Ahhh, F.E.A.R. 2. As I mentioned in my F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon overview back in May, F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was what really drew me into to finally getting into the series. I thought it looked awesome, with it’s semi-forced first person perspective and much more detailed environments. When I started to research more about the F.E.A.R. series I was surprised to find that most of its fans didn’t view Project Origin all that positively, and even those that did often still regarded the first game as superior. After completing F.E.A.R. 2 I think I actually agree.
"Just hanging around..."
After playing the first game I was still quite skeptical about it’s supposed superiority over its sequel, after all it left a lot of room for improvement and F.E.A.R. 2 seemed to address a lot of those issues. Well it does indeed address them. First of all, it certainly looks good, with a more detailed, modern art style and improved animation. The story is, for what it's worth being mostly a retelling of the first game’s already confusing plot, is told with much better presentation overall. Also the environments are way less repetitive and monotonous which is a well known criticism of the first game. Unfortunately, for the most part, these improvements only serve to raise the game to the level of “average.” That is, while the environments might not be repetitive anymore, they’re also not that much more interesting or engaging. In some way, that actually makes them LESS interesting than those in its predecessor.
"Your squad, who your character is still inexplicably splitting up from constantly."
That’s kind of the story of the game, really. Many things seemed to get lost in translation to this new engine. The lauded gunplay of the first games doesn’t “feel” quite as good. For the first third or so of my playthrough I was actually actively underwhelmed by it. I eventually settled on my two favorite guns and got used to them, warming up to the game overall, but for a while I was considering not even finishing it. The unique AI from the first game feels stripped down and while the enemies still do cool things on occasion it’s not quite as noticeable or dynamic. I did like the addition of iron sights on guns and ability to “cook” grenades (despite killing myself an embarrassing number of times from cooking them for too long.) Oh, and the slow motion power is still awesome and those mech stages? Sweet.
One oddity about the combat is that I sometimes found myself pining for a cover system of some sort. Perhaps F.E.A.R. 2’s nod to newer style cover mechanics (by being able to flip and move objects to use as cover) also included some additional tuning to encourage cover use, for one the engagement distances were often quite a bit longer than the almost exclusively close quarters fights of the first game, but without a good, ACTUAL cover system I felt overly exposed almost all of the time. Even the ability to lean would be a welcome return. *sigh* I did like the way the health and armor system worked though, keeping me in a near constant state of walking the line between having a good supply of armor and health packs and being moments away from death.
"Iron sights, yes!"
Something else that gets lost along the way are the horror elements. Yes, they're still there, and no, they aren’t terrible, but just felt a little “by the numbers”. I was happy that I had a flashlight that stayed on and that the environments weren’t pitch fucking black, but the jump scares and Alma scenes were mostly total misses for me. Perhaps the fact that the levels were so much more linear and much more consistently paced than in the first game meant that those scenes were more expected when they showed up. Oh, and I also found F.E.A.R. 2’s soundtrack to be totally unremarkable, which is a huge letdown given how surprisingly great the creepy soundtrack of the first game was.
"Time for a brief MechWarrior break."
F.E.A.R. 2 is still a fun, well made shooter, and by the time I completed the game I had warmed up to it a bit and was even tempted to try the well reviewed but (somehow still) overpriced expansion DLC. I guess my overall take is that the improvements are largely only skin deep and do very little to advance the series in any meaningful way. I’m glad I played it, but after just playing it's somehow more captivating predecessor it just didn’t hook me quite as well as I hoped it might. I almost feel that if the best parts of both games could somehow combine together you might have an absolutely stellar game. F.E.A.R. 3, perhaps? Apparently not. The reviews of that one ensure that I’ll be giving it a miss entirely, unfortunately.
(As an aside, the tomes and tomes of PDA text that attempted to further flesh out the fiction really surprised me. I can’t believe anyone thought this was a good idea. They TOTALLY ruin the pacing, and I’m not sure what would compel me to have to stop and stand there reading these dry “intel” texts every few minutes instead of trying to complete my mission.)
Warning: potential main quest spoilers ahead!
