Alfhedil’s Journal – Turdas, 8th of Frostfall, 4E 201

Esbern resided in the depths of the Ratway underneath Riften.

Lydia and I traveled to Riften recently in search of Esbern, probably the only other living member of the Blades. The prisoner I freed from the Thalmor Embassy told me to speak with Brynjolf, a man I’ve spoken with before.

When I spoke with Brynjolf weeks ago, he led on that he was a member of the Thieves Guild. Before I could get him to spill the beans on Esbern’s location he wanted me to show the Thieves Guild a little consideration. Brynjolf sold drinks in the shopping center of Riften, and he wanted me to set up another vendor, Brand-Shei. Brand-Shei crossed paths with the Thieves Guild in an unfortunate manner (I can’t remember why he was being set up) and Brynjolf assured me that the only punishment Brand-Shei would receive was a few days in a prison cell.

I was to plant a ring belonging to another vendor (an Argonian named Madesi who I’ve fetched gems for) on Brand-Shei. To get Madesi’s ring I needed to break into a lockbox in his stall. Brynjolf created a distraction claiming magnificent benefits from the drink he was selling at which point I stole the ring and planted it on Brand-Shei. A few minutes later, Brand-Shei’s “thievery” was uncovered and he was taken away.

Brynjolf was pleased with my act and disclosed that Esbern was in fact alive and was living in the depths of the Ratway underneath Riften. As Lydia and I breached the Ratway we fought many homeless residents and met many members of the Thieves Guild in an underground tavern. Among a group of mentally unstable residents we found Esbern. We talked a little and left for Riverwood to meet back up with Delphine. While leaving the Ratway, groups of Thalmor attacked us but Esbern showed off his magical prowess and took care of the threat nearly single-handedly.

Once back in Riverwood Delphine and Esbern caught up slightly before moving onto the task at hand: stamping out the dragons in Skyrim. Esbern didn’t have any immediate plans but spoke of Alduin’s Wall. He told is about the ancient wall that accounts the rise of the original dragonborn. Esbern believed we might find clues on this relief.

Mass Effect 2: Arrival – Review

Dr. Amanda Kenson has made a remarkable discovery regarding the arrival of the Reapers.

The final piece of downloadable content for Mass Effect 2, Arrival, leads directly into Mass Effect 3 and explained away some of the confusion I had after playing the demo for the trilogy’s finale.

Admiral Hackett reaches out to Commander Shepherd and asks him to undertake a rescue mission solo. An agent of Hackett’s has been working in Batarian space and has uncovered substantial evidence relating to the arrival of the Reapers. She has been apprehended by the Batarians however and is currently in prison. The Batarians and humans have a frayed relationship and if Hackett sent in a squad, this would cause turmoil; much like the relationship between the USA and Pakistan when a special forces squad took out Osama bin Laden. This relationship is why Hackett is asking Shepherd to go it alone. Hackett explains that it’s better for the operation to be viewed as the act of an individual rescuing a friend, rather than an act by the Alliance itself.

So, Shepherd sneaks into the prison and rescues Dr. Amanda Kenson and the two then battle their way out and back onto the asteroid that houses Dr. Kenson’s base. When they arrive Shepherd is shocked to see what Dr. Kenson has found – a Reaper artifact, and one that’s out in the open. Shepherd is immediately worried that everyone on the base has been indoctrinated as Saren had been in Mass Effect; Dr. Kenson claims that’s not the case and they begin discussing the importance of her find.

What Dr. Kenson has gathered relates to the Reapers arrival through the mass relays. Her crew had developed a plan to crash the asteroid her base resided on into the nearby mass relay, preventing the Reapers from entering the solar system. However, they had a change of plans because they had been indoctrinated. They overtake Shepherd who wakes up days later as his window of opportunity to save the day is shrinking. Shepherd proceeds to blast his way through the indoctrinated Alliance members until he reaches a lacking conclusion.

