Friday, November 18, 2011

The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim

I raise the ale to my lips, take a quick sip and then set it down.  I've been in the Bannered Mare for hours now and still Maro hasn't slept.  I followed him here all the way from Dragon Bridge; biding my time, waiting for the right moment to strike.  The contract was specific: not only must Maro die, but his body must be found quickly in one of Skyrim's major Holds.  This was critical, so as much as I wanted to bleed him out and leave his body for the wolves I couldn't.  Earlier today he was inspecting security in Dragonreach, which made any attack impossible.  The Jarl of Whiterun made me Thane, which does help quite a bit when dealing with the local guards.  I know because they let me off a couple weeks back; picking too many locks and eventually I was caught, but murder?  Surely even a Thane wouldn't be able to get away with murder?

I glance over to see if my Housecarl Lydia is still awake.  She's standing near the bar, obviously alert but not particularly happy about our extended stay.  When the Jarl assigned her as my guardian I scoffed at the idea of allowing her to come with me; how is an assassin supposed to sneak up on his mark with a noisy warrior rattling along behind in heavy armor?  On the other hand, someone else to put between myself and the enemy is always a good idea.  I ordered her to follow, and for most of our journey she's stuck by my side.  She's saved my life several times and has since proven an invaluable ally.  The murderous deeds I've committed for the Brotherhood in her presence has only proven that her loyalty is unwavering.

Maro rises from his seat, takes one last swig of his ale and then heads towards the door.  I can't believe it, but he's moving on to the next Hold.  The man hasn't slept in three days, so of course neither have I.  He's been sitting here drinking ale for the last ten hours straight, and now apparently feels like a long ride to Riftin will sober him up.  Imperials aren't the smartest residents of Skrim, that much is certain.  Maro bids the innkeeper a fond farewell and then heads out into the cold air.  Lydia and I slowly follow, keeping him in our sites but staying far enough behind to not attract attention.  The streets are nearly empty, save for guards making their nightly rounds.  Maro winds his way down the road and then exits out the front gate.  I whisper to Lydia to head home, then slip through right behind him.

He's heading back out into the wilds; either I make my move now or I'll have to wait until we reach the next Hold and hope he actually sleeps.  The road out of Whiterun winds down through several open gates with several guard manning each one.  I glance up at them as we pass through each gate; so far I've counted at least six.  Not really that many, but still more than I would care to deal with.  I left Lydia in the city opting for a silent kill, but I may need her if I have to fight off a few guards.  I can tell from the sky that daybreak is imminent.  Maro nears the next gate, which leaves only one more to go.  It's now or never; I slowly draw my blade and move in behind him.

We're about midway between the last two when I strike, plunging the blade deep into his back.  His armor affords little protection, as I've been trained to find it's weak points.  Maro screams, then instantly falls backward into my arms.  I gently lay him to the ground and slide the incriminating letter into his pouch.  His eyes go wide as I kneel over him; he attempts to speak, but only manages a couple gurgling gasps for breath before choking to death on his own blood.  The deed is done, but the guards above heard Maro's scream and are coming to investigate.  Fortunately I managed to gut the Imperial with no witnesses, so I slip away before anyone arrives.  While hidden I remove the mix of Dark Brotherhood garb and replace it with ancient Nightingale Armor, a symbol of leadership for Skyrim's Thieves Guild.  I emerge from the trees near Whiterun stables, sun now shining and a loud commotion coming from above.  The plan worked perfectly, the Night Mother will be pleased.  I head over to the trough where Shadowmere is waiting, then we begin the long journey back to the Brotherhood's sanctuary deep in the southern Pine Forest of Falkreath Hold.  Astrid will no doubt have the next phase of the contract ready; Sithis willing the Emperor himself will die by my hand.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Batman : Arkham Asylum

I don't often spend what precious few hours of gaming time I get on things I've already played through once, mainly because of the gigantic pile of unfinished games I have.  It's got to be really good for me to be  interested long enough to play through again.  If I was big into Batman or DC comics, that alone would be enough to warrant a second run through of what is arguably the best comic book video game adaption of all time.  Sadly I'm into neither, but this game needs no hook to justify another run; it's so damn good it really deserves to be played many times.  I was skeptical when I first heard about a new Batman game in development since, aside from the Ultimate Alliance games at least, there really isn't a lot of quality love for super hero out there these days.  When I looked more into how Arkham Asylum was being developed and discovered some of the voice talent behind it, specifically Mark Hamil as the Joker, my interest peaked.  It was enough to get me looking at game play videos, and after that the rest is history.  I knew it was a must buy on day one.

