Die Another Day: Addendum

A while back, I wrote about Die Another Day, the 20th film in the James Bond-series. While I do not consider it my best work, I stand by my opinion that the movie is awful.

But that being said, it has been brought to my attention that when I wrote about the diamonds, and I stated that conflict diamonds or “Blood diamonds”, i.e. diamonds that come from mines in war zones and are used to finance warlords or insurgencies, are chemically identical to all other diamonds (since they’re made from nothing but carbon) I was in fact wrong.

I have been informed that natural diamonds, no matter how high the quality, will still contain small amounts of other minerals. Not only that, but it is possible to determine where the diamonds are from, based on those impurities.

As much as I hate being wrong, I hate the idea of knowingly spreading false information even more.

After all, if I write lies to get my point across, then what use is my writing?

So I apologize, Die Another Day. You may be a rancid pustule on cinematic history, but I was wrong in that particular criticism about you….

However…

I would still argue that scene was incredibly stupid. Why?

I’ll give you two very good reasons.

Firstly, while diamonds do contain small amounts of minerals, you would need something more advanced than a jewellers loupe to see those particles. Most likely, you would need something a bit more advanced than your average science lab microscope.

Not to mention that to determine WHERE those particles come from, you would need a mass spectrometer.

Do you know what I didn’t see in this movie? You know, apart from any hope it would ever be any good?

I didn’t see a microscope and I sure as hell did not see a mass spectrometer!

Keep in mind, they made the statement about the diamonds in the back room of a cigar factory in Cuba! Bond is working outside of MI-6 at this point! He has no laser watch, no invisible car and he sure as FUCK doesn’t have a special portable science lab.

Of course, I know what some of you might be saying “But the person he’s talking is a British sleeper agent! He could’ve had that equipment!

To which my response is No, he did not have that equipment. Do you know why? If he had the equipment, it would mean he’d have other equipment too, meaning he’d need an entire science lab.

But the problem with that is that he’s not a scientist. He’s a SLEEPER AGENT. His job is to stay put and act as an undercover asset to intelligence officers. In this case, it’s to provide information. That’s a job that requires you to keep a low profile. You know what isn’t “keeping a low profile”?

HAVING A GOD DAMN ANALYTICAL CHEMISTRY LAB IN YOUR BACK ROOM!

And I refuse to believe that even the MI-6, who sends people on SURF BOARDS INTO NORTH KOREA (and no, I will never let that go) would be so mind-bogglingly stupid as to sabotage their own progress by giving a sleeper agent high class, advanced scientific equipment that might attract a lot of unwanted attention.

The only way they MIGHT have found out where the stones came from would be if they sent it to MI-6 for analysis. But since Bond escaped MI-6 custody and is on the run from them, it’s probably not a good idea to call up M and ask her for a favor!

And secondly, if you stop for even a second and THINK, the entire “conflict diamond” issue is completely fucking pointless!

Sure, you might argue that it’s the fact that they’re conflict diamonds that makes Bond suspicious about Gustav Graves, since the diamonds have his laser signature.

And sure, finding the laser signature of an up-and-coming diamond billionaire in a conflict diamond is pretty suspicious…

Do you know what else is very suspicious?

Finding the laser signature of an up-and-coming diamond billionaire in a diamond hanging around the neck of A KNOWN TERRORIST, MURDERER AND WAR CRIMINAL. Especially when said terrorist is undergoing incredibly expensive gene therapy to change his appearance!

But no, it’s the fucking chemicals that tipped you off.

Brilliant deduction, 007. I’m glad to see that severe drinking problem of yours hasn’t dulled your rapier intellect…

Either the writers decided to make Bond a fucking moron in this movie, or they actually forgot what happened in the previous scene, and had to write in some bullshit handwavy explanation for why Bond should go after Graves.

You see, when it comes to this movie, I’m like a hydra. If you cut down one of my arguments, two far more potent arguments will grow in its place.

And as the final nod to the Lernaen Hydra of ancient Greek myth, I have one immortal argument that will never be contradicted.

No matter what argument you raise in defence of Die Another Day, the fact remains that they SURFED INTO NORTH KOREA!

THIS MOVIE IS FUCKING STUPID!

Assassin’s Creed III & IV: Black Flag

I like the Assassin’s Creed-Series. Some games, I like more than others, but I don’t hate any of them. I started playing Assassin’s Creed 2 when it was released. I never played the previous game, but the story was easy enough to follow. I then played “Brotherhood” and “Revelations”, and I liked them as well.