From the journals of Garn:
Bedding down by my camp fire on the first night of my journey back east to Cloud Ruler Temple I’ve found myself admiring the fine Dwarven craftsmanship of Volendrung. I’m sure if this ancient weapon could speak it would have quite a story about how it came to be owned by a Daedric Prince. I'm mildly irritated at Prince Malacath rewarding with me with such a massive and heavy artifact when I have so far to travel to bring it back to Martin. If it were almost any other Daedric Prince I might suspect it was strictly for their amusement.
I’ve made it much further east now, almost halfway across the province. I’m quite disheartened by the increasing amount of Oblivion portals appearing, seemingly randomly throughout the land. The few travelers I’ve encountered on the roads are calling this the Oblivion Crisis and believe it is only going to get worse. Judging from the many gifts and offerings I’ve been given by pilgrims traveling to far off churches and shrines it would seem that people believe the Nine are Tamriel’s only hope. From what I’ve seen they might be right.
"Preparing to assault the Bruma gate."
I’ve arrived at Cloud Ruler Temple and presented Volendrung to Martin. At first he was skeptical about its Daedric properties but when I told him its name he appeared to be familiar with it and seemed satisfied that it would suffice. Martin made it a point not to ask me what I had to do to obtain such an item, probably fearing that I took part in some depraved scheme. Even though Prince Malacath’s request was relatively benign and I’m sure Martin would agree that Lord Drad’s fate, whatever it might have been, was a price worth paying for the greater good of Cyrodiil, I’m keeping the tale of Malacath’s Ogres to myself for now.
Jauffre sends word that an Oblivion gate has opened up outside of the Bruma city walls and requests that I meet Captain Burd of the Bruma guard to lead them into the portal, showing them how they're closed. While I’m far from an expert on Mehrunes Dagon’s realms, my reputation has apparently been bolstered greatly by my victory at Kvatch. I’m happy to help Bruma’s men with knowledge and experience that could ultimately foil the Mythic Dawn’s plans, but I know it will not be done without much bloodshed.
"Captain Burd stares up in amazement at the sigil tower."
As I feared, several of Bruma’s city guard have fallen. Some outside of the portal trying to clear a way from invading Daedra for Captain Burd’s retinue to enter the gate, and most of Captain Burd’s retinue itself once inside the portal. Still, the captain himself was able to stay with me despite a grievous injury early into the journey to the portal’s sigil tower. Together we fought against all manner of lesser Daedra, including a large number of fearsome Dremora warriors and Xivilai mages. The fighting in this portal is some of the toughest I’ve faced yet - if we survive this Oblivion Crisis it will not be without much loss of life. We were successful in closing the portal. Burd will be training all of his men on how to navigate the scarred landscapes and how to operate the unusual mechanisms of Mehrunes Dagon’s siege towers.
Jauffre is pleased with the results of my training with the Bruma guard but agrees with me that our most fearsome foes, such as the veteran Dremora I encountered in the portal outside of Bruma, have yet to emerge from Oblivion, and when they march in force our small militias of city guards, mercenaries, and adventurers will be hard pressed to stop them. He requests that I visit the Imperial City and each of the other major cities in Cyrodiil to try to obtain more soldiers to reinforce Bruma’s numbers. Knowing that the biggest strikes will be on Bruma, a decisive victory there could help set the pace for the upcoming war. With my experience traveling around the entirety of Cyrodiil in recent months and my stations in the guilds we both agree that I’m the perfect person to take up this task, though I don’t have relationships with too many of the Council members or Counts. I’ll surely think of some way to help convince them to lend Bruma a hand. It is in their own best interest, after all.
"No help from the Legion? Time to build our own."
My first stop along this journey is a disappointment. I managed to meet with the High Chancellor himself but despite what seemed like a large amount of interest in our cause Ocato says he can spare none of his legions as they’re more than occupied with the Daedric invasion in other provinces. I have no reason to doubt his claims, I just hope I have more luck with the Counts.