One play through of the main story on the 360 wasn't enough, but like most console games I didn't hang on to it long enough to start another one.  Curse you GameStop and your evil in-store credit!  Anyways; well over a year later I picked up the Game Of The Year version on Steam but hadn't gotten around to playing it, at least until recently.  With the release of Arkham City imminent, I decided another run through of this masterpiece was in order.  Since I've been on this masochistic streak lately I decided this time I would attempt it on hard.  I started with the ambition of playing with keyboard and mouse but quickly became overwhelmed trying to remember which of Batman's moves go where.  Maintaining combos was an absolute nightmare, as I could never keep straight which button to hit next.  After that complete disaster, even on Normal I might add, I broke down and plugged in the 360 controller.  Battles that had once been impossible were now a breeze as I slid right back into the game's deep combo system.  Normal was just too easy, even after not playing for so long that I literally forgot every single move.  It's a testament to how good the design of this game is.  It would have to be Hard, and this time there would be no going back if things got hairy.

Arkham Asylum opens with Batman escorting his arch-nemesis Joker to Gotham's infamous institution for the criminally insane.  The intro is fully playable as the Clown Prince of Crime is strapped to an upright gurney and escorted by Batman and guards to the inner bowels of the asylum.  Walking through this part of the game reminded me a great deal of the original Half-Life; Gordon Freeman's fateful tram ride into Black Mesa parallels here.  This game oozes atmosphere from every single orifice.  It's a literal feast, an assault on your very eyes and ears that you'll never want to end.  The graphics are drop dead gorgeous, the voice acting is top notch, and it all serves to pull you into an experience unlike any other..

As they're walking, Batman remarks to Commissioner Gordon how easily Joker gave himself up and that he has a bad feeling about things to come.  It's evident things are falling into place as Joker's crew from Blackgate had to be moved to Arkham due to an unexplained fire, you run into them being herded into cells on your way down with their boss.  You can almost see the dominoes being set up for the inevitable knock down.  Once deep enough into the facility, Joker frees himself and reveals his true intentions: a set-up from the beginning of course, to lure Batman into a trap of epic size and scope.  Joker, along with a little help from a few of Gotham's other super villains, now control the entirety of Arkham Island.  The asylum's isolation and high walls ensure that no one from the outside is coming in to help, but that's just the way Batman likes things.

It's here where the game starts proper, with Joker throwing a few nameless thugs at the Dark Knight to warm him up.  It's also here that you get your first introduction as to how flat out awesome the combat system in Arkham Asylum is.  Things open up with a quick couple strikes on the closest enemy, he goes back in a daze just as you counter another attack from behind.  This thug is armed with a pipe, which you disarm and promptly beat him with.  Two more run in swinging, you rush towards one and do a light jump over and behind him.  A hard fist, then another, and he goes down.  The adrenaline hits and your off; you leap across the room at a distant enemy, grab his incoming punch and then twist it to a loud crack as the bone snaps.  You release your grip just in time to counter an incoming punch from another enemy, then scoop him up above your head.  You turn quickly and find a target; he is thrown into two others and all three go down in a heap.  Another quick leap across the room to finish them off, countering a feeble punch from one with a hard right to the chin.  You look up and see they are all knocked out, the fight is over and it lasted less than a minute.

After taking a quick breather you are introduced to Batman's detective skills and gadgets.  Harley Quinn traps the Dark Knight in the initial room and your tasked to switch to detective mode to find another way out.  An electronic grid is mapped over the environment with interesting objects being highlighted and detailed.  A nearby air vent, the first of many, proves to be the only other alternative.  The vent shafts are cramped and full of cobwebs, but they are handy for getting around obstacles and staying out of site.  You finally make your way through to another grate and hear voices as you quietly force it aside .  You're still in detective mode, so the enemies in this room are highlighted red.  They're carrying guns, which means they are considerably more dangerous and can kill you quickly.  Batman has body armor, but he's not Superman.

It would only take one or two shots, so a frontal assault is suicide.  You glance up and see a number of stone gargoyles mounted near the ceiling; Arkham's odd architecture will keep you above watchful eyes.  A quick fire from your bat claw and you're perched atop one, scanning the room below to make out a plan of attack.  It's clear you have to isolate enemies and silently take them down, as any noise will alert others who are nearby.  You jump to another gargoyle across the room just as an unsuspecting thug crosses under it.  In near silence you fall to the ground, then quickly sneak up and choke him out before he even realizes what's happening.  The bat claw shoots out again and you're gone, safe up in the darkness and ready to find your next target.  This is Arkham Asylum from beginning to end, and it never gets old.

