Skyrim Dragonborn DLC – First Look

Dragonborn DLCI am hoping this note will be an impartial view of the new DLC for Skyrim, released yesterday for the arm-and-a-leg of 1600 msp.

To justify any perceived impartiality that seeps through:

I have racked up hundreds of hours of playtime in Skyrim on the XBOX 360, the majority of such time being spent on a level 81 (Everything but restoration at 100 and balanced Health/Magicka/Stamina ratios) Altmer.

I’m also somewhat jaded when it comes to the previous DLC… I only played the SIMS expansion, Hearthfire, for the achievements and had more engagement in curing myself of vampirism after Dawnguard than with any of the Dawnguard plot.

Sure I enjoyed floating around as a Vampire Lord but I took a massive hit on stats in vampire form AND now have an achievement I will likely never gain… who in their right mind would want to be an elder scrolls werewolf?

Lycanthropy in Skyrim is like wandering around with a “Kick my, I’m stupid” sticker on your back and nerfs your stats even more than the Vampire Lord.

Fighting enemies that are levelled to a level 81 murder elf without armour, enchantments, weapons, spells or shouts isn’t a challenge it’s insanity.

Anyway, the aim is to detail my first experiences with Dragonborn without geting over-enthusiastic for the game I love and without getting too down over the previous DLC.

Like previous DLCs I didn’t get an “in” until I’d slept and wandered into Whiterun, where I was quest-spammed by cultists and an Ebony Knight – all at once.

This wasn’t a problem for the head of the Dark Brotherhood (Companions, Thieves Guild, Mage College – delete as applicable) and left me with a couple of choices:

  • Travel to Solstheim? (Really Bethesda? 20 gamerscore for getting on a boat)
  • Deal with a new quest closer to home? (And 0 gamerscore for dealing with that)

Now I’ve been burnt by Fallout 3 & New Vegas DLC that has forced me into areas of no return, with no equipment and no base of operation; so I opted for the quest closer to home (having already emptied my inventory except for essentials prior to downloading the new DLC).

 In dealing with that new quest I encountered the toughest fight in Skyrim since facing the dragon priest Krosis, whilst level 10, at Shearpoint.  I had to return at level 17 with a Storm Atronach to beat Krosis.  No such level up option for me now.

Several attempts later, I’ve beaten the bad guy and I’m feeling a lot better about the new DLC – as slow to start as it seemed.

The DLC feels levelled to my abilities, even fighting Netches and Ash Spawn in Solstheim, I feel challenged and almost at risk.  Granted, I haven’t used any of the healing potions that I spent a good 30 minutes brewing before setting off (the first quest taught me that I needed to be less cocky and carry more healing potions).

Solstheim also seems somewhat bigger than previous expansions; larger than the weird shadow realm of Dawnguard.

It’s a completely different map, accessed by boat from Windhelm – the boat is even consistent insofar as the dead stray dog I left on it months ago in Windhelm is still on it in Solstheim.

I’ve only given it a few hours so far, I’ve wandered the coast, completed a couple of quests and fought lots of Ash Spawn but there does seem quite a lot to explore with the promise of ruins, wrecks and forts on the horizon.

With new crafting options, alchemy reagents, ores, creatures and – allegedly – shouts, this certainly feels like a true “Expansion”.  I’m not sure I hold stock in many of the tales of “rumoured new features” that have been bandying around.  I’m yet to fly a dragon and I am still unable to cast spells or shout shouts from horseback.

I can well believe the rumoured 30 hours play time however!

In summary, I’d recommend it but a part of me wishes I’d waited until there was a “Gold members deal” that let me buy it for 1200 msp instead of 1600.

Now if only I could stop Skyrim from crashing at random like Morrowind started to do to me… it’s been doing that for months now.

Internet Explorer on XBOX 360

image

In a flash of novelty (see what I did there? Allegedly,IE does not support flash on the XBOX; I am yet to test that) I thought I would have a quick run through Internet Exporer onmy trusty 360.

Despite the 20 minutes it took to upgrade the xbox dashboard, I am so far quite pleased with it.

There are stil a few things I want to takeallook at but the only problems i have had are down to my ropey keypad with its dodgy buttons and 1 in 4 chance of printing an a or a space.

It’s also quite tricky to read the screen on my plasma screen BUT them’s rich worlld problems.

Apart from the image above, which I uploaded from my phone, this post is entirely written and edited from my xbox.