Then I played Assassin’s Creed III. And for some reason, I didn’t really like that… Maybe it was the weird controls, maybe it was the small coding problems, like how one of your guns would revert to the Pitcairn-Putnam pistol or that the colour of your outfit would revert back to the standard colours during cut-scenes.

Maybe it was that by the end of the story, I found myself agreeing with the Templars. Connor wanted to kill Charles Lee because of the attack on his village and the death of his mother. When he finds out that Charles was not the one responsible, and that it was George Washington that did it, does he fight Washington?

No, he continues to go after Lee because…. uhm…. he has greasy hair, I suppose.

But whatever the reason, Connor fights for Washington, so that his tribe will be free and safe. But in the end, his tribe is forced to move. Shockingly, the American Government was lying to the Native Americans.

One part of the game I find very interesting is when Connor and Haytham have to work together, and they discuss the purpose of their orders.

Connor: What is it the Templars truly seek?

Haytham: Order. Purpose. Direction. No more than that. It’s your lot that means to confound with this nonsense talk of freedom. Time was, the Assassin’s professed a far more sensible goal. that of peace.

Connor: Freedom IS peace.

Haytham: Oh, no. It’s an invitation to chaos. Only look at this little revolution your friends have started. I have stood before the continental congress and listened to them stamp and shout. All in the name of liberty. But it is just noise. […] The people chose nothing. It was done by a group of privileged cowards seeking only to enrich themselves. They convened in private and made a decision that would benefit THEM. Oh, they might have dressed it up with pretty words, but that does not make it true. The only difference, Connor – the ONLY difference between myself and those you aid – is that I do not feign affection.

Good or evil, right or wrong, Haytham manages to argue and justify his views far better than Connor does, which ends up making Connor seem less like a stoic, idealistic fighter for liberty, and more like a stubborn, naïve fool, with a ridiculous black and white morality, where the Templars are all evil, and anyone who’s not a Templar is therefore automatically on the side of good.

That being said, the game had plenty of good things about it. And the thing they did best, the greatest part of the game, was the naval missions. Equipping your ship and going head to head with other ships in sea battles. That was so much fun!

So the producers at Ubisoft looked at this and said “Hmm… these missions were really fun. The players really liked them….. Let’s make the next game have more of that!”

And so they made Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

This game pretty much cherry-picked everything that was good with Assassin’s Creed III and made it better. The characters are more interesting, the story is better and there is actual growth in the main character, from a cocky pirate to a full fledged captain and master assassin. It’s a brilliant game!

However…

This game has a few things that, while they do not annoy me, I feel like the game could have done a bit better.

Now, before I write anything, I should stress that I do not, in any way, dislike this game. I’ve played few games that were as fun, as interesting or exciting as this. I am well aware that my suggestions, while seemingly small, would probably add days, weeks, if not months of extra development and cost huge sums of money.

I freely admit that this is just nitpicking, much like the smoking issue in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. It’s still a good game. But even good games have room for improvement, since no game is perfect.

So without further ado, let’s begin.

One of the things It’d be nice to have is the option to use a helmsman to steer the ship. Imagine you open the map screen and set Nassau as your target. Then once you’ve gone to “Travel Speed“, you can hold A, and the helmsman takes the helm (duh) and steers the ship to Nassau. You’re then free to walk around the ship, maybe go below deck (another thing that’d be nice, by the way) or climb the mast. If you fall into the water, the ship just stops. Seems easy enough.

Of course, they try to hand-wave the lack of a helmsman with Edward saying he likes to be in control. But the thing is, he’s sailing a brig in the early 18th  century. He has nothing but wind and lofty dreams to carry him forward. That means he’d get speeds of about 20 km/h. That is, if the wind is in his favour. That means a trip to Havana, Cuba from Kingston, Jamaica would take at least 40 hours! And that’s not counting reefs, bad weather, poor equipment or SAILING AROUND THE WESTERN END OF CUBA! You’re trying to tell me that Edward Kenway would stand at the helm, steering his ship for two or three, maybe even four days, never resting? Are we supposed to believe that whenever Edward decided to take a nap, he’d order the sails to be rolled and the ship brought to a full stop?!