I've already finished my run through and it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought, save for a few fights near the end.  One right before the final battle comes to mind;  you are forced to fight two titan thugs and a room full of normal enemies.  It must have taken me at least fifteen to twenty retries to beat that fight.  Up until then I never felt like the game was cheating just to be hard, but for awhile that was like hitting a brick wall.  After the credits rolled I dipped into the challenge maps a little to try out the sweet looking armored bat suit.  This drops the combat level back down to normal, which felt almost trivial by comparison.  I still have not been able to master stringing together combos, and just beating down the enemy doesn't improve your score.  It's all about style, variety, and keeping that combo going all the way through.  There also Predator challengers, where you're against armed henchmen.  Medals are awarded here for taking them out in various ways.  And of course there are the Riddler trophies and challenges throughout the main game, which you can go back and do after the story ends.  I completed all of them on 360, but haven't paid much attention to them on PC.  I'd like to go back and get them all eventually, but who knows if I'll ever find time to do it.

The game's sequel, Arkham City, has since been released to rave reviews.  I didn't think it was possible to make it much better than this one, but man did they pull out all the stops.  I've already finished it's story line and have since been working on the plethora of side missions that I skipped.  There's also more challenge maps and New Game+, which should keep me busy until the PC version releases.  Then I'll start again and possibly even work on a 100% save file.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Deus Ex : Human Revolution - End Game

It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  Actually avoiding enemies worked much better for me since I invested all of my initial points into hacking.  I was determined to leave nothing untouched, so upgrading it's capture and stealth were my first priorities.  My initial skepticism regarding the typhoon being a "waste" of three praxis points was sorely inaccurate.  For a build like mine, it proved invaluable during boss fights.  I'm sure I could have still managed with grenades and mines, but the typhoon made things oh so much easier.  I'm wondering if it was intended for run and gun type characters at all, but maybe instead for a weaker Jenson in need of a room-clearing attack to use before death.

The major challenge was using non-lethal force all the way through the game.  It even counts during the prologue, no deaths whatsoever is exactly what they mean.  I tried to stay hidden and sneak by most of those initial enemies, but there were a couple times when it just was not possible.  Scripted events that trigger when you hit a certain spot are fine for a tutorial, but frustrating when you're attempting to slip through without notice.  The one in particular I'm thinking of really had me irritated, even after several reloads I couldn't manage to sneak by without alerting at least one enemy.  As soon as you get midway into a fairly large room a bunch of enemies appear through the far door.  Of course if one sees you and goes hostile, the others are almost instantly on to you as well.  I made it through the exit door a few times, only to be shot in the back just as I'd round the corner.

After that slight bit of initial frustration the game became almost cake for awhile.  A skilled player familiar with stealth tactics from other games knows it's just common sense to stay low and keep quiet.  There are augs you can get to help with that, but honestly I didn't even waste the points.  Using cover and the environment, I was able to silently move around an area and take each guard out one by one.  It was time consuming, but my obsessive nature wouldn't let me leave an area without hacking every device and searching every corner for hidden paths or objects.  Just like the original, Human Revolution is full of air ducts and vents to crawl around in.  Just about every time I was faced with a group of enemies, I would move a crate or box and find a vent to crawl through that would bypass them entirely.

After hacking and the typhoon, I tried to invest in other augmentations that I knew would help my play style.  A couple of those are absolutely necessary for any play through, at least in my opinion:  the Icarus landing system let's Adam fall from any height without taking damage.  It may not seem like that big of a deal, but after getting to China I realized how useful it really was.  I ran across several areas with no ladders or elevators, just a straight drop to the bottom, which means death without Icarus.  Plus it's just really cool to watch; run and take a flying leap off a building, then watch as energy pulses slow your fall.

Another one I couldn't live without is the arm aug that allows Adam to punch through weakened walls.  There were a few spots in my first attempt that I couldn't do anything with because I didn't have it.  You can still blow through them with explosives, but really that's just a waste.  The only downside with the aug is, as expected, it makes alot of noise and has the nasty side effect of killing anyone who happens to be standing on the other side.  Since I was playing as a pacifist, this was not a chance I could take.  As if in answer; one of the eye augs allows Jenson to see enemies, security devices, and computers through walls.  Not really that useful for a combat specialist, but invaluable for someone using stealth.

