About Me

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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

            Very few gaming companies have done as much for open world gameplay as Bethesda: Game Studios. The worlds they introduce are vast, beautiful and offer an almost endless number of things to do. With that said, there was a lot of hype around their latest game, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Now, I have to admit I wasn't that hyped for the game. While some of my previous posts suggest otherwise, I really would not have cared if another Elder Scrolls game ever came out. To me, these games always seemed like the Avatar of games using that “give the audience a big pretty world to look at and they'll love you for it” style that I hate. But after playing through both Fallout games, it gave me hope that Bethesda could write as well make good worlds. But, as my initial reaction stated, they let me down in this regard. So now that I've put a bit more time into this game, I decided to do a full review of it. To praise the crap out of what deserves to be praised and pan the hell of what deserves to be panned. This is The Illusive One's Review of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Main Story and Organization Plots

             As I'm sure you all know by now the main story of this game involves dragons. An ancient evil dragon has returned to Skyrim intent on resurrecting all the dragons slain in the past and destroying the world and only you, the Dragonborn can stop this evil.
            While very clich├ęd sounding, the concepts are actually good and they bring in ideas that no one else has thought of. It has all kinds of fascinating mythologies involving the dragons, ancient prophecies, the heroes of old, and time travel which were all really good ideas. The concept of the Dragonborn is easily one of the best concepts I have ever heard for any dragon related story, (but of course nothing can beat Dragon Heart lol).
            The various organizations in this game, such as the Thieves Guild, The Companions, and the Dark Brotherhood also share this strength and have very great concepts. The Thieves Guild, for example is actually portrayed as a criminal organization on the verge of collapse rather than the Robin Hood style of thieves they were in Oblivion and I think that it's a change for the better. The Companions also have interesting secrets, (but the less said on that the better), the Dark Brotherhood also has great ideas for their story, and the quest line involving the Civil War in Skyrim brought up issues that any civil war does and that is to be applauded.
            The biggest fault with the storylines in this game however, is the execution of them. I'll get into more specifics later but it mainly comes down to two things: The missions are incredibly dull and you don't really care about what's going on. That's the best way to put it. The individual missions are dull and repetitive and you don't really get much of a sense of intensity or rising stakes of it. For example, during the climax of the main story there was nothing really intimidating about the final boss, and the way you defeated him came off as being underwhelming even though there was a fantastic concept behind it.
            The other main problem with it is that you really don't care about what happens to this world or its people. With games like Fallout 3 or Dragon Age: Origins you actually cared about the people and territory and how your actions impacted them. This game doesn’t contain any of that. You really don't care how you affect the world and the developers don't give you any reason to. I think that has a lot to do with the way the missions progress and the way you interact with the characters but more on that later.
            All around the main storyline and guild stories had great concepts but poor execution and it just makes me sad that Bethesda couldn't pull off effective storylines in this game when they have done it before. All around, they were just ok. They were better than Oblivion's in concepts but that's really not saying a whole lot. If you’re like me and need a compelling story in you RPGs then this is not the game for you.

The Gameplay

             If there is anything that Bethesda is good at, it's delivering a memorable gameplay experience. And with this game, it is no different. For starters you had the many, MANY ways you could customize your characters, once again boasting a variety of races and different ways to make them look and you can literally make him/her anyway you want and into any class you want. You can make him/her a warrior, a mage, and archer, a barbarian and all kinds of other combinations that I can’t think of.
            The leveling system is also fantastic. For starters you can only increase three basic skills, magic, health and stamina which I think worked for the better rather than all the other stuff you could previous Elder Scrolls games. Based on constellations, you actually have to use these skills in order level them up, which I think is the best tweak that Bethesda made. It just added a layer of difficulty to it that previous games seemed to lack, (in Fallout 3 for example you could be a pro at explosives even though you've never used one, wtf?). It was also really cool to have all these different skills and perks that included mining, blacksmithing, enchanting, and all other kinds of cools stuff that allowed for all kind of possibilities. Combat gameplay was a vast improvement over the last game. It actually felt smooth and natural and all the cheap ways you could win in Oblivion are gone.
             Then we have the open world gameplay itself. The land of Skyrim itself is beautiful, and a major achievement in the graphics department for any video game of any genera. The snow actually looks like snow, the water actually looks like water and I could just stare at the northern lights the game displayed for hours in sheer wonder. The land also had a Viking theme going with authentic looking towns and cultural styles to go with it. It also had an incredible musical score that I have never gotten tired of listening to.
            As far as glitches go, they really didn't bother me. After going through the Nine Circles of Glitch Hell that was Fallout: New Vegas, this seemed like a walk in the park in comparison. There were a few broken quests that really pissed me off but other than that they weren't a problem for me.
            Then we have the sheer number of quests this game has and the almost random encounters you have with dragons and such but that actually brings me to my biggest criticisms of the gameplay. For starters, the missions are dull and repetitive. There is next to nothing compelling about them and I found myself bored out of my mind doing them. I kept finding that the dungeons/crypts/temples had nearly identical layouts and identical puzzles. Usually you would end up fighting mages, bandits, or some obscure cult with some kind of tough zombie boss at the end. And afterwards you would never hear about anything from this area again. And again, they don't give you any reason to care about these quests. Why should I risk my life to get my shield for this guy? He's not that interesting. Why should I risk my neck for this world? There really isn't anything that interesting in it, other than your character and the sheer look of it. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is but there is just a certain underwhelming and dull nature to all the quests in this game.
            Then we have the dragons in this game. While they are cool and challenging at first, the fights with them get really dull really fast. By the time you're killing your twentieth dragon they'll seem more like an annoyance or an inconvenience then actual challenge. Not to mention there isn't much of a variety to them. I think there may have been three looks between all of them and three abilities and I found this disappointing.
            All around, the only criticism I have with the gameplay is the sheer repetitiveness and dullness of the missions. And that is a major flaw no matter what way you slice it. But everything else in this department is fantastic. The look of the world is great, the combat is great, the leveling system is great and the sheer size of the world is fantastic. If they could have made their missions a bit more interesting I would have had no problems with the gameplay. But as it stands, there are a lot of great things to be had in this department but there are some really big faults that take it down a peg.   

