Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>

You must have played my first Quake map. You’d know it if you saw it. Two cubic rooms, yeah? Only used three textures, right? One irritating obstacle, remember? I never released my first Quake map or showed it to anyone but I’m sure you will have played it, it or a Quake map much like it – maybe your own first map?

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Only the greatest warriors wear a nipple hat.

Did you wear the Colovian Fur Helm? If you played Morrowind you probably did. The Colovian Fur Helm is a piece of armor you can easily get at the start of the game it literally falls out of the sky for you, being worn by a wizard whose spell doesn't work as intended and you'll probably keep it for a while. At the start of Morrowind decent helmets are hard to come by, especially if you're cheap. The downside is that the Colovian Fur Helm looks like a big hairy nipple. No matter how badass the rest of your armor is, topping it off with a hat that makes you look like one of the Coneheads will ruin your ensemble.

I thought about that hat recently when I was watching Hearthstone designer Ben Brode answer criticisms about the recently added Purify spell, which players have called a bad card. Actually they've called it worse things than that, but let's stick with bad. Some players actually like winning with bad cards, Brode explained, before going on to discuss its potential for use in a non-competitive fun deck . Long past the point where it was a liability, I wore that silly Colovian Fur Helm because I'd started thinking it was funny defeating ghosts and monsters while wearing a conical nipplehat. It was bad, but that's what made it perfect for me.

Plenty of games have items in them that prove unpopular with players. Maybe they're equipment in an RPG, cards in a digital card game, guns in a first-person shooter, or power-ups in an arcade game. They could be ugly. Their stats could be terrible. Most players may shun them, but they still serve a purpose.

Guns & ammo 

James Lopez, producer on the Borderlands series, provides me with the excellent names of several guns from Borderlands 2 that players considered bad: Flakker, Bane, Fibber, and Crit. They all had their moments to shine, however, as there was an ebb and flow to the popularity of guns in the games some were popular right off the bat but some were 'undiscovered' for a while until the community found things that made them special , he says.

The Flakker for instance is a shotgun that shoots multiple explosive projectiles. They detonate at medium range, making it almost worthless against distant or nearby enemies. Plus, it fires very slowly. While the Flakker seems underwhelming for a weapon of 'legendary' rarity, it does have its uses. The sniper character Zer0 can combine it effectively with his Rising Sh0t ability, which lets him earn bonus damage for a short duration after every successful attack. The amount of bonus damage increases every time you hurt an enemy, so a single good shot with the Flakker can max out that bonus, after which you switch to a better gun to make use of it.

The Bane on the other hand is a submachine gun that drops your movement to a crawl and constantly shouts at you. When you shoot it screeches like Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber making the most annoying sound in the world, and it announces every reload by bellowing Reloading! Even taking it out it will make it announce Swapping weapons! Dropping the in-game volume to zero won't prevent it from ruining your eardrums, either. And yet there are people on YouTube using The Bane to defeat Borderlands 2's endgame raid boss Terramorphous the Invincible.

Borderlands is an unusual case in that most of its guns aren't unique like the Flakker and Bane, but procedurally generated. They combine effects in randomized ways so you might end up with a sniper rifle that reloads almost instantly or a pistol that shoots burning bullets. It creates variety and depth, Lopez explains, as well as the possibility of the user getting a one of a kind gun that nobody else will have. You might pick up two Maliwan fire SMGs of the same level but they re not going to be the same. And it might turn out that one is more your play style than the other, and the one you don t like might be perfect for someone else in your party.

When you do find a unique gun in a Borderlands game, something with a name like Good Touch or Teapot, you know it's special. That inspires players to figure out why a seemingly bad gun exists instead of chucking it aside like the disposable randomized weapons Borderlands games are full of. As Lopez puts it, Giving them names creates a theme about the gun, a connection to how you got it, and can also inspire the community to learn more about it through forums, videos, wikis, etc.

Should more guns have voice acting? Probably not.