In general I tried to do every side quest and leave no stone unturned, but somewhere around hours 35-38 that went right out the window.  The last area has Adam trapped with lots of enemies, most of which are impossible to avoid.  They can be killed easy enough, but obviously that wasn't an option for a pacifist.  By this time I had burned through most of my gas grenades, plus they were grouped together so a stun gun or tranq rifle wouldn't work.  I ended up using the cloak aug to try and run past, which worked for the most part.  It sucks to run out of energy in the middle of a mob, but I guess that's what quick save and quick load are for.  Although it's not required, there are a couple major characters in the last area that you are supposed to go "save" before heading down the elevator to the last boss.  In my haste to reach the finale I skipped one, so I didn't get to see all four endings.  Oh well, gives me a reason to go back and play through it again in a year or two.

Deus Ex : Human Revolution is without a doubt my GOTY as of right now, but there are quite a few other big titles coming later this year that may unseat it.  Regardless, it's one of the best FPS RPGs I've ever played, easily as good as the first and every bit a worthy successor.  I can't wait to see what they do for the sequel.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Deus Ex : Human Revolution

The first Deus Ex is one of my all time favorites, even though I've never actually finished it.  For some reason I would always burn out or get distracted by something else, usually during the China levels.  I've played it so many times I have the first few levels memorized.  Invisible War came out a few years later, and although I didn't like how they simplified many of the game mechanics I still found it enjoyable.  Thankfully it was also much shorter, so I managed to see the ending.  It still left me cold though; it didn't feel like a Deus Ex game, but more like an action game set in the Deus Ex universe.  Fast forward to 2011 and I was beginning to wonder if we would every see a worthy successor, yet it's finally here.  Thankfully Human Revolution, aka Deus Ex 3, is much closer to the original than it's sequel.  After nearly twenty hours it's still kept me interested, though I've since restarted twice to try different tactics and a higher difficulty level.

Deus Ex 3 begins twenty-five years before the first game and tells the story of Adam Jenson, former Detroit SWAT commander and newly appointed head of security for biotech company Sarif Industries.  He was recommend for the job by Dr. Megan Reed, one of Sarif's lead scientists.  It's implied, though never explicitly stated, that Adam and Megan were once in a relationship.  Sarif Industries is about to announce a major breakthrough in human cybernetic augmentations when the building is suddenly attacked by an unknown group of heavily armed mercenaries, three of which are heavily augmented.  Jenson is immediately thrown on the offensive, with the first level being a short tutorial to introduce the game mechanics.  At the end he's almost killed by a one of the augmented leaders, but is saved at the last second by Megan.  The story picks up six months later as Adam is leaving recovery after having undergone extensive cybernetic augmentation to save his life.  David Sarif, the head of Sarif Industries, has called Adam back early to help deal with a situation at one of his factories.  Not everyone in the 21st century agrees with human augmentation, to the point that terrorist groups have formed to oppose it.  One such group, known as Purity First, assaulted the factory and took hostages.

David briefs Adam in the air, detailing the mission to infiltrate the factory and secure a top secret weapon known as the Typhoon.  He notes that SWAT has surrounded the building, but they are under orders not to move in.  He also tells Adam to rescue the hostages if he can, but the Typhoon is top priority.  It's evident the designers played the first game, just like Paul Denton, Sarif asks how you want to take down the enemy:  lethal, or non-lethal.  Either selection gives two different weapons to choose from, one for close and the other long range.  My initial selection was lethal, which gave me the choice of a pistol or combat rifle.  On the new game I started last night I picked the other option, which gives either a stun gun or tranquilizer rifle.  Of all four I think the stun gun is really the most useful, even if it does make too much noise.

Adam starts the game with virtually every part of his body augmented, but only a few of them turned on.  It's explained that they didn't want to overload his cerebral cortex with too much information, so they will naturally turn on as time passes.  What this means is that as you gain experience you will eventually unlock praxis points, which are then used to activate or upgrade Adam's augmentations.  You can also buy kits from the local L.I.M.B. clinic, plus find them hidden in various places around the world.  At first the aug screen can be pretty daunting, but once you decide on your play style it becomes pretty evident which ones will be most useful.  Most of my initial points when into hacking, of which there are a number of options.  You can invest in controlling turrets or robots, increasing stealth to avoid intrusion detection, or even an analyzer that will tell you what's in that remote data store.

Another thing they brought back from Deus Ex is the ability to mod your weapons.  Silencers, laser sights, damage upgrades, and extended clips are just a few.  Each weapon also has a special modification, like explosive rounds for the revolver or an armor piercing attachment for the pistol.  Since I've been playing more stealth and less combat, my weapon of choice has been the silenced pistol.  There were a number of problems I ran into that were easily solved with a clean head shot.  Gang members in particular I just didn't want to deal with.  There were a couple guarding an apartment that I really wanted to search, but they would start shooting every time I tried.  Eventually I just had enough and shot them both in the head, then looted the place at my leisure.

