Impressions on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Dovahkiin, Dovahkiin, naal ok zin los vahriin. You heard it. The opening to the song, as the anthem of a soaring game blared and while the drums beat in the background, you could feel your own power rising, almost as if you yourself could command the power of voice, that of the Dragonborn that could take over the world.

Skyrim is the game of a generation. The elder scrolls has been a lauded series before it, but Skyrim reached so many more, it became a household name in video games, it was that game that everybody played, that everybody got hooked on. “Oh I was up all night playing Skyrim”, it became that for months. A full two years after its release, and even a time after the final DLC had come out, I would still have the occasional friend come out and say “Yeah I went back to Skyrim, modded my horses into ponies. I played it all weekend.”

Skyrim let people do what they wanted, at their own pace, and anywhere you turned there were rich options to pursue. This is a game, much like Civilization V, where play time was measured in dozens of hours, more often than singles. From the opening sequence you got an introduction to what the game would offer, but you had no idea. Soon you would be going to magical ice universities and casting great spells, or joining the army (one of them) and honing your abilities with a bow.

Oh wait I joined the Thieves Guild, now the Dark Brotherhood, did you know you could go there? Oh my god there’s a city underground. Skyrim is a game of those moments, those awe-inspiring bits of time where you just can’t believe what is happening.

It’s a game of anecdotes. One person will fight off a dragon, then fall into a pit and discover a tomb…naturally full of Draugr. At the end of the tomb as they exit onto the side of a cliff, they realize that they have no idea where they are. Well a waterfall runs by them – might as well jump into it right? Oh wait, that unlocks another quest, one with a bard who wants me to get his instrument back. Where is it? Ah, of course, the other side of the damn continent.

Skyrim isn’t meant for short impressions articles, but one thing that really impressed me was the variety and depth in all the environments. One city would have it’s own architecture, climate, culture, racist tendencies, biases against me or magic maybe. It was everything a world should be – fleshed out, visceral, and real. 

I’m not saying it was perfect. Oh, you could laugh at the wooden facial animations, or the guard dialogue that repeated everywhere you went, or how you could jump on a rock to keep a bear from being able to kill you, but these are small problems in an exceptional experience, both in quality and in the breadth and size. It’s a game that I legitimately loved going back to, and it had enough quests that, even if 40% of them were repetitive, the others were unique, engaging, and took sixty full hours to complete. It was and remains a spectacle of content.

Back to an anecdote, since this is an impressions piece, I feel obliged. One of my favorite experiences of Skyrim was exploring the dwarven architecture and tunnels. The whirring machinery and the inventive robots were a delight, and the city they eventually led to in all its glory was certainly worth the trek and the annoying bothersome Falmer. Anyway, one time I was passing between what I thought were two Dwarven statues, continuing on down the path and looking at the next door I’ll go through. Then I hear clanking and a hissing noise, and turn around to find the two gigantic statues charging me, arms raised to knock me to the ground.

I died that time, I thought it was worth it.


This is the best game ever,




Impressions on Age of Empires II: HD Edition

Age of Empires is an old franchise. Very old, in fact the first Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings came out in 1999. Now that’s a damn old game, but it was so beloved and so great of a game, that it was “renewed” for an HD edition just recently, along with its sequel, Age of Mythology, and it begs the question- what is it that makes these games so good?

AoE represents everything an RTS player could want in a Medieval game. Distinct, interesting civilizations with unique units, traits, and weaknesses. Fantastic campaigns that follow historical figures, and even contain real factual information on the leaders like Saladin, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc, taking you through their paths as the Arabs, or the Mongols, or the French, as you play out real historical events in the form of the game.

In AoE you can build your own civilization up from scratch, harvesting resources like gold and wood to build up your walls, your castles, your armies, and then pit them against your opponent. There is a large amount of freedom in how you can tackle the different campaign missions, letting you take advantage of the sandbox that the game represents.

