Friday, 14 December 2012

Skyrim Walkthrough Incoming!

I've decided I'd like to play some more Skyrim, so I've made a plan. Previously I played as a Mage and an Archer, so this time it will be as a Warrior. The plan is to strictly stick to the main quests - that is, the Dragonborn and the Rebellion quest lines - and play as an Orc with a bit of an attitude. I'll be recording the first episode tomorrow, then chopping it into ~30 minute segments and uploading to YouTube. I will probably release a few episodes per week.

I've done gameplay vids before, but usually without a voice over. This time I'm going to try different things. I've released 3 videos already. In the first two I was talking while playing, but I find that can be difficult as I'm usually focused on the gaming itself and much like chewing bubblegum while walking, I can't seem to do two things at the same time.

In the 3rd video I added an intro that I'm quite happy with. I learned a lot about my editing software to do that which is great! I also added my voice-over post-gameplay. It's a bit weird doing that, though... I guess I'm just a newbie at all this. I'll get better. I promise.

I'll also make a post about the mods I'm using just to get it out there for the curious types. I've previously made a list of Skyrim mods I like, and I'm still using plenty of those, however some are no longer available. I'm not using many new ones, and I don't have the patience to browse Steam's Workshop for good ones. I still prefer using Nexus for that (sort by endorsements makes it so easy).

Here's the first 3 episodes (you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel and they are all being added to a playlist):

Episode 1: Skyrim Intro (with a hilarious glitch)

Episode 2: I died

Episode 3: Bleak Falls Barrow

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Air Buccaneers!

A game that most people probably haven't heard about is now entering a public beta. Air Buccaneers is... well... basically what it sounds like. It's an online game where you and others fly zeppelins of sorts around and blast eachother out of the sky - or get close and board the other ship for some swash buckling mayhem.

Get it here:

In other news, I'm making progress in Dishonored and will write up a review of sorts on it. I've also got a few hours of footage I think I'd like to edit and make a bit of a montage out of it, although my video editing skills aren't all that great... We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Dishonored was released today. Not being a member of any press, that means I only just picked it up. I'm thinking of writing a review or even making a video review, but in the meantime, here's my first impression.

It's really fun.

Be back with more later.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Black Mesa Source HL1 Remake. Free.

I wish I had more time to play this game. I'm around 4 hours in since its release last Friday, but so far it is absolutely amazing. Besides a few stand-outs, shooters for the last few years have all been rather generic as BMS makes glaringly obvious. I understand the fun of online shooters, but when it comes to single player, I haven't really loved a FPS since Metro 2033 or BioShock 2.

BMS is a completely free remake of the original Half Life game, easily one of the most widely known and revered shooters of all time featuring the iconic Gordon Freeman and his crowbar. Half Life was released in 1998 and was immediately a hit. I never owned it at the time, but I did play through it at friend's houses. The sequel, Half Life 2, was released in 2004. I did not get it until the release of the Orange Box which included HL2, HL2 Episode 1 and Episode 2, as well as the acclaimed Portal and Team Fortress 2 games. HL2 really blew me away and it stands as one of my favorite shooters of all time.

Back to the Black Mesa Source mod, a dedicated team of individuals spent years recreating HL1 using the HL2 engine, as well as making new sound effects, music, everything. It's truely a work of art. Not only that, but these fine gentlemen are offering the game completely free of chrage! You can also get the sound track for free from their website.

To get Black Mesa Source for yourself, just go here:

After my time spent in the game thusfar, I am truely amazed at the quality and effort the creators put into it. The attention to detail is just amazing. The engine being used, Source 2007 (available free on Steam, and required to play the game), doesn't necessarily allow for ultra high pixel pushing capabilities. It's no Frostbite or CryEngine, and my graphics cards aren't breaking the slightest sweat trying to run it. That said, the game looks great. Objects may be slightly blockier than many modern titles, but at the same time there's so much detail that it doesn't really show. They also made the textures rather high quality, so everything looks nice and sharp.

All I can say is there's no reason to not play this game. Even if you don't like shooters you should play this game. It's free, and many people rated HL1 as the best shooter of all time - a little piece of history that any gamer should partake in.

Build Your own Thin PC

I've built a fair few PCs, including several small form factor builds, but never have I done an all-in-one thin PC (think iMac design). With the Thin-Mini-ITX standard, it's now possible to build your own!

I just went through this build process over at Tom's Hardware and I find it extremely interesting. Check it out for yourself!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Hardware Related PC Crashes

Computer crashes happen and leave most users wondering what to do. It's very common to blame an application, whether you go big and blame Windows or whichever program was running in the foreground at the time of the crash - or maybe you think you might have a virus.

The fact is that yes, software can cause issues like the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, but so too can hardware. Hardware errors are not something commonly thought about unless a user is over clocking, like I mentioned in a previous blog post or two. Obviously when you over clock it's important to make sure your computer is stable, but often when a computer is at stock settings people simply don't think about it.

Additionally, if a computer is running well for a year or two, and then all of a sudden crashes begin to occur, it's easy to wonder about that last program you installed. Sometimes people even go so far as to completely format the hard drive and reinstall Windows. This might help performance and certain PC issues, but it might not address the bigger problem - especially if it continues to happen.

The truth is that PC hardware can have defects. Sometimes they are defective from the factory, other times they simply get worn out by heat and power (electromigration for example). This is an interesting article on the subject, written by

Unfortunately these things can happen in any part of the system, be it the CPU, DRAM, GPU, or even the motherboard. Not everything can be checked, but there are tools to help rule out some issues. If your computer is crashing, here are some things to check.

First and foremost, verify your RAM. Memtest86+ is probably the best program for doing this. To run Memtest, you first need to put it on either a DVD (ISO version) or on a USB stick (USB installer version). Then reboot your PC with the DVD or USB inserted. You may need to go into your BIOS (typically hit Delete key at startup screen) and make sure that DVD or USB is selected as the boot drive before your hard drive.

Memtest will then auto start and begin running. It takes quite a while to run through a single test so make sure you have time to let the PC run on it's own.

Hard drives can also have errors on them. Sometimes it is physical errors, sometimes it is corrupt data errors. The first thing to do to check a HDD for issues is to run a Check Disk scan in Windows. You can see how to do this in Windows 7 here:

The CPU is the next possible culprit. There's two pieces of software I personally like to use to check CPUs, but there's many others available too. These are the most common tools used by over clockers to check stability.

First up is Intel Burn Test. Running it at the normal setting for about 20-30 runs should verify that the CPU is pretty ok. It's also possible to check communication with RAM by setting it to a High stress setting. Using more RAM will cause the test to run a lot longer, so for 4G or more RAM I'd suggest no more than 10 runs. If an error shows up here but not in Memtest or on a low stress run, it's probably a RAM issue but not a severe one. Adding slighly more RAM voltage (say, from 1.5V to 1.55V) can likely fix it.

