Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

29Jan/170

The Tale of Garn Chapter 52

Warning: potential main quest spoilers ahead!

From Garn's recollections:

What Lies Beneath

I returned to Cloud Ruler Temple to deliver my report but Jauffre was nowhere to be found. My at least partial success with petitioning Cyrodiil’s cities for reinforcements was already evident though, as small groups of guardsmen were already starting to arrive in Bruma. I turned my attention to Martin, interrupting him in his makeshift study in the great hall. Martin excitedly revealed that he had deciphered the next component required for the ritual, blood of the gods. Blood of the gods? This seemed even more farfetched than Martin’s earlier unlikely request for Daedric artifacts since the Aedra rarely show themselves in any sort of tangible form and have few artifacts directly associated with them. I was bewildered, but Martin and Jauffre had already come up with a plan.

Talos was the key, of course. Having ascended from a mortal, Talos left behind relics and yes, maybe even blood. Martin directed me to Jauffre for the details. I found Jauffre sometime later, riding up into the stronghold from personally reviewing the state of Bruma’s defenses. He pulled me into the then deserted armory to explain the plan.

Honestly not sounding like an ideal vacation spot, Jauffre.
"Honestly not sounding like an ideal vacation spot, Jauffre."

There was an ancient city fortress called Sancre Tor of which only a ruin remains. Far below the ruin in the catacombs beneath lies the tome of some of the first emperors of Cyrodiil and a shrine to Tiber Septim erected by the first of the Blades. On the shrine lay one of their most precious holy relics, the Armor of Tiber Septim, said to be splashed with Tiber Septim’s blood. He assured me that while it may sound unlikely that such a priceless relic had not been looted the tomb almost certainly remained undisturbed. For a great many years the Blades made regular pilgrimages to the tomb, until something else arrived.

Jauffre didn’t know what, or how, but an evil presence took possession of the ruin of Sancre Tor after which none who entered ever returned. The Grandmaster of the Blades at the time had the catacombs sealed and Sancre Tor not only fell into further disrepair but was all but forgotten by anyone outside of the order. Jauffre handed me the key and cautioned me about underestimating the threat this presence posed. Many highly regarded Blades had fallen attempting to cleanse the shrine before the decision was made to close off the site.

Approaching Sancre Tor at night.
"Approaching Sancre Tor at night."

The ruin rested on a quiet hillside at the base of the Jerall mountains, west of Bruma. I paused to enjoy the serenity that this much deserved moment of peace brought out in me then drew my sword and slid Jauffre’s key into the humongous, reinforced doors that protected Sancre Tor.

A thick, choking dust hung in the air of the long abandoned corridors, and the absolute quiet was disturbingly eerie. Once I got deeper into the catacombs I began to encounter ghosts, wraiths, and all manner of undead, but nothing I hadn’t encountered before, and not in staggering quantity. Soon, though, I discovered my first challenge. I entered a room with a large, open chamber in it to find myself being charged by a skeletal warrior. Reanimated dead of many varieties are common in such ancient, haunted places, but as we traded strikes I noticed something peculiar about this one: he used the Akaviri sword of the Blades, and fought with more precision than most undead could muster.

Two mighty Blades square off, though I at least have the advantage of being alive.
"Two mighty Blades square off, though I at least have the advantage of being alive."

Once I had dispatched my foe the spirit of man dressed in full Blades garb rose from the its shattered remains, turned, thanked me for freeing it, and seemed to turn its attention towards going somewhere else. When I was briefly able to gain the spirit’s attention to try to learn more he told me that he and three other Blades were sent here to investigate what had defiled the catacombs. They learned that it was the Underking, there to seek vengeance on Tiber Septim for some sort of perceived betrayal. After defeating them the Underking had cursed the spirits of the four dead blades to remain in Sancre Tor forever, guarding it from any living being who dared enter. The Underking himself had long since fled, but the spirits of these Blades were stuck there. I could hold the spirit’s attention no longer and he continued on his route. Walking with him, he arrived at a massive chamber with a series of tunnels that jetted out from its center like the spokes of a wagon wheel.