What is even more important, though, is that you can play with your friends. Some of the most fun I’ve had gaming is, by using the robust map editor that AoE provides, setting up different scenarios with my friends and then playing them out. You can give one player an immense city, with defensive emplacements and obstacles to advancement, then give three other players armies to attack, creating an immense and interesting battle just on your own, free of what the game developers planned for you to do.

More importantly for a lot of people, it’s balanced. No RTS is truly balanced, so it’s tough for me to make that claim, but it is pretty damn close. Every race; Mongols, Britains, Huns, Chinese, and a whole slew more, provide unique bonuses to your units that other races might not get. One civilization might not get gunpowder, and the powerful advantage that presents, but instead need absolutely no houses in order to build units, or have special cavalry that is twice as strong as their opponents.

Sixteen years after this game was initially released, and the HD version came out, there was a tournament for Age of Empires 2 just last year with a prize pool of $120,000. One hundred and twenty thousand dollars, for a game that was made, initially, sixteen years ago. The competitive scene for this game remains incredibly active, and represents game design at its finest when something can still stand on a competitive stage among modern games like Starcraft, DOTA, and other competitive, much more modern titles.

It is, arguably, the best RTS ever made, and with the HD edition it has been brought back up to, if not good graphics, then graphics that can be shown on modern screens, and admired for what they are. They certainly aren’t the core of the experience, but the aesthetic from 1999 still holds today, regardless of how many pixels are embedded in the textures.

Oh, almost an afterthought. The game is modded to the high heavens. If you want a mod for something in the game, odds are it exists, and even better odds that multiple people are playing it. The AoE community is not just large, it is diverse, and they have so much more to offer than just improved textures. Drive around attack cars and defeat your enemy with elephants, little is more fun than that. This game’ll let you do it, and it’s certainly worth the dip in the genre to try.




Impressions on The Wolf Among Us

Despite this wallpaper might make you feel, The Wolf Among Us is not a 2D game, not even close really, but it does have a very distinctive style. I don’t feel like waxing on about Telltale’s visual style since most people should be familiar with it at this point. It’s very stylish, it’s very oil-painting, but more importantly it’s the standard for all games from this developer. For better or worse, that gives it a pass.

Now to start out, what is important is if their oil painting makes sense with the game. Does it pull you out of the experience, or does it paint a picture for you, draw you into it more and more. Luckily, it does the latter. Wolf is based off of a comic series, and not only that the entire game is about fairy tales. When you have a theme so stylistic as that, it helps to have art that sets it apart from everything else.

Fair warning, Wolf Among Us is a mature game, very mature in fact. You will recognize many of your favorite fairy tale characters in it, but you might be shocked by what they are. You’ll find a jackal as a pawn store owner, a frog as a single father, and most importantly, a wolf as a sheriff.

Telltale’s story telling system ties into this very nicely. Each character has their own story, and while the story might have some relation to their fairy tale roots, it is definitely not limited to that, and the result is an interwoven narrative that takes advantage of the entire cast, and gives you moments of satisfaction, loss, and rage over injustices that happen over the course of the story.

Now, Wolf suffers from the same problems that all Telltale games do, you’re not doing much. Oh, you make decisions, and for a Telltale game these decisions are pretty damn emotional to you, and definitely have an impact on how you feel as the story progresses. That said, your choices are not going to change the story, not integrally and not in any meaningful way. You’re making decisions in a linear story, and whatever changes are there, they are there mostly independent of the major events gripping the town.

Bigby, or the big bad wolf, is an incredibly enjoyable character. He has a job no one wants, in a town that hates him, and often having to go about his duties with no support at all. It’s no wonder he falls to smokes and alcohol to handle everything, because it is quite the miserable life. That said, he’s a wolf. This game literally made me empathize with the big bad wolf. Bravo, Telltale.

Now, there is a singular trope lasting throughout the game, and that is every fable (or most of them) has their animal form, and only looks human because of magic. After the first five minutes of the first episode, you want to see Bigby transform into the big bad wolf, you just do. There are multiple stages of his transformation, and when he finally does for the climax of the game, it pays off every penny.

