15 November 2011

Skyrim: Almost but Not Quite First Impression

So, a few days have passed since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released, and I've had a chance to play it some more. In a nutshell: I'm not disappointed.

(For the uninitiated: The Elder Scrolls is a series of action RPG video games. They are known for their large, open worlds, which you can explore pretty freely. Each game is set in a different region of the games' fantasy world, a continent called Tamriel.)

Like I've said in earlier blog posts, I'm a latecomer to the series, having only played a little of Oblivion earlier this year. So the whole style of the game is still pretty fresh to me. (Knowledge of the prior games isn't really vital. While there are many references, of course, to other regions and earlier events, the stories of the games aren't really connected.) Veterans may of course react differently to various aspects of the game.

Many aspects are, of course, instantly familiar from playing Oblivion. The basic elements of the game are intact, from talking to NPC's and taking on quests to exploring the world and discovering dungeons to loot. Some gameplay mechanics have been streamlined and simplified, which I think is good. For instance, the persuasion system from Oblivion has been removed. (That feature, in my opinion, was only an annoyance. There's plenty enough depth in these games to not have to waste time on pointless minigames.) The removal of classes is also good, allowing more free development of any skills you use.

But the main question in these games is of course that of the setting. Oblivion, though a very entertaining game in many ways, suffered a little in my mind from being rather generic medieval fantasy. Skyrim obviously strives for a setting with a little more personality. Being set in the most northern part of Tamriel, the influences are primarily drawn from ancient Scandinavia. And yeah, it's pretty cool. I haven't explored a lot of the locations yet, but I do think the world feels a little more natural and fresh. Although there are downsides too, like the pseudo-Scandinavian accents of many characters, for instance, which can be a little... silly at times.

The scenery is quite pretty, the views from high places (and in this mountainous region there are some pretty high places) awesome. There's changing weather, snow storms, wildlife, and... the dragons.

Yup. The dragons are of course an important part of the main story. I love the way they can appear out of the blue, and attack a village etc. As an example, I was just visiting a little village when an attack happened. The dragon crouched on rooftops breathing fire while I hurled spells at it. And after it was defeated, I noticed all the NPC's in the village had gathered nearby to see it, then slowly started getting back to their daily routines. Pretty darn cool.

So, I think Skyrim is definitely the video game event of the year for me, and may well be the most significant new release since maybe MGS4. Epic fantasy adventuring in beautiful scenery, what more could you ask for?

12 November 2011

A Hotchpotch Gaming Post

OK, lots of little bits I could talk about, so...

November 11 was Skyrim's release day. And on that very day, the postman dropped it in my mailbox. It's been ages since I've actually gotten a game on the release day. If I ever have, even, I can't remember for sure now. I remember pre-ordering MGS3, but due to some mix-up I got it several days late (gasp!). I might have gotten Silent Hill 4 on the day, or very soon after. But, yeah, mostly I have no problem waiting, as there are relatively few games I'm that passionate about based on hype alone.

It got off to a rocky start. The game crashed a couple times during the tutorial part. For a console game this is pretty unforgivable. But after a new start (and, just to be safe, a fresh install) it has been working without problems, for the first few hours, at least. And, although I've barely scratched the surface of the game, it is pretty cool. Many things seem instantly familiar from Oblivion, but I do think the UI and gameplay have improved some, and the setting might just seem a little fresher. The snow is pretty etc.

During the previous weeks, while waiting for Skyrim, I played Grandia for a while. This was a very different experience, of course, being a traditional Japanese RPG. And it was quite fun to play. I enjoyed the battle system, and the experience system was interesting, too. The story... well, despite there being plenty of dialogue, it didn't really progress all that much during the 20 odd hours I played. The characters were fun, though (albeit some a bit... young), and there's plenty of humour. Maybe I'll get back to it someday, when I feel like a change again. Or maybe I won't. I'm afraid I have a tendency to get sidetracked playing these long RPG's, never to return...

Onwards to the tabletop gaming part.

I don't usually re-run many RPG scenarios, even though I run games for a couple different groups. Mostly 'cause I'm committed to running campaigns, of very different styles, which doesn't really lend itself to reusing material. I think the only example thus far was my horror scenario Beyond the Bridge. Last weekend, however, me and a handful of friends got together intending to play some Halloween-themed RPG's. So I decided to run one scenario from my campaign from a few years ago, Kin of Cerberos. The scenario was titled The Day After the Living Dead, and I guess you can guess what the theme was (yes, it starts with a 'z'). Instead of the professional demon hunters of the campaign, this one-shot featured 'regular' people, who were rather more out of their depth. But it was fun.

My Pathfinder campaign is progressing. It still feels like we're learning the game, really, but I guess session by session it's getting smoother. And I still like the system, it's very different from the other games I've been running lately, and steeped in tradition, etc.

And lastly, I kept running into the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in the strangest places, so I finally had to find out what all the fuss was about. And it turned out to be surprisingly addictive. (Seriously, though, a show created by someone called Faust can hardly be bad. Evil, maybe, but not bad.) And, being the gamer geek that I am, I started thinking the show's setting and style could make for a pretty fun, light RPG adventure. So I started designing a simple system based on Fudge for it, and making a draft of a cute character sheet (and that's probably the first time I've described a sheet design of mine as cute). I haven't had a chance to try these out yet, but, judging from the reaction of at least one of my (female) friends, that is probably only a matter of time...

4 November 2011

A Little Blog Post About Hype

It's one week to the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I finally managed to get around to ordering the game this week. And I must admit, I'm a little excited.

It feels as if Skyrim is easily the most hyped game in years. Of course having 'liked' the Elder Scrolls page on Facebook, I'm probably getting more saturated with news items than I might have otherwise, but I do keep running into it in other sources as well.

I rarely get very excited about new game releases. Of course there are a few particular series I'm a fan of. Releases of Metal Gear Solid titles in the past, for instance, have been not insignificant events. And Final Fantasy games, of course, although recent titles haven't really been all that special, and I've hardly had great expectations for them. But I don't think there has really been any particular game I would have been really looking forward to since maybe MGS4. There may be titles I eye with mild interest, but I'm usually quite willing to wait till I run into them for a bargain price, often years later, if I ever get them at all.

What's strange about the Skyrim thing, is that it's not really the type of game I used to get excited about, either. For a long time I played pretty much exclusively Japanese games. It's only quite recently that I've begun to open up more to certain western titles. I've also usually not been all that into the whole 'sandbox' thing, preferring games with a strong storyline and characters, which is really hard to do in an open world.

I'm also coming in very late on the whole Elder Scrolls thing. I got Oblivion second hand last winter and played some of it, and quite enjoyed it, but, as often happens with long games, I got sidetracked by something, and time went by, and then with Skyrim drawing ever closer it didn't really seem to make sense to get back into it, my attention span being what it is and me not wanting to spoil the experience by playing too much of a similar thing. (Wow, what a sentence...) So I never got around to even beating the main story in the game. But the seeds of interest were sown, and there were elements of the game I quite liked.

And what I've seen of Skyrim... well, it does look impressive. Improved visuals (which, frankly, were by no means shabby in Oblivion), streamlined gameplay, better voice acting, a new, big world to explore... Even if it doesn't quite live up to all the hype, ruling out some really bad technical flaws or something, I'm not seeing any way I cannot get a fair share of enjoyment out of the game. I hope I'm right.