One of the hallmarks of the Mass Effect games has been the ability to shape Shepherd and the universe around him through key decisions. Arrival finishes in a way that seems (almost) ideal for a chance to make hefty moral decision but whimpers out, in spite of an explosion.

Ramming an asteroid into a mass relay has dire consequences for those in local space.

Arrival leads directly into Mass Effect 3 (despite the two year gap between games) and explains away my confusion over the soon to be released finale’s opening. Arrival is heavily combat skewed and not having Shepherd’s crew is pretty lame. It’s probably ideal to play Arrival to fully understand Mass Effect 3, but compared to the three other DLC packs for Mass Effect 2, it’s my least favorite. Plus I’ve explained much of the DLC anyways so go figure.

Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

Sleigh Bells continue bringing the noise on Reign of Terror.

A band I find really interesting put out a new album last week and I picked it up right away. Sleigh Bells’ Reign of Terror is similar to their previous album, Treats, in that it’s deafening, but different because the songs are more traditionally structured.

Their songs rely heavily on guitar, and I mean that in a metal sense; when I saw them in concert last year they had stacks of amps and the amplification is key to their sound. Another key element to their sound is a heavy use of beats, that when combined with other unfriendly sounds to ears creates gigantic and immense walls of sounds, often times briefly – representing the drums in most cases. That’s Derek Miller, and really that’s only one half of Sleigh Bells. Alexis Krauss is the other half and she brings the vocals. She seems to “sing” more often on this album, and that’s a welcome change. Like I said previously, their songs are more structured this time around with familiar elements to pop songs and that’s thanks to Alexis’ background in pop music. I know little about song structure and am a simpleton however and just like the sounds and sometimes a handful of lyrics that I find fun to sing.

I haven’t spent enough time with the album to parse out the songs too well. My favorite song is “Comeback Kid” because of the underdog mentality of the lyrics, as well as the flow of the song. Another favorite of mine is “Born to Lose” in which Alexis shows brutal apathy for someone who gives up on life easily.

It’s a really interesting combination of the most intense and heavy guitar shreds, production heavy beats, and a pop female vocalist that still entertains me and demands to be played at obnoxious levels, especially at stop lights and in parking lots.

“Comeback Kid” Video
“Born to Lose” 

In Between Posts, February 26, 2012

I played the final piece of downloadable content for Mass Effect 2 last week, Arrival, and I haven’t had the time to write about it yet. It was decent, but didn’t grab me as much as the other ones I’ve played. I will push an article out in the coming days as I should have more time to write.

Other than that, gaming last week was pretty sparse. I played a couple hours of Skyrim plus the weekly co-op session of NBA  Jam: On Fire Edition that I’m used to, but school and work took up the brunt of my time last week. Oh, and I played a little bit of Phantasy Star.

Also, my girlfriend and I played through the first world of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I don’t have much to say about that. It was fun to play a Mario game cooperatively and it seems like a really solid platformer.

Alfhedil’s Journal – Morndas, 5th of Frostfall, 4E 201

Elenwen, an Altmer (high elf) and ranking member of the Thalmor.

When I last spoke with Delphine, she believed the Thalmor were somehow involved with the resurrection of dragons in Skyrim. To get more information she wanted me to sneak into the Thalmor embassy and see if I could dig up any related intelligence. Sneaking in was a solo mission so Lydia and I parted ways for a few days. I’ve become so used to her company, it was sort of sad not to have someone by my side in battles.

A party was to be held at the Thalmor embassy in the northeastern most area of Skyrim and Delphine not only had a way to get me in, she also had a man on the inside that would be able to sneak my gear in. I traveled to Solitude (also in northeastern Skyrim) and met Malborn, Delphine’s contact in a bar. We had a succinct chat and I gave him necessary equipment: weapons and armor.

Although before that meeting, I witnessed an execution. As soon as I entered Solitude, I was taken aback by the hoopla a forming crowd was making. A criminal was being beheaded for opening the gates and letting Ulfric Stormcloak evade capture by Imperial forces, Solitude is aligned with the Imperials after all. There was some dissension from the crowd on whether the punishment fit the crime however.

