Thoughts on things! I’ve been playing several things recently, so I shall tackle each in turn in a massive wall of text of the kind that used to offend the 1up users so much post-board merge.

Skyrim

Continues to be beautiful and wonderful. Bethesda have crafted an excellent world filled with wonderful lore, and working out how the game relates to past titles in the series by piecing together the things that people tell you is interesting. Hint: it doesn’t occur directly after Oblivion, not by a long shot.

Dungeon-crawling remains interesting — I’ve tackled a couple of “plot dungeons” now, most of which are longer and feature more in the way of scripted moments. I’ve also encountered a number of extremely tough fights which should put rest any notions that this is an “easy” game.

Specifically, one undead-infested dungeon ended with a battle against a creature called (if I remember correctly) the Draugr Dread Lord, or something similar. With a name like that, you don’t mess around, particularly as when you come across him he’s just sitting in his big, ornate throne, waiting for you.

First time I attacked, I simply charged straight in, thinking it would be a simple case of block-block-slash like his decomposing lackeys I’d been hacking my way through in the rest of the dungeon.

Not the case. He bellowed a word in the Dragon language (hey! That’s my trick!) that sent my weapon flying from my hand and clattering to the floor, then proceeded to stab me very hard in the face. I died with very little dignity.

The next time, I tried to shoot him from afar with the bow I’d enchanted myself to set things on fire. I got a couple of arrows off at him before he performed the same Dragon Shout and my bow was sent clattering to the floor. I followed shortly afterwards.

Several attempts later, I determined that the best approach would be to keep my distance. I did so, pelting him with arrows when possible and then running away like a coward before he could knock my bow out of my hands again. He still did so on a couple of occasions, but fortunately I was able to recover it before he could get too close with his razor-sharp blade.

My companion Lydia went toe-to-toe with him, buying me some time to get back and fill him with more arrows. He always stopped short of killing her, turning his attention to me as soon as she became exhausted. Eventually, I defeated him by luring him into a fast-flowing stream which ran through his chamber, the strong current trapping him and preventing him from getting to me. He died with as little dignity as I did the first time we met.

Midnight Club: Los Angeles

Following reports that Need For Speed: The Run was actually a bit poo — something which I am quite disappointed about, given how good Hot Pursuit was and how much I crave a narrative-led driving game — I questioned whether anyone had actually managed to get this concept right as yet, and our own @unmanneddrone suggested Rockstar’s open world racer from 2008.

While it doesn’t quite offer a full-on story-led experience that I want — a CaRPG if you will — it offers something which very few other racers do: a sense that the people you are racing are, you know, people. Many recent racers have tried to take a sort of “level, level, level, boss race” structure, but the fact that you don’t know who this “boss” is (besides seeing their unique car design) doesn’t help with the sense of urgency you feel when racing them. Blur suffered somewhat from this, but Midnight Club LA takes a much better approach — there’s occasional cutscenes, everyone you race has a name and — get this — they talk to you. Taunts during the race and responses to the things you do make a huge difference in making you want to beat these guys. Rather than just being anonymous cars, they’re people.

I haven’t got that far yet so I don’t know if the plot develops at all, but I’m happy to dip into this whenever I feel the urge to race around a bit.

Saints Row: The Third

My most fondly-remembered Grand Theft Auto game is number 3, largely for the number of times my friend Sam and I got together, drank too much and played it until 3AM in the morning. We rarely did any missions, instead doing the old “get as far as you can on five/six stars” challenge and, of course, trying to steal the tank and/or fly the plane with the stupidly short wings. (I got pretty good at the latter, incidentally — it offered a surprisingly realistic flight model.) Mostly, then, it was about causing random open-world chaos in a world that didn’t take itself too seriously.

GTA IV presents a beautifully realised world, but it doesn’t feel “right” to cause chaos in it. We’ve talked about the narrative dissonance between Niko the player and Niko the character before, but it stops you from really wanting to cut loose and tear shit up, especially if you’re a “method actor” gamer like me where doing out-of-character things feels “wrong”.

Enter Saints Row: The Third, the first Saints Row game I’ve played. You start by playing through a mock bank heist which turns into a real bank heist, culminating with the bank vault being airlifted off the building while you stand atop it shooting down helicopters with an assault rifle. Shortly afterwards, this is followed by a No One Lives Forever-style skydiving incident where you shoot down enemy goons while avoiding flying debris that is also falling to the sky. Pause for a quick detour to smash through a plane’s windshield, burst through and kill a guy who’d pissed you off before falling out the back of the plane again, and you’re parachuting to the ground, stealing a car and driving off as if nothing happened.

I can’t remember an opening of that level of ridiculousness in any game — let alone an open world one. The fact you can play a character with a “Zombie” voice, which means they make Tazmania-style noises while other characters speak to them normally, is a bonus. Also the character editor puts City of Heroes in the shade.

‘Tis the girlfriend’s birthday today so Dungeon Defending is unlikely (perhaps once she goes to sleep?) but I’m definitely around tomorrow. Hit me up on Steam and see if I’m around — if Steam shows I’m online, I’m within reach of a message. Usually.