Friday, May 23, 2014

Lord of the Rings: Forging Anew

Frodo gets ready to embark on his journey again.

I know how much I like a game by how attractive the "new game" button looks every time I fire it up. If I'm having fun, but I haven't exhausted myself with it yet, the button is full of promise: a fresh experience in a familiar place, rendered all the more attractive through the conviction that, now that I understand the game, I can do everything right.

"Understanding the game" can include a lot of things, such as what skills are useful and which are not, what to look for when exploring areas, how to fight certain enemies, and just overall familiarity with the interface. For instance, a few months ago I decided to check out Fallout 3, but I was hours into the game before I understood how the VATS system worked, how to turn on my flashlight, which items were worth collecting, and that I needed to especially watch out for skill books and those little bobbleheads. It was enormously satisfying to start over and fully explore those areas I bumbled through the first time.

(To stave off the inevitable questions: I think it's a fun game--my first first-person shooter/RPG combo--love the skill system, wouldn't mind if some of the buildings were a little smaller, wouldn't mind if ammo was a bit more scarce, don't understand why the main quest uses so little of the map, will review it when I reach that year in my blog.)

The CD version provides an animated cut-scene at a crucial moment.

I wouldn't say I particularly love Lord of the Rings, but I didn't mind starting over. There are a number of things I know now that I didn't know when I started, including the importance of using "perception" in just about every room, the need to walk around and make sure to get close to things in the environment so you get the message that something valuable is there, the need to buy lots of rations while still in Hobbiton, and the fact that the day/night cycle does mean something for some encounters. Of course, it didn't hurt that I'd missed or bollixed some encounters and I wanted to try those again.

The 1993 CD version has on-screen text instead of journal entry references. I suppose a drawback of this is I can't look them up again later.

Finally, I thought I'd use the experience to check out the other version--the one that came on CD in 1993. As I covered in my first post, the major difference is that this version includes scenes from the 1978 Ralph Baskshi animated film instead of static screens drawn specifically for the game (frankly, I like the latter better). It has a significantly improved interface, offering a "show" command for the inventory and allowing rapid scrolling between characters on most menus rather than having to return to the root menu to choose a different characters. The party is now capable of diagonal movement. You can turn off the music permanently. The graphics are unchanged but the sound is significantly improved. Commands execute when you hit their associated letters without having to hit SPACE to bring up the command bar first. Text appears on screen--no more having to open the PDF journal constantly. Perhaps most important, it offers an automap that greatly facilitates exploration. 

I like doing my own mapping in tile-based games, but in continuous-movement games, the lack of an automap ought to be a crime.

As an aside, by accident I originally wrote "1978 Rankin/Bass film" above. Wouldn't that be awesome? A stop-motion Lord of the Rings film in the style of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? If someone wants to Kickstart that, I'll contribute.

Anyway, never fear that you'll have to read about the same areas twice. I've already played through both the Shire and the Old Forest, so I'll pick up with Bree anon. I did have a few new encounters this time through:

  • I successfully used "sneak" to enter the mill that Lotho and his human allies had set up in the Shire and destroyed the machinery. There was no reward for this but experience.

  • In a cave where I saved one of the lost children from a spider, I found this scroll that I missed before.

Is that supposed to be some kind of threat?

  • Near the location of the lost children, I had completely missed a healer who wanted "athelas." I had to wander around the woods, checking every tree, fighting wolves, before I found some, and when I returned it to the healer, he healed my wounds.

"Kingsfoil--aye, it's a weed!"

  • I still couldn't save Hawkeye. Literally two seconds after he joined me, an orc attacked, we defeated it, he hustled me to a cave, and he left the party as two Nazgul appeared and attacked. I reloaded a few times, but each time they got the first attack and killed two characters without flinching. I don't understand how winning this is possible at all. I also still only found ELBERETH once, but this time I held on to it.
  • There was an encounter I solved "correctly" the first time, involving a sick boy whose father, Farmer Maggot, needed me to fetch the healer for him. The kid was surrounded by protective dogs that I didn't disturb last time. This time, I wandered into his room before fetching the healer to see what would happen. The dogs attacked. Once I killed them . . .

I'm not too proud to say I reloaded here.
  • In a building I didn't visit the first time, Rose Cotton said goodbye to Sam and gave him a token. No idea what it does.
  • I met an elf NPC named Cirband that I had previously missed. He had some things to say about ELBERETH and the Old Forest.
  • When I got to the Old Forest, I started to explore the non-secret path but I kept getting damaged by falling branches and attacked by wolves. It was easier just to take the secret exit.
  • This time, I visited Tom Bombadil's house first. I got the token from Goldberry. When I showed it to Withywindle, she asked for the Springstone to restore spring to the riverbanks so lilies could grow. I gave it to her and she gave me lilies in return. When I gave the lilies to Goldberry, she gave me a blessing that increased everyone's statistics a few points, so the exercise was worth it.


