Sparky's Update - Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Mechromancy

Did your girlfriend just give an involuntary gasp of pleasure? Did your wife suddenly look at the door with a sense of longing and distance? Did the electrical outlets in your house just surge and crackle? There's a reason, honey chile. Sparky's Update is back, ready and willing, and now with 80% more beard!

It's been a long, long while since I've written a real blog here on GB, so let me explain the game to those of you who are either new or haven't been around in a while. I write primarily two blog series - one is an RPG retrospective, in which I examine old RPGs with a critical, modern eye towards whether or not they're suitable for modern players. The other is a generic "what I'm playing" styled blog, called Sparky's Update. There's no real set format for the blog, but I'll usually add some small notes on what I'm also reading or watching, along with general quick thoughts on the games industry. It's a big catch-all, and I take pride in it causing a major upswing in pregnancies and amorous feelings whenever it's posted.

This week, I'll be covering a bit on Skyrim's Dawnguard and Hearthfire expansions (the skinny - both are pretty terrific) as well as Borderlands 2's Mechromancer (the skinny - if you want a great class and haven't tired of replaying the game, it's well worth it).

I've Got a Fever, and the Only Cure is More... Black Soul Gems?

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention above that I'm very fond of drudging up way outdated jokes. I'm also a fan of bad punnery. I shall try to refrain as much as possible, but you will have to suffer. My apologies.

Bethesda's track record with its DLC had been pretty spotty. Some of its expansions, like Shivering Isles, were pretty good. Some were truly awful (horse armor, the Fallout 3 alien DLC). They've been fairly cautious about releasing DLC for Skyrim, with nary a season pass, Barbie dress-up options for animals, or dull plot line in sight. Instead, they've taken it upon themselves to pop out one pretty great story experience in Dawnguard and a smaller, smart little house-builder in Hearthfire.

Let's get Hearthfire out of the way first. It's a relatively simple process - you head to Falkreach, buy a tract of land for a surprisingly cheap price, and head there to begin construction of your new house. You actually do very little besides procure building items for said house. You have a few basic options for a house plan, with most of the customization coming when you build a main hall addition. Once you've built that, you can add a couple of building options, such as an enchanting tower, a library, or bedrooms. These are constructed from a pair of workbenches outside, including one that takes new supplies found throughout the towns and mills of Skyrim. You'll have to buy or collect quarried stone, logs, and forge new items such as nails or hinges, all of which count towards your blacksmithing skill. If your blacksmithing is low, this could either prove to be a great way to quickly level up or a negative if you're trying to level up in other areas, so keep that in mind.

You can then decorate the interior with a variety of items. It doesn't ever quite end up looking any better or worse than the other houses you can purchase around Skyrim, but the customization options are a nice change and I wouldn't mind seeing this fleshed out more in future Elder Scrolls games. The quarried stone can be a bit of a game breaker, since you can mine a ton of quarried stone very quickly, fast travel, and sell it for a small tidy profit. I haven't tried to adopt children or introduce a wife to the area, and have yet to actually finish all the rooms in my house, so I'll experiment a bit more and check in later.

Dawnguard, on the other hand, is a pretty sprawling adventure. You have the option to either fight vampires with some pretty cool new weapons and spells, or you can become a vampire yourself with an all new skill tree. Me, I sided with the vampire hunters, so I haven't tried the vampire skill tree yet, but it's neat that option is there. The expansion's story is surprisingly engaging, more so than just about any other quest line in Skyrim. It also does a great job of introducing and revisiting some Elder Scrolls lore and old storylines. What's particularly cool is that you'll see parts of the expansion make its way subtly into the rest of the game. i recommend starting the questline when you can to allow for random vampire attacks (their loot is pretty great, even at low levels) and to get the crossbow, which is a pretty awesome weapon. Stores also seem to update with some new items after the expansion starts, but not before.

Gauging Gaige

Shifting now into Borderlands 2, the new mechromancer class is pretty intriguing. Her special attack unleashes a hovering robot that makes its way across battlefields at will, slashing apart enemies for a surprising amount of time. Her skill trees are pretty diverse. Her first tree concentrates on making her and Deathtrap more durable. The second tree focuses on making Gaige and Deathtrap walking elemental death dealers, particularly when it comes to shock damage. This tree, when taken with bits and pieces of the first tree, makes for some ridiculously awesome heavy weaponry. You can critically kill an enemy, which will unleash an electrical storm that zaps all nearby enemies, which in turn leads to a possibilty of the enemies taking burn damage. You can deal an absurd amount of damage over time.

I can't figure out the last tree, which offers some risk-and-reward gameplay options that just don't seem all that rewarding. You can sacrifice accuracy for gun damage, which might be great for a high-end character with enough badass ranks to offset the accuracy reduction. But the rest of it frankly confuses me and leaves me wondering what it would play like. I'd like to get the character to 50 and try it out. In the meantime, I'm playing with the first two skill trees and having a blast.

