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Generations of gamers who have not only the arcade but also years of computer, Nintendo, and PlayStation games in their pasts are now, themselves, raising children. In a world of wall-to-wall screens and endless gaming options, it can be hard to find just the right game for game-loving parents and their inquisitive kids to enjoy together.
Over at Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott describes the challenge of finding games that engage his four-year-old daughter, Zoe. Games designed for kids don't always do it. But Skyrim does.
"Kids quickly learn that parents save the best stuff for themselves," Abbott wisely observes. "Zoe is happy to while away twenty minutes with a Dora game, but she knows whatever I'm playing is likely to be a hundred times more interesting, and she wants a piece of that action." Enter Skyrim. While clearly some parts of the game are too violent or explicit to be kid-friendly, Abbott finds that with some planning and prep work on his part, Skyrim is perfect for his daughter to enjoy.
There are eight ways parents can help make Skyrim great family fun time, Abbott explains. Some are more obvious than others. For example, no matter what system the game is running on, a game pad will be easier for small, young, relatively uncoordinated hands to learn to use than the keyboard-and-mouse combination is. Likewise, establishing an ethical code of action in advance—such as "help people who ask for it"—can make the wide and murky waters of a game easier to navigate.
"Be a mage," Abbott also advises. "I prefer Zoe casting spells to wielding swords and axes. It feels less ‘realistic' to me and more suitable for a child." And of course, parents should review the game, or sections of the game, before sharing them with a child, to make sure the content in question stays appropriate.
But Abbott's best advice is all about letting kids explore and learn from games the same way their parents do. Creative problem solving can be the best part of Skyrim:
Let your child discover there can be more than one way to solve a problem. I spared Zoe the Fellglow Keep gore, but let her face The Caller boss at the end of the quest for a reason. We were given the choice of fighting her or negotiating with her, but we found a third option we liked better. We cast an Invisibility spell, grabbed the stolen books, picked her pocket for the exit key, and escaped the dungeon. "We were smarter than her, Daddy!" You bet we were.
Thanks to the time she's spent in Skyrim (and with her brainy gaming dad), four-year-old Zoe can now read maps and count currency. And she's young enough not to care about things that may not matter: " Just remember that a small child thinks less about leveling up or RPG mechanics," Abbott cautions, "and more about having fun, moment to moment, in an imaginary world."
Sounds good to me. Maybe we really should try seeing games through the eyes of a child more often.
Skyrim for Small Fry [The Brainy Gamer]
Wondering when you can get Skyrim's downloadable content Dawnguard for your PlayStation 3 or PC? So is Bethesda.
"We have not announced Dawnguard for any other platform, nor given a timeline for any such news. If we have news, I promise I'd tell you," Bethesda vice president of marketing Pete Hines wrote on Twitter yesterday.
But in May, Bethesda told me that the Xbox 360 would have a 30-day exclusive on the DLC. Dawnguard was first released on June 26. Today is July 27.
I've reached out to Bethesda to ask why the Xbox's exclusivity period has exceeded 30 days. I'll update if they respond.
There's nothing quite like a bard in a tavern, strumming his medieval proto-guitar of choice (here a mandolin, there a lute, sometimes a harp) and humming dulcet tones.
Then there's this bard. He's a little more 21st century than those other minstrels and troubadours. As he says: "You see, I bear some rare amazing information / and you look like someone who's used to strange situations." Because he's the rapping bard. And his Skyrim-wide rhymes are funnier than they have any business being.
For today's edition of Burning Questions, we're going to try something different.
While we usually have our weekly conversation/discussion/debate/verbal melodies via online chat and then put them on Kotaku, today we're going to do everything live. We'll be hanging out in the new discussion system, chatting with one another and maybe even you guys. So feel free to participate.
Today we're going to talk about DLC. Is it good? Is it evil? Is it somewhere in between? Probably. But why? How? When? Who? Those sure seem like some... burning questions.
Note: To watch the conversation in action, just keep hitting the Refresh icon below.
Update: The live chat is over, but we'll still be hanging out in the discussion system, answering questions and chatting it up with you dudes and dudettes!
