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  1. A new DLC for Borderlands 2 is out, and it has pirates, sandworms and skiffs. Since it’s a story/mini-campaign kind of thing, we’ll try and avoid major spoilers. There may be some minor ones though, depending on what you consider a spoiler. Since we’re avoiding spoilers, there won’t be much discussion of the story in this review. To summarize, it’s good and Gearbox delivers on what they promised, even if they got cute with the ending. The main quest will take a few hours to complete if you do the sidequests. If you try and speedrun it, you could probably complete it in under two hours. Captain Scarlett adds several new areas. These are quite large, and there is a lot of variety. Most are quite pretty, and one underground area is freaking beautiful. There are some problematic areas. One has a gate that blocks access to half of the map, and the gate can get stuck and refuse to open. The same level has a place where you can get stuck in the level geometry. This is especially annoying if you’re a Mechromancer with 400 Anarchy stacks. Another has horrible framerate issues (a level designer appears to have been over-generous with the lighting). In later levels invisible walls start to be a problem. Most of those feel like level design oversights rather than deliberate restrictions on player movement, especially since a loot chest is located three to fifteen feet behind one of them. There’s also a place where the player can die from fall damage. An oddity, considering Borderlands 2 doesn’t have fall damage. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong or bad with any of the levels, but like the Mechromancer DLC, this Captain Scarlett could have used more time in QA before release. This is as close as you can get to that chest. There are a few weird invisible walls like this. There’s very little reuse of assets. The Pirate enemies are not quite palette swapped bandits; they have a few unique tricks up their sleeves. A few, mostly the bigger guys, are quite nasty. The sandworms are not quite as interesting; they mostly sit there spitting at you. I didn’t encounter any interesting variants in playthrough 1, although there may be more variety in playthrough 2. Speaking of enemies, the final boss fight is pretty disappointing. He’s huge and visually interesting, but is extremely reminiscent of the fight against Tyrpticon in Transformers: War for Cybertron. Even the color palette is similar. It’s bizarre. There are new, piratey chests. Speaking of big bad guys, there is some endgame content for those of you who are level 50. Two new Invincibles, both have which have already been beaten by people on the Internet. They drop a new currency that can be used to purchase weapons that, so far, don’t appear to be worth it. Gearbox says there’s something we haven’t figured out yet. More puzzling is Gearbox’s decision to put the new Invincibles on a once a day timer. This isn’t an MMO; there’s no reason to deny the players the ability to kill the big ugly guys fool of loot. All in all, this is probably the most troubling part of the DLC. The sidequests are entertaining. There’s a whole series of them involving finding pirate treasure. Those are quite well written, and have very interesting loot. On the topic of loot, there’s some new stuff. I found about ten items with new red text. There appear to be more. Some of them have some interesting costs associated with their benefits. Most of your quest rewards are unique items, so you’ll end up with quite a few in your inventory. Gearbox knows what you want. The last major new thing are the Skiffs. They’re good. The Skiffs handle quite well. It’s honestly quite a shame we can’t use them elsewhere. Since they hover they can strafe. They can’t move vertically at all, and you will see them get stuck on wooden signs that are two feet too short to hit them. In terms of weapons, they all have a turret mounted machine gun that can be controlled by a gunner and a prow mounted weapon for the pilot. The prow weapon can be rockets, sawblades or a harpoon. The harpoon is by far the best. It fires slowly, but does massive damage, can go through multiple targets and explodes a few seconds after it hits something. It’s really a shame there isn’t a man-portable version (if there is, I haven’t found it). All in all, I would recommend Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty. There are some problems and troubling design decisions, but it has a good amount of entertaining content. This post has been promoted to an article
