Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Oblivion Adventures Part 2: Dungeons and Dealings


Last time we left our supposedly sneaky orc Shush’Ogar, he had stumbled out of jail, collected skulls, stumbled out of goblin caves, witnessed the assassination of an emperor, and stumbled out of a sewer. The moment when you walk out from the tutorial into the light of a wide-open world to explore is always great in Bethesda games. An interesting thing to note about Oblivion is that though you can go anywhere and do as you like at this point, the game starts you off pointed straight at a dungeon. Specifically, an ancient ruin named Vilverin.

There’s a sleeping bandit right out of view behind the wall. I know this dungeon uncomfortably well.

This dungeon was one of the first things I experienced playing an Elder Scrolls game, and I wager the same was true for many others. It’s a good introductory dungeon too, as it has a fair bit of variety and can make you an obscene amount of money for a level one character. As such, it’s been an unofficial tradition of mine to plunder the place as my first independent act with new characters. Now dungeons can be kind of same-y and lacking in unique commentary, so we’ll skip or summarize some in this play-through. But for at least this first one, I’ll make an exception.

Shush was glad to be outta de sewers. Dey had lotsa skulls for Shush and tings to smash, but dey smelled like Uncle Bar’Ogul’s house. Course, Shush remembered dat he had a job to do. De fancy man had given Shush dat shiny rock onna string and Shush was supposed ta bring it to dat Joffers guy. But den Shush got outta de sewer and saw dis really neat lookin buildin across de river. Shush figured he’d just check it out real quick-like. It probly wouldn’t even take dat long. Shush was sure de shiny rock couldn’t be DAT important.

When Shush crossed de river, a man started shoutin at him. He came out behind de buildin and Shush waved to him as he got outta de water. But den de man shooted Shush wit an arrow! Dat really hurt, and Shush decided dat dis was a man wot needed smashin. Shush got a few arrows in him before de man was all smashed up, but dat was okay. Shush’s grandmama taught him some magics back in Orsinium for healin up cuts n stuff. Shush got lotsa cuts when he was a tiny orc. Actually, Shush gets lotsa cuts now too. Shush is thinkin he just very cut-prone.

So Shush went inside de buildin and down some stairs into a big open room. He found a buncha guys who started shoutin at Shush an wavin weapons at him. Shush tried to wave back to all of em but dey started hittin Shush before he got de chance. Shush was never an orc to miss out onna good smashin, so he smacked all de angry men until dey stopped. De angry men had lotsa cool stuff dat Shush took, except it wasn’t stealin cause all de dudes were dead. Shush’s favorite ting was a buncha real shiny rocks dat looked pretty. Shush made sure to take lotsa dose.

Here we have “de rock wot looks all shiny”, in all its glory.

Worth mentioning at this point, these stones are the reason this place makes you so rich. They’re worth a ton of gold, weigh almost nothing and unlike other loot in the game, aren’t scaled. This means that late in the game they won’t actually be that valuable (though valuable enough that they’re always worth picking up), but early in the game you can get way more cash from them than anything else. They’re only found in these ruins, and this first one has a bunch. Just one of the smaller ways to break Oblivion’s economy. Trust me, there will be many more.

After Shush grabbed all de loot in de big room he went further down. Shush passed a dead guy and ended up at a dead end. Meybe de dead guy was a sign. But just as Shush was about to turn around an leave de wall opened up wit another one a dem secret back door tings. On de other side dere was another dead guy, except dis dead guy was walkin around! Shush told de guy dat it was real impressive dat he figured out how to keep doin dat. De guy wasn’t listenin doe, he just kept groanin and tryin ta chew on Shush’s armor. Shush figured dat de guy wasn’t very happy wit bein reverse dead again, so he smacked him a few times until he stopped movin.

De next room Shush was entering had a big swimmin pool in da middle. Also dere were some skeletons walkin around, but like outside of peoples bodies n stuff. Dey were shootin arrows at Shush so he gave em a good ol smashin to make dem stop. Since dere wasn’t anywhere else to go, Shush decided to go swimmin. It was real hard to swim wit all Shush’s clanky clothes on, but Shush did it anyway because Shush are a go-getter. After findin some soggy gold coins in de pool, Shush found a way to go further down.

Shush saw a skeleton in de next big room he found, but he didn’t get to smash it. Shush was gonna, but when de skeleton got close de floor under it went down real fast an he got stabbed by spikes inna bottom of it.

A visual aid, though from a different location.

I could take a moment to point out that judging by their ruins, the ancient Ayleids formed their entire economy around building traps. Things get a little ridiculous here and there, such as these absolutely enormous trap pits, similar versions that smash upwards, and all sorts of other intricate yet somehow still functioning mechanisms. But my heart really isn’t into mocking them because they’re actually a lot of fun. The dungeons are often one of the weaker parts of Oblivion, with stuff like caves in particular being uninspired and sorely lacking in variety. These traps don’t completely elevate the experience or hide the seams of repeated assets, but they make things interesting and I’m all for them. So will I stop to laugh at these ridiculous traps?