Jun 29, 2012
I had very high expectations for Skyrim: Dawnguard.
How could I not? Creator Bethesda touted it as the type of DLC that would feel like an expansion pack, a nice chunk of crazy new content for RPG fans to dig their dragon-weary paws into. And of course, Skyrim was one of last year's best video games. I spent some 80 hours exploring and inhabiting its massive, secret-filled world.
So when I popped in Dawnguard, I expected it to wow me. I expected amazing new environments, crazy new plot lines, whole new cities to see and slaughter. I expected to be utterly blown away.
That didn't happen.
Here's what you should know about Dawnguard, which Bethesda released earlier this week for Xbox 360 (and will release later for PC and PlayStation 3): It adds two divergent faction lines to the game. One has you allying with a castle full of vampires; the other has you hunting down and killing those vampires. Both stories task you with acquiring a MacGuffin or three, which means you'll have to run around the world map through locations both new and old, mashing your trigger buttons and sniffing through caves on your quest to Save The World Again.
Dawnguard also fills Skyrim with a handful of other quests, tasks, and random scenarios. As a vampire, I found myself constantly accosted by the eponymous vamp-slaying Dawnguard, who would suddenly pop up in every city I visited, tracking me down like I had an iPhone. This protagonist-detecting ESP seems limited to the computer. While playing as a Dawnguard, you are instead just chased by psychic vampires (some of whom will apparently kill random NPCs everywhere you go).
WHY: Because you've seen, heard, and played most of this before.
Type of game: RPG DLC
Platforms: Xbox 360 (played), PC, PlayStation 3
Released: June 26 (Xbox 360), Later (PC, PlayStation 3)
Type of game: RPG DLC
What I played: Spent close to 15 hours finishing the vampire quest line. Took my time. Explored the world. You know: Skyrim stuff.
Two Things I Loved
- Having an excuse to revisit the world of Skyrim.
- The vampire quest's new follower, whose name and nature I won't spoil. She's awesome.
Two Things I Hated
- Boring, vast quests. Boring, vast areas.
- The game seems buggier than ever.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "You liked Skyrim, right? Here." - -Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
- "Hope you like caves." -Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
Because of this DLC's nature, I should admit that I definitely haven't seen everything it has to offer. Although I finished the vampire side of Dawnguard's main story and saw a few of its new sidequests, I did not scour every location in the game in search of new content, and therefore it's very possible that I missed some awesome features. But what I did experience—and what your average new player will experience—was nothing short of underwhelming.
The new quests are underwhelming: other than a few cool new concepts—like murdering a civilian while wearing Dawnguard armor so everybody thinks the Dawnguard did it—you've seen everything here before. Go here; find this; kill him; get that. There's nothing here as unabashedly awesome as, say, a certain quest at the end of the original game's Dark Brotherhood plot line.
The new areas are underwhelming: one, Soul Cairn, is just a soul-stuffed clone of Skyrim's Blackreach. It's big, purple, and completely empty. To finish its quests, you'll have to spend a lot of time walking through vast stretches of sheer nothingness. You'll have to fight a mini-boss, walk ten minutes through nothingness, fight another mini-boss, walk another ten minutes through nothingness, and so forth. This is not particularly fun, interesting, or emotionally engaging. Neither is the part where somebody asks you to hunt down ten pieces of paper and you just groan, wondering if you've accidentally stumbled into an MMORPG.
The new vampire powers are underwhelming: you can't use potions or spells while in Vampire Mode, and worst of all, you're stuck in third-person perspective. Teleporting around as a swarm of bats and draining enemies' life is cool, but completely impractical for regular use. To use items, open chests, and get through some doors, you'll have to switch back to human form, which means you'll have to sit through a long, laggy animation sequence before you can do anything. This is very irritating.
Even the bugs are underwhelming: other than this ridiculous moment toward the beginning of the game, Dawnguard's many bugs and glitches couldn't even get me to crack a smile. Particularly unfunny was the part where my follower suddenly disappeared and I had to replay an hour of progress because I couldn't activate the next quest trigger.