The drone & the skullcap 

At the other end of the spectrum from Borderlands and its millions of guns is Assault Android Cactus, a twin-stick shooter in which each of its playable android characters only has two weapons. Some are regular fare like a flamethrower or a beam laser, but the android named Aubergine wields something different: an indestructible drone called Helo that causes damage in a circle and controls like a fishing rod. Hold down fire and the drone moves further away from her; release and it's reeled back in.

Aubergine is the most divisive character in the game, says developer Tim Dawson, some people dig her, but a lot of players couldn't get their head around controlling her Helo drone while moving. She was meant to be an out-there character and push the envelope in terms of twin-stick shooter mechanics, but because she takes so much more work to get good at, plenty of people never did.

The drone has advantages, like being able to cause damage to enemies while you hide behind a wall, but it's tricky to get used to compared to more straightforward tools like the shotgun or the drill. Not many players bother getting to grips with Aubergine and her drone.

Aubergine's drone weapon sets her apart from most twin-stick shooter characters.

Even so, I'm glad she's in the game, Dawson says, she came about from realising our weapon designs were stagnating mid-development and sitting down to brainstorm something off the map. She's not only a good character for players who stick with her, but her existence in the game challenged us to make later weapons like the Railgun and Giga Drill more distinctive.

Assault Android Cactus also has power-ups that appear regularly throughout each level. Each power-up initially appears as a red Firepower boost (adding hovering guns to your arsenal), but if it's not picked up immediately will transform into a yellow Accelerate boost (adding movement speed as well as slurping pick-ups toward you), and finally a blue Shutdown (sending enemies to sleep). The fact that players can choose which of the three power-ups to collect by timing it right inspired a vigorous debate on the game's forum over which was best.

Accelerate came off worst of the three by a fair margin. Despite boosting speed, decreasing damage taken and pulling battery and weapon orbs in, some players began actively avoiding Accelerate, says Dawson, seeing it as a wasted opportunity to grab one of the other two power-ups, both of which had more overt offensive potential.

Cards with negative and positive effects are chosen less, but fit certain playstyles.

In the choose-your-own-adventure card game Hand of Fate, each of the player's items is represented by a card that becomes that piece of equipment and appears on your avatar when combat begins. They fall down on you like rain, if rain was made of helmets and axes. Though Hand of Fate is a very different game, just like Assault Android Cactus and its Accelerate power-up, players prefer equipment that has overt offensive potential .

According to its creative director Morgan Jaffit, Something we notice a lot is that people generally prefer items with direct effects, rather than those that act on another system. A good example there is Skullcap of Prophecy, which reduces your cooldowns if you kill an enemy with a weapon ability. There's a lot going on there for a player to think about how often do they kill enemies, how often do they get to use weapon abilities, how does reducing cooldowns help them, etc.

The Skullcap of Prophecy can be part of a powerful combo when used with weapon abilities capable of finishing enemies off, reducing the cooldown on the ability that triggered the Skullcap in the first place in a repeatable loop. Most players don't bother with it, however, preferring to use gear that increases damage directly or doesn't require a decent weapon to synergize with.

Gear that has negatives as well as positives generally gets picked less than items that are a straight benefit. Morgan Jaffit

Likewise, gear that has negatives as well as positives generally gets picked less than items that are a straight benefit, says Jaffit. Forbidden Armor give you bonus damage resistance, but stops you being able to heal. People tended to just wear slower, less effective armour instead of dealing with the downside.

And that's up to you. Choosing not to use items that handicap you whether they provide some balancing advantage or exist simply to let you challenge yourself or fit a specific theme you're roleplaying is a choice that's yours to make. But even if you do make that choice, the bad items you avoid still serve a purpose. As Jaffit says, you always need contrast. No single item is 'good' in the abstract, you need other items to compare them to.

