Monday, August 25, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Helgen Reborn

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review: Helgen Reborn (version 105.3)

Score: +5/-4
Summary: Sounds like a mod to rebuild Helgen, but not really. Basically a series of fights and dungeon crawls with no involvement in city-(re)building. The mod works better if played at a fairly low level (pre-level 20).
++ Good voice acting as well as good dialogue. Characters feel more like they are actually talking to each other in the cutscenes rather than delivering short lines.
-+ Token story line about The Keepers of Hattu which really goes nowhere and has no bearing on the rebuilding of Helgen. As a standalone side story, however, it has good events and scripted scenes. Overall, too much backstory, not enough content, and no real tie-in to Helgen. It could have happened anywhere.
-- Meaningless series of dungeon crawls to evaluate hired guards. These are just guards, not implausibly elite units that have any business surviving a dungeon crawl where the odds are overwhelming against a "normal" person. And when the Dragonborn is level 50 and they show up in trash armour but ebony or even daedric weapons, it looks really odd.
Using a dungeon crawl mission to evaluate them is also implausible especially when they are apparently not scripted to fight according to their abilities and you cannot give them tactical commands -- there is actually no useful evaluation, especially as a Dragonborn using stealth could clean out a dungeon without them doing anything at all. Finally, their performance report seems to have no consequence, and in any case none of this has any real bearing on rebuilding the city but you have to do it six times, making it a sizeable chunk of the mod's play-time.
For a mod that is supposed to be about rebuilding Helgen, I would have preferred to be more hands-on as it relates to the final status of the city, such as how many guards to hire, and the quality of their gear.
+There is one area that stands out as being quite an interesting (haunted mine) experience and definitely worth a play-through, but it is buggy if you accidentally kill the boss before going through the intended sequence of events.
- The closest the Dragonborn gets to the task of rebuilding Helgen is looking into lumber shipments, but this turns into a series of fights at an arena. Again, very little actual rebuilding or input into the city as far as the Dragonborn is involved.
After the quests are done, you basically wait a few days and the rebuilding continues without you.
+ Pretty decent home for the Dragonborn in the form of a multi-level "Private Tower", with a lot of named storage and many mannequins.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Mighty Magick Artifacts

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Mighty Magick Artifacts v3.16

This is part of the Mighty Magick set of mods, which we will review separately.

REVIEW IN PROGRESS - last edit: 2014-August-26 - Ebony Mail
As we discover more about the mod's changes, we will update this review.

The full description of the changes is not available from the author (who basically addresses it in the Q+A portion of the article/readme about the mod by saying to just throw it away if you don't like it), so from the get-go you are basically going in blind.
Whether you do throw this mod away depends on whether you have encountered the artifacts before, AND probably at which stage of the game you did, AND at what stage of the game you are at now.
Some changes are interesting and feel appropriate. Others feel grossly overpowered. Still others are overpowered only in conjunction with certain character builds.

If you like some of the changes but not others, you can selectively disable them using the Creation Kit: When choose an ESP file to open, you can click on "Details" to list all the records added or changed by the mod. Pressing Delete activates an "Ignore" flag for a particular record.
You do not actually have to fully load the mod into the Creation Kit, and in this particular case you probably do not want to because you may want to reverse your decision, which you can by pressing Delete again to turn off the Ignore flag.

Amulets of the Nine Divines OK in mid-game to late game
This is not too bad if you compare it with some common magical items, BUT in tandem with them, some can be too powerful if you happen on them too early. Here is a summary of the changes:

Divine Vanilla Enchantment Mighty Magick
Akatosh Magicka Regeneration +25% Heath, Magicka, and Stamina Regeneration +50%
Arkay Heath +10 Damage from undead -50%, Damage against undead +50%
Dibella Speech +15 Health +50, Stamina +50
Julianos Magicka +10 Magicka +50, Magicka Regeneration +50%
Kynareth Stamina +10 Animals will neither attack you nor flee from you unless you attack first.
Mara Restoration Spells -10% Cost Restoration spells -15% cost
Stendarr Shields Block +10% Damage Damage against daedra +100%, Shields Block +15% Damage
Talos Shout Cooldown -20% no change
Zenithar Store prices -10% Store prices -15%, Speechcraft +15%
  • The Amulet of Arkay can seem particularly excessive combined with the Mighty Magick Restoration spell Rebuke, which already does a lot of damage specifically against undead at an excessive range. However, in the late game, Draugr have remarkable staying power and Rebuke makes them more manageable if you insist on a magic-using build. The Amulet of Arkay helps with the situation in the late game.
  • The Amulet of Kynareth can make travelling the wildnerness a less annoying experience, so you may want to hold on to that if you just like getting on with the game instead of stopping every few minutes to fight wolves and bears. Where it may feel excessive is because you get the same effect only after a pilgrimage up to High Hrothgar, reading all 10 Emblems.
  • None of this is ultimately relevant in mid-game because you will probably have switched to using the Mighty Magick version of the Gauldur Amulet.
You can easily find the ENCHantment records to set to ignore in the Creation Kit as they have the name of the Divine on them.

Armor of the Old Gods Good
The original Armor set you can get from one of the outcomes of the Forsworn Conspiracy in Markarth.



Piece Original enchantment Artifacts enchantment
Armor Destruction spells cost 15% less to cast Health +75, Magicka +75, Stamina +75.
Boots Sneaking is 20% better Sneaking is 25% better. Stamina regenerates 100% faster.
Gauntlets Bows do 20% more damage 25% more damage with One-Handed attacks, Two-Handed attacks, and Bows.
Helmet Increases your Magicka by 30 points Magic Resistance +15%. Destruction spells 15% stronger. Conjuration spells cost 15% less to cast.

The Artifacts version makes the armor much less specialized, though possibly at the cost of some flavour, if you believe the original enchantments are meant to reflect the Forsworn as guerilla fighters. The enchantments are not over-the-top and somewhat on par with what you can enchant yourself; plus there are some conveniences such as 25% more damage with all three weapon types on the same armor piece.
Compared to the original, the enchantments in the Mighty Magick Artifacts mod are more likely to be useful for a longer time. Depending on your level when you get the armor set, the original enchantments may be markedly inferior to what you have.

Dawnbreaker Overpowered till mid-game
The "Meridia's Retribution" effect of Dawnbreaker will cause undead to explode with a Bane of the Undead effect if they die within 10 seconds of being struck. In Mighty Magick this is unchanged. What is improved is the fire damage per hit: From 10 to 50. In the very early game you can one-shot quite a few targets. It is still useful until unavoidably fast levelling in the vanilla game causes enemies to level up with you (especially since you can't get Meridia's Beacon until level 10 to start the quest).
Not a bad change, and one that makes the weapon fairly useful in the later game when 10 fire damage is token. With 50 fire damage, Dawnbreaker will continue to be a viable choice in the late game without having to switch to it solely for Meridia's Retribution.

Ebony Blade Overpowered till late game
Mighty Magick adds Soul Trapping and a chance of Paralysis. Which is not as bad as it sounds because the deadliest effect (Paralysis) is also on the vanilla Chillrend and you can custom enchant it on weapons as well.
The reason these additions can make Ebony Blade overpowered is because you can pick up the sword at level 20--which you can attain unavoidably too fast unless you take severe steps in slowing down your levelling. Chances are, when you get the Ebony Blade, it will be your best weapon and you won't find anything worth switching for a very long time, if ever: As weapons go, the Mighty Magick version has three of the most useful enchantments: the vanilla Absorb Health, and the additional Paralysis and Soul Trap.

