Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Tale of Garn Chapter 31

Warning: potential side quest (Fighters Guild) spoilers ahead!

From Garn’s recollections:

Thieves and Children

Modryn sent me back to Anvil to speak with Azzan about an important contract. After the cold and wet journey southwest I was greeted at the guildhall’s entrance by Maglir, who I had previously been sent to investigate for defaulting on one of his jobs. Maglir was none to pleased to see me but managed to put forth at least a little effort in feigning indifference towards me. After bedding down in the guildhall for the night I went upstairs to speak with Azzan. Azzan informed me of reports that a gang of Bosmer thieves had been striking out against the local populace as of late. The gang’s base of operations was unknown but patterns seemed to suggest that they were based in or very close to the city. Azzan told me that since we didn’t know how many thieves there were I’d be working with another guild member – Maglir. As you might guess, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea and was eager to get this job taken care of immediately.

Maglir and I split up and canvased the city asking around for witnesses, victims, or anyone with any kind of clue as to where the gang might be based. Finally someone referred Maglir to Newheim the Portly – a large Nordish man who was incensed about having his flagon, a family heirloom, stolen from him by the same gang we were hunting. Newheim had heard that they had been hanging around in Hrota Cave off of the northern road out of Anvil. Although Maglir was less than interested, I told Newheim I’d keep an eye out for his flagon and we set off on our way.

My Dremora Lord bravely takes an elvish arrow in the face.
“My Dremora Lord bravely takes an elvish arrow in the face.”

As Maglir and I crept into the cave and drew our swords we heard whispers in the darkness ahead. We were able to sneak up on the first two thieves and dispatch them quietly though a third walked in upon us as we searched the bodies and screamed out as he peppered us with arrows. As Maglir dove for cover I summoned a Dremora and followed suit. Although none of his companions came to assist they were all too aware of our presence by that point so we tread less carefully while clearing out the rest of the cave. Despite his apparent lack of dedication to the guild Maglir performed admirably in Hrota Cave – he seemed to have absolutely no qualms about killing his own kin. We dispatched 8 thieves in total, cleared the place of its meager loot, leaving much of for the Anvil guard to sort with later, and returned to the city.

Ughhh, is this what I've come to? Talking to ass ugly Nords about drinking piss?
“Ughhh, is this what I’ve come to? Talking to ass ugly Nords about drinking piss?”

Azzan was pleased with our success. He offered me another contract that involved escorting a scholar named Elante of Alinor to an old Daedric shrine located at the bottom of Brittlerock Cave. Having to kill a variety of minor Daedra aside, this was another contract that I was able to complete with ease. Azzan took me aside and told me that Burz had a job he thought I could handle up in Cheydinhal. While I wasn’t thrilled about the lengthy ride back east I was happy for more action so quickly. After a long journey I was disappointed when Burz rudely informed me that the job was far south, in Water’s Edge near Leyawiin. Another long ride and I met the subject of the contract: an attractive Breton named Biene Amelion.

Ahhh, now this is more like it.
“Ahhh, now this is more like it.”

Biene explained to me that her father had been taken away due to some outstanding gambling debts. At first I was confused about the nature of the job – surely she didn’t expect the guild to intervene in such a matter unless her father was someone of some kind of significance. Indeed, she clarified – she wanted me to retrieve her grandfather’s precious enchanted armor and sword from the family tome so that she could sell them to pay off her father’s debts. While this sounded a lot more in line with my usual line of work I didn’t quite appreciate the idea of her selling off her precious family heirlooms and, indeed, robbing her own family tome in the process. Instead, having sized her up to be a decent person I decided take a more chivalrous route and simply pay her myself and let her keep her and her family’s honor intact. She was overjoyed with this previously unthinkable option and I got to head back up north in record time, knowing full well that my payment would take care of the majority of my cost and I’d recover the rest in due time.

Finally, I was dispatched back to Chorrol. Modryn performed a small ceremony and declared me to be promoted to rank of Protector within the guild for my exemplary performance. After the attending members cleared off he took me aside to tell me about my next job. My duty was to take Viranus Donton, the son of the Guildmaster, to help him get his feet a little wet and boost his confidence. Officially the mission was to search for Galtus Previa, a farmer who went missing exploring Nonwyll Cavern. I have no idea why a farmer would be heading into any wilderness caves or ruins alone though perhaps he was tempted by the same tales of riches that had drawn me into my life as an adventurer.

Viranus Donton fucking owning a troll. Not too shabby!
“Viranus Donton fucking owning a troll. Not too shabby!”

