Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

29Nov/090

Duty Called

As I speculated I would in my last Game Log post I did wind up playing the 360 version of Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare’s single player campaign although the results weren’t quite as great as I was hoping for.

COD4 is an excellent, highly polished game with great production value and developers who obviously know what they want out of the series. I, however, wouldn’t share their views on the direction the Call of Duty series has taken. I generally prefer slower, more tactical games – I preferred some of the more tactical multiplayer additions of United Offense to the original and I prefer playing Hardcore mode on Search & Destroy in COD4’s multiplayer (which I’ve played plenty on PC prior to this playthrough of the campaign) for instance.

That's not really the issue though. There’s nothing too glaringly offensive about the way your character controls or the abilities you command over him. The fact that I sometimes have to expend half a magazine on an enemy to put him down or that my health somehow gets refilled after nearly dying doesn’t burn me up either. No, my biggest complaints about the game are about how the flow of the missions, including the checkpoint system, were handled.

It seemed like almost every level involved at least one point at which I’d get stuck in a seemingly endless loop of spawning, rushing off towards my objective, and eventually being killed by an overwhelming, infinitely spawning horde of enemies before managing to reach whatever magical location or predetermined time span triggered the next checkpoint. This was highly annoying as I often didn’t feel like I was playing bad, in fact there were times when I stayed alive for a long, long time and killed an unbelievable amount of enemies yet still didn’t make it to the right spot. No, it feels like the game’s attempts at hand-holding were fighting directly against the gaming instincts I’ve developed over many years of playing similar games. I’d much prefer a system where, even if there is a shit ton of them, there’s always a finite amount of enemies in an area. That alone would have gotten me around many of these areas.

Fact: Marines hate walls.
"Fact: Marines hate walls."

A big part of the problem seems to be that you’re almost always being funneled from one spot to the next and stopping to waste some tangos isn’t necessarily one of your objectives unless you encounter a scripted section where that temporarily becomes the priority. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It is even fairly realistic. However there definitely were sections during which the game wasn’t clear about what I, as in the player rather than the character, was actually supposed to be doing – particularly whatever it would take to trigger the next checkpoint. Again, this caused some major frustration when it came to the sections where I kept dying due to overwhelming numbers of enemies before discovering the trigger.

I may have myself to blame a bit for playing on “hardened” difficulty as I hear normal and easy are quite a bit easier and won’t usually result in nearly as many of these road bumps. In fact I ran through some of the levels in easy after beating the campaign to grab some minor achievements I missed along the way and was amazed at how much better the levels seemed to flow. That being said I can’t imagine playing through the game on “veteran” difficulty if it is really as hard as I’ve heard.

Ultimately I suspect my preference to the open world style of tactical games has a lot to do with my feelings on Modern Warfare. In games like Operation Flashpoint, Ghost Recon, and the Rainbow Six games, you’re usually thrown into an environment, given an objective, and, to some extent, left to your own devices. Sure there can be scripted moments, but the most important scripting is that of the behavior of your enemies in how they react to whatever actions you might decide to perform. COD4 on the other hand attempts to be an extremely directed experience. There are probably differing reasons for why – from keeping the action and narrative moving at a steady pace to providing a more solid narrative that the player feels more a part of in general. In summary, they’re really different games with different priorities and goals.

All of that said the story was interesting, they did a good job mixing up the scenery for the most part, and the action was decently varied as well. As with most other people I’ve run across my favorite level is the AC-130 mission. It was pretty different and I’ve been intrigued by AC-130s since seeing them fly over my house from time to time as a kid, and besides… who doesn’t like to play god every now and then? I’m still very interested in Modern Warfare 2 and I suspect I’ll even play around in the online modes on Xbox Live a bit but I’m not nearly as hyped to play the campaign as I was before playing this.

Another successful, completely unnoticed assassination.
"Another successful, completely unnoticed assassination."

Next I hit Assassin’s Creed up. Assassin’s Creed 2? Nope, the first one! I’m one of the seemingly few people who loved the first AC. Sure, it got repetitive – I don’t disagree with the critics there. However, I found the awesome setting, the feeling of being an assassin prowling the city streets looking for my next victim, the bizarre modern day Templar conspiracy plot, and even some of the mechanics to be compelling enough to take me all the way to the end of the game. I just got really into it.

Well, I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about the recently released Assassin’s Creed 2 and that lead me to reminisce a bit about the first game. I remembered that I had almost all of the achievements including most of the harder ones. I ended up pulling up my achievement list to verify that, actually, I only lacked 5 achievements and they were all relatively easy ones to get. Having never before “completed” a retail Xbox 360 game, getting a full 1000 achievement points, I decided to dust off the game and hop back into the Animus.