  2. It’s been a long time since a game truly felt like a reward to play after a hard day at work, but with the release of Borderlands 2 on September 17th, I finally got to come home excited to play something. The best comparison I can make is the feeling of going to a club and just losing yourself in the music because that same feeling is what Gearbox was able to deliver in this sequel along with a fix for everything that players had issues with in the first game. From the beginning of the game all the way through the finish, and even the replay, I was constantly experimenting and evolving my gameplay style. Nothing got stale, and every kill was more satisfying than the last whether it was by chain stabbing people as the assassin, Zero, or unloading four hundred incendiary rounds from a sub machine gun into a wave of enemies in approximately two seconds as Maya, the Siren. The game itself worked so well as a break from reality because the game never took itself too seriously. Jack, your nemesis in Borderlands 2, is “the most perfect ass” to quote a friend. He’s constantly jabbing you with the most immature insults and you tell yourself that it won’t get under your skin, but damn, you can’t ignore it. Before long you’ll find your eye twitching and your knuckles going white as you listen to Jack insult you in the most imaginative ways – Jack – “I’m wracking my brain trying to think of a name for that diamond pony I bought. I was going to call it ‘piss-for-brains’ in honor of you, but that just feels immature. Hey, maybe ‘Butt Stallion?’” Just the same though, the game doesn’t pull any punches, and anybody buying the game should be prepared to have the game rip out your heart and sauté it in your own tears especially if you played the first Borderlands. Gearbox certainly didn’t pull any punches in making this game a memorable experience whether you play alone or with a friend or three. If you normally play games alone though, I might stress that the game is easily one hundred times better with a friend because you actually have someone there to exclaim and laugh with as the ridiculous antics of Jack get progressively more homicidal. It’s simply a better experience when shared with someone else, and I think that can be said about a lot of games. Gearbox certainly did a remarkable job when it came to gauging their players’ moods, emotions, and adrenaline. The game never once ended an emotional peak incorrectly and it was a fantastically smooth ride throughout the game. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the play style, let me explain a little bit. You end up on a planet, which, for all intents and purposes, is lawless and is inhabited by bandits, hick colonists, and a whole lot of bad asses with more guns than you can imagine. Every living thing on the planet, and even most inanimate things, has a gun you can rip from its obliterated remains. As long as you have a weapon you can get a better one and that mechanic combined with a nearly infinite number of guns gives you a constantly evolving style of gameplay, which Gearbox deserves to be extremely proud of. I’ve found in my experiences that cooperative gameplay is a nesting ground for glitches, the most memorable and entertaining of which would probably be from Fable 3 if any of you have played it. Borderlands certainly didn’t have anything on that level of ridiculous, but they did have some. My partner and I did occasionally have issue reviving one another even when we were practically standing on top of each other, which often resulted in the death of one or both of us. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t happen most often in the Circles of Slaughter half way through one of the last waves of enemies. It definitely caused a lot of frustrated groans and ice cream breaks were completely necessary after those happened. The UI had its frustrations too, of course. I found that having the “dismount from vehicle” button and the “travel” button on the same key caused a lot of unintentional dismounts and often ended in my partner and me running on foot looking for a new Catch-A-Ride Station when we got to a new zone. This game was also the first game ever to actually keep me entertained and interested in every side quest. For once they weren’t just another way of grinding out levels and instead actually brought more depth to the game’s phenomenally designed NPCs. My favorite side quest involved a string of tortured souls leaving messages behind referencing a gun with an unimaginably terrible curse that I won’t spoil for you so that you can discover on your own. Just know that it’s totally worth the side quest, and you’ll probably end up throwing the gun off the highest cliff you can find. If you know what quest I’m talking about, you’ll understand why I’m going to mention the sound of the game next, which was extremely satisfying from headshots to gun fire effects. Most of all the character voice was spot on and unique for every major and minor NPC. I was also a huge fan of the smooth gradient transition from normal voice to radio voice when you walk away from an NPC who’s talking. That way you don’t have to just sit there absently while the character gives you the mission and its backstory. I’ve never enjoyed, in real life or games, when someone wastes my time and I really appreciate it when the game company takes that into consideration. I’ve got some questions though. The New-U stations are Hyperion owned and Jack is owner of Hyperion, yes? He spends the entire game trying to kill you off and any time you do actually die, you use a Hyperion New-U Station to resurrect. That just seems counter-productive to me. A lot of games play off the dying thing by having you