Friday, January 13, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition"

Well, honestly, this is about five years overdue. Seriously, this game shut down my blog for SEVEN MONTHS! Seven months where I didn't post a thing, I didn't do anything. It completely consumed by gaming life for seven months, fueled on the insane amount of hype. At the time, this game was literally everything I could have hoped for in a fantasy RPG: running around the landscape with a sword in hand as I completed quests, stood stalwart against the forces of evil, and battled...wait for it...FREAKING DRAGONS!

Had I reviewed this game in 2011, it would have been me gibbering in fanboy-induced insanity, likely in the form of a video of me belting out a Dragon-themed version of the Narwhals song at the top of my lungs to a montage of me killing said dragons.

...in an alternate universe where I can make videos that aren't me sitting in a room with really, really poor lighting and bad audio, but I'm working on it!

ahem...so, in 2016, five years later and going back with a fresh perspective on things, how exactly would I rate the fifth main series entry into the Elder Scrolls series? Let's take a closer look.  First, the various plots...

The (Main) Plot & The Civil War
You are a prisoner (because every Elder Scrolls protagonist starts off in the klink) being transported to an execution at the hands of the Imperial Legion. However, you're saved by Turbo Man's sudden arrival that causes a fiery cataclysm and allows you escape with either a member of the Legion or a member of the Stormcloaks. You see, you have come to the land of Skyrim, where civil war has broken out after the death of the King at the hands of Ulfric Stormcloak.

Having jumped two hundred years after that escort mission that ended in tragedy, the Empire is heavily fragmented now and Skyrim symbolizes it better than any of the other provinces, with Ulfric leading his Stormcloak army against the Empire, who have just gotten out of a nasty war with the Aldmeri Dominion - e.g., the Nazis if they were elves. However, the player soon discovers that they are the legendary Dragonborn - a warrior who can kill dragons and take their souls and thus their power.  Basically, think of it as a draconic version of Highlander.

So, the Civil War really just falls to the wayside as you deal with the fact that you're a warrior blessed by the gods with the soul of a Dragon and destined to fight other dragons...sort of. It's not actually completely clear as to what your destiny is, but you nonetheless have one. Are you supposed to defeat Alduin and stop the return of the Dragons or are you supposed to just let all of Tamriel burn? Well, if you take the second option there isn't much of a plot to be had.

As for the Civil War, it basically comes down to whether you want structure and some freedoms taken away in order to maintain stability and peace, or if you want freedom (both political and religious freedom) at the cost of minorities getting squashed underfoot and what is the equivalent of complete and utter anarchy...

...totally not something that very much parallels real world political events in America at the moment.

But overall, no, the Civil War doesn't heavily factor into the plot besides in changing a few quests and swapping out a few key players in the various cities.  But at least both it and the main plot against Alduin are a great deal better than Oblivion's main plot, which I already made a joke about above.

Oh, and the Blades suck. Jauffre and Caius would be ashamed of how far they've fallen.

The Dark Brotherhood
very sad follow up to the Dark Brotherhood plot in Oblivion, and I shall explain why (with some spoilers for Oblivion's plot regarding everyone's favorite assassins) here.  In Oblivion, the Dark Brotherhood was very much a family that ran by the strict code set forth by Sithis and the Night Mother.  But, more than that, they were honestly some of the most interesting characters in that game. Through a sea of poorly animated faces that were nestled nice and tight into the Uncanny Valley, the people of the Cheydinhal Sanctuary made the player feel welcome.

Sure, they were a bunch of murderous, insane psychopaths. But damn it, they were your murderous, insane psychopaths. They were there encouraging you right from the start in your various methods of murder, would sometimes offer alternative methods of taking out targets, and all seemed genuinely interested in your upward movement through the ranks of the Brotherhood, happy to see one of their Brothers excelling so well and all in the name of Sithis and the Night Mother, long may they reign from the Void!

Cut ahead to Skyrim and...that feel is just gone. The Brotherhood is now on its last legs and is about to topple right over.  The once proud organization I left behind when I last played Oblivion has become a handful of people huddled in an old crypt in the woods and have completely abandoned the Five Tenants and their patron deities! It's a disgrace! And, of course, Astrid insists that it was done in order to save the Brotherhood, but that's a massive pile of nonsense if ever there was one. The Night Mother and Sithis have proven themselves to have been very active deities in Elder Scrolls, being able to set up for things that would happen ages down the line and-

...and I've already lost most of my audience by writing this all out, much less getting fanboy-y. Nevermind.