Although it took me a little while to remember some of the mechanics of the game I quickly remembered why I loved it so much. The engine still holds up brilliantly and stabbing guards in the face with my hidden blade never gets old. After running the rooftops of Acre one more time I’m even more stoked for AC2… and yes, I got my 1000/1000 achievement points!

Eat blue stuff, foul denizens of the deep! width=
"Eat blue stuff, foul denizens of the deep!"

Finally I picked up Runic Game’s much praised Torchlight. Torchlight is a Diablo clone put out by a combination of some of the original Blizzard guys who made the first two Diablo games, along with the guys who made Fate and Mythos. I loved Diablo 1 and 2 and can’t wait for the third game but I’ve had a hard time getting into many of its clones. Not for a lack of trying! My favorite is Titan Quest which I’ve mentioned in past Game Logs and still intend to finish sometime. Torchlight might just take that spot, however.

The game takes the one, extremely big, largely random dungeon and one town approach of Diablo 1 and adds in many of the refinements and additions of Diablo 2 and its successors along with a highly stylized and enjoyable, yet not too taxing (it’ll even run on netbooks!) graphical style similar to games like World of Warcraft and Dungeon Runners and adds in a more refined interface. Sure, there are some bugs here and there but the game feels quite polished, especially for being from a smaller studio and only costing 20 bones.

Crossing a bridge high above... 20 stories below ground?
"Crossing a bridge high above... 20 stories below ground?"

I suppose this says a lot about the guys who make up Runic Games – this Diablo style game is their bread and butter, it is what they’re good at and they’ve definitely proven that they still have what it takes. In fact one of the things that convinced me to get the game was a brilliant interview with Max Schaefer on Idle Thumbs in which he talked about the company and their approach of staying relatively small and attempting to exist in somewhat of a niche, being happy with making enough money to keep them all paid and in business rather than trying to develop the next mega-hit. That niche also allows them to make riskier games – the type of games that made PC gaming so special to many of us old bastards. Yes, they impressed the hell out of me. I’m even considering sending Runic my resume since I’m sure they’ll be doing some major hiring when they get ready to launch the Torchlight MMORPG. 😉

21Nov/090

The Tale of Garn Chapter 14

Warning: potential side quest spoilers ahead!

From Garn's recollections:

A lucrative profession?

In the morning I made my goodbyes with the people of Aleswell and continued on my journey, heading north along the Silver Road and soon arriving at the city of Bruma. Embarrassed, I had wondered if the people of Bruma, specifically the guard, remembered me from the run in I had with a frost titan last time I was in the city. Thankfully no one seemed to recognize me or, if they did, they kept it to themselves.

I quickly sank into what was now becoming a routine of chatting with locals about rumors and other local going-ons, and casually mentioning that I was looking for work whenever possible. My main target was usually the local inns and bars as they were the easiest places to be social without drawing to much attention to myself – that, and the fact that drunk men often can’t hold their tongues is a useful bonus.

Relax guys, I'm not dragging a vicious monster behind me this time.
"Relax guys, I'm not dragging a vicious monster behind me this time."

One rumor I was consistently hearing was that of some domestic trouble between an Imperial named Arnora Auria and her Nord boyfriend Jorundr. Apparently Jorundr had stolen a bunch of her gold and got himself arrested as a result. Not only was she out her fortune but her love was now imprisoned. While I wasn’t particularly impressed by this story I couldn’t help but feel that the very presence of it on so many people’s lips seemed to indicate that there was more going on. I paid Arnora a visit.

As I suspected Arnora seemed poised for someone to approach her about these rumors and quickly dispensed with several more details of the story. She claimed that her and Jorundr were both thieves and when there marks started getting larger and larger she wanted to get out of the arrangement, yet Jorundr intimidated and coerced her into sticking around. Apparently the pair had scored quite a haul of loot on the night that he was arrest. Arnora wants me to speak with him in jail and attempt to find out where he had hidden it as reparation for her treatment. She promised me a large cut of the value if I could help her recover the loot.

I was rather suspicious of Arnora and her motives but not only did I need money but I was here for adventure and it seemed that this task might lead to some. I visited Jorundr in the Bruma Castle Dungeon.

Jorundr was belligerent and refused to talk to me but while I was there I overheard some other prisoners discussing the slaying of a vampire by a professional vampire hunter that very night. Vampire hunting sounded both rewarding and incredibly exciting. I decided to pursue this rumor and see if I could introduce myself to this vampire hunter and possibly join him.

For the record to complete this quest involving Arnoa and Jorundr it seems I would have had to get myself sent to the Bruma jail the hard way. Unwilling to set Garn on a life of crime (yet) I abandoned the quest for now and moved on to the next one…

 Chupacabra!
"Chupacabra!"