If every card in Hand of Fate or Hearthstone was perfectly balanced for use with every playstyle, there would be no thrill to finding ones that suit you. If the power-ups in Assault Android Cactus were the same you'd never race dramatically across the level to grab the one you like, and if every gun in Borderlands was useful at every range and in every situation you'd never switch between them and find the perfect moment to bombard some bad guys with a shotgun that shoots exploding swords.

Even beyond stats, items with no value can be imbued with purpose by passionate fans. In Dark Souls, one of the starting gifts, a pendant, does absolutely nothing. Why would anyone pick it over a key that unlocks doors throughout the game? Fans of Dark Souls labyrinthine lore speculated on how the pendant might fit into the mythos until director Hidetaki Miyazaki revealed that it was basically a prank. But by then it had served its purpose, making Dark Souls just a little bit more mysterious.

One man's trash...

That Colovian Fur Helm served a purpose too. When I finally sold it in favor of wearing something made of enchanted green glass, I felt like a proper hero for the first time, not that joker straight off the boat with the pointy head.

I would have missed the Colovian Fur Helm, but fortunately the shopkeeper I sold it to was so impressed he put it on immediately and continued wearing it for the rest of the game. Everybody's bad item is valuable to someone.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of one of the greatest roleplaying games ever made. Set in a world so vast that you could combine almost every open world game released since and cram them all into one of its regions, and allowing the freedom to buy real estate within that world, it remains one of the grandest games of its type.

It is The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall [official site] and I have loved it for two decades.>

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Fellow PC gamers, we are gathered here today to remember an old friend, one whose warranty expired long ago. As laid out in the law of the upgrade cycle, we must let go of those components that can no longer keep pace with modern demands. And so, it is with heavy hearts that we say our final goodbyes to you, our constant companion for the last 20 years.

Rest in peace, humble optical drive.

You were once a cornerstone of this community, a bringer of joy, a portal to play, an ally in our pursuit of entertainment. You gave us the gorgeous world of Myst, the sublime soundscape of Quake, the unprecedented complexity of Half-Life. You were a marvel of your age, drawing realms of infinite possibility out of those small, innocuous discs. At the time, it felt like nothing less than magic.

Nearly 30 years ago now, you entered this world with a vision. Armed with Red Book audio and full-motion video, you sold us the Hollywood dream, treating us to Mark Hamill taking on a race of giant cat aliens, Jeff Goldblum killing it as Dracula, Christopher Walken telling it to us straight, and... this immaculate performance. Video games seemed poised to replace movies altogether; why would we watch if we could play instead? Alas, it was not meant to be, but we'll always have those fond memories, thanks to you. Your legacy will live on inside us all.

As we commit you to the great server in the sky, let us reflect on all the good you did for this world. Who can forget how crucial you were during the dial-up days? The spiral cords of our 56K modems strained under the weight of individual mp3s; the thought of downloading an entire 750MB CD-ROM was unfathomable. Even when cable internet arrived on the scene, we still relied on you to support us through the file-size boom of the DVD era. Steam might have dethroned you eventually, but your stability during the platform's early, rocky years was what kept us gaming.

In your youth, your laissez-faire attitude allowed our community to flourish unabated. I, personally, owe some of my favourite childhood memories to your liberal approach to game trading; as a kid, hiring and borrowing games was the only way I could afford to play. Thanks to borrowing a friend's copy of Diablo II, I discovered my penchant for click-'em-ups. Thanks to renting Battlefield 1942, I grokked the appeal of online multiplayer. Thanks to hiring out Baldur's Gate II, I realised that games could tell big, complex stories that actually leveraged their interactivity instead of ignoring it. Of course, we all understand why you had to jump on the DRM train once people started abusing your freedoms. Still, those unbridled early years were crucial in making our community as great as it is today.

The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore.

Alas, those halcyon days are far behind us. The battle of the distribution models is over, and there's no question who lost. How could it have gone any other way? Steam lets us pre-order, pre-load, patch, and play, all without leaving the comfort of our desk chairs. Gone are the overloaded shelves buckling beneath the weight of bejewelled CD cases and boxy collectors editions. Never again do we have to rummage around in dusty attics and dank basements to find that old copy of Day of the Tentacle, only for you to whine like a circular saw when we put the disc in because it isn't mint-out-of-box.