If the issues are only occuring during either HD video playback or while gaming (or other graphic intensive situations) then the culprit might be your graphics card. It could also be a motherboard issue, so a simply solution to try is to switch the GPU into a different PCIe slot. However, to test the GPU, run a program like Furmark. There's 2 settings to try out, first off is max resolution, full screen, with no Anti Aliasing enabled. Allow it to run for 3 to 5 minutes. The second setting to try is similar to before, except with 4xMSAA enabled. This will stress the GPU memory more. Finally, if both pass but you still think there's a GPU issue, you can try running various GPU benchmark programs like 3DMark 11, 3DMark Vantage, or Unigene Heaven.

In the case of any hardware issues at default settings, you are most likely eligible for a product exchange either from the place you bought the product, or else directly from the manufacturer. You will have to contact their support team, describe the situation, and hope for the best. Consult your product warranty info/user manual that came in the box.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

hiberfil.sys - If you don't use Hibernate, you don't need it

Hiberfil.sys is a file that stores everything currently in your system memory so that should you hibernate your PC, it will be able to shut down everything and then fairly quickly boot back up and reload all the data back into your memory. The difference between hibernate and sleep is that sleep will actually just keep your data in the memory, meaning the PC will still draw some power to do so (if the RAM loses power, it loses the data).

But do you ever actually use hibernate? This is a feature that is really meant to help boot the PC up quicker, much like sleep, but at the same time it's supposed to save a little more power. Personally, I just shut my PC off unless I'm going to use it again soon, in which case sleep mode is just fine.

So why do I still have this gigantic hiberfil.sys file eating up my SSD space? By default, hiberfil.sys is 75% of the size of your total RAM, so in my case that's 6gb of space uselessly occupied on my 80gb SSD.

To get rid of it, at least in Windows 7, is pretty easy. Simply open a command prompt as Administrator (Start button -> type "cmd" in the search bar -> Right click on Cmd and then Run as Administrator) and type:

powercfg -h off

Done. This will disable hibernate as well as delete the hiberfil.sys file.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Virtual Reality Gaming Is Closer Than We Thought

This is fairly recent, and in my opinion, rather exciting news. I've been following John Carmack's twitter feed for a while, but only now does it actually make sense. He's been developing a virtual reality head set - an HMD (Head Mounted Display). It's currently in extremely early prototype stage, but I have to say this is a pretty impressive piece of work.

Basically there is a display inside which will display independant images to the left and right eye so that you get a bang-on 3D effect. The screen also offers a 90 degree field of view, so it's all encompassing. On top of that, there are accelerometers so that you can to some degree adjust your in game view simply by turning your head.

According to an article by The Verge, the HMD currently has only a 1280x800 display, which means you're getting a 640x800 res image to each eye. Hopefully they can at least double if not quadruple this number for release, but even so it is a very neat piece of technology.

While it is too early to tell, Carmack is hoping that when the display is finally finished it can be purchased as a hobbyist kit for around $500, which seems quite reasonable to me. I just hope it works with all FPS games! I might have to start a list of must-play games... you know, just in case.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Amnesia: The Dark Descent - Justine

Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I got this game as soon as it was released and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it. In preparation, though mostly to determine if I would like the game or not, I picked up the Penumbra series. Penumbra is a series of 3 games, although only 2 are really part of the series with the 3rd being quite a bit different. Anyway, the first 2 are almost identical, gameplay wise, to Amnesia so it was (and is) a great place to start. These games are all made by Frictional Games, and are all survival horror games with somewhat of a classic "point and click" adventure style, by which I mean you will find many notes and clues as well as items to pick up and combine to solve puzzles.

I recently felt like playing Amnesia again, so I loaded it up. Had to download quite a bit of new data, though, so I wasn't surprised when the loading screen had new options - namely a button labelled Justine.

As it turns out, Justine is a new level. I don't know who the protagonist is (though I have an idea), but you wake up in a cell and off you go to make your way through a series of trials. Unfortunately there's some evil corpse creature trying to murder you, and there's some Gramaphones you can activate to hear recordings that indicate this is all a purposeful trial for you.

Without any further ado, this is my first attempt at it. Please note: I failed. For maximum immersion, play in a dark room with headphones.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Alan Wake on PC Review

I recently played through Alan Wake. Going into it, I didn't know what to expect. I have heard some good things in general about it as it was out on consoles for a while before its fairly recent PC release. However, I wasn't keen enough to look into just what this game is all about as it didn't really affect me at the time. I can now say that this game flew WAY under the radar. This is a game that should be a highlight of your recent gaming endeavors.

Alan Wake is awesome. What is so good about it? Well, the game itself is kind of a halfway between Dead Space and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, two games I have very much enjoyed and for very different reasons. Alan Wake is more action than Amnesia - afterall, you do get weapons and can kill the baddies. On the other hand, it's nowhere near Dead Space with your futuristic arsenal of ass-kicking. Until the later game, your main weapon is a simple pistol that pretty much takes a full clip to kill the "medium" baddies. The Shotgun and Rifle round out your gun choices, with a few other tricks like flash-bangs, flares, and a flare gun... not to mention your trusty flashlight!

 Alan Wake is based around the concept of darkness. There is a darkness in the lake; it is evil, and it wants out. Almost all the enemies are corrupted, dark versions of real people you meet in the game, which gives those encounters an extra chilling effect. The story starts with the protagonist, Alan Wake, going to some little town out in the mountainous woods with his wife. Alan, or Al as he's often referred to, is a writer suffering from writer's block, so his wife thought going out to this relaxing little town could be of help. You wind up at this cabin on a small island on the lake, where things quickly take a turn for the worse. And by "for the worse," I mean things go batshit insane.

 If you played Bastion, you probably enjoyed the narration. In Alan Wake, Al is the narrator. Quite often he will describe his thoughts as you come across various things as an internal monologue. Generally this works very well and helps enhance the story. On top of this, you collect manuscript pages of, well, a story of what's happening. You can access these in your menu and Al will read out the pages. I don't want to put any spoilers in this review, but these pages are central to the game. The point is, the game manages to keep you interested with this narration as it gives you something to focus on when maybe not a lot is actually happening in the game. It definitely adds a lot to the character of Al, making him much more believable and it helps create a bit of a bond with him.

The game is split into day time and night time. The day time is when you meet the sheriff, the doctor, the waitress... and the night is when you fight. Again, without trying to spoil anything, the short of the story is that you are trying to get Al's wife back. You're led by the nose a little bit, for a little while, but then about halfway through the game steps it up a bit and Al seems to be more driven to end his nightmarish adventures and things get very intense.

During the nights, you generally explore an area. The game is not open world, but the levels are large enough and so well designed that it does feel fairly open. I never really felt like I was "on rails" or anything, and often you can go off the beaten path to find manuscripts or additional items. At all times during the night, Al has his flashlight turned on. It acts as a cross-hair during combat, as Al always aims right down the beam. The enemies are shrouded in darkness, so you have to use your flashlight to burn off the darkness and make the enemies vulnerable to weapon fire. The flashlight can run 100% of the time normally, but you can hit a button to "focus" the beam and burn the darkness faster - however, this also consumes battery power. If you stop focusing, the batteries will recharge, but you also find many batteries and can just swap them in on the fly as needed.

