Ruts vs. Battlespire CH1: Body By Bethesda

By Rutskarn
on Mar 16, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

Released in 1996, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall is one of the most seminal genre-transforming RPGs ever released.

Released in 1997, An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire is an RPG.

Daggerfall features gameplay that innovates on nearly every feature of the series. It uses its open world and nonstandard player goals to directly challenge the idea fantasy games should be fun-but-linear dungeon crawl experiences.

Battlespire features gameplay.

Daggerfall is broken, shabbily designed, clearly at the limits of its developer’s ability–but through the strength of its core design it emerges as a loveable experience, extraordinary for when it came out–even enjoyable by a certain kind of modern player.

We’re going to be playing Battlespire.

You might think that this is one of those old fantasy games full of cheap titillation. So, go ahead.
You might think that this is one of those old fantasy games full of cheap titillation. So, go ahead.

Don’t expect me to give much background. The game’s “best” experienced completely fresh. I know this isn’t a high bar, but it’s by far the most surprising Bethesda game I’ve ever played (this isn’t counting the NGAGE titles, which nobody played). If Morrowind made me feel awe and Skyrim made me feel powerful, Battlespire made me feel like there was a hidden camera in my Del Taco bag. It’s like meeting your best friend’s brother and discovering he wears tweed trenchcoats, speaks in a crooning, giggling whisper, and is pathologically obsessed with collecting six-inch porcelain dolls. Any of the three would be a little odd. Observing all of them over the course of one ebelskiver brunch guarantees you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and you can’t help but wonder: how can these two individuals be related?

We’ve got to start somewhere. Let’s start with the pre-rendered opening cutscene. Fun fact: that’s the first pre-rendered intro in TES history. I guess they had to start somewhere too.

What have we learned? Well, our character–apparently a “he”–is an apprentice battlemage being sent for some kind of final exam that will turn out to be really dangerous. Additionally, a butt exists. Battlespire. Now off to character creation, which, given the very specific things we’ve learned about the PC, you might be surprised even exists. But it does. Oh, it does.

Which of these National Geographic photos does YOUR character hail from? I find it a touch odd that the caption goes out of its way to inform you that Redguards, people who apparently come from some sandy rocks, are not creamy-hued gingers. They also `seem to have been born for battle,` unlike all of the other playable races in this game based exclusively around combat.
Which of these National Geographic photos does YOUR character hail from? I find it a touch odd that the caption goes out of its way to inform you that Redguards, people who apparently come from some sandy rocks, are not creamy-hued gingers. They also 'seem to have been born for battle,' unlike all of the other playable races in this game based exclusively around combat.

The first minor twist is that despite the sticky pronoun in the main cutscene, you can absolutely play a woman. My guess is that the cutscene, pre-rendered and trailer-worthy, was probably made very early in development. The ability to create a female character could well have been something put in at the last minute–and only once they were sure they’d have time to produce audio and art assets not critical to their young adolescent male market.

None of this talk of skill bonuses means much until I know what we’re working with, so until I’ve seen the next screen, let’s tentatively roll with a Wood Elf, a race noted for being “nimble” and “quick as the wind.” Clicking the grainy little Kincade fades things to black before greeting you with this:

Jeepers.

What we’re looking at right here is an elf who knows about the finer things in life. Chicken breasts. Squats. Nipple grease. Ironed thongs. Steam hissing out of busted vents in the background while industrial machinery pumps rhythmically. The sound pavement makes when massed groups swoon in unison. This elf is not nimble; he needs a hydraulic press to bend his knees tighter than 45 degrees. This elf does not know that pants exist because people are afraid to bring it up.

I can’t think of a contemporary comparsion to this. Fantasy games of this era trade pretty casually on pin-up women, but it’d actually be hard for the female avatar to more gratuitous.

Thankfully, somebody was willing to go the extra mile. How come she doesn’t get a loincloth? Ask Bosmer Schwarzenegger if he’s got a spare. You could knit a ballgown out of the basket alone. 

Once I’m past that, I get a look at the guts of the character creator. The game technically lets you use a premade class, but the customization setup is pretty ambitious: it’s Daggerfall with all the really obvious vectors for exploit, and stuff that only makes sense outside a dungeon environment, pruned away. The game presents you with one universal currency, character points, which you spend purchasing hit points, skills, stats, gear, and special abilities. I take some time to peruse it while reviewing the game’s storyline and planning my backstory. Before long I can see many reasonable, balanced, and lore-friendly possibilities. I’m sure somebody would have a really good time with one of them.