play from a save point as if you never died, but Borderlands turned it into a mechanic that they flaunt. Personally I think that they should have just slapped a different company name on the New-U station and called it done, but they kept Hyperion on it and it confuses me. The tech trees were also stuffed with great new innovative mechanics to have fun with, but a few were less effective than others. Clearly the game is about guns, guns, and more guns, but when you have a tech tree that builds melee skills from level five and upwards I expect melee to be a viable option and a play style I can enjoy from the first point I put into the tree. Instead, melee generally becomes useful around level twenty to twenty five. Of course, it’s not really an issue in the end because you can re-spec your talents for a more than reasonable price so you can level up with guns primarily and switch over in your thirties to the melee-centric tree to at least try it out. The level design of the game was well laid out. With that said, my co-op partner and I continued to run into small collision volumes that just had no business being where they were. Suddenly when driving the Light Scout we’d just find ourselves doing random one hundred and eighty degrees spins accompanied by a crashing sound when nothing was in the road at all. We also ran into a bit of an issue with some forgotten UDK material and texture applications as you can see in the picture below. This glitch, if it really was a glitch, really seemed almost more like an easter egg homage to UDK so I’m really not that bothered by it. Overall, Borderlands 2 is the perfect response to any emotional situation you might be having. It’s a perfect way to let out aggression when you’re mad. It will make you laugh when you’re feeling down and, once you’re feeling better, you’ll continue to have a good time for as long as you want to play the game. Best of all, Borderlands 2 has tons of content and I assume the DLC will be worth waiting for. It certainly doesn’t get stale and is a perfect game if you want to invite some friends over with their laptops for a good old fashion LAN party.
  3. Overview Well, Black Ops is back with vengeance in its sequel, Black Ops II, and it would seem that Treyarch actually had some new tricks up their sleeves. Black Ops II, to my knowledge anyway, is the first in the series to bring choice and alternate story routes to your gameplay experience. It would seem the company is trying to make a break from its usual one track story and actually putting some serious effort into diversity this time around. If you haven’t played one of the other seventeen Call of Duty games and this was a first for you, then you actually managed to step in on one of the good ones. Call of Duty, your fairly typical first person shooter is a game mashed FULL of guns and gadgets. As of the first Black Ops in the franchise there are three modes that allow you a fairly wide range of entertainment: Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombie Mode. In each mode your goal is fairly straight forward, shoot the enemy (preferably in the head!), with a couple of variations in multiplayer mode such as “confirm you shot them by picking up their dog tags”, or “shoot them so that you can blow something else up down the road”. Almost any way you play it, there’s shooting of some kind unless you’re of the rare “knifing” persuasion. In Call of Duty, FPS also stands for “First Person Stabber”, which multiplayer actually allows some variety in for Black Ops II. Ever wanted to stab someone with a golden knife and NOT be at the top of an ancient sacrificial Aztec pyramid? Perfect, because Black Ops II has you covered! Either way, the game is great for any gun fanatic out there, old or new, and even those that want to use some future weapons that spew over nine thousand bullets a second. Campaign Our story begins with a short music video montage of the backstory for a character named Raul Menendez who is our villain for this short action packed hell-ride (sooooo much fire!). At a young age it would seem Menendez tried to rescue his sister from a burning building and somewhat succeeded, though his sister is in pretty bad shape. Before I go any further, here would be a good place to mention that you should be extremely careful with the “graphic content” option given to the player by Treyarch. You don’t really get a choice with introduction, but if that churns anything in your stomach, I seriously recommend turning graphic content off, because it was a rather disturbing ride in the beginning and the end of the story with it on. Anyway, getting back on track, it turns out that the warehouse Menendez and his sister were trying to escape from was actually burned down intentionally by an American for the insurance money and thus an evil mastermind is born with hatred against rich people. Hooray! No racism this game! Mostly anyway…It would seem that you do spend an inordinate amount of time killing Cubans, in the future or the past. Personally, I would never have guessed that the best equipped elite mercenary of the future would hail from Cuba, but you learn