I made it roughly half way through before deciding to start over.  I wanted a bit more of a challenge, so I bumped the difficulty up to the hardest level.  I'm also trying for a completely non-lethal game for the Pacifist achievement, which means no kills under any circumstances, except boss fights.  As if that wasn't going to be hard enough, I'm also attempting to complete the game without setting off any alarms for another achievement.  Normally I wouldn't try something that would offer such a high probability of inducing gamer rage, but I really like playing stealthily and this will force me to.  I can't get impatient and just start killing everyone to get to the end quickly, it must be slow and methodical.  I'm also much better with the controls now, so hopefully that will cut down on reloads due to user error.  I've already played through the factory and the key so far has been slowly working my way around a level without being detected, taking out each guard one by one.  To accommodate this I've already maxed out stealth and capture for hacking, cloaking, and the typhoon.  It's kind of a waste to spend three points on just for boss fights, but I've read it makes them much easier.

Of course all this praise can't come without some sort of downside, even in a game as good as this one.  For all the freedom and choice you are given during most of the game, as touched on above, the boss fights are little more than run and gun slug fests.  The first two take place in relatively small, enclosed areas, with little room to move around.  All my stealth was thrown out the window, and thus I was reduced to running from cover to cover, trying desperately to get in some damage without getting instantly killed.  The second fight in particular, due to a nasty environmental hazard, took many attempts.  That's one thing I'm not looking forward to on this difficulty setting, but this time I know what to expect so I'll have the right tools to get the job done.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baldur's Gate 2 : The Throne of Bhaal

Of all the games on my shelf that sit unfinished, Baldur's Gate 2 is one of the oldest and most prestigious.  I did manage to complete the original game, twice actually, but always burned out after starting The Throne of Bhaal expansion.  It's been several years since my last attempt, so long in fact that I don't even remember the last time I played.  This time, in addition to the ever popular and necessary widescreen mod, I'll also be playing with a few others:  the fix and tweak packs from Gibberlings3, David Gaider's Ascension, Nightmare's beauty pack, Weimer's Item Upgrade and Solaufien mods, PnP Celestials, Dungeon-Be-Gone, and 1Pixel Production's avatars.  I'm only using mods that don't unbalance the game, so no cheats or godly items.

My original intent was to play through the game normally, but I've already done that twice before and decided on something different this time.  I started a multiplayer game and created five characters for myself, leaving the sixth slot empty for NPCs.  When deciding what classes to pick I tried to make sure I had each of the main jobs covered:  a paladin to use the Holy Avenger sword, a high-damage fighter, a rogue to take care of traps and locks, a priest for healing and buffing, and a pure mage for power spellcasting.  I'm not really big on multi-classing as they always lag behind my single-class characters.  I thought about dual-classing, but decided against it since my last play through was a dual-classed Kensai/Mage.

After much consideration and dice rolling, I finally came  up with my party:
Rune, Human Cavalier, 2-handed sword spec, 18 STR DEX and CON
Throk, Half-Orc Berserker, 2-handed weapons spec, 19 STR and CON
Darcy, Dwarf Priest of Lathander, hammer and shield spec, 19 CON
Lassider, Elf Swashbucker, bows and 2-weapon spec, 19 DEX
Zamiele, Elf Sorcerer, darts and staves, 18 DEX and CON

The Cavalier is the best paladin kit in my opinion because they are immune to fear and morale failure.  Higher level mages and monsters almost always use some kind of fear, so it's nice to have one of my lead tanks be able to shake it off.  I chose the Berserker mainly for their high damage output and combat ability, plus I wanted one pure fighter for weapon mastery.  I almost went with a regular run of the mill cleric, but decided on the Priest of Lathander at the last second.  They have a nice combat spell that boosts armor class and all saving throws, if I can remember to actually use it.  A Swashbuckler has better combat abilities than a normal thief, the only downside being they get no backstab bonus.  Lassider's primary job is to open locks and find/disarm traps, so no backstabbing wasn't a big deal.  I gave him a bow for now so he can sit back and interrupt spell casters, but may switch him over to two weapons at some point.  Last but not least is the Sorcerer, the best mage class in my opinion.  They automatically learn spells each level and cannot scribe them from scrolls, which means Zamiele's spell selection will be limited.  The upside is he has no need to memorize and prepare, instead being able to cast any spell he knows from each level a certain number of times.

