Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: The Elder Scrolls II Daggerfall

Hands down, my favorite RPG of all time is The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall. I loved every minute of this game, even the parts that would annoy me in other games, mainly because what it does right, it does absolutely right, even if given the limitations of the PC in 1996, and especially since it has such a big world to explore. That's the beauty of this series – there's always so much to do with a lot of space to do it in, and I felt that Daggerfall capitalized on this concept the best. In short, I love this game. In fact, this review isn't as much of a review as it is my love letter to Bethesda for making this game, or at least to the boys and girls behind Daggerfall.

After you've done creating your character (as in, naming your character, choosing your race, choosing your class and tweaking various base stats), you'll find that your character had been shipwrecked in the country of Daggerfall. After escaping from the dungeon, you'll find that there are two quests that you need to do – first, you need to free the ghost of a dead king, and secondly, you must discover what happened to a letter you got from one of the emperor's spies. The letter is about a means of ressurecting a powerful iron golem... so having it fall into the wrong hands is not a good idea.

I have to say that while it can be rather intriguing at times, the story isn't exactly good. You'll be given enough story for it to function as a cohesive whole, and giving it multiple endings will further motivate you into replaying this game (you know, besides just trying out different classes), but it's nothing that will set you alight. It just works. Besides the main story, you can get involved with different guilds, who have their own little sidestories, plus there are important characters who have their own quests. Besides that, a lot of the sidequests you'll be given involve killing monsters. So yeah, the amount of stories to go through is impressive, but the storytelling itself is definitely not Daggerfall's strong suit... nor is it the series' strong suit in general. It just gives enough to get by
No, the strong suit is the exploration! I have to say, Daggerfall has got to be the biggest video game land ever created. There are plenty of cities, fortresses, temples, dungeons, and other such places to explore, and you can spend days upon days just finding new areas. In fact, it's so big, that a fast travel feature was included (so yeah, ignorant Oblivion haters, fast travel is not a casualization – Bethesda just forgot about it in Morrowind), and it really, really, really helps in the long run, just in case you have to get to an area you've already been to that's a bit too far away to simply walk towards. In fact, fast travel is imperative if you want to experience everything, because Daggerfall runs on a timed system, meaning that certain events only occur at certain times. The later games, especially Skyrim, isn't as time heavy as this one, so it can be a bit disorenting at first, but eventually, you'll get the idea.

But what really gives it its edge is how much of it is randomly generated. From NPCs to quests and dungeons, it's not as if you're going through the same dungeon twice in succession, and the only repetition to be found (besides the structure of quests, but come on, that's how it goes in life) is in the NPC models. I will admit that the dungeons can feel rather samey, but the fact that their designs and the enemies inside are randomly generated will ensure that it never feels old. Generally speaking, they're maze-y in design, and given that you're in a first person perspective, you'll find that you'll need to walk around a lot just to find your way to the objective – usually a boss monster or the big, valuable treasure an NPC needs – so they were like “hey, why not leave some items and stuff lying around”. Various weapons, including bows and different sizes of axes and swords to name a few, as well as various sorts of armor... let's just say that you'll need to do a fair amount of mixing and matching to get the best results to go with your class.

It's not just the dungeons, though. You may remember that I've mentioned guilds... well, you can join up different guilds, like the knights guild, the thieves guild and the dark brotherhood, to name a few. Joining one guild will make you an enemy of the other guilds, and not being a loyal member of your guild may make you a target for them too, so it's usually a good idea to be a good little member. With that not only ensures that you will live to see the next day, but also some neat weaponry, armory and gold, which can be used to purchase more weaponry, armory and even a horse and carriage, a ship and a house to store your stuff in... what you get from the guilds are obviously relevant to what kind you've joined, like the mages guild will net you some spells while the knights guild deals with weapons and armor. There's just a lot of choice with this game and I feel that the guilds offer the most in this department, as you'll need to think about which one you should join and all that sort of stuff.

