Category Archives: Games

Games of all kinds and forms

An open letter to BioWare: Thank you

I broke my foot (lisfranc fracture) and arm (upper humerus, with displacement) playing short tennis on holiday in late August 2016.  I had surgery on both of them (plates and pins) and have been recovering since the start of September.  The first few weeks of that meant no use of my foot at all, so stuck in one room in the house peeing into a bottle and using a commode.  My arm was in a sling, and I was under strict orders not to bear any load on it.  For the past few weeks, I’ve had a heel-load bearing cast on my foot, which means I can hobble short distances, but I’m still pretty much limited to a single room because I need to keep the foot elevated as much as possible.

When my wife spoke to the occupational therapist (they did a home visit before the hospital would discharge me) they talked about exercises and what I could and couldn’t do, and my wife mentioned the consoles.  The OT was quite happy for me to use the Xbox One controller, because it would exercise my wrist and fingers without putting any load on my arm, and keep some activity in that part of my body.

Mass Effect 2 LogoI was in too much pain for the first few days at home to do anything though – which meant a lot of television.  Eventually I decided to stop the brain rot caused by that and whacked Mass Effect 1 into the Xbox One now that it’s playable under the backwards compatibility feature.  I completed a full play-through with all the DLC.  That led to Mass Effect 2 (360 only, not backwards compatible yet) and some fun and games getting the ME1 saves to import (saved on the Xbox One, but used on the 360).  Another full play-through with all DLC.  Inevitably, I finished ME3 (and all DLC)! after that as well.  It’s not the first time I’ve played them, although I’ve played ME2 most, I’ve completed ME1 and ME3 a couple of times at least.  I think that was around 120 hours of gaming.

I have Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Origins – Awakenings and Dragon Age II, but only on the 360 (and it was started to smell pretty hot on the days I played ME2 and ME3).  Also, although I absolutely love DA:O & DAOA they do feel a tiny bit tired now.  I’m not as enamoured with DA II overall, although the DLC improves it.  So, I put Dragon Age: Inquisition into the Xbox One and then played that (and all the DLC, which is new to me), and have just finished.  164 hours in total.

One hundred, and sixty four hours of game play.

daI’ve loved BioWare games for a long time, they’re a part of my gaming history on the PC and consoles.  Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights have special places in my gaming memory.  I loved the dialog, I loved the characters and the phrases.  Hell, myself, my wife and our gaming friends are still using quotes from the Baldur’s Gate series1 , when roleplaying, gaming and sometimes shopping.

Here’s a short list of why I love the games.

  1. Commitment to single player content.  Look I get it, I played Everquest for over 7 years – I was seriously into that MMO, so I know the joy of gaming online with actual real folk, having conversations with real human beings and sitting up until 4 o’clock in the morning with someone you’ve never met to help them win a piece of loot that’s just pixels backed by a database entry.  I understand multi-player fun.  But when I’m playing multi-player games, I want to collaborate.  I don’t play tabletop roleplaying games to fight against the players, and if I play online multi-player games I don’t want PvP to be the whole point, even if it’s team based.  More than that – sometimes I want a single player experience.  Sometimes I want to read a book on my own, not watch a movie with 300 other people, and gaming is no different.  I want to be the protagonist, to drive the story with a supporting cast, at my own pace, using my own imagination and in my own little world.  You guys deliver that, you guys get it, and you guys clearly love it.  Please, never lose that.
  2. Massive games.  Truly huge.  With structure.  Not huge in the Oblivion or Morrowind ‘er where do I go now’ way, but huge in scope and content, with a solid, structured layered story that helps you decide where to go and what to do when you get there.  It’s a truly fine balance and you guys usually tread it perfectly.
  3. Dialog.  You don’t always get it right, but when you do, it’s sublime.  It might be cheesy, it might be corny, it might be sentimental, but man we love it.  I love it.
  4. Complex morality decisions.  I cure the genophage every time, I have to, someone else might get it wrong.  But every time I’m forced to think about it, to think about the nuances and the impact.  I forgave the Wardens.  I unify the quarians and the geth, even though I know it’s futile, because fuck war.  Sometimes, I sit and stare at a single conversation option for 10 minutes, sometimes longer.  Do I save you and condemn the galaxy, or do I condemn you and save the castle.  Yes please.  More.
  5. Characters.  Your characters will stick with me for ever.  No less than some of the best books I’ve ever read.  Minsc, Wrex, Tali (yes, yes, I’m always a Talimancer), Oghren, these are characters I’ll never forget, and the interactions between them all are moments I’ll enjoy like the best form of entertainment in any genre.