Enforcing “Decency” in Gaming

Bullies

Bullying is Wrong!

Now it’s not something that troubles me deeply but thanks to ShortyMonster for bringing the interesting topic of immature misogyny and bullying in gaming, to my attention.

The article is certainly worth reading before bothering with my views on the matter anyway.

Don’t worry, my views will still be here when you’re done.

Continue reading

Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money

WARNING: May contain spoilers…

I downloaded the new DLC for Fallout: New Vegas last night.

Sadly, the DLC follows the tedious formula of:

  1. Character succumbs to sleeping gas (despite having Endurance of 10)
  2. Character’s friends do not succumb to sleeping gas, despite following him everywhere and carrying useful items like C4.
  3. Character wakes up without power armour or standard weapons or in fact ANY of his items (except PipBoy 3 million) dressed in some kind of eighties jumpsuit.
  4. Character is blackmailed by means of explosive collar (that a Repair, Science or Medicine skill of 100 is unable to remove) to help some old guy who appears only in electronic form (the last person like this that the character met is lying, dying hanging out of his life support tube cursing the character’s name).
  5. Character proceeds to run around a ludicrously laid out map with near impossible to avoid traps collecting replacement friends, of which only one can accompany the character at any one time.
  6. Character carries on because 800 Microsoft points were shelled out for the luxury and honestly, there is not really any other way to easily rise the 5 extra levels provided by the minor increase in level cap.

My first priority in any DLC like this is to recover my lost items.  Part of the pleasure in games like Fallout: New Vegas is tooling up for the job.  I’ve pretty much played through the whole game beginning to end, using a .45 Magnum – now the character has to use a Dad’s Army style knife-on-a-stick.

This time round I don’t think I’ll see my power armour and stimpack collection until I’ve completed the DLC; which, from last night’s game session, is going to be more tedious than fun.

In fact the best review of the DLC I have read so far came from my friend, Matt Strange, on facebook:

would like to define hell, hell is a place where if you don’t ignore fights to run blindly in a spastic manner through poisonous gas and bear traps to endeavour to find a tiny radio in a short period of time, your head explodes. This is also a review of the New Vegas downloadable content. Dog’s quite cool however.

We’ll see… maybe the game will pick up with more play time.

XBOX Kinect – First Impressions

Kinect? What’s that?

Xbox Kinect SensorI’ve had Microsoft’s new Kinect Sensor on pre-order from Amazon for months now.

For those who may not be aware of this “revolutionary” new gaming peripheral for their Xbox 360 games Console (and with all the hype centered around the release of CoD: Black Ops, you can be forgiven); the Kinect is a 3d video camera attachment that can map points on the player’s body, allowing controller-less playing of Kinect enabled games.

In layman’ terms, it turns your XBOX360 into a kind of next-generation Wii, without the fiddly nunchaku and better graphics.

Of course, it does more than this; Its built in microphone is designed to allow voice control of the XBOX console as well as in game chat.  XBOX Live Gold members can even use video chat to communicate with their Kinect using friends.

Why get one?

Kinect - Fresh From AmazonI’ve been looking to get a Nintendo Wii Console for some years now; I’m vastly overweight for my height and age, I’ve always hoped that this kind of active gaming would help me lose weight (in combination with going to the gym and a healthy diet of course).

My problem with getting a Wii is that I enjoy the games that are available for the latest generation of games consoles; actually I enjoy playing games on my XBOX, forget other consoles. I was gifted an XBOX 360, many years ago, by a close a friend and have an extensive library of games for that platform. By acquiring a Wii I would be opening myself up to a new market of games, most of which don’t seem to have changed since the days of Nintendo’s GameCube.

I actually intend sticking to the standard fare when it comes to gaming. The sensor comes bundled with Kinect Adventures, which isn’t normally my cup of tea. The only other Kinect game of interest to me is Your Shape: Fitness Evolved from Electronic Arts. Depending on my success with that title, I may branch out next year into EA Sports Active 2.

My promise to myself is that I play at least an hour a night on Your Shape. After an hour on Your Shape I can then choose to continue with any other gaming activity, Kinect based or otherwise.

Better still, the Kinect games I do have can be played with my Partner; although she is greatly looking forward to playing Dance Central, which is more than I can say for the game.

What’s in the Box?

Kinect - Inside the BoxMy own Kinect arrived yesterday whilst I was in my weekly management meeting.  Its arrival heralded with a distinct lack of pomp and ceremony, when compared to the hullabaloo that Microsoft have drummed up over the past few months.