something new every day. The story is split across three characters with missions in the near future of 2025 and the past ranging from Vietnam through the 1980s. While you’re busy dredging up backstory in the 1900s, you switch back and forth between Alex Mason, the brainwashed CIA operative from the first Black Ops, and Frank Woods, his partner; however, the majority of time is spent in the year 2025 as David Mason, son of Alex Mason hunting down the monster, Raul Menendez who always seems to be one step ahead of you. This is, of course, when you get to play with all the fun new gadgets. Gadgets are a bit of a plot item in the newest Black Ops: winged gliders, harriers, drone support of multiple kinds, and even smaller stuff like mountainside traversal grapple partner swings (what?). I’m not even mentioning guns here or their attachments, like the introduction of the Storm PSR sniper rifle which fires through solid objects the longer you hold down the power button, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Another innovation this time around would be the introduction of Strike Force mode, which allows the player to take the position of a Commander on the field with a limited number of troops and a specific objective and time limit. Now, I always play the campaigns of Call of Duty on Veteran for my own amusement, but I don’t know what I was doing wrong with Strike Force. The instant my guys got on the field and somewhere near an objective they got absolutely destroyed and I lost every Strike Force mission I went in on. Maybe it was because of Veteran mode, or maybe because I’m just terrible at it, but either way it was different, difficult, and even a bit clunky for Treyarch’s release standards. You can’t just keep trying at them either. The number of troops you have is limited to the number of missions you’ve done, but the Strike Force content also disappears after a specified number of missions are completed. So, if you don’t know what you’re doing the first time around (like me!) and you lose all your troops, which just keep coming in to get mowed down unless you quit the mission early or win, then you have little to no chance of completing any of them, which really disappointed me. Zombies Zombie mode has evolved once again and I must say I’m a fan! Masochistic survival mode is still there, and shinier than ever, but is it really getting a story that’s more comprehensive than a three page comic book? Yes! In a loose homage to Scooby Doo and the gang, grab some machine guns and jump aboard a bus to look for clues as to why the zombie apocalypse is really happening! This new system allows some players to stay in one area while others ride a rusty bus to a totally different mini-area for alternate supplies and different “parts”. These “parts” are a piece of the new crafting aspect and allows the player(s) to MacGyver defenses and access-ways of many kinds all over the maps. Of course, the whole thing still works off of points, so make you shoot every last zombie you find to make bank! I would even say the level designers have figured out a way to make the maps more claustrophobic and scary with the addition on the brown mist that surrounds each area. Stepping into the fog gets the player an intimate experience with a creature reminiscent of the head-crabs from Half-Life and isn’t recommended unless you’re in the bus. Environments are also mutable, and even change without player intervention at times. Too many rides on the bus gets the roof torn open, staying in the initial starting zone gets the floor cracked open and spewing Hell-fire, that sort of stuff. Multiplayer The general format of Call of Duty multiplayer hasn’t changed too drastically, and there are plenty of new guns, new maps, new weapon attachments, and all of the other shiny bits and baubles. They’ve now included a mini Adobe Photoshop to edit your emblem to perfection, the ability to camouflage your tactical knife (always important!) and, of course, the ability to leave a calling card on your enemy. Gone are the days of Halo’s tea bags I guess. Even taunting has gotten a face lift as of 2025. Call of Duty has, once again, flip flopped on the subject of dedicated servers, and, while this isn’t a super exciting bit about multiplayer intended to amp you up and get you ready to go with Black Ops II’s new multiplayer, it’s important to mention. Dedicated, or mod, servers allow players themselves to administer a server and to modify it as they see fit. Treyarch has decided that this breeches the integrity and security of the ranking system, which, to the rest of us means: you have to play and level up our way or it’s not fair to everyone else. I see the argument, but I personally found the most joy and innovation in the client modified servers I played on in older games in the franchise, which I will miss dearly. Furthermore, the server files are being locked away too which prevent people from renting or buying their own servers to host Black Ops II. This has been most unpopular with PC gamers looking to control a clan server. I have heard from several people who feel that Treyarch has alienated them