Well of course I will. I just don’t actually mind.

After Shush jumped de spiky pit he found a room wit a buncha buttons an doors. Buttons was made for pressin so Shush did dat to all of em. All de doors opened an some had treasure! Some also had angry dead guys wot were still walkin around, but dey weren’t anyting a bashin wouldn’t fix. After goin a little more further Shush heard some weird creaky noises nearby. Den dese big sharp pieces of metal came outta de walls and swung back and forth. Shush was not sure what dey were for, but he are thinkin the people wot built dis place picked a bad place to put em, cause de hallway was real tiny an someone could get hurt.

“So sir, here’s a thought: Why don’t we put the blades close enough together that you can’t step between them?” “Well that doesn’t sound fair to the intruders at all!”

Once Shush got past dose rudely placed blade tings, he heard someone just up de stairs. When Shush walked up he saw a guy in a black dress an he started yellin at Shush. People are very fond of yellin in Cyrodil. De guy started wavin his hands and den a ball of fire hit Shush in de face! When Shush rubbed de soot out of his eyes another skeleton was dere and he was hittin Shush too! Shush knew dat he had to think real careful and tact-ic-alal for dis one.

Shush hit both a dem wit his hammer until dey fell down.

When Shush went through de next door it led back up to de entrance of de buildin. Shush guesses dat Cyrodil just has back doors everywhere. Now Shush is super strong an stuff, but all dese stones plus his clanky clothes were gettin real heavy. So Shush decided to cross de river an walk up de hill to de big city. Shush walked up to de first shop he could find so he could get money for all de cool stuff he had.

“Welcome to the Copious Coinpurse!” an elf at de counter said when Shush came in. “What kind of deal can I make for you today?”

“Shush got lotsa stuff an he wants money for it” Shush said.

“Oh of course! Why don’t you show me what you’re selling and we can negotiate, hm?”

“M’kay” said Shush. First Shush took a rusty iron axe he found in de sewers an put it on de table. “Give Shush money an you can have dis ting.”

“Ah. Hm...weeeell...” De elf made some funny clicking noises wit his mouth for a bit an den looked back at Shush. “I’m afraid given the poor quality, it’s not worth much at all. A single gold coin, maybe.”

“Okay, Shush’ll take dat.”

“Oh. That’s it? You’ll just take a single coin?”

Shush scratched his head at de strange elf. “Yeah, dat’s how much you said.”

“You really have no idea how to barter, do you?”

“Wot’s a barter?”

De strange elf sighed. “Alright, I’ll tell you what. You want to make more gold, right?”

Shush nodded. Gold was nice an shiny an could get Shush other shiny stuff.

“Well I feel sorry for you. So against my better judgement, I’m going to tell you how to negotiate with people, so that you can get them to give you more gold.”

Shush were liking de sound of dat, so he nodded a bunch. “Dat sounds nice!”

“Alright then. To get someone to like you, you need to figure out what type of encouragement they’ll respond to. For example, try complimenting me.”

Shush wasn’t sure wot was good compliments to a elf. Shush knew lotsa orc warrior compliments, but he didn’t tink elves cared about how good dey were at smashin or how big dere forehead was. “Er...” Shush said, “you smell like trees. An stuff. An dat’s gud?”

De elf didn’t move for a sec. Den he said to Shush “You done?”

Shush shrugged. “Sure.”

“Alright. How dare you try to butter me up, that’s stupid.”

Shush were very confused. “But you told Shush ta do dat. Did I do de compliment wrong?”

De elf waved his hands back an forth. “No no no, that was fine. I just hate compliments, and now you’ve learned that. Now you should try something else. Like say...a joke.”

“Uh...okay.” Shush didn’t know any jokes. Dis was way tougher den fightin people. “Um...What do you call a mudcrab?”

“I don’t know, what do you call a mudcrab?”

“You call a mudcrab smashed. Cause I smashed it, see? Wit my hammer n stuff.”

When Shush finished, de elf threw his head back. “AHAHAHAHA!! Wow, that’s a GOOD ONE! HAHAHA! Ahhhhhh...”

Shush grinned at de elf. “Oh, okay. Shush guess dat was a real clever joke, yeah?”

De elf brushed a tear away from his eye. “Ha! Ah well, no. It was terrible actually, but you see I REALLY like jokes.”


“Well the thing you need to understand is that the content of what you’re saying doesn’t actually matter.”

Shush squinted at de elf. “It doesn’t?”

“Not at all. What actually matters in persuasion, my dear orc, is timing. That and figuring out which of the conversation types someone likes.”

“Oh! So wot are de types of conversation?”