For all the joy you gave us, we cannot ignore the dark times you begat. Refusing to read brand new discs until we'd carefully wiped off every minute mote of dust. Scratching up our favourite games as punishment for playing them too much. Demanding that we 'Insert Disc 2' when it was already in the damn tray. And those multi-disc installs! How can you expect us to set aside multiple hours just to swap GTA 5's seven DVDs in and out?

GTA 5's seven DVDs.

At least you re in a better place now, one where the RPMs are infinite and the CDs are truly scratch-proof. Because as much as it pains us to say it on this day of mourning, you were holding this industry back. Bite-sized games never stood a chance against the pains of disc-swapping. Aspiring developers cringed at the cost of pressing and shipping discs. If we hadn't moved on to the all-digital now, we'd never have known the haunting oppression of Papers, Please, the touching tale of Gone Home, the time-bending antics of Superhot. We'd have to bid farewell to our hundreds-large Steam libraries or else buy a second house just to store all the CDs.

The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore. Not in our homes, and not in our hearts. Your place at the top of our PC towers is no more. Our mini-ITX cases no longer give you a berth. We will never again hear your mechanical whirr, your voice silenced by the hum of our bigger and better hard drives. From caches to ashes, from disc to dusk, your time is up. You re just too slow for this digital world.

16X. 8X. 4X. 2X. 1X. Eject.

PC Gamer

There s a bit near the beginning of Uncharted 3 where protagonist Nathan Drake evades a police entourage by clambering up a drainpipe and onto a roof. The building overlooks the city s skyline and, while it s dark, the mass of light that radiates from the metropolis sprawled out in front of him lets him see for miles. It s a wonderful moment, but, while impressive, quickly feels bogus.

You see, in games like these you often can t actually reach the panoramic vistas, the gorgeous rolling hills, or the far-off knife-edge cliff faces, but are instead too quickly funnelled off down the next linear pathway towards the next foregone conclusion. You hardly have a chance to properly enjoy each moment of reflection before the story is moved on, and this makes me sad. (Incidentally, it looks like players will have the chance to sample the above and play many other PlayStation 3 exclusives on PC in the not so distant future if you d like to see what I mean in this instance.)

Conversely, having spent the past week ebony armour-deep in SureAI s Enderal a Skyrim total conversion mod whose scale almost matches that of its source material I was reminded of what draws me to games like these in the first place. Against games like Uncharted, it s not their open-ended quests, nor is it their divergent missions; their multitude of weapons and characters, or even their sprawling maps what I love about open-world games is simply knowing it s possible to explore their arenas from corner-to-corner, to pore over every inch of their sandboxes, or to delve into each one of their nooks and crannies.

Finding the highest accessible point in the map is the first thing I do when dropped into an open-world environment, before I pick a certain spot out in the distance and try my damndest to make it there alive or, more times than I care to admit, die trying and revel in whichever wildlife/scenery/baddies I encounter along the way.

From a practical perspective, besides facilitating these hands-on moments, trekking to and from these vantage points allows for a better understanding of the map itself. Truth be told, though, there's something I find wonderful about knowing that particular small patch of land, that dilapidated farmhouse, that seemingly abandoned island that I can spot from aloft my perch can be reached and explored, just because. There might be nothing real merit there on arrival and there's often not but I delight in the fact that in these games it can be done.

In Skyrim, I first discovered the Oghma Infinium book by stumbling upon Septimus Signus outpost after spying it from atop the College of Winterhold s roof; in New Vegas I meticulously planned an ambush on Caesar's Legion from the mountains located to east of their camp; in The Witcher 3 I climbed the Kear Trolde bridge in Skellige just so I could jump off into the water below because, well, why the hell not? There is, after all, no wrong way to play games.