I had decided to travel east to Cheydinhal to meet with Count Andel Indarys. The Count is quick to deny my request, citing the Oblivion gate that had appeared outside of Cheydinhal as his top priority, and that all his men would be needed to defend the city against it. He notes that his son, Farwil, has taken some knights and entered the portal and suggests I might lend a hand. The guards at the portal spin a different tale than the Count’s and suggested that Farwil and his Knights of the Thorn are young and foolish and are almost certainly in way over their heads. I figure this could be a great opportunity to help the Count and the rest of Cheydinhal, perhaps giving the Count pause to reconsider sending troops to Bruma.
"Farwil executes a Dremora prisoner."
I stepped into Oblivion and almost immediately discovered the corpse of one of the young knights, clad in decorative steel armor, lying near the portal. I’ll need to make haste rather than move through this desolate landscape at my typical, more methodical pace. I could see the massive sigil tower looming in the distance but as I approached it I could see a valley open up before me, with a path twisting and winding down across the entire cave-pocked face of the hill. I’ve decided to save time by climbing down instead of following the paths and caves to the bottom. This may be quite difficult in my armor but should save me huge amounts of time. Wish me luck.
I reached the bottom of the huge valley where a huge stone bridge leads to the sigil tower, sitting in a sea of flame and find Farwil and one of his knights huddled together, nursing some minor wounds, and planning their next move. Another dead knight lay nearby. Farwil is rejuvenated by my greeting, instantly pledging to follow me into the tower so that we can defeat more of the Daedra who had killed his brothers. I attempt to talk him out of it but he and his man won’t have any of it. Inside the tower we’ve fought more foes than I can recall. Soon Farwil’s companion lay dead and Farwil himself has sustained further injuries. I’m trying to do the lionshare of the fighting, but Farwil is nothing if not foolishly brave and keeps rushing in to aid me even against unfavorable odds. Farwil and I have done it, we’ve slain the sigil keeper and shut down the siege portal, finding ourselves back outside of the walls of Cheydinhal surrounded by surprised guards. Farwil is eager to inform the Count.
"Anvil during the crisis."
Count Indarys is overjoyed that I was able to save his son and close the Oblivion gate, so much so that he is going to pledge some of his men to help defend Bruma after all. Not only that, but he even rewarded me with a magical sword from the Cheydinhal armory that they call Thornblade. These were perhaps my hardest battles yet and my earlier thoughts about the extreme threat of these invaders now rings even more true - we’ll need to act quickly to stop this invasion before it truly begins. Perhaps I can convince more of the cities to focus on the bigger picture by helping to close Oblivion gates around their lands as well. I’ll attempt this tactic when I journey south to Leyawiin next.
I’ve just secured a small contingent of troops from Leyawiin. As I predicted Count Marius Caro was uncooperative when I initially petitioned him but changed his tune entirely after I closed two gateways nearby the city walls. As before, they were difficult fights. I had brought some of the Knights of Nine with me this time, which both helped me in my efforts and also helped to train them on fighting Daedra and storming the sigil towers. After a few more of these Oblivion gate battles I will dispatch the order to begin the task of helping to close the more dangerous around Cyrodiil. I’ll also attempt to lobby my guilds to lend whatever help they can to the cause as well.
"Climbing the tower, one Markynaz at a time."
As with Leyawiin, another hard fight, and another Oblivion gate left burning in ruin outside of the walls of Bravil. Count Regulus Terentius was surprisingly helpful and is sending his captain of guard, Captain Lerus, and her personal cadre along to Bruma. Another small victory. I’m immediately continuing West.
The story was much the same with Skingrad. I decided to close the Oblivion gate near Castle Skingrad before ever confronting Count Hassildor. Having previously worked with him to defeat the necromancers who were attempting to infiltrate the Mage’s Guild, I expected a good response from the count. Still, arriving after already removing the immediate threat from his city guaranteed that the count will indeed send some of his guard to reinforce Bruma.
"Meeting with Chorrol's Countess Valga."
As I write this update I've just left Kvatch and I am surprised the report that Kvatch has volunteered to send aid as well. Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised, as Savlian Matius knows as well as anyone the dangers these Oblivion gates pose. I will journey to the coast to consult with the Count and Countess of Anvil next.
