The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
Windows - 1998
Description of The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
It is becoming harder and harder to categorize games these days as genre boundaries blur, especially in the adventure game genre. "Action Adventure", as many have pointed out, is a label easily applied to all sorts of games which may or may not even contain traditional adventure elements. For those of us who still love the "pure" adventure game, these new breeds of games are an adventure in and of themselves because of this unpredictability. Sometimes the game successfully blends the best of the two genres together, as in Thief: The Dark Project, and sometimes it doesn't, as with King's Quest: Mask of Eternity.
Even though the name might lead one to believe that it is a traditional adventure game, The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard definitely has a strong action-game feel to it. Bethesda Softworks are better known for their role-playing games, such as Daggerfall. These CRPGs have always featured huge game worlds with complex character interaction and history. Redguard is no different. This game takes from three genres; it mixes the detailed background of the Elder Scrolls CRPGs with conversation branching and puzzles from adventure games with platform jumping and sword fighting found in action games. The result is something that action gamers in general and adventure game purists are bound to dislike. However, adventure gamers who don't mind action are bound to love it - if they can look past some of the technical difficulties.
So, You Want to be a Mercenary?
Redguard takes place in the world of Tamriel, just like the other games in the Elder Scroll series, although this one takes place 400 years prior to the other games. You play as Cyrus, who is one of the most interesting and complex main characters I've ever encountered in an adventure game. He was born in the country of Hammerfell, a nation of proud and noble people called Redguards.
The tale of Hammerfell's history, as well as that of the other nations, is told in detail in the game manual. This manual is one of the best I have seen in a while because of the amount of background information it gives. It also contains a comic book, which is almost a required read, as it depicts the events leading up to the ones that occur in the game. Without this information Cyrus' character development and certain in-game events simply do not have as much impact. In the manual, we see Cyrus as a naive young man with a fiery temper and a fascination with mercenaries. His life is changed forever when he engages in a swordfight with his sister's husband after seeing him strike her. He kills her husband, and rather than face the consequences of his actions, leaves town that night with a band of mercenaries.
Cyrus is brought back to Hammerfell after several years by the news of his sister's disappearance. The difference between that exuberant teenager in the manual and the man that Cyrus has become is remarkable. As an adult, Cyrus has become detached, cynical, and displays the selfishness that comes with being a mercenary. He brings this uncaring attitude with him, and is only interested in finding his sister - not at all concerned about the plight of his people. His return is to a broken land, where the people had been betrayed by their own, and who currently suffer under the rule of a cruel governor after losing a pivotal battle, and their beloved Prince, to the armies of the Cyrodilic Emperor Tiber Septum.
Of course we know, even if Cyrus won't admit it to himself, that his journey to find his sister will entangle him in the politics of the land. While he initially resists, during the course of the game you see in flashes that his detachment probably doesn't run as deep as he would like people to believe. It was interesting to watch how Cyrus, in spite of himself, shows his true colors through his motivations to sacrifice everything to find his sister. As many of his enemies found out, to take him at face value by what he chooses to show others is to greatly underestimate him.
The game world is just as complex as Cyrus, featuring several races of creatures with their own distinct looks and accents. The box calls this game world a "living 3D world", and that isn't very far off. The game world is created in great graphical detail, and although the graphics look a little dated as compared to recent 3D games, they are still very well done.
There is so much background plot, and the citizens display such realistic attitudes that you get the feeling that Stros M'Kai really could exist. I was amazed at the interactions with some of the minor characters, even casual comments made by them told of the history of that world. As in real life, characters display various levels of tolerance between the different races. The tension and petty hatred between the humanoids and non-humanoids is obvious. It was good that Cyrus did not condone those types of attitudes, to me it made him all the more heroic.
It's Like an Adventure Game
Cyrus can speak to most of the other characters in the game, which is quite a few. This is done through the standard conversation tree format. While Cyrus occasionally does have to answer riddles or otherwise is limited on what he can choose to talk about, for the most part conversation consists of simply clicking on all conversation topics until they have been exhausted. The other characters provide an extensive amount of background through their conversations, and each interaction tells volumes about the game world, history, and characters. However, there is an awful lot of talking involved in exhausting all conversation choices with all characters, and some of it I found to be tedious.
I had to hear about the war between the Crowns, Forebears, and Empire more times than I wanted to, simply because in the context of telling me about it, someone might slip in a critical piece of new information. This was true of many other subjects as well. Another problem with the conversation tree format existed in the way Cyrus had to purchase items - for each item he wanted to buy, he had to go through a series of conversation choices and responses. This was very boring when I wanted to buy multiple items. If I wanted to purchase ten of a type of item I had to go through the same conversation choices ten times, without any information on how many of the item I already had, or how much gold I had left. It would have been much easier to be able to see the inventory and choose to buy multiple items instead of one at a time.