Delphine had a carriage prepared for me at a farm just outside of Solitude and she took the remainder of my gear before sending me off. It was a fairly short trip to the embassy where I had no problems getting in. Another guest was arriving when I was and he smelled strongly of liquor. This soiree was hosted by a high elf named Elenwen who immediately began chatting with me. She recognized that she didn’t recognize me and luckily, Malborn was able to get her attention before she figured anything out. I mingled with other guests and talked with Maven Black-Briar, who hinted at my past and a few other bigwigs from Skyrim including a few high elves.

When I spoke with Malborn he needed me to create a distraction before we could leave unnoticed. The guest I arrived with had been cut off from obtaining drinks and I thought it’d be generous of me to get him one. All I asked of him was a distraction. Oblivious to my intentions he arose and made a toast at which point Malborn and I took our leave through the kitchen.

Malborn smuggled my goods inside the embassy and they were in a hallway connecting the kitchen to a set of rooms. Fully equipped I began making my way through the embassy, avoiding guards if I could and killing the ones I couldn’t. I ventured outside and into another building until I found some evidence. It suggested to me that Thalmor had nothing to do with the dragon’s revival; they were as weary of them as we were. I found this evidence inside a chest along with some documentation on Delphine.

Inside this second building was a prison where a prisoner was getting whipped when I entered. The guards didn’t notice me entering and I overheard them asking about an old man. Before they lacerated him too much, I quietly killed these guards and freed the prisoner. We began talking when we were interrupted by a squad of guards with Malborn. I rescued him and we had to take our leave as the high elves were onto us. A hole the guards used to dispose of bodies was our exit and once free, I talked at length with the prisoner. He told us the old man the elves were inquiring about was, like Delphine, a Blade and alongside her, probably the only other one remaining.

I met back up with Lydia in Solitude and told her of my espionage on our way back to Riverwood. Delphine was in shock when I told her that another Blade was rumored to be alive. She believed it must be a man named Esbern. The prisoner told me that the high elves believed Esbern had a link to the dragon’s revival and he resided in the deepest sections of the Ratway underneath Riften, our next destination.

Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker – Review

Lair of the Shadow Broker's focus lies on Shepherd, Liara, and the mysterious information magnate.

Remember when I was ate up with Mass Effect and I played everything I could, including the DLC for Mass Effect 2 in a few month span? Well, to prepare for the release of Mass Effect 3 I figured it was time to revisit Mass Effect 2 and play through the two remaining pieces of DLC I saved. Luckily for me, I probably left the very best one to begin with.

Lair of the Shadow Broker sees Commander Shepherd receiving valuable information on the whereabouts of the mysterious figure whose influence Shepherd has occasionally felt. He, or perhaps it, is similar to a gang lord that deals in information. He has a supply chain consisting of an innumerable amount of henchmen that is able to span the galaxy and gather information. With this supply chain, he’s able to control information so well that little is known about him; it helps that no one who has seen him has lived to tell the tale.

When Shepherd left Liara T’Soni on Illium in Mass Effect 2, he left her as she continued her search for the shadow broker’s whereabouts. Liara has been tracking the information overlord with a vengeance, believing him to be the cause of a partner’s death. When Shepherd receives the information on the shadow broker, he naturally thinks of Liara. Thinking the information is too good to be obtained by just anyone, Liara believes the source of the info is her previously thought dead partner, giving her even more reason to ally with Shepherd again.