With much effort, closing a total of three more of these infernal portals, I’ve secured more troops from both Anvil and Chorrol. Without being able to secure more men from the Imperial Legion and us not having the luxury of time to visit other provinces, this is as good as it will get. I hope its enough. I’ll continue on to the Jerall Mountains at sunrise tomorrow to learn what Jauffre thinks our next move in countering Mehrunes Dagon’s pawns should be.
Warning: potential main quest spoilers ahead!
From Garn's recollections:
Behind Closed Doors
My return to Cloud Ruler Temple was soon met with disappointment as Martin learned of my failure to retrieve the Amulet of Kings. He was utterly shocked, however, when I presented him with the Mysterium Xarxes instead. Martin had made a few veiled allusions to having dabbled in Daedra worship before becoming a priest of Akatosh but his reaction, a combination of intrigue and fear, seem to confirm everything. The intrigue evidently won out as Martin carefully took the tome into possession.
Martin revealed that while I was gone he had studied my copies of the Mythic Dawn Commentaries for more clues on our attackers. He suspected that when Mankar Camoran fled the Mythic Dawn ceremony he returned to the paradise he referred to so much in his writings. Paradise, he suspected, was an actual, physical place, likely in a plane of Oblivion itself. With an artifact as powerful as the Mysterium Xarxes in his possession it was hard to say what Mankar Camoran could have accomplished. Perhaps we could use the Mysterium Xarxes to aid us in stopping the Mythic Dawn? Research would be slow, however, so I left Martin to it and returned to Jauffre for my next mission.
"Well, that was unusually straight forward."
Jauffre told me of a couple of suspected Mythic Dawn agents who had been spotted numerous times on the road near the temple recently, likely spying on our activities. With the rest of the Blades busy guarding the temple walls or assigned to Martin, he dispatched me to attempt to track these spies down. Captain Steffan added that he had seen them around the runestone near the bottom of the road at around dusk the previous day and suspected I might find them there again.
Setting off down the mountain I found no trace of the spies neither on the road nor near the runestone. My next course of action was to speak to the Bruma city guard to see if they had any suspicions. Captain Burd in the Great Hall couldn’t think of anyone new who had come to the city nor anyone else he could reasonably point a finger towards. He did seem to recall that a Redguard woman named Jearl had just recently come back from a trip, however. Being my only lead, I decided to give Jearl a visit.
"I guess not all spies are masters of concealment."
I found Jearl’s house, a modest timber home in the Nord inspired style typical of the city, nestled near the city wall in the south side. It seemed that Jearl herself wasn't at home, however. Deciding that time was of the essence I quickly picked the lock and slipped in. Doing my best to move with utmost stealth I searched through anything that could possibly contain even the smallest hint at some sort of Daedric association. At first it seemed that Jearl’s home was as unassuming on the inside as it was from the outside but with the discovery of a trap door leading to a basement carelessly hidden beneath a rug my investigation took a hard turn.
The basement contained a few very big clues - as if copies of a couple of the volumes of the Mythic Dawn Commentaries weren't enough I found an extremely revealing letter from Ruma Camoran with details on Jearl’s mission there too. Jearl was to perform reconnaissance on Cloud Ruler Temple in preparation for the cult’s pending attack on Bruma and, ultimately, Martin Septim. This new information was too crucial to wait and I immediately abandoned my attempts to remain undetected and left the house, riding back towards Cloud Ruler Temple.
"Showdown at the Bruma runestone!"
Riding within view of the great runestone outside of the city walls a shadowy figure caught my eye. It was nearing dusk by this point so I drew my horse that direction to see if this could be one of the Mythic Dawn spies. Before even reaching the runestone I saw the figure consumed by a flash of burning orange and red flame and reappear in the Mythic Dawn's crimson cloaked armor. I'd been spotted. Leaping from my horse and drawing my blade I narrowly dodged a lightning bolt as I swung around to face the cultist. The second Mythic Dawn spy had also joined the fray, both tossing offensive spells at me and taking wild swings with their maces. I had hoped to take these agents alive but their zealous fervor gave me little choice but to defend myself and soon I stood victorious, both cultists laying dead.
