Elder Scrolls: Battlespire

a game by Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 2 reviews
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See also: Elder Scrolls Series

One of PC gaming's hot RPG series returns to the fray with Bat-tlespire, a side story in the Elder Scrolls universe that takes you back to the time of Arena, the first game. Upon discovering that the Emperor's fortress of elite wizards has been obliterated, you set out to stave off this new threat in a blend of action and RPG gameplay. Along with frenzied fights in the game's 3D environments, players will undertake the usual fare of RPGs, building experience, talking to NPCs and monsters, and more. To heighten the action side, the multiplayer game lets you compete in a death match or play team versus team .

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Game Reviews

Overview/Storyline

Battlespire is the first of Bethesda's new Legend series of RPGs set in the world of Tamriel. Unlike the epic RPGs of Daggerfall and Arena, the Legend series are linear-action RPGs that cover a fraction of what an epic would cover. Instead of hundreds of minor quests and an open-ended world to explore, Battlespire has one story and one goal. The story? Battlespire has been taken over with the enemy Daedra. The goal? Get the hell out alive and warn the emperor. In Battlespire you play as a new recruit who has eagerly arrived at the legendary training ground of the Battlespire. Only problem is the Battlespire has been taken over by the Daedra and you are locked in. It is your goal to find an escape and to find out what could have possibly gone wrong.

First off, I want to make it clear that I am a major, major Daggerfall fan and I continue to play the game well over a year after I purchased it. I think the scope of Daggerfall is ingenious and the world addicting. There are endless quests to explore in Daggerfall and I am still blown away by its physical size, roughly twice the size of Great Britain with literally thousands of dungeons, towns, and locales to explore. The two complaints -- or rather wishes -- I had with Daggerfall were better graphics and fewer bugs. When I caught wind that Bethesda was going to make Battlespire, which would include better graphics and be bug-free (yeah, right), I became one anxious and happy Spellsword. I then saw screenshots of what the game was going to look like and read promises by Bethesda that the game would include native 3Dfx support. Out of all of the games to be released, Battlespire became number one on my list.

Gameplay/Controls/Interface

You control your character via first-person perspective, much like Daggerfall or Hexen II. If you have played Daggerfall or Arena, you will find control of your character to be pretty much the same. For those of you that haven't, in Battlespire, your mouse controls your point of view and the arrow keys on your keyboard move you around. When attacking, you typically hold the left mouse button while directing the motion of your weapon's direction. Although Battlespire is ultimately a hack-and-slash, you will find the atmosphere and pace of the game to be a bit slower and somewhat more absorbing than your typical action shooter. You will also want to try and speak to NPCs in order to gain valuable hints to your plight. Not doing so, you might miss clues to the location of "keys" needed in order to complete levels, which brings me to one of the many gripes I have with this game.

First gripe: gameplay. In Battlespire there are basically three objectives to every level. The first objective is to try and find clues as to what happened and how to get out; the second objective is to kill all the monsters before they kill you; the third objective is to find "keys" in order to get out of each level. You complete all three at the same time while exploring levels. The first objective can be a pain, in that in order to speak to an NPC you have to be right in front of one, meaning five out of ten times you will take a bit of damage before speaking to them. The second objective, killing NPCs, is much tougher than other games but acceptable to start. After the third level it is virtually impossible and you'll find tactics to avoid their attacks by out-running them or taking various potions that protect you. The final objective is what ultimately killed the game for me. You have to find various "keys" in order to get past each level. In the first level you have to find four missing cogs to a disabled machine; in the following levels you have to mainly find what are called Voidguides or key amulets. In a later level you have to find four keys, I believe two Voidguides, and six pieces of armor. The problem is that usually the last key is next to impossible to find, especially with some of the enemies that get in your way. What ends up happening is the enemies piss you off to the point that you can no longer avoid them, so you frustratingly save and load the game over and over until you finally get rid of all of them. After a few hours of killing them off, you move on to find the missing key. Ever lose your keys? Imagine the most frustrating time you have ever had looking for something you misplaced and multiplying that tenfold. If you've lost keys in a house, imagine losing them on an island or in a castle/dungeon, and you'll have an idea of what I mean. This was extremely frustrating and what ultimately ruined the game for me. In my review of Lands of Lore II I stated that never have I raved or been blown away every single time I played a game. Well, up until now, never have I cursed or been so pissed off every single time I played a game.