After canvassing the city I learned of the location of the slaying – a villager named Bradon Lirrian’s house. As I reached the scene I saw several guards mulling around the premises including a man who identified himself as Carius Runellius, the investigator. While at first he refused to discuss the killing after explaining to him while I was there he eased up a bit.

According to Carius several bodies with bite marks in their necks were found around the city recently. The city had just begun their investigation when a Dunmer vampire hunter called Raynil Dralas entered the city and found the vampire who turned out to be Bradon Lirrian. The guards investigated his claim and it seems the citizens had only seen Bradon out at night. Furthermore, a body was discovered in the basement of his house. As if that weren’t enough the Bruma guard had also verified Raynil’s good work with the city guard of Skingrad.

While the story seemed pretty straight forward I couldn’t help but notice the presence of a woman at the scene. When I asked about her Carius told me that she was Bradon’s wife, Erline, and that she was suffering from a severe level of shock, most likely from unknowingly living with a vampire for so long.

When I spoke with Erline she didn’t seem to be suffering from shock at all to me. In fact she seemed quite far from it. However, she was very insistent that her husband wasn’t a vampire and that he had, in fact, been murdered. She told me that her husband simply worked at night and that alone didn’t make him a vampire. Carius scoffed at her claims and told me I could take a look at the scene if I wished.

When I entered the house I immediately noticed that the scene before me conflicted with what I was told. Carius said that Raynil had claimed to have snuck into Bradon’s house and killed him while he slept during the day. However, it seemed pretty clear that there was a struggle and that Bradon hadn’t been sleeping when he was killed.

I decided to continue my search for Raynil though now with a different purpose in mind. I searched high and low but was unable to find any sign of a Dunmer matching his description. A few people told me they thought he might be staying at Olav’s Tap and Tack inn so I made that my final stop. Although there was no sign of Raynil the inn’s proprietor Olav spoke of his own suspicions regarding the vampire slaying and eventually confirmed that Raynil was staying there and volunteered the key to his room so that I could take a quick poke around while he was out.

Hey, that's not where books go!
"Hey, that's not where books go!"

At first I found little of interest in Raynil’s room but soon I spotted an old, worn out looking book wedged carefully behind a dresser. The book spun a worse tale than I would have guessed.

The book was a journal belonging to a man named Gelebourne – the very name of the “vampire” who Raynil apparently slew in Skingrad. It seems that Gelebourne, Raynil, and Bradon were all part of an adventuring group known as “The Brotherhood” that plunder dungeons, ruins, and other dangerous sites for treasures.

It seems that one of the group’s greatest hauls was that of an Ayleid artifact that they suspected to be of such value that they didn’t immediately sell it. Instead the trio had a special chest made with three locks, with each man keeping a separate key for security. They hid the key in a cave near Bruma.

Now not only did I have my suspect but also my motive. Raynil obviously framed both Gelebourne and Raynil to get their keys and recover the treasure. I quickly snatched up the journal and brought it directly to Carius.

Carius was filled with sorrow about being partially responsible for the death of Bradon but that sorrow quickly turned into vengefulness and we hatched out a plan. Bradon knew of only one nearby cave the matched the description in the journal and suspected Raynil was probably there at this very moment. If the Bruma guard were to approach the cave Raynil would surely be warned of their approach and flee. Instead he suggested that the guard secure the city in case he attempted to return to his room at Olav’s and I go, alone, in their place. Fair enough.

I borrowed a steed from a guardsman and raced towards the cave. As I quietly approached I knew I had the right place as a few of the boards that had been placed over its entrance had been recently pried off. Once inside I could see Raynil preparing a camp. From the shadows I called out his name.

He chose... poorly.
"He chose... poorly."

Raynil drew his sword and spun around. He knew who I was – he had caught on to my investigations and was planning on hiding out there in the cave until morning broke, or even longer if need be. He also knew how I had found him and cursed himself for not destroying Gelebourne’s journal once he acquired it. I suggested Raynil turn himself into the authorities but instead he seemed to think that my involvement would only delay his plans long enough for him to dispatch me.

Raynil was an excellent swordsman and had quality equipment as well. Still, after a lengthy exchange he lay dead on the cave floor. I retrieved the artifact and set back to town to tell Carius of what had transpired.