Jauffre was pleased with the results in any case, and immediately set off with a small retinue of Blades to warn the Countess of Bruma about the Mythic Dawn’s plans. I spoke to Martin again to see if he’d made any progress with the Mysterium Xarxes. Martin believed that with the power of the Mysterium Xarxes he could indeed open a portal to Camoran’s paradise, but he would need four items to perform the ritual. So far, the only one of these he’d deciphered was the blood of a Daedra lord. It goes without saying that I couldn’t fathom how I could come across such a thing but when Martin suggested that practically all of the legendary Daedric artifacts that had found their way to Tamriel were created with the essence of a Daedric lord, and therefore should suffice, I hatched a plan.
"*proceeds to speak at length about the dark ritual*"
Despite my own study of the arts of conjuration I had steered fairly clear of direct contact with the Daedric princes or their worshipers. Daedric magic was well known to corrupt and besides, Daedra worship had been outlawed in the Empire and I wasn’t eager to find myself in a cell again. Conjuring Daedric creators and items was risky enough. Still, I had always made mental note of my encounters with anything Daedric. One of the first things I had recalled upon listening to Martin’s theories was talk amongst the Anvil Fighter’s Guild about a shrine to the Daedric lord Malacath north of the city. There were widespread rumors that worshipers who made offerings at Daedric shrines were occasionally granted favors by the Daedric princes so perhaps I could find Malacath in a generous mood. I prepared for the long journey back to the Gold Coast.
The conditions around Cyrodiil were worse than I had suspected. Oblivion portals had been opening seemingly randomly throughout the countryside all over the realm, with all manner of Daedra spilling out to raise any sign of civilization they encountered. Many small villages and settlements had been sacked and set ablaze, with those in other areas living in constant fear of a similar fate. Bands of town guards, Imperial Legionnaires, and mercenaries alike banded together to hunt the invaders or, in some case, to defend themselves from being hunted. I could spare little time to help, however, and rode onto Anvil. After a brief rest and a warm meal I located Prince Malacath’s shrine.
"Paying Prince Malacath a visit."
I found the small shrine nestled in the hills north of Anvil, surprisingly close to the city, actually. Not so surprisingly, the Orcs who attended the shrine were highly suspicious of my motives. Still, after some coaxing one of them suggested an offering of troll fat and soon I was surprised to find that I had successfully summoned the attention of what seemed to be the Daedric lord himself. Not unlike the Orcs who favored him, Malacath was gruff and harsh in tone and wasted little time on pleasantries or small talk. Instead he demanded I do something for him. He wanted to free some Ogres ("his Ogres") who had been enslaved by a local landowner, Lord Drad. This seemed like a reasonable enough request if it could possibly reward me with an artifact of Daedric origin.
"This guy is probably rethinking his chosen profession about now."
I found Lord Drad’s estate with ease but when I confronted him about his Ogre slaves he rudely insisted I mind my own business. His wife was a little more sympathetic to the plight of these Ogre slaves and let slip that Drad had them working a small mine on his property. After making my leave I located the mine on the edge of the estate and snuck, unseen, past the door and past the guards. Deeper into the mine I finally located several groups of captive Ogres chained to the walls, smashing stones with their bare fists. A barbaric fate even for brutish Ogres. I slashed off each of Ogre’s shackles as well as the locks on the gates to their cells. The Ogres wasted no time seeking revenge against Lord Drad's guards, furiously rampaging through the mine. The guards stood little chance. Keeping my distance I followed the Ogres out of the mine and parted ways with them as they continued their rampage onto Lord Drad’s estate.
Back at the shrine Prince Malacath was quite pleased with my success, laughing heartily at the thought of Lord Drad's fate. He asked me to hold out my arms and soon I found them burdened by the weight of a massive magic warhammer he called Volendrung. Hoping that this would suffice for our ritual I bid the Daedric Prince farewell and prayed to the Nine that he had no knowledge or concern about the Mythic Dawn cult and their plots on Nirn.