You don’t make games.  You make interactive fiction of the highest order, and I salute you.

I have loved your games for a long time, and stuck in one room for weeks has allowed me to enjoy them all over again with an intensity usually disrupted by trivial things like sleep, eating and work.  In a world of expensive entertainment, your games offer some of the best return in pure gaming enjoyment, well before you factor in any of the ongoing conversations, memories and replays.

Long may it continue, long may you continue, and long may you focus on content rich, single player focussed interactive fiction which puts the player in charge of the outcomes.

In summary – thank you for the last 18 years of games, and thank you for keeping me occupied during my recuperation.

NB: This time, I actually didn’t mind the ME3 endings either, I tried all three, I’m sure the blue one is best overall.  No spoilers.

NB2: Now the 360 has cooled down, maybe I should give DA:O and DA:OA another shot.  Tired or not, I think it’s time a lowly dwarf from Orzammar saved the world, again.

  1. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, give him a sword and he can chow down on the marrow of evil! []

Evil in Dungeons and Dragons

I’m sure there are a hundred blog posts about playing evil characters in D&D games.  I’ve read some.  I just wanted to get my own theory down in writing.

Firstly, and most obviously, D&D is generally about playing heroes and heroines, and neither of those tend towards evil.  Yes, some great heroes and heroines have been a touch vengeful, and some have done things you might consider rather naughty, but they tend to get redeemed at the end.  If you’re starting out evil and your intent is to roleplay seeking redemption, congratulations, you’ve found the only time I’d be comfortable letting someone do it, and it won’t be easy.

Otherwise, I don’t think you should play evil characters in D&D.  Some people disagree.

Apart from the issue of heroes and heroines though, I think the real problem for me is that people playing evil characters don’t actually mean evil, they mean chaotic, or troublesome, or selfish, or greedy.  Those aren’t purely evil traits.  There are plenty of good people in the world who are selfish.  Plenty of greedy people who are inherently good.  Plenty of people who cause chaos but don’t have a bad bone in their body.  Yes, in the polarised D&D world most evil people tend towards being selfish and greedy, but they aren’t exclusive owners of those sins.

Evil people do evil things.  Not mean things.  Not naughty things.  Not unpleasant things.  Actual, evil things.

People who want to play evil characters should have to recount their childhood when they grew up killing the neighbouring villager’s pets.  Or, how they betrayed their own brother and threw him down a well at the age of 7.  Or you know, evil stuff.

Evil is the thing we should be fighting against.  Evil is all the shit that’s wrong in this world and every fantasy world there has ever been.  Evil is the great tyrant.  There’s no space in heroic adventuring parties for people who are pretend-evil, and actual evil people wouldn’t last long enough to make it out of the tavern with their first job.

D&D 5th Edition

wallpaper_BeholderI really wasn’t that impressed with 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  To be fair, I’d pretty much stopped playing by the time it was released, and only got to play a few fitful sessions.  I spent more time playing 3rd Edition (and 3.5), but no where near as much time as I spent playing 2nd Edition AD&D.

The MMO origins in 4th Edition were clearly evident, and the intent to ‘gamify’ the game to make it appeal to MMO players was both interesting and also frustrating.  It become more mechanical than 3rd Edition without any major advantage and utterly obscured the roleplaying aspect behind book-keeping.  Not everyone will agree, naturally.

When I heard about D&D Next, or 5th Edition I wasn’t really that excited.  We didn’t have time to play anyway, the friends we played with had mostly moved away, and I’d become a bit disillusioned.  Spending a good number of hours to prepare for a game you only played two or three times a year was hard and not doing enough prep meant the games weren’t as enjoyable for anyone as they should be.  We tried Warhammer FRP, we tried Call of Cthulhu and we tried D&D 4th Edition, but nothing had stuck, so 5th Edition seemed like it had come too late.