Once out of the meeting, my colleagues and I carefully opened the packaging.  A faint part of me thinking that, if the thing doesn’t work or proves itself to be a bag of bobbins, I can get it straight up on eBay and make my money back.

In the box (and out of it), the device looks splendid; all shiny black plastic like my TV.  The packaging was fairly unique but easy to disassemble without damaging it.  Satisfied that everything was there I packed it all away and put it on one side until I returned home.

Is it easy to Install?

Kinect Postcard 1Now I’ve been expecting the Kinect for a while now. I’ve checked everything that Microsoft have told me to check. I have clear space for around 8 square feet around my TV and the lighting is now good (I have a very dark living room). With that in mind, setting the Kinect up was relatively easy.

I had hoped to mount the sensor on top of my TV, however the sensor does not come packaged with any means to do this. You can buy an official 3rd party mount from Play.com for around £29.99. I just settled for placing it on the TV stand.

The sensor comes with a generous length of USB cable and a power adapter for those of us who don’t have the new slim XBOX360. So placing it a distance from your console is not going to be an issue.

The continuing setup was just a matter of booting up and inserting the Kinect Adventures disk, to update the console with the relevant Kinect drivers; I’m sure this will be appreciated by users who have no desire to connect their console to the Internet to download the relevant updates.

A quick wizard and the Kinect has confirmed my “play space” and allegedly remembered my identity. By the end of the night I discovered this to be false but more on that later. My play space was confirmed to be ideal for single player gameplay and I was warned that I may need to move back a couple of feet for two player high jinx.

What is it Like to Play?

Postcard 2I decided to save the Your Shape game for another day and started straight into Kinect Adventures. All in all it was an amusing game, I was happily corralled into the single player “play space” and had a few photos taken through the game. As soon as the game finished I checked out the photos that had been taken and tried to upload them. Uploaded pictures and videos are sent to www.kinectshare.com, where they are retained for 14 days.

The upload process isn’t as intuitive as I had hoped, I’ll admit to being a bit slow on the uptake with Kinect’s use; in my defence, the brief guide that comes with it isn’t all that informative.

To upload the pictures I had to hover my hand over the upload button and then select the images to upload by hovering my hand over them. The intuitive (to me at least) way of doing this is to select the image you want to upload and then hover over upload – silly me.

I’ve played two of Kinect Adventure’s game styles so far.  Some kind of Raft thing and a sort of violent volleyball where you smash boxes with volleyballs; the latter is quite addictive, once you’re used to it.

What about the Speech Recognition?

Postcard 3I found it difficult to get out of Kinect Adventures and back to the dashboard.  This is where the Kinect’s speech recognition comes in handy.  With a quick:

XBOX! Dashboard

I am taken back to the XBOX dashboard, although I now have to switch my controller back on to navigate the dashboard.  I do find it a little annoying that the Kinect only controls the Kinect Hub part of the dashboard and not the standard dashboard.

I don’t particularly like the Kinect Hub either.  Everything is all blocky and big.  I like the smooth layout of the standard XBOX dashboard.  I can understand why it has to be blocky but it isn’t aesthetically pleasing.

I took the opportunity to try Last.fm using the Kinect as a controller, having heard that it is now Kinect compatible.  After a short update (and entering my login details again) I found the Last.fm interface greatly improved, if not a little cut down, with it’s own Kinect integration.  I also discovered that I could use German commands – although this may just be my voice.

XBOX! Zuruck!

Had the same effect as:

XBOX! Back!

Of course, when I tried to demonstrate this to my partner, it wouldn’t repeat so maybe I imagined it.

By and large though, the combination of motion and voice to control the interfaces is a really good experience.

Video Kinect; How Cool is That?

Postcard 4Finally I decided to chat with my partner via Video Kinect.  Video Kinect allows me to chat with other Kinect users or people logged into MSN Messenger just like I’m using a web cam.  Even better, the Kinect will track me as I move around, zoom in when I’m close and out when I sit down (on the settee I had to move back to play games on the Kinect in the first place).

It was a bit of a flop.  The image was both grainy and jerky, just like you’d expect video chat to be; disappointingly so, when compared to the adverts I’ve seen for Kinect.  It also seemed to struggle with the feed from my partner’s net-book (her Brother’s actually but that’s not important right now).  The net-book didn’t fare much better with displaying the feed from the Kinect.  This could be down to my home network though, we’re both connecting via wireless to our meager 20mb Virgin Media broadband.