and their preferred play style. These people are players who would have otherwise been looking forward to the newest game in the Call of Duty franchise, but now boycott it. My own experience went something like this: upon entering my first multiplayer bout on Xbox Live, I was greeted by the whiney prepubescent complaining I am always met with when I’m on the chat system. Of course I had joined a match half way through, so going through now and muting people would simply be wasting my team’s time. Telling myself that I just have to get through this, I finished one round and then started to do my tradition of muting everyone except for my party, and, as I tried, an option popped up that made me ecstatic. “Do you want to mute all players except party members?” Dropping my jaw in amazement I quickly hit yes and was rewarded to see a bunch of tiny mute symbols next to nearly everyone’s name! It’s probably a sad reflection on me that this is the first thing I got really excited about in the game, however it’s something I know a lot of the more mature Xbox Live players hate dealing with. The rest of the games I played were pretty routine. 1. Start Round 2. Run with team around first corner 3. Get face blown off by rifle of some kind 4. Respawn 5. Run around corner 6. Repeat steps 3, 4, & 5 until death in step 3 is no longer caused by rifle, but by air strike and promptly remove step 5 from rotation until end of game. I can tell you though, from looking at the stats of three of the twenty some odd people on the map, that it IS possible to have fun and do well. How much time and effort you want to put in to getting that good and having fun is up to you though. Plus, this stuff’s getting easier with the addition of my favorite attachment, the “target finder” that puts a giant red diamond around your enemy when you look down your scope.
  4. The first add-on to be released by Bethesda, Dawnguard packs a massive amount of new content to explore. Vampire slayers, the Dawnguard seek to eliminate the vampire threat that has risen to power in the northwest part of Skyrim. Vampires are appearing in large number and attacking the holds of Skyrim. The vampires on the other hand, hope to find a way to destroy the sun because of their weakness to it. Hearing a rumor from a guard in any hold, alerts the player that the Dawnguard is forming. Following the rumor leads the player to Fort Dawnguard, where the quest begins. Isran, the leader of the Dawnguard, asks the hero to search the Dimhollow crypt. Upon completing your search, you find a woman whom you later discover is a vampire, and Lord Harkon’s daughter, Serena. On her back is a large scroll, obviously an Elder Scroll. She asks you to bring her to her father, the leader of the vampires. Once you have safely returned Serena to her father’s castle, a choice must be made. Will you remain loyal to the Dawnguard, or will you join the vampire’s crusade, becoming one as well? A lot of content is added to the world of Skyrim with the Dawnguard add-on. Nearly 40 quests make up the storylines between following Lord Harkon, or remaining loyal to the Dawnguard. Over 80 NPC’s have been added to facilitate the new content over 24 new areas to explore. In addition to the NPC’s added, you can have demonhounds(vampire) or dogs(Dawnguard) join you as followers on your quests. New spells can be discovered for the conjuration and restoration trees, as well as three new shouts to learn. And between the Dawnguard and vampire factions, a multitude of new items can be found and made. Dawnguard is able to add most of the new content to every aspect of Skyrim. The new items, books, potions, etc., will appear all over the world of Skyrim, as if they were there from the beginning. This includes new loading screens, dialogues for NPC’s, and new enemies to fight. Leaving weapons on the ground can lead to a guard telling you that it is dangerous to leave them there, or a merchant asking if they could take left items for resale. There are also perks added for both the abilities to turn into vampires or werewolves. Similar to the skill trees, these perks enhance either forms to make them even more deadly. Between the two story lines, following the vampires and the Dawnguard, you can expect nearly 20 hours of additional content. This of course can change depending on how quickly the player rushes through quest. Alongside the storyline, the player can run into side quests that can be well worth completing. Finding Arvak’s skull or speaking to a distraught soul will allow the player to complete a quest in which they can learn to summon an undead horse, Arvak. Also, the hero can learn new dragon shouts such as Soul Tear, which casts Soul Trap, drains the target of its health, and if it dies within two seconds, raises the target to fight for you for 60 seconds. Other things to look forward to involve the Aetherium Forge, which three unique items can be made: a staff that can summon a Dwarven sphere or spider for 60 seconds, a crown that allows for two stone powers to be active at once, and a shield that causes enemies to become ethereal for 60 seconds when bashed. As well as unique enemies like Durnehviir, a very old dragon whom you can eventually be able to summon into battle. Similar to Odahviing, Durnehviir is actually a bit more useful in that he summons more like a conjuration spell, meaning he can be used in most indoor areas provided there is enough room for him. Dawnguard will want to be replayed in order to see both faction’s side of the story, and see the differences that take place. Fresh new content such as vampire and Dawnguard armor can be found all over Skyrim. Players who haven’t finished Skryim can download Dawnguard, and start seeing changes right away. Unlike the DLC available for other games, Bethesda’s first official add-on will keep you busy for hours on end.