Burning Blade? Sorry.
"Burning Blade? Sorry."

As I explored more I discovered yet another one of these undead Blades, who also returned to the center chamber. Following him more closely, I noted that he joined the other in a room with a more ornate entrance than the others. As I entered I could immediately tell that I was in the oldest part of the catacombs and that these tombs were of some significance. The two spirits knelt in front of a massive, decorative door, a magical barrier blocking passage through it. I immediately turned around to seek out the other two spirits, hoping the magic that blocked the doorway was somehow related to the magic the bound these spirits in place.

Lifting the curse.
"Lifting the curse."

In time, after exploring more of the maze-like catacombs, I found and defeated the remaining two undead Blades. As predicted, the spirits took their place in formation around the doorway, raised their swords one last time, and vanished. With them, the barrier also disapparated. I entered the shrine, which hadn’t been seen by mortal eyes in an age, and carefully picked up the Armor of Tiber Septim.

Jauffre couldn’t believe his eyes when I presented him with the holy relic and soon a large gathering of Blades formed around to stare in awe at it. Some even began to pray, hoping for a blessing from Talos, perhaps. Martin, on the other hand, was all business. He had discovered another of the components, and soon I was on my way to Miscarcand.

You two should really start a travel agency. Seriously guys.
"You two should really start a travel agency. Seriously guys."

Miscarcand, Martin told me, was an ancient Ayleid city, one of their capitals long, long ago, and one of the few Ayleid ruins rumored to still possess a Great Welkynd Stone. I was familiar with Welkynd Stones, as were all adventurers and treasure hunters, as the valuable, glowing stones are rare but notable finds in most Ayleid ruins, and both collectors of Ayleid artifacts and arcane magic users had an interest in acquiring them. Still, this was a Great Welkynd stone - larger, more powerful, and incredibly rare. The only problem with Miscarcand, and indeed, why the stone was still likely there, was that it was known to be fiercely guarded by the undead lich form of its last ruler. I was not excited, but with the mounting tension surrounding the plot to attack Bruma and the Martin’s efforts to stop the Mythic Dawn, it had to be done.

Luckily, I knew precisely where the ruin was as I had plotted its position when mapping out the province so long ago so it wasn't long before I set off on the long journey down south. Upon reaching the site and exploring the scattered above ground ruins I was surprised to find my foes primarily consisting not of undead, but of goblins! A tribe of Bitterfish goblins had taken up residence in the ruin and most definitely objected to my presence there. They were of little consequence, as their primitive arrows bounced off of my armor and after demonstrating my power by hurling a massive fire blast near a small group of them they mostly left me alone.

Turf war in Miscarcand.
"Turf war in Miscarcand."

Inside the ruin I found more of the goblin tribe attempting to make it their home, but deeper down I also found the expected undead minions driving them back out. Skeletons and zombies in high numbers made me suspect the rumors of a lich living in this place might indeed be true but I hoped I could avoid finding out all the same. More importantly for now this power struggle within Miscarcand occupied both sides, allowing me to explore much of the ruin without conflict.

Great...
"Great..."

After searching for quite some time I eventually made my way to the deepest level of the old city, finding it suspiciously quiet. An intense icy blue glow illuminated the entire center of the largest chamber and after carefully making my way over to it I confirmed a Great Welkynd stone was indeed the source of the light. Lifting the stone from its crumbling metal holder I could feel a pressure plate of some sort raise up from beneath it followed by the sound of a chain running and a distant stone door sliding open. It was too dark by then to try to figure out what I had triggered but at least it didn’t seem to be a trap.

Moving in for the kill.
"Moving in for the kill."