The amount of effort to obtain the Ebony Blade is not relevant compared to powering it up. The Ebony Blade is meant to corrupt the user by enticing them to murder the people who trust them. The theme of the weapon, therefore, should be the temptation to increase the blade's power. For that to actually work, it must not be so powerful to begin with that you wouldn't bother playing Mephala's game of murder -- and the Paralysis ruins this since you can get 5 seconds of paralysis right from when you acquire the Ebony Blade.
Nevertheless, Mighty Magick does make the Ebony Blade at least worth getting in the first place.

Ebony Mail OK
The vanilla version provides Muffle and an aura poison damage smoke effect when sneaking or in combat. The inconvenience of the smoke and the weak Muffle effect easily obtained by spell or enchantment makes the vanilla Ebony Mail a weak choice in the late game when you can choose your own custom enchantment on a strong armor.
The Mighty Magick version provides Muffle, +50% Sneak, 35% Magic Resistance, and melee attackers take the same damage they inflict. Considering that you cannot normally acquire the Ebony Mail until level 30, even 35% Magic Resistance is not excessive. The damage mirroring effect is interesting but since it doesn't actually block any damage, it is not as excessive as it seems. Muffle and Sneak bonuses are also not as excessive because you can fairly easily duplicate or exceed it with Invisibility magic or potions -- especially by the time you are level 30+.
The Mighty Magick version makes it one of the premier choices for heavy armour, and on par with the Mighty Magick Savior's Hide light armour alternative. Since you can get it only at level 30+ and by then are already heading into a late-game character build, it is not a bad upgrade of the original.

The Gauldur Amulet OK in mid to late game.
The vanilla amulet simply combines the three separate amulets into one, for +30 Health, +30 Magicka, +30 Stamina. Mighty Magick makes this amulet very worthwhile to get just for the +25% bonus to Magic power or duration (depending on school). On  top of that, it gives +25% Resist Magic. It is overall very strong and good for all builds. The bonus may seem excessive in the early game but commonplace later on.
You do lose the specific benefits of a higher magic pool (casting more Magicka-expensive spells), Health (more survivability), and Stamina (more running and power attacks), but +30 to the three stats becomes quite meaningless in the late game, whereas the percentile bonuses of the Mighty Magick Gauldur Amulet keep it relevant throughout (except Resist Magic, which bumps against the engine cap of 85%).

The Mace of Molag Bal Good
The original Mace enchantment is 25 Stamina Damage, 25 Magicka Damage, and Soul Trap for 3 seconds. The Artifacts version makes it more useful to have at 36 Health Damage, 36 Stamina Damage, 36 Magicka Damage, and Soul Trap for 5 seconds.
Without the additional Health damage, the Mace takes a back seat to most weapons except those dedicated to mage-slaying.

Saarthal Amulet Good
Changes the spell cost reduction from 3% to 10%. This is quite a nice change because it actually makes the amulet worth wearing in the early game. The Saarthal Amulet was probably not meant to be artifact-level, and this improvement doesn't suddenly make it artifact level. Also, if you are using the Mighty Magick - Fortify Magic School Enchantment and Alchemy Reversed module, then it is one of the few permanent ways to reduce the magicka cost of spells. It would have been nice to incorporate this into the Gauldur Amulet.

Saviour's Hide Overpowered until late game
The original Saviour's Hide provides +15% Resist Magic and +50% Resist Poision. The Mighty Magick version provides +50% Magic Resistance, 100% Poison and Disease Resistance, and +50% movement speed. This is a huge boost, especially if you are specifically going against poison-using enemies that have no other attacks.
Eventually you will hit the 85% Magick Resistance cap, but a concentrated +50% Resist Magic bonus here frees up your other enchantment slots for other things. It definitely makes this cuirass a solid choice for never choosing anything else to wear.
The movement speed bonus can possibly be unbalancing because of the tactical advantages, but it also lets you have a reasonable chance of evading some of the faster animals, such as Sabre Cats and Bears.

Staff of Corruption Overpowered
The vanilla staff does 20 or 50 damage with dreams. The Mighty Magick version does 100 or 200, plus an explosive (area effect) Fear effect, which is also applied to dream-stealing, which means when you try to steal dreams you end up assaulting people and making them hostile and will have the guards after you.