The point is, Astrid messed up and she pays for it. The only thing this has over Oblivion's questline is that you at least have radiant assassinations after the plot ends instead of just collecting gold.

The Companions
That which is not the Fighters' Guild, totally. The Companions actually have a very deep and interesting backstory that I won't get into here for the sake of brevity (as if that's ever in any way mattered to me). Even if I were to, that's not why most people took up this questline. No, most people went for it in order to become a werewolf, and I gotta say...I'm not 100% sold on it, even now. It's fun, but you don't have access to your gear and can't cast spells. You have to rely solely on your wits, reflexes, and your DPS in order to survive.

Also, on higher difficulties, getting stuck in a kill cam loop can see you offed if too many enemies are around. Be wary of your surroundings before you go into a power attack.

The College of Winterhold
Okay, not having to go around to every Guild Hall to get a recommendation to be able to enchant? A definite plus over Oblivion. Having access to enchanting everywhere over having it just restricted to one place? Again, a plus.  Getting to save the world from destruction with the help of the Psijic Order and getting to snub the Aldmeri out of a victory and a powerful potential weapon in their battles against the Empire? Priceless.

In all seriousness, it's a nice questline and you might as well do it because the College is the only place where you'll find all the Master trainers for magic. Granted, if you aren't a magically inclined character, there is no real appeal here.

Thieves' Guild
I can only imagine the people at Bethesda were sitting around after Oblivion thinking "Crap! We took the idea of pulling a heist on the Imperial Palace and used it! How do we top that?" Why, by becoming the ultimate soldier of Nocturnal Herself, of course!  The Thieves' Guild in Skyrim has fallen on some hard times until you show up, but you hop in at an opportune time to start turning things around, all the while investigating a mysterious individual who has been working against the Guild...or are they? Not all is as it seems, and an enemy could very easily be hiding in the skin of an ally. After all, honor among thieves only go so far...

Really, this is a Thieves' Guild questline that makes you feel like a thief. Before, in Oblivion in particular, thieving was just a way to get to the next questline. You did it because your Doyen wouldn't give you jobs to do otherwise. Now, you do it because there's loot and thus you have a reason to break into people's homes and steal their things - profit! But beyond that, you also have the questline that allows you to become a Nightingale, a soldier of Nocturnal who has access to some unique powers of stealthy goodness.

Combat
You can't weave around in combat like you could in Oblivion, but that's alright. You have the standard fantasy setting assortment of melee, ranged, or magic. If you know anything about my play style, you know I'm the manliest of manly men and am only too happy to charge recklessly into combat with a sword and shield. Melee combat is pretty involving, but it's nothing you haven't dealt with if you haven't played with in an RPG. Same goes with ranged, though some of the perks do make a few changes.

Magic, on the other hand, has changed greatly from both of the previous games in the series. Instead of the constantly failing spells despite being Master level in Morrowind or having a spell holstered for any situation in Oblivion, spellcasters in Skyrim must equip spells to their respective hands. You'd think this would allow you to combine different spells to produce cool and unique effects, a la Fable III, but that doesn't really enter into it in any meaningful way besides adding DPS.

And yes, with the right combination of leveling, enchantments, and alchemy usage, a player can easily turn a mage into a full-on nightmare for literally anything that they come across. Of course, the same can be said with any class, particularly if one uses the Oghma Infinium glitch (which, after patching, can no longer be used...though that doesn't stop PC Gamers with their damned console).

The Shouts
And yes, the biggest draw of the game is the Dragon Shouts and...they're not impressive. I know, I'm disappointed. When I first played, I was completely fascinated and entranced by using this unique power in various ways...and with five years of wisdom, I've come to a conclusion - most of them really suck. Unrelenting Force is good and is more than a little useful in many situations, but the rest...? Not as much.  And this coming from a guy who tried to build a specialty character around the concept of using Shouts.

Basically, they can flavor combat, but overall you won't need them besides making combat slightly easier. Get Unrelenting Force, Dragonrend, and Marked For Death, and you pretty much have all the immensely useful ones.

...and no, I'm not going into ones like Bend Will, particularly since that's from Dragonborn. But, needless to say, the DLCs did not add many immensely useful ones to help out the concept either, and that's a shame considering the in-universe descriptions of the power of the Voice and all the power and destruction you can wreak. Really, the Dragonborn, empowered by the souls of dragons and with the full upgraded power of the Voice should be a warrior unparalleled, basically a living, breathing demigod walking across the face of the Earth...and you just, don't. And that sucks.