As quickly as I could stash the stone it was on me - the powerful lich flew towards me, hurling all manner of deadly offensive spell at my direction in quick succession. Despite its strong offense I was able to dodge or deflect most the lich’s attacks and when I finally managed to land my own, be they spells or strikes from my blade, they seemed to inflict quite a lot of harm to the cursed abomination. Diving behind a stone pillar, only poking my head out to hurl the occasional fireball at it, I waited for the lich to try to face me up close. As it approached I sprang from my cover and with all of my might I cleaved my blessed Crusader’s sword deep into its shoulder. It threw its head back, dropping its staff in agony. In two swiftly chained motions I kicked the lich off of my sword and made a second massive downward swing into the exact same spot, slicing yet deeper still. Its unnatural glowing eyes faded into darkness of the now pitch black chamber.

I left the ruin, Martin’s new Great Welkynd stone in a sack tied to my saddle, and the fate of Bruma on my mind...

22Jan/170

Wars Among the Stars

Other than my semi-regular Oblivion updates and my Wing Commander review it seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve discussed any real PC gaming, and outside of a few dips back into World of Warcraft, I think the last time I really discussed spending a lot of time on a semi-modern PC game was when I reported my adventures in Rust two years ago. The biggest reason for that, besides my mighty backlog of console games, was that my PC was approaching relic status and not really up to some of the more demanding new games coming out, to put it mildly.

Back in Black!
"Back in Black!"

In late July I finally had enough reasons to justify building a whole new machine. Beyond gaming, I was planning on going back to college and needed a machine capable of running multiple VMs for labs. I also had plans to virtualize one of my servers which was running on even more ancient hardware than my old desktop was. Outside of the additional challenge of building something stout enough to run at least one VM fulltime and handle a modern game simultaneously, the build was quite easy and a lot of fun. It also happened to coincide with the release of Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 10 series, and I managed to score a nice overclocked 1070 early into the chipset’s life.

So what did I played with my hot new gaming rig? The latest AAA games? Did I hook up an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive? Nah, I actually decided to play some older games that I had wanted to revisit, for one reason or another.

First was Planetside 2. Failing to resist my own monumental hype for this game, I managed to download and install the massive client on my old machine. Performance was beyond terrible and I couldn’t even play it long enough to get a feel for the flow of the game. They did some major performance patches shortly after that but by the time I went back to try it again they had removed support for Windows XP so that was the end of my tour of duty.

On the losing end of a firefight.
"On the losing end of a firefight."

Since giving it another shot on my new machine my time with Planetside 2 has been largely fantastic. For a free-to-play MMO that feels, for the most part, quite polished, I can’t believe more people aren’t playing it. It has some issues, sure, and I was definitely skeptical about some of the design changes from the first game, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised with how close the spirit of the gameplay experience is to the original. The same type of absolutely epic combined arms battles still happen constantly, though, as with the first game, I often find myself enjoying some of the smaller battles than following the zerg, using the open nature of the battlefield and numerous options for classes, weapons, and vehicles to give me far more tactical choices than typically available in most normal FPS games.

Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
"Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it."

Unlike playing a 25-40 minute Conquest game in Battlefield, the always-on nature of the PS2 battlefield and the various ways of quickly dropping into existing battles and skirmishes makes PS2 a great “gap filler” game too - just have 15 minutes to play? Not a problem. 2 hours to play? Where’d all of my time go? I spent quite a while ping-ponging between roles - at first I fell in love with the Lightning tank, then spent a lot of my time as a Combat Medic or Heavy Assault, then I dabbled with the Stalker cloak Infiltrator, then I discovered the majesty of the Engineer’s wire guided anti-vehicle, then spent a bit of time running various type of MAX units, and as of my last few sessions, I’d finally really clicked with the Light Assault class. Between all of that I had some amazing moments. The first few times I watched a gunship get blown out of the sky, spinning out of control before violently crashing, I had to pick my jaw off the ground. As with the vaguely similar Battlefield series, SOE managed to really nail something about the sound design and, despite the style being somewhat divisive, the graphics of the game, that helps keep me deeply immersed in the action.

