Weekly: Playing In The Name Of

Who would think that you can spend a lazy Sunday afternoon playing in a pious way? Monks and Mystics, a Crusader Kings II add-on, makes it possible. So here I am, listening to Gregorian chant and accompanying my ruler in his spiritual journey.

The 13th century Iceland isn’t the most exciting place in the world of Christendom. All right, some time ago a friendly host of Norwegian crusaders paid us a visit after one of our rulers gave up to his self-destructive urges and declared this (petty) kingdom to be a stronghold of the heretic Fratelli sect. Fortunately, after a few crushing defeats suffered by his army he came to his mind and decided to renounce his exotic beliefs. The Norse tourists left us without saying a word.

Another time, the half of the Iceland decided that a vulgar and watered-down version of Gnosticism is just what they needed. Tells something about crazy things people do when they’re bored. The French Templar knights summoned by the king put an end to this folly in no time.

So, what can you do when you’re a ruler of a literally insular kingdom consisting of two provinces, what can you do to kill the time? Foreign invasions don’t happen unless provoked, the people usually love their ruler more than he deserves, and ‘court intrigue’ sounds outlandish because the Royal House and its retainers are all a happy family.

Fortunately, we have the Downloadable Content. Monks and Mystics lets the player join four societies which, in case of Christian rulers, are the Dominican and Benedictine, the Hermetics, and finally a literal cult od devil worshippers. Dabbling into alchemy and astrology would be interesting, but it requires high Learning skill and Iceland has never been known for having scholars as rulers (at least not in this timeline). Since I’ve always preferred to play the good guys, Satanic worship has no appeal to me at all — besides, all those cannibalistic feasts are a terrible mess — so donning the sackcloth habit remains the only option.

Lux

Playing with my ruler as a pious lay brother is a surprisingly uplifting experience. It involves missions given to you by the head of the order, usually meaning that you have to go into seclusion to fast, pray and meditate on the Word of God, but you also participate in events like a pilgrimage to a holy site containing a precious relic. The reward systems is interesting, because gaining a higher rank gives you the power to cure a courtier or family member from a certain vice or even teach them virtue, which, as I suppose, reflects some of the quiet power such religious societies had in the medieval period. Of course, someone could point out that this vision is too idealistic and ignores the historical fact that monastic orders had direct political power too, and that some convents were literal nests of debauchery, but I’m not going to complain about that. Monks&Mystics may not be complex enough, but at least it avoids presentism, anti-medieval bias and the tired Dung Ages cliché, which is enough for me.

Fasting Gone Wrong

After all, nobody in the game pretends that monks are infallible

Since I tried to play the DLC with a Catholic ruler, I’m really curious how it works out for other religions. Can I become a Sufi mystic as a Shia leader? What option do Buddhists or Hindus have? Maybe I’ll try those options out and write about it next week.

 

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New Vegas: Via Crucis

Imagine a scene Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western: a man dragging a corpse along a road in the middle of a post-apocalyptic desert. A woman clad in power armour walks at his side, chattering about weather, food and the last Deathclaw they shot together. A sudden cut and you can see a sweating face of the man — who’s clearly in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Next scene: the couple and their mutilated baggage meet a military patrol under the wall of a civilian airport, which clearly had been turned into a military stronghold. The man gives the troopers a begging look while the carcass, wearing the same uniform as they are wearing, drags him down to the ground. The armed men pretend that he isn’t there. After a prolonged silence, he sighs and begins to walk away while his female companion stays back and enjoys a casual chat with the troopers.

The unfortunate couple (or trio, depending on how you look at it) is assaulted by a pack of ragged bandits. The man quickly drops his burden and reaches for his weapon. After a brief shoot out, everything is quiet. The tormented corpse has a few more bullet holes and after-laser burnings.

The funeral party finally reaches the gates of the encampment. He points at th corpse, but the chief guard simply shakes his head. The man freezes, then frowns and finally drops his hands.