Here’s my character. Since the game has already explained you’re a novice battlemage, he’s a swordfighter with no magic whatsoever.

EeeeeeaaaAAAAAAaaaa
EeeeeeaaaAAAAAAaaaa

Name: Cahmel Fightman

Likes: Protein, Swords

Burning Terror Of: Magic, Fighting, Monsters, People Being Able to See His Underpants

Now that I have my concept and aesthetic nailed down, time to pick or make a class. Personally, I’m sold on the custom approach. Let’s give this guy a complete, balanced build to go with his complete, balanced build–much better than giving him a developed package to go with his ANYWAY LET’S MAKE OUR OWN CLASS.

This is the main page of the make-a-class screen.

See if you can guess all the vectors for sploits and minmaxing. Go ahead, guess.
See if you can guess all the vectors for sploits and minmaxing. Go ahead, guess.

Remember: Cahmel Fightman is a swordfighter. Anything not useful to fighting with swords and defending oneself from attacks is probably secondary to our interests. Let’s make the most of these 4,700 character points.

The first thing we’re going to do is drain the stats we’re not interested in and put them into his key areas. Most modern games only let you increase stats–they don’t let you lower one beyond a very reasonable level. I wonder why they started doing that?

So now that I’ve maxed out Strength, Agility, Endurance, and Speed, I’ve spent a grand total of…negative 76 points. Cool. Time to put some of those savings into his skills.

Or not. Turns out skills don’t cost anything to buy–you just get three primary, three major, and six minor picks, like in the main games. So let’s see. For our first pick, we’re going to want Long Blade–obviously. For our second, let’s pick…oh, no armor skills, huh? Okay, so how about Dodging. And for our third pick…

…uh…

…Jumping? I guess that could come up? Huh.

Well, I guess that’s my primaries taken care of. Now to pick nine more skills in exactly the order I’m likely to use them.

Five minutes later, I’ve got my build:

So far I’ve got everything I need and I haven’t spent a single…wait a minute. What’s those arrows on the sides of the skills? Are you telling me I can–

Yes.
Yes.

I think it’s time to give serious consideration to Advantages and Disadvantages. Right off the bat I’ll pick No Regeneration of Spell Points as a Disadvantage for a hefty reward. I’m not proficient with anything but swords, because I’m not a degenerate, so let’s bar maces, axes, daggers, and bows as well. Good riddance.

I should probably spend some of these points, shouldn’t I? Why don’t I become immune to something?

Why don’t I become immune to everything?

That`s magic, fire, ice, lightning, and poison. I also threw in health regeneration while I was at it. Gotta treat yourself.
That's magic, fire, ice, lightning, and poison. I also threw in health regeneration while I was at it. Gotta treat yourself.

Cahmel Fightman majored in Long Blade at Cyrodiil State University. While it was his desire to pursue a doctorate and teaching credentials, a scandal involving a damp towel and crock pot full of baby oil got him banned from campus for life. Drowning in loans and determined to do as little fighting as possible, he took the first job he could get, which was working customer support for a scroll merchant in Bravil. Six months of troubleshooting magical spells have made him dimly familiar with every kind of magic and absolutely exemplary at dodging. Eventually a malfunctioning shield scroll and irate archmage left him with perfect immunity to everything but being knocked senseless with a walking stick in front of all the hot potion counter girls.

Since all the work experience on his CV is spell related, his only recourse after getting fired was the Imperial Battlemage Academy. He has been avoiding his final examination for twelve months after qualifying. Somebody told them there’s monsters in there.

Can’t wait to get this show on the road. However weird this game is, it can’t be half as bizarre as its character creation.

Next time: I was wrong.

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20202020There are now 80 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

  1. The worst part is, I look at this and I think, “Hey, that looks kind of fun. I should find a copy.” I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’m almost entirely certain that it’s the wrong reaction.

  2. Grudgeal says:

    Immune to everything he may be, but does he smell like the man your man could smell like?

  3. ehlijen says:

    I’m eagerly anticipating Cahmel to begin the game with nothing but a dagger he cannot use.

  4. Matt Downie says:

    Was there a long period at Bethesda where they had a policy of not hiring artists who can do faces?