 The game, sadly, doesn't have many puzzles. Off the top of my head I can only think of 1. I think that is a bit of a shame, but fortunately the tense atmosphere and often chaotic combat keeps things interesting. It's also a heavily story driven game, which is something I definitely appreciate. In fact, I have to say, the way the game ended was rather impressive. Not exactly a happy ending, but appropriate. Bittersweet would describe it best.

 There's a few levels of the game that are just outrageously fun, there's levels that are very creepy, there's a little mix up with the action gameplay here and there. Probably the worst executed aspect to the game is the driving controls... the cars handle horridly, but I don't mind. It's a pretty minor aspect of a couple levels that just switch things up.

I'm not big on number scores, so all I can say is that if you like "horror", "thriller", and "action" games then this is a must play. If you don't believe me, here's a video I shot of one level up until I was murdered. Very minor spoilers, if any (but proceed with caution).

This video is somewhat spoiler-ish. It's basically a full level near the end of the game, though it's not going to spoil the interesting story bits:

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Best Way to Stream Movies to Your PS3

I've been using my PS3 as a media server/HTPC for a while now. The last game I bought for it was Dark Souls, because it's not out on PC (although apparently that is coming!). So, besides Netflix and Blu Ray, I've had to rely on streaming movies over my network.

By default on a Windows PC you can use the Windows Media Player after enabling Streaming in the options (and in your network settings). This works alright, except that .mkv files, which is a great way to encode videos, are not supported on the PS3.

I then started using the Vuze streaming function. Vuze is a torrent program as well as a media library and, as mentioned, a streaming program. The nice thing about using Vuze is that when I add a file to the PS3 sharing list, it automatically would convert it into a compatible format. The downside is that you can't really customize the encoding options besides picking "SD" or "HD". In more than one occasion I ended up losing the 5.1 audio via this method.

I spent a lot of time encoding with Handbrake, which is in fact a nice program. There are a lot of options to choose exactly how you want your video encoded, from filters to sizes, from audio to subtitles. The downside is that I still couldn't seem to get surround sound encoding to work properly.

So finally, how do you stream movies in HD with surround sound (including DTS and Dolby Digital), and in particular, how do you stream .mkv files?

The answer is the PS3 Media Server! This program is fantastic. I'm still learning all the ins and outs, but here's the gist of it: It can transcode media on the fly. This means that you don't need to wait 2 hours to transcode a .mkv HD movie before you watch it - just play it straight from the .mkv! You can select DTS and DD pass-through (options depend on if you use Optical or HDMI audio) which is great if you are using a nice home theater receiver. 

If a file does not need to be transcoded, then it will simply stream it like any other method directly from HDD to PS3.

One very neat thing about PS3 Media Server is that you can manually build plugins for it - or find plugins created by others. In particular, this one allows you to shut down your PC from a menu option on the PS3's XMB (the menu) - it's listed inside the PS3 Media Server device.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Piracy Hurts PC Gaming

Please stop pirating.

Ok, there's more to it than that. More knowledgeable people than myself have written articles and blogs on the subject, but I'd just like to add my voice to the crowd.

I'll start off by saying I think there are some reasons to pirate, though they are more than anything mere excuses. First off, pirating to use as a demo. It's an unfortunate state of affairs that video games rarely come with demos. At one time, you had a demo for almost every game and usually it was basically the first level straight out of the game. The benefit of a demo can be significant - for one, you can not really trust reviews. Mass Effect is a game praised up and down all sides of the internet, the reviews picture it as a gleaming beacon of hope in the RPG realm, and reading those love letters reviews, I get the impression that this is the kind of game I'm going to love. I did not get Mass Effect when it first came out. It wasn't really on my radar at that time, and then there was just too many other games to play. However, before ME2 was released, I purchased ME on Steam for around $15.

10 hours later, I removed it from my PC. I found it to be boring, ugly, and the combat sucked. Then again, I don't have a lot of good things to say about BioWare games since Dragon Age: Origins... but that is another matter.

The point is, I wish I didn't buy it. To really know if a game is any good, you have to experience it for yourself. Without a demo, there's only 1 way of doing that, but it is illegal (and rightly so). I'm extremely glad KoA: Reckoning had a demo because for me, it let me realize that I am not going to really enjoy that game. I know a lot of people love it - it is rated 80, 81, and 85 on the 3 platforms it was released for (Metacritic scores). Yet for me, I'd give it about a 6/10. If there wasn't a demo, I'd have been rather upset at wasting $60 on the game. Not to mention there's no returns on PC games, nor reselling. You bought it, you keep it and it's just too darn bad if you don't like it.

Secondly, demos will highlight for you whether you are even able to run the game. Some games just don't like certain hardware, or maybe it's just too demanding for your setup. Imagine finding that out the hard way (I think we've all done it before). The problem here is quite often that the listed minimum and recommended specs are barely reasonable and often vague. There's a massive difference between "minimum" driving the game at low settings and 60 fps at 720p vs the game chugging along at 20fps at 640x480... yet who knows if that's what they mean by "playable". And recommended? Please. Not once has recommended been enough for Ultra settings, maybe not even for medium at 1080p.

If you choose to partake in this practice and you find out you really do like the game and want to finish it, then go purchase it legally! I realize this can take a lot of willpower since you already got your hands on it for free, but you know it's the right thing to do.

The second reason I can see piracy as being reasonable is if it is otherwise impossible to get a hold of the game. I mean literally, it is just not sold locally nor will anyone ship it to you. Or it's simply non existant anymore, like maybe an old SNES game. (Check out for a huge amount of classic PC games at cheap prices!)

Some people like to claim that they are protesting against a company, whether it's because of changes to the game that you don't like, or the inclusing of some arbitrarily "evil" Digital Rights Management scheme. I'm sorry to tell you this, but that doesn't cut the mustard. Simply by downloading the game you are clearly showing you are interested in the product. If you weren't, you would ignore it like all the Wii shovelware collecting dust. Protesting a game can only be done, really, with a boycott. Nobody playing the game means nobody is interested in it - playing the game even without paying means it has value and they should keep going, just with stricter DRM.

That's the problem. You pirate to "protest" something like DRM, and they ramp up the DRM. To put it in a strawman argument, it's like shooting cops to protest that there are some asshole cops. Guess what, that is not going to work, all it will do is bring in more authority. If you don't like DRM, then do not consume the product. Otherwise, deal with it. (See article linked below for more on why DRM is nearly a non-issue blown way out of proportion)

If a game is engaging in practices you find intolerable - like day 1 DLC (See Mass Effect 3 and Sim City 5), pirating it will not send the message that you want. What you want is to say "I disagree with what you're doing so there! Give me everything I want!" like you think it's a hostage situation. The company does not see it that way. They see people stealing their product. They have every right to sell a game how they see fit with whatever features they see fit for whatever price they see fit. If nobody bothers playing their game, then they know they need to change. If millions of people play it without paying... they'll just go to somewhere they can get paid from those playing it (read: consoles).

