Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Chinese New Year


This last week was Chinese New Year in Taiwan, so that meant no school, so no classes for me to teach.  I'm not really interested in travel right now, as I've only recently hit a point where I don't owe money to anyone, so I'm not in a hurry to blow my money on train tickets and hotels on the busiest travelling days in this part of Asia.  So, what did I do?

MUSCLES! (I worked out for 2-3 hours every single day)
Also, video games.

Writing this on Sunday night, the last day before I go back to work tomorrow, my spoils of Chinese New Year are thus:
Zelda: Skyward Sword - 100% Completion!
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - Finished on Very Easy (Just wanted to experience the story...)
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - Finished on Normal
L.A. Noire - Started, currently playing

Of these games, I think I was probably looking forward to Uncharted 3 the most, yet it is the one which left the smallest impression upon me.  Maybe after Uncharted 2 being one of the greatest gaming experiences I've ever had, anything short of that in the third one fails to sink in.  There was nothing in it as amazing and exciting as the opening scene from Uncharted 2, nor any level as memorable or exhilarating as the moving train sequence, either.

I really enjoyed Skyward Sword, for many reasons I can get into later (a full review is most likely forthcoming), but strangely Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was the game that captivated me the most.  On reflection, I agree with a lot of the points that Michael Abbot mentioned in his thoughts on the game ( but I don't share his overall opinion.

In Enslaved: Odyssey to the West you play as man named Monkey who has recently been captured by a slavers' airship in the future, and after making his escape he is forced into slavery again by a fellow escapee who wants him to help her escort her back home.  The setting appears to be hundreds of years or so into the future, after a war has left the world in ruins, but with a brilliant twist that makes this game much more appealing a world than any Fallout game, or similar game set in an apocalypse.  You play in a variety of locations (most notably post-apocalypse New York City) which, devoid of a populace, have been reclaimed by nature in every nook and cranny.  There is a special kind of feeling of running and jumping through abandoned, crumbling architecture while surrounded on every sides by colorful greenery and nature.

The main antagonists that monkey will face are a variety of combat droids, and unlike other games with close-quarters melee combat, the camera sits just as close to Monkey as it does during the exploration, instead of taking an overhead view of the action.  This aspect of the game, which can allow for your enemies to fit in cheap hits on your back has been justifiably noted as an annoyance that takes away most people's enjoyment of the game, and I must admit that at first I too found it odd.  However, there is a counter for this: though this is a limiting factor in the fights, it also added for me a greater degree of excitement and investment in the battles.  As Monkey pounded away at the enemies in front of him, in my heart I was pleading with my adversary, "Blow up now! Blow up now!  They're right behind me!"  After a successful and stressful fight, the camera often shows your final hit breaking through the enemy as it crumbles into pieces, with a close-up on Monkey's strained and enraged face.

Due in part to my own involvement from the camera being right up in the action, as well as the brutal nature of Monkey's fighting style, I found myself getting more into each of the fights in this game than any game in a long time. Right now I wonder, what would it be like to see Kratos this close, to watch him really putting every bit of himself into the fight just the way Monkey does...  It's a nice thought for me.

My last thought on the game I talked about in my Twitter.

"Playing Enslaved is like playing God of War without a protagonist who is unchallenged."  I don't care how many swords Kratos digs out of his chest, or how many times he has to climb out of Hades after dying again and again.  Nothing in any of those games has made me feel as triumphant as frantically busting up the mechs in Enslaved.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012


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Check me out at!/GamesBrained


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Skyrim - My beef!

Last week, I finished The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on my PS3.  I had to wait until Christmas to receive it, as I didn't want to go through the expensive process of shipping the game all the way to Taiwan.  For clarity, when I say I 'finished' Skyrim, it means I finished the main quest, and all of the quests in the big four factions (Companions, Mage's College, Thieves Guild, and Dark Brotherhood).

There are really some incomparable moments in Skyrim.  It is truly a remarkable game, but in many ways I think I favor The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Not in terms of combat or graphics or sound design... in these categories, Skyrim trumps Oblivion in every way.  However, today I want to go into detail about something that had the potential to ruin the game for me.