My only real regret is that, unlike my time with the original Planetside, I’ve been playing PS2 mostly solo. Despite being a very easy game to pick up and play solo, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that games like this are a thousand times funner when playing cooperatively with friends. The best way to leverage the combined arms style of combat is to, well, combine arms, and the few times I’ve grouped up with some random organized outfit squads were highly memorable.

Guarding a bio lab landing pad.
"Guarding a bio lab landing pad."

I’ll almost certainly keep dabbling in PS2 from time to time in the future, but for now I think I’ve just about had my fill and will probably spend more of my meager amount of gaming time on other games. That said, if I ever had any friends interested in playing it I’d be back in a heartbeat. If you liked the original or like games like the Battlefield series and this looks interesting, definitely check it out. There are still plenty of people playing and the game has a surprisingly good out of game community, with tons of YouTubers uploading new content on the regular and an active Reddit community, for instance.

Exploding the local wildlife.
"Exploding the local wildlife."

The next game I went back to was Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s infamous Star Wars MMORPG. My trajectory with this game has been fucking weird. Loving Knights of the Old Republic and being both a Star Wars and an MMORPG fan in general, I was completely hyped for this game but once it got closer to release and I discovered just how much of a World of Warcraft clone it was I was definitely let down. Then I got into the open beta and opened my mind a bit. Sure, it’s a WoW clone, but damn if it isn’t the best one I’ve ever played. By the time release hit, however, my free time was non-existent and between that and the group of friends I had guilded up with losing interested (like most of the rest of the subscriber base) I ended up bailing after only a month or so of infrequent play. Coincidentally ALSO about two years ago I came back once and played just a bit, as detailed here, but I decided to put the game down until I had a nicer gaming rig to enjoy it on.

This time I immediately scrapped my poor level 20 something Sith Inquisitor to go all-in on one of the classes I had tried out last time: a Bounty Hunter. This wasn’t really my favorite class or anything, but I liked the idea of playing a cold as ice female Bounty Hunter and, as usual with SWTOR, I quickly felt attached to my character through my dialog choices and the headcanon I filled in the blanks with. After I committed to playing again my mission was simple: play through the entire 1-50 class storyline and as many side quests as I could handle, and then move on to the next class. I wanted to play them all!

Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments...
"Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments..."

Of course, it’s been a few months now and the end of just now coming into sight, and this doesn’t even include venturing into the various expansion storylines, which also interest me, so maybe my plan was a little ambitious. Maybe not too ambitious though, as one oddity about SWTOR these days is that they drastically increased XP rewards so my new main, as it were, was max level long before I got into the last chapter of my storyline. In theory they’ve tuned this so you only need to do your character’s story missions, and each planet’s story missions so if you do all of the side quests, like I’m doing, you’re going to be way over level. The flip side is that when I finally do get around to playing some alts I can skip all of the side content and breeze through the story, which is greatly appealing to me.

My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.
"My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi."

I’ll admit I’ve also been distracted by playing with the cartel market, the auction house and, particularly, the new stronghold system since coming back. Ever since Ultima Online I’ve always love having a house I can customize and/or decorate which included chasing down expensive decorations, and SWTOR’s Galatic Stronghold system scratches that itch. I’ve also spent some of the “cartel coins” I had been building up while unsubscribed on various random loot packs and made a tidy sum auctioning them in game. It’s been kind of an addictive mini-game, one that I’m sure makes BioWare quite a lot of money. At first I was concerned that playing around with auctioning these items might not be viable given how dead the auction house was, but then I paid to transfer my characters to a much more active server and my experience has been great ever since.

Like Planetside 2, despite being free-to-play (now) SWTOR has impressive production values and a lot of meaty gameplay available, and the fans that are still into the game are rabidly into it. In fact BioWare continues to release new items into the cartel market, new patches, and even new major expansions. Maybe it’s more the Star Wars nerd in me than anything else, but I absolutely love this game. The fact that it has kept my interest this long, and that I still want to play some of the other classes, really says a lot about this game though, especially with World of Warcraft: Legion out there constantly tempting me to drop everything and head back to Azeroth.