Thursday, May 29, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Qaxes Winterhold Rebuild

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Qaxes Winterhold Rebuild v2

The mod author added the disclaimer "DISCLAIMER: This mod may not jibe with your ideals on lore, immersion, or normalcy", but nevertheless this mod was hugely disappointing. So, take the disclaimer seriously.

There are three main parts: Rebuilding Winterhold, the additions to Winterhold after the rebuilding, and the optional Home that can be purchased.

Winterhold is rebuilt in stages, but you do NOT get to participate in this. Instead, you are sent on meaningless FedEx type "go fetch" quests. Each time you complete one, the rebuilding advances to the next stage. There is a lame attempt to tie in the quests to the rebuilding, but it is basically cosmetic. The lack of a hands-on approach, combined with the boring quests, make this part very disappointing. Even the radiant go-here-kill-that "quests" in vanilla Skyrim are more interesting because each location you are sent to (assuming you've never been there) is interesting.
If the author had just rebuilt Winterhold from the start, that would have saved me time from playing through their boring quests.

The additions to Winterhold are over-the-top. The expanded store lists are nice, but the rest feels overdone/outlandish, from the amount of money stores have to the actual store layout and contents. We're not talking guns and spaceships, but the stores feel too richly stocked for such an unpopular/low-traffic location in Skyrim. Plus there's a female dremora follower / storekeeper -- WTF?
If I wanted a cheat mod for buying and selling, I can get one and still leave the rest of Skyrim uninterrupted by something so jarringly out of place. I would have preferred a better blending in with the rest of Skyrim. Huge stores of magic goods would have been better at the College and especially considering how the locals don't like magic to begin with. Overall, the contents of the new stores was very out of place.

The home is actually quite good, but hampered by the available space so that it feels quite claustrophobic on the inside. Also, the follower in the house needs more introduction because you just bought what you thought would be an empty house and there's someone poking around in your basement? WTH?

Skyrim Mod Review - 3D NPC v3.05

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Interesting NPCs (3D NPCs, v3.05)

One of the best things about this mod is that it uninstalls easily. It is HUGE to download because of the tons of voiceovers for each NPC it adds. The packaging makes it easy to handle once you have actually downloaded it.
For this reason, unless you have difficulty downloading the mod in the first place, it's definitely worth a try.

I will say now that I hate it.

But I hope this review isn't going to be just a rant. Rather, it will be about the type of player who might like it and the type of player who might hate it.
An analogy: Some people LOVE fast travel and quest markers. Others hate fast travel and insist on playing without quest markers. There's no right or wrong -- it all depends on preferences and what you value.

I personally value my real time. I play Skyrim and Elder Scrolls games to be part of the action. So, things I don't like to do in Skyrim include:
  • Reading books that have no plot or quest value.
  • Sitting my character down and watching her eat dinner and drink mead.
  • Randomly pick pocketing people for no reason.
  • Crafting a cartload of gold ring of waterbreathing from iron ore and petty soul gems just to level up Alteration magic, Smithing, and Enchanting.
  • Taking a half hour to kill a level 40 random encounter with an 8th level character who's just trying to get to the Shrine of Azura to start the Black Star quest.
If some or all of these things also irk you, then you might not like some of the NPCs added by 3D NPCs. Not all of them -- but that's a problem too. Without getting spoilers from the website, it's hard to know who's worthwhile talking to and who isn't. Pretty much every NPC I sampled was irritating to talk to, for various reasons:
  • They wasted my time.
  • They were very long-winded.
  • They were insulting, condescending, stupid, or had some other similar trait that made me NOT want to talk to them or listen to them.
Your own dialogue choices are touted as "roleplaying opportunities" with a range of response motivations, so you might be thinking of the Paragon/Neutral/Renegade dialogue scheme in Mass Effect 2 and 3. However, the actual implementation is nothing like it. The responses are very specific and sometimes outlandish or foolish that you wouldn't choose them anyway. Also, negative responses are invariably just ways for the NPC to insult you or make you feel stupid. There is no actual "roleplaying" here since you can't actually react to what they say. The NPC always gets the last word and the overall feeling is frustration rather than interaction.

In comparison, consider the vanilla game character Cicero in Delayed Burial. The character is clearly a fool. But you do NOT feel frustrated after interacting with him because for all his apparent idiocy, he is not long-winded and does not waste your time. Nevertheless the experience of him being loony comes through. In some ways, this is precisely because there isn't a futile attempt to "roleplay" the experience of talking to him -- he presents a mission, and you can choose to accept or not.

Nevertheless, you may persevere in talking to them because you think this is an Elder Scrolls game and they will eventually offer you some sort of quest or task -- In Oblivion, if you did every quest, you would have gone to every location and spoken to or interacted with every named NPC in the game.

3D NPCs does not do this. There are quests, but commonly NPCs do NOT offer quests. They just talk AT you. Sometimes, they have stories which might be interesting, but that is the same as reading a book in Skyrim -- you either want to read the book content, or you think it is a waste of time because you are not advancing a plot or quest.

