Ruts vs. Battlespire CH5: Aches and Planes

By Rutskarn Posted Wednesday Apr 20, 2016

Filed under: Lets Play 49 comments

Exploring the Battlespire turns out to be deceptively troublesome. Not because the local talent is putting up much resistance; they’re doing their jim dandiest to make my stay at the ‘spire as memorably gruesome as possible, but what they make up in enthusiasm they lack in starch. I would describe their presence as “nagging,” a gentle buffeting of scamp claws when I enter a room to remind me to tip the doorman a fistful of steel. I will admit it hurt when I strained my wrist cleaving these geeks in twain.

That sounds like a disaffected quip, but no–seriously, my actual wrist sincerely hurts. Since every time you swing a sword you need to right click, hold, and drag the mouse in a pretty wide arc in monotonous patterns–and not every swing is a hit–clearing a room leaves you feeling like you’ve just directed runway traffic at LAX on a Friday night. Playing for extended periods makes you feel like you just transcribed your thesis on a jammed mechanical typewriter. I seriously incur less wrist strain writing these posts than I do playing for a few minutes.

This helmet belonged to a scamp who attacked me. I assume it was trying to kill me so it could leave the hat on my corpse. Fun fact: the helm is magical and once I actually figure out what it does you'll be the first to know.
This helmet belonged to a scamp who attacked me. I assume it was trying to kill me so it could leave the hat on my corpse. Fun fact: the helm is magical and once I actually figure out what it does you'll be the first to know.

So combat might be physically punishing, but at least it’s clunky and overbearing. Perhaps it’s the luxury of more modern, liberating control schemes that makes me so impatient with how obnoxious mouselooking is during combat. You see, as long as you’re fighting one stationary target there’s no reason to take your finger off the right mouse button; in fact, there’s pressing reason not to. You’re going to need to swing your sword a lot even against one weak foe, so you might as well clamp down down and settle into a groove. The rub comes in when there’s multiple enemies, or an enemy that’s trying to move around you, or you’re trying to move around an opponent–in all of which circumstances, you’re going to need to track targets and it is going to be a pain in the keister. Holding down the attack button, which you need to do when you’re thinking of attacking, locks mouselook. It has to–otherwise every time you swung the sword you’d end up puking all over your keyboard–but there’s nothing smooth or pleasant about jerkily readjusting your aim between batteries of fire. I feel less like a nimble warrior and more like I’m operating a really short-range antiaircraft gun.

Who approved this mechanic for three goddamn games? It was outdated in Arena, sucked harder in Daggerfall, and now it’s the main attraction of Battlespire. Why was it that as game after game standardized one-click attacks, Bethesda held out against good sense and common decency for so long?

I can confirm that allowing you to choose your angle of attack is in theory a good mechanic, and in practice it really is necessary to tailor my approach to suit my enemy. I like swatting big guys to the opposite wall with broad attacks and then mopping up little guys with quick little jabs–and would love it if I had a control scheme that made it straightforward, convenient, and not literally agonizing to do so. I’d even rather map a bunch of keys to attack and leave the mouse out of the picture than suffer this straining tedium.

Not wearing the helmet in this picture. Either I hadn't picked it up yet or it had been temporarily sucked into a Bag Hole.
Not wearing the helmet in this picture. Either I hadn't picked it up yet or it had been temporarily sucked into a Bag Hole.

Check out this room. At the back, past the Vermai Oathkin who is about to learn the importance of carefully balancing one’s point buy system, is a couple of weird-lookin’ pistons. In front of them is a sign and a button. I try to read the sign, but since this is before the heady days of being able to precisely target something with the mouse, I end up accidentally pressing the button a few times before the game figures out what I want to select and displays the posted text.

Now, it is literally my job to read this, but that doesn’t mean you have to. I’m just posting this screenshot to prove that it exists. Ready? Okay.

Caption? Yeah, because what this image needs is MORE TEXT.
Caption? Yeah, because what this image needs is MORE TEXT.

Short version is this: there’s five pipes pumping “mana” into the Battlespire and keeping it from erupting into the kind of butts-up no-man’s-land that would make an ideal framing device for a first-person dungeon crawler. One can (and after a pitch like that, virtually must) press the aforementioned button to link and unlink them. I am pretty sure the couplings were unlinked when I arrived, although, for reasons I won’t belabor, I can’t be certain. Whatever. If things weren’t screwed before I showed up and slammed my ham hocks on the dash they sure are now.