Okay, so here it is.  Level progression in Skyrim is terribly rigid, and borderline broken for any but the most generic path characters.  Sometimes people like to slag off the Elder Scrolls series because they have scale-able enemies.  This means that as your character levels up, higher level enemies befitting of your character's level start to appear, and the weaker ones disappear.  Enemies that always appear regardless of level, such as rats or bandits, will power up as well in order to match you.

In Oblivion, this was handled very well, because you had standard stats (Strength, Magic, Agility, etc... the RPG staples).  This meant that if you had leveled your character up so much that you had 100 strength, you might conceivably begin to power up your agility or speed with your excess points.  If you had a perfect warrior, you could then easily redirect them to becoming a perfect rogue.  The skill system supported this.  At every 25 levels (if I'm remembering right), you would be given a bonus skill that naturally benefited your character, my favorite of which would be armor class abilities, which meant if you had spent time to level your Heavy Armor skill, you would soon be given the natural perk of having Heavy Armor weigh nothing on you - an amazing thing.

However, Skyrim does away with character statistics, and you only have your skill level per skill.  Your damage done with a one handed weapon is entirely dependent on your One Handed Weapons skill level, and 'Strength' has nothing to do with it.  When I first saw this change in Skyrim, I must say I really liked it.  It cuts one unnecessary aspect from most RPG games, and had me second-guessing why they were in there in the first place.  However, what Skyrim adds is a perk-system into each skill.  As you gain a level, you are given one perk point to put into a skill, giving you some special abilities akin to the leveling perks gained in Oblivion.  However, there is far too much depth in this system, in a way that actually hurts the player.

I decided, as I do in Elder Scrolls games, to play a jack-of-all-trades type character.  In a game where I can invest as many as 120 hours into a single save game, why would I want to split my time into three different characters, most of whom would have to do the same quests, have the same loot, making the differences in them irrelevant.  As you level your character down a particular path in Skyrim, you are pretty much forced to sticking to one combat path: Melee/Bows, Magic, and Stealth.  If you begin to level outside of your one chosen path, the enemies you start to face can become impossible.  This came to a head on my first magic/melee based character, when I found myself in an impossible battle with a snow cat that could one-shot kill me in my full plate armor.  Keep in mind I was playing on normal difficulty, and was not going to compromise and go down to easy for this one fight.

More aware of this system, I decided to restart my character, and went a full melee combat path for the first 30 levels or so.  For this time, things were good.  My character could wade in, exploit enemies power moves for a chance to bash them with my shield followed by a brutal execution animation.  As I reached the top level in my Heavy Armor, One Handed Weapon, Block, and Armorer skills, I really felt like the true dragon born, and unstoppable force decked out in my hand-made dragon bone armor.  But, I hit the cap of these skills and decided to save some of my perks for the magic and stealth careers.  However, in all, there are about 150 - 200 perks (in estimate, some single skills can have as many as 15-20 perk points in order to master).  In the entire lifetime of a character, you may receive about 80 points, or 50 for a normal player who wants to finish everything without getting too obsessive; a player like myself, for example.  But, given the limited range you can customize this character, I found that it would be impossible to ever reach any kind of worthy skill in any of the other combat trees.  So, in a game where you are pushed to create your character in any way you choose, why is this system so restrictive?  If you want to experience the true life of a warrior, mage, or a thief in Skyrim, you had better have a whole lot of time on your hands, and a tolerance for repeated material bordering on the obsessive.

Learn from my mistakes, dear readers.  Don't be deceived!  Play Skyrim like WoW, not Oblivion.  Otherwise you'll get double Elder Dragons laughing at the puny fireballs and electric blasts coming from your level 50 character, while you wish you hadn't left your god damned enchanted demonic armor in the closet at home.



Welcome back to Games Brained!  My name is Shane, and this is my life.  I am an English teacher living in Tainan City, Taiwan.  I have always had an avid interest in video games, though I loathe to call myself a 'hardcore' gamer.  In this re-introduction of Games Brained, I have decided to make an effort to not go things alone.  I, like many other bloggers and followers of video games want to make an impact in the community, and create an outlet to discuss my ideas and observations alongside others.

I hope you can enjoy reading my posts, I will be attempting to write something per week, be it review or minor observation, funny story, etc.  I don't want to focus only on video games and nothing else (a mistake I made last time), so let's just subtitle this blog: Life, love, adventure... and video games.