I feel that the worst aspect of this change is the now hostile dream stealing, which greatly changes the feel of how this staff works.
A more moderate change would have been to up the damage only of the dream-empowered shots, and also limit the fear effect to dream-empowered shots. With Mighty Magick, you can still do 100 damage with the staff normally, and the Mighty Magick mod gives all artifacts unlimited shots without recharging -- which is pretty potent on its own, and possibly overpowering in the early game considering how easy it is to get the Staff. Throughout the game 100 damage, a fast direct-fire projectile, and a fast fire rate makes this staff a dragon killer.
You can mod the staff somewhat easily:
  • To make the fear effect work only on enemies and when there are dreams stored is apparently NOT as easy as copying conditions from Magic > Magic Effect > "DA16Skull04WakingMajor" to the fear effect in the Enchantment entry for the Staff. Instead, I recommend just deleting that magic effect from the staff's enchantment and living without it.
  • To change the damage done when there are no dreams stored, adjust the Magnitude for the effect "Psychic Agony: Health". I recommend a value of 20 and reducing the area to 5, the same as the DreamSteal effect.
  • To change the damage done when there are dreams stored, adjust the Magnitude for the effect "Waking Nightmare: Health". I recommend a value of 100.
We ended up modding the staff in a more complicated way into something with increased utility instead of increased power.
  • 20 damage or 50 damage with dreams, with area 5 or 15 (as vanilla Staff of Corruption). Left it as 0 charge requirement.
    • Even at 50 damage, it is a potent dragon killer unless you are in the mid to late game or use a mod so dragons have much more Health.
  • Soul Trap with area 15. Due to a bug or unforeseen scripting issue, when a soul is captured the staff will also reduce the dream count by 1.
  • No effect on Undead.
  • Changed projectile attributes:
    • Speed 4000 -> 400,000 -- Makes it very good against dragons in flight because it is basically instant
    • Range 2048 -> 4000
    • Collision radius 10 -> 5
    • Impact Force 5.0 -> 0

Monday, July 28, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - The Secret of Dragonhead

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
The Secret of Dragonhead (version 3.0)

Score: -4
Summary: Go from one room to another and fight levelled enemies. Waste of time since you really don't need to download a mod to get challenging fights. Just rush straight into a giants' camp.
- Featureless rooms. Early rooms have some trash. Later it's just corridors or rooms or caves. Even if they cut and pasted fully-decorated rooms from vanilla Skyrim they would have done better to make the environment interesting, but even that has problems because...
- Implausible layout. What starts as a fort quickly descends into caves and Nordic ruins impossibly deep down. The feeling is "WTF?" But if you are still with the mod more than fifteen minutes, then you really don't care about interestingness or story. You just like meaningless fighting, which is what this mod is about.
- Boring - Just one fight after another, and in each region you pretty much get the same enemies.
- Time wasting - From long winding corridors with nothing at all, to a huge maze filled with nothing but which forces you to run around looking for keys.

This mod lacks all of the basics of even a decent dungeon crawl for treasure. People complain a lot about vanilla Skyrim, but it is really actually very good and tries hard to give you an interesting experience at every location. This mod lacks a lot of basics to hold interest.
  • Rooms that are featureless make them not just visually boring but lacking.
  • Layouts that are implausible also work harder to hold your attention and fight against our natural tendency to make sense of things. There are ways to transition into implausible locations but it's not here.
  • There is no story. At the start you get a journal about soldiers taking the fort, only to be overrun by Forsworn. After that the rest just really doesn't make sense.
  • The mod is basically a linear sequence of fights with monsters just waiting to fight. Vanilla Skyrim is like that too, but it is disguised in various ways, such as having a story, laying out a place so that it looks like it has purpose or reason to be there, and having NPCs have a schedule so they look like they aren't just on sentry duty 24/7.