  • I still couldn't figure out the deal with the "ruddy oak" tree. From a comment I got last time, I gather he's supposed to join the party. I think I was supposed to give him an acorn, but this time when I found the tree that had the acorns, I couldn't get any for some reason. Anyway, apparently he was only necessary to find the Springstone, which I found through other means (a book in Brandy Hall had told me where to look for it).
  • Because I visited Tom Bombadil's house before Sharkey's Shipping, the traitorous Athelwyn was still with me and could theoretically use "countermagic" to pass through a wall of ice in Withywindle's caverns. I say "theoretically" because every time I tried it, my party would briefly appear on the other side and I'd get a message that it sealed itself shut behind me, but then the party would abruptly return to the original side. Is whatever's on the other side anything I should go back for?

The rest of the map, including the barrows and Sharkey's Shipping, played out much as before. I still couldn't figure out how to get into the barrow with the swan and crown. Owing to a slight difference in exploration pattern, Athelwyn revealed herself and abandoned me in a slightly different location, but otherwise I was soon on to Bree.

Did the Witch of Cardolan survive the centuries by attacking a party of six people and a horse while unarmed?

Arriving on the third map, I had Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, a pony, Druin the dwarf, and another hobbit named Nob Appledore, who I rescued from a cell in Sharkey's Shipping and seems to only exist for this game. We were all in pretty bad shape, so it didn't help that I was immediately set upon by wargs (who, in this game, look just like wolves). Everywhere I went, I was killed by packs of them, and it took a while before I found a way to thread past them and on to the city.

The day/night cycle mattered more in Bree than elsewhere, with certain shops only open during the day and many houses locked up at night. There were a couple places where I was attacked by Nazguls at night. I was surprised to find hobbit holes in the city--are they in the book?--but none of the occupants were very helpful.


Various NPCs had more rumors about Black Riders searching for me, Rangers fighting them, and bandits stealing horses. We wandered into Nob Appledore's house and he left me, but not before giving me something called "Durin's Pick," which I assume replaces the regular pick I already had.

At long last, I found a blacksmith where I could spend some of the hundreds of silver pieces I'd amassed. I bought chain mail and shields for both Frodo and Sam, who end up doing a lot of melee combat (Merry and Pippin have bows). But I was annoyed that the blacksmith wouldn't buy any of the extra daggers, gems, and other items I've been hauling around. I compounded the inventory problem by purchasing a "spiritcharm" and a gold ring just because they both sounded like things that will be useful.


The centerpiece of the city was, of course, the Prancing Pony, where I gave the name "Underhill" upon entering (unlike certain hobbits, I didn't say "B . . . Underhill. My name's Underhill" so unconvincingly it would have fooled no one). Aragorn, of course calling himself "Strider" at the moment, was hanging out in a corner. He told me to meet him in another room, and when I did, there was a little cut scene from the film and Aragorn joined my party, waving a broken blade around and spouting something about it being forged anew. I assume this is from the book.

Shortly after Aragorn joined, I ended my session. I think I've fully explored the city, but I want to make another pass at the NPCs, because there was a hint of a side quest I never fully got a bead on. Something to do with a resident named Bill Ferny stealing horses. I heard about him from some townsfolk, and when I entered the stables next to the Prancing Pony, I got a message that all the horses were gone. I suspect my horse was supposed to be among them, because when I entered the inn, the innkeeper said something about taking and stabling him, but for whatever reason the pony never left my side. I also never heard anything about Gandalf, so I want to ask all the residents about him as a keyword. Finally, there's a hobbit hole with a guy asking for a password, and I want to see if I can figure out what's going on with him.

After that, I still have the exterior of Bree to explore--perhaps I'll take another crack at those wargs, now that I have Aragorn--before moving on to, presumably, Weathertop or Rivendell.

The CD version of the game seems worth it for the interface improvements, and equally so for the sound. The original 1990 version had fairly primitive sound effects, but this one has some nice recorded effects, especially for combats, with daggers and swords swishing through the air, arrows finding their targets with a "thwack," wolves growling and yelping convincingly, barrow wights making a ghastly scream when they die, and so on. On the other hand, the video doesn't enhance the experience at all, especially since the characters in the animated film look nothing like the portraits in the game. Aragorn looks particularly awful in the movie, though perhaps I'm overly influenced by the Jackson films as to what he should look like.