However, I read the freely released PDF’s when I got around to it – and they’re exciting.  They’re exciting because they garner a feeling in me similar to that when I read the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic (red) and Expert (blue) books.  Here was a light set of rules, that supported play, but encouraged roleplay.

Gone are mandatory 5 foot squares and military precision during combat, back is the option for purely narrative combat, but with the added light-weight structure if you want or need it.

At the same time, a friend introduced us to Roll20 (, which doesn’t look perfect, but looks good enough to actually do some roleplaying without needing to be in the same room as all of the other players.

So for the first time in a long time I’m excited about roleplaying and I’m especially excited about it being Dungeons & Dragons, which is how I got into this hobby in the first place.


Reports from the sofa

I’ve been unwell on and off since around December.  Repeated colds which would come and go, and much more frustratingly, a cough which would come and go, and which at one stage was very bad indeed.  Eventually, my GP diagnosed it as whooping cough (yes, I know), and some antibiotics sorted it out.  It flared up again a few weeks ago, but only lasted a couple of days, and I’ve been pretty okay since.  Reports suggest it can take a few months to really get back to full health, we’ll see how it goes.

The reason this is important (in terms of this blog post) is that during the worst bouts of coughing, where I was basically coughing every 30 seconds, having something to absolutely focus on was the only way of either controlling it or ignoring it sufficiently to not go insane.  The two things which allowed me to achieve this were watching movies and playing computer games.

In March, I have spent a lot of time playing computer games.  This then, is a summary, a report from the sofa.

MasseffectlogoMass Effect

This wasn’t the first Mass Effect game I ever played.  I played the 2nd first, because I picked it up cheap when I first got the Xbox.  However, after loving it, I bought this as well.  This play-through, which started in February and ended in March was probably my third or fourth complete run through the game.  BioWare did two things with Mass Effect.  They delivered an amazing, interesting story supported by accessible game-play, and they learned from the experience when they went on to make the second game.  I’ve got all the DLC (downloadable content or add-ons) for the game, and the full play-through took 42 hours.  Decisions you take in the first game impact the second and third in the series (if you import your character), and so I was careful to make all the decisions in the way I wanted them to play out in the next two games.  I romanced Ashley, despite hating her bigoted opinions, because I’d never picked that option before.  I was planning to romance her through the 3rd game as well (staying true to her in the 2nd, by not romancing anyone) – but it didn’t work out that way.

I loved this play through as much as I did the first time.  I find as long as I leave enough time between play-throughs to make the dialogue fresh and interesting again, the game is as enjoyable as ever.

ME2LogoMass Effect 2

The 2nd game in the series fixes the most annoying feature of the first one, which is the equipment/loot system.  In the first game, you spend a lot of time sorting out gear for you and your party.  In the second, the whole system is streamlined and handled at a much higher level.  That alone would ensure I loved Mass Effect 2 more than 1, but it’s not the only thing BioWare made better.  Dialogue is more interesting, choices are more interesting, the missions are more varied and the general world in which you play is fleshed out in greater detail.  The one thing I preferred in the first game over the second was the layout of the Citadel.  In the first game it’s a sprawling location you can roam around as well as use fast travel stations, but in the second, it’s locked down more tightly and feels a lot smaller.  Considering the supposed size of the Citadel in-game, that can be disappointing at times.

Thanks again to owning all the DLC and being addicted to side missions, this time it took 48 hours to complete the game, finishing around the 9th March.  It should have only taken around 46 hours, but thanks to being an idiot, I had to take the collector base 3 times to get the ending I wanted.  Mass Effect 2 is the near perfect gaming experience for me, a blend of story, humour and action, with real in-game consequences of taking particular actions.

Mass Effect 3 LogoMass Effect 3

Up until this March, I’d only played Mass Effect 3 once.  I was pretty vocal about how much I hated the end (read here, massive spoilers), and the other issues in the game.  I’d never played any of the DLC other than the Prothean one released on day 1.  Since then, BioWare have released lots more DLC, including a free pack which updates the end.  BioWare promise it doesn’t change the end, it just clarifies what’s going on.  I was dubious, but I wanted to play the new DLC, and give them a chance.