If any other Elder Scrolls game has referenced the word “mana,” I can’t bring it to mind. The franchise’s preferred term for blue magic juice is generally “magicka.” Is this usage an attempt to broaden the canon or lazy oversight? Could go either way, honestly, since this is a game that introduces both “Vermai Oathkin” and “Cogs of Flux Capacitation.”

You know, I’m pretty sure I spotted one of these linkages earlier. It’s hard to remember, since this area winds up and down and through weird jumping puzzles and crosses over itself all the time. Let me try checking the map…

Honest mistake. That is a map, right? Somebody didn’t just screw with the layers on some Riven fanart?

Looks like I’m just going to have to backtrack and hope for the best. Or front-track. Honestly, it’s been twenty minutes and I’m not totally sure anymore.

Killing everything in my way has been working out great, though.
Killing everything in my way has been working out great, though.


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49 thoughts on “Ruts vs. Battlespire CH5: Aches and Planes

  1. Grudgeal says:

    Your description of the combat reminds me of Die By the Sword.

    Minus the inane combat banter.

    1. sheer_falacy says:

      It reminds me of Penumbra: Overture. Before Amnesia, Frictional made a game where you could hit things with a hammer by swinging your mouse, and it was both overpowered (in a horror game!) and really, really annoying to do. In a brilliant decision, they removed it for both of the other Penumbra games (actually the third Penumbra game removed having enemies at all – it was an odd game).

    2. chiefnewo says:

      Except in Die by the Sword the way the developers wanted you to do it was to use the number pad for full control of your sword’s path, and if you did it right you could kill things in one blow.

  2. Ranneko says:

    I wonder if it would be possible to set up something like AutoHotkey to do the combat mouse swipes for you, it would still leave the clunky control system and you still would not be able to mouselook and attack at the same time, but it might reduce the amount of wrist strain.

  3. Syal says:

    Maybe if you want to stop someone from pressing a button, you tell them to leave before giving the life story and exhaustive ramifications of the button.

    And not tell people to ‘avaunt’, which I’m pretty sure means ‘push the button’.

    1. Content Consumer says:

      Or just put a sign on it saying “Press this button and everybody dies. Protip: everybody dying is a bad thing, do not press the button.”

      Or perhaps “Do not press this button. Luv, C.V.”

      Or maybe obscure the button by covering it with a piece of paper on which is written “Nothing here, move along.”

      Or a big “NO!”

      Or try psychology. “Cool kids don’t press buttons. You aren’t lame, are you? Lame kids press buttons, cool kids avoid them. Be cool, don’t press the button.”

      Or reverse psychology. “I really like it when people push the button that brings about the end of the world. Boy, if someone were to push this button that unlinks the anchors, that would be swell.”

      1. Trix2000 says:

        I think only the last of those would really have a better chance of working.

    2. Tektotherriggen says:

      Or you lock the button behind a small door that needs a key, with each key held by a different person.

      Because I’m sure what this game needs is another layer of fetch quests.

      1. Neil W says:

        Seven keys, each held by seven sisters, each one more beautiful than the next. They each have a riddle to solve, the answers to which are known only to their brother who was taken from his crib when only a moon old, and has not been seen since.

        One key is made of ice, and unlocks the door of hot metal. One is made of shadows and is the key to the door of light. One is made of plutonium, and so is the lock it corresponds to, each of which is subcritical, but combined they will go into rapid meltdown.

        The last one is a bad copy made by a dodgy keycutters and will get jammed in the lock and snap off when you try to turn it.

        That’s definitely the way to stop heroes from pressing the button.

        1. Each sister, key and door is also thematically linked to a plane of oblivion.

          Sheogorath’s sister is a dwemer orrery or something similarly complex and inanimate; you solve a button puzzle to break it and release a monkey. You take the monkey to a monk, who pulls the monk’s head off revealing the button. Afterwards, the monkey makes off-colour puns in a received pronunciation accent when you try to interact with it.

        2. Peter H. Coffin says:

          5. The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness.

          Peter Anspach’s Evil Overlord list

    3. Jack V says:

      Or just NOT have a “make the building I’m in fall out of the sky” button at all?

      1. Axehurdle says:

        Well C.V.’s bosses made him do that.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          They just told him to make a button. They never said anything about making sure it actually does what it says it does.

          I mean, how are they going to prove it works? By pushing them?

      2. Peter H. Coffin says:

        9. I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labelled “Danger: Do Not Push”. The big red button marked “Do Not Push” will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it. Similarly, the ON/OFF switch will not clearly be labelled as such.

        Peter Anspach’s Evil Overlord list.