The sheer lack of creativity here makes it almost hard to believe that the same team worked on both Skyrim and Dawnguard. Keen-eyed Bethesda fans might notice that some of the game's new features draw from the Skyrim game jam that Todd Howard discussed at DICE earlier this year, and indeed, interesting mechanics like water currents, dark dungeons, and skeletal mounts are all in there. But they're all minor moments. The game jam itself was far more interesting than any of Dawnguard's new content.
If I had to summarize Dawnguard in two words, it would be this: more Skyrim. For many people, that's enough—and if you're in that boat, you should most definitely get your hands on this DLC. But if you wanted something special, something unique, something that could give you that feeling of giddiness you got the first time you entered Bethesda's hulking role-playing game and started exploring its caves and cities, then you might want to look elsewhere. Or at least wait for Skyrim: Game of the Year Edition.
Jun 27, 2012
I'm still powering my way through Dawnguard, which Bethesda is calling an expansion pack. My review will be up Friday morning, so until then, check out some of these vids I found on YouTube that show off all of the new features in the DLC, which is available on Xbox 360 for $20.
(Spoilers for Dawnguard content follow.)
A Day In The Life Of A Vampire Lord
Complete with crazy new mount and other special Vampire-related powers.
The Twin Dragons, Voslaarum & Naaslaarum
Dragon twins? Dragon twins.
Dragonbone Weapons and How To Start Dawnguard Quest
Dragonbone weapons? Dragonbone weapons.
New Enemy: DeathHound
Death Hounds? Death Hounds.
Dawnguard - New Enemy: Gargoyles
In Dawnguard, Gargoyles start off as stone statues and then suddenly morph into nasty flying creatures. They also come in tougher classes, like the Gargoyle Brute.
A first look at one of the game's daedric MacGuffins.
How To Get Your Hands On A Flaming Horse
It's in the Soul Cairn, which is very purple. In fact, it's one of the most purple areas in all of Skyrim. Maybe even the purplest.
How To Choose Becoming Vampire Or Dawnguard
Fairly early into Dawnguard, you get to decide whether or not to become a vampire. Here's how that goes.
How To Get An Armored Troll Follower
Yes, you can get your own armored troll. (Dawnguard only.)
Here's some video footage we just captured of Skyrim's first DLC, Dawnguard, which I've been playing today.
Watch me turn into a bunch of bats. Watch me drain peoples' lives. Watch me re-animate dead bodies.
No sparkles on this vampire, folks.
Jun 26, 2012
Crossbows, mysterious pale women, and a castle packed with nasty vampires: although the first few hours of Skyrim's first downloadable content start off a little slow, they've got some awesome things to offer—and they hint at even more to come.
Dawnguard, the expansion pack-sized DLC that developer Bethesda releases today for Xbox 360 (and later for PC and PlayStation 3), is good at slowly but surely building your excitement. Since receiving a code late last night, I've spent about three or four hours (who needs sleep?) exploring and hacking through Dawnguard's chunk of the world. And I'm psyched to see what will happen next.
While playing, I jotted down some notes about the experience. For your reading pleasure, here they are.
(Spoilers for the first 2-3 hours of Dawnguard follow)
- The coolest thing you can do in this DLC, in my experience so far, is turn into a vampire. You get this ability by visiting a castle full of vampires, listening to the king's generous offer to give you his blood, and saying yes. (He threatens to destroy you if you don't say yes.)
- As a vampire, you have a handful of special abilities. From the main menu you can use Vampire's Servant, which reanimates a corpse to fight by your side for 60 seconds, Vampire's Sight, which improves your night vision, and Vampire Lord, which zooms you out into third-person mode and morphs your character into a vicious beast.
- As a Vampire Lord—which is where all your real powers come into play—you can't use regular equipment. Your blood boils when you enter sunlight. You can drain life and even transform into a swarm of bats (which is sort of like a makeshift teleportation skill.)
- Turning into a vampire limits your inventory options until you revert back to human form.
- Turning into a vampire will purge the werewolf blood from your system.