Well, I still think there are issues, but I’ll give it to BioWare, they significantly improved the end for me.  There are three choices at the end, and on the first play-through there was really only one that gave what felt like the ‘right’ end.  Now, all three (four if you include the ‘no choice choice’) give far more satisfying ends and are described in a way which resolves many of my primary concerns.  I won’t spoil them here, but essentially, all the endings make sense now, and all of them result in some kind of victory, the only question is what are you prepared to give up to get that victory.  I’m still a bit sad that I had to be let down by the ending the first time, to get the better explanation the second time, and the new endings were tainted a bit by my memory of the originals.  However, you have to hand it to them, they realised they’d made a mistake, and they fixed it as well as they could without fundamentally changing anything.

Overall, the new DLC’s were excellent (Leviathan, Omega, Citadel), and I enjoyed this play-through much more than my first.  The game is quite happy to poke fun at itself, especially in the Citadel DLC, and that humour really shows how much the writers love the game, the characters and the fans.

Overall, the play-through was 57 hours (which is just over half of what I spent playing Skyrim).  For a third-person shooter that’s not a bad amount of time!  This time around I even played some of the co-op on-line content and really quite enjoyed it.

Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 have to go down as one of the most legendary gaming experiences ever, surely.

dishonoured logoDishonoured

I don’t know how many hours I played Dishonoured for.  I’ve already traded it back in (bought for £15, traded back for £7), so I can’t load the save game and see what the played time was.  However, HowLongToBeat says it’s around 15 to 28 hours depending on how much stuff you want to complete.  I’m a fairly slow player, cautious and sneaky in games like this, so I’ll guess at around 22 hours.  Dishonoured is an excellent sneak-em-up set in a mysterious steampunky world and populated with some truly horrible people.  You can play the game in your own style, using a combination of violence or stealth to complete your missions, and despite essentially being an assassin you can choose to leave as many or few people alive as you like along the way.  The ending apparently varies depending on how many folk you dispatch, but while being fun, I didn’t feel the need to replay in a different style.  Conversation is interested, but the choices are limited and while there are side missions, they’re few in number and actually feel more like edges of the plot than truly side elements.

Actual game-play was really fun and the game easily kept me interested and engaged, despite playing it almost straight after the Mass Effect trilogy.  I completed the game with only about 5 kills, and some of those were accidental, honest.

Dungeon Siege III LogoDungeon Siege III

I’ve had this for ages, but had only played for around 2 hours.  After Dishonoured I was looking for something to really absorb me, and restarted from scratch.  I was pretty hopeful early on, but the game slowly became more and more repetitive, and essentially, a button-mashing 3rd person combat game.  It’s nothing like the original two games, which included full sized parties, and was based around a pause-and-go, click combat system.  Number 3 limits your party to two, the combat is real-time and requires control of your character and a limited number of skills with power bars and the like.  If you like button-mashing combat, then it may be for you but after 8 hours I gave up.  The story isn’t interesting enough to keep me trying to beat enemies that wipe me out in seconds with no obvious route to success.

Army of TWO TDC LogoArmy of TWO: TDC

We finally traded in the PS3 and all the associated gubbins, along with a few games, and as part of the trade-in deal put a pre-order down on Army of TWO: TDC after playing the demo.  I was looking for a FPS which was fun and relaxing, and Army of TWO fits the bill.  I knew it would be short, and I knew I wouldn’t play it more than once, but it was still enjoyable and satisfying.  Essentially, picked this up on Thursday, finished it, and traded it back in on Saturday afternoon (~£24 trade in).  I guess it was around 14 hours over those three days to go all the way through the story with a couple of stop-starts when I had to redo most of a complete chapter.  Fun, and essentially free, but not the kind of lengthy campaign I really enjoy in single player games.

Far Cry 2 LogoFar Cry 2

While I was trading in Army of TWO I looked around for something to play that could keep me busy for a while, and picked up Far Cry 2.  I know #3 is out, but I thought I’d give #2 a go initially, since it was in GAME’s 2 for £10 range (I picked up Bulletstorm at the same time).  I’ve played for around 3-4 hours, go through the tutorial and tried a few missions.  So far it’s fun.  I’m struggling a bit with the lack of feedback in terms of how stealthy you’re being (if at all), and the ‘no cover’ system is a little frustrating.  Otherwise, I think if I get into the game’s mindset I could find myself playing this for a good few hours.  However – I took a break to check out Bulletstorm and, well, read on …