I met Viranus at his house in the city and we marched by foot into the northern wilderness to hunt for the cave. Viranus has a vague idea of its location and we soon found it easily enough. Almost as soon as we entered we were ambushed by a pair of bloodthirsty trolls. Thankfully Viranus wasn’t as green as Modryn let on and we were able to dispatch them without too much difficulty. Further into the cavern we encoutered more trolls and even an odd ogres or two. Nonwyll Cavern definitely wasn’t a place for farmers – in fact I was starting to wonder if the guild hadn’t misjudged my own qualities as a protector. Surely the Guildmaster wouldn’t look favorably upon her son dying under my watch.

Hiding behind my shield in mortal terror.
“Hiding behind my shield in mortal terror.”

More and more trolls rushed us as we explored the narrow passageways, in fact the most I’d seen in any one place up till then. Finally we made it to the bottom level of the cave only to be greeted by a fearsome minotaur. Finally, the body of Galtus Previa lay in front of us. Of course I wasn’t shocked to find him dead considering the opposition we encountered just making it down there, if anything I was surprised that the corpse had been brought this far below but hadn’t been devoured. We collected a couple of his personal effects to bring to his relatives to prove that we found him and Viranus attempted to map the location of the body in case his family wished to retrieve it for a proper burial.

Stick to growing beets, buddy.
“Stick to growing beets, buddy.”

Modryn was saddened to hear about the death of Galtus but quite intrigued by the shield we found with his body, confiscating it for further study. While I didn’t know what that was all about he was quite pleased with the completion of the contract regardless and rewarded me with my share of the gold and a powerful enchanted Daedric longsword which, my misgivings about furthering my bond with the Daedra aside, I’d no doubt be using. At last my guild membership was starting to yield some real benefits!

I didn’t expect such a nice blade for an reward in this quest but I believe Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul boosted the stats of this rare weapon. Sweet!

Princes of Platforming

Last week I dusted off my pile of shame and played through 2008’s Prince of Persia on Xbox 360. Having played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time on the original Xbox and absolutely adoring it I was pretty interested on all of the changes this reboot was making to the series. Yes, it is a reboot of sorts: you’re no longer the titular prince, at least not in this game – I could easily see the roguish, unnamed character eventually developing into the prince in subsequent games, assuming there ever are any, but for now you’re just some tomb raiding (his words, not mine!) smart ass with a knack for acrobatics.

Anyway, I’ve got to start off talking about the incredible graphics here as they’re surely the most distinctive thing about the entire game. The beautiful, vibrant watercolor meets cell shading art style is quite brilliant – totally jaw dropping at times. There’s also some great vistas in certain areas, probably amongst the best I’ve seen this generation. The animations are also quite good. In particular some of the interaction between your character and Eleka while platforming, such as when you swap places or when you catch her during a jump, are unique and very impressive. They absolutely nailed it!

Doing my best Altair/Ezio.
“Doing my best Altair/Ezio.”

The sound was one of the first things that caught me off guard – the characters, especially your character, sound totally out of place in the setting. When combined with your character’s fun, flirtatious relationship with Eleka it almost reminds me of the type of thing you’d find in a Disney animated movie and, when you think of it that way, it kind of makes sense. In other words it was probably intentional. The music, on the other hand, fit well enough and some of the tunes stood out as really enhancing the experience at times.

That music and those graphics, combined with the back story that is unraveled as you explore each new area and converse with Eleka, also goes a long way in fleshing out the setting. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that by the end of the game the temple, palace, and surrounding city felt like a major character in the game itself. Speaking of characters, although their relationship didn’t quite develop like you might think it would, especially if you’re now thinking of it like a Disney movie, the characters, particularly Eleka, are pretty endearing. That relationship is actually a lot more interesting than it seems at first glance, especially considering how the game ends, and is probably another of its more interesting qualities. More on that later!

My stomach turns just seeing a screenshot of these horrible boss battles.
“My stomach turns just seeing a screenshot of these horrible boss battles.”

The core of the game, the platforming, was pretty enjoyable once I got into it. The addition of the gauntlet and Eleka’s double jumps are nice touches, adding some plausibility to some of your otherwise highly unrealistic moves. Yes, the platforming is relatively easy with most of the precision being stripped out for automatic locking on to the appropriate places for jumping, grabbing, and whatnot but it feels very fluid and is interactive enough not to be a total cakewalk. Think Prince of Persia: Sands of Time meets Assassin’s Creed. That said the hand-holding can be a bit excessive – there are worn down spots on the walls where you’re supposed to wall run for instance, and if all else fails Eleka can summon a Fable II like breadcrumb trail show you where to go. I used this breadcrumb trail constantly when moving from area to area or trying to make my way to the area boss – I rarely needed it to figure out how to navigate the obstacles but it was great for pointing me in the right direction. It was just too convenient! Despite all of this “babying” I never really felt like the game was any worse off for it.

