The Elder Scrolls Online: MMO for the masses?

ESO: A fan’s dream come true?

Despite being an avid fan of anything Bethesda, I have to admit I was filled with a moderate amount of apprehension when I first heard the news; The Elder Scrolls was being made into an MMO. My initial concerns were mainly around the level of content that the game may have; traditionally, Bethesda have done an amazing job at including as much back-story in the Elder Scrolls series as they could manage. In Skyrim for example, you can barely explore a room without coming across a book to read about Tamriel’s past. It would certainly be interesting to see if Zenimax could stay true to the rest of the series.

So with this in mind, I set out to sign of for the Beta testing that was being offered. What better way was there to decide if the game would live up to it’s former cousins? Some time passed, eventually I found an email – Beta test application successful; I was in. The next test was not due for a week or so and I can honestly say that time moved very slowly. I should also note that the install time was around 3 days (with a standard broadband connection. You lucky fibre optic users will have much less of an issue with download time!). After that painful hurdle I was finally loading up. And then it hit me. Would the character creation process be as in-depth as it has always been?

The more tan, the better.

The more tan, the better.

Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. There is just as much customisation as I had seen in the likes of Skyrim and Oblivion, probably even more so (it’s been a while since I started a new character on either). Height, weight and all of the usual parameters were present, but I can’t begin to explain just how much customising is available to you as a player. As drastic or as minutely as you like, everything can be altered, from nose size shape and position to skin complexion, scars and even the positioning of your eyes. In a nutshell, if you wanted to (and had plenty of time) you could easily create a replica of yourself in-game. On top of that you must decide which faction you are going to play as; The Aldmeri Dominion, The Ebonhart Pact and The Daggerfall Covenant. Without giving too much away, depending on which faction you choose will determine which race you will able to make your character.

Now, I was a little strapped for time as my installation of the game ran over into the test weekend (grr), so I made a quick Nord (which incidentally made me a member of the Ebonhart Pact) and jumped into game. Just so you know, it doesn’t matter which race or faction you are at this point; every player will start their adventure, as history would dictate, as a prisoner of unknown origin. ESO begins with the player in a place called Coldharbour, the realm of the daedric prince of domination, Molag Bal. After this short introduction to the controls and basic storyline, each different faction has it’s own “starter area” for what could be seen as the advanced tutorial. After that, you’re free to go wherever you please, and do whatever you want.

And that’s no exaggeration. For example, right from the start you can use any weapon type in the game, or you can use magic, or both, or even your good old fists (although I wouldn’t recommend it). You’ll start at level one in everything, obviously, but you could be using a bow for the first couple hours of playing, decide you don’t like it and switch to a battleaxe if you want. It’s the most relaxed MMO that I’ve played in terms of what you are and aren’t allowed to do with your character. I should mention this includes armour; you can be a heavy armour wearing mage, or a light armour wearing tank (again, probably not recommended unless you like a quick death).

I won’t go into too much detail about the game itself, as I’m not entirely certain if there is still a content embargo until the game’s release, but in short; If you are a fan of The Elder Scrolls, chances are you will really enjoy yourself and be proud of Bethesda and Zenimax for sticking to their ideals.

An experience day at Ham Hill

I’ve been to the Ham Hill Experience day a couple of times now. My last visit was memorable – lots to do and see like blacksmiths, pottery makers, hog roasts, Roman soldier displays and much much more. You can imagine my excitement, then, to hear that the event was going to be on again this year. Naturally I attended, but what I found actually left a lot to be desired.

Centurions receive their orders.

Centurions receive their orders.

Although there was the usual Roman marches, Viking battles and various activities like mud hut building and fire-making with the scouts, I was disappointed to see that the usual bustling tables and stalls were largely empty, the majority of the visitors focusing on the centre arena. While this may sound like a good thing, I should note that the arena had been set up with a modest amount of space; the organisers clearly expected a much larger turnout than what there was.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t an enjoyable day, however. The majority of stalls were actually really interesting, welcoming and well set up. The only let down were stony faces from some of the stall owners: The Owl Rescue and Petting Zoo stalls to name a few. I shouldn’t have been surprised as they do say people who hate people work with animals…but you would think that an event that is supposed to appeal to kids and families would house people that want to show enthusiasm for their hobbies, not complacency irritation at having to answer questions from children.