A quick look through my friend list and I can only see one friend who has a Kinect, I may get more over time (sounds like I’m some kind of loner) so it’s probably not a feature I’m going to use regularly.

Overall, I am still a little nonplussed by the Kinect.  I love the technology, I’m just a little underwhelmed with what has been done with it so far.  That being said, I know that there will be ongoing developments from Microsoft and games companies; I am pleased to have picked the Kinect up early on, if only to show support for a great piece of technology.

I’m looking forward to trying “Your Shape” out over the weekend and there are some great titles planned for Kinect, namely the Star Wars Kinect game coming out next year.

What Games Are Available Now?

PostcardThere are quite a few games on release, not especially diverse but at least there is some variety in the selection:

Kinect Sports: This appears to be a Wii Sports style game.

Kinectimals: Fondle your own pseudo-tiger; I’m not sure how the price on this is justified but kids will probably love it.

Kinect Joy Ride: Like Mario Kart, without Mario… or Karts. It looks like a fun game but I’m pretty sure I’d get bored of it quickly.

Motion Sports: Yet another sports game.

Sonic Free Riders: Sonic! Without controllers! Wowsers! Actually, this looks like Mario Kart, without Mario or Karts but with Sonic characters and hover boards… mmm! Hover boards.

Halo: Reach – Matchmaking

ArmaitusThe other day I wrote about the latest and last release from Microsoft and Bungie in the Halo franchise, Halo: Reach.

When I wrote that, I had played 50% of the single player Campaign and had spent a couple of hours matchmaking.

Since then I have reached something of an impasse with the Campaign – too many Brutes with Gravity Hammers and not enough Plasma Grenades for my play style.  So to improve my skills to deal with this, I’ve pretty much dedicated my time to matchmaking in the Rumble Pit.

The rumble pit is an open playlist allowing for all kinds of casual online fragging of random strangers.

There are a number of playlists in Reach, divided into Invasion (Team based Spartans vs Elite), Arena (Ranked matches) and Competitive (Non-ranked matches).

Rumble Pit is one of the competitive playlists, encompassing a whole range of lone wolf game types. I’ve already written about the replay value brought about by Halo: Reach’s Commendation and Credits system but neither compare to the variety of play styles that abound in matchmaking.

When entering the matchmaking lobby, you are matched with players who have similar preferences and a similar skill set to yourself. When sufficient players are found you are offered a choice of three game types to vote for, the majority vote wins. If the vote is tied, the first in the list wins.

Screen Shot

Not the face! Not the face!

The game types available in Rumble Pit are:

  • Slayer (Including: Slayer Pro, Slayer DMRs, Classic Slayer, Elite Slayer)
    The Slayer types represent the staple of online death-matching, log in and frag fellow fools until one of you scores 25 kills or the timer runs out.Reach’s basic Slayer comes complete with a selection of loadouts for players to get to grips with, each coming with a different mix of weapons and armour abilities. I tend to favour the stealth loadout with its Active Cammo – weapons are irrelevant as there are plenty to pick up.  Slayer Pro seems to lock down to 2 similar loadouts, my favourite having a Needle Rifle and Plasma Grenades – honestly there is nothing more satisfying than sticking a plasma grenade to somebody’s face as they try to gun you down.

    Slayer DMRs removes the HUD’s motion tracker and equips everybody with DMRs and the Sprint armour ability.

    Classic Slayer is the plain old-school Slayer, with no loadouts.

    My overall favourite from the Slayer category has to be Elite Slayer, everyone plays as Elites with Elite loadouts – and more importantly, Plasma Grenades from the start.