Second gripe: bugs. Bethesda stated that Battlespire would pretty much be bug-free. Well, I'm sorry to say that's far from the case. Actually, a few of the fixes taken care of in patches for Daggerfall somehow didn't make it to Battlespire, which blows me away. You can get stuck in walls, sometimes taking damage; you can get stuck on the other side of walls in blackness which was termed "the void" in Daggerfall; and the game has crashed a couple of times on my machine, more for others according to postings on newsgroups. An example of getting stuck: there are a couple of levels in which you get to ride a small wooden boat. While riding the boat, you can pretty much drive the front of it through the cavern walls, but if you do, the tip gets stuck and you have to reload a saved game. This isn't realism, by the way, unless being able to move in and out of the wall of a cavern without damaging your boat is realistic. Nope, I think that one along with many others is a bug.

Graphics

Third gripe: graphics. If you look at the screenshots you'll see what I mean. Don't they look gorgeous? I thought so too, but when in full screen they don't keep the detail you see when small. To be honest with you, they are a step up from Daggerfall, and not all that bad, but without 3Dfx support and a hit on performance (see System Requirements), overall they are a disappointment. Your line of sight is limited to about two hundred feet in all directions, and things become pretty pixelated when up close. There are still clipping problems in the game, including some really bizarre effects like being able to see through ceilings at the sky. Some NPCs are half-stuck in walls, and are blurry up close. On the outdoor level, you can get stuck under a whole island. If you look up you can see chests, bags, NPCs, and other objects floating around in the sky above you. When fighting enemies, they are limited to about five or so frames of movement. It's like fighting paper-cutout puppets that can royally kick your butt. Finally, Bethesda promised native 3Dfx support, even showing beautiful screenshots in 3Ddfx on their website, but in the end they decided to pull it on release. If you look at ads in the major gaming mags, you'll still see the 3Dfx logo in the ads for Battlespire. What the hell is that?

Audio

Great audio, but basically the same piece of music over and over again. It's good, but disappointing due to the lack of variety. I did find that the music was well-done and pulled me into the ominous atmosphere of the game. Even though it repeated itself, I never did get sick of it or wanted to turn it down. Sound effects are decent, but a lot for whatever reason is missing. You don't hear the creaking sound of doors opening, or any sound for that matter, even when closing them. There is a huge drawbridge that you can lower in the outdoor level that is silent both as it goes down and as it slams down on the other side. What happened? Daggerfall had better sound effects than this.

Documentation

The documentation for Battlespire is decent, but it lacks any background story to get you psyched up for the actual game. It does excellently cover everything you need to get going, including character classes, attributes, spells, and armor classes.

System Requirements

Minimum (according to box): DOS 5.0 or greater, P133, SVGA VESA 2.0, 4X CD-ROM drive, 16 MB RAM, 150 MB hard drive space for minimum install, SoundBlaster series, Pro Audio Spectrum, Ensoniq Soundscape, Gravis Ultrasound, and 100% compatibles, Microsoft 100% compatible mouse required, and Win95 in MS-DOS mode

Final gripe: I have a P233 MMX, 64 MB RAM, and a 6 MB 3Dfx graphics accelerator. The game ran dog-slow. I went to Bethesda's site and read the following, "It may be because your super-sexy video card doesn't support 15-bit graphics in which the patch would do wonders," so I downloaded the patch. Yes, it did help, but not much. Some levels seemed better than others, and I actually found exiting and starting the game back up sometimes helped. In time either I got used to it or most of the texture maps got cached into memory and it ran at an acceptable rate. This was with the all the graphics set high. Set low it was better, but then it's back to the graphics of Daggerfall. Finally, they recommend that you lower the screen size and/or resolution if nothing else works. So in order to play the game smoothly, with graphics as good as what you see in the screenshots here, you would have to play the game in a window size that small. Yeah, right. Maybe a little bigger, but I still don't think so. I think Bethesda should have delayed the game to put in 3Dfx support or at least released it promising a 3Dfx patch shortly after. To this date, they have flat-out refused to release a future patch.

Bottom Line

As you can probably tell by now, Battlespire was a major disappointment for me. I found it to be way too hard, frustrating, and the performance to be far below what I was hoping for. But don't just take my word for it; check out some newsgroup comments from other players. The two things that ultimately killed the game for me was the frustration of spending hour upon hour searching for the last key to the next level, and the Xengine's poor running performance with the graphics turned high. The reason I did give the game a 65 and not lower is that it still captures what is great about the Elder Scrolls RPG universe. The atmosphere of the game is extremely absorbing and ominous -- in a way, more mature than most other games out there. This is still a true RPG that lets you create a character class with different attributes that affect the game, and even though trimmed down from Daggerfall, there is plenty to keep the stats-obsessed RPGer happy. If you have a high-end system, a lot of patience, and love extremely hard challenges, Battlespire might be for you. I just hope Bethesda's Morrowind, the sequel to Daggerfall, brings what I was personally hoping for.

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