Last week we genetically engineered three hundred pounds of magic-immune swordmeat. This week we try to force it through the grinder. We’re finally about to take a peek inside the Battlespire–and by extension, a dusty design document marinated in Taco Bell that begins each section with, “Because it Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”
Let’s recap. The game’s framing device is that you’re enrolled in the academy to become an Imperial Battlemage and that this tower, literally called “the Battlespire,” is your “harmless” final exam. Makes sense. You remember how the midterm at the Snugglespire was a harrowing parade of horror and mutilation, so there’s a sort of internal logic. Now let’s check our inventory and see what we’ve been set up with:
Oh, come on. Couldn’t we have come into this with just a little dignity? Couldn’t they have let us get dressed?
That’s better. And now that we’ve got our outfit coordinated, let’s take a gander at the first thing we see coming in here. Any idea what this is? They didn’t cover this in all the Swordfighting and Dodging and Literally Nothing Else classes I took.
Should I have brought a bluebook? Or some pants? How are we going to do this?
So spitballing here, looks like we’ve got a ledge to a bottomless pit, a rickety bridge, a glowing symbol, and a pillar of what I am optimistically predicting is Mountain Dew Voltage. Only one way to find out. Let’s head over and take a look, like the badass mage we certainly aren’t.
I cross half the bridge, run into a discharge of energy, and am instantly flung sideways into the bottomless chasm. I don’t have a screenshot of that. But I do have a screenshot from immediately afterwards.
Let’s try again.
This time, instead of charging the glowing rune, we’ll play it Gygax and run away from anything that looks dangerous. That leads us to the right, which–and I swear I didn’t even see this before–leads directly to a group of enemies who had been completely ignoring us. As well they should. Look, we’re just visiting the Battlespire. These? Are Battlespirians. They know where to get the good takeout, they see the Great Blue Energy Fuckyou every time they look out their apartment window, and they’re just trying to enjoy one meal without an adventurer random encounter. Was that too much to ask?
So you want to know what happens once we charge into this gaggle of enemies? Go on, guess. Take a wild guess.
You’re right! They start a conversation.
I like dialogues. I like them more than I like fighting monsters. I’m excited at the prospect of talking to the dungeon’s denizens. I would be thrilled to discover that my conversations in this game are in-depth, intelligent, story-expanding experiences and tools for shaping gameplay. Having said that, this conversation:
a.) References people the game has not yet mentioned
b.) Doesn’t seem to do anything
c.) Was followed up by an extremely similar conversation instants later by the scamp standing next to him as soon as I chose my option…
d.) …which was followed by fighting the scamps. All of them.
It’s not a very dramatic combat. We’re the TES version of Weapon X, they’re comic relief anklebiters. There’s a lot of status messages like “Your blow stuns your opponent,” which, if I had read the manual, I would know was because I was giving myself carpal tunnel swinging the sword in one direction, not giving myself carpal tunnel swinging it in another. But we could be holding the tip and smacking them with the crossguard and we’d still walk out of this with HP loss than these penguins. Time to loot the dopey Napoleonic bastards.
That’s what looting looks like: one tiny aggravating-to-scroll column for “your stuff,” one column for “enemy stuff.” So in this case, we killed a scamp and we got…two bags? But that’s not all we got. Because bags are actually containers you can pick up–so when you double click a bag, your column switches from showing “stuff in your bag” to “stuff in your bag.” I mean, “stuff in your backpack” to “stuff in this particular pack.” There’s nothing in the interface to let you know you’ve switched from one or the other, and there’s not a lot of feedback when you do, so in terms of effortless accessibility it rates “driving a car in a Nyquil nightmare.”
Bethesda Interfaces ™: Like a Broken Vintage NASA Switchboard!
My inventory shows two bags. I double click on one. Now I’m looking at…two bags. I double click on one again. Now I’m looking at one bag and a rune. I double click on the bag–now I’m looking at a javelin. Okay. So…is this just one javelin wrapped in like six bags or what?
Wait. What the heck is that rune? The help screen tells you to click on it to find out what it is; I do, and it helpfully informs me that it’s a “Sigil amulet doht sigil.” Well that clears that up.
Since it’s an amulet, I try to put it on. Not equippable. I double click it and it “vaporizes.” Now there’s a status effect going off on my top left and I have no idea what it does, nor can I figure out how to look it up. Even when I look it up later in the manual, I think I can guess what I just did, but I’m not totally sure and I don’t know how I can find out. This wouldn’t bug me as much if sigils, javelins, and bags in random configurations were not 100% of the loot I got off the scamps. So that’s powerups I can’t understand, weapons I can’t use, and bags that so far seem to exist exclusively to make my life harder. Maybe I should ask this guy lying down here if he wants any of them.
The scroll is a note, very probably written by the dead man, that effectively reads: “Man, this test is harder than I thought. The portal home is blocked with a horrible shockrune and the area is crawling with murderous daedra. Maybe there’s a way out somewhere. I wish I’d studied more.” So that clears up what just killed us, and that this test is killing other students, and that we’re all doomed, but my main takeway is: we finally have a shot at valedictorian! Wooo!
Let’s move on to the next area. Like “let’s pick this stuff up off the ground,” turns out that’s trickier than it sounds. Not only is the area pretty big and sprawling, there’s…this glitch.
I’ve done a lot of research into it. I know some of why it happens and some of how people mitigate it. More importantly, I know that it was less common, but not unheard of, even before the game was sewn back together and reanimated for a GoG release, which means I am prepared to partially forgive it. The glitch is simple: whenever you move your character forwards or backwards or sideways, the game adds a seemingly random diagonal vector to your gait that at its worst feels like rollerblading on ether. It’s annoying and slows you down, but it’s not really a dealbreaker as long as you don’t have to do anything requiring precise footwork.
So this room might be a problem. Weirdly, it’s only a problem, or challenge of any kind, if you have trouble walking in a straight line. Say what you will about Bethesda, but they sure do make a fine cup of lemonade.
Only one thing is going to save me now: jumping. Seriously, jumping in this game is surprisingly well-thought-out. When you hold down the jump key, a marker appears floating in midair…
…which steadily moves away from the player avatar until it comes to a stop. How far it moves depends on your character’s jumping ability. That way, agile characters can still pull off little hops, clumsy characters know their limits, and everyone has an idea of where they’re going to land. This was probably implemented after Daggerfall’s dicey heart-stoppingly-stupid platforming drew heat from reviewers. It’s a welcome addition and a feature I wouldn’t mind seeing more in modern games. What’s more, it’s probably my only chance of getting through this lava room alive.
I hold down the jump key, wait until my marker is over the walkway, and release to land two feet short in a pool of blazing lava.
Let’s shoot for salutatorian.
Next week: (Lost in) lost in time and space.
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