  5. A small add-on in comparison to the Dawnguard DLC, Hearthfire still gives plenty of new options for the player to consider. Inspired by the popularity of Minecraft, Hearthfire gives players the ability to build their own home, protect it from enemies, hire staff, and adopt children. While it doesn’t include any new quests, Hearthfire introduces new options, and expands content currently available. Building your mansion provides an addicting experience which seamlessly blends into the world of Tamriel as if it were there from the beginning. Usually an add-on introduces new content; however, to access the new content, the player is confined to a new area. This is one of the features I’ve always enjoyed with Elder Scrolls games, the smooth blending of new content with the old. Hearthfire adds clothing and toys for the kids you can potentially adopt, in addition to new furnishings for your homes. Like in Minecraft, players with OCD will enjoy building and furnishing their mansions. Fortunately, building a mansion does not require training a skill to make the items required. Apart from some obscure materials for random decorations, iron will be wanted in large supply. Most of what is needed to build the mansion can be found surrounding the land purchased. There are two mineral veins that can be mined to provide the quarried stone and clay you will need. Sawn logs are also now available for purchase from lumber mills, such as the one in Riverwood. Building your mansion consists of two parts, exterior and interior. After building the main hall, three expansions can be added. Each one of these expansions have specific features that can be chosen: an enchanter’s tower, library, kitchen, armory, trophy room, storage room, alchemy lab, greenhouse, and living quarters. What this means is that only certain features can be built upon each expansion, which narrows the choices that can be made. While it may seem repetitive to some, Minecraft enthusiasts will enjoy building the interior. Furniture and decorations can’t be placed in precise locations, but are unique to the feature the player chose when making the exterior. The living quarters allow beds and bedroom furniture to be built, which is required for adopting children. The armory allows for many manikins and weapon racks which can be used to display armor and weapons sets. The trophy room requires many unique items such as a troll skull for a troll statue, or horker tusks to mount a horker’s head on your wall. A fairly simple process in the game, adoption is quite misleading by today’s real world standards. Helping a child will open up the dialogue to adopt, or you can go through an orphanage such as the one in Riften. As long as a home of yours has a children’s bedroom with furniture you will be able to adopt the child. In addition to bringing your family to your mansion, you can also hire a steward. The steward provides a multitude of different functions in addition to being called upon as a follower. A steward is able to add livestock to your estate, they can hire a bard or caravan driver for you, and they can assist with furnishing your home. They can be asked to buy materials required to make furnishings in your home, as well as furnishing your home for you. A steward will remain loyal to you, and can only be removed by being killed. While Hearthfire didn’t add any story or exploration content, it did add about 10-15 hours of content to explore including gathering materials and furnishing the inside of your home. Unless you are looking to settle down in Skyrim, you shouldn’t expect too much adventuring with this add-on, but for those who enjoy world-building games like Minecraft, will find some familiarity with Hearthfire.
