Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Tale of Garn Chapter 49

Warning: potential main quest spoilers ahead!

From Garn’s recollections:

From Temple to Shrine

I paid a Kvatch refugee handsomely for a horse for Martin to use and we set off North, back towards towards Chorrol. We took to the wilderness, sticking to the base of the Colovian mountains and through the reserve until we reached the Black Road. What we gained in safety from would-be assassins we had traded for possible encounters with the ogres and minotaurs who roamed the highlands. Luckily the journey up to that point was uneventful. Martin and I didn’t even speak much, in fact. He seemed pensive, seemingly often lost deep in thought.

We reached Weynon Priory deep in the night and in our weariness were almost startled off of our mounts when the priory’s stable hand came running towards us screaming. Before either of us could discern what was going on a crimson robed figured shot out from the darkness behind him and cut the man down with a single, powerful downward stroke of his mace. Not expecting to see us, he turned our direction and apprehensively raised his mace above his head. I rode up on the assassin to meet him with a strike down to meet his guard. Martin drew out a large dagger and leapt down from his horse to defend himself as a couple more assassins appeared from the cover of the night. After dispatching our foes Martin followed as I sprinted to the main house of the priory to locate the monks. Finding the building ransacked but no sign of Jauffre we then made haste to the priory chapel.

Divine beat down in progress.
“Divine beat down in progress.”

Under the dull moonlit glow of the chapel’s great stained glass windows we found Jauffre looking much more like the grandmaster of the Blades than a humble monk as he fended off two more of the crimson robed attackers. These men looked strangely familiar to me but I had no time to ponder this as Jauffre, having already put his sword away and briefly greeted Martin, immediately turned his attention to the Amulet of the Kings which he believed was surely the target of this attack. After a quick search it was confirmed, the Amulet of the Kings was gone.

Jauffre wasted no time. He told us that this situation was clearly escalating and Martin’s safety was now our top priority. The Blades had a secret stronghold built into the Jerall Mountains for such occasions. This fortress, greatly defendable and well stocked with supplies and arms, would become he and Martin’s home for the time being. Quickly gathering the barest essential supplies for the journey we set off northeast towards Bruma.

At the gates of Cloud Ruler Temple.
“At the gates of Cloud Ruler Temple.”

At the end of a long, winding path deep in the frigid mountains of Northern Cyrodiil sat Cloud Ruler Temple. From below on the snow covered path leading to its perch the fortress appeared to be of a simple, single-minded construction, with great featureless grey-stone blocks stacked to form a massive wall, though a more careful eye could spot the expert craftsmanship in its subtle curves. The thick iron reinforced gates swung open as Jauffre approached and uttered some secret password or another. Reaching the main courtyard which sat at the top of the small compound we were greeted by more Blades than I had ever guessed existed. Jauffre quickly assembled his key members for an update on the situation and, most importantly, to introduce Martin. Martin gave a quick, informal speech but the dedicated members of the Blades enthusiastically greeted him as their new emperor all the same.

Martin Septim, they’d call him from then on. It dawned on me that what I was witnessing was truly a historic event, one that would be spoken, sang, and written about for untold years to come. That was, of course, if we could indeed protect Martin from whatever forces these were that conspired to destroy the empire. Jauffre snapped me out of my musings and thanked me for my service. His demeanor was cold and focused. He went on to tell me that they needed as much help as possible with the numerous tasks that lay ahead and officially invited me to join the Order of the Blades. As I was duty bound to see this matter through, I accepted.

Finally someone with confidence in my abilities
“Finally someone with confidence in my abilities…”

The next morning a small feast was held in the stronghold’s main hall in which Jauffre, Martin, and several of the senior Blades debated how to move forward. Our next move, we had all agreed, was obvious: regardless of who was orchestrating this attack we needed to get Amulet of the Kings back into our possession so that Martin could perform the traditional ritual of lighting the Dragonfires to be officially coronated as the new Emperor of Cyrodiil. This may also, it was believed, prevent the creation of portals like the ones that were used in the invasion of Kvatch.

My first mission as an official member of the Blades was to meet up with Baurus in the Imperial City. The only other surviving witness to the assassination, Baurus had been heavily involved in working with the Blades on their investigation into the identity of the Emperor’s assassins and had apparently come up with somewhat of a lead. Jauffre wanted me to assist him in any way he needed. At first I was apprehensive about seeing Baurus again after I had disappeared with the Amulet of the Kings for so very long, but he evidently had never sought to have me tracked down or cast any blame my way. In any case, I set off back to the Imperial City.

Heading back down to the lowlands and the Imperial City.
“Heading back down to the lowlands and the Imperial City.”