Dungon-Be-Gone starts the game right at the very end of Irenicus' dungeon, and I have to say thank god for that.  If there's one thing in this game I don't care to repeat, it's the starter dungeon.  After the initial cutscene I'm free to go wherever, so like most vets I head straight down to the circus tent.  There's a quick quest line and NPC you can pick up, plus it's a nice little warm-up for my group fresh out of the dungeon.  Needless to say it's not difficult, taking less than five minutes to power through.  After that I'm ready to move on to a real challenge, something I always try before I even leave Waukeen's Promenade.

In a private room above the Inn of the Seven Vales, Mencar Pebblecrusher and his band of adventuring misfits reside.  They aren't part of any quest, and if you weren't looking you wouldn't even know they were there.  There's Mencar the dwarf, hits like a truck and dressed in full plate.  His pal Smaeluv Orcslicer, a berserker with a cursed sword and matching temper.  Sorcerous Amon and Pooky the imp, a mage and familiar casting duo that can be annoying if not dealt with quickly.  And finally Brennan Risling, a thief who attempts to backstab and usually flees the first time he gets hit.  They may not seem like much, but these five can be downright deadly to an unprepared or newly created party.  I distinctly remember one previous attempt that ended with my NPC party members dead, and Mencar chasing my main character all over the promenade.  Eventually I was able to wear him down with missiles and spells, but it took a really long time and lots of running.

So this time I wanted to try and make it through with no one dead.  There's a room right outside of theirs that can be used to prep in, so I save my game and start casting buffs.  Darcy casts Bless, Chant, and Protection from Evil on the entire party.  After that I have Zamiele protect himself with Stoneskin, then cast Haste on everyone.  At this point I think we're ready, so I slide him over into the doorway.  I have him cast Web into their room, holding just about everyone but the mage and his imp.  I have Zamiele drop a Cloudkill into the room with a wand found in Irenicus' dungeon, then a Fireball before moving back.  The blast luckily kills both Amon and Pooky, but Mencar and Smaeluv break free from the webs immediately after.  They charge straight into Rune and Throk, who are thankfully blocking the doorway.  About this time Brennan also breaks free and tries to make a run for the stairs.  Lassider and Zamiele tear him down in a flurry of arrows and magic missiles before he gets very far.  Mencar breaks off from Rune to try and retaliate, but Darcy paralyzes him with a Hold Person spell.  Throk and Smaeluv trade blows, but then the Orcslicer gets hit so hard he explodes in a shower of gore  At this point Mencar's the only one left alive, helpless to defend himself.  A couple big hits and he goes down in a heap, then the battle is over.  We loot the spoils, immediately handing Mencar's slightly-used full plate to Rune.  I don't think I've ever been able to take them on that soon without at least one person dying, possibly two.  If we can take them down with only five party members it definitely bodes well for the rest of the game.  On to De'Arnise Hold!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Witcher - End Game

I finally finished up The Witcher and can now move on, or should I say back, to Assassins of Kings.  Overall it's one of the best RPGs I've ever played, right up there with Dragon Age and Baldur's Gate 2.  The combat system I started out hating eventually grew on me, but I still prefer the newer game in that respect.  Although it does feel like you have more control, it's not nearly as fluid or realistic.  I also wasn't that big on the combo arrow, as it tends to get annoying since it's always right in the center of the screen.  Of course it does make stringing together moves much easier, so I decided against trying the mod that removes it.

I'm not sure how long it took since I haven't been able to find a game clock anywhere.  I attempted to complete every side quest, even fist fighting and dice poker.  My goal was to get the best gear possible for import into Assassins of Kings, so I knew right away I would have to make sure I didn't miss anything.  There were a couple side quests in chapter 4 that I had completed but did not turn in time, thankfully nothing major though.  The Order was the faction I chose to side with, partly because I liked Siegfried as he was one of the few honest characters in the game.  I also knew I wanted to get the Order version of Raven's Armor, which ended up being the deciding factor.  The stat bonuses were much better than the other two, at least for my brute force play style.

For most other decisions I tried to be realistic in what I would choose myself if put in that situation.  In one instance I came across a knight in the local inn looking for his missing sister.  He claimed she was spirited away by a blue-eyed prostitute and offered a reward for her return.  After digging a little deeper it's discovered that the blue-eyed beauty is a vampire, as is The Queen of the Night, the brothel's madame.  The knight's sister says that he is cruel, treats her like a slave, and that he wants to marry her off to some crotchety old lord for gold.  Therein lies the dilemma:  Witchers are supposed to kill monsters, of which vampires definitely qualify, but what about her story?  Assuming what she says is true, I took him as the more evil in this case.  At least the vampiresses treat her with some respect and compassion, as one of their own if you will, but he seems more concerned about losing a servant.  In the end he shows up at the brothel with personal guard in tow, then demands that she be returned.  I had already promised The Queen of the Night I would leave them in peace, to which the knight scolded me for being a witcher who sides with monsters and then attacked.  The vampiresses and I killed them easily.  Not exactly how I thought that quest would turn out when I started it.