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Fantasy games of this era trade pretty casually on pin-up women, but it’d actually be hard for the female avatar to more gratuitous.

    You seem to have lost one “be”. That image is pretty distracting.

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      I really miss this era. The way we’re headed, the next DOA Beach Volleyball will feature the players in thick Inuit arctic gear. (though if they actually do that, I’ll buy it.)

      • Mersadeon says:

        Eh, I’m one of those people that want both. I want some games to have chiselled, half-naked gods as player characters and some to be reasonably clothed, realistic people heading into danger.

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          Me too. Well, reasonable for the setting anyway. I play way more scifi and fantasy than modern.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Nothing says you cant have a modern game where everyone is wearing only straps(say you are a part of some punk gang),or a fantasy game where everyone is dressed in realistic clothing(like real times,only magic is there).Having oily barely dressed people is fine for conan the barbarian,but I dont want boob plate in lord of the rings.

        • Daimbert says:

          I want the choice. Let me dress the characters how I want, practical or not. Doesn’t work so well for NPCs, although with modern programming techniques you really ought to be able to do that.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            Fallout 4 has you covered. I dress everybody in my settlements.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            I’m not sure that choice of this kind works well for most games. It’s fine for stuff that doesn’t treat itself seriously, like the later Saints Row games, or MMOs that don’t really bother with maintaining an atmosphere (so most of them), but in most games this kind of choice causes things to clash. Either it’s fanservice fantasy and we ignore things like ridiculous armour as part of aesthetics, or it’s not and we do not and this needs to be pointed out or at the very least lampshaded.

            I am all in favour of both kinds of games existing, but I’m not sure mixing and matching is the best idea here.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    …Jumping? I guess that could come up?

    Booo!Thats low,even for you.

  7. Adalore says:

    Gotta fit a Inspiring pun in there somewhere with the title.

  8. Decius says:

    A better way to prevent the dynamic used here than setting a high floor on stats would be to make all of them important to every character. Which leads to insane things.

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      Yeah, this D&D-esque stat system never works too well for video games if you ask me. If I were building a CRPG, I would have it so that every stat was used as part of every character’s activities. Something along the lines of Precision, Power, Luck, and Toughness as core stats, maybe more depending on what aspects of combat or magic you want to emphasise and what you want to do with social skills. Precision affects the accuracy of all attacks (regardless of whether they’re melee, ranged, magic, or whatever else); Power affects damage, Luck affects crit chance, and Toughness affects your HP/armour. Every character needs every stat, but how much you need them depends on your gameplay priorities (e.g. I don’t crit-stack, so I would dump Luck, whereas Josh would stack Luck as high as he could).

      This also maps pretty well to standard Tolkein-ripoff races; Elves get bonus Precision, Orcs get bonus Power, Halflings get bonus Luck and Dwarves get bonus Toughness. Any race can excel as any class, but the way you play that class is influenced by your stat spread. Elf Fighters go at it with rapiers and rely on attack speed and hit chance, Orc Fighters grab a greataxe and roll for maximum damage per hit. Orc Wizards focus on giant obliterative fireballs while Halfling wizards focus on trickery magic with bonus critical effects.

    • guy says:

      It will take approximately five minutes for players to figure out a character build that can mostly disregard at least some of them.

    • Merlin says:

      My understanding (haven’t played it yet) is that Pillars of Eternity did exactly that, to somewhat wonky results. Might meant physical strength for a barbarian but magical, fireball-style oomph for wizards, and whatnot. And again, I’m relying on secondhand info for this, but it made the narrative significance of the stats pretty nebulous (ie “Ok, but how physically strong is my wizard?”) and also meant that it was often the least intuitive builds that were most effective. Turns out that totally revamping stat assumptions without reworking class archetypes built significantly around those stats can yield oddities.

      • Darren says:

        Yes, Pillars of Eternity does this. If you want to hit hard, whether via axe or fireball, you want high Might. If you want better AoE damage, you want Intelligence. It’s a logical system, but it does make for some weird trends. Barbarians, for instance, should really be very well-balanced: they need high health and defense stats in order to survive melee combat, but need high Might because they mostly just hit guys in the face, but also benefit from high Intelligence because all of their attacks are AoE. Which means, bizarrely, that a class which is really only viable as a melee brawler is also going to tend to be brainy and have a diverse stat spread.