I know I was a little down on the game in my last post, but I'm liking it more now that I feel more confident in the controls and gameplay mechanics. I look forward to what awaits the Fellowship next.


51 comments:

  1. I always liked Aragorn in the Bakshi film better because of John Hurt's voice-acting, but anyway; glad you´re keeping at it with this game! I´m excited to hear what awaits your party past Bree and whether Bill Ferney is expanded upon in the game.

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  2. "A stop-motion Lord of the Rings film in the style of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?"

    Hell with contributing, I'd fund that whole thing myself!

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    1. Take the abominable snowman model and set it on fire and, boom, you've got a balrog.

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    2. So here's the funny thing. I figured someone else must have had the same idea, perhaps even made a joking tribute video, so I googled "Rankin/Bass" and "Lord of the Rings." I turns out that Rankin/Bass did produce two TV films based on The Hobbit and The Return of the King. Both animated, though, not stop-motion. I had no idea these even existed.

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    3. My son loves the Rankin and Bass Hobbitt. Its good hand drawn animation with John Huston voicing Gandalf. It also uses songs from the book. It's a treat to watch.

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    4. I convert the old 8mm film video to DVDs for people, so I've got the ability to process stop-motion... I don't have the artistic skills to model clay like that however, and that's the time-consuming part. If there's a reader with the talent and time to do that part, I definitely have the spare cycles to edit and encode it all, and I can probably scare up voice actors of a reasonable quality... Producing something like this doesn't have to be particularly expensive if there's no heavy time-constraint. :)

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    5. Umm... you might need an extra-hefty Kickstarter to pay the Tolkien estate their fee for the legal rights, if they allow it to happen at all. They're notoriously vigilant about protecting their intellectual property. There's a reason why a certain D&D race is called "halflings", not "hobbits".

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    6. I was going to make a comment in your first post that the Rankins/Bass were the best film versions of Tolkien's work, not necessicarily the most accurate (though they're not bad), just the most enjoyable. They introduced me to Tolkien's world and the music is great. Those movies along with the MERP book Treasures of Middle Earth really got my imagination going as a kid, oh and the books of course. Even with all that said I don't currently hold a huge reverence for Tolkien, I didn't care that much for any of the Jackson stuff and don't like how people reference Lord of the Rings as movies and not books.

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    7. Speaking of licensing...

      In a fight between a Kender and a Hobbit, who wins?

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    8. I think the typical kender is more adventurous and sporty (and hence hardy) than the typical hobbit (a domestic sort of chap).

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    9. I thought the Kender would be more lithe and skinny while a Hobbit would be more stout (what with all those extra pounds from good nutrition)?

      Also, Kender tends to be more foolhardy and takes unnecessary risks over paltry rewards (if any at all) while Hobbits are extremely alert and danger-evasive.

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  3. That ice wall issue is a bug with the CD version, I think. I found this workaround online: "When you pass through the ice wall, you may experience a silly bug that teleports you back immediately. You should be able to bypass it by pressing on east without stopping (keep the right arrow key pressed down). "

    Small hint: Remember that the game is not exactly as the book. Are you sure the Strider you found is Aragorn? ;)

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    1. Is there really a fake Strider in the game? I remember looking for "Vampire Strider" or triggering it till I assumed that it all was just a joke, and looks like a pretty common joke on Interplay games with the paragraph system, Wasteland has also a fake martian invasion storyline.

      Damm you Interplay! xD

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    2. I've made it all the way to Rivendell without anything going amiss with Strider/Aragorn. I sure hope he's the real deal because I just gave him Anduril. You had me all freaked out the entire time.

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    3. If you look into the paragraphs in the manual of the disk version you can find a couple of them referencing an evil Aragorn and other odd things but this is kinda joke or more likely the way that Interplay trolled cheaters for reading paragraphs they're not told to.

      "Strider suddenly turns around, eyes glowing blood red, teeth like small daggers. Fear paralyzes you. He is not a Ranger. He is of a kind that has not been seen in Middle-earth in over two Ages -- a vampire! "You fools! Why else would I want you to roam the streets at night, it is My time," he hisses at you. "My Lord Sauron has not forgotten us; we are few, but to him we are valuable. All he wants is The Ring. Give it to me and I will thirst only upon your companions. The choice is yours." Do you choose to betray your companions and give the vampire the One Ring? (Y/N)"

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    4. Yeah, that sounds like the paragraphs we see in all of the Gold Box games, Wasteland, etc., meant to lead players astray.