Bulletstorm LogoBulletstorm

Well well well.  I played the demo when this first came out and while I thought it was interesting, I was clearly not in the mood for an irreverent, puerile first person shooter.  Apparently, this week, I’m absolutely in the mood for it.  Bulletstorm has some very high quality voice actors (from Mass Effect, in fact), some hilarious dialogue, a lot of swearing, some very annoying enemies, and some interesting weapons.  Technically, it’s a very solid first person shooter, with the feel of Gears of War without the cover-mechanism.  However, where the game really shines is the method of rewarding points (so you can buy weapon upgrades, ammo, etc.)  Each basic kill earns some points, but more complex kills earn more points, and the first time you perform a particular kill you get extra bonus points.  For example, shooting a bad guy nets you 10 points, but kicking that bad guy backwards and then shooting them, earns you 25 points.  Kicking the bad guy off the edge of a platform (earning you the Vertigo kill) is worth 50 points.  Add in blowing things up, an energy whip which can pull bad guys around, a combination of weapons and enemies, and the action is both frantic and humorous.

Yes, it’s silly, yes it’s slightly offensive, and yes, it’s utterly manic, but I’ve not had this much fun playing a true FPS ever.  The story is no worse than many first person shooters, while being better than some, and having some very high quality voice actors really helps.  Knowing that the actress for voice of the female character is the same as the one which played Female Shephard in Mass Effect gives the line “I will kill your dicks” even more added value.

I couldn’t stop playing yesterday and at times I was crying with laughter.  In one fight, where I dispatched about 20 enemies with a single shot to an explosive barrel, I was waiting for the combat to end, wondering why it wasn’t, but there were no new enemies.  Eventually, about 8 seconds after the explosion, I saw a lone falling enemy, through a window, who floated past us into the ocean giving me my first Fish Food reward.  Truly awesome gaming.  I can see me playing this a lot.

Riders of Rohan – War Steeds

Some random bullet points, mostly for friends of mine so I can point them at this as a War Steed introduction.

  • You get access to War Steeds by doing the Epic quest in Riders of Rohan.  Volume III, Book 8 to be precise.  You can work through that Epic line as soon as you have access to Rohan, it’s well worth doing, because it has some of the best Epic ‘story’ quests since Moria.
  • You seem to only own a single steed.  It shows up as a mount in the regular Skill | Mount window, near the bottom.
  • When you first get the steed, it’s a Medium war steed.  There are three types, Light, Medium and Heavy.  You are not restricted to any one kind regardless of class, but some might suit certain classes better.
  • The factor which determines whether you have a Light, Medium or Heavy is which Mounted Combat Traits you spend points in.  There are three lines, Light, Medium and Heavy and as soon as you spend your first point, your steed converts to a Light, Medium or Heavy steed (medium seems to be the default).
  • You can reset the points for a few silver, so it’s not a permanent thing, you can switch between different kinds of steeds for different kinds of situations.
  • There’s a new legendary item, Bridles.  Bridles come in three flavours, light, medium and heavy.  You can equip one at a time, they apply their benefits regardless of the type of mount (so a Light Bridle works even if you’re on a Heavy Steed), but obviously, because the traits vary, and the items affect the traits, a Light Bridle will offer more benefit on a Light Steed.
  • Riding the horses is much tougher than travel horses at the start, so they won’t replace them straight away (maybe ever).
  • Your steed has armour and morale, and damage is absorbed by the steed during combat protecting you to some extent.
  • All classes get a new set of mounted combat skills (must be purchased), you don’t fight using your own regular class skills.
  • Steeds earn experience and level up, allowing you to spend more points on traits.
  • Quests offer XP, Legendary Item XP and now Steed XP.
  • You appear to earn Steed XP from kills even while not mounted, but at a reduced rate.
  • Mounted, Steed XP is equal to Item XP from kills, unmounted it appears to be worth around 1/3 that of item XP per kill.
  • Steed XP appears to be earned on all kills, not just quest related kills.

Borderlands 2

I love the first Borderlands game.  So much so that after completing it a couple of times on the PS3, I repurchased it on the XBox after my Sony-Rage meant I stopped using the PS3 completely.