A few quick shots showing the protagonists going back exactly the same way. Finally they arrive at the ruined outpost where they had picked up the corpse in the first place. Near to it, there’s a couple of soldiers waiting behind a barricade. They receive the corpse and put it behind the sandbags. Some words are exchanged. The stranger and his steel-wearing companion slowly walk towards the sunset. A final shot at his face, eyes closed, lip corners dropping. Then a big THE END and credits.

To sum it up, it was one of the strangest and most enjoyable quests I’ve ever finished in the Fallout series.

The real story is somewhat bland: a female NCR soldier asks you to find the remains of her husband who had been kidnapped by some raiders. The task is simple: find the cluster of ruined buildings they are hiding in, shoot or stab them, disarm some mines, get the trooper’s remnants. The interesting part begins now, because it’s an unmarked quest so you don’t get a marker on your map and must know your destination. It gets even better when you realise that you can’t just pick up the corpse and add it to your equipment. Instead, you are forced to drag it behind you using the Hold button. No fast travel allowed, of course.

Maybe this will sound ridiculous, but after a moment of frustration I began to have fun with this bugged quest. This was the moment I really realised that New Vegas is a masterpiece.

New Vegas: Meet the Courier

A truism: Fallout is a Computer Role-Playing Game. My favourite part of playing cRPGs is the possibility to invent a personality of my player character which goes beyond the stats, the so-called alignment or karma. Now, let’s try to answer the question…

Who exactly is the Courier?

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Unlike most other protagonists in the Fallout series (with the notable exception of Fallout: Tactics), the Courier is not a newcomer entering the Postapocalyptia from a sheltered location like a vault or a remote tribal village. Of course, typically for a Bethesda game, he is mostly a blank-slate character, but this time we at least know his profession.

Since travelling alone through the war-torn Mojave Desert implies a certain approach towards life, I decided to give the Courier an amoral, survivalist or even Social Darwinist mindset. Maybe the word ‘amoral’ isn’t correct here and I should call it ‘an alternative morality’ instead, summed up by the motto The Strong Survive. The Courier should be equally able to perform acts of necessary cruelty or to take a more benevolent approach to other people, all the time avoiding the extremes: being a bloodthirsty psychopath on the one hand and a selfless altruist on the other.

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After all, when you survive your own execution and wake up in a grave, you’re not prone to be sentimental and trusting anymore.

Still, the Courier shouldn’t be entirely selfish and close-minded, but rather think about the bigger picture. After all, if the Mojave Desert becomes a well-governed and stable place, his chances of surviving and making a profit will increase. This should bring him close to the philosophy of the Caesar’s Legion, possibly even to join its ranks and help the tyrant overcome his foes — unless another faction convinces our antihero otherwise.

Making Life Harder

Just like when I was playing Skyrim and F3, I’ll set myself a few restrictions for the immersion’s sake:

Three Meals a Day – maybe it’s not necessary to eat so often even when playing in the Survival mode, but having regular meals creates a somewhat realistic rhythm of the day;

No Heavy Weapons – the Courier is allowed to lift a big gun dropped by the enemy and to use it within a very limited range only;

No Save-scumming – with the exception of companion’s death;

Autosaves Only – and suddenly those boring abandoned shacks in the middle of the desert become very important (I’ll make manual saves occasionally just in case of game-killing bugs).

Of course, I might add more restrictions later.

Just Finished: Fallout 3

My second, and final, Fallout 3 playthrough is over. What I’ve learned is that I’m very bad at being bad. At the beginning, my Player Character named Hagen was supposed to be the evil incarnate, but at one moment, after a long period of stealing, murdering and enslaving, I felt unable to commit acts of evil anymore, because I realised that I liked the good people of the Capital Wasteland too much. Therefore, my remorseful character finishes his journey with Neutral Karma and the title of True Mortal — very appropriate for him.