One of the more interesting characters is Berenger, the rogue witcher who gave up the location of Kaer Morhen to the Salamandra.  Geralt meets him in chapter 3, and there is a final confrontation in chapter 4.  It's then that he comes clean and reveals that he was the one who gave Salamandra the location simply because he thought the witchers were no different or better.  I could have walked away at that point, but decided to kill him instead.  Traitors deserve death, and that's exactly what he got.  Not a terribly tough fight, and as a bonus I looted his amulet, which later helps during the fight against Azar Javed.

Princess Adda was something of an enigma to me, especially after her admission of guilt to helping in a plot to overthrow her father.  It's discovered at the end of chapter 2 that she is one that is forging royal seals and giving them to Salamandra.  Still under her curse from before, she attempts to have Geralt executed, but he is teleported away by Triss.  After that I was pretty much set on killing her, but later it's obvious that she's not entirely in control of her own mind.  One of the major story quests in chapter 5 is to come up with a final solution to her curse, one way or the other.  Geralt must enter the crypt she transforms in each night, and is locked in until she is either dead or cured.  By that time I had him so buffed up that even in her cursed form she really couldn't do much damage, so instead of attacking I just played keep away until morning came.  She would charge in and I would blast her back with the Aard sign.  Once the sun rose she was finally cured for good.  As a reward Geralt receives one of the better steel swords in the game, but I still had my eye on something better.

The final fight against Azar Javed wasn't really that difficult either.  With Berenger's medallion he starts out weakened, so it wasn't much work to finish him off with a strong steel sword and more liberal use of the Aard sign.  After looking in Azar's magic mirror it's discovered that the Grand Master of the Order of the Flaming Rose is the person behind everything.  I didn't see that one coming and thought that Azar was always the one running Salamandra.  Geralt and company then sail back to Vizima for the final confrontation, only to find the city in flames as the Scoia'tael have caused a non-human uprising.  It's in these final areas that Geralt battles the elven rebels with the assistance of the Order.  It's also where I found the last piece of Raven's armor and had the Order blacksmith forge it.  Since I managed to turn in all of the trophy monsters, I was able to select the Moonblade as my final reward for that quest.  It doesn't have any pain or other debuffs, but it does do massive damage.  Likewise, after defeating the champion boxer in the last fist fight match I was able to keep his tooth I had knocked out as a reward.  I had earlier started a quest in chapter 3 with a dentist in Vizima who was collecting teeth.  It began with beasts' teeth, continued with monster teeth, with the final prize being the boxer's tooth.  The dentist rewarded Geralt with a Mahakaman rune sihill named G'valchir, the highest damage steel sword in the game  When the final battle came I was definitely prepared.  I think Geralt was around level 34 or 35 when I entered the Epilogue.

Just before the final battle, the Grand Master shares his vision of Vizima's future: a vast frozen wasteland, unstoppable to all but him.  He stole the witcher's secrets to create a new order, one that would see himself as Vizima's ruler and savior.  He attacks immediately after, first sending in mutated warriors and then charging in himself.  This battle wasn't that difficult at all either, as I kept to group style with the steel sword and was able to cut down his mutants first.  After that he summoned in some fire monsters, but I switched to strong style and focused on him alone.  Once he went down they disappeared, then The King of the Wild Hunt appears and demands the master's soul.  I could have fought him, but instead decided not to stand in his way.  After he disappears I was able to deliver one final coup de grace, then Geralt finds himself back in Vizima inside the Order's cloister.  A few short cut scenes later and the game was over, setting things up nicely for the sequel.  It was an amazing experience, start to finish.  Here's hoping Assassins of Kings is just as good!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Witcher : Enhanced Edition

After working my way through about a third of Witcher 2, I decided to go back and give the first game a try again.  My original thought was that if I finish the sequel first, I won't have any interest in going back to this one.  I know me and I won't do it, too many other games on the pile that need attention.  I also found that as good as Assassins of Kings is, I really felt like I had no idea what the hell was going on.  Several times events from the previous game are referenced, and I also wanted to get a better understanding and feel for the characters and places.  Plus you can import your save game into Assassins of Kings, complete with the choices you made and some of the gear you ended the game with.