I was pretty excited when Borderlands 2 was announced and I’ve been patiently waiting for September to arrive.  Here it is, and Borderlands 2 dropped through my letterbox this morning.

So far – it’s excellent.  All the good stuff from the first game and some of the annoying things ironed out.  The biggest difference is the enemy – they’re much, much cleverer.  The locations seem more sprawling, if that’s possible, and the enemy can turn up from almost any direction.  Locations are significantly more three dimensional as well, with gangways above and below where you’re walking.

The lovely cell-shaded-like graphics are still present, and the same dark humour runs through the sequel.

So far, after a few hours of playing, I can honestly say it’s the most fun I’ve had on the XBox 360 since Borderlands 1.

My favourite feature so far – the comments your character makes after a critical head-shot.  Love that sniper rifle.

Skyrim – main quest line

I finally finished Skyrim’s main quest line yesterday.  I managed to stay out of the civil war for the whole quest line, and felt quite pleased that I brokered a short truce so I could briefly capture a dragon.  I still stand by everything I wrote in this article, but I have to say toward the end the main quest was pretty decent.

Of course, the way in which I play Skyrim (and games like it) means that it was also entirely trivial by the time I got around to it.  In my head, I want to do ‘everything’ before I complete the main quest in games such as Skyrim or Dragon Age.  That means I’m usually at the top of the level range the quests are designed for, I’ve found all the locations, got all the gear, etc.

Still, despite that, the main quest was interesting and had some nice unique locations.  I’d like to spend more time exploring Blackreach for example.  Once I’d completed the main quest, I moved on to the civil war quest (it starts up again as soon as you capture the dragon basically, when your truce is no longer needed).

With Skyrim, if you just follow the civil war quest it forces you to explore, find locations, and survive epic battles.  However, since I’d found all those places before, and I could kill any of the enemies involved in the epic battles in one or two strikes of a sword, it was more a case of just fast travelling, saying hello to the quest giver, fast travelling, killing 50 bad guys, rinse and repeat.  It would be more exciting, I suspect, if you did this alongside the rest of the game, but it means some quests aren’t available to you as you take various cities, so I left it until I’d done as much as I could stomach of the rest of the game.

This being Skyrim though – the final battle of the civil war quest bugged out on me.  Now every time I try and go into Windhelm it tells me I must help the soldiers defeat everyone before I can enter (and then lets me enter anyway), and all the time I’m inside it plays the battle music.  Ulfric’s body remains on the floor of the Jarl’s hall, and no new Jarl has arrived (not sure if one should).  So the whole thing feels a bit broken.

Anyway, glad I’ve finally done enough to say ‘I’m finished’ with Skyrim.  Like Oblivion before it, I actually feel relieved I’ve done with it for some reason.

Mass Effect 3: Thoughts

A lot has already been written on the web about Mass Effect 3.  If you’re a gamer or you follow any gamers on social media sites, you must already have heard about ‘the ending’ and why a lot of fans are unhappy, and the gradual increase in ‘stop crying’ posts in response.  I just wanted to put my thoughts down after having played all three games.  Be warned: there will be huge stonking spoilers ahead, you can’t avoid commenting in depth on the game without spoilers.  In fact, spoilers below for all three Mass Effect games basically.

Continue reading Mass Effect 3: Thoughts

Why Skyrim could be Awesome

It’s easy to bash Skyrim, it’s such a huge vast target that you can’t really miss.  I don’t want to bash it.  I certainly do want to acknowledge the insane amount of work that clearly went into it and the games before it, the lore building, the world building, the quest complexity, it’s all there in front of you.  The team who put it together clearly love it, and it has millions of fans around the world.  Many hail it as the pinnacle of computer based roleplaying, almost equivalent to tabletop, albeit it a solo effort rather than group based.

For me though, while Skyrim certainly reaches for the sky, it doesn’t quite manage to grasp the prize.  So this isn’t a dig at Skyrim, it’s a bunch of things I think could have been done that would have resulted in hitting that elusive target.

Less defaulting to amoral activity

Skyrim is all about choice, some people say.  It’s a sandbox world in which you can do anything you like, experience the game any way you wish.  But that’s frustratingly not true.  Too many quests have only a single outcome, too many quests involve only one route to completion.  Many of the quests force an amoral attitude, if you want to complete it then you have to basically be a certain kind of character.