A Viking tribe prepares for battle.

A Viking tribe prepares for battle.

To contrast this, the Viking warriors put on an amazing show, despite only having around 6 “fighters”. They had lots of energy and were very entertaining for child and adult alike. Even the downpour that arrived halfway through their display couldn’t dampen their spirits, very much like their Nordic brothers of old. If only the rest of the envoy had this kind of mentality, the day would perhaps have gone a little better. Also, I should make it clear that last time I was at this event, I tried water buffalo burgers for the first time (they were phenomenal by the way) and yet there were none this time around. Even the signature Hog Roast was not present, in it’s place a ‘traditional medieval’ pizza stand.

I have heard on the grapevine that the event is actually struggling and may not even be on next year, which would be a great shame as it is clear a lot of effort is being made to keep the event running. Donations were being taken on the day to help support the event, but I can’t help feel that a select few are going to let the rest of the team down purely by being seemingly non-committal. Personally, I found the location of the event very strange; instead of having it in the usual spot of just below the war monument, it had been moved to the outskirts of Ham Hill, much to everyone’s confusion (including my own – finding it by road was almost impossible). I can’t help feel that this change of setting took away the event’s initial appeal – bringing Ham Hill and our local area’s history to life for all ages to enjoy.

Waking Up In Fallout: New Vegas

I’ve never been abroad. For all I know, England is the only inhabited place on the whole of earth. I’m sure this is the case for a lot of people, all over the world, and the only way we are fairly sure of the existence of other countries is through the media. We learn of world events through the news, and we learn about other countries’ histories via the documentation of others. It should come as no surprise then, that my view of the wide world may be a little different from reality. But is this such a bad thing? Surely the only repercussions would be that I felt slight disappointment that Rome was actually not built for assassins to climb all over, or we aren’t really under attack from the Covenant with only a Spartan super-soldier to protect us. In fact, it’s really quite admirable that such a simple concept as a computer game, like Assassin’s Creed or Halo, can have such a significant impact on the mind. Fallout: New Vegas in particular paints a rather beautiful scenario of what you might (and i have to remind myself that it’s not real) find is a post-apocalyptic America, while still maintaining the key points of the country’s history. Obviously i may come across as a madman when i say i have to remember that it’s all fictional, but you would be surprised at how involved you become with the game and how connected you feel with New Vegas‘ inhabitants.

If you’ve had the pleasure of playing Fallout 3 (or even Oblivion for that matter), you’ll already be aware that Bethesda are partial to a helping of silliness. New Vegas’ injection of fun is presentented early on, almost instantly in fact, in the opening cutscene. What appears to be an idealistic Vegas is actually just a picture on the wall of a derelict casino. In Fallout’s traditional “pan backwards” camera style, a very different Vegas is presented; one that is seemingly under constant raider attack. Even further back we are shown a group of men digging a grave. The narrator then gives a short backstory in case you haven’t played Fallout 3. After the explanation of a typical multi-tribal war that is often present in today’s games, you are told that you are a courier, and you are dead.

Not the best start to a character’s fate, right? Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of future medicine (despite most of the world being torn apart by atomic war, there is still a seemingly advanced approach to medical care) you find yourself back on your feet in no time. For players of Fallout 3, you’ll be pleased to know that the “tutorial” is much shorter in New Vegas; you don’t have to watch your character grow up from birth! It’s just straight into the game. From there on out it’s pure adventure.

Perhaps the best aspect of New Vegas is that it’s so open-ended. Never before have you been given so much freedom in a game, right from the very start. Sure, you have to go through the five minute “tutorial” but that is such a small price to pay for what you can do after. The game gives you a little nudge to follow the main storyline, which is fine, but what if you want to live by your own rules, and do what you want? Well, that’s fine too, and easily done. You want to help the town fight off a gang called “The Powder Gangers”? Okay then. You want to help the Power Gangers ransack the town? go for it. You couldn’t care either way about the town or anyone? Off you go exploring.

A word of warning, however; if you don’t have hours and hours to spare, do not play this game. It has an addiction level akin to that of World of Warcraft, so a lot of time is consumed to get the most out of the gameplay. My verdict? Definitely worth it. Who needs a job, anyway?

