Category Archives: review

Hearthfire (Skyrim): The Quest for Butter

Original home with main hall being added. http://bethsoft.com/en-us/games/hearthfire

(If you’re looking for more of an overall review of Skyrim, please see this article as well:  Christian Parents, Should you let your kids play Skyrim?)

The newest Skyrim DLC is a mini one, called Hearthfire (this review is based on the XBOX 360 game).  It allows the player to build up to three houses on property outside of the cities or towns, and to adopt one or two orphaned children.  The trailer promised more flexibility in building, in my view, so at first I was disappointed in Hearthfire on that ground.  But, after playing it for some time and building all three homes, I am disappointed and annoyed even more.  Not totally disappointed, mind you, and I’m not advocating not buying it and trying it out, but I do want to present what is annoying and what needs to be fixed.  HOPEFULLY, Bethesda will get around to making some fixes and making some additions to this DLC.

Let’s take a look at adoption first.  Instead of simply allowing you to adopt the children already orphaned and being forced to live in the Riften (yuck!) orphanage, you have to decide amongst the four new orphans in the towns and them.  There are now more orphans than ever to choose from . . !  No matter what you do, there will always be orphans.  When playing Skyrim before, I wanted only to adopt some out of the orphanage, but now there are others – it just never ends and you are not allowed to adopt more.

Anyway, the kids are a nice addition for the most part.  (If you don’t want children bugging you to play with them, maybe you should forget about adopting any in the first place, however.)  It’s fun giving them things, and they will give you things once in a while, too.  One day my son gave me a unique and odd green robe to wear.  They love when you give them daggers.  You can improve and enchant their wooden swords, and duel wield them yourself if you want a bit of a fun challenge.  A problem with giving them items, to me, is that you are very limited in what you can give.

Now, for the building bit – I’ll get to the hunt for butter after this.  The three homes you can build are on three specific pieces of property you can buy from the Jarl’s or their stewards.  One is near Whiterun, although it’s part of Dawnstar hold.  Another is outside of Solitude, with a view of the land bridge that is that city, though it is a part of Morthal hold.  The third is close to the lake south of Riverwood – a beautiful area that is like having a vacation home in the woods – and is a part of Falkreath hold.

I am not going to go through all of the addition choices, but will mention a few that give notice for some reason.  You can build what is in a provided list for each room/addition, but you don’t have alternate choices within the list.  You don’t have a choice between a bed and a table for a certain spot, for example – there’s is only one thing designated for that spot – you can only add it or leave it open.  And, you cannot demolish a wing later in case you change your mind about the kind of house you want.

All the homes start off with a small starter room (home!), and in order to add the specialty wings, you must build the main hall attached to the first starter room.   The starter room has a bed and fire pit in it, and so it is livable as is.  However, if you hire a steward – very advisable since not all the mill owners will sell you wood, as the add-on claims – then where do both of you sleep?  This is actually more of a problem later.

You will have the ability to add two small beds and a double bed in the main hall for you and your spouse, and your  kids (forget “choice” – there is no other options for this area, nor any other, in these Hearthfire houses).  However, the steward and housecarl always sleep in the beds that are for the kids, or one of them may sleep in your own bed.  This is a problem with the game.  If you choose to build the bedroom wing, this is not a problem.  But if you choose to build a different wing and use those main hall beds, then good luck!  The problem is only compounded by the fact that there is only one bed left in the original building for both the steward and the housecarl.  This obviously was not thought through by Bethesda, and I find it quite astonishing.

The storage room was a very major disappointment.  Seriously, Bethesda couldn’t spring for a dragon claw holder and some other holder for specific items – like the various named jewelry you can find – especially since everything always pops out of display cases and off of shelves?  This really fries me!  Come one, Bethesda . . . really!?!  Give us something for the money.  The cellar is a bit interesting in that way:  you can build a shrine holder and all the shrines to the gods.  But a storage room that doesn’t store all those specialty items?  Wow and weird.