In the end, the only thing piracy hurts is us gamers. The days of PC dominance are fading into distant memory; PC gaming is now an after thought. If we're lucky we get a game ported, at release, with some customization options for graphics and controls. Often, though, we have to wait for our version and aren't even able to set a custom control scheme.

I've heard arguments about how it's because developing for PC is hard, there's so many variables in hardware, PC gamers are more picky, etc. No, the reason PC games aren't very popular with developers is because PC gamers pirate everything that isn't "nailed to the floor".

As a collective, PC gamers need to really step up to the plate. We have systems vastly superior to consoles, and often a fair bit more expensive too. On top of that we can purchase and install games without leaving our chairs, and usually at around $10 less than console games. And while we wait, we can browse sites like Reddit and YouTube to keep ourselves entertained... yet, apparently, we can't be arsed to lay down some money on a quality product. We get the best deal out there, and we throw it in their (the developers/publishers) faces!

I realize that a lot of this sounds like conjecture and opinion. Well, it is... however, I also felt the need to write this after reading this extremely awesome article on the subject matter:
(Bear in mind it is now a little over a year old data, but it's good nonetheless)

I think the article pretty accurately describes my stance with the following quote. This, my PC gamer friends, is why we must pay for our games. This is why developers don't care about us. This is our own doing.
In summary, looking at the data we wind up with what appear to be roughly equal proportions of machines capable of gaming in the console market vs. the PC gaming market: there are approximately 76 million or more 'next-gen' consoles currently in use around the world; and of the 1 billion PCs globally, we can state with a reasonable degree of confidence that at least 80 million, possibly as many as almost 200 million of them are capable of gaming with the latest titles. If we want to refine the figures down to which machines are capable of 'hardcore' gaming, then we can exclude the Wii from the console stats, bringing us down to 40 million consoles (XBox 360 and PS3); and even if we halve the number of PCs with add-in graphics cards to 40-100 million to account only for medium and high-end graphics cards, we still wind up with at least a 1:1 ratio in terms of the number of gaming consoles vs. the number of gaming PCs. What we can say with a high degree of certainty is that at no point does it look like gaming PCs are being outgunned in terms of sheer volume of console hardware by a 4:1, 5:1 or higher ratio as game sales ratios would suggest.

As in, consoles have at best the same install base as game-worthy PCs, but they outsell more than 5x the amount of games. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

MOAR Skyrim Mods!

Well, after my last post I've spent a lot of time both searching out mods, and trolling the Bethesda mods forums - not to mention trying my hand at a little modding myself. 

I've found a few more mods, or slightly different versions of ones listed that I think are probably a little better. Either way, check these out too and if you like them, try them!

I haven't been able to play through this one, but this mod simply adds a whole new area and quest line to the Bard's College. It is pretty awesome, and if you want a little more unique Skyrim content, definitely get it.

This mod is great. It adds a school to Whiterun and Solitude (more coming), and 5 days a week, all the little brats go off to school so they aren't pestering about how they'll fight you, even if you are their elder...

"I'm sworn to carry your burdens..."
Not anymore! Now she's more than happy to exchange inventory.

I know what I said in my last post. I retract my statement. PISE is brilliant, and so is the mod's author, Pluto. This mod adds
-More spawns
-Harder enemies (deleveled dragons, mages use healing speels, enemies use healing potions...)
-Better AI (more blocking, power attacks, aim, and reaction times)
-Harder battles (easier to be detected, mages heal allies)
-Less leveled loot

I know it might sound daunting, but I swear it will make the game so much more fun to play. Combat is just much more fun and challenging, but balanced too. Pluto also has a beta version of a patcher that will smartly add spells to enemies if you're using mods like Midas Magic, another one that will create even more enemies for crazy dungeons, and he's the one who made Realistic Lighting that I listed last time.

This is another combat mod, and the one I've been using for a while now. I think it's better than the Duel one I listed last time. The most important features IMO are changes to how blocking and stagger works. Check this out.

Another combat mod, this one aims to be as realistic as possible. I have not used it yet, but it looks very promising. I suggest checking both these out and using one or the other in conjunction with PISE.

I listed this one last time, but it was only Dungeons. The Wilds is now released, huge immersion increase I think. Get it for sure!

This mod is a must for everybody. It fixes so many glaring issues with bad meshes, from fixing ugly wooden beams to making food look oh so much more delicious! Oh and not to mention the chains... I know, you're probably thinking, "what??" but seriously check it out. So much win.

These two mods go together very, very well. It makes rain in Skyrim seem like real rain! Combined with the thunder effects I listed last time, after this you'll be eagerly anticipating the next big thunderstorm in Skyrim!

Essentially this mod adds to the creatures of Skyrim. One of my favorite additions is scaled down, non threatening Skeevers as rats in cities.

Pretty basic mod, just fixes some issues with followers.

I'm now using this instead of the crafting mods I listed last time. It revamps the Smithing perk tree and adds a lot to the basic crafting. I use it in conjunction with Vals Crafting Metldown and the Weapons and Armor fixes I listed last time.

This one is a must have for most people. It will reduce your VRAM usage while maintaining the high quality of the official HD textures DLC. This is particularily important if you want to use other HD mods, like Flora Overhaul and HD Furniture and Barrels (my favorites), not to mention weapon and armor retextures. 1gb of VRAM isn't that much anymore.

If you really need to save VRAM, here's a mod that greatly reduces the texture sizes (mostly from increased compression) while maintaining much higher than vanilla graphics.

Well, that's it for today! Hopefully there's more fun stuff to write about in the near future.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Top Skyrim Mods

I've spent a lot of time in Skyrim since it was released, and generally have been on top of the mods scene as well. I'm going to share with you all the mods I use, which affect graphics and gameplay. I always like to keep my game as "vanilla-ish" as possible, so this means no drastic ENB series injector mod to totally change the way the game looks, nor do I use huge mod packs like Titanis and PISE. I like to pick and choose what I install, and only things that flow with the game. Basically I go for "enhanced vanilla" instead of "check out this new game".

Note about screenshots - I took them with all of these mods installed, with the exception of Skyrim HD 2k.


Before getting started, I highly recommend downloaded the Nexus Mod Manager, which makes installation of most mods extremely easy. Most downloads have at least the ability to be downloaded with NMM, and some have special installers for it that are even better.
Nexus Mod Manager

You can also find many mods on the Steam Workshop now, but personally if I find a mod on Nexus instead, I prefer to use that one. The Workshop just isn't quite as easy to use right now - there isn't even a search function.

Also, some of these mods require "SKSE". Follow the links from the mod itself. Essentially, you just have to copy the exe and dll files into your Skyrim folder, and then NMM will detect it and you select SKSE as your launcher from NMM. I believe some of the inventory mods require it.


Complete Crafting Overhaul
This mod basically rebalances Black Smithing. It tweaks recipies a little bit, and gets rid of certain things, adds craftable arrows and even Skyforge items. However, this mod is meant to be used with the following for best results.