Of course not! He had a helmsman, as did everybody else! It’s something you need on a ship! Hell, most ships would probably have more than one, simply so you wouldn’t HAVE to stop for a rest! It’s not a sign of being lazy or disinterested! You want to steer it for yourself? Fine. Nothing says that once you’ve used “Helmsman” you can’t take over if you want to. It’s just one of those things that you should be able to do, because it makes perfect sense!

But like I said, such an addition costs time and money. You need to add an animation of the helmsman, programs for how he should move, an autopilot program. It’d mean you’d have to cut something else.

And if that is the case, I can suggest something they could have left out.

The swords.

I’ll explain

From the first Assassin’s Creed, all the way to Assassin’s Creed III, you fight with a sword. You carry a sword, a dagger and your hidden blade, along with game specific equipment like guns, crossbows, blow-darts and so on. But I want to focus on the sword.

In Black Flag, they seemingly decided to up the ante a bit and give Edward Kenway two swords. On paper, this sounds like a cool idea. Who doesn’t like the idea of fighting with two swords?

The problem is that it makes no sense! There was a reason previous master Assassins, like Altaír and Ezio used only one sword.

Using two swords looks cool, but it’s extremely impractical. You’d much rather use one sword and have one hand free. That way, you can pull a gun, throw a knife or grab things and people.

And even IF we assume that you wouldn’t have a problem fighting, then there’s the huge problems with how impractical they are OUTSIDE of fighting.

Again, Ezio and Altaír didn’t use two swords, and they were in cities. Edward is mostly on a ship!

Have you ever tried strapping a sword to your side? Try two swords. Now try climbing a rigging or walk through a door. They’re going to get in the way. And some of these swords aren’t the light rapier-like short swords he has in the beginning of the game. We’re talking full length sabres or scimitars. They’ve got some considerable weight to them. And he SWIMS with them?!

I’m sorry, but nobody would do that, unless they’re incredibly stupid! You know why? Because you’d fucking drown! If you spend your days climbing through riggings and swimming, you want to keep as light and nimble as possible. Carrying two full length swords at all times is NOT what I, or anyone on the planet would call “light and nimble“.

And this is a small thing, but I really liked the little animation Connor and Haytham had. If you pressed the “attack” button with the sword drawn and no enemies nearby, they would make a little twirling motion with the sword. With Edward, he just sort of wiggles them. That’s nowhere near as interesting.

He’s using two swords because he’s supposed to be ruthless in combat, but it’s not how many weapons you have that make you ruthless. It’s how you use them. Connor only had one sword, and his fighting style was violent and savage. Edward just comes across as stupid. There’s no good reason for why he’d use two swords, but plenty of good reasons why he shouldn’t.

And then there’s the Flintlocks.

There are several things that bug me about the flintlocks. It’s not that you can use them soon after you’ve fallen into water. I can rationalize that.

No, the first thing that bugs me is (and many will disagree with me, I know) that the guns reload too quickly.

In Assassin’s Creed III, the guns took a long time to reload. You had to reload each gun separately. You might say this was annoying, but consider this: the guns were GREAT in that game! They killed pretty much all enemies in one shot. They took a long time to reload, because that’s how you balance these things out. You wanted to save the guns, because you knew that once you fired them, you wouldn’t get the chance to reload any time soon.

In Black Flag, the guns are just as powerful, but now you reload all four guns in 5 seconds. And I’m sorry, but that’s too fast. It takes away a lot of how special the guns should be. Unleashing a barrage of bullets should be something that takes more than 5 seconds to prepare. When you load your pistols, it should feel special. You should have to see every gun reloaded separately. It should feel like you’re loading up for war!

Now, the next thing is just me being pedantic and nitpicky. (more than usual, that is)

With one of the DLC’s, you can acquire Francis Drakes swords. It’s bit annoying that, like all swords, there are TWO of them, since it robs them of some of their exclusivity. But the big thing that bugs me is that you can find Francis Drakes flintlock pistols.

I repeat.

You can acquire the flintlock pistols used by Francis Drake.

For those of you who might not know all that much about history, Francis Drake was a 16th century sea captain and privateer. He lived from 1540 to 1596.

The first flintlock pistol, however, was invented in 1610, 14 years after Drake died.

You might argue that it’s simply one of the earlier types of pistols, that were very similar to flintlocks, and I’d be willing to agree with you, if not for the fact that they’re not called “Captain Drakes Snaplocks/Snaphance/Wheel Lock/Miquelet”. They’re called “Captain Drakes Flintlocks“.

