Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Top 10 Alternatives to Skyrim

So you've played 500 hours worth of Skyrim and have finally finished experiencing all there is to do? Or maybe you only played for a short while before getting bored with it? Perhaps you don't want to pay $60 for a brand new game, and don't even own Skyrim? For whatever reason, we all come to a point when we stop playing Skyrim and search for games to fill the void it's left behind, whether that be a craving for more games like Skyrim, or for good RPGs in general.

As it turns out, there are actually a fair number of recent "fantasy-themed role-playing games" that are all good and worth playing, so I thought I'd compile a list for anyone looking for an RPG fix after Skyrim. Continue reading for the full list.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why New Vegas is Better than Fallout 3

After having torn Skyrim to shreds, thus tarnishing Bethesda's reputation for generations to come (all with the best of loving intentions for RPGs and the industry in general), I was reminded of my experiences with the two most recent Fallout games: Fallout 3 by Bethesda, and Fallout: New Vegas by Obsidian. Given that they're both Fallout games that even share the same engine, they're about as similar as two games from two different companies can be. And yet, the experience of playing them is markedly different, with a lot of people loving one and hating the other.

I didn't like Fallout 3. Bethesda has a real knack for developing interesting worlds and then filling them with mediocre gameplay, and so I found Fallout 3 a bore and a chore. It just lacked a lot of the gameplay and role-playing elements that made the original two Fallouts (and RPGs in general) worth playing. New Vegas, on the other hand, was the solution to virtually every complaint I had with Fallout 3. Whereas Fallout 3 was basically just "Oblivion with guns," New Vegas was Fallout 3 with Fallout.

New Vegas gets an undeservedly bad rap from people who never played the first two Fallouts. A lot of people were introduced to the world of Fallout through Fallout 3, and they criticize New Vegas for deviating from the formula Bethesda used in FO3. When it should really be the other way around. Fallout 3 is the black sheep of the series, with New Vegas demonstrating a return to form and showing us how a real post-apocalyptic role-playing game should be.

(For related reading, check out my other New Vegas article, "New Vegas is a Better RPG Than Skyrim.")

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Skyrim Kinda Sucks, Actually

I don't assign much weight or value to metascores, but I find it astounding that Skyrim has a metascore of 94. That number is about as close to perfection as a video game can ever achieve, and thirty-one of the [supposedly] most credible, influential critics thought it was deserving of such high praise. There is not a single "mixed" or "negative" review among critics. How can that be, when a majority of Skyrim's content is so obviously shallow, dull, and boring?

It's clear that Bethesda learned a lot of valuable lessons from the blundering mess that was Oblivion, and Skyrim is better for it. But it seems, however, that Bethesda failed to learn the most valuable lesson of them all, and their core design philosophy still remains a matter of "quantity is better than quality." Instead of focusing their efforts on filling their beautiful, sprawling world with unique and interesting content, they just churned out a thousand different fetch-quests and generic, lifeless NPCs, all in an ecosystem where none of your actions really matter.

This leads me to one of three conclusions, in regards to Skyrim's critical reception: 1) that none of those critics knows anything about video games, 2) that all of those critics have low standards, or 3) that all of those reviews were written after only 20-30 hours of gameplay. Skyrim is a grand, breath-taking experience at the start (excluding that terrible, terrible intro/tutorial), and so it's easy to praise in the beginning, but it reaches a point far too early in its incredibly long lifespan, when everything becomes shallow and pointless.

Skyrim is still a competently-designed game that managed to hold my attention for 130 hours, so it must be doing something right. But I can't believe that seemingly everyone overlooks (or excuses) these genuinely crucial problems. How can a game that's noticeably flawed be scored so close to perfection? And so it falls to me to point out the honest criticism, explaining exactly why Skyrim sucks and why it's not worthy of such fanatical praise. My full review awaits after the jump.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Video Games in TV: Life

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

I've been writing these articles for several months now, and this is the first show I've come across to use a real, actual video game instead of making something up. I don't know which is worse; inventing a pathetically stupid-looking video game, or disgracing a real game. I can laugh with some sense of pity at the made-up stuff, but seeing the Prince of Persia like this only makes me sad.

The short-lived NBC crime-drama Life aired an episode in its first season called "A Civil War," in which police detectives have to reach "level 10" in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones to unlock some hacked files. For some reason. Don't ask me, because even though I watched the entire episode, I still don't get it. You can watch the whole scene for yourself and read my commentary after the jump.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Skyrim Screenshots & Wallpapers (Part 2)

This is part 2 in a catalogue of some of my more artistic screenshots from Skyrim, showcasing how beautiful the game can be. Some of these might make for interesting wallpapers, but they're all just nice to look at. Check out part 1 here, or continue reading the full article for the pictures. If I take any more interesting screenshots before I finish the game, I'll add them here. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Skyrim Screenshots & Wallpapers (Part 1)

Regular readers will have gathered that I've been playing a lot of Skyrim lately. I put two other games on hold that I was already deep into, just because Skyrim is such an engrossing experience. One of the great reasons for its captivating nature, I believe, lies with its visual design. The game is beautiful, simply put. I constantly find myself in awe of the landscapes that lay before me, spamming the F12 key everywhere I go, like some kind of Nordic photographer. 

As I write this article, Steam says I have 790 Skyrim screenshots. And I'm still not through playing the game, so I'll most certainly be adding a few hundred more to my collection. Since I have so many, I figured I'd share some of my more artistic shots that depict some of the more beautiful aspects of the game. All of them are "ruined" by HUD elements, because I was too lazy to bother with disabling it, but I'm going to justify that I like them being there because it adds gameplay context for everything. 