That’s enough for a summary. Now I’ll just share some screenshots I collected during the playthrough. Just some of the most memorable (and sometimes bizarre) moments I’ve (or is it ‘we’?) experienced.

Beware! Spoilers ahead!

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Hybris. The 21st century Vitruvian Man at the gates of Rivet City.

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Into the Mouth of Madness. The journey to the Lovercraftian nightmare of Point Lookout begins here.

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Altars of Madness. The Ark&Dove Cathedral, Point Lookout.

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Where’s your saviour now? Lincoln Memorial.

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“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”. The Pitt.

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Kill the Xenos. The alien mothership has just lost the battle against me and me motley crew of abducted humans. Mothership Zeta.

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Paradise Lost. The Oasis, just about a minute before its inhabitants were slaughtered by Hagen.

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As the Good Book says.

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No More Heroes. It’s feels strange to find this monument in the Capital Wasteland after taking part in a VR simulation of the Operation Anchorage.

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The stones will cry out.

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Mother, do you think they’ll drop the bomb? The final moments of Megaton.

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The Legacy. Historical documents, including the U.S. Constitution, displayed in the Rivet City museum.

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Necessary Means. Just don’t call it a concentration camp, please.

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Beauty will save the world. One of my favourite guests has classical music as a reward.

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To the barricades! The rooftop of the Statesman Hotel, just a moment before Hagen and the Reilly’s Rangers make an attempt to break through the Supermutants.

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Harold’s corpse in the Oasis.

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A place of worship somewhere in the Wasteland.

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We’re a happy family. Hagen and Sidney enjoy the hospitality of the Reilly’s Rangers at their headquarters.

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No fancy vistas here, just our heroes enjoying a well-deserved rest.

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Hybris Punished. The Fallout’s backstory in a nutshell.

 

Fallout 3: The Net is Tightening

When I was starting my current ‘evil’ playthrough, I decided for a hopeless fight — not just against the Enclave and supermutants, but against the flawed game engine itself. It is a truism that Bethesda games are usually unstable, to say at least, or rather riddled with bugs like a Russian soldier’s trenchcoat, to put it in a blunt way. To make things even worse, the mods I installed, and it’s just a couple of them, make Fallout 3 even more prone to strange behaviour and sudden crashes. Therefore, to make things even more exciting and unpredictable, I started to avoid regular saving and relied on autosaves only. This makes it impossible to reverse things in case of encountering a crippling, game-crashing bug or glitch. There is an entire ‘philosophy’ behind this kind of approach which I explained in one of the old posts.

Recently, I’ve returned to F3 after a few months of vacation from the Capital Wasteland and its perils. Suddenly, it appears that I’m trapped in the Tenpenny Tower. When I attempt to enter my suite, the screen goes black and remains so without loading the new location, which means that now I’m cut off from my wonderful collection of unique guns and, what’s even worse, from my spare power armour, which I will definitely need to survive the trip north to the Little Lamplight and beyond it, into the supermutant stonghold located in the depths of Vault 87.

Tenpenny Tower

There’s only black void behind that door

The situation is getting worse with every step I take. When I use the nearby lift to go down into the main hall, I’m not even able to return upstairs. All this feels like having a noose on your neck, tightening with every breath, and it’s all too possible that I’ll have to abandon the game, since there are no old savegames to use a life saving throw. What if it’s the so-called karma, or rather metaphysical justice being served, and Hagen, my villain character, has to pay for the sins of his past? On the one hand, it would a damn shame to leave the game unfinished after hundreds of hours spent playing it, on the other hand, though, what a great story would it make! At some point, I stopped roleplaying as a heartless bastard, but before this heel turn many innocents had suffered at the hands of Hagen — a former slaver and bandit, personally responsible for the gigantic mushroom over the serene settlement of Megaton. Is it possible that, even after he abandoned the path of evil, the repent villain will be punished? I’ll know the answer soon.