Monday, October 25, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - The Lost Spires

Mod Review - The Lost Spires (v1.4)
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Overall: All-new graphics makes for a fresh visual experience that enhances a simple but well-told story. The Fantasy Art of Computer Games has a gallery of extensive screenshots of this mod.

Why You Would Download This: You want a problem-free story and quest mod that works and gives you a good story experience for your time investment. A fresh visual experience that is not too out of place in Oblivion. Collectable and useful items that make the mod worthwhile to keep in your mod load order.

Probably the first thing that will attract your attention to The Lost Spires is the new artwork, and that will not fail to disappoint. As you progress through The Lost Spires, you will see more of it, either in architecture or items, and that keeps the experience fresh. There are all new graphics and full voiceovers, which already sets it ahead of the vast majority of mods out there.

Without giving too much away, the story in The Lost Spires is essentially a simple one, but the overall pace and structure is nicely told. From just the visual experience of some early encounters you can guess that ultimately you will uncover some ancient evil and from just general expectation you will expect a showdown -- and this is essentially how it plays out.
You may ultimately not find this not particularly interesting after you've played it, but the experience in between is what counts. There are interesting plot twists; and the various quests all come together so that there aren't any superfluous quests, and loose ends are tied up. (Although there are a couple of optional non-journal side-trips like the Malevolent Zinj and The Soothsayer which aren't tied in).
It isn't the overarching story that shines in The Lost Spires -- as said, the concept is very simple and predictable -- it's the journey that is interesting and exciting.

On the official Lost Spires site, the mod is said to have taken an estimated 1500 hours plus post-release maintenance, making it a very large project for comparatively little story.
What bugs exist are typically obscure and the official site does list various workarounds, but you will probably find that the mod will essentially work flawlessly. There are a few common contingencies that are not covered, but these are generally minor, and you may well not encounter them yourself.
The Lost Spires proves that OBSE (Oblivion Script Extender) and clever scripting aren't necessary for a great mod that delivers a story well told and a great gameplay experience.

For example, it is possible to find the tomb of Aeon IV in the Lost Labyrinth well before you are quested to do so, and if you bring the souvenir to the archaeologist who is interested in the legend of Aeon IV, there will be no response whatsover.
However, if you install the mod and play it right away, this will be a non-issue if you simply follow the (linear) story.
The most common workaround is, of course, to lock an area with "requires a key", but as exploring these areas beforehand is harmless, this is not strictly necessary.

A few typos and possible oversights (e.g., gigantic crabs still yield only one unit of crab meat -- why?) continue to exist, but they do not affect the playability of the mod.

In addition to a worthwhile story to play through, plus key encounters that are quite challenging (depending on your gear and your willingness to cheese), one of the excellent qualities of The Lost Spires is in the usefulness of the items you can get. These aren't overpowered like many mods are tempted to do, but instead aim for sheer usefulness.

For example, The Lost Spires is so far the only mod we have seen that "dares" to use Weakness to Magic in weapons. A weapon that features the magic stacking power of Weakness to Magic can trivialize many encounters, even against creatures with thousands of Health points. Because The Lost Spires can (at a mid to high level) present you with the same (e.g., In the Primeval Hollow), and at high levels you can encounter a similar situation elsewhere (e.g., if you play Martigen's Monster Mod at level 50+), a magic stacking weapon is probably your best chance of getting through these encounters in a reasonable amount of time.
We therefore feel that it is appropriate for The Lost Spires to give you such a mid- to high-level weapon for a mid- to high-level mod. The weapons are themselves not truly optimized so you can still make better ones on your own, but still useful enough that you don't have to and can enjoy wielding their unique models if you prefer.

Other treasures address some of the shortcomings in vanilla Oblivion, such as spellmaking and item enchanting away from the Arcane University. If you have a spell system overhaul like Supreme Magicka, you can have the equivalent in a spell, which makes it not as interesting. But if you don't, then The Lost Spires gives you such handy things, as well as a way to get Varla and Welkynd Stones (which, in vanilla Oblivion, are finite and non-respawning).

Still other treasures have no function in themselves, but cater to collectors and characters who like to decorate their lairs. In short, The Lost Spires has something for everyone in terms of not just loot, but loot that is worth keeping the mod in your load order even after you have finished the storyline.

Here are our own tips for The Lost Spires:
  • Focus on playing the mod through from start to finish. There's very little wait time in between quests, and you can even use teleportation spells (such as SN Mark and Recall). The treasures you get are not overpowered, and useful throughout the rest of your Oblivion play experience.
  • Use the third person view to help you see falling objects. In the later warlock fights and the final fight, falling blocks are scripted to magically appear and fall over you no matter where you are.
  • Get Azura's Star for your magic-stacking weapon. Every Mages Guild has a spell with Soul Trap as an effect.
  • Lord Pratal can be bypassed with invisibility. You do not need to kill him, and you can't loot his body anyway.
  • Pick up rewards from guild members -- especially Teav (hint hint) -- as soon as they become available. You need to use the dialogue topic "Reward" with the quest giver in order to get the key.
  • Feed the Zinj diamonds and pearls (other jewels are acceptable, however). You need to grab the jewel and move it into its mouth. It will drop into the Zinj and disappear with a "swallowing sound". You won't get any feedback until you give it enough jewels.
  • If you plan on keeping The Lost Spires in your load order and using the Archaeology Guild as your base, you may want the third-party AI add-on to further flesh out the characters. This mod gives the various NPCs a schedule so they eat, read, sleep, etcetera.