The homes do not incorporate anything from the Dawnguard DLC.  It seems like the ability to add new plants and new creatures, like from the Soul Cairn and the Vale, at least, should have been designed into this new DLC.  It becomes obvious that this add-on was planned from the beginning.  Skyrim had orphans and they asked to be adopted, yet you could not adopt them.  There is no Dawnguard content in Hearthfire, except for one thing: you can give your child an armored dog from Fort Dawnguard (a nice surprise).  So, why wasn’t this simply part of Skyrim to begin with?  My “other half” is really into the Elder Scrolls, though Morrowind specifically.  He told me that in the past, an add-on such as this would’ve been free.  It seems Bethesda held some of the content out in order to make some more cash, while providing a not so great product.

Which brings us to the butter quest.  There’s not a formal quest for butter, of course, but there is an actual one.  Butter is as hard to find as gold- if not harder – as far as I can tell.  You will want butter if you build the kitchen wing (it probably has the best looking wing interior), which has an “oven” for baking.  Butter is an 0ft-needed ingredient, but good luck finding it!!!   You can’t make it, even though you can own cows now and there is a butter churn in the kitchen.  So far I have only received one butter out of the churn.  I have searched high and low for butter, looking to find it in various places, and to buy it.  I never find it (it isn’t laying around like soup or stew), and have been only offered it to buy about three times from various vendors.  Wow.  Who knew baking could be so hard?

So if you want to have something new to do in Skyrim before the next big DLC comes out, and you like having children, then Hearthfire would be worth the $5, in my opinion.  But otherwise, the choice is of course up to you, especially if you want to bake but don’t feel it worth hours of your time in a quest for butter!

November 9 Update (XBOX):   After months, the churn finally had a new bowl of butter in it.  BUT, within a short time, it had butter in it again.  Perhaps there was an update that loaded that we didn’t notice, or perhaps it’s very random!  Also, the best places I’ve noticed to buy butter are from the town stands, from the vendors selling vegetables and other foods (that is, the dark elf in Riften and the two humans in White Run and Windhelm).

 

The Dark Knight Rises: Impressions

We waited a bit to see the newest batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.  This is not a formal review, but for some reason I didn’t like the movie all that much in the end, and I wonder about it.  What do you think?  If you liked it a lot – why?

Without giving away anything really, without giving a spoiler, I think I can say that the end was just lame compared to the first half or so of the movie.  There are really two endings, and I am referring to the one that explains the “why” of the Gotham City attacks.  To me it’s as if the movie makers wanted to provide some messages – that this wasn’t simply an action film – and that a great deal of the movie’s story ending didn’t really have much to do with the messages.  The story seemed to me a very flimsy vehicle for the messages.  (The second ending makes me actually look forward to further movies, which I think may be better than this one.)

And what were the messages?  My impressions are from only seeing the movie once, so please be kind to me if you respond with a comment.  My first impression was that the movie was saying that we can’t rest easy after eliminating some criminals.  There are always threats and we need to be prepared.  But more specifically, it seemed to be alluding to terrorism.

All throughout the movie the theme of failure and fear, fear of failure, what makes us not fail, was obvious. Yet, when these things were spoken of, it just didn’t seem deep . . . I couldn’t feel that these things affected batman in the way everyone kept saying (apparently this has to do with the first and/or second movie, which I can barely remember now).   The only part related to Bruce’s feelings and courage that seemed relevant to me was the issue of fear of death.  So many heroes say they’re not afraid to die – it’s almost a cliche.  But in order to continue to help anyone at all, batman had to let himself feel the fear of death.   Nice touch.

An important aspect of the film was discerning whom to trust.  Sometimes good people have to do bad things, so that a better thing may result; one has to sometimes choose the lesser of two evils.  Sometimes good seeming people are only self-serving and manipulative–others that seem bad may only be being honest, and so they are far more virtuous.  I like this theme the most, as I think it is the most relevant to our everyday lives – and it is such a significant aspect of life among humans.   I was reminded of the short biblical story Jesus told (Matthew 21:28-31);  though His specific application was different, it still reflects how people are and how we need to judge by actions, not just words:

“What do you think?  There was a man who had two sons.  He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.  He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Other than those more serious impressions, I enjoyed the acting–Joseph Gordon-Levitt was just fine in his role–and the music.  Great stuff.

