Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

24Jan/180

The Tale of Garn Chapter 55

Warning: potential main quest spoilers ahead!

From Garn's recollections:

Closure

Martin and a couple of Blades who happened to be in the great hall when I had appeared sat me up, dusted me off, and handed me a tankard of ale. Believe me, to go from running out of a collapsing building to appearing in another world in the blink of an eye is an uncomfortable experience. Martin seemed relieved to see me, correctly taking my return to mean that I had defeated Mankar Camoran. He congratulated me on my victory and asked if I had recovered the Amulet of the Kings. Still attempting to gather myself, I simply handed the Amulet of Kings to Martin and suggested he put it on, as it was his after all.

I'd be reluctant too, did you hear what happened to the last guy?!
"I'd be reluctant too, did you hear what happened to the last guy?!"

The two Blades in the room each took steps back to watch intently as Martin easily placed the amulet around his neck. Martin had more or less always known he was Uriel Septim’s son since we first suggested it to him back in Kvatch but that made it official. Well, almost. Martin remained very respectful of the traditions of the empire and demanded, even in this time of crisis, to meet with the high council to secure their full blessing and carry out all of the traditional ceremonies. Not only that, but lighting the Dragonfires was more than a hollow ritual. It should, as planned, close the gates to Oblivion and end Mehrune Dagon’s invasion once and for all. Martin had already sent a messenger to High Chancellor Ocato in preparation for my return and so we wasted no time and assembled a small retinue to accompany us down to the capital.

High Chancellor Ocato swears his loyalty to his new Emperor.
"High Chancellor Ocato swears his loyalty to his new Emperor."

We received strange looks from both city guard and people in the streets alike as we quickly ushered Martin to the Imperial Palace. Ocato met us in the council chambers along with a few witnesses. Ocato knelt down before Martin and told us that he had already met with the rest of the Elder Council to discuss Martin’s claim to the throne and that the decision to back him was unanimous. On behalf of the council he officially accepted Martin’s claim, recognizing him as Uriel Septim's heir. I had been through so much after the fateful day when I first witnessed the Mythic Dawn’s assassination of the Emperor that coming full circle to that moment was a huge relief.

Trouble in the streets of the Imperial City.
"Trouble in the streets of the Imperial City."

Ocato, Martin, and the others ceased with the formalities and began discussing arranging the coronation ceremony when suddenly a young guardsman came bursting into the council chambers screaming in alarm. The guard collapsed before he could deliver the message in its entirety, 2 Daedric arrows sticking in his back. Everyone in the room instantly drew their weapons and not too late, as Dremora soldiers rushed in immediately engaging with the palace guards at the door. I, along with the other Blades, made escorting the Emperor and the High Chancellor out of harm's way our highest priority and after dispatching a few Daedra found ourselves back out in the streets of the Imperial City.

The situation was worse than first feared. There were multiple Oblivion gates opened throughout the city itself, buildings on aflame, and groups of Daedra pillaging and marauding through the city streets. It was suggested that we return to the relative safety of the palace but Martin instead ordered us all to fight our way to the Temple of the One so that we could light the Dragonfires. In retrospect, that was probably the only sensible reaction.

Total chaos!
"Total chaos!"

With the amount of Daedra pouring through the gates the fight to get the temple was incredibly chaotic. Few of the city guard who hadn’t served in the Imperial Legions since the Oblivion Crisis started had ever had to fight Daedra and many of them fell due to their inexperience. Still, there were enough soldiers and Blades around us that we eventually made it to the Temple District. The district was filled with a dense, black smoke and the combined cacophony of screams, cries, roars, and clashes of steel on steel only added to the confusion. Then as our group rounded one side of the temple things got even worse - Mehrunes Dagon!

Actually Martin, I need to split. I've got an appointment... or something. Yeah.
"Actually Martin, I need to split. I've got an appointment... or something. Yeah."

The Daedric Prince himself had broken through the barriers that had protected us from Oblivion and taken on a physical form in our world. We had run out of time - our plan had failed. Summoning the last bit of desperate hope the soldiers with us could muster we all raised our shields and huddled in a corner to come up with a plan. Lighting the Dragonfires could no longer help us but I asked if, since the Amulet of Kings was an artifact of Akatosh, its power was still of use. That was when Martin came up with a genius plan. He ordered us to get him to into the Temple of the One.

A plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a fox.
"A plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a fox."

Getting the Emperor into the temple was no small task as Prince Dagon stood near the front door fighting off a small group of Imperial battlemages who had been ineffectively peppering him with spells. Soon our careful advance was broken by a swarm of Clannfear and Daedroth that viciously knocked three of our men away, causing many of the others to run in fear. As the High Chancellor broke off to help Martin and I pressed on, running past much of the fighting in the streets, sneaking around the menacing Daedric Prince, and making it into the temple.

Inside Martin began to reveal his plan to me. He would shatter the Amulet of Kings, mixing the divine power of Akatosh with the Dragons Blood of the Septim line. I questioned what exactly he thought would happen but we were interrupted by a heart-stopping booming noise coming from the roof of the temple. Martin and I both looked up to see a large section of the temple’s roof and outer wall give way, and the towered physical manifestation of the Daedric Prince peering in at us.

Before I knew it I was blinded by an intense white light as Martin was enveloped in the scattering beams of intense divine power, and then a pillar of flame rose up from where Martin had just stood. The flames quickly rose up, higher and higher, and then, incredibly, took the shape of a great dragon. There was a brief moment of still as the Daedric Prince stared at the flames curiously, interrupted as the flames parted to reveal head of an actual golden dragon. It struck out at Mehrunes Dagon, letting loose a massive jet of flame breath.

The Avatar of Akatosh delivers a divine beatdown.
"The Avatar of Akatosh delivers a divine beatdown."

In the most incredible battle I or indeed anyone in the Imperial City that day had ever seen, the towering Daedric Prince and this amazing avatar of the divine Akatosh traded blows. The fight seemed even enough but where Prince Dagon seemed to suffer from his wounds the dragon barely reacted to being struck. With that it was only a matter of a few more successful strikes until Mehrunes Dagon sustained enough damage that he was cast back into Oblivion. The dragon, perched atop the center altar of the temple, let out one last victorious roar and then turned to stone.

The smoke clears...
"The smoke clears..."

In an instant all of the Oblivion portals in the city flickered out, their rocky supports crumbling into pieces, the remaining Daedra in the city were seemingly also cast back into Oblivion, and the black smoke that had choked the city’s center began to part revealing blue skies once again. It seemed that not only had Martin’s plan defeated Prince Dagon but it had also restored the protective barriers that separated Mundus from Oblivion, creating a new divine artifact in the process. The city, indeed, our entire world, was safe.

I sheathed my sword, took off my helmet, and began walking away. High Chancellor Ocato stopped me, asking what happened. After I explained the situation he was, of course, heartbroken about losing our new Emperor. He assured me that the Elder Council would find a way, and that Martin’s sacrifice would not go unrecognized. He had been one of our most heroic Emperors, even if Emperor for such a short time. He also recognized me for my part, proclaiming me Champion of Cyrodiil. I was honored but I could only think of all of those who gave up their lives during this struggle: Martin, Jauffre, and Baurus to name only the few I knew personally. I was tired. It had been a long, long journey, and I hoped that it had finally come to an end.

Hanging up my sword and shield.
"Hanging up my sword and shield."

With great fanfare I returned back to the Priory of the Nine. After a brief celebration I went to the Priory’s armory to return the Crusader's Relics. I had hopes that Pelinal Whitestrake could guide another to take up the cause if ever such a need arose again. While I would continue to oversee the Knights of the Nine and help the people of Cyrodiil wherever I could, my adventuring days were over. I had seen the deaths of two emperors, been in the middle of struggles between the gods and demons themselves, and seen more than my share of all of the good and bad that his world has to offer.

And that is how I ended up here, to tell this story...

Well friends, at long last, with the closure of the Oblivion gates and the completion of Oblivion's main quest, Garn's story also comes to a close. Stay tuned for a special epilogue in which I'll share some behind the scenes details some people have asked me about over the years. Special thanks for my few, dedicated readers!

8Jan/180

Tales Have Been Told

I’ve written about playing each entry of Telltale’s series of The Walking Dead adventure games here and, for the most part, really enjoyed all of them. I’ve been meaning to go back and play some of their other, similar titles for a while now, and thanks to a nice sale on the Xbox Store and a little bit of luck, I ended up playing three of them more or less back to back.