At first I thought that my apprehension might have been justified. I met the senior Knight of the Order of the Blades looking rather less formal and battle-ready than the last time I saw him. Garbed in plain clothes and drinking an ale at the Luther Broad’s Boarding House in the Elven Gardens District, Baurus greeted me very coldly. Instead of making conversation he insisted I wait for him to get up, wait for him to be followed, and then follow behind them. True enough, as Baurus walked into the darkened storage room at the back of the inn the Breton man who follow him conjured the same crimson attire I was starting to become all too familiar with and attacked Baurus while his back was still turned. Ready for him, Baurus spun around and parried his attacks as I drew my own sword and ran to assist him. The attacker was quickly dispatched.

Much to my relief Baurus’s mood shifted and he greeted me heartily. Searching the body of his would-be assassin we discovered something I hadn’t seen on any of the other crimson robed attackers prior: an unusual book called Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes. The writings mostly seemed to be praising the worship of Daedric prince Mehrunes Dagon. Baurus told me that he had been working to orchestrate the attempt on his life that I just helped foiled for quite sometime and was confident that it would lead to the identities of the conspirators. This book seemed key. His knowledge on Daedra worship was limited, however, and he suggested I visit Tar-Meena, an expert on Daedric cults at the Arcane University.

Two new names to add to our shitlist...
“Two new names to add to our shitlist…”

Luckily Tar-Meena was immediately familiar with the Commentaries although had only read the first two of four total volumes. She loaned me the second volume to reference and went on to explain that the Mythic Dawn was a Daedric cult dedicated to worshiping Mehrunes Dagon and that these books were written by their founder Mankar Camoran. Little else beyond the contents of these books was known about them as like most Daedric cults they tended to keep to themselves. It all made perfect sense though – of all the Daedric lords Mehrunes Dagon’s ambitions of conquering Tamriel were well storied.

Tar-Meena suggested I attempt to track down the other two volumes of the Mythic Dawn Commentaries for more clues. Luckily the capital was the perfect place to start my search and I set out to the various book sellers in the Market District. Soon I found one with a rare copy of volume three though it had already been reserved. Coincidentally the buyer was arriving that very day to pick it up so I waited to confront him. At first the man refused my offers to buy the book and was even suspiciously defensive about the Mythic Dawn, but when I told him about their suspected role in the plot to assassinate the Emperor his tone changed entirely. Not only did he give me volume three, he also told me that he had arranged to meet a member of the group to acquire the final volume later that day.

The final book was the last step in being recruited into the cult, it seemed, and this collector was willing to risk catching the Mythic Dawn’s eye just to acquire it. Instead, I would go in his place. I soon met back up with Baurus to give him an update on the mission. Baurus was enthusiastic to help and told me that he had learned the sewers and other tunnels beneath the capital well while working to investigate the assassination, offering to take me to the arranged meeting point himself.

Well, I guess this is how meetings in sewers usually go...
“Well, I guess this is how meetings in sewers usually go…”

Mid-morning the next day Baurus lead me to an access tunnel in a small back alley in the Market District and we began to make our way through the intricate network of dark and musty tunnels buried below city. At the designated meeting place I took cover in the shadows as Baurus sat at a small table waiting for the cultist sponsor to arrive. Unfortunately the Mythic Dawn’s awareness of Baurus’s investigation was deeper and more widespread than he had ever suspected and the cultist recognized him almost immediately, calling out three more Mythic Dawn members from another chamber to join him. I sprang into action as Baurus drew his sword. Soon all four of the cultists lay dead. Baurus expressed some disappointment at not getting a chance to potentially infiltrate the ranks of the group but Commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes Book Four was in our possession regardless.

Who else has a raging clue?
“Who else has a raging clue?”

With Tar-Meena’s expert assistance Baurus and I puzzled over the collected four volumes searching for clues, and soon uncovered what seemed like a cryptic message guiding us to a spot in the cemeteries of Green Emperor Way at a particular time of day. Once Baurus and I had found the spot we waited patiently for something to happen. Eventually the dawn’s light hit a particular tomb just so as to highlight an engraving of a map of the province with a mark on a specific area. With my old landmark maps for reference we concluded that the marked area was Lake Arrius, north of Cheydinhal.

Satisfied that we had identified those responsible for the assassination and that his mission was complete, Baurus returned to Cloud Ruler Temple to update Jauffre and to re-take his place amongst the Blades. I, on the other hand, met up with one of my brothers from the Knights of the Nine at the only place I had marked on my maps that seemed like a likely candidate for a cult to hide out. I had labeled it simply as “Lake Arrius Caverns” – I didn’t recall these caverns being particularly noteworthy but then again Daedra worshipers often made a habit of hiding themselves quite well.