The Dark Knight (http://www.thedarkknightrises.com/gallery.php)

Secular girl activist meets Christian girl activist: love and necromancy, OR, An Encounter with Simone Weil: A film review

This film is not yet out for general release.  See this FB page  or the website for more info.

Normally a review would recommend an audience for the book or movie or whatever it is that is being reviewed, but this film makes it difficult to say who exactly would prefer it or get the most out of it.  I love the late Simone and seriously looked forward to “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but I was in for a surprise with this pseudo-documentary.  This film (the Director’s Cut), by Julia Haslett, is like a personal travel diary only instead of the destination being a place, it’s a person.  And the road there is strewn with corpses.

Ok, so let’s make a stab at the audience, or in this offering, audiences.  The filmmaker comes from the liberal anti-American, anti-Christian segment of America, as is made apparent in the film, so that same audience is probably the intended one (since a quote from Michael Moore is on the front dvd cover, this is not a risky guess); the secondary audience would be those who otherwise like Weil or want to know more about her, most likely having heard of her in Christian or philosophy circles.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) was one of those rare of the rarest of human beings, a person with extreme intellectual prowess fused with extreme empathy and charity.  She was an intellectual who taught philosophy (and taught it all in the original languages), gave up her teaching job to labor with factory workers, had conversations with the likes of Trotsky . . . but scratch the record . . . she was also a Christian mystic.  This film touches on her academic career, but focuses on Simone’s social activism (“political” activism in the film) and her unfortunate and apparently irrational taking up with God (film’s view, not the reviewer’s).   It also has much interesting archival footage.

Haslett makes this film, does this research, due to her sadness and feeling of regret after her father’s suicide.  Could I have done something to stop it?, she asks, and Can I do more to help others who suffer?  She is inspired by something Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  Indeed, surprisingly true and knowledge worth acting upon.  How did Simone give attention, how did she alleviate suffering (or at least how did she try), and how does Haslett emulate Simone in this regard?

Without going into too much detail (a short bio of Simone can be found here, there is an excellent biography at the beginning of the book, Waiting for God, and there are numerous other sources about Simone as well), Simone didn’t just research social problems and make suggestions to the government.  She knew that the only way to understand someone’s suffering, at least to some degree, was to become them.  Thus the factory work episode mentioned earlier.   She also, from a very early age, paid attention to the sufferings of soldiers and workers and ate the small amounts they ate, or didn’t pay for heat if her fellow workers could not afford it.  She gave up on pacifism when she saw that war was inevitable and that providing help to the better side was a good; she fought in Spain for a short time (in 1936) with those against the fascists, and she volunteered to be a front-line nurse early in the Second World War.  She didn’t just talk, she walked the walk.

This is all well-known material regarding Simone Weil.  So what did Haslett do?  She does what she can to suffer alongside her brother who is in and out of depression, and she is involved with causes that are meant to alleviate suffering and bring about justice.  The problem with these causes is that they are very political and Haslett can’t seem to get herself to look at all the sides of the issues (she shows that there is voter fraud in Florida, on the side of the Republicans, but she ignores the voter fraud perpetuated by the Democrats).   Simone was very good at (and purposefully so) looking at opposing information.  Haslett’s inability to look at the other side, of humbling herself for that (or simply not villainizing the “other side”), shows up in another important way in this film.

Haslett is so enamored with Weil, and so mystified by some things about her, that she wants to meet her.  Since she can’t actually bring her back from the dead, she hires an actress (obviously a sharp one) to read and absorb Simone’s writings, and work in a factory like Simone did (sort-of), in order to “become Simone” so that Haslett can ask her questions.   [I’ll pause while you take that in.]   My first thought was, Why doesn’t she just try and understand Simone herself?   Haslett perhaps realized that she was incapable of doing so, but then, what use would there be in talking to and getting annoyed with an actress when you can basically do the same thing with a book?  It does indeed come to the inevitable head when the actress (bless her) says that “I” -meaning Simone – did not kill myself and by being  a slave of God’s I could get beyond my pain (Simone had very bad and long-lasting migraines) and try and do what I was called to do.