“Well you’ve already covered compliments and jokes. Why don’t you try bragging about something you’ve done?”

Shush rubbed his chin for a minute, thinkin about tings to say. “Well, Shush is real good at smashin stuff. Shush smashed up a buncha bandits earlier, an also some skeletons. Shush was good at it and dey got all smashed, and it was really cool. An good.”

All of a sudden de elf glared at Shush. “Pah! You arrogant braggart, I can’t believe how full of yourself you are! I hate you!”

Shush frowned. “Oh, Shush is sorry.”

“No don’t worry about it! Almost done now, but you’ll need to threaten me.”

Shush’s mouth hung open a bit. “Wot?”

“Just one of the natural parts of every conversation. Go ahead, give me your best shot!”

“Okay. Shush is gonna take his hammer and do mean stuff to you dat hurts an you won’t like it. Uh. Rar!”

“OH GODS! THIS IS MADNESS, PLEASE DON’T, I CAN’T TAKE THIS AAAAAAAAH!!!” De elf fell on his knees and started jibberin.

Shush blinked. “ okay?”

De elf stood back up an smiled. “Absolutely fine, and you’re pretty good at this! I think we’re going to be fast friends!”

“Oh. Cool! So Shush guess he should figure out wot people like to hear an keep sayin it?”

“My word no, what gave you that idea? Listen, you absolutely have to talk about all four of those conversation topics every time you speak to someone.”

“But Shush thought-”

“No buts! That’s simply the way conversation is done.”

Shush shrugged. He wanted more gold, so okay. Cyrodil was weird.

It’s about this point I should cut in, because I’m sure anyone who hasn’t played Oblivion is confused. The thing to note here is that Oblivion had a speech mini-game to increase how much NPCs (non-player characters) liked you. Out of context it was an okay game, if not great. In context? It’s the stupidest thing I have ever seen used as a substitute for communication between sentient life forms.

It says something that bribing random strangers so they’ll like you is the most realistic thing about this system.

There are four slices of a circle you can click on. One of the slices is very positive, one is somewhat positive, one is somewhat negative and one is very negative. How full the slice is determines its intensity. So if you click a negative slice that’s full you’ll get tons of negative points, and vice versa for positive slices. After a slice is clicked, the whole thing rotates one section over. You must click every slice once before the game ends and you can try again.

Alright, so what does that explanation have to do with speaking to people? I have absolutely no idea.

It could be worse, as a mini-game. I’ve seen better in terms of tactile, visual and audio feedback. It isn’t super deep or addicting either. But whatever, it’s serviceable. I daresay I’d pass right by it if it were a simulation of something else. It’s just the fact that this is our substitute for all personal input to dialogue that makes it so disappointing. In Oblivion, you don’t process information and convince people of things based on any sort of context. You ask questions or you play a completely unrelated mini-game and then ask questions. A bit of a waste. But oh well, it’s dull and there’s not much else to say about it, so this is the last time I’ll mention persuading someone of things.

“So...” said Shush, “can I get more gold for de axe now?”

“Certainly” said de elf. “In lieu of our newly burgeoning friendship, I’ve decided to settle on a new price for it. How about TWO gold coins?”

Shush was silent for a sec. Den Shush grinned. “Oh! Two is more den one! Sure!”

“A good price for a good customer!” said de elf as he grabbed de axe and gave Shush two shiny coins. “Now will that be all or...?”

“How many shiny coins can Shush get for dis?” Shush pulled out one of de shiny glowin rocks and showed it to de elf.

“My word! Why that’s a Welklynd stone, a magical stone of the ancient Ayleids! I don’t know how you got ahold of something so rare and valuable, but I’d gladly pay quite a few coins for this!”

“Oh dat’s gud! Will you give Shush de same amount for de other ones?”

“Wait, other ones? You mean-“

De elf stopped talkin den on account of Shush emptying his pack on de counter. A bunch more shiny stones came out wit some other stuff and started spillin out onto de floor.

De elf stared for a while, den gulped. “O-oh my” he said. De elf started sortin through de pile. “This is...more than I could’ve possibly... how in Oblivion are there so many?! By the Nine, is that a legendary Varla stone?! And, and this statue, magnificent! My word this is” De elf picked up a skull outta de pile.

“Sorry, dat’s mine” Shush said. Shush grabbed all de skulls while de elf stared at him for a second. Den de elf shrugged an started pullin out de stones one at a time.

“Well then” said de elf after a minute. “I think that with all of this...impressive merchandise, I can give you almost a thousand gold. You’ll find the exact amounts and all my calculations on this receipt. And the gold is in” de elf grunted an pulled a sack wit both hands on de counter “this bag. W-will that be all?

“Yup!” said Shush, grabbin de bag and de paper. “See ya, weird friendly elf man!”

“Uh, right. Thank you, come again!”

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