You are asked at one point to shut down a Skooma smuggling operation.  Excellent, here’s a chance, I thought, for me to employ my superior speech skill to convince the smugglers they need to move out before Something Bad Happens.  Alas no, the moment you get within 50 feet of the cave entrance, you get attacked, and the next 20 minutes is spent slaughtering everyone in the cave, including a barkeep.

If there was choice, then you would be able to talk your way in, convince them to shut up shop (or convince them to give you their proceeds so you can lie and say you shut them down) and move out.  Sure, you should be able to slaughter them if you want, but it shouldn’t be the only resolution.

I already blogged about one quest where I wanted to help out the Jarl and his son and ended up with almost no choice but to steal an evil sword.

When I first went to Riften, I ended up in the ‘join the Thieves guild’ quest line almost by accident (more on that problem later).  Despite not having a personal investment in the world (see below), I had been trying to play an honourable and noble warrior, staying out of trouble and not stealing anything.  I met a character in Riften who seemed to be poised to try and take out the Thieves guild.  That sounded like a good idea, so I went looking, but the only thing I could find was how to join.  I did a little bit of reading on the web and sure enough, you can join, and the only eventual outcome of that chain of quests is to restore the Thieves guild to its former glory.

No choice to destroy it, and you miss out on a massive set of quests if you don’t join and take part.  Fine, if you really don’t want to play a rogue you don’t do the quests, or maybe you start a new character another time and play everything sneaky and evil.  But you’re forced to either be a burglar and thug or not do the quest line at all.  Where’s the choice there?  Where is the depth and the involvement in the world?  I’d rather have a few less kill the bandit quests and instead get two or three quest lines in Riften where you can either join the guild, work to destroy it, or work to destroy it only to find out it serves some higher purpose and then have to change sides half way through.

That’s choice, that allows me to define my character by my choices, not by the quests I end up falling into.

So, yes, there are ‘good’, ‘neutral’ and ‘bad’ quests, but there are few, if any, quests which offer multiple outcomes depending on how you play them out.  As a counterpoint, there is absolutely one quest which did this, and I was so pleased.  In a temple you work with a priest to destroy an evil artefact, right at the last moment you are tempted by it and offered the choice of killing the priest or continuing with the destruction.  It’s a tiny moment of choice, but it allowed me to define my character in the world.  More of that, less of the Whispering Door rubbish.

More personalised investment

The epic nature of the game is certainly impressive; civil war, end of the world, return of dragons, etc.  But in Skyrim you are left to find your own personal motivation and personal investment.  That’s certainly one way of doing things.  Perhaps experienced roleplayers can invent their own personal story, but I can’t help feeling that the game would have been more epic, more involving if the was some personal back-story for your character early on.

Of course, you can invent your own.  You start out in chains after all, so you get to choose why you were arrested; falsely accused, petty thief, involved in a sinister assassination attempt, the choices are endless.  However, because they’re endless, you have to be a very specific kind of player to keep one in mind.  I’m not suggesting the development team should have come up with 8 specific back story options and forced you to choose one (although it works well in my view in Dragon Age), but you start the game adrift in a sea of choice, and without anything to ground you, the first few quests seem impersonal.

I would have liked to see either some early conversations where you can work out your own back story, or a more specific personal involvement in the ongoing story.  You become the Dragonborn, and you develop a place and reputation in the world from your actions, but I didn’t feel part of the world because I didn’t feel connected to it from the outset.

Fewer instances of ‘what are you talking about’?

I get it, really.  The world is vast!  There are hundreds of intersecting quests, thousands of NPC’s, millions of lines of dialog, and probably more ways to journey through the game than there are neural connections in the brain or something.  So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that every now and again you get a piece of dialog that makes no sense.

But it’s not every now and again, it’s reasonably common once you step out of the first major location.  Travel somewhere new, and talk to a random stranger, and end up in a dialog about how sad it is that a third girl is dead.  Huh, I thought, which girl?  Later you stumble onto the crime scene and everything becomes clear.  This could be handled much more elegantly, with the first person saying “Oh, haven’t you heard about the deaths then …” but no, they just assume you know, and your character just goes along as if you do, all the while in your head your screaming “who are you and what are you talking about”.