“Simone” insisted that she did not kill herself.  This is in reaction to many people’s claim that she passively ended her own life by not eating enough (while trying to get over tuberculosis); something the doctor who filled out her death certificate claimed.  Knowing Simone’s lifelong habit of only eating so much based on someone’s suffering–in this case, it was the amount allotted to her occupied countrymen in France–many question the doctor’s judgment.   But Haslett seemed to be trying to make the case that Simone killed herself, and had earlier submitted to Christ, out of desperation–desperation over not being able to stop the suffering of so many, and knowing that suffering would never come to an end.  It is presented that Simone had to have turned to religion only as a last resort – after all reason and rational thought were used up.  Reading Simone’s writings, one would be very hard pressed to come up with a justification of this opinion of Haslett and others.

For one thing, Simone insisted that “she had not needed to be converted; she had always been implicitly, in ‘secret’ even from her lower self, a Christian” (Fiedler 1951, 23).  Regarding suffering, she came to view her own, from the migraines, as a gift.  Of course, suffering caused by man should be worked against.  Regarding reason and rational thought, consider her claim:  “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (Weil 1951, 69).  Very unlike Haslett, Simone knew that humans needed salvation.  In all the history now known there has never been a period in which souls have been in such peril as they are today in every part of the globe.  The bronze serpent must be lifted up again so that whoever raises his eyes to it may be saved” (Weil 1951, 76; see Numbers 21:5-8 and John 3:13-15 for biblical references).

All this is significant since Haslett is against it . . . yet she can’t seem to dismiss it.  At the end of the film we find that the brother she includes in the film, who suffered depression after his father’s suicide, committed suicide himself.  Haslett equates his suicide with Weil’s, though this seems very far from the mark (especially if you are of the opinion that Weil did not commit suicide).  She says that, since the world is doomed, the only choice is whether to commit suicide or not.  Wow.  I do hope that if any suicidal persons see this film that they aren’t encouraged negatively by it.  In any case, there actually seems to be hope in the end.

Amazingly, Haslett, for the first time, gives a nod to the supernatural; she says that to give attention is a “miracle.”  As she kisses a wall, she ends the film with this Weil quote:  “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall.  The wall is what separates them but it is also their means of communication.  It is the same with us and God, every separation is a link.”  Perhaps the best audience for this film are all those who desire Haslett (and others like her) to look toward God longer, until she desires Him instead of the vessel in which He worked so brightly (Simone).
.

Fiedler, Leslie A.  “Introduction,” in Waiting for God.  Simone Weil (New York: Harper Colophon 1973)

Weil, Simone.  Waiting for God (New York: Harper Colophon 1973; reprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1951)

Christian Parents: Should you let your kids play Skyrim (now with Dawnguard and Hearthfire)?

(For a peek at what Skyrim looks like, and a short write up on Skyrim violence and language, see my New Skyrim Playthrough Let’s Play with Babe’s Got Bow.  Don’t worry, the “Babe” is clean and mod free.  June 22, 2015)

This post could be opening up a whole can of worms, but so be it.  Why all the possible worms?  When my son was very young I thought – based on so much of what I read and heard from Christians – that video games were just all from hell and will lead to hell.  In more recent times, I have posted online with some Christians who still feel the same, though I’m hoping they don’t really think “Harvest Moon” or “Hello Kitty” games provide a direct ticket to the brimstone dungeon. There are nasty games out there for sure, games that relish dishonesty, crime, blood, gore, and killing.  But does that make all video games bad?  Putting aside the issue of time spent by the Christian on past-times (hobbies, entertainment, etc.), are certain video games not only fun and cathartic, but also potentially useful for stretching the mind and for witnessing?  I think yes, so let’s take a look at Skyrim with its Dawnguard expansion (Hearthfire, added September 4, 2012, adds pleasantries to the game).

Skyrim environment with flying dragon
Beautiful Skyrim environment with flying dragon.  Author screen shot.