Summation
Like the previous two entries in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim has some good, has some bad, and a little bit of both.  You take the good and you take the bad, you take them both and there you have...Skyrim. But is the game itself good? Yeah, it is. It's not great, and in terms of complexity, I still hold up Morrowind as an altogether better game thanks to the complexity of its storyline over this one. Also, when you were the Nerevarine...you actually had the magical equipment and backing by Azura to actually feel like a badass demigod. In Skyrim, even if you do take the time and effort to hunt down the Dragon Shrines (which, by the way, will take you through every questline), you don't get a lot for it.

So yes, not so much enjoy the super power fantasy on this one...though that's really why you make your own fate. And Skyrim does give you the agency to do that and isn't particularly restrictive, so I guess I shouldn't complain overmuch.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is now available from Bethesda Game Studios.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

...what's that? This is exactly the same as my review in November of Skyrim with only a minor graphic update?

Huh...weird. It seems like it's almost kind of wrong for me to repackage something that isn't even a decade old yet and try to insist that there's loads of new content in it, doesn't it?

Friday, January 6, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Best of 2016"

Wow...2016 was a shit year, wasn't it? Let's get on with some of the good games I played in the Year That We Wish Never Was. Remember, like my worst list from last week, this is a list of games that I played within the year 2016 and reviewed, not necessarily games that came out in 2016. So, without further adieu, here's some shining gems that I managed to dig out of the cesspool.

10. The Movies
review here

I'm not much for the god games, but this was just fun. Managing the ins and outs of a Hollywood movie studio was an enjoyable experience, getting to be a part of every facet of it from the writing of scripts (as sophisticated as that wasn't) to casting to shooting to post-production and beyond! Sure, it could be monotonous at times, but overall its a very enjoyable experience and there's plenty of wiggle room to allow the creativity to flow.

...also, Randy Pitchford is still off my Christmas card list.

9. Until Dawn
review here

 Now, I know a lot of people really don't like this game, but I did. Sure, it barely qualifies as a game in the strictest sense that you can move an avatar and complete objectives, focusing a great deal more on the story (such as it is), but I did really like the story despite the fact that it hit pretty much every single horror trope ever in rapid succession. The only reason this isn't higher on the list is because of the fact that, ultimately, your choices don't really mean anything, which ultimately hurts the experience overall.

8. Far Cry Primal
review here

Caveman. Beating things with sticks. No need to go any further.

7. Super Star Wars
review here

I hate myself for having this on this list, considering how much I absolutely abhorred so much about it. I still call it completely and control-eatingly unfair...but I can't deny it's just damn good. It's a slog to get through, for sure, but there is a clear feeling of elation whenever I do actually manage through either skill or sheer luck to plow through a part I've been having difficulty on. It's...not an elegant weapon...and one could hardly call the early 90s civilized, but...

...yeah, nevermind. The metaphor is dead. Next game.

6. Doom (2016)
review here

Like I said last week, I do genuinely like this game. It drives me absolutely mad, but I love it. Like the original, it's fun, it's visceral, and there's something about the masculine brain that gets a lovely itch when we're tearing apart Hellspawn with big guns.

5. Fallout 4 - Automatron
review here

Building robots? Yes. Fallout 3 reference? Yes. Complete waste of time? Yes. But, like I said in my review, it's a fun one. It really makes it worth to it to go looking for the components you need to make yet another robotic sidekick.

...still need more adhesive opportunities though, Bethesda.

4. Shovel Knight
review here

Retro homage to the likes of Mega Man and Super Mario, set in a universe of medieval shovel and sorcery? Sign. Me. Up!

3. Fallout 4 - Nuka-World
review here

What if there was a place with all the zip of Nuka-Cola? Wouldn't that be the cheer-cheer-cheeriest place in all the world?

...eat me, the song is really catchy.

Also, the DLC in general feels well thought out, oozing with creativity and ingenuity, and fitting right in with Fallout's major theme of things that seem all bright and clean and pretty being some of the deadliest and most frightening things out there...from before the Bombs fell and ended the world.

QUENCH YOUR THIRST FOR ADVENTURE A NUKAAAAAAAAAAAWORLD!!!!

2. Dragonball Xenoverse 2
Review here

Pretty much improvement on the first game in every way, minus the constant attacks on Guru's House. Also, humans are still lame.

1. Broforce
Review here

HIGH FIVE ME, BROS!!!

...seriously, this game is great. Absolutely, completely, and utterly great. Free Lives. Revolver Digital. You guys are forever on my good list and I hope to see great things from you in the future.

Let's look forward to some more great games in 2017!

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.