Five of the Best is going to be a series! Every Friday lunchtime, UK time, we're going to celebrate a different incidental detail from the world of games. The kind of thing we usually just WASD past, oblivious. But also the kind of thing which adds unforgettable flavour if done right.
Potions! We've been drinking them for years. In games I mean! I hope you haven't been knocking them back in real-life, they're bad for you. Imagine drinking something which alters your behaviour - how ridiculous! But potions we've been drinking for years. Red ones, blue ones... They're so common they've become a universal language. We don't even really see them any more. We just slosh them back when needed. Gulp!
But every so often, we do see them. Once in a while, a memorable potion pops up. Maybe it was a potion which typified a game for you - the port-key to remembering an adventure. A tonic from BioShock, perhaps. Or maybe it was one which made a character drastically more capable, or one which changed who - or what - we were. Can you think of any now? Good - hold onto that! Because I want your input below.
My choices are seen through heavily tinted glasses unique to the kind of games I play and remember, and I am by no means an encyclopedia. I was telling a friend about my idea for this piece yesterday, for example, and he immediately started telling me of a potion he remembers brewing in a Mickey Mouse game for the SEGA Master System. I would never have thought of that! Then he mentioned V-Jolt Solution from Resident Evil and the Murder of Crows Vigor from BioShock Infinite. They're both great shouts! And now I feel very inadequate about the potions I've chosen, so thanks Alan, thanks a lot.
So here's to potions, and here are Five of the Best, according to me. But what do you think? Please sound off below. Corks out, bottoms up - cheers!
Jar of Bees - Dragon Age: Inquisition
Oh good one, Bertie, start with something which isn't even technically a potion! But bear with me here, it's made with mushrooms from a recipe, so... Although how the hell mushrooms make a jar of bees I do not know.
Anyway! In DAI you can lob a jar of bees at baddies - how good is that? They buzz around their head and sting anyone in the area, occasionally sending someone into a panic. It's a bit like the emosh part from My Girl but weaponised in your pocket. How wonderful.
Even better: you can upgrade it with wasps! I kid you not - the upgrade is literally "And Some Wasps", and it allows two targets to feel the full force of the swarm.
Elixir of Giant Growth and Noggenfogger Elixir - World of Warcraft
Noggenfogger - what a silly name! But I love silliness. I love how it breathes a smile into games, and love how it fills spare time and aids mucking around in games like World of Warcraft. It brings people together.
Case in point: Noggenfogger Elixir. It turns you into skeleton. Puff! Now you can run around like the undead (or even more undead, if you were already undead like I was). And couple it with Elixir of Giant Growth which, yes, does exactly what you think it does, and all of a sudden you have a giant skeleton running around. Which is perfect for a whole guild raiding enemy lands. Or a whole guild farting around in a major capital city. Try it - see how many people join in!
WoW has always been good at giving people silly toys to play with, and as a 15-year-old game it's now got plenty of them, but Noggenfogger and Giant Growth were vanilla WoW potions. They belong to a time when I don't think even Blizzard knew what WoW was going to be - a time we're going back to with the impending launch of WoW Classic on 27th August.
It shall bring a silly tear to my eye to relive the potion combo.
Nightwraith decoction - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
OK, I've chosen one specific decoction here, but really I want to choose all of them. Potions are, you understand, fundamental to The Witcher series and lore. They are what mutilated Geralt irreversibly, as a boy, and made him a witcher, and what he famously enhances his abilities with before each encounter. He is able to stand a much higher toxicity than humans and drink things which would otherwise kill people. Potions in The Witcher 3, then, have to be good. And they are.
What I like so much about the decoctions is they are so powerful they pressure you into playing a different way. A riskier way, perhaps. Take the Nightwraith decoction. Geralt's health rises with each enemy he kills until he meditates or fast travels. That's really powerful! And really useful - but then, so are meditating and fast-travel. Will you risk sacrificing them?
Other decoctions, meanwhile, tempt you to fight more aggressively or to mix up your attacks, or even to wait until dusk or dawn for fairly random buffs, which is a great way to draw attention to the day-night cycle and the idea of inhabiting a living, breathing world. Decoctions poison your body so much, you can only really have one or maybe two active, especially if you want to drink healing potions too. Although, if you go the alchemy character build route, you can expand on this (and I recommend you do - it's the unsung super-build!).
Fake Healing Potion - Divinity: Original Sin 2
Nothing could sum the game up better, if you ask me. A fake healing potion! Which, if you drink it, poisons you. Why would you want to drink it? Obviously you wouldn't. But your friends don't know it's fake, do they? All they see is a red potion. They don't know it's red dye combined with poison. "Sure, here's a health potion - see you at the finish line (you wanker)!"
If ever you needed an alchemical reminder of the playfulness of Larian and Divinity: Original Sin 2, the fake healing potion is it. Seriously, go play it - it's really good. And poison your friends while you're at it.
Giant's Toe - The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
It makes me feel queasy thinking about. In Skyrim, you can eat a Giant's Toe. Imagine that. The crunch of the nail, the gristle and the bone. And all the gooey blood. What colour is giant's blood, even? And I wonder what it tastes like. Still, plenty of meat on it - would keep hunger locked up until lunch.
But the Giant's Toe is really only the most grisly example of a wonderful world of alchemy in Skyrim. The problem with highlighting a single potion from it, though, is that the system's so modular. The potions don't have any distinct stories, they're just concoctions of various groups of properties - a statistical pick and mix, if you like.
The fun comes from it being a blindfolded pick and mix, because to begin with, you don't know what the ingredients will do. So you can mix them together to find out, or you can simply pick something up and then eat it, like a crawling baby. "Ooh, what's this?" Chomp! "And this?" Chomp! "Oh no, I'm poisoned!" "Oh how exciting, I'm stronger!" It's a stick-it-in-your-mouth lottery, and the more unusual the ingredient, the more absurd the situation becomes.