Our two main characters, Clem and Javi.
"Our two main characters, Clem and Javi."

Since we are basically hooked on the series, my girlfriend and I made plans to dive into the latest installment of The Walking Dead, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, as soon as we found out the release date for it. We picked it up on the Xbox One and, like The Walking Dead: Michonne before it, we decided to play each episode as it was released.

The first thing I need to mention, especially after how my game log entry about it devolved into a bit of a rant, is that this version of this particular game (yay, qualifiers!) has none of the horrendously unacceptable, bullshit performance issues and other bugs that plagued us on the Xbox 360 version of The Walking Dead: Michonne. Telltale apparently put a lot of work into their engine in advance of Batman: The Telltale Series, work which carried on to A New Frontier. At fucking last, Telltale! No more issues of the engine constantly interrupting my enjoyment of the game; it ran silky smooth.

More thrilling dialog choices...
"More thrilling dialog choices..."

With the engine upgrade also comes an upgrade to graphical capability, and with it, a big shift in art style. The TWD games have been stylized to look like the comic books the franchise is based on since the beginning but A New Frontier does something totally new by filling in the space between the ink brush strokes with some real time lighting applied to its 3D models. No longer do characters look flat, but instead look just a tiny step closer to realistic. While this change is subtle at first glance, in direct comparison the change of art style is actually pretty massive. It’s a little odd upon closer inspection, mixing two completely different, opposing even, styles of shading, but it somehow works and most of the time I think A New Fonrtier looks spectacular.

Onto the story. Notably, you don’t play as Clementine too much this time around. In fact, she’s much more of a side character, which I’m sure will disappoint a lot of series fans, and results in the game feeling a bit more like a side story, ala TWD: Michonne or the 400 Days episode. Perhaps this was intended, I mean, this isn’t called "The Walking Dead: Season 3" after all. Nonetheless, I found cocky and/or warmhearted Javier “Javi” García to be quite a fun character to play. Javi is dealing with a constant, morally difficult conflict between devotion to family, a family which is, in itself, full of its own, similar conflict, and more selfish pursuits, which feel equally justifiable. In either case, Javi’s motives are relatable, which makes the dramatic choices you have to make all that much more nail-biting.

Well, I didn't say they were BFFs...
"Well, I didn't say they were BFFs..."

Besides less of a focus on Clem, another big complaint leveled against A New Frontier seems to be what people feel is a decreased sense of player agency. From misleading choices, to those choices not really impacting the overall narrative as one might expect. Given that most of these complaints are from fans of the previous games, it shouldn’t be necessary to go into the way that practically all of these Telltale adventure games since the first season of TWD lack any major "branching", or how the effects of most of your decisions are, in fact, only clever tricks to make you feel like you’re having a huge impact on the course of the story. Instead, I believe the intended effect is exactly what happened to me with A New Frontier: I didn’t really notice. Instead, I enjoyed the effect I had on how my character behaved, and how his behaviors were perceived and impacted the behaviors of the characters around him in the moment, regardless of whether decision A moved to the story in a different direction than decision B. To put it another way, these games are about characterization, not consequence.

All in all, we really enjoyed A New Frontier. While it didn’t impact me quite as much as any of the other games in the series, immediately after finishing it, I’d easily hold it up alongside Season 1 and Season 2. Now that some time has passed, it really feels a bit more like a side story, as mentioned, and that has me curious about how Telltale plans to follow this up. Most likely, we’ll see an actual third season that more closely follows Clementine, with the events of A New Frontier having little impact on its story.

Our titular hero, Bigby Wolf.
"Our titular hero, Bigby Wolf."

Jonesing for more during the agonizingly long the waits between episodes of A New Frontier, we finally played through the much lauded The Wolf Among Us. The Wolf Among Us came out right after the highly successful season 1 of The Walking Dead, and, to Telltale’s credit, was well regarded as a follow-up. In fact, judging from time spent scouring various forum topics, ranking videos, etc., it remains a lot of people’s all time favorite Telltale game. It was only after that very positive reception was firmly in-place that I decided I wanted to play it. The main reason I had held off for so long was that the whole concept of playing some sort of gritty, realistic portrayal of fairy tale characters seemed utterly ridiculous to me. I mean, you play as a dude named “Bigby Wolf” who is, in fact, the big bad wolf? Come on!