I ve played and enjoyed the entire Uncharted series, and many games like it, but I ve found my fondest moments in games over the years have stemmed from the ones I ve created myself; the off-script set pieces and the moments of sheer randomness. Perhaps you could call it a problem with authority, but I like being able to roam where I want, when I want and spotting such places from the peak of a mountain, bridge or magic school is the best means for it.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>

I’m going to keep doing mods for a while because: 1) I struggle to remember what happened yesterday; 2) Unable to afford many new games, for about a decade I mostly played mods – many, many mods. Of the many mods I played from cover discs off cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer, the Quake singleplayer campaign Zerst rer – Testament of the Destroyer was the first that felt like something I should’ve paid for. “Professional quality,” we said back then, with very specific ideas of what that meant.

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Jessica Famularo)

There will be many ways to play Dishonored 2 [official site], rewarding players for stealth and more brazen maneuvers both. We got a glimpse of some of Corvo’s more aggressive skills at QuakeCon. Now, with Gamescom festivities well underway, Arkane gives us a glimpse at what empress Emily Kaldwin has up her sleeve, and she is easily just as vicious. Take a look!

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

A final version of Enderal: The Shards of Order [official site] has been completed and can be downloaded for free now. While ‘Enderal’ sounds like it could be something made by a United States pharmaceutical company, it is actually a massive total conversion mod for Skyrim, not just adding new weapons or turning it into a survival game, but creating a whole new RPG using the raw materials of its parent. A German version was recently released but now you can get it in English. Disgusting, verminous English.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Five years in the making, hobbyist studio SureAI has now released the English language version of Enderal: The Shards of Order, a total conversion mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Off the back of its multi-award winning Oblivion total conversion Nehrim: At Fate s Edge, Enderal is easily the small studio s most ambitious project to date one which not only offers players an entirely new playground to explore; but also a host of new characters to interact with, 30 hours-worth of campaign to plough through, and some completely overhauled systems to tinker with.

Naturally, the mod s release was marked with a launch trailer:

Last year, we caught up with a few members of the SureAI team to learn about the making of the mod which is a relatively long but interesting read. Expect more words about of Enderal: The Shards of Order at some point later this week, however learn what Jody Macgregor thought after spending 20 hours wandering its sprawling bounds last week.

Step-by-step details regarding how to install Enderal: The Shards of Order can be found on the mod s official site or via its ModDB page.

PC Gamer

The best part of Oblivion mod Nehrim was when I turned into a kid. In flashback I explored the village my character was born in from a first-person perspective lowered to child-height, then watched it burn down to rubble. It wasn't even part of the main storyline, just a sidequest, but it was still affected by who I was and where I came from. It's a clich backstory for a fantasy hero to have, but seeing it play out made me feel connected to it.

Nehrim was German mod team SureAI's total conversion for Oblivion, released in 2010. Since then they ve been working on Enderal, a total conversion mod for Skyrim, and it begins with something similar. I'm a kid on a farm and my first quest is take a message to Daddy . The sun is shining, birds are wheeling in the bright sky. It's gorgeous. I take the first of many screenshots immediately. Things turn dark after this idyllic start because of course they do, but it's an immediate reminder of Nehrim at its best, making you feel like the world and your character existed before you clicked Start New Game.

After that I'm a grown-up on a ship to the theocracy of Enderal, choosing my face and race from a selection of half-breeds that will mark me as an outlander for the rest of the game, though none are as exotic as the cats and lizards you can choose in most Elder Scrolls games. The journey from here to Riverville, your typical fantasy starter village, is a tutorial that introduces new characters who then introduce new concepts and quickly clear the deck to make way for the next batch. I get knocked unconscious and wake up in different locations so often it's disorienting, but I guess travelling to a new country should be. It's a trick Enderal will recycle a lot.