The Lord Of The Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar

It’s mine..all…precious!

Yes, thats what exclaimed when I picked up The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (or LOTRO for short) from the store. I couldn’t believe there was now an MMORPG of Tolkien‘s fantastic fantasy world. We all know there have been attempts at other games based on Middle Earth, perhaps the most successful of these is The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth series. But personally, the games were just lacking in the true feel of Middle Earth. Until now.

Upon loading the game you find yourself posed with the ominious choice of which race to choose to become, either Man, Hobbit, Elf or Dwarf. I chose Man, based on the idea that since they are the first choice they are reasonably well rounded. The best part of the character creation is how you name your character. You can choose a name that relates to where your character is from (e.g. Gondor, Rohan) with each different area having different sounding names. The detail you can put into your characters face and body is high too. With that out of the way it’s time to enter Middle Earth.

I appear in a cell of sorts, with a ranger trying to get my attention. He is planning an escape. He tells me to wait until the guard has come into the cell. He then jumps the guard and delivers a killing blow. its thirty seconds in and im already wide eyed and hooked. The wonder of Tolkien’s world is alive around me; it almost brings a tear to my eye.

But no time to stop and admire the handywork of the metalsmith who created this prison. The ranger tells me to search for a weapon; I promtly find a rusty greatsword to defend myself with. By now i’m quivering with excitement at the thought of a battle, however I soon realise that the ranger intends to split up. So I head off through another cell door to be confronted by a guard! Luckily, my newly aquired weapon makes quick work of him. There are another four guards en route, at the end of which I meet a hobbit woman being held captive. I lunge at her captor and make short work of him. She thanks me and says we need to find her hobbit friend.

We backtrack only to find the ranger from earlier battling…a black rider! he succomes to a wound to his chest, but the hobbit woman is already setting fire to the surrounding to ward away the rider. He flees out of a gate and we are left in a smouldering mass of fire in the centre of which this poor ranger is dying. The hobbit woman suggest we take him to the nearest town.

In the first five minutes I have found that this game is worth the money and more. After this short instance you are thrown into a larger community in which you can interact with other characters. After a few levels in this larger area you are sent into the actual full world of Middle Earth, in which everyone is playing at once. From then on you can travel anywhere you like in the realm of Eriador, including the Shire, Rivendell and Thorin’s Halls. One of my favourite moments is at rivendell, where the fellowship are scattered about the city. If you approach Frodo you gain a sense of dread coming from him (the one ring!) whereas the other characters give you the gift of hope when you are near them.

To anyone who is thinking of bying this game, i sincerely reccomend it. If you’re a fan of games like Guild Wars and World of Warcraft, you will love this game.

What is so alluring about Online Gaming, anyway?

Competitive online gaming is increasing in popularity every day. It could be argued that it has now become the deciding factor when purchasing a game. I know i’ve been swayed by it before. Take Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for example. I had absolutely no interest in the campaign storyline and to this day have only utilised its multiplayer mode; mostly with my IRL friends. I asked myself what could be possibly be so enticing about it. Was it the sociability? or just the fact that competitive online play is exhilarating, entertaining and fun. Was there a perfect mix of the two?

It is human nature to crave greatness, and there are many ways to achieve this. Some race, some fight, some debate, and some play. Everyone will have experienced competitiveness at least once in their lives. Think back to that time. Did you win? Did you lose? Does it matter? even if you were upset about the loss, the experience was worth it. Very much the same can be said for online gaming.

Competitive gaming is a blend of traditional competitiveness and modern entertainment. It gives the chance for people to prove themselves to the world in a new way. And all you need is a game and something to play it on. Even the training, unlike a sport, is fun. Anything else, like boxing for example, would be a terrible bother to get practice in; rigorous exercise, constant working out. In practicing for a game, you are still enjoying yourself and learning how to compete all at the same time.

Competitive online gaming is addictive and just as entertaining as any other competitive sport. Best of all – anyone can do it. Well, almost anyone. But as with any sport, all it takes is practice. Sure, it doesn’t involve as much exercise as a regular competitive sport, and many have been known to become addicted to gaming, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed with a devil-may-care attitude. And besides, you get enough exercise walking to the store to pick up more games!