        • djw says:

          To be a bit pedantic… intelligence does not directly increase damage in Pillars of Eternity, it instead increases the size of the area of effect ability, and thus can catch more enemies within it. It also increases the duration for effects with a time limit.

          Brainy barbarian isn’t actually as bad as it sounds… In the original Conan stories by Robert Howard, Conan was very clever. He was uneducated, but he was never portrayed as stupid.

  9. Weimer says:

    If this was D&D, and you were a DM, would you allow a player character to become immune to a form of damage in character creation, even if they could justify it somehow?

    That seems so odd. Why would that be even an option?

    • Dovius says:

      Oh definitely. I’d need a very good justification that ties into their background and would immediately start writing up methods to fuck them over with it, but I’d be open to the possibility.

      Then again one of the players of our group constantly shows up with twinky builds that make balancing hard enough as is, so I might just have become numb to character creation chicanery.

      EDIT: It’s not D&D, but the Mutants and Masterminds system actually has Immunity as a purchasable character power at creation, with variable costs depending on the immunity in question (Immunity to Aging is 1 point, for example, while Immunity to things that relate to your Toughness (Armor Class, kind of) is a whopping 80. Then again, M&M advertises up front that the system’s a bit easy to break and should be used with care with a focus on characters instead of mechanics.

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        Even simpler and cheaper to just buy the Regeneration power with True Resurrection add on up to max. No matter how hard you’re hit, you end up fine the next round.

        • Lachlan the Mad says:

          I’m reminded of the Dresden Codak reboot of X-Men, where Jean Grey’s only power at the start of the story was that she could reincarnate explosively upon death (taking the name “phoenix” quite literally…)

        • Dovius says:

          For comparison’s sake, the 20 ranks of Immortality (In 3E) cost about half as much as the Toughness Immunity and allow you to come back to life in a flat 6 seconds if you were to die. You can cut the score by 50% if you give the Immortality a semi-common weakness that negates it (e.g. Immortals from Highlander having complete immortality unless they are decapitated, which kills them just as well as it does normal people).

          Stack that with some status effect Immunities and a bunch of Regeneration and you might not be a big hitter, but you’ll damn near be impossible to slow down or stop at character creation.

    • Raygereio says:

      If this was D&D, and you were a DM, would you allow a player character to become immune to a form of damage in character creation, even if they could justify it somehow?

      Why not?
      I mean, if combat balance is a problem then consider the following: Just because your character is immune to fire, doesn’t mean the DM actually has to use fire-damage in the encounters.

      • Weimer says:

        If you plan encounters such, that the inconvenient immunity is never relevant, you’ll receive complaints that you are deliberately making the character to be dead weight
        OR if you sprinkle in some situations that require this particular trait you’ll be accused of catering to a single player over others
        OR if you meticulously design your campaign to support the trait but not too much, it adds a lot more work to you just because of a single thing on a single character

        To me, it’s easier just to say no.

        • Raygereio says:

          Well, if you say no you’ll just get complaints that you never let them have fun and express themselves through their character and whatnot.
          In all seriousness though: As long as the build isn’t some ridiculous munchkin nonsense and the player made the immunity fit into the character’s concept, I’d let them have it.
          And I would sprinkly in situations that would allow the player to use this immunity. Just like I would with the character-specific traits of any other player. My style of DMing is to make sure all players have a chance to be in the spotlight.

          But on the other side, I will make sure the player knows that it’s not some I-win-button. If he wants to conquer hell because he thinks he can face hellfire with his immunity, he’s about to find out hell has frozen over.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            I’m usually rather lenient with this kind of stuff but I’d probably put a ban on some things if I knew in advance they’d conflict heavily withthe campaign, for example if in what I planned as a very magic intense game someone wanted to have a feature that made them entirely immune to magic (both harmful and beneficial) I’d know that this would completely wreck the storyline and also made it difficult for the party (no magical healing, flight, teleportation etc.), On the other hand I’d likely let it pass, or even embrace it as part of the plot, in a distinctly low magic setting.

            At the same time it’s not necessary for the party to, for example, meet enemies spewing fire to take advantage of fire immunity. A sufficiently creative group will find dozens of situations where this can be used to their advantage.