The Witcher opens with Geralt attempting to cure King Foltest's daughter of a terrible curse that transforms her into a monster.  He is killed, but somehow brought back to life with no memory of who he is.  Along with his fellow witchers, they return to their fortress of Kaer Morhen.  It's not long before the keep is attacked by a group known as the Salamandra.  The witchers are thrown on the defensive, with Geralt quickly grabbing a sword to help repel the assault.  The first few areas introduce the combat system and it's three different styles: strong, fast, and group.  It's stressed that different types of enemies require different styles, so switching back and forth quickly to adapt is vital.  Shortly afterwards, a group of Salamandra break into the main keep and make for the witcher laboratory underneath the fortress.  Just before Geralt and crew reach the keep to go after them, a large beast called the Frightener crashes through one of the outer walls.  Surrounded by Salamandra, it begins to make it's way through the courtyard.  Here I'm given a choice to either go with head witcher Vesemir to slay the Frightener, or go with another witcher and the sorceress Triss to help secure the laboratory.  In my many previous attempts I've done both, but this time I decided to defend the lab.

Leo is the other witcher that helps, and it's pretty obvious that he is the most inexperienced.  We make our way into the keep, fighting cultists as we head towards the stairs to the lower level.  At first the passage to the lab is blocked, but with Leo's help we find a nearby shrine that grants the Aard sign.  Signs are the witcher form of magic, with this one being used to stun and blast back enemies.  After the rubble is cleared we make our way into the lab and fine their leader, a criminal known as The Professor, along with two mages.  Triss takes on the more powerful Azar Javed, while I am left to deal with Savolla.  This is the first boss fight, so it's not particularly tough.  Savolla surrounds himself with a shield, then begins draining the life force of his followers to power his attacks.  I cut him down fairly quickly, just as the other two escape.  Triss passes out due to wounds from her battle with Azar, and at some point Leo was killed during the fight.

The prologue is wrapped up with a little bit of exploring around the keep and cleaning out any remaining Salamandra.  Once that's done, Vesemir tasks me with brewing a potion that will cure Triss.  This introduces the games interesting potion making system.  Aside from the signs, potions are a witcher's bread and butter.  You start with only a few formulas and are able to collect few ingredients.  Once Geralt does some reading up after acquiring numerous books, he can begin to harvest more exotic types, some even from the monsters he slays.  After brewing the potion and attending Leo's funeral, the witchers decide to split up and track down Salamandra.  Geralt travels to the nearby city of Vizima, seat of King Foltest's power.

Arriving in the outskirts of town, Geralt finds that Vizima is quarantined and that no one is allowed in without a pass.  Conversations with the local populace reveal a large hellhound that is terrorizing the residents.  The local reverend believes that Abigail, a witch who just recently came to town, is the one controlling the beast.  It's here that I really began to see how much time and effort the writers put into this story.  To say these characters fall into the gray area of morality would be an understatement.  There is very little in this game that's black or white, good or evil, hero versus villain.

Take the reverend for example.  On the surface he appears to be your garden variety bible thumper with a head full of righteous indignation.  However, after digging a little deeper it's discovered that his own daughter was raped some time ago by a local guardsman.  (The same one that the reverend asks you to help to gain his trust, I might add...)  Upon discovering that she was pregnant, he threw her out of his house and she was left to fend for herself on the streets.  It's also implied in a later chapter when you actually meet her that he was a molester as well.  Then there's the local merchant Haren Brogg, who asks for help killing some drowners that are ransacking his stock at night.  On the surface he seems like an honest business man trying to make a living.  After dealing with the drowners, however, I encountered a group of  Scoia'tael elves that were expecting to meet Brogg and buy some illegal weapons and supplies.  Things are tense between the human and non-human races, and Broggs is profiting by selling weapons to the elves.  I was given the choice to let them take what they wanted and earn extra coin, but instead I refused and killed them all.  This also has an effect on a later quest in the next chapter.

Things come to a head at the end of chapter 1.  After talking with Abigail right before the fight with the hellhound, I exited the cave she was in to find the reverend and his congregation outside.  They demand that the witch be handed over, believing it's the only way to get rid of the beast.  I decline, then called each one out on their indiscretions.  They attacked from all sides, but had no chance against a witcher.  The hellhound then appears and Abigail helps by healing me during the fight.  After it was dead I looted the gate pass from the reverend's body.  I didn't feel that bad about it, as Abigail had done nothing wrong and was helping me with another major quest, plus it seemed like they were all scum anyway.  I made for one of the gates into Vizima and promptly handed over my pass when asked.  The local guard immediatly arrested me, chapter 2 starts with Geralt in prison.