These tutorials kick off a game where some things remain standard Skyrim, like the controls and physics, but other things feel alien. Fast travel has gone, although in a nod to Morrowind's silt striders there's a network of giant four-eyed birds called myrads who take you from place to place for 25 pennies. There are also teleport scrolls and within the gigantic city of Ark signposts let you jump from district to district. (Even with those signposts, I see a lot of loading screens whenever I go anywhere in Ark.)

Leveling skills by using them has been replaced with an old-fashioned experience point system. At level-up you earn points that can be distributed into skills by reading appropriate books, which is why I have spent all my money on books about lockpicking. There are also trees of perks to unlock, combining abilities familiar from Skyrim like rolling while crouched with new ones like Focus, which reduces the cost of spellcasting for a duration, and Flashpowder that blinds enemies.

These talents replace Skyrim's dragon shouts. My old favorites sneaking and archery are augmented by a talent that increases my critical chance for a short time while hidden, and a new set of elementalism abilities power up certain spells, turning the fire and lightning that shoots from my hands into a clutch move that can win most fights.

Most, but not all. Like Nehrim, certain parts of Enderal will not be suitable until you're higher level. After arriving at the city of Ark the main quest became too much for my level 9 character and I had to find side quests until I could get back onto the main track. Since each quest is rated out of four stars for difficulty it's easy enough to find simpler missions.

If you saw Enderal's trailer you probably noticed the main quest's plot has a lot in common with Mass Effect. An apocalypse that came to previous civilizations is returning for yours, but through researching how they failed to prevent it you might be able to succeed. The Precursors are called Pyreans and the Reapers are High Ones, but it's familiar stuff so far. That's OK since it's not like it was a very original plot even when Mass Effect told it, and telling a story well matters more to me than originality.

Other mods that add new characters and quests, like Falskaar and Descent Into Madness, have been a fun way to see strange new places, but their writing and voice-acting remind you they're fan-made works. We criticize Skyrim for re-using voices and only having a few memorable characters, but other mods have made me appreciate how hard it is to get that stuff right. Not every bit of dialogue or plotting in Enderal is perfect, but so far it's better than anything I've heard in other mods.

Though there's a fair bit of tutorial to push past, now I'm eager for each twist of its tale and invested enough to be worried about the fates of its characters. My mercenary companion has an easygoing cynicism that's charming, the swearing sorceress reacts to each disaster with honest fury, even a passing art gallery owner sounded so genuinely defeated by the disinterest of her cityfolk I was happy to take on a job for her.

I'm playing a pre-release build of Enderal's translation so not everything is perfect. I've met a man in a bar who spoke German, and some of the signs and posters around Ark are untranslated as well. Nehrim was entirely voiced in German with only English subtitles, so a fully voiced English localization is a huge additional task they've taken on. Sure, no one can agree how to pronounce the name of the goaty local monsters the Vatyr, but it feels churlish to pick at individual flaws when the overall standard is so high.

I've done the textbook journey from a small village to a big city, solved a mystery with the convenient visions I've begun having, and earned a riding donkey named Whirlwind whose legs kick out with adorable clumsiness at high speed. The tone is slightly grittier than Skyrim this is a fantasy RPG where having special magical powers means also having a fever that might kill you, most of the potions you find have turned rancid, and the roads are lined with crucified skeletons. But in spite of its differences, moment-to-moment I feel like I'm playing Skyrim again.

While Nehrim tried to make a completely different RPG out of Oblivion, one closer to the Gothic series, Enderal seems like a slightly better-looking, slightly more linear, slightly lower-powered Skyrim. It has a desert and there's a grimy Undercity beneath Ark and people swear, but its mountains, spiders, and lockpicking minigame are all pure Skyrim. It's the most ambitious mod I've played yes, even compared to the one that turns dragons into Macho Man Randy Savage not because it's different to Skyrim, but because it's of comparable quality. I liked Skyrim plenty, and having more of it is very welcome.

Look for a full review of Enderal next week, and follow the SureAITeam on Twitter for updates on the English release coming soon.

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