Losing Sleep with Elder Scrolls Skyrim

Confession. The reason I haven’t updated sooner can be encapsulated in one word: Skyrim. (OK, to be extra clear: Bethesda’s latest fantasy role-playing epic, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim on PC, Mac, and consoles.)

Yes, I had heard the strident clarion call echoing across the hilltops from virtually every gaming media outlet and advance gamers review, a familiar but dread-inspiring warning that “Betheseda’s latest game will have you up into the wee hours of the night.”
And they were all right, I did stay up until the wee hours, as if I were a collegiate again, cramming for finals, or a missionary nearing a cure for world starvation. Except instead I was gathering Tundra Cotton from under rocks and outcroppings across the virtual landscape of Skyrim. Oh, and killing lots of dragons.
(But that’s getting ahead of myself… back to the cotton.)

Elder Scrolls’ Skyrim has a way of making even the most mundane tasks enticing and exciting. For example, finding the ingredients, discovering their use, and successfully creating your first health potion is a truly fun and satisfying accomplishment. A lot of role-playing games can make these sorts of in-game tasks clunky and painstaking, but Skyrim does a great job of simplifying the more complex game mechanics so they don’t impact game flow or interrupt the role-playing experience.

And role-playing is what Elder Scrolls prides itself in. From the moment you start you are making choices about your character and who they will be, as when you design your characters looks, sex, and backstory, and also determining their psychology, when faced with in-game moral dilemmas and forking objectives. You may be playing the most stalwart upstanding citizen, and then mid-quest be faced with choosing whether to sacrificing one of your companions to an evil god for an advantageous weapon as a reward. Thank god for multiple save games.

(Not everyone will geek out on this like I did, but I’m the type who would read ahead in “Choose your own adventure” before making a decision on which page to turn to. Maybe that’s part of why I haven’t finished Skyrim yet, even after sinking the better part of an entire month into it.)

Famed game studio Bethesda has created a visual work of art that pushes the boundaries for beautifully rendered virtual worlds industry-wide. Even on a widescreen TV the graphics were crisp and clear, and most playable areas of the game could be packaged and appreciated purely as screensavers in their own right. There’s an abundance of lakes, streams, and waterfalls, and the water all looks really cool, one area that’s always an indicator of the graphics and level of detail in any game. Movement is fluid and smooth, even when many characters are on screen, although that can change if several of them are magic casters that produce large animations in battle. Still, it doesn’t take you out of the game in a distracting or overly negative way.

This article would be remiss to mention that one of the coolest and most fun parts of Skyrim are the dragon fights. Massive knock down drag out battles that cover huge amounts of territory, and never fail to be unique and varied every time.

If I had to point out anything bad about the game, it would have to be the flipside of what works best for the game: the time investment factor. One night I literally spent over two hours in the same village just talking to NPC’s and making armor for my character. It can feel like you are not progressing on your quests even when logging serious hours, so those with busy schedules might think twice before beginning the journey. At higher levels, you can literally get lost in the details, customizing each weapon and piece of armor for the task at hand, only to be faced with a problem using a different skill set right afterwards. On the bright side, the player can alter the difficulty settings for the game at any point, even in mid-battle, so one can easily skip over the more painstaking aspects if they prefer.

In summary, Skyrim is beautiful and fun – the type of fun that you choose over getting a good night’s sleep. Although it’s only been out for a little while still, Elder Scrolls Skyrim is an instant classic.

Portal 2 Review: The Shortest Distance is Never a Straight Line

Portal 2

Portal 2 on the XBOX 360 has been out for several months now, but lest anyone miss this most wondrous gem, I thought it only right to bump it up a little before it fades into “former-hot-game-purgatory”, aka, the used section at GameStop’s across the country.

If you missed the first Portal, which many know from The Orange Box game collection that Microsoft released in 2007, it’s definitely worth picking up and checking out. (In fact, The Orange Box collection, which also includes Half Life 2 episodes I & II and Team Fortress 2, is still one of the best deals around in terms of game quality and extended play time in relation to cash spent.) Portal 2 exponentially expands and improves upon the core concept, which revolves around using portals to reach various areas and achieve set goals and challenges along the way.

Portal 2 looks like a first person shooter, but instead of shooting bullets, you fire portals that affix to walls and allow transport through carefully constructed rooms and corridors. You can fire two types of portals, orange and blue, and once placed, entering the orange portal will have you exiting the blue portal, and vice versa. Many levels are simply about moving about from point A to point B, however in Portal 2, the shortest distance is never a straight line, and you’ll rarely find yourself traveling in the traditional way. Standing in between you and your end goal are electrical walls, acidic pools, and robotic artillery, and that’s just in the first half of the game.

In the second half, things take a twist and without ruining anything, the game further challenges the player’s expectations as the setting changes from the standard puzzle format of completing levels to simply escaping the underground world the game takes place in. It’s a deceptively

Upon retrospect, I have to hand it to the game designers and concept artists because it never feels as if you are navigating through an obstacle course, and instead the game genuinely evokes a futuristic world that’s both sinister and disturbingly sterile, an illusion that’s all too fun to escape into for just minutes or hours at a time.

Both simple and complex all at once, Portal 2 is a challenge unlike any other game, for it toys with our spatial norms and accepted physics in an altogether breakthrough way. Thanks to the generous and stunningly creative designers and developers at Valve, we can all enjoy this virtual world made possible only through the science of a computer processor. In this case, cool graphics and a fascinating concept make for a mind bending-ly good challenge and a triumph in modern game design.