Smithing Perks Overhaul
Basically this mod just adds new recipies like Imperial, Stormcloak, Falmer, Silver, etc. These are all present in the game already, but many were not craftable. It also requires you to unlock access to certain recipies, for example once you are Thane of Whiterun you can craft the Whiterun Guard items. These two mods are also meant to be used with the next one.

Weapons and Armor Fixes
According to the download page, many weapons had inconsistencies which caused issues, like the Orcish Waraxe considered to be made of iron and a 2 hand sword considered a 1 hand sword which breaks your perks.

Vals Crafting Meltdown
Unfortunately, Complete Crafting Overhaul does not yet feature the ability to melt down items, so you're going to want this one. It is a planned update to CCO, but in the meantime Vals has you covered. Make sure to get the "no arrows" version if you use CCO.

JaySuS Swords
This is a really great mod. At this time, it adds an astonishing 47 new weapons to craft! For the most part they will have "standard" attributes so they are as balanced as anything. For example there might be 4 varieties of 2h swords but they all have the same stats, and are similar to a vanilla item. Unfortunately it doesn't seem that there is yet a good armour version of this mod.


Wars in Skyrim IV
I'm actually fairly new to this mod, but it can be summed up as a mod which adds a lot more combat opportunities to the game. Basically out in the wild there will be more spawn points for certain deadly creatures from bears and saber cats to huge trolls. It also adds more faction battles, random bandits walking around, and other fun stuff. It comes in different flavours too so you can add the "rainbow" version for a very slight change, up to the Dark Age which makes the game extremely difficult. This mod does change gameplay balance, though, so make sure you pick the difficulty that you prefer. This mod also features many sub-mods like better Werewolves and Vampires, Realistic Combat, NPC Perks. I personally don't use most of those, as I cover some of them with unique mods.

Duel - Combat Realism
This mod just tweaks combat in Skyrim, adjusting stagger, knockback, block, and other things. So far I find melee combat to be quite engaging so it must be working well for me. You can also try the combat addon from Wars in Skyrim, but I like that this one is very up front with all the tweaks.

Midas Magic
This is a complete magic life saver. The default magic in Skyrim was very lacking in variety, and this fixes it. Tons of new, unique spells are available for purchase. Personally, I thought vanilla magic, balance wise, was fine so I'm not going to incorporate any "magic fixing" mods. My level 46 destruction mage is a total boss even on Master, so yeah, I don't really have interest in boosting magic scaling and such. Midas Magic just adds spells.

Immersion and UI

Dynamic Merchants
From the description: "Merchants from all across Skyrim can now profit from the Dovahkiin's adventures. With this mod the amount of gold that a merchant has depends on how much you trade with them. Buy or sell expensive items and the merchant may have extra gold when you next visit.
Most shops will just recieve extra gold when they are profitable, but blacksmiths will sometimes receive extra ingots and alchemy stores can receive extra potions. Some merchants also receive rare items after their store has received high trade volume." Enough said.

This mod is amazing. Basically it makes categories on the top of the screen, and overall it's much improved from the vanilla menu system.

This UI mod takes over your inventory. It adds nice icons on top for sorting, plus lets you sort items by name, stolen, value, weight, and more. Just makes the inventory (and magic) screens much more friendly.

This is a great mod that makes you favorites menu appear full screen with categories. So much better than scrolling through a tiny window to find just the right item or potion. One note on this, you'll need to modify the config file depending on your resolution. See the mod description (follow link) for details.

This mod renames many, many items so that they sort better. For example, all arrows will go from "Iron Arow" and "Steel Arrow" to "Arrow - Iron" and "Arrow - Steel" this way they are grouped together when you sort your inventory. Applies to books, food, potions, soul gems, and more.

This simple mod just makes the map much clearer. It actually comes in a few varieties, including only main roads, all roads, with or without clouds, and even a nice "paper" style map option.

This is a really great mod, as it makes all the thunder sound effects much more authentic.

This is basically just a simple physics mod, which adds a nice sense of realism to objects and corpses.

This is a very simple mod, adding the sounds of seagulls near the ocean. This will be obsolete once the following mod is finished completely.

This mod will eventually enhance all ambient sounds within Skyrim. There are preview videos of it if you follow the link, and I'm sure you'll agree it sounds absolutely fantastic. Currently only part 1 of 3 is out, and that is the Dungeons pack.

As the name implies, it makes combat sounds much more realistic which adds to the immersion and realism.


*Note: Skyrim just released the official HD texture pack. To me, this makes the game good looking enough that I don't necessarily feel the HD texture packs are required anymore for landscape and such. Not to mention my 1gb GPUs are already maxing out VRAM, and adding a whole bunch of texture mods besides these will just cause slow down. So if you're running 1.5 to 2gb graphics cards, I'll make special mention of a few mods near the end that will really add some eye candy. In the meantime, for people with 1gb cards of around 560 Ti or 6950 1gb performance or higher, these are some mods that will make the game nice without too much performance impact.

Well, lo and behold, Bethesda released a patch that had errors. The most significant one I noticed is that logs in the fire looked bizarre. This is a simple patch that fixes the errors left behind, and I'm sure next official patch we won't be needing this anymore. In the meantime, it's good to have.

By far this is one of my favorite mods. It doesn't use a post process injector of any sort, it simply makes the game look like vanilla, but better. It's especially great for dungeon crawling, as there is a lot more dark areas that makes things like torches actually useful. I love this one.

For whatever reason, many places - indoors in particular - have this strange effect where lighting causes extremely noticeable shadow stripes. This patch fixes them. Very useful.

As the title implies, this mod makes water look very realistic and gorgeous.

Again, fairly obvious mod. Makes smoke and embers look awesome.

Snow. It's everywhere in Skyrim. Might as well make it look really nice!

Night skies have never looked better. Very, very cool mod.

It does what it says.

This is such a simple mod, with no performance impact. It makes the very distant terrain textures look more realistic, basically adding a bit of grainy/bumpyness to them.

This one doesn't exactly make Skyrim a more beautiful place, but it does turn out to be extremely useful if you plan to do any black smithing. Definitely worth getting

This mod just makes all armour textures higher resolution and sharper. Really nice.

Whether you like this mod or not is up to you, but it makes the women of Skyrim much more attractive.

This mod enhances female and male textures, making them look much more life like.

Essentially it just smoothes out the mapping on faces. In particular, noses were bad. The Better Females mod has a version of this too, but I like to apply this one over top.

Makes the Argonians and Kajiit appear much more realistic. Especially the Kajiit, their fur looks very realistic now.

This mod is awesome, as it is a complete shield retexture mod, with all textures made from scratch. Looks fantastic.

A fairly obvious mod, this makes all NPC clothing looks significantly better. It keeps the vanilla look of all clothing, but makes them look way nice.

Another texture mod done by hand, this one improves the look of all weapons. Again, keeps that vanilla style but just makes them really fantastic.

This mod just improves the look of all windows in Skyrim. The HD pack released by Bethesda doubled the resolution, but this one quadruples it and gives you smooth or gritty options.