            And at the end of the day it also depends on the player. I know players who’d have fun with it and make it fun for the rest of the group. And I know players who’d bitch and moan about GM hacks if, after they clearly came out of a fireball unscathed, the caster tried something different.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Immunity to magic is such a dangerous thing to have.First,magic is usually split into multiple parts(divine and arcane in d&d),so youd have to pick one.Second,and more important,is that summons are still physical things.So going against summoners while being immune to magic means you can still be hurt by them,but you dont get the boon from your casters.Third,players of fantasy games treat stuff like rapid regeneration and bone mending as a given,but if you allow them to be immune to magic,you can easily treat them as regular humans.Meaning a single stab in battle will make them require months of rest before going back to full hp,with days of being completely useless.

              Benefits of magic far outweigh the hazards,so if anyone asks for magic immunity in a high magic setting,you should give it to them.

        • Syal says:

          If the party isn’t fighting something threatening because one of the members is immune to it, that’s totally relevant. That immunity has altered the course of the game.

      • Jabrwock says:

        It just means the DM has to either get creative, or just come up with justification of their own.

        No different than having high dex, or high intelligence. The DM just has to find other ways to challenge you.

        I want to see a Machine of Death plan to kill someone immune to everything.

  10. Da Mage says:

    oh boy oh boy oh boy….

    This gonna be good.

  11. Dragmire says:

    I agree artist, fingers are hard to draw.

  12. William Curtis says:

    I need to follow this… I recall seeing this game when I worked at CompUSA…. never played it.

  13. T.A. says:

    This will glorious, the long awaited appearance of a Cahmel.

  14. psivamp says:

    Did you verify that Resistance/Immunity/Low Tolerance/Critical Weakness are mutually exclusive?

    If they’re not mutually exclusive, do you know if you can take Low Tolerance and Critical Weakness for free points and have them be entirely negated by Immunity?

    These things are taken for granted by humans, but computers only do what we tell them to and if someone forgot a few lines of code here, then you could end up even more ridiculous.

  15. Content Consumer says:

    let’s bar maces, axes, daggers, and bows as well.

    I’ve never actually played battlespire, but having played Daggerfall quite a lot, I cringe…

    p.s. Yes! Cahmel again! Thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou…

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I’d hesitate at bows, because having some form of ranged combat may prove necessary at some point (flying enemies, or ranged attackers over a chasm of some kind).

  16. MechaCrash says:

    I had this game when it was new. The thing that caused me to be lost and confused by it was the fact that it was a roguelike, and I didn’t even know what that meant. Sure, I’d played a few at the time (some roguelike on the Atari ST, Dragon Crystal on the Game Gear), but I didn’t know it was a thing with its own conventions to be observed.

    For the record, one of the cheese factors removed is the alteration to the material and armor restrictions. You no longer ban specific stuff, you now set a maximum. So you can’t, for example, ban Iron equipment because it’s bottom-tier trash you won’t use and Light armor because you’re going with heavy anyway. If you set it to, say, Orcish? Then Orcish is the best you can get, and you’re locked out of Ebony and Daedric. (I think it’s just Ebony and Daedric after Orcish, if not screw it, it’s for the sake of example.) So the restrictions here can actually be pretty restrictive.

  17. Geebs says:

    Has anybody else noticed that the guy who narrates the intro to Battlespire sounds exactly like Rutskarn will when his voice breaks?

  18. kdansky says:

    Did you actually censor some pixelated breats in a twenty-year-old game? Can you please just post un-edited screenshots instead? I’m old enough to survive seeing surprise boobs.

    • Supah Ewok says:

      I think it’s more that Shamus prefers to keep the site safe for work and PG-13, even if he no longer uses ads. Getting flagged for adult material can make search engines do weird things with you, like not showing up for anybody with Safesearch on (which is a default).

    • Cybron says:

      Do you have a burning need to see pixelated breasts from a twenty year old game?

      Many people browse this site at work. There’s no reason not to err on the side of caution. Besides, the method of covering up is itself funny.

      • WJS says:

        One thing I’m curious about, at the least, is if that second censor bar is actually necessary. Instinctively, I don’t think it actually was, which kind of undermines the point about the double standard, if you can’t actually see anything below the waist on either of them.

        Also, this just reminds me how, upon hearing someone whining about women in classic fantasy artwork, I always think to myself “You’re not actually into fantasy, are you? You just enjoy coming in from outside and bitching about your pet things that offend you.” Anyone who’s actually into fantasy would know that that particular sub-genre has plenty of men in loincloths to go around.

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