Before leaving the financial capital of the universe, Shepherd and his squad deal with the can of worms that hunting an information magnate opens up. An assassination attempt on Liara keeps her and Shepherd separated, but it’s not long before his squad, and Tela Vasir, an asari Spectre meet back up with Liara in an enemy-filled skyscraper. That Spectre double-crosses them, leading to a chase scene between the towering skyscrapers of Illium. This chase scene was very fun and reminiscent of similar futuristic chase scenes from popular science fiction movies. Liara and Shepherd eventually catch Tela, but not before waging battles against more henchmen and passing through a high-end brothel. Tela was a very strong adversary and I had a hard time with this boss fight – I was playing on the second hardest difficulty level however. Afterwards Shepherd gave the most fantastic line of dialogue (paragon choice) when Tela took a hostage. He subsequently chastised Tela with underwhelming reasoning that, when applied to Shepherd himself, doesn’t hold water.

Tela Vasir, representing for them Spectres all across the universe.

With Shepherd, his squad, and Liara all together again, their search for the shadow broker begins in earnest and leads them to a planet with extremely harsh weather patterns. The shadow broker resides in an enormous starship that remains hidden in an ongoing storm. Landing on the starship, they have to deal with the shadow broker’s henchmen before gaining access to the interior, at which point they have a few more quick bouts with yet more henchmen before finally meeting the shadow broker.

The shadow broker hails from a pre-spaceflight race of aliens that are ferociously deadly, quick learners, yet they’re unable to cooperate with other races, let alone each other. Hence, the shadow broker represents the first (and possibly only) time players will get to see this race of alien. The ensuing battle was representative of a lot of video game boss fights; figure out the boss’ pattern, exploit the boss’ weaknesses, repeat two more times. Not that that’s bad, I really liked this boss fight; it was balanced much better compared to the battle against Tela, and it gave Shepherd a chance to flex his melee skills.

Lair of the Shadow Broker concludes with a fantastic role reprisal that should have major consequences for the upcoming Mass Effect 3. Thanks to the shadow broker’s diligent record keeping, there is plenty of fun information to sift through on Shepherd’s squad and other important characters in the game after the conclusion. And there is an epilogue of sorts with Liara and Shepherd having a heart-to-heart conversation of their strengths and weaknesses and the lack of clarity relating to what the future has in store for every living being.

The shadow broker's ship remains undetected when flying in a evergoing electrical storm.

Lair of the Shadow Broker was a lengthy addition to Mass Effect 2 with a conclusion whose effects should be felt throughout the remainder of the series. The DLC is well worth the price and should be required playing for anyone with a copy of Mass Effect 2.

Alfhedil’s Journal – Tirdas, 1st of Frostfall, 4E 201

The Gildergreen, restored to life.

Even though I know I need to head to Solitude in order to sneak into the Thalmor Embassy, I shirked that responsibility and instead aided Danica Pure-Spring in her quest to restore the Gildergreen, an ailing tree within the walls of Whiterun.

Danica is a priestess at the Temple of Kynareth in Whiterun and I agreed to help her out ages ago. To restore the Gildergreen, she believes sap from the Eldergleam Tree (an ancient tree blessed by Kynareth herself) is required. She tasked me with retrieving a mystical dagger that is said to be the only weapon capable of damaging the Eldergleam. When I was in Riverwood, I made the short trip southeast to Orphan Rock, where Danica believed Nettlebane was. Sure enough, a hagraven had in her possession Nettlebane, the mystical dagger I needed.

With that in my possession Danica then pointed me to Eldergleam Sanctuary, the cave where the ancient tree grows. The cave was fantastic. A short hallway led into a massive room that looked as though it was eternally spring. Grass was green, flowers were blooming, and a stream was eternally flowing under the magnificence of the massive Eldergleam. There were a few followers of Kynareth inside who asked me not to extract sap from the tree, but I want to beautify Whiterun, and a little less sap won’t destroy the Eldergleam anyways.

Roots from the tree were overgrown and prevented access to the base of the tree, but a quick slash with Nettlebane and the roots magically reacted and curled back towards the tree. Once at the base, I slashed the tree and a few Spriggans appeared and began attacking. Unable to rescue the followers of Kynareth, I at least rid the Eldergleam Sanctuary of these beasts before traveling back to Whiterun with sap in my possession. After delivering the sap to Danica, the Gildergreen should begin its transformation back to life soon.