Nevertheless, if you have the patience to sift through the NPCs, the mod does offer some good things:
  • Quests: If you are just looking for quests -- i.e., actions you can actually participate in rather than just be talked AT by annoying NPCs -- there is wiki page that lists the quests and how they are started. Using this will greatly trim down the number of meaningless conversations provided by the mod.
  • More bard songs.
  • A chattier companion -- Some of the more detailed NPCs who can be followers have "bonus conversations", similar to squad members in Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect who occasionally say something or have event-specific dialogue. If you play Skyrim solo, then this will be useless to you, of course.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Skyrim Mod - gq Storage (with ingredient effects identification)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod:
GQ Storage
Download version 2014-June-9
  • Equip an Armor item called "[STORAGE]" to access remote containers for storage. The item automatically unequips.
  • The "INGR" container automatically identifies all effects of any ingredients put in. If you do not want that functionality, store ingredients in a different container.
  • The "SELL" option begins barter with a merchant with 30000 gold and who will buy stolen items.
  • The armor item has no mesh/texture, so do not drop it. Otherwise you will be unable to pick it up and you will not only have cluttered your game world but you will need to get yourself another through the console.
To get the item, use the console:
  1. First, search for the ID with this command: help "[STORAGE]" 4
  2. Use console command player.additem <ID> 1 to add the item.
When changing to a different version, remove all items from all containers first and save the game. Then delete all files from previous versions before copying in new ones.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Skyrim - How to Set Up a New Game

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - How to Set Up a New Game

Skyrim obviously came out a long time ago, but now is actually a good time to get into the game. DLCs are out and mods have stabilized. Some complex mods are out as well -- basically, tons of resources from the modding community are available and in their final release.

This post is NOT going to talk about what mod to get, but rather how to set up a new Skyrim game. We'll talk about some unconventional things to do that you may not have thought of before.

The Community Uncapper is highly recommended, but we'll talk about that in another, more comprehensive post on setting up your game and how to play Skyrim.

Clean New Save Game

The purpose of this step is to basically skip the long cart-ride scene and give you a save game you can re-use whenever you want to start a new game. Also, the cart ride is actually quite fragile. Mods that change Nav Mesh entries have a chance of screwing it up.
Deactivate all mods. Start a new game with just vanilla Skyrim. Meshes and textures and other overrides do not have to be removed -- just don't load any .esm and .esp files other than what shipped with Skyrim.
Start a new game and let the scripted scene run until the game makes an Autosave. This happens shortly before the roll call. If you look in your save game directory, it indicates that the save game is for a "Prisoner" -- the game has NOT yet done character generation.

Exit the game and look for your save game directory. Make a copy of this autosave and keep it safe somewhere. Use a copy of it whenever you want to restart Skyrim, so you can skip the cart ride and go straight to character generation.
Now, you can enable all your mods and load the Autosave to proceed.

Initial Skill Settings
There are many tips on how to quickly level your crafting skills to 100 in order to start exploiting the crafting system. My recommendation is NOT to do that. Instead, just give yourself a 100 skill in certain non-combat skills. The two mains reasons are:
  • To not waste your real time doing tedious, repetitive tasks and instead focus on getting ahead in the game.
  • To not inflate your level too quickly and thereby miss out on the experience of level progression and its effects on the game world.
If you are serious about doing everything manually, then once you get to Riverwood, you can just stay there and level Alchemy, Pickpocketing, Smithing, and Speech to 100. The key to this is chopping wood. You can chop firewood indefinitely, making it an unlimited source of income. From this, you can buy all the supplies you need and pay off any bounty you may incur from practising your pickpocketing. It will probably take you several days of real time, however.
Instead, just short cut the whole process with the console: E.g., player.setav speechcraft 100
While you are at it, you may want to give yourself a lot of money and focus on the things money can't buy, like making your own potions or improving your weapons and armour.

Using SetAV changes the skill level without contributing to your level progress. Here are some considerations and alternatives to setting skills to 100:
  • Alchemy
    • You obviously start with the ability to make better potions. But without Alchemy Perks yet, this is actually not too bad since:
      • The basic potions (Restore Health and Restore Magicka) are already at the higher end and there are lot of them.
      • Frostbite Venom poison you can get from Frost Spiders, which are everywhere anyway, are on par with what you can make at Alchemy 15 and no Alchemy Perks.
  • Lockpicking
    • Levelling lockpicking to 100 will only help you pick locks but it is still very time consuming. In lieu of setting your skill to 100, you can instead get this mod to show you where to put your lockpick and then avoid needlessly picking locks to level up.
    • You may still want to set the skill to 100 anyway so you won't inflate your character level with Lockpicking skill levels.
  • Pickpocketing
    • You can save yourself the frustration of fines, jail, or reloading when you practice pickpocketing to level it.
    • Instead of going crazy and stealing from everyone you meet with your 100 skill, you should instead NOT steal from anyone unless it is quest related to do so -- again, focus on progressing in the stories of Skyrim rather than uselessly sneaking around.
    • An alternative to giving yourself 100 skill is to tweak the game settings and ensure that pickpocketing never fails. That way, you can occasionally get a level contribution from pickpocketing and still stay focussed on advancing quests.
  • Smithing
    • This probably has the most visible impact since you can cheaply add a big bonus to your weapon or armor. You will either have to avoid doing that, do it in moderation, or ignore it. I recommend just ignoring it, especially as none of it will help you against elemental effects anyway, and it won't be long before you are being fried by mages and dragons and anyone with an enchanted weapon.
    • You could theoretically open up the whole crafting tree, and if you can get your hands on the proper ores or ingots, you can start crafting vastly superior gear--You just won't have the perk points to do that right at the very start. And probably you won't have the superior metals for quite a while before you can craft higher-tier gear even if you did have perks.
  • Speech
    • You will obviously do better with merchants, but since money is basically free from chopping and selling firewood, that is actually inconsequential. Want money? Use a console command to give it to yourself. You have the side effect of not having to bother sifting through a lot of loot.
    • Some quests require Persuasion checks, but there is invariably another way to do it, such as Bribery or doing a minor task. In most cases, the task is more interesting than just passing a Persuasion check. In some cases, Persuasion checks automatically fail anyway.