The truth is, between the art, which is similar to TWD’s take on translating traditional, still comic book imagery into textures on 3D polygons, but so much more colorful and vibrant, the amazing gritty 1980s New York City atmospheric, the synth-laden soundtrack, and the whole film noir, detective trying to piece together a mystery vibe of the basic plot, TWAU was actually a very easy game for me to get into. The whole fairy-tale meets gritty reality premise is introduced slowly and enough of the details are left vague that rather than feeling to forced and silly it actually manages to feel come across as intriguing. Once you start to learn more about them, the characters are also quite interesting, which is kind important for a Telltale adventure game.

One of the few graphical adventure game throwback exploration sections.
"One of the few graphical adventure game throwback exploration sections."

Specific criticisms? Well, first, unlike A New Frontier's updated engine that I just complimented Telltale on, I was surprised to find out just how badly the Xbox One version of TWAU, using this much older version of the engine, suffered from poor performance. It wasn’t nearly as bad as my experience with TWD: Michonne on Xbox 360, but it was still damn frustrating at times and unquestionably hampered my enjoyment of the game. The main issues that I found absolutely unacceptable were occasional moments when dialog was cut short, or even muted entirely. That’s a big problem on such a dialog driven, narrative heavy game. This type of shit really should have never made it past QA.

I also take some issue with the story itself, and I’ll be vague to avoid spoilers. It might have related to the choices we made during our particular playthrough, and maybe my own perception of my character and the plot as it developed, but the way the main plot wrapped up felt a little rushed. Specifically, during the trial and how I chose to handle it, it felt more like Bigby was on trial than defendant, and various important aspects of the crimes our antagonist was being condemned for, and even additional crimes, weren’t even brought up, which might have affected that. Then, the scene just sort of... ended. I also wasn’t a big fan of the very end, which I honestly didn’t get at first. It was only after scratching my head and doing a little reading online that I figured out what they were attempting to convey, which of course makes the whole thing feel more hamfisted than clever in its execution. It also felt strange that there wasn't a more solid sense of closure between Bigby and Snow, when there definitely should have been.

Some people just need a beat down.
"Some people just need a beat down."

Oh, and the incredibly one dimensional character of Bloody Mary, with her silly comic book villain dialog, when compared to the texture of the other characters and the overall tone of the game, came across as exceedingly out of place to me. Maybe she’s as equally boring and boilerplate in the comics, I don’t know, but it took me out of the game just a little every time she made another lame appearance.

It doesn’t sound like it, but I really liked the game, and probably wouldn’t be so critical of it if I hadn’t gone into it with extremely inflated expectations. Bloody Mary aside, I think many of my misgivings about the plot could be easily smoothed over by some proper treatment in a sequel. Hell, I might have a more positive impression of it just by replaying it and making some different choices, for that matter.

Finally, after completing TWD: A New Frontier and The Wolf Among Us, spurred on by both my enjoyment of those two games and of the completion of season 7 of the wildly popular HBO series, I decided to finally cross Game of Thrones off of my backlog. We had both separately completed the demo of the first episode of Game of Thrones on the Xbox 360 around the time it was originally released, but she didn’t really get into it very much, and while I wanted to play more, I couldn’t quite work it into my schedule at the time.

Back to the wall... hey wait, is that Jon Snow?!
"Back to the wall... hey wait, is that Jon Snow?!"

Game of Thrones came right after TWD Season 2 as well as the fan favorite Tales of the Borderlands, which in turn were right on the heels of the first season of The Walking Dead and the aforementioned The Wolf Among Us. With that in mind, I didn’t know how much of an enjoyable experience this would be, engine-wise. Thankfully, some odd glitches and slow loading times aside, the engine used in the Game of Thrones seemed to run pretty decently on my Xbox One. Definitely not the shit-show that TWAU was, at least.

The art style takes an odd turn from the two other games. Models still have a similar, cartoony stylization to the TWD and TWAU, it completely eschews the comic book styled textures and shading of those games. Instead, it attempts to look more like it was hand painted by applying some sort of a filter over everything. Sometimes it looks great, but for the most part it really didn’t seem to achieve the effect I imagine they were going for. Odder still, the slightly more realistic approach to the graphics goes off the rails when introducing characters that we’re familiar with from the Game of Thrones HBO series, fully modeling the characters after their actors, and at times, producing an unsettling “uncanny valley” effect. They may not look bad in the screenshots here, but in motion? Ick.