Saying that a snaplock pistol is the same thing as a flintlock pistol is like saying a Colt Dragoon is the same thing as a Colt Single Action Army revolver.

End of argument!

When the game was released, there were of course limited editions of the game and special merchandise you could buy, like posters and figures and novels.

One of the things that really stuck out for me with all of them was the flintlocks Edward is wearing. The pistol has a dragon head on the butt of the gun. It’s a very pretty gun. So pretty, in fact, that it features on almost every poster, on every cover for the game, on wallpapers, in most trailers, the cover for the novel and on every limited edition figure available.

Look it up if you don’t believe me.

So what is the problem, you may wonder?

That gun is not in the game. Not once in the entire game, does that gun or any gun even vaguely resembling it make an appearance. It doesn’t feature in any DLC or limited edition of the game and I just don’t understand why! They were clearly proud of the design! Otherwise they wouldn’t have put it on everything!

Same thing with the swords he carries. One is a very pretty brass basket hilt cutlass. Another looks very similar to the “Light Cavalry Sabre” from Assassin’s Creed III. Yet another is very similiar to the “Officer’s Short Sword” from Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. Do any of these swords appear in game? No! And with them, it’s weird since they already HAD the designs for those swords!

I admit, it’s not a big thing. I don’t think the game would be monumentally different if they’d put the guns and the swords in it. But if you hold something out, show it that much and make it so prominent, and then don’t put it in the game…. then why is it there?

Sure, they might not be as good as the golden flintlock pistols or the officers rapiers. But if you’re going to show them and go “Edward Kenway used these weapons, THEN WHY NOT LET US USE THEM!?

And finally, my last little complaint.

This game, much like Brotherhood, Revelations and AC III, allows you to replay missions. That’s good. It allows you to relive your favourite missions, like the mission where you get to sail the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

My problem is the Legendary Ships.

One side activity has you sail to the four corners of the map. There, you have four battles against Legendary Ships. These are the toughest of the tough ships sailing the West Indies, each yielding a massive prize of 20.000 reales once you defeat them!

The battles are, without exception, epic and difficult. They’re really exciting, with distinct strategies, they’re ruthless and just downright awesome. In short, battles like these is why you HAVE the option to replay missions!

Can you replay their missions?

NO!

You had the perfect opportunity here to add an option to replay these battles. But instead it just becomes a blip in the database, taunting us!

Yeah, remember that battle… that was fun, wasn’t it? What’s that, you want to play it again? Well, I guess you just have to start a new game, don’t you?

Why?! There is no good reason for that! Unless you actually connect me to Xbox Live and charge me $20 for starting a new game, there is no reason why you should force me to replay the entire game just to play a specific mission again.

Remember, this is a game that revolves around RELIVING SOMEONES MEMORIES! One would think defeating the biggest badass ships in the Caribbean would be something you’d remember quite fondly!

There. I’m done. Nitpick rant over.

So like I said before, I love this game. It’s almost perfect. Almost, but not quite.

With a few additions, it could have been Excellent. As it is, though, I’m afraid it’ll have to settle for “fantastic”.

Prince of Persia (2008)

It’s not often that I am genuinely puzzled by something. I may feign confusion or ignorance for the sake of comedy, and I may overthink things that don’t seem to add up to me. But it’s mostly just for fun, and I’m not actually confused by it.

The 2008 game “Prince of Persia” puzzles me.

I don’t know if this game is extremely stupid or if it’s absolutely genius.

But before I get to the puzzling part, I’ll give you a brief summary of the story.

You play the Prince (no other name given) and you’re walking through the desert looking for your donkey. During your search, you come across a woman named Elika. She is on her way to a temple/giant tree that serves as the prison for a malicious entity known as Ahriman.

Once you get to the temple, you find that Elikas father, the king of makesnodifferencistan has made a deal with Ahriman and frees him from his prison.

It’s then your job to, along with Elika, restore the temple and save the world. You do this by purifying what’s called “Sacred Grounds” throughout the kingdom. Sounds easy enough, right?

Problem is that the sacred grounds are extremely hard to reach, meaning you have to climb, jump and parkour your way to them. At the end of the level, you fight an area-specific boss and purify the area. Rinse and repeat about 20 times.

All in all, it’s a pretty simplistic game that’s entertaining enough.

So what is it that puzzles me about it?

You can’t die.

I don’t mean it’s insultingly easy. In fact it can be really tricky at times. But the game doesn’t allow you to lose.