After Carius and a small retinue of his men left to retrieve Raynil’s body I spoke again to Bradon’s wife. She was extremely grateful to me for bringing her husband’s murderer to justice. I presented her with the artifact that Raynil had so desperately sought but she refused to take it. I couldn’t blame her, given the circumstances. She then revealed to me that Bradon had always suspected a day would come when one of his old group might turn to betrayal and had put a spell upon the artifact just before having it sealed away. She spoke a word of power and in a flash of light the Alyeid amulet turned from something rather unremarkable into a piece of obvious beauty and magical power. She asked me to have it, insisting that it was what Bradon would have wanted.

Not only did I accomplish bringing a murderer to justice but I was rewarded for it as well! Although I had yet to find a source of steady income my adventuring had been paying off quite satisfactorily.

21Nov/090

The Tale of Garn Chapter 13

Warning: potential side quest spoilers ahead!

From Garn's recollections:

Leaving Chorrol

Feeling it time to make my leave of the city of Chorrol I began to travel to northeast towards the city of Bruma.

As I was exploring some ancient ruins I discovered a chest. Most of the chests left around ruins, especially on the surface, belong to bandits and other newer inhabitants and rarely seem to contain anything of interest and this one seemed no different at first though the skeleton of a long dead warrior next to it did at least give me pause to take extra caution whilst opening it.

Phallic monuments lead the way.
"Phallic monuments lead the way."

The chest contained only a key and a scroll. The scroll contained a small note – something about “the sword pointing the way.” I admit while I’m not one for riddles I was of course intrigued. Though I didn’t recall any sword bearing statues or anything else which might have guided me to the answer to this riddle I scoured the ruins regardless. Finally ready to give up I returned to the sight of the chest one last time and almost tripped on the silver long sword of the dead warrior. Of course! I took the warrior’s sword (as it was a fine enough blade to sell later) and began to carefully walk in the direction it had pointed.

Ok, maybe it isn't that difficult of a riddle.
"Ok, maybe it isn't that difficult of a riddle."

I reached a large boulder on a hillside with a magnificent view of the Imperial City in the river valley below. Nestled beside the boulder and some other, smaller rocks sit another chest. I carefully searched around the still locked chest for any sign of hidden traps such as pressure plates or trip wires. Nothing. I unlocked the chest and it only contained a fine dagger, some gold coin, and another riddle like note. Having enough of these puzzles and feeling ever more like I was walking headlong into a trap I continued on my journey.

I soon wandered back into relative civilization onto the Red Road in the Heartlands north of the Imperial City and into a small farming village called Aleswell. Dark was quickly approaching and walking Cyrodiil’s roads had often proved to be more excitement than I was wanting at the time so I stopped at the tiny Aleswell Inn. Unfortunately the innkeeper was nowhere in sight – in fact, no one was anywhere to be found in the entire village. I was both confused and cautious and my heart almost jumped through my ribcage when a disembodied voice broke the silence and greeted me. Soon, along with the sounds of creaking footsteps, more voices joined in.

And you thought some of my other screenshots were dark!
"And you thought some of my other screenshots were dark!"

It turned out that the entire population of Aleswell had been turned invisible and although they didn’t quite know how or why they unanimously seemed to suspect a wizard named Ancotar who had moved into some nearby ruins a relatively short time before this. They asked me to check into it for them, promising a reward if I were able to cure their strange condition. Although I suspected the people of Aleswell didn’t have much to offer an adventurer of my growing stature other than some food from their impressive fields I decided to take up their cause anyway.

I wandered down to the ruins of an old fort and as I quietly crept towards the entrance I was attack by not one by two invisible creatures. As I began to fight I quickly recognized them as common bears. I remember thinking it highly unusual that even the wildlife there was invisible. After all of the commotion of fighting them off I kept my sword drawn and entered the ruins with much less of a concern for stealth. Although I found what appeared to be a small camp belonging to the mage on the second level I found no sign of the man himself. As I ascended the steps to the third story of the ruined tower, however, an invisible figure ahead attempted to frighten me away. I was sure this was no spirit, however, and figured that the mage himself must be invisible too.

Not the nicest magic laboratory I've ever visited.
"Not the nicest magic laboratory I've ever visited."

When I question him about the invisibility it appeared that Ancotar was unaware about the plight of the villages, intending only to make himself invisible so he’d be left alone to attend to his studies. He reluctantly gave me a scroll to reverse the effects and sent me on my way.

As I returned to the villages the people of Aleswell gathered around me in a strange, shimmering circle. As I finished reading from Ancotar’s scroll suddenly the shimmering around me gave way to reveal the true forms of the villagers. Although some of the people of Aleswell were indifferent to being cured of the inconvenience of being invisible, most were very happy to be rid of their curse. The inn keeper perhaps most of all, as he rewarded me with free lodging for life at the Aleswell Inn. Not quite as grand of a prize as many might quest for but something I could definitely make use of, starting with that very night.