In The Wolf Among Us you should expect to see your childhood heroes grounded in reality, and as the big bad wolf you will interact with each and every one of them. The result is an immersive world, an intriguing premise, and one of the best storytelling experiences of this year.



Impressions on The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

This game is gorgeous, honestly it is. If a painting were to describe a majestic landscape, or a hollowed out tomb in real life, then The Vanishing of Ethan Carter really pulls it off. The greenery is diverse and well placed. The bricks could almost rub red off onto your hand. Unfortunately looks don’t completely make a game, and Ethan Carter falls a tad short in some other areas.

First off is length. Now I’m not an observer of games having to take some arbitrary length of time to impress me. My singular and only interest in a game is how much enjoyment I get out of it, and I have had games last a single hour that landed themselves in my top twenty just from that (Gone Home). It’s about the emotional feeling, whether it’s tense, exhilaration, adrenaline or something else.

Carter is good at being tense. Tense as in when you walk through the abandoned churches and hallowed mines you never know quite what is going to happen. That’s where it stopped though, there is no real payoff. Usually you’ll get a jump scare or a mystery or two. You do get a jump scare once, but that’s it, and it’s only in one area. At least you get mysteries aplenty, but then there’s that…

Ethan Carter has a preface screen that says something to the effect of it being “A puzzle game that doesn’t hold your hand”. Damn right it doesn’t. You can walk through literally the entire game and solve just the ending two puzzles, bypassing the bulk of this already-small games’ content. Some might enjoy the challenge of digging into every corner and crack to find each puzzle, much less learn to figure them out, but it’s tedious! I spent half an hour trying to solve just one puzzle until I figured out the “solution” was in an entirely different house from where the puzzle was. It felt confusing, not just “Not holding my hand” but plain confusing.

Once I looked at a few guides online and figured some puzzles out, I got to progress through the bulk of the experience. The way you can see murders pan out is fairly intriguing, and does a reasonably good job at describing the different characters as you follow their story.

Those are some of the puzzles. A few of the others, which I would describe as environmental interactions more than puzzles, seemed almost completely unrelated to the story of the game. And since they seemed that way to me, it made piecing together the whole of the story quite a challenging affair. For those who’ve played, the squid bit through me for a loop, and that wasn’t the only thing.

All while this is going on you are traversing through glorious vistas, not the most amazing set pieces I have ever seen, but the best simple asset graphics for sure. No towering skyscrapers, but the grass, the rocks, the simple buildings- all of it was very attractive to look at. But what stitched it together was like four different, very very different, gameplay mechanics and puzzles. One part played like a survival horror game, and another would be pure detective work. It felt like three or four ideas for games or mechanics that were thrown into one, and then had this breathtaking cover thrown onto it.

Overall Ethan Carther was an interesting experience, but I wouldn’t call it fun, exciting, or challenging. What I would say it has is intrigue, and if you like to explore and question then this will probably prove a fun romp, though keep in mind a two or three hour one.



Spreading Songs: Good Life

This song really brings together a lot of powerful ideas. The idea that the life you’re living can be great, if you only make it that way. Or, maybe, it already is, and you just don’t stop to appreciate it enough. The world being your oyster is a very cool idea, but one that doesn’t hit home for as many people as it should. Good Life is an upbeat emotional spike that drives in a cheerful approach to living. Whether it’s enjoying an amazing moment that you are experiencing or the fact that sometimes things just go your way, Good Life is a great ride to listen to for me, each and every time. The song ends with this line, “So please tell me what there’s to complain about.” That’s the kind of approach that would make the world a better place if it was more widely adopted. It’s a wonderful and fantastic song.

iTunes Link to the Song

Writing from Game Designer and Producer Dominic Ricci. Check out my portfolio for games I've worked on, look at the taglines above for fictional writing, and look at the tags below for articles and other content. I hope you enjoy!


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