Since I've got so many of these screenshots, I'll be posting them in multiple articles. Click the full article for the screens. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Let's Talk Skyrim Mods (Part 3)

I originally only planned to post one article on Skyrim mods, but that had to be expanded into two parts because it was a little too long to remain as just one post. And then I figured, since I made "part 2," I may as well go ahead and make a "part 3." So just for the hell of it, "part 3" shall be a list of my favorite absurdly-stupid Skyrim mods. In this article: absurd, ridiculous, hilarious, "wtf," lore-breaking Skyrim mods. Only the best, and only my favorites. (None of that "my little pony" nonsense.)

Be sure also to read the more serious Part 1 and Part 2 of this (apparent) series on Skyrim mods. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Let's Talk Skyrim Mods (Part 2)

Part 2 of the list of Skyrim mods that I'm currently running, with pictures, links, description, and thoughts on each one.  Also a few mods that I tried and didn't like, as well as some works-in-progress that I'm keeping an eye on. Click the article for the full list, or read part 1 here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Let's Talk Skyrim Mods (Part 1)

With thousands of Skyrim mods out there, I'm rather selective of what I choose to install. Seems like whenever I look through a list of "recently uploaded" mods, most of them are player homes, extra weapons, or things that just break the balance of the game. None of which really interest me. But I still found 29 mods (and counting) that have noticeably improved my Skyrim experience.

For anyone who's looking for a more personal take on mod recommendations, I'll be listing each one I've chosen to run with a brief description of what they all are and what I like about them. As well as others that I didn't really like and others that I'm currently keeping an eye on. As well as discussing my thoughts on the Steam Workshop versus the Skyrim Nexus. Since the list is rather long, with pictures and links and descriptions, I'll be posting this in two parts. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On the Gothic Series

Playing through Skyrim makes me realize how great the Gothic series was (and remains). There's always a void I feel from playing an Elder Scrolls game, and the Gothic games have always been there to remind me of how special a game can be when it's designed properly. I've known this ever since the back-and-forth releases of Gothic in 2001, followed by Morrowind in 2002, followed by Gothic 2 in 2003.

I'll go into more detail about TES in another article. For now, though, I want to take some time to reflect on the Gothic series, to compare each title's relative strengths and weaknesses, and to describe that special Gothic feeling that I often struggle to find in other games. I've written about Gothic before for a "Great Games You Never Played" article, which is worth a read for a more basic overview of the first game. My break-down of the full series comes after the jump.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Failure

* this article adapted from my original review on GameFAQs. 

The Lost Crown: A Ghost-Hunting Adventure is an adventure game by Jonathan Boakes, best known for his previous work on the Dark Fall series. Given the man's reputation within adventure-gaming circles, as well as some really emphatic reviews for the game, including a 4/5 star average from 70 user reviews on Amazon, I had high hopes and expectations for TLC. 

But the game proved utterly disappointing. The pacing is incredibly slow, the characters are completely flat and shallow with some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard, and the plot lacks all form of intrigue and compulsion. To top it all off, the word of mouth claimed that this was a very suspenseful and sometimes scary game, but it's just not. There are a few shining moments within this sea of murky brown, but the whole package is mediocre, at best.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur: Demo Impressions

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning launches in a couple of days, and I definitely won't be buying it. It's a pretty good game with an interesting combat system, but judging by the demo, it just doesn't feel like it's worth $60. This is a game that probably needs more than an hour's worth of tutorial and "starting town" quests to get a good impression of, but a lot of its design mechanics just feel off. Like it's the redheaded stepchild of some better RPG that might have been.

The running theme here is "I like it, but...." I would probably only get it with a 75% discount. Even though the full game could be really great, the demo turned me off of paying full price for it. It suffers badly from consolization and just doesn't play like anything I'd expect for a PC release. And a few of its design mechanics explicitly remind me of other games, which only goes to pull me out of the experience and detracts from KOA's uniqueness.

So I've got a run-down of things I liked, things I didn't like, and things I'm on the fence about in the full article. This only reflects my experiences with the demo.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Great Games You Never Played: The Witcher

"Fine, obscure gems." Part of a periodical series: Great Games You Never Played

In a world where the standards and expectations for RPGs are set by industry powerhouses like Bethesda and BioWare, I always have to turn to the smaller guys whenever I want to play a true RPG. Piranha Bytes and Obsidian get a lot of my respect, but CD Projekt RED added their name to the list in 2007 with The Witcher, a true testament to the glorious PC gaming master race.

You play as Geralt of Rivia, one of the last remaining witchers---a society of monster-hunters who alter their bodies with mutagens to fight supernatural monsters. After an organized group of out-laws infiltrates the witcher stronghold and steals the supply of mutagens, you set out to recover the stolen goods and get to the bottom of the conspiracy, but not without encountering more monsters (both human and beast) and moral conflicts along the way.

What makes The Witcher so remarkable is that it puts a lot of weight on your actions, with many of your decisions having lasting effects on the entire game. Often times you make a seemingly-trivial decision in one chapter, and then it affects a quest in the next chapter. The moral decisions you make are complicated shades of gray with no right or wrong answer. The way you develop your character is important to how you'll play the game. There's a consequence for nearly everything you do. And all of this is done in a rich, mature setting that feels more real than it should.

The Witcher is already well-known among RPG enthusiasts, so there are reasonable odds that some of you may actually have played this one, as contradictory to the article title as that may be. Nevertheless, it's still overlooked by the mainstream and remains more of a cult hit, while getting a lot of criticism from people I would venture to say just don't "get it." So I've got more words on its brilliance (and why you should play it) in the full article.