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    5. not a hoax, ive had the fake aragorn in my party. his portrait is different though, and he carries no part of broken anduril. i do not remember how to find him, but when i played this game for the first tine, i was very careless with using the baggins name

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    6. Are you really sure? I just found an awesome web with all the maps annotated with all the possible things that you can do and that could happen in the game, and even with unused strings in the map data files, but there is no mention to a fake Aragorn. I also took a look at the data strings for Bree and couldn't find anything. The only referencces I found are two paragraphs in the manual, the vampire paragraph and another quite over the top one.

      Could you be mistaken with the "other" major character that can be a fake?

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    7. No, I attest that the Vampires are real. There are very mild differences between them. I think Vampire Strider never got to change his name on the interface into Aragorn while the real Aragorn does. I could be wrong though. Decades since I last played the game.

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    8. I've looked into all the strings for Bree and Rivendell and couldn't find anything pointing to a possible vampire Strider/Aragorn or even a treason by a fake Strider/Aragorn. Moreover the list of characters (from the data files) doesn't show vampires.

      As I said, later in the game there is a major character that in reality is a werewolf, so maybe could you be mistaken with that?

      fradmo.altervista.org/lrpc/index.htm has very detailed maps with, looks like, all the scripted events in the game and again nothing about vampires or fake Strider/Aragorn.

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    9. Both Vampires and Werewolves are real.

      The thing about the Vampires in this game is that they were never called that. But the description of them are what we call Vampires. Or Vampyr. Or Wampyr. Or Popobawa. I dunno shit about Vampires.

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  4. In answer to your question, Bree is supposed to be the one place where the hobbits and men live together. That said, I believe that the hobbits there live in houses rather than hobbit holes.

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  5. The red acorn is a bug in the CD version, something to do with the automatic Get feature messing with the script. Anyway, Ruddyoak is only necessary as a way to get the Springstone so nothing has been lost.

    You'll know more about Durin's Pick later on the game, Erestor in Rivendel have some information and, of course, in Moria you will find more.

    And the innkeeper not taking your horse seems like a bug also. If taken, later the thief tries to sell it back.

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  6. I distinctly remember this period of PC gaming, when anybody and everybody was transferring video into computer games via those new nifty CD-ROMs, often with mediocre results. I'm glad that age has passed.

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    1. Back then, I remember people thought there was something magical about the CD-ROM itself that made for a better A/V experience, not just that it allowed more storage.

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    2. I only play my games on vinyl.

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    3. Actually, CRPG Addict, there was something else revolutionary at the time. I can't think of CRPGs that used this paradigm, but some other games started using Track 1 as the data track, with Tracks 2-10(ish) being CD audio tracks. The best game I know of that also did this was Fantasy General in 1995, although there were several others that did it earlier.

      Also, at this time, hard disk drives (HDD) were also not very big; CDs were like doubling your HDD capacity for the average user (or if not, close to), which might explain why people attached this magical feeling for a better A/V experience to a game on CD; it was like devoting your entire HDD to the game, and the audio/video were the most space-consuming elements of the game. HDDs of 1 GB or more didn't become popular until the mid-1990s.

      That said, it was taken past its logical point!

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    4. Right, I agree that CDs were storing more than would have been desirable to copy to the typical hard drive of the day, but people still thought it was something about the CD itself that made it particularly good for playing films and such, not simply that it stored more data. A lot of games that took up only a few megabytes and had previously come on three or four floppy disks were getting CD releases to cash in on the "CD" mystique.

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    5. I prefer my storage media on Dropa Stone Discs. Compact Discs sux.

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    6. I remember distinctly arguing with a youth friend. He told me that there was something new, a CD drive for the PC that could store up to 650 MB on a regular CD. I told him quite reasonably he MUST be mistaken. "It's the middle of the 90s. HD drives hold 40 MB. CDs are on market since early in the 80s. It's simply impossible." I convinced him. :)

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    7. I remember playing Baldur's Gate on 7 CDs, and we didn't have the HD space to install it, so there was lots of disk swapping involved.

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  7. I can't remember from the previous posts in the comments sections (too many posts, too much information) whether or not anyone knows where the manuals for LOTR V1 +2 manuals are. Does anyone know where I could dload them? I really want to play these TWO games, not just the first, but I'm going to have to have manuals or I am dead in the water :(

    Glad though, Chet me lad, that you are now thoroughly enjoying the game. Much too sadness you didn't enjoy the T&T game as well. Oh, well, that's just urine under the bridge...