While figuring out how to navigate an area or room is certainly a major component of the gameplay in this type of platformer I didn’t really miss having those mysteries 90% solved most of the time considering how long the game felt. Clocking in at somewhere between 10 and 15 hours it felt just a bit excessive to me. Yeah, I know that isn’t that long for a game but, man, it’s a long time to do the same formulaic area progression over and over again. Here’s how it works: the world is divided into a hub and areas branch out from there. You need to go to each area, navigate to the boss, beat the boss, then backtrack to collect “light seeds” (orbs) then move on to the next area. The orbs let you unlock additional areas. There are a lot of areas with not too much in the way of variety and no real character progression like new skills or abilities along the way. I would have definitely preferred a more linear progression as in older Prince of Persia games – I don’t really see any advantage to doing it with this hub system, in fact all giving me a choice did was make me all too aware of all of the work I was going to have to do to get to the end. Blech.

Eleka. Two thumbs up!
“Eleka. Two thumbs up!”

Oh, and back to the subject of the game’s difficulty real quick: Yes, Eleka will save you every… single… time… you die. Yeah, it’s kind of cool, yeah, it does seem a bit silly when you die 10 times in a row trying to make a particular jump, and yeah, it does make you nigh immortal, but really this is just a clever way of masking what is basically just a normal checkpoint system with a beyond generous amount of checkpoints and a nearly seamless reload. Did I prefer Sands of Time’s humorously narrated backpedaling? Absolutely, but this is not a problem.

Now to some stuff that is a problem! The platforming sometimes involves using various “power plates” that are spread around the areas. These plates do different things, such as teleport you or send you flying across the map. While these seemed quite cool at first glance, two of them, the one that lets you scurry around on walls, and the flying one, have this absolutely silly element of having to steer (slightly, it’s on rails) in order to avoid obstacles. Well, the controls on the wall running part are shit and the camera on the flying one often fought me, and guess what happens if you hit an obstacle? Instant death! Yes, Eleka saves you as usual… but you have to start what is usually one of the longer sequences of platforming in the game all over again. Pffft. Frustrating!

Yes, he drags his gauntlet everywhere. Ladies dig the sparks.
“Yes, he drags his gauntlet everywhere. Ladies dig the sparks.”

The other thing? Combat. I HATED the combat in this game. Absolutely hated it. At first I was trying my usual button mashing approach that has served me so well in other, similar 3rd person games but even after figuring out the simple, almost QTE like, rhythm to executing combos I still hated it. It just wasn’t fun and unless you lock in some huge combos combat can potentially take way, waaaayyy too long. Eleka will save you here too, by the way, but your opponent will get back a massive chunk of its health every time. Pfffft! Speaking of QTEs, yes they’re here too. How fun! Occasionally a prompt would go away before I had time to react, other times I clearly appeared to hit it in time but still didn’t register. Ughhhhhh… kill me now! So yeah, fuck that! The only saving grace here is that combat is relatively rare and somewhat easy to avoid – really, the boss fights were the only times I needed to worry about it once I got into the swing of things.

Finally, the ending. Wow… what? I don’t want to spoil anything but the game ends somewhat predictably… at first… and then leaves you with your only course of action to do something that, frankly, I didn’t want to do. I suppose that if the game did a better job at building up the relationship between your character and Eleka, or even just fleshed out Eleka a bit better in general, I might not have thought twice about whether it was worth undoing all of the work we just spent the last 15 hours painstakingly fighting through but as it was it felt extremely forced. This led me to question whether your character’s relationship with Eleka was meant to be as atypical as it felt, or if something in the script was just totally lost somewhere in production. Hmph.

Eleka doesn't just save your ass constantly, you also put her to work.
“Eleka doesn’t just save your ass constantly, you also put her to work.”

Anyway, I decided to keep the ending, which is somewhat open ended and mysterious, intact by not buying and playing through the $10 “Epilogue” DLC which goes on to flesh out the ending a little by showing you what happened next. From the various reviews I read the addendum to the story was unnecessarily with many people preferring the original ending. It also seems that they attempt to ratchet up the difficulty slightly, apparently prioritizing a lot of the things that I didn’t like about the core game. So yeah, easy decision for me!