    My Profile Bar

  • Headhunter (Including: Headhunter Pro)
    I’ve only played Headhunter once, it was hectic and doesn’t seem to be voted for much in the lobby.  The idea is that every kill results in a skull being dropped; players collect these skulls (up to 10 at a time I think) and deliver them to a goal area that constantly relocates around the map.  The winner is the first to a set number of skulls – I scored 5.  I think Headhunter Pro is the same but skulls are only dropped from headshots.
  • Oddball
    By far my favourite game type, sadly unpopular in the lobbies of late. The aim of Oddball is to grab the one skull that exists on the map and keep hold of it for a set amount of time. Whilst holding the skull you can’t use your armour abilities or weapons but you can beat people down with melee attacks from the skull.  I can’t express enough how much I love Oddball
  • Infection (Including: Safe Havens)
    What a waste of bytes.  I despise Infection and it’s even lamer clone, Safe Havens. Infection pits three “Zombies” against the rest of the players.  Every player killed spawns as a zombie, thus increasing the number of zombies.   When zombies are killed they just respawn, so I fail to see how the spartans can ever “win”.  Infection is ridiculously popular in lobbies, I’ve seen players quit just because the majority vote has been for Infection; a shame, what’s the point in democracy if we don’t all agree to abide by it… but there you go.I’ve played games where I am the last man standing and I’ve just hidden in a hard to reach place… yawn-tastic.Safe Havens is exactly the same, except it has an area of the map within which non-zombies are safe from harm. This area relocates around the map; all it really does is delay the inevitable zombie victory.
  • Race (Including Rally)
    Another type I’ve not played yet. Nor am I encouraged to. Race does what it says on the tin. All players have a vehicle and race from checkpoint to checkpoint. I think the Rally variant randomly moves the checkpoints, whilst the basic Race is along a linear set of checkpoints.
  • The maps are also wonderfully laid out. I only wish Bungie would implement a means of specifying favourite game types, to weight the matchmaking process towards people with a taste for certain games types.

    Halo: Reach

    Halo: ReachEarlier this year I took part in the Beta for the latest addition to the Halo franchise, Halo: Reach.

    I wasn’t the only one. Anybody who had bought Halo 3: ODST was invited to take part in the beta, which showcased some of the ideas that Bungie were working on for multiplayer in Halo: Reach.

    The beta was good; so good that I pre-ordered Reach on Amazon, who rewarded me by delivering a whole day early! Granted, this is likely to be Royal Mail delivering ahead of expectation but I was still glad to receive my copy Monday morning.

    The early delivery was a double edged sword. I enjoyed playing through 50% of the single player campaign whilst some fans were freezing their Bradfords off in the midnight queues for Game; I did receive an in game message thanking me for playing pre-release and alerting me to certain features being disabled until release.

    The things disabled pre-release were mainly to do with online play and the accrual of Commendations and Credits.

    Commendations are a multi-tier medal system, where players are rewarded for certain actions during play. These are divided into the three core gameplay modes: Campaign, Matchmaking and Firefight.

    Credits appear to be a kind of reward currency that can be spent on customizations to your Spartan armour. Some customizations can be unlocked by redeeming Marketplace codes or meeting set criteria in Halo: Waypoint.

    Your credit accrual also boosts your progression through ranks; the path from Sergeant to Sergeant First Class seems rather arduous at the moment.

    I have always preferred single player modes to online multiplayer and so always try to complete the main campaign before venturing online; in this case I may have made a mistake.

    Even on the normal difficulty setting, the Campaign is slow to start and tough. Persistence is the key to satisfaction. Taking out two Hunters with a DMR, whilst my AI colleague ran interference was a highlight yesterday evening.

    UNSC SabreAnother great addition is the inclusion of space combat. Having just completed Dark Star One (Xbox 360) I was pleased to get behind the controls of a UNSC Sabre and blow covenant craft to pieces.

    By far the best part of Reach is the matchmaking. I haven’t enjoyed myself this much online since matchmaking in Halo 3.

    The “psych” settings allow you to specify your game style and lobby preferences and the majority of game modes are intuitive and easy to master. I especially enjoy the “pro” modes that disable your motion tracker. I also enjoy sticking people with plasma grenades, always guaranteed to raise a smile.

    The only disappointments came with the server lag and the “Infection” modes, which are fairly yawn-worthy. Despite this they appear to be popular, often winning votes in the lobby; unfortunately this leads players like me to spend the next few rounds of matchmaking hiding from zombies in a corner and occasionally shotgunning them in the face.  The server lag was probably just down to it being release day; every man and his dog logging in to stick fools with plasma grenades.

    One final item of note is the issuing of daily and weekly challenges.  Without knowing it, I completed a couple of these last night.  The challenges are along similar lines to some of the commendations, with a view to encouraging game play.  I even managed to unlock some helmets for my Avatar, which is nice.

    All in all, I was concerned over the longevity of the game, as the single player campaign appears to be a little short.  Bungie have countered this with the inclusion of several forms of reward system to encourage replay and variety in players individual gaming activity.