Whenever you fall, or get stuck in some vicious goo, Elika uses her magic and pulls you to a safe place.

Oh, didn’t I mention Elika can fly and teleport? Well, she can.

At some places in the game, you have to fight enemies. Sometimes it’s some strange corruption spawn, and a few times you fight the King who is in league with Ahriman, but mostly it’s one of the four region-specific bosses.

If you get hit during the fights, you might get knocked down, and the enemy will loom over you with a sword or whatever weapon they use, preparing to kill you. Here you’re prompted to press a button.

If you press it, you deflect their weapon and get back up to continue fighting.

If you press the wrong button or don’t press anything at all, Elika shoots a magic shockwave, knocking them away and you get back up to continue fighting.

This game actively refuses to let you die.

Now, some of you might say “Well, what’s the point then? It’s a no-lose scenario.

That’s what puzzles me about this game.

I don’t know if the writing is terrible or if it’s amazing.

See, no matter how badly you play this game, you cannot die. Even if you actively TRY to die, the game doesn’t let you. Winning the game is all but inevitable.

You defeat the four Corrupted lieutenants, fight the Mourning King, who has been taken over by the corruption and seal Ahriman in his prison once again.

However….

Then you find out why the King betrayed his people and freed Ahriman. Elika had tried to reach one of the sacred grounds, but she failed and fell to her death. So the King made a deal with Ahriman. In exchange for his freedom, Ahriman would restore Elika to life. And when you seal him in his prison again, the deal is off, and Elika drops dead.

So what do you do?

You make a deal with Ahriman.

If you destroy the seals to his prison and set him free, undoing all your hard work in the game, he will revive Elika.

And the game doesn’t give you any choice in the matter. After several hours of refusing to let you lose, it doesn’t let you win.

So again, this game puzzles me. Either it’s a no-lose scenario in that you cannot fail to finish the game, or it’s the biggest no-win scenario I’ve ever seen, where it forces you to undo everything you’ve accomplished.

Is the game bad? I don’t think so. I enjoyed playing it, and I don’t regret it.

But if you were to ask me to describe it, I think “War Games” said it best.

Strange game…. The only winning move is not to play…

Chapter IV: The Agony of Choice

Skyrim is supposed to be an RPG. There is no use trying to pretend otherwise. It’s meant to be a fantasy role playing game. The problem, however, is that as an RPG, it’s a complete failure.

Do you know what the point is with an RPG? The whole basis for role playing since the dawn of the genre?

Choice. Allowing the player to make their own decisions, to exercise free will and having them face the consequenses of their actions, good or bad.

Fallout understood this concept. Baldurs Gate understood it. Even Fable, one the most simplistic role playing games I’ve ever played, understood it.

Skyrim does not.

You’re not given a choice in this game. None of your actions have the slightest impact on the world. Sometimes, if you are EXTREMELY lucky, you get two options on how to solve something. But those instances are rare. Otherwise, you’re on the plot railroad, and there ain’t no sidetracks. And the thing is, these limitations can make some of the skills you can train yourself in completely meaningless, making you wonder why you bothered with those skills in the first place.

For example:

During the “Dark Brotherhood” story arc, you’re hired by a woman named Muiri who asks you to kill a bandit. The bandit in question tricked Muiri into thinking he was in love with her. In reality, he used her to get close to the Shatter-Shields, close friends and a surrogate family to Muiri, to rob them of their valuables.

The Shatter-Shields disowned Muiri, believing she was in on the scam, leaving her without friends or family in Windhelm, forcing her to move to another city to try and start over.

So she hires you to kill the bandit that ruined her life. So far, so good. A bit dark, but otherwise a fairly basic story, right?

But then the mission throws you a curve ball by having Muiri ask you to, for a small bonus, kill Nilsine Shatter-Shield, the daughter in the family that rejected her, her childhood friend and as close to a sister as she’s ever had.

Right after the family lost their OTHER daughter to a psychotic serial killer.

Now, you can either refuse to kill Nilsine, in which case Muiri is left bitter and alone, judging you for not going through with it….

Or you can kill Nilsine, leading to her mother committing suicide from having lost both her daughters.

Those are your only options in this mission.

However, if someone COMPETENT was writing this, I could think of one or two other choices you could make…

You could use your Speech-skill to convince Muiri to forgive the Shatter-Shields and move on, since killing her childhood friend wouldn’t accomplish anything. Oh wait, that would make sense, and we can’t have that.

