actually had to reload several times so that I could concentrate my attacks on them in such a way as to keep them from running rampant all over Cheydinhal, murdering random NPCs that I'd prefer not to be dead for the rest of the game. Ugh...
I've been wanting to play this damn game since its pre-release hype train first started rolling down the tracks. First of all, I definitely consider myself a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series and Rockstar Games in general. Second, a Western? A serious, open world Western done by a studio I like, using proven tech? Sign me up, right? Third, after its release the game got more or less lauded by critics and gamers across the board. Actually, the fact that the game (shamefully) never made it to PC is one of the few things brethren of the “PC Master Race” have to be jealous of the unwashed console masses over. So, yeah, this game has definitely been high on my list for a while now.
So, at long last...
"John Marston, brooding in the rain..."
One of my first impressions was my surprise about just how damn slowly the game takes off. Sure, the first plot point is early and suitably dramatic but after that? Molasses city. Worse yet, I felt a little bit of that old open world “err, what do I do now, and why do I give a shit about doing it?” feeling set in almost immediately. Another factor here is the engine. GTA 4's engine (which Red Dead Redemption uses) is beautiful and impressive in many ways, but it feels seriously clunky in some others. Shooting, riding horses, hell, just walking around can feel a little awkward sometimes with getting stuck into odd looking animation loops or clipping through objects in weird ways probably the most common offenders. As I concluded with GTA 4 years ago, once you get used to the engine’s “feel” and some of its idiosyncrasies it’s just fine, good even. Besides, blowing a bandit off his horse with your revolver feels magnificent. That lead up definitely hurts the early game though.
So I wasn't quite as impressed as I thought I’d be at first. Boo hoo! Soon though, the absolutely incredible execution of Rockstar's world crafting started to steer my opinion back around. The rolling plains teaming with wildlife, campfires in the Mexican desert, seedy frontier towns filled with whores and bandits, and other appropriate tropes of the genre are all here and feel just great. The immersion started taking hold to a serious degree as I found myself riding my horse from location to location more appealing than the various "fast travel" options and being overly concerned with Marston's wardrobe and preference in firearms. As I've mentioned here before, being able to feel deeply immersed in a game world tends to be one of the more compelling factors in whether or not I'm going to love a game and have no doubt, this is where RDR shines the brightest.
"The environments are damn beautiful, in an empty sort of Western USA kind of way."
I would definitely have to say the game’s serious tone has a lot to do with this. GTA 4 was mostly a serious affair but served with a massive side of the often not-so-subtle satire the series is known for but RDR is almost entirely straight-laced. So focused in fact, that while your character is free to go on murderous rampages if you desire (apparently not too out of character given his outlaw past, though that is debatable) he has absolutely no interest in patronizing the local working girls due to being a dedicated husband. Wow, is this the same Rockstar?
I wouldn't go as far as to say the game's writing is anything amazing, however. I mean, the game is filled top to bottom with clichés from classic Westerns and while this mostly feels like honest tribute from fans of the genre, I feel like a few of the characters I encountered early on were walking stereotypes. This is a common trait of Westerns though, even in some of the more acclaimed modern movies, and the few characters the develop into being likeable and fairly interesting (John Marston, our protagonist, chief among them) more than make up for that. One of the bigger underlying themes of the story, the death of the "old west" as it is an allegory for the way we grow and change, is fairly well worn as well. It could have still been a damn fascinating theme if delved into a little deeper. Shame that. As an aside, this game has got me absolutely fiending to watch gritty modern Western movies like nothing else. Argh!
"Herding cattle is just one of the many tedious virtual jobs you can toil away at."
One last, minor disappointment is with how damn similar this game plays (mechanically speaking) to any other GTA inspired open world game. Sure, you’re on a horse in the plains instead of on a Faggio in Liberty City, but damn! Part of me would actually much rather this game have been a much shorter, more focused experience that took chances with some different mechanics. It would have probably lost something in that, sure, but the déjà vu I felt while racing from point A to point B while trying to shoot all of the red dots on my mini-map certainly detracted from the experience if only a little.
Finally, I know it’s been spoiled a million times over now but I’ll still avoid mentioning specifics: I thought the unconventional structure of the ending was quite interesting. The game continues on after it would seem like a typical place for it to have concluded and does so more than once! Not in a “ha ha, got you!” kind of way, it's actually fairly consistent with the rest of tone of the game. I've yet to really decide whether this was a good thing or not (I can't stand playing a game when it feels like it's worn out its welcome and false endings definitely don't help) but it is fun to think about in any case.
Anyway, overall the experience was awesome. Not perfect by a long shot, but unique and worthwhile all the same. I regret not jumping into the game when it launched so I could experience the fun looking multiplayer a little but that is a common downside to clearing out one's backlog, I suppose. Next up I’ll be playing through the expansion pack, Undead Nightmare, but first I think I need to watch another episode of Deadwood…
Xbox 360 screenshots shamefully stolen from elsewhere, as usual...