  6. Continuing where I left off in the first part of this series, I am now more than 100 hours into this game including the add-ons, Dawnguard and Hearthfire. Very few games today can do what Skyrim has done, and so it should be commended. Including the DLC, the investment of $85 is worth every penny. Many games today fail at living up to their hype, making an unequal balance between their hype, cost, and time invested. The first week after release, a game’s hype falls dramatically usually due to a campaign being too short, or not rewarding the player effectively. Every game has a downfall, but because of Skyrim’s length and depth, it took longer to discover it. Quests were an interesting mix, the open-world formula made it easy to forget about the main storyline. Part of the reason is because each quest, or series of quests, has its own revolving stories; investigating a burned down house leads to killing a master vampire, joining either the Stormcloaks or the Imperials leads to capturing the opposing faction’s capital city, etc. For obvious reasons, the main quest of discovering that you are the Dragonborn and what that means is the most powerful. After meeting the Greybeards and attempting to retrieve an old horn for them, you learn of the long forgotten group, “The Blades”, who were actually dragon slayers. And along with this, dragons aren’t just returning, but are coming back to life. Alduin, an ancient dragon is able to resurrect other dragons, and while anyone can kill a dragon, only a Dragonborn can absorb the soul of a dragon, preventing them from being able to return from the dead. Not only do the various quests make the Skyrim world exciting and unique, the variety of character types makes each experience a little different. Picking up the role of a powerful mage, I focused heavily into destruction magic. I wanted to kill first and ask questions later. This is where I found the “Stagger” perk incredibly handy. When dual-casting a spell, overcharging it into a more powerful version, staggers any opponent for a moment. With reduced magicka costs to my spells, my goal was to make sure the enemy was dead before I ran out of magic. While my focus was on destruction magic, there are supplemental skill trees that are worth investing into. Enchanting is essential no matter the play style, eventually being able to enchant an item with two different stats made it possible for me to be able to cast any spell from any two schools of magic for free. This combination with stagger made the game extremely easy. I could now stagger any opponent, casting master level destruction spells for free. Increasing the difficulty helped balance the game more, but proved how powerful this setup became. Blacksmithing for a magic user is pointless, but I wanted to see Dragon Armor on my character. While a thief or warrior would benefit from upgrading armors or weapons, a mage’s only consideration is its use of doubling an item’s value. Lockpicking includes a perk which increases your chance of finding a magical item by 50%, in addition to the prior perk which increases gold find, I was able to find gear upgrades faster than working blacksmithing to learn how to make them. For those of us obsessed with money, the speech skill has many benefits including being able to increase merchant’s bartering gold by 1500, or persuading guards to look the other way. The first is especially useful as I would bankrupt every merchant I could find, selling the loot from my latest run. The latter is quite handy for the achievement of obtaining 1000 gold bounty in all nine holds. Along with selling everything, I enjoyed the perk in pickpocketing that increased my carry limit by 100. Having a party member carry items for me, I often spent more time selling than fighting. It was surprising to watch NPC’s interact with each other. Vilkas can train you in two-handed weapon combat, but you can also discover this listening to him teach another companion how to fight with a two-handed weapon. While what is said wouldn’t help you be a better fighter (in the game), in a real world setting the logic rings true. “Balance is key with two-handed weapons; you need to be able to counter the weight of the swing.” The story is rich and powerful, and I found myself surprised many times. Knowing how Elder Scrolls games go, I knew there had to be something revolving around the use of a scroll, but it wasn’t until the dragon resurrection that I realized what was going on. This story and the free-exploration formula is why Skyrim did so well for weeks after its release, in addition to the fame for being an Elder Scrolls game. From developing your character with near limitless choices, brilliant design and direction, and the amazing story, it is no wonder why this game did so well. I highly recommend it.
  7. The Elder Scrolls has always been a series worth looking into. Each installment to the franchise sets new standards for other current-generation video games. Bethesda Game Studios has created a unique niche in the RPG genre through character customization, style of play, but most importantly through the specific details that go into every part of every game. This trend continues with Skyrim, the fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls series. Starting the game up for the first time, you appear amongst a group of prisoners. Your wrists are bound, and you can’t move, aside from looking around. While it is unique to the Elder Scrolls games, the prisoner starting point is also becoming a tired theme. It sets up the story for Skyrim, but a thought that would be an interesting change would be to lead up to being arrested. We know of an ambush that was meant for the Stormcloak soldiers, so why not have a “teaser trailer” for the opening cinematic that depicts this scenario. Ending up with the same result, but