Everything Else

-I'm reading through Desert Spear right now, which is a bit of a disappointment after the supeb Warded Man. I can't stand the uninspired desert people of Krasia, and the main protagonists could use someone a bit more grounded to relate to. As it stands, the series isn't terrible, but it needs to take a marked turn in the final novel to really earn its place.

-Halloween is coming up, and with that comes my inevitable decision to watch a trio of horror-related movies. This year, my line-up will be wrestler-centric, with Santa's Slay, They Live, and either Predator or Doom. I might ditch that last movie and watch Ernest Scared Stupid instead, since... well... I can. What?

Thanks for reading. Keep your pimp hands strong!

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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Did your girlfriend just give an involuntary gasp of pleasure? Did your wife suddenly look at the door with a sense of longing and distance? Did the electrical outlets in your house just surge and crackle? There's a reason, honey chile. Sparky's Update is back, ready and willing, and now with 80% more beard!

It's been a long, long while since I've written a real blog here on GB, so let me explain the game to those of you who are either new or haven't been around in a while. I write primarily two blog series - one is an RPG retrospective, in which I examine old RPGs with a critical, modern eye towards whether or not they're suitable for modern players. The other is a generic "what I'm playing" styled blog, called Sparky's Update. There's no real set format for the blog, but I'll usually add some small notes on what I'm also reading or watching, along with general quick thoughts on the games industry. It's a big catch-all, and I take pride in it causing a major upswing in pregnancies and amorous feelings whenever it's posted.

This week, I'll be covering a bit on Skyrim's Dawnguard and Hearthfire expansions (the skinny - both are pretty terrific) as well as Borderlands 2's Mechromancer (the skinny - if you want a great class and haven't tired of replaying the game, it's well worth it).

I've Got a Fever, and the Only Cure is More... Black Soul Gems?

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention above that I'm very fond of drudging up way outdated jokes. I'm also a fan of bad punnery. I shall try to refrain as much as possible, but you will have to suffer. My apologies.

Bethesda's track record with its DLC had been pretty spotty. Some of its expansions, like Shivering Isles, were pretty good. Some were truly awful (horse armor, the Fallout 3 alien DLC). They've been fairly cautious about releasing DLC for Skyrim, with nary a season pass, Barbie dress-up options for animals, or dull plot line in sight. Instead, they've taken it upon themselves to pop out one pretty great story experience in Dawnguard and a smaller, smart little house-builder in Hearthfire.

Let's get Hearthfire out of the way first. It's a relatively simple process - you head to Falkreach, buy a tract of land for a surprisingly cheap price, and head there to begin construction of your new house. You actually do very little besides procure building items for said house. You have a few basic options for a house plan, with most of the customization coming when you build a main hall addition. Once you've built that, you can add a couple of building options, such as an enchanting tower, a library, or bedrooms. These are constructed from a pair of workbenches outside, including one that takes new supplies found throughout the towns and mills of Skyrim. You'll have to buy or collect quarried stone, logs, and forge new items such as nails or hinges, all of which count towards your blacksmithing skill. If your blacksmithing is low, this could either prove to be a great way to quickly level up or a negative if you're trying to level up in other areas, so keep that in mind.

You can then decorate the interior with a variety of items. It doesn't ever quite end up looking any better or worse than the other houses you can purchase around Skyrim, but the customization options are a nice change and I wouldn't mind seeing this fleshed out more in future Elder Scrolls games. The quarried stone can be a bit of a game breaker, since you can mine a ton of quarried stone very quickly, fast travel, and sell it for a small tidy profit. I haven't tried to adopt children or introduce a wife to the area, and have yet to actually finish all the rooms in my house, so I'll experiment a bit more and check in later.

Dawnguard, on the other hand, is a pretty sprawling adventure. You have the option to either fight vampires with some pretty cool new weapons and spells, or you can become a vampire yourself with an all new skill tree. Me, I sided with the vampire hunters, so I haven't tried the vampire skill tree yet, but it's neat that option is there. The expansion's story is surprisingly engaging, more so than just about any other quest line in Skyrim. It also does a great job of introducing and revisiting some Elder Scrolls lore and old storylines. What's particularly cool is that you'll see parts of the expansion make its way subtly into the rest of the game. i recommend starting the questline when you can to allow for random vampire attacks (their loot is pretty great, even at low levels) and to get the crossbow, which is a pretty awesome weapon. Stores also seem to update with some new items after the expansion starts, but not before.

Gauging Gaige

Shifting now into Borderlands 2, the new mechromancer class is pretty intriguing. Her special attack unleashes a hovering robot that makes its way across battlefields at will, slashing apart enemies for a surprising amount of time. Her skill trees are pretty diverse. Her first tree concentrates on making her and Deathtrap more durable. The second tree focuses on making Gaige and Deathtrap walking elemental death dealers, particularly when it comes to shock damage. This tree, when taken with bits and pieces of the first tree, makes for some ridiculously awesome heavy weaponry. You can critically kill an enemy, which will unleash an electrical storm that zaps all nearby enemies, which in turn leads to a possibilty of the enemies taking burn damage. You can deal an absurd amount of damage over time.