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The time frame in Skyrim seems to correspond nicely with the Iron Age in Northern Europe and/or France and the British Isles.  Skyrim refers to a region in the continent of Tamriel, and is one of a number of games in the Elder Scrolls series.  The region makes up the north central part of the continent, and its Nordic inhabitants are akin to the real world Norsemen (Vikings).  For example, what is like heaven to the Vikings was called Asgard, and the honored hall Vahalla.  In Skyrim, these are referred to as Sovngarde and Shor’s Hall (Hall of Valor), respectively. The Imperials, which very obviously correspond to the Romans, have kept order in Tamriel for some time, though they are present in Skyrim now in order to crush a rebellion.  This isn’t just a little rebellion, but a power play that would affect all of Skyrim and its relations to the rest of the Empire.  Spoiler alert:  In typical historic fashion, the son of a king killed his own brother in an attempt to be high king.  Each region in Skyrim has a king, and these kings choose a high king from among them.  This was a spoiler since only one or two characters in the whole game actually tell you that the king killed was the usurper’s brother.

Map of Tamriel. (c) Bethesda, but found here: http://elderscrolls.wikia.com/wiki/File:Map_tamriel.jpg

The point about this power play, however, is that the usurper, Ulfric Stormcloak, had gotten many in Skyrim behind him because he claimed that his primary goal was to reestablish the free worship of the god Talos.  Talos used be just a man (Tiber Septim), but was made a god by the other gods (somehow – how this happened is unclear) and thus became worshipped, not just revered as a Dragonborn or for uniting Tamriel in the distant past. Why was the worship of Talos banned?  To end a major war the Imperials and other leaders had signed a treaty with the High Elves, and part of this treaty prohibited Talos worship, as the High Elves considered Talos to be a false god.

Despite the treaty Talos worship was going on quietly, but Ulfric’s uprising changed that.  Because of the rebellion, the High Elves began persecuting Talos worshippers, thus giving the Stormcloaks fuel for their fire. There are subtle complications added to the game to make the decision regarding which faction to follow not necessarily an easy one; it certainly shouldn’t be rushed.  While most people in Skyrim revere Talos, there are some things said to make a player wonder about him.  For instance, the self-proclaimed mouth-piece of Talos in Whiterun is annoying and may seem mad (he definitely is depicted as a melodramatic street preacher), and indeed, his feverish support of the Stormcloaks ignores both the reality of what is going on behind the scenes with the Imperials (many of whom also worship Talos) and the conniving and tyrannical nature of Ulfric and his Stormcloaks.

The Stormcloaks are pretty nasty, saying that if you don’t join them you’re against them (an enemy), yet the Imperials say no such thing.  There is much more to seemingly righteous rebels behavior vs Imperial behavior, but I’ll leave that for your exploration. The Stormcloak rebellion is one of the two major plots/quests of the game, the other being Dragonborn’s (the player is the Dragonborn) destiny to rid the world of Alduin, the world-eater dragon.  The quests are not totally separate.  Without paying close attention, a player may totally miss that Alduin and Ulfric are intertwined.

For the Christian, Alduin is of great interest since he is a Satan figure (without the Satan figure, one could maybe take Talos to be a pagan mythological man-god).  He claims to be the first born of the great god Akatosh (and some even worshipped him as Akatosh himself), but in reality he was created, and for a specific purpose.  He defies Akatosh regarding his purpose, interferes with man, and is arrogant. Skyrim is full of hints and references to religion, folklore, history, and literature, although much of these are not wholly analogous.  As might have been inferred by now, talking with someone about Skyrim can be a starting point to talking about Christ and even the existence of Satan.

An inquisitive player may decide it’s worth his or her time to look into the real-world peoples and such in the game.  Besides the examples already discussed, there is the goddess Mara, who quite obviously corresponds to Mary, mother of Jesus.  Elves are of course derived from folklore (as are the Dwarves), and their demise followed the acceptance of Christianity in European areas.  The magical High Elves came from a large island to the southwest of Tamriel, and so this alludes to Atlantis.  There are Bretons in the game and there are real world Bretons.