I was surprised to find myself stepping into a large chamber in the cavern to be greeted by a crimson robed Dunmer casually sitting by a boarded up section of the cave wall writing in some sort of a journal by the light of a brazier placed near by. Assuming that I was simply a late arrival for a gathering presumably already started, he asked that I hand over my possessions and don an initiate’s robe to gain entry into the shrine. A perfect opportunity seemed to have presented itself to us! I started to to comply but when Sir Geimund caught up to me wearing such similar garb to me the cultist must have correctly surmised that they were being infiltrated and ran to sound the alarm. I hurled a powerful flame spell at his back, knocking him down before he could alert too many others. Geimund and I drew our swords, raised our shields, and prepared to infiltrate the Mythic Dawn’s hideout the hard way.

Spying on Mankar Camoran as he prepares a sacrifice.
“Spying on Mankar Camoran as he prepares a sacrifice.”

We fought our way through the twisting tunnels and chambers of the caverns until reaching a massive room and what appeared to be some sort of a ritual taking place. A robed figure was making a rather zealous speech under a massive statue of Mehrunes Dagon to a couple of dozen Mythic Dawn listening intently. We’d only just got settled in to listen and observe when a patrolling cultist spotted us on our perch above the ceremony and attacked. Mankar Camoran quickly disappeared into a glowing orange portal as the remaining cultists rushed to join the attack. A vicious battle ensued, with Sir Geimund and I finding ourselves quickly cornered. Still, most of these cultists were still only initiates and were neither skilled fighters nor gifted magic users and the Knights of the Nine had overcome much more difficult enemies.

Mythic Dawn massacre.
“Mythic Dawn massacre.”

When the dust settled I found no sign of the Amulet of Kings but what they had left behind was shocking: high upon the altar lay the Mysterium Xarxes itself. Tar-Meena had explained that the Mythic Dawn Commentaries series of books we had been using to track down the cult was somewhat of a re-translation of an ancient artifact of great, evil power called the Mysterium Xarxes. A tome written by Mehrunes Dagon himself. Tar-Meena suggested that it was unlikely that Mankar Camoran had ever really possessed the artifact and that instead his commentaries were based on legends and popular myth about the Daedric prince but there it was, in front of us.

We carefully gathered up the artifact and made a hasty exit from the cavern, not knowing how useful this find would be to our cause, but knowing it had to be of some great significance.

Fear of the Dead

Somehow I never played Monolith’s F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon despite being super into PC games, especially online first person shooters, right around the time it came out. In fact I specifically remember a couple of my old Planetside clanmates playing the online only “F.E.A.R. Combat” pretty hardcore for a time. I suppose I was too into military and sci-fi shooters and snubbed F.E.A.R. for it’s whole supernatural/horror angle, which is odd since F.E.A.R. has arguably more in common with military and sci-fi shooters than most games, but I honestly don’t recall my exact rationale at the time.

Fast forward to 2009 when F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin was released and somehow it really caught my attention. Some of my friends evidently picked up on that and got me a copy for the Xbox 360 version for my birthday after it had very quickly hit the bargain bins despite generally favorable reviews. You guys know me and my massive backlog by now though, right? Yeah, I never played it though it has been in my “play this” stack since then. Several years later I was aimlessly wandering around in a random consignment store when I happened across a lone copy of the first F.E.A.R. game for Xbox 360 still shrinkwrapped for under 10 bucks. I hadn’t really planned on playing it on the 360 since I was more familiar with it as a PC game, but I figured what the hell and picked it up.

John Woo'ing out with a slow-mo powered firefight.
“John Woo’ing out with a slow-mo powered firefight.”

Given that F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 2 are both relatively short single player experiences and, apart from a few excursions into some really old games it feels like it has been ages since I played a traditional-ish first person shooter, I decided to bump them up on my backlog.

F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon (ugh, that acronym!) has you cast as the newest member of a secret special operations group tasked with confronting supernatural threats. Imagine if Fox Mulder had his own, dedicated SEAL Team at his disposal and you’re not too far off. As the newbie to the squad you’re of course assigned to be the point man, you know, the guy who gets to scout ahead in front of the rest of the team by himself. I like to imagine that this is some sort of elaborate vetting process by which only the very strongest new F.E.A.R. recruits survive being pelted with anvils by angry poltergeists over and over again to be promoted to full-time members of the team. I mean, none of the other characters in the game seem to think there’s anything all too unusual about sending “the new guy” out to investigate a small army of heavily armed clone soldiers and mech suits lead by a physic cannibal, armed only with a submachine gun and an inability to speak. I digress…

Remember back when nail guns were a thing in games?
“Remember back when nail guns were a thing in games?”