Perhaps you could, if you have sufficient points in Charisma, convince the Shatter-Shields to forgive Muiri. No wait, that’s right, there is no stat for Charisma.

Maybe if you have a high Intelligence score, you could try and reason with them, arguing Muiris innocence. But that would mean there was an Intelligence score. Silly me, I keep expecting this to work like an RPG.

Perhaps the Bandit has a journal that proves she wasn’t involved, and in fact is only one of several similar cases? Nah, that would require putting effort into the quest. Can’t have that.

No, let’s just ignore these four perfectly valid solutions, and just go with NOT making you feel like you’ve actually helped someone. That sounds much better, doesn’t it?

Dave: That’s not fair! That mission is part of the Dark Brotherhood arc! If you want to feel like a good guy, you shouldn’t join a faction of assassins!

I’d argue that it’s fully possible to be an assassin with good intentions, and there’s nothing in the doctrines of the Dark Brotherhood (which they don’t follow anyway) preventing you from trying to help people, and in fact all that’s stopping you is the bad writing, but fine, let’s go with that answer.

Then there’s the quest “Paarthurnax

This quest is given to you by the Blades, an ancient organization formed by the Dragonborn-Turned-Emperor Tiber Septim,

In earlier games, they served as bodyguards to the emperor, but in Skyrim they are retconned as dragonslayers who have sworn an oath of allegiance and servitude to the Dragonborn.

In other words: They work for you.

They inform you that the leader of the Greybeards, Paarthurnax, is in fact a dragon.
Of course, you already KNEW that, since by this point you’ve already met Paarthurnax.

Then they tell you to kill him, saying that until you do so, they refuse to help you any further.

I repeat.

The Blades tell you, the Dragonborn, whom they are honour bound to follow, help and protect, and to whom they owe every single victory they’ve had during the course of the game, and who is solely responsible for giving them access to the ancient Sky Haven Temple, that unless you kill Paarthurnax, they won’t help you any more.

Now, how would a properly made RPG solve this quest?

(Obviously, a properly made RPG wouldn’t have made this an issue in the first place, but let’s just ignore that for a moment)

Can you use your Intelligence score to point out that by refusing to help you, they are in fact breaking their oath? No, because Skyrim doesn’t use stats, so there is no Intelligence score.

Can you use your high skill in Speech to explain that the only reason they’re in the Sky Haven Temple is because of you slicing your arm open to unlock the door, and that they owe you? No, because you can’t expect that, just because you are the most persuasive person who has ever lived, you can convince people to use common sense.

Can you lie about killing Paarthurnax, and just bring them any piece of dragon bone? No, of course not. Silly me.

When they tell you that if you’re not going to kill Paarthurnax, they will refuse to help, can you threaten them, pointing at all the monsters you have defeated over the course of the game, the graveyards you’ve filled, and ask them if they really want you as an enemy? Ha! What a cute little imagination you have…

Maybe you could tell them that Paarthurnax is, in fact, the one responsible for teaching humanity how to use the Thu’um, and as such is directly to thank for the fact Alduin was defeated and humanity was freed from his tyrannical reign, and surely the freedom and safety of EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER LIVED SINCE THE DAWN OF RECORDED HISTORY is enough to forgive his crimes? Of course not! That’d just be silly!

In fact, if you tell them that Paarthurnax, at great risk of his own life, betrayed Alduin and decided to help humanity, they claim that’s only proof that he might betray you at a later point, since all he’s done is prove he’s untrustworthy.

And sure, that’s a good point… After all, it’s not like he switched sides at the height of Alduins power. It’s not like before he switched sides, humanity had no realistic way to fight the dragons, since the lack of a Dragonborn meant Alduin could just revive the dragons, even if the humans managed to kill one. I mean, That would mean Paarthurnax sided with humanity out of compassion rather than necessity-Oh wait, that’s right, that’s exactly what he fucking did!

But no, you can’t use any of your skills to explain BASIC FACTS about Paarthurnax. He used to be in league with Alduin, and killed THOUSANDS of people! He must pay for those lives.

Never mind the literal BILLIONS of people who have him personally to thank for being alive. Never mind the fact the whole reason humanity flourished, and Tiber Septim himself ever coming into being to form the Blades in the first place, is because of Paarthurnax betraying Alduin.