Also, if Cyrus initiates conversation with enemies nearby, they can attack during the conversation sequence. Twice I was killed when I initiated conversation without realizing enemies were nearby and they were able to kill me before I could end the conversation and draw my sword.
The down side to having many different races is the fact that some of the accents were so thick as to be indecipherable to me. Couple that with somewhat mediocre voice acting and I had to play the game through with subtitles on just to understand what was going on - and this game is in my native language. I would imagine that other people who do not speak English as a first language might have an even more difficult time than I did. People have complained about the fact that Cyrus does not have the same accent as others in Stros M'Kai, which is commented upon by other characters in the game as well, but I didn't find it irritating at all. Even if the way the actor read the lines wasn't always inspiring, I could always understand what he was saying. Since he did the majority of the talking in the game, I found this to be a good thing. But between the accents and the fact that I had to spend so much time talking, I was thankful for the subtitles and the ability to speed through conversations.
Every Adventure Game has Puzzles!
Redguard, unlike most adventure games, is fairly non-linear. The game is broken up into three major sections, and these main quests do have to be completed in order. The minor quests can be completed in any order at all, as long as they are all complete by the final portion of the game. These minor quests and optional subquests are very well integrated into the game; each quest is tightly woven into the plot, and at no point do any of them seem gratuitous.
The types of puzzles in the game vary greatly - there are some logic based puzzles, some inventory based puzzles, and some mechanical puzzles. These puzzles are just as well integrated into the storyline as the quests. There are optional puzzles, such as potion creation and digging for buried treasure, in addition to the required ones that further enhance the story. I do have to say that this game contains one of the best situational puzzles I have ever encountered. After a run-in with a mage, Cyrus encounters an unexpected difficulty, and the resulting quest was both funny and challenging. The innovation and surprise of that sequence alone was almost worth the price of admission to me.
While the inventory and situational puzzles are moderately challenging, the mechanical puzzles are very difficult. I had seen some of them referred to as the "Rubik's Cube" of computer game puzzles, and I knew I was in trouble. My solution to the Rubik's Cube, after flinging it across the room several times in frustration, was to peel off all the stickers and stick them back on the cube so that the colors were lined up perfectly again instead of solving it the real way. After playing Redguard, I can testify that the analogy to the challenge of the Rubik's Cube isn't very far off. These puzzles are extremely challenging. Luckily, the game is nice enough to tell you in most cases when you have solved a puzzle correctly by showing the results of your actions (doors opening, etc) elsewhere.
I have to thank Bethesda Softworks for sending me the Hint Guide along with this game, otherwise I might have imploded from frustration in my attempts to solve these puzzles. I spent quite a while stuck on three of them in particular before checking the guide. I'm still not sure how exactly I would have known how to solve two of the three without it. The third one I was stuck on was strange in that I knew the solution but couldn't seem to pull it off. At any rate, the difficulty of these puzzles should be welcome for many gamers, as quite a few recent games simply haven't been that challenging.
No, It's Like an Action Game
A large portion of Redguard revolves around the battles Cyrus must wage against his enemies. Unlike any other game I have played in a while, the only weapon used is a sword - although Cyrus must think creatively to win certain battles rather than engage the enemy directly. While Cyrus begins the game with all the sword fighting skills he needs, the player must learn to master the art of the sword. It is difficult to defeat most of the enemies in the game by just standing and swinging wildly. You have to learn to block, sidestep, and wait for an opening before attacking. Each of Cyrus' attacks leaves him open to counterattack in different ways, and the gamer must learn the pros and cons of each of the six basic attacks to use them effectively. This type of fighting requires a great deal of finesse and patience.
As if that wasn't hard enough, you have to master combat against multiple opponents. The game compensates for this learning curve both for sword fighting and dealing with multiple enemies by giving you a place to learn to sword fight without having to worry about Cyrus taking damage or getting killed. The majority of battles are fought against more than one enemy, and they aren't always nice enough as to attack one at a time.
You have to learn to keep your eye open on who is backing out and who is coming in to engage you, as this will be the best clue as to where the next attack will come from. This is hard to do since all enemies are constantly shifting, and if you get close enough to any enemy, they will attack. Unlike other games I have played, in Redguard enemies can hurt each other; sometimes it is good when dealing with multiple enemies to keep hopping around in hopes that they will hit and kill each other.