there’d be a bit more story being told. Creating your character takes place just before the executions of the prisoners. Upon first glance, the graphics engine expresses its power through the use of shadows. Your character’s facial features show an extreme level of detail through the use of the sun’s light source. Individual bumps from eye brows, cheeks, etc., each cast their own unique shadow, which is something to marvel at for being drawn at run-time. Even though you don’t look at your character’s face through the majority of the game, this level of detail will continue throughout the rest of your adventure. Fortunately, a dragon out of legend appears and attacks Helgen Keep, and you barely escape with one of two soldiers. There is a plot choice here, you can choose to flee with either the Imperial or Stormcloak soldier. Whichever choice you make leads you to the same town of Riverwood where, depending on your previous choice, you can find sanctuary in one of two homes belonging to the family of whichever soldier you followed. Upon facing the dragon at Helgen Keep, the controller vibrates beautifully in-sync with its roar, landings, take-offs, and breath attacks. This synchronization between visuals, sounds, and feelings enhance the game’s presence ten-fold. The ripple of reality between real-life and the game’s world is cleverly disguised. This harmony of syncing continues when fighting three mammoths and their giant protector as you “hear” and “feel” just how close behind they are as you run your socks off in the opposite direction. Similar to previous installments, leveling up individual skills generally comes with using them. To be an all-powerful wizard, you need to use magic, and you need to use the strongest magic. Your skill in the arcane arts will increase faster with higher rank spells as opposed to saving magicka by casting lower ranked spells. With each skill level, a portion of experience is awarded to your character. While leveling up, you can choose to increase your magicka, health, or stamina, in addition to using a specialization point in a number of skill trees. In addition to the near-limitless character customization options, Skyrim’s NPC’s are also well-developed. Every NPC has an audible voice, but more importantly will talk to your character even though you are just passing by. They may even scold you as you accidentally kick their cooking kettle around their store. Likewise, overhearing conversations with other NPC’s can unlock side quests. Overhearing a group of Redguard Alik’r being asked to leave Whiterun leads to them asking you for help. They are searching for a woman that is a Redguard like them, and are willing to pay for locating her. Upon finding her, you can choose to help her, or find the mercenaries and tell them where she is hiding. Partying with NPC’s is also more interesting than in other games. In a quest with Farkas he tells you to meet him at Dustman’s Cairn to find shards of a legendary axe, Wuuthrad, for the Companions guild. Farkas actually walks, and leaves town on his own. Rather than “magically teleporting,” you can follow him all the way to Dustman’s Cairn, typically these kinds of things for the consoles can be very taxing to their resources. It bogs them down as memory is used to chart the NPC’s course, but somehow this is unnoticeable to the player! Like the NPC’s of Skyrim, there are many items to be found throughout the game as well. And a sort of OCD can be created with your obsession of customization. Some armor for example can be the same stat wise, but have different skins for their art assets, thus creating a slightly different look for your character and companions that you can “dress” up. Along with items you can use or wear, there are also many decoration items that are mostly useless, unless you want to pick how the inside of your house looks. Pots and kettles can be placed on a fire to look as if they were meant to be there, or you can place ornate jars on desks or tables and even place flowers in them. It takes a little bit of finesse, but for those who get picky about customization, it’s there for you to enjoy. Along with decorating your house, you can also populate your bookshelves! Books are more than just decoration however, the lore and mythology found in books, which can lead to random side and miscellaneous quests, have their own uniquely created content inside. In some cases, revealing how to get passed a door’s puzzle to open it, or to provide a small, permanent boost to skills, which makes every book worthwhile to open. Skyrim is a large world set within a larger world of Tamriel, which is slowly being revealed to us through the Elder Scrolls series. I eagerly await the DLC, Dawnguard and Hearthfire, as well as future Elder Scrolls games. Skyrim provides tremendous graphics, an engaging and unique story, as well as game play that will last for literally days on end. Having spent more than 20-hours on just one character alone, there is still much more to explore and do. I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. If you haven’t checked out Skyrim yet, it is well worth your dollar to do so.