Dave: Well, technically it was thanks to the Elder Scroll that Alduin was defeated, not Paarthurnax’s betrayal…

Perhaps, but without the thu’um rendering Alduin flightless, I’m willing to bet they would’ve never gotten the chance to use it in the first place. Not to mention they probably wouldn’t have been able to survive long enough to retrieve the Elder Scroll without the Thu´um to help them fight dragons.

I just don’t understand the reasoning behind this quest.

Dave: Isn’t it obvious? The blades are dragonslayers. If the Dragonborn won’t slay a dragon, they won’t follow him.

BULLSHIT! That’s not how an oath of allegiance works! You can’t claim you’ve pledged yourself to serve the Dragonborn, and then start issuing ultimatums. If you’ve pledged yourself to my service, you serve until I say otherwise.

If you’re not going to do as I say, you have broken your oath, and you are no longer allowed to be a member of the Blades. And yes, this is my decision to make! The game has outright told me I am the one calling the shots, even without all the shit I’ve done for them already!

Dave: Well, they could just find another Dragonborn…

Oh, Sure they can! Oh wait, that’s right! The prophecy on Alduins wall specifically mentions me as “The Last Dragonborn”. So no, they haven’t got a damn choice! They can either do as I say, or fuck off back to the shithole where I found them.

THOSE are their only options!

But you know what the funny thing is? Believe it or not, I’d be able to forgive ALL OF THIS! Every single piece of shitty writing and braindead character motivation in this quest, were it not for ONE teeny tiny little detail….

YOU CAN’T KILL THE BLADES!

THAT is not an option in this mission! This is one of the most obvious opportunities for a writer with a basic understanding of storytelling to write multiple solutions.

But instead, they give you ONE option.

Kill Parthurnax.

The only other option is to not do the mission. And that is not a fucking option in an RPG!

If you’re going to give me a scenario where the people in question are impossible to sway, threaten or convince, at least give me the option to kill them, even if that means I fail the quest. That’d still be a resolution!

See, choices aren’t just there to pad out the game. They are necessary, not only because it makes you feel like you control the story to a degree, but also because not enforcing choices can cause huge problems later.

For example…

During the course of the game, you come across several of the Daedric Princes, god-like entities from the plane of Oblivion. They give you quests to complete in exchange for benefits, such as magical artifacts, unique weapons or armor.

But the thing is, some of these Daedric Princes are violently at odds with one another, with different agendas, goals and philosophies. One of the quests even has Molag Baal task you kill the priest of another Prince.

In any other RPG, this would be something that has long running ramifications, seeing as you have now made yourself an enemy to a demi-god who owes their allegiance to nobody but themself! This could potentially lead to them seeking revenge, which in any other RPG might make you want to weigh your options. Is helping this Daedric Prince really a good idea in the long run? Is the reward they offer really worth it? You’d have to make a CHOICE!

But in Skyrim, it doesn’t have any lasting impact on the game. Nobody comes after you, nobody is upset and there is NOTHING preventing you from completing quests for the other Daedric Princes, including the Prince whose priest you just killed.

Now, this is bad in and of itself, but it also leads to a giant pseudo-philosophical problem. In this game, you can do a mission for Boethiah, making you her champion. You can become a werewolf, which means that once you die, you will go to Hircine’s realm in oblivion and hunt with him for all eternity. But then, you can pledge your body and soul to the service of Nocturnal. You can also become the Listener of the Assassin’s Guild, which may or may not bind you to Sithis for eternity. All in the same playthrough. 

So, my question is: What happens when your character eventually dies? Won’t that pretty much tear the spiritual realm apart, since two or more deities now have an equal claim to the same soul?

See, this is another very obvious situation where the writer should force the player to make a choice. The paradox I’ve just outlined is the perfect justification to enforce that choice. Forcing you to make these choices means you want to play the game again, to explore a different approach. But of course, Bethesda decided this wasn’t something people playing an RPG would be interested in.

And lastly, there’s the Skyrim Civil War.

This isn’t just one quest. This is an entire series of quests, taking up several hours of gameplay, where you lead one of the warring factions of Skyrim in victory against their enemies.

The factions are the Imperial Army and the Stormcloak Rebellion.

I decided to side with the Empire.
We fought across half the country, with missions leading us down into abandoned grave catacombs and holding off attacking armies, laying siege to cities and finally attacking Windhelm, the seat of power of Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak himself. After fighting through the city, we finally stormed into Ulfrics throneroom, and defeated him in combat. With his last breaths, he asked to be killed by The Dragonborn, since it would make for a better story.