While F.E.A.R.’s mechanics feel more than a little aged to me, remembering 2005 rather fondly it’s easy for me to imagine how this game’s take on Rainbow 6 like semi-realistic first person tactics coupled with a unique enemy AI was actually probably a small but important stepping stone in the evolution of the FPS genre. The noticeably not-completely-linear design of the levels and the occasional focus on gimmicky feeling Half Life 2 style physics puzzles and scripted events were a little jarring to me. Being able to slow down time is neat though, and the Monolith guys went kind of crazy with the destructible objects and particle effects to make an already cool looking effect look totally fucking awesome. From what I’ve seen these effects are a little more subdued in the Xbox 360 version I played, but even there they were eye catching and intense at times, especially against the often incredibly dark spaces in the game. Seriously, this has to be one of the darkest games I’ve played since Doom 3 or perhaps Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Unfortunately the rest of the presentation is a little lacking – environments are mostly empty with far too little variation over the course of the campaign. It feels like I spent half of the damn game in the same office building but come to think of it, maybe I did?

So you’re exploring these extremely dark, often repeated factory corridors, office spaces, and warehouses taking out these clone soldiers who do all kinds of wacky flanking and just generally don’t seem to behave like most FPS foes, when all of the sudden the face of a mutilated corpse flashes on your screen and all of the shit on the shelf you just looted for ammo comes flying off behind you. *gulp* Then you walk a little bit further when all of the sudden you swear you just saw a creepy ghost child in the corner of the room as you swept your flashlight across it, but now your flashlight’s batteries are drained. It’s not until after you empty your entire magazine into said corner that your flashlight is finally charged up again and you can verify that you were, in fact, just shooting at nothing like a total idiot. Ahh, that’s where the horror stuff comes in! Neat.

Alma fucking with me... again.
“Alma fucking with me… again.”

Honestly, while at first I was a little anxious as I made my way through the levels I suppose I got so used to that tension that I found myself pretty much unphased by the vast majority of the jump scares and other horror elements the game threw at me. It wasn’t until the very last chapter that I felt truly creeped out and even that probably had more to do with the fact that I knew the plot reaching its climax than all of the freaky ghost shit that was going down. One nod I’ll gladly give the game in regards to creating an atmosphere of “horror” though, is to the soundtrack. Wow, what a fucking soundtrack! Dark, foreboding, atmospheric? Its rare that a game soundtrack stands out to me while I’m playing it but this one certainly made an impression.

So did I like it? Eh, yes. Probably not nearly as much as I would have liked it back in 2005, but like I implied, it at least feels like a relic of its time that, along with something like Half Life 2, can easily be enjoyed in a vacuum for what it is. The good parts of the game (the sometimes frantic, sometimes almost tactical gunplay against interesting enemy AIs, the dark, spooky soundtrack, and the other weird horror stuff, mostly) didn’t elevate it beyond that for me, but they do have me very curious to finally play F.E.A.R. 2 next.

Oh hey, speaking of short single player experiences! I also noticed that Telltale released The Walking Dead: Michonne and I immediately hopped on that, and I just wrapped up the third and final episode. This is probably the first time I’ve ever played a Telltale game’s episodes as they were released and while I probably still prefer playing them back to back, overall it was a cool way to digest a campaign.

Remembering the not-so-good old days.
“Remembering the not-so-good old days.”

Now, I liked The Walking Dead quite a bit, and The Walking Dead Season 2 maybe even more so, and by and large this Michonne centered spin-off is largely the same quality. Good writing, a cool graphic novel inspired aesthetic, excellent voice acting, and interesting choices. It was short and didn’t necessarily go anywhere too interesting, especially considering how little time we’re given to invest anything in most of the new characters we meet in the game, but it was still a fun little side-story and shed some interesting light on Michonne’s past. It almost felt like an expanded take on the style of side stories we got with the 400 Days bonus episode from the first season in that respect.

That said, I have to say ONCE AGAIN, that Telltale REALLY needs to scrap their aging engine. Maybe this has to do with playing the Xbox 360 build of the game rather than a version for a more modern platform, but this has to be the jankiest of Telltale’s games yet: freezing, major hitching, audio desynchronization and muting… bah! The otherwise polished presentation of the game was utterly let down by this piece of shit engine, especially as action heavy as the Walking Dead games can sometimes be. Again, I’m sure playing this on the now positively ancient Xbox 360 probably didn’t help, but I’ve played much better looking games that ran silky smooth so I can’t really excuse it. I mean, if they didn’t want to put the time into making the game AT LEAST reasonably presentable on the system then they shouldn’t have bothered releasing it on it at all. I’m hoping when I go back and play The Wolf Amongst Us and the Game of Thrones game soon they won’t have quite the same level of problems as this poor game has.

If you’re playing it on one of the current consoles or, better yet, PC, and liked the previous Telltale Walking Dead games I’d say it’s an easy recommendation.

Now, time for some F.E.A.R. 2…