So, over all, interesting game. Good if not a bit more accessible than usual platforming and a beautiful world brought to life by a unique art style and high production values all around are the highlights here. I’d really have no trouble recommending it to anyone if it were a much shorter or at least slightly less tedious playthrough but otherwise I’d probably only really recommend it to Prince of Persia fans or fans of this style of 3D platforming in general. That said, I picked up my copy for dirt cheap so perhaps you’ll find it in a bargain bin and won’t be able to pass it up.

Screenshots borrowed (and possibly not from the Xbox 360 version.)

The Tale of Garn Chapter 30

Warning: potential side quest (Fighters Guild) spoilers ahead!

From the journals of Garn:

Changing Careers

Having seemingly exhausted my supply of fresh work with the death of the would-be Ayleid king Umbanaco I’ve decided to take leave of the Imperial City once again. While I’ll keep it my base of operations for now it seems almost as if the city exists inside of a bubble where matters of the rest of realm have little bearing on life within. Not a good place for work unless you join the guard and even then I’d suspect it none too exciting unless you get a great thrill out of putting irons on pickpockets. Instead I’ve decided to ride east to the city of Cheydinhal where I’m told I can join the Fighters Guild. With this I hope to be able to receive some extra training, keep a closer ear to news from around Cyrodiil, and of course get some steady work, even if it does reward the guild’s honor more than my own.

At the Fighters Guild guildhall in Cheydinhal I’m directed to an Orc named Burz gro-Khash. While a few of the other guild members have at least a passing knowledge of me, Burz does not, and combined with his usual Orcish temperate, I expect little comfort from him as I work my way through the ranks. Indeed for my first assignment he’s given me little more than an errand to run, delivering supplies to some other guild members planning to clear out a nearby cave infested with goblins. Though the Orc tries to test me, it is only a test. Besides, stirring up an organization such as the Fighters Guild would be exceedingly counterproductive to my goals.

Jump for joy!
“Jump for joy!”

I receive quite a warm welcome to Desolate Mine. A pack of savage goblins ambushed me and slew my horse before it was over. Of course, they all paid. Inside I deliver the supplies. Impressed by my handling of the goblins outside, the other members have asked for my sword in cleaning them out. Naturally I accept. Between the four of us the goblins are no match. Unfortunately numbers didn’t appear to help the numerous dead miners we’re finding in the lower depths. I’m not sure what caused this incursion but whatever it was, the mine is now cleared. Burz is pleased with our performance and has advanced me from Associate to Initiate rank in the guild. The bad news is that if I want immediate work I’ll need to go elsewhere – he says the Anvil hall currently has a healthy backlog of jobs. It’s a long ride out west but it has been a while since I’ve visited the port.

Speaking with Azzan, head of the Anvil Fighters Guild.
“Speaking with Azzan, head of the Anvil Fighters Guild.”

Burz was right. The guildhall at Anvil is bustling with activity. I’m directed to the head of hall here, a Redguard named Azzan. His first contract for me as an Initiate is to deal with a rat problem in a local woman’s basement. Surely, despite my rank, he can tell from my arms and the way I carry myself that I am no novice fighter. Still, as with Burz, perhaps just a test. I go to visit the woman. Arvena Thelas, a Dunmer, apparently isn’t the victim of a rat infestation but rather she keeps pet rats and something has been killing them. Upon investigation I find a mountain lion in her basement, catching it in the act. The beast immediately turns on me as I disturb it but I’ve fought large cats many times before now and am able to quickly put it down. Anvil city seems like an unusual place for mountain lions. Arvena suggests I contact Pinarus Inventius, a local hunter, to help track down the beasts and thin their numbers.

What am I, level 1?
“What am I, level 1?”

Pinarus gladly accepts the task and volunteers to take me to some spots in the foot hill outside of the city walls where he suspects we might find them. Sure enough, after a short hike we spot a small pride gathered under some trees. I summon one of my more destructive fireball spells and kill them all in one large blast. I return to Arvena to collect my fee but she’s not pleased to hear the news – apparently there’s already another mountain lion in her basement. I quickly put it down too but by the Nine, what could be luring them down here? She suspects one of her neighbors, Quill-Weave, could be responsible as she’s expressed a strong dislike for the rats before.

I seek out Quill-Weave, an Argonian woman – apparently a famous author. She quickly sees through my questioning and rejects any notion that she could be responsible. I’ve decided on another approach. I’ll simply hide outside of Arvena’s basement, near the hole that the mountain lions have been entering through, and see what happens. Sure enough a few hours later, after night has fallen and most have extinguished their candles and torches, I spot Quill-Weave sneaking to the hole and tossing some rotten meat nearby. As she turns to leave I confront her. She continues to deny it at first but caught red handed she finally tells me the truth. She was hoping to lure the rats out so that the city guard would find them and dispatch them – she knew nothing about mountain lions. She begs my mercy and so I accept as I believe her story and her desire to avoid conflict with Arvena. I tell Arvena that she was mistaken about the Argonian and accept my reward, hoping that I closed this contract with the least amount of turmoil for all involved.