The Characters

            There is no other way to put this! These characters are awful! They're bland, dull, one dimensional, and completely forgettable! I mean, how in the hell did Bethesda screw up so badly with this cast of characters? I mean Jesus!
            So what exactly makes them so bad? Well, exactly what was mentioned above. They're bland, dull, one dimensional, and completely forgettable. There is no other way to put it. Granted there are a few times they seem otherwise but for the most part there is nothing compelling about them. You don't like or hate any of them throughout the entire game. They're just kind of there. Their soul purpose in this game is either to kill you, sell you things, give you quests, or fill up the world. That is it! And again, Bethesda has not learned that great actors voicing the characters is no substitute for good writing and compelling development. They're easily the worst cast of characters I have ever seen for such a high profile game. That's all I have to say! Let’s move on to the verdict! I don’t want to dwell on these crappy characters!

The Verdict

              All around, there were some major, MAJOR, faults I found with this game that really diluted the experience for me. The horribly dull characters, dull missions and repetitive gameplay is what ultimately takes this game down a notch and keeps it from being perfect. But that aside, it's really, really good. The sheer number of missions available is impressive, the look of the world is fantastic, the music is great, the atmosphere is great, the leveling system and combat are great, and the amount of things you can do is incredible. I just wish that they had been able to make me care a bit more about all the stuff that was going on in Skyrim. Had they done that it would have been a perfect game. That does not however, stop it from being a great game and one of the best of the year had to offer and is worth every penny that you'll pay for it.

All Around

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Batman: Arkham City

            Well, it’s been far too long sense I've done a traditional review here on The Illusive One's Reviews. Not that you care, but between fighting off Elder Scrolls fans for my initial thoughts on the game, (It was my Initial Reaction people! You people are worse than Twilight fans!) and various other things going on in my life, I've just had too much crap going on to really commit to my stuff on this site. Hell, even on the Dudeletter I've just been re-posting old articles from months ago. But now, at last I'm ready to talk about one of the games that came out during the fall.
            As you all may or may not remember, I did a review back in September on the video game, Batman: Arkham Asylum and stated that there were many aspects of the game that didn't hold up very well in the long term and I wasn't very hyped for this game because I was afraid it was going to be more of the same. But being the Batman fanboy that I am, I caved in and bought it the moment I saw all the critical acclaim it received upon release. So here it is. My long overdue review of Batman: Arkham City.

The Plot

            The game takes place one year after the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum where the former warder of the Asylum, Quincy Sharp, has been elected mayor of Gotham and, in his first act as mayor, erects a super prison where criminals are thrown into the prison where the criminals make a society for themselves with only one rule: once you’re in you don't come out, (Escape from New York anyone?). After failed attempts to stop its construction, Bruce Wayne attempts to mount a public campaign against the prison and is in turn captured and thrown into the prison where Hugo Strange reveals he knows Batman's secret and plans to enact a mysterious action known only as Protocol Ten. So it's up to Batman to stop Strange from enacting this plan as well as fighting the various criminals around Arkham City, (exactly why he does this is revealed a in the game and I would be spoiling if I said why).
            On the positive side the plot was actually really well done. For a concept that was so obviously ripped off of a John Carpenter movie it surprisingly managed to make the idea its own. The pacing was great, the plot elements were as well, had a lot of great twists, and one of the best endings I have ever seen for any media outlet. What really makes the plot work, however are the characters, atmosphere and gameplay but I'll get more into those later.
             On the negative side, the concept was just an obvious rip off of Escape from New York and being a longtime fan of that film pisses me off. While there were some good twists to the whole thing some I saw coming a mile away and I felt that what Protocol Ten actually was, was a tad predictable and it wasn't as driven as Arkham Asylum.
            All around the plot was really good. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it is without going to specifics, but the best way to put it is this: It's Batman. Everything that makes the mythology of the character so interesting, so compelling, and so good is here and told in a great way. That's the best way I can put it and it's certainly one of the better plots for any video game of the year.