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    1. I didn't dislike T&T; I was just playing it at a bad time where I had to take a long break. When I was able to play again, I felt I needed to start over, but I didn't want to retread the same ground right away. I'll return to it soon.

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    2. Oh, and on the manual, the Museum of Computer Adventure Gaming History has both: mocagh.org.

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    3. Danke schoen mein Freund. Had been looking, had not been able to find on my own. My own adventuring in the Shire and the surrounds will follow :)

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  8. Not sure if you were serious or not with the "Is this supposed to be some kind of threat?" comment, but in the event you were confused, Balin (one of the 13 dwarves from The Hobbit) visits Bilbo at that book and is mentioned in LOTR as a friend and frequent visitor (much as Gandalf became).

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    1. Yes, I was kidding. But you still filled it a bit of lore I didn't know.

      Did you take your name from the U6 character, or was that just a coincidence?

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    2. There's a slightly more literary origin of that name: Ulysses uses it to trick some fairly stupid cyclopes in The Odyssey. Claiming it as his name, he smashes the eye of one holding him prisoner, and when the other cyclopes come running asking who hurt him, the injured one says "Noman blinded me!" The others kind of shrug and assume it was an accident since no man did it.

      I seem to recall this being the start of his problems since the cyclopes were Poseidon's kids or something, but that might be wrong.

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    3. Think much, much older. I've always been particularly amused by a certain event involving a Homeric king and a cyclops, and I adopted this name (although I usually spell it as Gnoman nowadays) for the multiplayer of games that used the "You have been killed by X" message as it amused me.

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    4. That makes sense. I had this idea that you started commenting on my blog right when I was playing that part of U6, but it turns out you've been around for much longer.

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  9. It's no threat: Bilbo and Balin are old friends from the Erebor expedition, and Bilbo does love to travel. (One contemplates an alt-history where Bilbo does decide to visit and loses the Ring to the balrog, who refuses to hand it over to Sauron. The heroes have to work out some scheme for getting it back in the midst of a three-way free-for-all between the evil forces of Sauron, Saruman and the balrog.)

    Bree has hobbits and hills, so naturally hobbit holes will result. As skeezix points out, though, most hobbits lived in houses there.

    Doubtless, Rosie is giving Sam a "for a good time" token.

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  10. The best thing about Fallout 3 is that it's success gave Obsidian the chance to make a sequel: Fallout: New Vegas. I found 3 a bit devoid of interesting content - weak storyline, few quests, few characters, lots of drab scenery and most of the skills felt pretty inconsequential. NV improves all of these things significantly.

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    1. Agreed. Fallout 3 is a technical triumph - the transformation of the old isometric game into a first person/real time game - but the world is a little hollow. New Vegas is an improvement in every category (It takes 1st place in my personal GIMLET rating).

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    2. Yeah, I can see NV scoring pretty pretty darn highly were I to GIMLET. Combat is the weakest element and the economy is not excellent but everything else would score very well.

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    3. I actually bought NV, but it will probably be months before I have a chance to play it.

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    4. It ain't Fallout when you can't get no Childkiller trait.

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    5. Wow, Chet, you HAD to go and mention Fallout 3.

      Right when I was in the middle of my 2nd playthrough in 4 years. And was falling in love with it.

      Sorry to be a F3 fan boy, but have you done much wandering in the game or checked out a completed World Map. It is honestly breathtaking how much content they put into that particular game.

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    6. The original unexpectedly killed the game after I won, but I bought the "Broken Steel" expansion, and since then I've been trying to wander around and take in the entirety of the maps. I agree that it's a pretty cool game world--not quite as big as the Elder Scrolls titles, I don't think--but good. I like the balance between action combat, as in a FPS, and tactical combat with the VATS.

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    7. I like the map density. Unlike Skyrim, you can't wader that far without finding something, thought often it is just a freezer with some grenades in it, or an abandoned radio tower.

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  11. It is possible to save Hawkeye., and not hard, you just have to delay the encounter by not going to that part of the woods until after you have a pony, the witch girl, and the dwarf. In the time before nazgul appears, position pony closest, then witch girl. Pony definitely will die, witch girl might (but hey, she's evil). On your turn elbereth one of the nazgul, then unload everyone else into the remaining, he will go down. Clearly wasn't intended to be won though, as Hawkeye has no further dialogue even when meeting strider, but when you get to rivendell his wife is really happy and he leaves the party instead of really sad, so they did program a little reward.

    Your blog is really, really fun by the way.

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