I can't figure out the last tree, which offers some risk-and-reward gameplay options that just don't seem all that rewarding. You can sacrifice accuracy for gun damage, which might be great for a high-end character with enough badass ranks to offset the accuracy reduction. But the rest of it frankly confuses me and leaves me wondering what it would play like. I'd like to get the character to 50 and try it out. In the meantime, I'm playing with the first two skill trees and having a blast.

Everything Else

-I'm reading through Desert Spear right now, which is a bit of a disappointment after the supeb Warded Man. I can't stand the uninspired desert people of Krasia, and the main protagonists could use someone a bit more grounded to relate to. As it stands, the series isn't terrible, but it needs to take a marked turn in the final novel to really earn its place.

-Halloween is coming up, and with that comes my inevitable decision to watch a trio of horror-related movies. This year, my line-up will be wrestler-centric, with Santa's Slay, They Live, and either Predator or Doom. I might ditch that last movie and watch Ernest Scared Stupid instead, since... well... I can. What?

Thanks for reading. Keep your pimp hands strong!

Moderator
Posted by dankempster

I really need to get on to both Skyrim's DLC and Borderlands 2. Both look like fantastic ways to spend dozens of hours, and I'm sure I'd get tons of enjoyment out of both of them. Weirdly though, I haven't been sinking much of my disposable income into new games. Maybe that's because I'm a little put off by the paradox of investing so much of my earnings into something that I now have a lot less time to do. While I may leap on Dawnguard and Hearthfire soon, I'll most likely leave Borderlands 2 for the after-Christmas sales. Then I can book up a week's holiday in the New Year and go to town on it.

Anyway, good to see that Sparky's Update has made its triumphant return. I look forward to your next post, good sir.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@dankempster: That's a good plan! Borderlands 2 will almost certainly see a price drop after the holidays, and it's not like it's going anywhere anytime soon as far as its multiplayer co-op. The Skyrim DLC is definitely worth a purchase. True, the Hearthfire stuff won't exactly set your world on fire, but it's a pretty nifty little addition to the housing already available, and I'm having fun with it. There's one section in Dawnguard that does feel like it's padding, but the payoff is learning a bit more about the game's lore, which is perfectly acceptable to me.

Moderator
Posted by ArbitraryWater

Oh snap. Desert Spear you say? That is a fantasy book that I read a decent amount of during my breaks at work over the summer, and then didn't finish because I got really bored (meanwhile, I finished all of the Millennium Trilogy during those breaks, 2/3rds of which is kind of bad, so that's a pretty good comparison to what I could tolerate). I thought The Warded Man was alright, though I liked the concepts of the world more than the characters themselves, who I found more than a little annoying. Meanwhile, the entire first half of Desert Spear is all about the Fundamentalist Islam+Sparta culture, which isn't nearly as interesting as the rest of the world the author has created and the book itself suffers because of it. I'm in the mood for more pulpy fantasy, so maybe I'll pick it back up (metaphorically speaking, because it's on my kindle), but I am really in the mood for something... quality. I share my kindle library with my dad, so maybe I'll see what he's reading.

On video games: I will buy Dawnguard when I can get it for $5 or something. I haven't played Skyrim seriously since... last December (only 57 hours, as opposed to the hundreds that some people have sunk into it), so that will probably be as good an excuse as anything to play it again.Hearthfire just seems on the level of all those kind of dumb base locations that acted as DLC for Oblivion, albeit with the gimmick of building your own house. Have yet to finish Borderlands 2 (close though), though I could probably tell you that the Mechromancer would be the second class I would play through with... assuming I ever do a second playthrough.

Regardless, it's nice to see you doing a fully-fledged update again. Keep on sailing, or whatever.

Online
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@ArbitraryWater: You've got a pretty good handle on my problems with both novels. As for Hearthfire, well, yeah, it's a bit like those housing DLCs in Oblivion. I guess that's not entirely a bad thing in my book, but to each his own, I suppose.

Moderator
Posted by Cyrus_Saren

I don't have anything significant to add except that there isn't just one more novel after The Desert Spear. There's going to be at least 5 books in the series (counting The Warded Man and Desert Spear). Also, I thought that The Desert Spear picked up near the end but that was just me.

I do agree that it would be better if the main characters weren't such Mary/Marty Sues and actually had some glaring flaws but what can you do?

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Cyrus_Saren: Agreed. I'm not a huge fan of the main characters, but since the story returns to the duchies, I'm still more or less on board for the sequels. Thanks for the information. I didn't realize there were going to be that many novels in the series.

Moderator