The Gameplay

             Where do I even begin with this one? This is one of those categories where nearly everything is good. For starters the graphics and environments are great. Unlike a lot of open world gameplay cities this one is full of people and many things to do. The buildings, water and various subway systems all look great and just reek of that gothic atmosphere that Batman is known for. The main story missions were all really good and helped move toward the final goal. Unlike the last game, the side mission in this game were fantastic and actually seemed like they were worth doing, (The Riddler missions for example actually had people's lives' at stake and made solving his riddles all the more compelling). The leveling system is on par with the previous game; good but nothing ground breaking. The missions where you have to use your detective stills were fun and weren't frustratingly difficult they way some games would make them and I really enjoyed them.
            The combat in this game I also thoroughly enjoyed as it involves quite a bit of strategy rather than charging into your enemies head on and it acknowledges that Batman is a man and can die which adds a layer of intensity to the combat. The boss fights were also really fun and like the rest of the combat you often had to use strategy more than button mashing. It’s also really cool the way the bat suit actually takes damage and the damage is continuously seen throughout the game. The Riddler Challenges are also pretty fun but it is really annoying that you have to collect all the trophies in order to unlock all the maps. The last things to mention are the Catwoman missions. Her style of gameplay makes for a welcome change of pace but I sometimes can't help but think her missions are out of place. For example her first mission kind of dilutes the power of the game's opening and her last dilutes the power of the game's ending. But all around her missions were fun and made for a welcome change of pace.
             On the negative side...well if I had to pick something it's that sometimes the stealth aspects of the game could be a bit limited and the for mentioned irritations. But other than that, the gameplay was just great. It had great control, great graphics, great environments and great missions to tie them all together.

The Characters

              In the last game I stated that the characters could be hit or miss throughout the game. In this game, however they were mostly hit in this game. Let’s start off with the big two: Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. Kevin Conroy gives another fantastic performance as Batman and again proves to be the best Batman there is. Mark Hamill also gives another great performance as the Joker and once again captures that unnerving, psychotic essence of the character along with the laugh out loud hilarity that made the character so memorable in the first game. We also had a few new characters added to the mitts that proved to be the best incarnations ever. Hugo Strange, for one, was fantastic in this game. He was controlling, manipulative, and just flat out demented and made for an incredibly memorable incarnation. The Penguin....where do I even begin with him? While some people might complain that he isn't as sophisticated as he should be, he more than makes up for in the way he's portrayed. For one thing, he's actually a threatening and controlled mob boss rather than the stuck up midget he was before. A lot of his dialog was also really memorable and the way he fought against the other gangs and the cops was just fantastic.       
             The Riddler and Mad Hatter were both delightfully insane and both captured the essence of the character as well as make them a bit more mature and realistic. The character of Victor Zsasz was once again delightfully insane and incredibly memorable, (it almost seemed like he was getting sexual pleasure out of what he was doing). The Robin in this game actually looked, acted, and sounded cool, (a very rare feat for Batman all together), and the other characters that were annoying or had poor voice actors like Harley Quinn, Jim Gordon, or Quincy Sharp had limited dialog, (thank God for that!). The last good characters I have to mention are Ra's al Ghul and Talia al Ghul and were they both frikkin cool in this. I don't want to get to into what makes the characters good but let’s just say that everything that made them so interesting in other versions is very much in play here and they don't disappoint.
              There are a few negatives to not with the characters, though. For one thing, why the hell do all the hot female characters look like they're about to go a fanboy's bachelor party? I can accept making the characters look attractive but it they're taking it a little too far with the way these characters are dressed. Finally, I didn't care for the way Two-Face, Mr. Freeze and Bane were portrayed. Two-Face had this weird split personality thing going, was completely underused throughout the game and just wasn't as good as the Nolan/TAS versions of him. The same goes for Mr. Freeze. He just wasn't as compelling or as sympathetic as he was in The Animated Series. It's almost like the developers knew they couldn't make better versions of these characters so they didn't even try and were disappointing. Finally we have Bane and they managed fuck him up yet again! I guess we'll have to wait for The Dark Knight Rises to see a good interpretation of the character.
            All around, the characters in this game were great. The few annoying things mentioned above weren't enough to change that and had some of the best interpretations of these characters as well as one of the best cast of characters I have ever seen in any video game.

The Verdict

             I think it's pretty apparent the way I feel about this game. IT KICKS ASS!!!! Granted there are a few things that irk me. The story wasn't as compelling as the last game, and the way they portrayed my favorite character really ticked me off but was all around a great game. It had great story, great environments, great gameplay, great characters and is easily one of the best games of the year and is my personal favorite so far. If you're a Batman fan or liked the first game and haven’t already checked this one out do so because you love every second of it. If not....well you don't have my respect so GET THE FUCK OFF MY BLOG!!!

All Around