Sunday, April 29, 2007

993 More MB of Obsession!

Is the concept of downloadable content encouraging developers to withhold actual gameplay? Will Microsoft Studios start releasing unfinished games with endings you have to pay for on Marketplace? Well, who cares as long as we're still facilitating the release of high quality, triple-A expansions... like The Shivering Isles!

Devotion is not a four letter word.

In 2006, there was no question that Elder Scrolls IV was my game of the year. Immersive gameplay, an addictive leveling system, and a beautiful HD world... how I loved my 300+ hours in Cyrodil! If you're reading this, you already know that I'm a Nintendo fangirl. And prone to revisiting 5-year-old games. And consumed by the idea of getting achievements. Let it be noted—for the record—that those 300 hours were lovingly spent exploring Bethesda's universe instead of gathering achievements or playing with my Wii. Some might say it's a little pathetic. But I think if a game can keep me coming back for that many hours, it deserves my time and adoration.

Thank you, Bethesda, for making sure the gates of Obsession remain open for hours to come. (And for enabling me to purchase this expansion on release day in the comfort of my own home.)

Meticulous children shouldn't read Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Remember those books that gave you a choice about how the story would proceed? Just turn to pg. 15 or 65, depending on what you think the protagonist should do. Game designers have been monopolizing on this concept for years... that's why we call it "interactive entertainment" and that's why the industry is throwing around words like freedom, customization, and choice. GTA gave birth to the sandbox fad, FPS campaigns often feature multiple paths, and the days of boss battles on rails are... well, mostly at an end. Freedom, freedom, freedom. Choice, choice, choice.

Now here's the thing... I tend towards the completionist side of things. I'm not as thorough as some. I didn't get every figment in Psychonauts and I never beat Resident Evil in under 3 hours. I can even miss a heart container or two in Zelda and still go to sleep at night. But I like to see every quest completed. I want to know I'm experiencing the whole game. So what's a girl to do when KOTOR makes you choose between the dark side and the light side? Is Fable really a good enough game to play through twice? And what about the Shivering Isle worlds of Mania and Dementia? Which soldiers shall I betray? Who shall I assassinate?

I admit it... I always cheated with the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I would keep my finger in the page and go on to read all the possible outcomes. It made me so nervous to think that I might be missing a funny, exciting, or gruesome alternative. Maybe I just can't handle choice. Bad news for me if I'm journeying in the Shivering Isles.

The new expansion for Oblivion has all sorts of branching paths. You're constantly being asked to choose between two possible courses of action. Should I keep an alternate save file so I can stick my finger between the proverbial pages? Or should I creep along dangerously, just making my decisions and praying for satisfaction? I know the choices I make in the Shivering Isles won't cause me to "lose" the game. But with each choice, there's a whole other half to the story that I'm missing. On the other hand, is it worth playing through twice so I can see how events might unfold in the alternate course of action? There are so many other games to play...

How Achievement Points™ have ruined gaming.

And that's why Achievements are a beautiful thing. (Or are they?) I visit all the changing rooms at the Willamette Mall... because it's an achievement. I comb the Pacific City skyline for orbs... because it's an achievement. GoW II rested in its original wrapping for weeks and even Puzzle Quest is hardly enough to lure me away from my 360. My PS3 is gathering dust (mostly) and my Wii is left by the wayside. All because of those lovely, addictive, damned points. Seriously... why would I ever play Cloning Clyde instead of Twilight Princess!?! You don't even want to know what my boyfriend has planned for Dead Rising. I guess the moral of this story is... I will gladly play through the Shivering Isles twice because it's a great game... but I'm ashamed to admit, it's also an achievement.

Somewhere in this post I will talk about the game.

All this chatter and I haven't really talked about the game. The way I see it, this is an expansion for people who love the Elder Scrolls series. There is a collect quest unlike any you'll see in the regular retail version of Oblivion. And the landscape design of the Isles themselves looks like something out of Oblivion's predecessor, Morrowind. The voice acting—of a quality almost unparalleled in the gaming industry—gives life to characters who are already interesting and charismatic. Everything you loved about exploring Cyrodil is back.

The expansion is less polished and boasts a few more glitches than the original game. And some people might have already gotten their fill of the same old Oblivion schtick. (This expansion is not for those people.) I, for one, am enjoying every drop of additional material I can glean from the Shivering Isles. And I won't let excessive freedom scare me or the siren song of other games' achievements lure me away.

For a while, anyway. Seriously. There are a lot of achie... I mean, games... out there.