The Heavy VRAM Users

Like the title says, improves the look of most clutter and furniture. This one adds a few looks I'm not very fond of, though. I'd say use it at your own caution. If you intend to use all these HD mods, I'd recommend installing this one first so the textures are replaced by the following.

I really like this mod. Makes all furniture look awesome. Comes in a few flavours as well.

This one makes some huge improvements to the landscape textures. Looks phenomenal.

This mod makes many improvements across the board, from floors and carpets to walls and houses.

This is one of my favorite HD packs. Makes nature look just stunning.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Evolution of a PC Enthusiast's Addiction Part 2 - Water Cooling

So, I left off with a very expensive hobby that I was very happy with, except for the silly backwards cooling scenario I was forced into.

Naturally, I began looking into new CPU coolers that would be able to clear my RAM heatsinks, but no matter what it seemed like a gamble and I didn't want to be returning multiple CPU coolers and wasting a lot of time. That's when I began to contemplate water cooling. I always thought it was pretty cool (aka "hardcore") to have a water cooled rig, but also it seemed a little pointless given how effective most air coolers are these days.

Never the less, I searched and found a seemingly really great solution: Swiftech Edge 220 water cooling kit! It's basically a 120x2 radiator (MCR 220 QP) with a small resevoir on top and an MCP 35x pump on the bottom, plus an Apogee XTL CPU block, hoses, fans, and a rad box for mounting externally. Regular price on this was around $300, but I found it on sale for $210. I also added a Silverstone Air Penetrator fan to cool my GPUs better, some blue tubing, and a Scythe Kaze Master Pro 6 channel fan controller. Total: $333.62. Not bad, really.

 Installation was actually quite easy. I just assembled everything and used the rad box to mount it off the back of my case. The loop didn't have any leaks, so I plugged everything in and booted her up. The great thing about water cooling is how quiet it is. I run my fans at low speeds (1300rpm) and the cooling performance is better than ever. My temperatures dropped around 10C under load! This is with a nice overclock, though, at 4ghz 1.32V.

Naturally I was happy again. I was able to put all my fans the proper way again (front to back), my cooling was better, my PC was quiet. Even my GPUs were cooled better by having the Air Penetrator blowing at them - you can see the fan just to the right of the GPUs in the center bay.

This is actually pretty much the end of my purchasing. In one of my first posts I mentioned trying Eyefinity, so there's that, but I backed out of it and returned everything. Eyefinity is cool but not really worth the investment and performance hit for me.

I did purchase myself a bit of a Christmas gift, though, in the form of a Corsair Force Series GT 120gb SSD which I use as my gaming drive. It was $80 off, so can't complain about that. I also got rid of the Logitech mouse and keyboard; I picked up a Microsoft Sidewinder X6 keyboard and a Cooler Master Sentinel Z3RO-G mouse. They are awesome - great feel, response, and programmable.

Having the radiator mounted off the back of the case isn't a bad thing, but I got a bit of the modding bug in me and decided I had to try and install the radiator internally. Keeping in mind I use an Antec 900 II case, which is a mid tower, and the fact that my radiator is much larger than normal because of the pump and reservoir on it, I knew it wouldn't be easy.

I started by stripping out my HDD bays and test mounting the radiator in the front. It fit find, except that it was so tall I couldn't use my DVD drive anymore. Besides that, though, I just had to figure out where to mount my HDDs and SSDs. Eventually I came to an interesting solution. I was able to mount my HDDs on the side panel of the drive bays, and my SSDs on the floor of the case. A little use of a dremel later, it was all done.

I've now planned out what I need for putting my GPUs on water as well, and it will be around $300 for that. Just need to decide if I want a 3x120 rad hanging off the back, or a 200x200 radiator sitting on top like a chimney.

Well, that's my story about how my PC hobby as evolved over the last two years. Hope you enjoyed.

Friday, 27 January 2012

3D Gaming, Nvidia 3D Vision 2 vs AMD HD3D

3D gaming is often touted as a gimmick, much like it is with movies. I don't know about you, but personally, I like 3D movies - when they are well done.

Nvidia has had 3D capabilites with their 3D Vision technology for some time now, but only recently released 3D Vision 2 with a few improvements. AMD on the other hand is fairly new to the 3D world, and their HD3D technology is actually only natively supported in 3 or 4 games right now including Dirt 3 and Deus Ex Human Revolution. For every other game, it actually needs to rely on third party drivers in the form of IZ3D and Tridef 3D.

Because Nvidia uses a more closed system for their 3D tech, they are able to keep tight control over how it all works and as such it seems to generally work better and in more games than HD3D. The downside, though, is that the 3D kits (3D Vision certified monitor and glasses) are quite expensive. AMD's more open 3D platform has the benefit in being able to use just about any 3D monitor and compatible glasses, many of which are from Samsung. They can be bought for fairly cheap too, as little as $350. The downside, of course, is that besides the few native HD3D games out there, how well it works relies on 3rd parties.

Now for the specifics, I'm going to have to direct you to a couple of articles. In's recent PC gaming in 3D stereo: 3D Vision 2 vs. HD3D, they cover everything from specifics about each 3D technology, supported hardware, and how to set it up as well as some benchmarks about the impact on performance. The only negative to this article is that they cover only a few games.

For another look at supported games and benchmarks, you'll want to check out's Stereo Shoot-Out: Nvidia's New 3D Vision 2 Vs. AMD's HD3D. This article covers many similar aspects to TechReport's, but has more games covered. also posted an article that is a fantastic look at compatibility with 18 popular games, Nvidia 3D Vision Vs. AMD HD3D: 18 Games, Evaluated. The absolute coolest part about this is the images that let you see the 3D effect for yourself. Like this one:
Cross your eyes until there is a single central image, then wait for your eyes to focus on it.
It seems that generally the consensus is this: the technology still has a ways to go before it is really good, but, if you need it now then you'd be better off with Nvidia 3D Vision 2 and buying a very nice monitor with LightBoost.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Evolution of a PC Enthusiast's Addiction

I've had this gaming PC for 1 year and 9 months as of writing this post. My previous PC was a "prebuilt" from a local PC store. Not a Dell or a Gateway, but just a PC computer package with a Core 2 Duo (2.4ghz) and an 8600GT. One hot day I was playing DiRT in the living room, hooked up to my parent's big TV with my Logitech MOMO racing wheel and all of a sudden, the game got all glitchy and froze up. Rebooting gave me wierd visual artifacts even in the BIOS screen. Short of it was: burnt out GPU. I later opened it up and found a nice dust collection clogging the heat sink. Woops. Learned not to do that again.

In the meantime of not having a gaming PC for, oh, a year or two, I did plenty of other things. For my gaming fix, I had a Gamecube and eventually a Wii that I never played. I finally finished school and got a job, so I bought a PS3 Slim when those were released, and about 7 months later I put together a $1000 budget for a new gaming PC. I determined that I would build it myself. I researched parts, benchmarks, power, cooling, cases - everything. I sold my old PC to my parents for a small sum, and then picked up all the fancy new hardware for my awesome gaming rig.