Again, if it was a one-off, like the amoral quests, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s common.  You get the back end of a conversation because you didn’t walk into the city using the right route, or you moved slightly quicker than the developers thought anyone might or you didn’t quite complete a conversation they thought you would.

Like I say, I get it, it must be almost impossible to QA this kind of stuff, on this kind of scale, in a sandbox environment.  I’d just like it to be more polished.  It’s not just Skyrim that suffers from this, there’s elements of it in Fallout and Dragon Age as well, but I can’t remember a single instance of it ever in Mass Effect.  Clearly the scope of Skyrim and the open nature of the world is far greater than Mass Effect, but I just wish there could be mechanisms in place to reduce the chance of it happening.

Wait, what quest?

I like the feature that over hearing people speak gives you a quest, it’s nice.  I like the bounty quests, I like the barkeep rumour quests, and I like how most of the quests in the game are handed out.  But there are times when you think, wait, how did I get into this, I don’t want do to this, and there’s nothing you can do.  You can’t remove the quest, so you either ignore it, or you complete it.

In Riften, I spoke to a guy in the market place, and before you knew it, I was stuck with the first step in joining the Thieves guild.  Sure, I could have not bothered, but I got into the conversation to find out more, to see if there was something I could do to stop the guild.  However, the only dialog options that seemed to present an opportunity led to me suddenly being in a position where I was expected to set some guy up for a crime he didn’t do.

This isn’t (as usual) the only example of this kind of thing.  You end up hunting people down, trying to get their debts cleared, and a whole bunch of other things by simply having a conversation.  Because you know these quests will likely only have one route to completion (see above), you sometimes don’t want to go further, but there’s no way for most of the quests to back out once you’ve started.  Also, because the vast majority of the game is amoral you feel if you want to actually see any of the quests, you’re going to have to suck it up and play the bad guy every now and then, even if you started out trying to be noble.

I’d like to see a way to get out of quest, or a more obvious moment in the conversation where you might find yourself tied into actions you don’t want to be associated with.  I don’t want hand holding, I don’t want huge signs telegraphing the intent of my quest giver, I like murky quests where you’re not sure if you’re doing the right thing, but if you’re doing that, you need a way to stop, change your mind and back out with actual quest results.

Romance? Forget romance!

You can get married in Skryim.  If it’s not the most pathetic example of in-game marriage in existence I’m not sure what is.  To get married, you wear a special necklace, tell someone you like them, and then get married.  Subsequently you can take money from them every day and use them as a vendor in your house.  That’s it.  No interesting dialog options, no relationship, no significant impact.  You earn more money and you can sell things from the comfort of your own home.

In fact, being married felt pretty much like buying the alchemy table furnishing for your house – you should just be able to buy a spouse from the Jarl like you do a kitchen table.

If marriage was added at the last minute as a cynical attempt to gain interest with a certain group of gamers, then it’s both shocking and tactless.  If it was developed from the outset as a specifically included element of the game, then it’s badly thought out and badly implemented as well as shocking and tactless.

At least let me build a relationship, or learn something about the person in question, not just recover a single mammoth tusk (from another vendor) and then show her my shiny new necklace.

If any single thing in the game is a clear demonstration of why it has no soul, then marriage in Skyrim is surely it.

More soul

This is covered to some extent in the amoral section above, but I wish Skyrim had more soul.  I wish your actions had more permanent impact.  If you kill everyone in a house, even if you get away without being recognised, surely there should be talk about it in the tavern to make you feel guilty or glow with evil pride?  When you set out on a quest for noble reasons, you should feel as though the people are truly impacted, not just that they now like you enough to let you take things from their shop without it being classed as stealing.  It’s not an easy quality to get, and it is probably earned through an increase in the above elements, but without soul, Skyrim is just roleplaying by numbers.


Is it epic?  Can I be anything I want?  Do I control my own destiny?  The answer to these questions is yes, as long as you don’t mind being a soulless amoral killer with no ties to the world and a trophy spouse.

Am I still playing?  Is it enjoyable?  Yes, I am still playing, because if you just accept the lack of choice, if you just accept that you’re going to be basically an amoral killer, then the mechanics can be fun, and the game can present some challenge.  But, it could have been so much more.  So. Much. More.