As with much fantasy in modern times, the game includes Orcs.  Where did Orcs come from?  Well, from the mind of JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings)!  In Skyrim they are not just like Tolkien’s Orcs, but they are still a corrupted form of Elf. Without getting into a lot of detail, I was disappointed with the game in some ways.  Skyrim seems to favor doing bad things, despite the character played being the Dragonborn, a person who brings good and who is in line to become Emperor.  The game has achievements, and many of these involve doing evil things.  This is unfortunate, and while a player is not at all required to do these things, some aspects of the game are closed-off if a player ignores these activities.  The new expansion of the game, Dawnguard, seems to make up for this somewhat.

Dawnguard Fortress. (c) Bethesda http://www.elderscrolls.com/skyrim/add-ons/

Most of the hype was directed towards the evil side of this expansion, involving vampires, but really, as far as I can see, the “good side” gains here.  I also have to pat Bethesda (the game maker) on the back for making the vampires in fact gross and bad.  Some may have a problem with the main vampire character being “good,” but at least they included dialogue for you to choose that shows your disdain for the whole idea, if you so choose to use that dialogue; there is also the possibility that this character will willingly give up her vampirism (become cured).

These games are made for the masses and they are not in business to lose money, so one has to take the good with the bad and make the most of it; in real life this is often murkier and harder to do than in games like Skyrim.  That being said, the Dawnguard include in their ranks a witty, funny, smart, and spiritually active ex-priest.  He adds a positive spiritual character that is a counter to the street preacher that so many players actually want to kill. Finally, I’ll leave you with basic good and bad points of Skyrim/Dawnguard/Hearthfire, and this quote from John Battle-Born of Whiterun.

This statement may very well be Bethesda’s commentary on the gaming world and not Skyrim, since there appears to be no connection to it and anything in the game–except perhaps that everyone that you encounter in the wild seems to want you to kill them!: “You know what’s wrong with Skyrim these days? Everyone’s obsessed with death.” Good points:

  • Truly beautiful to look at and wander around in:  HUGE.  Our world beautiful, not abstract, though there are awe-inspiring places that mix underwater concepts into air-breathing spaces.
  • Complicated main quests and min-quests that require you to listen to many characters to decide what’s best (if you do it right).
  • Religious and political aspects and some real-world history, along with the fantastic.  Real world lessons in deciphering the truth, in seeing through people’s blind ideologies or loyalties.
  • No sex and little swearing.
  • Fun and rewarding; tons of play time and things to do including blacksmithing, mixing potions, exploring, etc., besides fighting bandits and doing the quests.
  • Absolute loads of books, notes, recipes, etc. (I believe there are over 1,000), promote reading and the value of the written word.
  • The new Hearthfire expansion allows the player to – finally – adopt children, as well as do some fun housebuilding.

Bad points:

  • Passive goriness along with some slow-mo killing scenes (however, using magic makes for really awesome slow-mo scenes).
  • There is much fighting, which might not appeal to some.  Play yourself to decide (use the Dawnguard crossbow and you just might get hooked – forewarning you).
  • In Skyrim, the bad seems to be rewarded more than the good.  The new Dawnguard and Hearthfire expansions seems to even this out some.
  • The longer you take to finish the Vampire quest, the more citizens die in the towns – regular citizens, not just stand-ins.
  • Glitches, apparently the more you play the more there are.
  • This isn’t BAD, but just saying – it could’ve used more humor (there is some subtle dry humor in the game).
Skyrim, Sparks and Familiar spells
The sparks spell and cast familiar spell, against a lively skeleton (well, it WAS lively).  Author screen shot.

For more thoughts on Skyrim, particularly regarding its darker aspects and dealing with them with your children, see On Skyrim: A Vent from a Christian Parent (a mom who plays). November 5, 2012.   I just found this out so I thought I’d pass it along, from the Bethesda Softworks site on October 26, 2012:

Earlier today, Skyrim came away as the big winner at the UK’s most prestigious gaming award show, The Golden Joysticks. The game captured the night’s biggest award, Ultimate Game of the Year, as well as awards for Best RPG and Best Moment (visiting the Throat of the World).

Skyrim women want respect, and maybe more--to be feared.
Skyrim women want respect, and maybe more–to be feared. Author game capture.