I might have destroyed your shop, but I got the burglars!
“I might have destroyed your shop, but I got the burglars!”

Azzan’s next contract for me is a little more interesting. Apparently a local shop has been getting burgled regularly during off hours. I head over to Lelles’ Quality Merchandise on the docks and speak with Norbert Lelles, a friendly Breton. He suggests simply handing me the keys for the night and leaving me to take watch in the dark while he heads to the tavern next door. Simple enough.

I’m sitting alone in the dark here for hours. I hear faint whispers and the unmistakable sound of boards creaking beneath heavy feet… the door opens. Three men, armored and armed, creep in. I draw my sword from its scabbard and command them to halt, ready to give chase in case they flee but, surprisingly, they draw their weapons themselves and surround me. The battle is chaotic and bloody, leaving three corpses and a mess of merchandise in Norbert’s floor. After fetching Norbert he seems quite pleased by the result though rather disturbed by the fact that all three men used to work for him in the past. Azzan is pleased as well and I’m being promoted to Journeyman.

Azzan has informed me that the next contracts suitable for someone of my rank would have to be assigned at the Chorrol guildhall. It has been quite a while since I’ve visited Chorrol but my last stay there was fair enough. It’s a fairly lengthy journey when taking safe roads, which I plan on doing. Upon entering the city I’m already hearing rumors about the guild – not surprising since both the Fighters Guild and the Mage’s Guild have a strong representation in the city. The talk on the streets seems to be fairly negative. I’m greeted by a Dunmer called Modryn Oreyn who seems to have little patience for new recruits. After explaining my assignment I think I know why: I’m to ride to Skingrad to look for a new recruit who has defaulted on his contract.

Fallen Rock Cave. Ahhh, I get it...
“Fallen Rock Cave. Ahhh, I get it…”

After my journey I immediately ask a city guard manning the gates if they knew of the man, Maglir. The guard is usually a good source of information as long as you can find one of the less stern ones. I’m told that Maglir can usually be founding drinking at one of the city taverns so I’m heading that way. Sure enough, Maglir was sitting alone with an ale at the West Weald. He seemed to know why I was there. He explained that although his task was simple, to retrieve a journal rumored to be in a local cave, the contract wasn’t paying enough for the risk. I asked him about this several times, and every time he shrugged off my statements with less and less concern. He suggests that if I want the contract I can have it, and that he suspects I can find the journal in Fallen Rock Cave.

I’ve decided to make my way to Fallen Rock Cave this morning to try to close out the contract. I’ll decide what to do after that. Maglir might be a dishonorable coward but he wasn’t wrong about the dangers lurking in this cave. It is quite infested with undead and considering the ruins I’ve been clearing out lately that’s saying something. I fought many skeletons, wraiths and ghosts in the this place, even a lich, and eventually I located the journal in a flooded passageway on the lowest level of the cavern. The loot isn’t spectacular but at least I’ll return to Chorrol with the job complete. In Chorrol Modryn is pleased enough about the contract being finished but demands to know what Maglir’s role in this was. Given Maglir’s disposition about the whole or ordeal I do not deny the truth and tell him about Maglir smugly defaulting.

Another bar... I'm starting to sense a theme here.
“Another bar… I’m starting to sense a theme here.”

Modryn’s next job for me is in Leyawiin. An exceedingly long ride from here but apparently this is the life of a guild member who volunteers to travel rather than only work locally. Apparently there have been reports of some other members causing all sorts of trouble in the city’s taverns and inns. Sure enough, even after the long ride I catch them red handed in the Five Claws Lodge. The men plead their ignorance but in their drunken stupors admit their guilt as well. Still, their excuse rings true enough: the men claim that the Blackwood Company has been grabbing up all of the work in the area and that they’ve got nothing better to do without contracts. After reassuring the bartender that the guild would have them out of her hair soon I left to canvas the city for potential work.

After a few referrals I’ve found a local alchemist who, after being offered some rare reagents that I’d gathered on the last job, has agreed to contract with the guild for some other alchemical components. I return back to the Five Claws to give them the good news and the details. They seem genuinely happy about the opportunity for honest work again. Returning to Chorrol, Modryn is quite pleased with my work as well and has decided to raise me to rank of Swordsman, making me a full member of the guild at last. Perhaps I’ll get some less lackluster jobs now…