I did find some problems with the combat sequences. For one, there are only 5-10 fighting taunts per enemy type. I definitely got tired of hearing them repeat the same things over and over again. Not to mention that all guards use the same voice, making it that much more difficult to tell who is coming in to attack. Also, you have to be lined up perfectly with your enemy before you attack. Otherwise Cyrus' sword passes through the opening left when they swing and clips through their bodies without actually hurting them. Fighting in hallways was particularly nasty, some of the camera angles were terrible and enemies could get a few hits in before I was able to move into a different position and camera angle.
The weirdest thing about the sword fights was the ability to hit or be hit by someone who is easily four sword lengths away. I couldn't figure out the logic behind how this happened, until I inadvertently jumped and hit the sword button at the same time. Regardless of where my enemy was in relation with me, or how open they were, this attack always connected. I even managed to kill the final enemy in a matter of seconds using this "jump like a rabbit and swing wildly" technique. As neat as this was, it definitely destroyed the realism in the sword battles that the developers obviously worked so hard to implement.
Jump. Die. Reload. Jump. Save.
The largest portion of gameplay seems to be the Tomb Raider style of platform jumping and death-defying feats. This isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, and looks very cool - Cyrus finds himself doing everything from leaping from decaying rooftops, bouncing on mushrooms over pools of acid (really!), to swinging from ropes to platforms over lakes of lava. I did enjoy the challenge of some of these sequences - there is nothing like dodging fireballs while jumping on platforms across a lake of lava. However, I often found my happiness at getting past something like this fading as I discovered that the game required me to backtrack through these areas.
The other problem I found with this portion of the gameplay is that Cyrus' motions are too imprecise to be able to calculate each jump with accuracy. He either takes too many steps before reacting to the jump key being pressed, or too few, then tends to float a little when jumping and landing, making it difficult to know if he would make it. The worst jumps were the ones in which he had to jump from high ledges and bounce off of mushrooms - then the camera angle could screw up the jump as well. While Cyrus would grab onto ledges if he could and pull himself up (saving me from dying numerous times), this tendency of his to not react to key presses or to float caused me to die many times. Most of the jumping and swinging sequences involve certain death with one misstep.
This turned what should have been fun, adrenaline producing action sequences into a boring save/load extravaganza. For instance, a sequence in which Cyrus would swing across two ropes over lava to reach a small platform required me to save on each successful jump, which was usually one jump out of four. So by the time I had swung across the lava and back, I had to reload the game up to 15 times, and stopped to save it at least six times. Of course, I didn't have to save after every jump, I just wasn't willing to replay the entire sequence every time I died.
Getting Stuck in Walls and Other Problems
Redguard has a huge problem with clipping, and this can either hurt you or help you. From what I encountered, Cyrus has a tendency to jump into objects instead of onto them, and while this saved me from death a few times it isn't a good thing. It was unfortunate that I couldn't take screenshots, I had a great one lined up that showed how Cyrus had jumped into a rock bridge up to his waist with his feet hanging out the bottom. Not only would he jump through objects, but he could also clip through walls and fall through solid floors.
I also encountered unexpected game crashes several times while I was playing, usually right when I pressed the Escape key to access the save game feature. Whenever I loaded the game, it would run three times as fast as normal for about five to ten seconds. I just had to wait out this "fast forward", otherwise I would end up running off a cliff or something because he moved too fast for me to react. The only hints on the Technical Support web site about either of these problems had to do with the fact that the game can crash if a computer has less than 32 MB of memory - which doesn't apply to my computer. I wrote to technical support about my problems and never heard back from them.
A final note that is bound to cause some gamers frustration is that the game either runs in software accelerated mode or under 3Dfx acceleration only. It will not allow 3D acceleration from any other cards, such as the RIVA TNT chip. Given the recent popularity of the latter, I can imagine that a lot of gamers out there will be very disappointed. Also, the game took up 600 MB on my hard drive, which is a quite a bit of space that a lot of gamers might not have. However, since I had a number of saved games, and each saved game can be up to 5MB in size, the actual size on someone else's hard drive might be smaller.
What's the Bottom Line
I've pointed out a lot of flaws in the game, yet I still feel that this game should be given the "Highly Recommended" award. Yes, there were some technical issues such as imprecise movement and clipping, but if one overlooks these, Redguard is an intense and exciting game. The game world and characters that live in it are more realistic and have a richer history than those found in any other game I have played in a while. The scope and plot of the game are nothing short of epic. It has been hinted that this is the first in a series of games, and I do hope this is the case. You simply don't see a game like this every day.
Review By GamesDomain
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