        If I have a catechism for my life, this list is it.

    4. Nixorbo says:

      Wouldn’t work either.

      “Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.”

      “• Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

      1. Syal says:

        I think it was smart to instead tell people to leave the room. The problem is he’s drawn so much focus to the button before that part they’re going “Okay, I’ll leave, but on my way out imma push that button”.

    5. MrGuy says:

      If you don’t want a button pushed, the correct way to go about it isn’t to label the button with dire consequences. It’s to build hundreds of ADDITIONAL buttons.

      These other buttons don’t do anything at all. But they’re guarded like the real buttons. They have signs warning of dire consequences like the real buttons. But when the hero finally gets to the button and presses it, nothing happens.

      You’ll have all the incoming heroes ragequitting out about your stupid broken-ass buggy dungeon WAY before they encounter a button you actually care about.

      1. King Marth says:

        Seems most likely to actually work.

        An alternative which better fits the themes of this game would be to put the destructive button in a bag, in a bag, next to a bag, in a bag. Also, give the destructive button a bag icon.

      2. Trix2000 says:

        Or make it so each of the other buttons kills only the person who presses it.

      3. Peter H. Coffin says:

        “These other buttons don't do anything at all. But they're guarded like the real buttons. They have signs warning of dire consequences like the real buttons. But when the hero finally gets to the button and presses it, nothing happens.”

        Button unleashes a spray of bullets. Much better. Every room with a button needs a floor sink and a mop bucket, though.

  4. Tuck says:

    Mana in that description sounds like the classical “aether”, rather than the standard use of mana as magical power (which is called magicka in the Elder Scrolls). Specifically, the anchoring of the Battlespire within the mana.

    Aether as in:

    1. Rutskarn says:

      I’m assuming that’s true, and looking out for any lore down the line to confirm or deny that. Again, though, I’ve never seen this referenced before or since–if it was an attempt to expand the lore it was dropped pretty quickly, like much of this franchise’s early worldbuilding.

  5. Lachlan the Mad says:

    Hang on.

    The Battlespire is supposed to be the place where you send novice battlemages for a final exam in battle and magery.


    1. Kyrillos says:

      I think the note is less saying that the anchors anchor, well, everything, and more that they anchor the battlespire in it’s cocoon of Mana. For once, Doing The Thing (TM) probably won’t save/destroy the world, which is novel.

    2. VaporWare says:

      The author is being a smidge hyperbolic. The anchors/Battlespires don’t anchor /all reality/, they’ve simply anchored the Battlespire to what anchors all reality to keep it afloat and difficult to access by conventional means.

      Breaking it won’t end the world, but it yea may it fuck shit up mightily if it breaks and also nobody on it at the time has a snowball’s chance of successfully deorbiting even if nothing much worse happens.

      The whole point of being able to break the anchors is to counter exactly the catastrophe playing out in the game: a Battlespire can be used as a transit to and from Oblivion, and thus is of phenomenal strategic interest to daedra keen to take over the world (this at least /related/ to why it is of keen academic interest to the fighting mage).

      The option to break it is thus desirable as a last ditch “If we can’t have it, the daedra sure as hell can’t either.”, since whatever destruction will be wrought by a falling Battlespire and the unleashing of the energies that make kept it pinned in the sky may be preferable to an eternity of tyranny at the hands of Mehrunes Dagon or whoever.

      Really, the Battlespire as a construct was a terrible idea in the first place (keen academic interest is a highly questionable reason to build what may be a live-in nuke that is also a portal to hell, even if you park it somewhere away from all your nice things) and the ability to unmake it is far from it’s architect’s greatest sin.

      1. Felblood says:

        “Well anything sounds bad when you say it with that attitude.” –Kuzco

    3. MrGuy says:


      It’s only a model.

    4. Retsam says:

      It’d be hilarious if you get to the end of the game and it turns out that the real test was whether you could follow instructions posted by important looking buttons, and so you get a game over at the end if you pressed any of them.

  6. The expression of constipated terror on the avatar’s face is just never going to get old. Also, I like the way they lined that room with £ signs!

    1. Pax says:

      To my modern eyes, it looks like a bunch of Facebook logos.

      1. Possibly you have to be British!

    2. Michael says:

      The avatar’s portrait is either another horrible UI idea, or the single best thing about the HUD in this game.

  7. Draxom says:

    It’s interesting to hear you complain about the combat controls here since it sounds a lot like the controls for Mount and Blade. Based on a previous post you made I would say that you like Mount and Blade. So, I’m curious to know, what makes this click and drag combat bad while Mount and Blade’s click and drag combat is good(or at least OK)?