I purchased the following on the 15th of April 2010:
CPU: Intel i5 750
Motherboard: MSI P55GD65
Cooler: Zalman CNPS10X Extreme
RAM: Patriot Viper II Sector 5 2x2gb
GPU: Sapphire Radeon 5850 (Dirt 2 edition/reference model)
HDD: Seagate 7200.12 RPM 500GB (x2 for RAID 0)
PSU: Corsair 750TX
Case: Antec 900 II
OS: Windows 7 64 bit
Monitor: Samsung 2494SW
Periphs: Logitech Easycall wireless keyboard and mouse (bad choice)
All in all this cost me $1599.83 (minus what I got for my old one)

I was, of course, completely thrilled with the power of this new PC. You better believe one of the first games I played was Crysis! I also started tweaking it, going into the BIOS and trying some CPU and GPU overclocking. Oh, and I lapped my CPU for better temps. This is where it all started.

Now, it isn't that I was reckless. I was keeping things within Intel specs. I wasn't letting temperatures run wild. However, only a month after my initial purchase, my PC blew up while trying to push maybe 4.1 or 4.2ghz. I had purchased the product replacement plans from the store, so I had to bring the computer in and after about a week they came back to me with the news: dead motherboard.

I suppose I was exceedingly lucky. They were able to POST a few times and saw the remenants of my overclock, so it was iffy whether I would get it replaced or not. However, they pulled through for me and not only gave me a replacement, but technically an upgrade to an Asus P7P55D Pro! I couldn't have been happier about that, and to this day am thoroughly pleased with the motherboard.

5850s, Bravura, GT240
Of course, I couldn't stop there. I was using a meager Altec Lansing 2.1 speaker setup that I used on my old PC. It was time to change that. I went out and bought the Logitech X-540 5.1 speaker system and, because I just had to, I also picked up an AuzenTech X-Fi Bravura 7.1 sound card... and then proceeded to plug both the 2.1 and 5.1 system into it for full on 7.2 surround! (note: I set the 2.1 up as "large" speakers for full sound, and the 5 speakers as satellite with a sub). This was 2 days after getting my PC back. Guess I was excited.

The next day I bought my second 5850.

2 weeks later I bought a GT 240 for PhysX.

Obviously at this point I was not just "into" PCs, I was full out addicted. And loving it! I was crushing games, tweaking everything, soaking it all up. By the way, I don't really recommend getting a dedicated PhysX GPU because so few games support it. Though, it only cost me $65 after rebate, so I'm happy.

What came next was aftermarket GPU coolers. The reference coolers were either quiet and mediocre, or loud and effective. The problem with buying aftermarket coolers, though, is that they are almost all 2 slots big, meaning the cards would occupy 3 slots each. As you can see, I was tight on space.

In the end there was 2 options for me: Zalman VF3000 or Scythe Setsugen coolers. And only the Scythe's were in stock. Honestly, though, I still use them and they are fantastic. I have made sure to have good air flow over them, and at 1300rpm they are whisper quiet and my GPUs don't even hit 70C with the overclock (stock volts, up from 700/1000 to 870/1200). Installing them was a bit of a pain, though. In particular the VRM and VRAM heat sinks that stick on. While gaming one fell off and broke the fan blades on the cooler! Fortunately, once again, it was a quick swap for a new one thanks to the replacement plan at the store. I also picked up some Thermal Adhesive to keep those suckers in place.

There was another issue, though. The stock VRM heat sink was extremely tiny and inadequete. It was basically 4mm wide, and extended only just long enough to cover the VRMs. The VRM temps were shooting up far higher and faster than the core or VRAM temps so I had to do something. I ended up using the spare parts to fabricate my own VRM heatsink - a copper base plate meant for the GPU core plus an extra heat sink. Works like a charm.

So now I've probably tripled my budget after only 4 months, but at the same time, thoroughly enjoying it. Naturally I had to find another something to buy. That something was a complimentary 2x2gb RAM kit to bring me up to 8gb. There was a small issue, though. The Zalman CPU cooler I had was so big that it covered the first RAM slot. This meant I had to get creative, so I flipped all my case fans around to blow back-to-front. I couldn't flip the top 200mm exhaust, though. But it worked, everything fit, and my temps only went up a little bit. I also was feeling an OCD itch about how wrong it is to have it backwards...

Now, at this point I was living in an appartment with my girlfriend, and my sound system was becoming an issue. Both because she didn't want to hear loud explosions when I gamed, and my neighbour below us didn't either. This led to me investigating headphones. I didn't want to spend much, so I tried out the SteelSeries 5H V2s... and they sucked. A lot. The sound has no bass and amplified treble, and I couldn't stand it. I decided I had to step up, and got Sennheiser PC 350s which are fan-freaking-tastic! I also swung a great deal, and got them for $150 because another retailer online had them on sale and my trusty local store price matched.

At this point, I was very happy with my system and managed to go a whole 9 days before buying another part. I was probably premature in jumping into this, but I picked up an Intel X25-M 80gb SSD for $215. Money not very well spent, to be honest. It's not that I dislike the SSD - I love it! But the problem is simply that my performance was great anyway and SSD prices were dropping. Regardless, at the time I was super happy with it and to this day I think an SSD is vital to any high end build.

Now I was running an i5 750 at 4ghz, a pair of 5850s overclocked to almost 5870 performance, an SSD, a sound card, a PhysX card, 8gb of RAM... everything was good. I was happy with the performance and the looks. Everything. Everything except the backwards cooling solution.

I'll save the rest for my next post.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cosmos II: The Biggest, Baddest Case

Cooler Master Cosmos II
Just recently, Cooler Master has released their newest iteration of the Cosmos PC case, the Cosmos II. This is easily one of the largest, heaviest, and perhaps coolest (both literal and figurative) cases available right now. It also comes with a hefty price tag of $350.

The case is actually so large, standing at 13.5" x 27.7" x 26.1", that CM created a new term for it: the Ultra-Tower.

(non flash)


Generally speaking, besides a rich enthusiast who just wants to spend a lot of money, this case has a lot of potential for the water cooling community. Water cooling can take up a very large amount of space, so unless you want to have radiators hanging off the back of your case, you need to go big. Really big.

Corsair Obsidian 800D
In my own opinion, this case really has only 2 competitors that incorporate size, aesthetics, and features. They are the Corsair Obsidian 800D and the Silverstone Temjin TJ07. The 800D is actually the cheapest of the three, coming in at $299.99.

Official site:

Silverstone Temjin TJ07
The Temjin series of cases comes in a few flavors, and the TJ07 is actually slowly disapearing despite being a legendary chassis. On Newegg it is listed as "deactivated". The sad news is that the only other Temjin case to feature a multi-zone interior is the TJ11, which is much larger and much more expensive ($600!). The TJ07 comes in at the same price as the Cosmos II - $350. The TJ09 and TJ10 just aren't as well suited for the water cooling crowd, so it's sad to see the TJ07 being removed from the market one retailer at a time. Being a long time runner, the TJ07 features a black model, a white model, and both window and window-less models.