Besides their likenesses, a lot of the actors from the series also lend their considerable acting talents to help voice their characters. This is, by far, one of the more enjoyable parts of the game for big Game of Thrones fans. Then again, the soundtrack, inspired by the music of the series, is also excellent, and there is a lot more fan service where those things came from; innumerable references to both the HBO series AND George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series abound. This game really is a treat for fans, and goes quite deep into immersing the player into the setting. Perhaps too far...

FUCK this fucking guy.
"FUCK this fucking guy."

You see, this game is one of the most vicious video games I’ve ever played. It’s true to the setting and the tone of the source material, no doubt, but playing as characters in the world, and characters who aren’t exactly being dealt a lot of winning hands to boot, is incredibly oppressive. From the very first episode, House Forrester suffers terrible turn after terrible turn, and every decision you make is met with another terrible outcome. After 6 episodes, it almost starts to feel like some sort of abusive relationship. It’s a common complaint about the game, with some people even claiming they couldn’t make it through to the end because of how harsh it felt, like you were being constantly kicked around by everybody, at every turn.

On top of that, a lot of people complained that they didn’t feel like they possessed the agency to get themselves out of those terrible situations. Always on the defensive, your characters are constantly having to decide between trying to stand up for their family and their honor, or submitting in service of possibly keeping the situation from somehow getting even worse. The decisions in this game are definitely extremely difficult, and just like other Telltale games, there isn’t necessary a correct choice, as there are bleak consequences no matter how you choose to play. This didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the game, however, as like I said in regards to A New Frontier, Telltale’s games are more about experiencing the characterization of and resulting from your choices, not so much the direct consequences of those actions on the overall story.

Caught between Cersei and Margaery, of course you should lie.
"Caught between Cersei and Margaery, of course you should lie."

Speaking of characterization, one thing that did bother me a little was the fact that, as I alluded to, you play multiple characters. Just like the books and the HBO series, the game constantly has you hopping around between different major characters. It definitely keeps things interesting, exposing you to a lot more variety in scenarios and settings, but playing so many different characters also takes a little away from really getting to know your character, and sometimes interrupts flow of the story. By the time you make it to the end of the last episode this issue has mostly gone away, but it was still notable to me, particularly since I initially went into the game with a vague plan of how I’d try to roleplay my (single) character. Oops.

Another common complaint and one that stuck out to me as well, is that the noble house you play as, House Forrester, closely parallels House Stark, the primary characters of the books and HBO series. Not only are the Forresters another northern house who suffers from similar circumstances as the Starks, but individually, they each align with the Starks just a little too well, with the biggest departure being the character of Asher Forrester, who really doesn't have an analog. This is only the smallest of complaints, and the characters do mostly come into their own as the game progresses, but probably not coincidentally, Asher was my favorite character to play as.

Asher Forrester and Beskha.
"Asher Forrester and Beskha."

While I did agree with most of those complaints, overall I liked the game. Its brutality left me with many of the same type of “ohhhhh shit!” moments as the source material, which is ultimately a good thing. As the credits rolled on the final episode, I found myself thinking a lot about how they could possibly have a sequel to Game of Thrones, considering that House Forrester was almost entirely decimated, and so many important characters were killed or otherwise completely screwed over. Alas, it didn’t seem worth dwelling on given that Game of Thrones seemed to have been relatively unpopular, and a sequel seemed doubtful.

Well, much to my surprise Telltale announced that we’d be getting “The Final Season” of it’s Walking Dead game series, and a second season of The Wolf Among Us in 2018, and yes, we’d even be getting a season 2 of Game of Thrones in 2019. What?! I can't let myself get too excited, since Telltale has probably cancelled almost as many games as it has released, but I'm definitely looking forward to learning more. Game of Thrones season 2 intrigues me the most. Surely it will involve the remaining Forresters somehow seeking retribution for the events of the first game, but I can think of quite a few interesting ways they could execute on that, so who knows. In any case, expect to read a lot more thoughts about Telltale games here in the next couple of years. Oh, and I just scored Back to the Future and Borderlands for free from that Xbox Store, so... 🙂

Screenshots swiped from all over the place, mostly from the PC versions of the game, NOT from my actual playthroughs!