Giant Lan Party

Bloombusters: A Downloadable Game

Many downloadable games leave a lot to be desired. This is not the case with Irreverent‘s new release, BloomBusters. If you’re looking for a game that can either be played during a Coffee break or stretched over a long period of time, Bloombusters may just be the game for you.

Almost immediately upon loading, you will assume that the game is aimed at children and to an extent, you would be right. The storyline is that of a Crazy over-zealous villain that has turned “nature” into crazy over-zealous creatures. Can you see the pattern emerging here? Your goal is to do some gardening..and maybe stop these invading..things along the way.

In all seriousness, if you persevere with the game you will find that there is much more to it than meets the eye. The game is actually really in-depth with over twenty levels, and although lacking somewhat on integrity as far as the storyline goes, the game-play itself is surprisingly fun (not to mention refreshingly new). You get to defend plants while they grow and even feed pigs, all the while slapping greedy creatures that appear to eat your cabbages and wreck the garden. While that in itself sounds like a bad rewrite of a Monty Python sketch, this game is definitely a welcome break from the normality of reality, and the comical style embedded into it outweighs its negative aspects.

The audio is clear and crisp, unfortunately this is contrary to the graphics which are somewhat lacking. But this game certainly doesn’t need fancy images to make it playable; the lack of good graphics takes nothing away from the experience. One downside however is that it does eventually become rather repetitive, but not before you’ve had a really good go. Having said that, you may find yourself so immersed that the trial period of play just simply isn’t enough; You’ll have to pay to play the game in its entirety.

There is a choice of three difficulty settings; the classic Easy/Medium/Hard setup. As well as this, each level increases in difficulty as you play. You may find yourself switching from easy to medium fairly soon after you begin playing (once you understand the basics). That’s if you like a challenge of course.

BloomBusters is a great time waster if you actually have time to waste. It’s addictive, fun and hilarious to listen to. The choice between the two protagonists is a difficult one because both speak with comical voices that make the game just a tiny bit more enjoyable. It is an easy to understand game that is definitely worth a look at, just don’t expect the latest graphics phenomenon. All in all; a great relief from other, more serious games. Not to mention a fantastically stimulating break from the mundanity of real life!


A Short Guide To Surviving Snipers on Halo: Reach

Surviving Team Snipers on Halo: Reach requires a lot of patience, a moderate amount of skill and a spot of luck. There is one important motto to remember whilst playing; Whatever you’re planning as your next move, it is almost certain that the enemy will be thinking the exact same thing. Think of it as both a gift and a curse. After having played the Halo series since it’s first release on the original Xbox, here are my (near) professional tips for making sure you’re at the top of that leaderboard in every postgame.

The most common trap to fall into during gameplay is going for a high area with good visibility. Both teams will definitely be trying to achieve this, so you’ll find it’s sometimes a race to get there; you’re going to die a lot. It’s just the nature of sniper-play; a good vantage point does make sense, but you should keep your wits about you. Always try and find a place that is concealed but also has an escape route if the fighting gets too hectic.

Strafing is a very important tool for survival. Running head on at the enemy shooting wildly will only get you killed. Strafing left and right makes you substantially harder to hit. Be sure to mix up the way you strafe however, or the enemy will soon learn your movement patterns.

Always aim for the neck. This way you have a good chance of a head shot, but if you miss you will still have a good chance to hit the body, which is better than nothing. Also try and use only a single zoom unless you are really far away, as the first zoom on the scope is easier to handle and much more accurate than dry-scoping (shooting without using the scope).

Another good maneuver to try when you are running from an enemy is crouching. If timed right you can duck out of the way of a head shot. Surprisingly, this technique works better when facing more experienced players as they will be aiming for your head for that one shot kill when attacking.

Finally, try and run down the enemy’s ammunition by using strafing and crouching to your advantage. Let them empty a few rounds before retaliating. However, keep one bullet in your cartridge if you fail to kill with your first three shots, as you can use this last one to put off the enemy halfway through his next round of firing.

Remember practice really does make perfect, and if you’re not sure of a target, don’t shoot until you are!