After I killed Ulfric, the imperial general held a speech in front of the citadel, before the imperial army that has killed and died for this peace. Finally, the country is free!

Cheers and applause all around!

And so, I left Windhelm, happy to have contributed. Who knows what impact I may have had on Skyrim? I’ve brought peace to this war torn nation! Finally, this game has allowed me to ACCOMPLISH something!

But as I kept playing, I started to realize that I’ve only contributed in prolonging the war!

I will explain in greater detail in the next chapter, but for now, all I’ll say is that Ulfric dying doesn’t automatically mean the war is over. The only way to end a civil war so that it actually, you know, ENDS, is if your enemy surrenders! Otherwise someone else can just take the place of whoever you killed! Now thanks to you, Ulfric isn’t a regicidal asshole out to claim the throne. He’s a martyr who gave his life for the people of Skyrim!

The game is just TAUNTING me with how meaningless my actions are at this point!

It’s not that Skyrim doesn’t have choices…
It’s that the few choices you’re given have no real impact. Any choice you make is invalidated almost instantly, and you never get the feeling that you have any control over what happens. It’s almost like the writers are afraid of the concept of “Consequence”. They don’t trust you to make a choice, so they will either invalidate your choice or, more often, make the choice FOR you.

And that, to me, is the ANTITHESIS of what an RPG is supposed to be!

Dave: You’re just being overly critical. All RPG’s have situations when you have no choices.

Oh, sure. But you know what the difference is between Skyrim and a good RPG, like Fallout: New Vegas?

In a good game, scenarios where you have no choices are the EXCEPTION, not the RULE! Hell, taking away choice is a great way to show that “This is bigger than you!“. Done sparingly, it makes situations big and important. You know what doing it all the time accomplishes? It makes YOU, the player, seem insignificant.

Let me put this into context….

In Fallout: New Vegas, one of my absolute favorite parts is an unmarked quest called “Silus Treatment”.

The quest features the NCR, having captured a centurion from Caesars Legion named Silus. So far, their interrogation has yielded no results. That’s when you arrive.

The NCR decides to see if you’ll have better luck, since you’re not constrained by the same laws as members of the NCR military. As such, you’re to use whatever means you deem necessary to make him talk.

You’re then allowed inside Silus’ cell.

From here, you have a few options on how to deal with him.

In Skyrim, you’d have the option to hit him until he talks, or leave the room. MAYBE you’d also be allowed to kill him, thereby failing the mission, but who knows if you’d be that lucky…

In Fallout, you’re given, not one, not two, but FIVE DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS to this one unmarked quest.

(6 if you count the Skyrim approach of ignoring the mission altogether.)

You can:

  1.  Hit him until he talks.
  2.  Use your speech skill to mock him, until he gets so angry he starts revealing confidential information to prove himself.
  3.  You can be a dick and kill him, which makes the NCR angry.
  4.  If you’re siding with the Legion, you can help him escape.
  5.  Pretend you’re a Legion assassin sent to kill him.

My personal favourite is nr 5, an option that’s only accessible if you have a high enough intelligence score.

Of course, if you pick that option, he doesn’t believe you, and calls your bluff.

That’s when you start talking to him in latin.

Since the members of the Legion are all unaware that Caesar modelled his empire on ancient Rome, and instead believe he created it himself, the idea of someone outside the Legion speaking latin is completely unthinkable to them.

Silus instantly believes you and begs you to just let him go, and that his plan was always to disappear.

At which point you accuse him of desertion.

Silus gets angry, and tells you that he has been loyal to Caesar, never revealing any secrets, such as the spy they have hidden on the base, sending information from the flight control tower. He tells you how he has never questioned Caesars leadership, even when the latters prolonged seizures (caused by a brain tumor) would leave him incapacitated for days.

He ends his angry tirade by telling you that if Caesar repays loyalty with assassination, his empire will crumble…

At which point you reveal that you’re not with the Legion at all, you just got Silus to tell you everything and that if Caesar’s empire crumbles, it’s because his Centurions are so gullible.

That, right there, is what I want when I play an RPG. I want the choices I’ve made with my character to matter. I want the skills I’ve favoured to be useful. I want to be given a choice on how to approach a problem. I want to feel like I’m making a difference. In short: I want to ROLEPLAY!

But clearly, Bethesda and I have very different ideas of what the term RPG means.

The main difference being that my definition is correct.

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