    1. drkeiscool says:

      Mount and Blade doesn’t have click-and-drag combat; you click, and attack in the direction you were moving the mouse. In Battlespire, you have to hold the click and drag the mouse.

      1. Syal says:

        I think there’s an option to turn that off in Mount and Blade as well, just let the game pick the direction.

      2. Draxom says:

        In Mount and Blade you click and hold the left mouse button to enter attack mode, drag the mouse to determine the attack direction, and release the mouse button to execute the attack and exit attack mode. You can hold the click to ready an attack, drag the mouse around to change the direction of a held attack and release when the time is right.

        In Battlespire(based on the description above) you click a mouse button to enter attack mode, drag the mouse to determine the type of attack and execute attacks directly in front of you, and release the mouse button to exit attack mode.I have not played Battlespire, so i can’t speak to what finesse is allowed within the system.

        I’m not sure how one of these systems can be called click and drag with out the other one also being called click and drag.

        What I’m most curious about is why one system is considered a failure while the other one is considered as at least decent if not amazing. Is it the breakdown of the tasks(that one delivers the attacks on release while the other delivers it on mouse drag)that just makes one feel better? or maybe it’s just that Mount and Blade had so many other redeeming qualities that we are willing to give them some slack when it comes to the combat itself.

    2. Rutskarn says:

      As people have pointed out, the combat’s very different:

      Mount and Blade has two options. In option A, you 1.) glide your mouse a few degrees up, down, left, or right, 2.) left-click to swing. It’s not a great system, but it lets you aim and choose attacks with a minimum level of effort–small wrist movements and individual mouse clicks–without breaking mouselook. Option B determines attack direction by movement and attacks whenever you forward click, meaning you have to shuffle footwork (although the system is designed so you usually attack in a way that makes sense based on your direction) but you can mouselook freely and you need only left-click to attack.

      As best as I can tell Battlespire has only one system. You:

      1.) Hold down right mouse button
      2.) Drag your mouse a significant distance
      3.) Keep doing that for every attack

      Which means that not only does your arm get tired from holding down the button AND from swinging the mouse, your mouselook is locked in the process.

      This is even worse than the system used in Arena and Daggerfall, both of which either ignored or half-assed mouselook and relied on the keyboard for orienting direction. In this game, you’re constantly fighting your instinct to turn the mouse to look at targets because it’ll just result in a frustrating lack of response.

      1. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

        I would say that Daggerfall can have the controls customised to a level where it is close to on-par with Mount and Blade if you change the controls heavily.

      2. WJS says:

        Hmm. That last paragraph, specifically the “your instinct to turn the mouse to look at targets” part, makes me wonder if this is an issue of hindsight. Mouselook is the dominant paradigm for first-person now, but I’m pretty sure that it hadn’t solidified as such twenty years ago. In particular, IIRC in Wizardry 8 mouselook is not turned on by default, and that was 2001.

    3. Charnel Mouse says:

      In addition to what others have said, Mount and Blade has a combat system where the direction of your attack affects whether your attack is blocked, and often what type of damage is done. There’s also a chance for a quick parry, if you time it correctly.

      If Battlespire’s combat is anything like Arena’s, there’s no such nuance: in Arena, if you and the enemy attack at the same time, both attacks are blocked, regardless of attack direction. This symmetry does nothing to change the fact that the best approach is to just line up attacks in as quick a succession as you can manage. For such a simple system, where direction makes negligible difference, click-and-drag is just busywork.

  8. TMC_Sherpa says:

    Logitech Trackman Marble kids, it’s sekret tek for the oldest Elder Scrolls games. And Centipede.

    Personally I prefer the waggle method to the oh yeah I have to click and move (or is it move and then click?) that they went to. Would it have been a million times better if it came out on a Wii and you used the remote thing? Hell yes but that wasn’t an option at the time.

  9. Gm says:

    I don´t remember it being annoying in Arena,was playing Spellsword through.

    1. Rutskarn says:

      Arena had looking around bound exclusively to keyboard and attacking to mouse.

      1. Rutskarn says:

        Now that post, but colored gold.

  10. krellen says:

    Rutskarn, I’m being 100% serious: we don’t pay you enough for this. You should quit.

    1. Rutskarn says:



  11. Mersadeon says:

    Thanks for immediately talking about the strange use of “Mana” – the second I read it, I immediately went “that’s wrong”, but I didn’t know if maybe one of the older games had used Mana instead of Magicka.

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