- Turning into a vampire is really fucking cool.
- But how do you get that ability? Let's take it from the top. When I log into Dawnguard for the first time—which is really just logging into Skyrim with the DLC downloaded and installed—I load up my old character, who had been hanging out in the city Whiterun. Immediately I'm accosted by a bunch of vampire thralls. Once I defeat them, a man named Durak comes up to me and orders me to go check out Fort Dawnguard, in the way southeast corner of the map.
- See, Fort Dawnguard is where a group called the Dawnguard lives. They fight vampires. Like Buffy, but with Viking accents.
- If you start random conversations with the guards, they talk about the new vampire menace and how they wish it would go away.
- Eager to see a bunch of cool new shit, I make my way to the new area, which is southeast of Riften. I trek through an area called Dayspring Canyon and pass Stendarr's Beacon.
- Fort Dawnguard is huge. It looks lovely and romantic in the snow.
- Outside Fort Dawnguard, I meet a man named Agmaer. He's a little runt. He says he wants to join the Dawnguard, but he's scared because he's never done anything like this before. I vow that when I become a vampire and betray the Dawnguard, he'll be my first victim.
- I see Durak training with a crossbow. We chat and he says it's the Dawnguard's specialty. He gives me one. "Nothing better for putting down vampires."
- Shooting the crossbow feels nice and twangy, just like you'd expect. But it seems to reload way too slowly to be practical in combat at all. Maybe my character—a level 27 mage/swordsman—is just not built for ranged combat.
- When I enter Fort Dawnguard, I fall into the floor. Talk about a groundbreaking experience.
- Leaving and re-entering the room fixes this issue. Soon I'm chatting with Isran, leader of the Dawnguard, who asks me to go investigate Dimhollow Crypt, where a bunch of vampires are hunting after something. My job is to find out what that is.
- I teleport near Dimhollow Crypt and make my way over there.
- Oh, fuck off Ice Wraith.
- I'm too powerful for this DLC—or at least the first few hours of this DLC. Everything dies very, very quickly. Even Master Vampires collapse in two or three hits.
- So the dungeon is fairly easy. I do get to meet a new enemy, the Gargoyle, which is essentially just a new skin to attack.
- At the end of Dimhollow Crypt, I find a vampire woman named Serana. She's casually carrying an Elder Scroll on her back. She asks if I'll help her get home.
- I take Serana to her home, the aforementioned vampire castle (located in the way northwest). It's called Castle Volkihar. Her father, the king, asks if I want to join the tribe.
- I am now a vampire.
- In order to gain new perks as a vampire—which has its own skill tree—you have to kill enemies using your Drain Life or biting abilities.
- Some of the higher-end vampire perks include Supernatural Reflexes, which slows everything down, Night Cloak, which gives you a cloak of bats (!) that feed on enemies within range, and Summon Gargoyle, which does what it sounds like.
- I don't know why anyone would ever choose not to be a vampire. Presumably if you denied the king's request, you'd go back and fight for the Dawnguard. But... why?
- There's a feeding pit. You can go up to human thralls and suck out their blood. It's hot.
- I'm introduced to some other members of vampire court, like the nasty Orthjolf and Vingalmo, two oddly named vamps who are apparently out to get one another.
- What's interesting about the vampire castle—and what will hopefully make this a cool plotline—is that everyone is just a straight-up awful person. Which will make for some interesting stories. Hopefully it's as cool as the Dark Brotherhood.
- It will take every ounce of restraint in my body to not go around every city in Skyrim, eating people and bat-swarming my way through crowds of dumb guards. Gotta finish the actual game so I can review it for all you lovely readers. You're welcome.
I'll have more on Dawnguard, including a full review, in the coming days.
Jun 25, 2012
This is Skyrim's first piece of downloadable content, Dawnguard, which comes out tomorrow for Xbox 360. I loaded it up for the first time about half an hour ago. Headed to the first new area, Fort Dawnguard.
The video above shows what I found there. Enjoy your first look at Skyrim's DLC in action.
(Exiting and re-entering the room seemed to fix this issue.)