Official site:

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Demo Review

I just spent most of this evening playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Yikes, what a mouthful. Anyway, the game is an action RPG being released across all platforms (Windows, Xbox 360, PS3). I never really heard about it until seeing that the demo is released, and thought I should try it out. The story, as I understand it, has to do with these Fae creatures, who it would seem are immortal, that run the country. However, an evil Fae took over and began a campaign of murder and conquest and all that other evil stuff - his eyes even glow red, so you know he's really bad.

Freshly Reanimated
Your character, however, starts the game as an experiment. Some gnomes, you see, were trying to put people back into their bodies (or maybe new bodies?) using this Well of Souls, and you are the first one on which it succeeds. However, the evil Fae army is attacking the Well so there's plenty of resistance on your way out to the world.

Eventually you find out you are "fateless" and are therefore free to determine your own fate, which is the basis behind part of the leveling system.

The gameplay itself I would say most closely resembles Fable. There's plenty of linear or "corridor" style areas, with almost no branching. In the more open world area, you are still quite restricted in terms of exploration although it's nothing like Final Fantasy XIII. Again, it's like Fable.

As you progress through the beginning of the demo, you are given the most basic weapons for each of the 3 main class types. You can be a warrior, rogue, or a mage, or any combination of the three depending on how you level up your Fate. Warriors favor large weapons like swords and hammers, rogues prefer daggers and bows, while mages prefer staves and magic. That said, at any time you can use any of these weapons, however, your perks and armor will determine the effectiveness.

Whenever you gain a level, you get 3 points to spend on specific perks from either of the 3 class trees. You also get a point to spend on general attributes like black-smithing, alchemy, persuasion, etc. And then at the end of choosing those you can modify your fate, which appears to require a certain amount of class perk points before being able to unlock the next fate upgrade.

Equipment is divided into a multitude of sub menus, which frankly are annoying to navigate. When you hit ESC, it brings up the menu. From there, you can select Inventory, then Weapons, then Primary or Secondary (same weapons are selectable, but you can quick select between the two in real time during gameplay), and then the specific weapon you want to equip. For armor it works much the same, starting from Inventory you would select Armor, and then pick the pieces from a menu showing each type of armor - head, chest, gloves, legs, and feet. On top of that there's yet another menu for Accessories, another for Items, another for Consumables... you get the picture. The menus definitely need to be pared down.

Instant Stealth Kill
Combat in the beginning of the game is pretty much the same for any class. Spam left click for attacks, and right click uses magic. There is no stamina bar, but there is mana which regenerates - there's also, of course, instant potions. You also learn that you can dodge/roll, sneak, and block. A note about blocking - once you equip a shield, it is active on your block button (L Shift) but is not visible on your character. When you hit Block, this massive iron shield comes out of nowhere and you hold it in front of you. It's a bit odd, to say the least. When performing a stealth kill with daggers, you get bonus damage and if it's an instant kill, it also gives a pretty cool kill animation.

Fate Kill
The combat does get more complex later on. As you level up, you can begin to assign perks to give you new attack abilities, passive and active abilities, and higher base weapon damage. There's also an interesting feature where you somehow manipulate fate and can perform some really bad ass kills. Basically there's a fate meter and you can use it to first slow down time and become a killing machine, and secondly when an enemy is downed but not dead, perform a fate kill. It's a bit overwhelming at first, but it gets a little more natural later on.

The story, questing, and narration are... ok. The voice acting is fine, not outstanding but more than acceptable. Story wise, well, after the intro sequence I had one of those "oh... great..." feelings, like this would just be some lame, typical fantasy setting. Sadly, so far, it is. As far as I can tell, there really isn't anything to make this game stand out from a story perspective. I just didn't feel like there was any reason to do things. The whole "evil king" thing is fine as an overarching story element, but there needs to be a reason more personal to the player to want to keep going, and the game failed to give me that. It felt very mediocre and impersonal, rather than drawing me in and making me just itching to get to the next part of the story. I think that with a semi-open world game like this, you need to have strong story elements. It's not like Skyrim, where you can just take off in a random direction and come across all sorts of interesting things.

Dialog Wheel
Interaction in this game has a lot of familiar concepts, but mostly it's pretty well implemented. There's the now standard coversation wheel taken from BioWare games, though for the most part your conversations boil down to asking background questions rather than having interesting things to say. It's definitely not like Dragon Age 2, with the complacent, silly, and aggressive dialog options.

Dialog... box?
Oddly, at certain points you no longer use the dialog wheel but instead have a dialog box. There's no real explanation as to why this is. When there is a dialog box, there is a blue highlighted response that is meant as the "use this to continue the game" option, but even after using it you can still use the other dialog options and are required to use ESC to get out of the conversation to continue on your quest.

Oh look, a glowing plant for alchemy!
Alchemy Shop
Besides that, the game features many other now standard RPG elements, like black-smithing, alchemy, and rune forging. You also collect ingredients from plants scattered around the world, and require certain talents to increase your chances of successfully harvesting the ingredients.

Cities have guards, and since you can lock pick and steal, they can and will arrest you and throw you in jail. You can also turn on hostility and attack any neutral or friendly NPCs, if you so choose.

Aesthetically, the game is alright. So far, it has a pretty consistent design scheme and everything fits pretty well. Graphically, however, the game is a disapointment. It looks rather dated, kind of washed out, like there's too much bloom effect. I had to force 4xMSAA through Catalyst to be able to watch cutscenes, otherwise it was a blank screen with voices. Even so, aliasing is definitely present.

As I mentioned before, the game is a lot like Fable, but I also think that graphically, they took a lot of inspiration from World of Warcraft. Everything is cartoony and overly proportioned. I don't think this is bad on it's own, but my problem is that the game also has an extremely short draw distance, so textures keep popping in as you run, and objects distort to get slightly more detailed which I find very noticeable in outdoor areas. I hope they optimize the graphics for PCs much better at final release, because currently it runs like a direct Xbox port. My GPUs were practically at idle the entire time, holding a solid 60 fps.

I don't expect every game to push the limits of graphics, and especially not multi-platform releases, but I did expect more than this game offered. Screenshots look ok for the most part, but if I can direct your attention to details, just look at how grass is only showing for a few meters around my character. It's not just terrain, either, but NPCs will pop in too. I recall approaching a group of small hostile creatures - little balls with arms and legs - but at a distance they looked like floating wisps or something. Only when I got close did their legs and arms show up, as well as a proper body. Perhaps I'm a spoiled PC gamer, but I really hope that these issues are either fixed for release, or else worst case scenario able to be modded via a config file or the like.

All in all, I can't really say I'm looking forward to release. I'm definitely not putting my money down until after reading some final reviews and watching some gameplay clips. I think there is potential here, but they need to be able to draw the player in much earlier in the game with something exciting. On top of that, I'd like to see some interface and menu adjustments as well as more demanding graphic options, even just increased draw distances and some anti aliasing.