However, travelling isn't without its woes. First off, it seems like Daggerfall was too big for Bethesda's own good, as even with the patches you can get off their site, it's still a fairly glitchy place to be. In fact, if you were to have played this after Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim, you'd think that the creater screwed up the creation of a machine that lets descendants relive the memories of their ancestors from Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim and ended up creating this “mess”. What I mean is that at times, you'll find yourself getting stuck between two polygon objects with no way out... besides suicide. There are times when you're given a specific monster to slay... and you wind up in a dungeon full of that monster, meaning you'll have to slay every single one of them just to get the right one and be done with the sidequest. Then there's the infamous void – oh no, it's not a place, but a glitch where you may find yourself falling down a tile, never to return. This makes dungeon crawling a nightmare at the worst of times. Plus it has a tendency to crash for no reason. It doesn't do it often, but it happens enough for me to document it, so... yeah, I'd suggest saving often, lest you want all of your time spent playing to go into the void.

So how is it possible for me to bitch about the glitches and yet give this game a very positive rating? I will admit that it does require a certain amount of patience to deal with, but above all else, I'd say it's because if it wasn't glitchy, it'd be the perfect game back in 1996 and still a pretty darn good game today. Even the combat in this game is good... I mean, given the limitations of the PC back then, simple sword swings and projectiles were all they could do, and while I had a bit of an issue with simplistic combat in Skyrim, it's not really an issue in Daggerfall because Daggerfall is a first person RPG that was more about exploration than combat, while Skyrim was leaning more towards combat and thus I had higher expectations for its combat engine. Oh, and Skyrim was the fifth in the series – surely, they could've done more by then!? But that's just me. Actually, what I find funny is that you have to do more than just click in Daggerfall, as you first have to unsheathe your weapon, then hold the left mouse button down and move the cursor across the enemy... whereas in the later games, you just clicked and prayed that you win.

There's more to it than that. For instance, you can make your own spells by taking basic spells and adding abilities to it, like longer range or more power, among many other things. Same thing with equipment. Constantly using spells and equipment will allow you to level up those statistics so that you can become more proficient in them or bulkier in that armor. You can also summon monsters to gain powerful artefacts in exchange for doing quests for them. You can become a vampire by becoming infected and dying. You can become a werewolf or a wereboar, which is just badass if you ask me. I'm just scratching the surface here, guys – there's just so much to do, even in the combat. Too bad that the further along Bethesda got with these games, the less options they gave you... you can't even turn into a wereboar in Morrowind. Screw you, wereboars are awesome!
The graphics haven't exactly aged well. This was back when 3D graphics was starting to becomg a big thing in gaming, and it really shows. Everything has jagged edges and looks very pixellated, and putting in 3D models with 2D landscapes just doesn't sit right with me unless both look good... which is not the case here. The 2D graphics actually don't look too bad, but when stacked with the 3D graphics, they just don't quite look right. It's a shame, because at the time, it didn't look half bad. The sprites had a fair amount of detail in the coloring and designing, and the monsters didn't look half bad either. The buildings... it's like a Frankenstein project with them, having 3D modeling and 2D texturing. But yeah, the graphics aren't very good and they're only tolerable on an aesthetic level... which is a shame, because I can see a lot of people skipping this game just based on that, but again, what this game gets right is worth going through what it gets wrong.

The music may seem a bit weird at first as the timing seems to be a bit off, but given a minute or so, and it'll not only start to sound right, but also sound great! Each track always seems to fit the mood, like an uplifitng tune for the tavern, a calm tune for the towns and a subtly forboding set of tunes for the towns at night and the dungeons. Not to mention that these are quite memorable tunes. Perhaps it's because they sound like the standard for each of those kinds of themes on steroids? I could say so. But if you expect your Elder Scrolls experience to be in a more organic, orchestral format as opposed to being all MIDI music, I don't think you'll enjoy the soundtrack as much as I did, which was quite a lot actually. Ah well. It's still a very good soundtrack.

The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall is just... wow. Glitchy perfection doesn't even begin to describe it. It is the pure essence of a role playing game. You choose your race, your class, your guild and just go out exploring. You can basically do whatever you want in such an open environment. In fact, if the glitches were gone and the graphics given a huge overhaul, you'd pretty much get a perfect game on your hands with this one. As it stands, it's the epitome of Western role playing games, the standard that they will be measured on (can't really do this with Japanese role playing games on the grounds that the Japanese do things rather differently with their role playing games). I mean, I don't expect an exact replica of Daggerfall, because it was a product of its time. No, what I expect is role playing on the level of Daggerfall because of the sheer amount of decisions that can define your character...

In short, I love this game and it certainly gets my blessing, glitches and all.

9.5/10 (Fucking Excellent)

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