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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Into the Depths

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Into the Depths (version 1.3)
Original German Version

Score: +3/-5 but worth the short trip to experience it if you can overlook the drawbacks.
Summary: Linear survival horror experience. Just keep walking straight ahead and experience what the mod author has planned. Utterly linear, no real choices to make.

++ It's actually a pretty good horror experience. Not super-scary, but good atmosphere and use of sudden events. Token fighting, which is not as good as no fighting for a horror mod, but not so overused as to make it feel like a dungeon crawl.
- Various areas have holes in the map, where there isn't an object to properly plug the hole. Not that big a deal IF you play the mod the way it is intended -- that is, just keep walking straight ahead. There is nothing special to find, no secret items to pick up.
- Disappointing ending that's just combat.
- Unclear how you actually "win". Might be timed survival at the ending but it is not clear. You just get teleported out and told that the experience is over.
- Horrible English translations. Seriously, could no one help the author with a German to English translation that has decent spelling at least?
- Stop interpreting everything for me. Example: Even before you have finished reading a diary / book / journal, a pop-up summarizes it and tells you what your character thinks of it. What is the point of actually having the book in-game? Just let us read it and form our own conclusions / have our own experience.
Useful reward choice. My recommendation is to just uninstall the mod after and console in the equivalent vanilla Skyrim item. That keeps your mod list lighter and your game world cleaner.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Moonpath to Elsweyr

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Moonpath to Elsweyr (version 9.5) + official patch version 1.1

Score: +3/-4
Summary: Short missions in desert / jungle locations. Recommended level of 10 is too low if you are going at the enemies directly as some enemies in the very first area spawned at level 25. Radically different environment/terrain offers a refreshing break from Skyrim. Otherwise just a series of linear go-there-kill-that missions.
++ Nicely decorated and laid out areas, some quite interesting in layout. Visually very good.
- Many unintelligible voice overs, plus voice overs that don't match the subtitles.
- Barely any story to the quests. Each location / "quest" is basically a small to medium battle map.
+- Layout allows for some really cheesy stealth or terrain-exploit action. Not sure whether this was intentional or if there was not enough play-testing. For example, you can stand on a raised portion of land in a swamp and just shoot at the masses of lizard creatures who can't hop/climb the short distance up to the terrace and get at you.
- Some buggy monster issues such as not being able to hit the biggest of the giant spiders from behind with a dagger, but you can hit it from the front. And monsters have a retreat AI which makes them weaker because they can't run away and heal, they just run away and maybe come back later to finish getting themselves killed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to Play Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - How to Play Skyrim

Previously, we talked about how to set up a new Skyrim game without mods.
In this post, we will discuss how to set up a game with a few core mods, and how to actually play Skyrim.

Yes, how to play Skyrim.

We're not going to talk about power-levelling or various exploits or in what sequence to do side quests to get your character powerful quickly. We're not going to talk about the opposite, either. We're going to talk about how to play Skyrim in a sane way.

Before we begin, mentally wipe away everything you have read about how to play Skyrim, especially any levelling tricks on forums and wikis. Honestly, they are rubbish.
Also forget about all the complaints you have heard concerning how the developers set up Skyrim. Contrary to what a lot of people think, it is NOT rubbish. If you focus on the main quest at Adept difficulty, you will actually have a decent time that is not so challenging that you constantly fail / get killed, but not a total cakewalk either, unless you are experienced and know cheap strategies or have foresight from having played certain quests before, etcetera... Remember that developers must create a game that caters to the lowest common denominator -- that is, someone who's never picked up a video game in their life. The problem is, the game can't evolve when you have. But that is not the developer's fault -- That's a consequence of the realities of marketing.

Before we get into a dissection of the game, we'll first talk about some principles and concepts and assumptions involved in the choices.

Real Time
By Real Time, I mean time in the real world, as opposed to time in the game. The game has accelerated time -- timescale 20 -- where 20 seconds ticks by even though everything appears to act in real time, and even though in real life, 1 second ticked by. If it takes you 12 minutes to make a sandwich, the game would have progressed 240 minutes, or 4 hours.
This concept is important to bring up because Real Time is precious. Do you really want to do something awfully repetitive for 2 hours of Real Time? When a strategy suggests your character sit around forging hundreds of Iron Daggers to level up Smithing, all that costs Real Time, and I recommend you think very carefully about whether you want to spend time doing that or spend time having an interesting experience adventuring about Skyrim.

Balance versus Overpowered versus Difficulty
Often there's talk about balancing races or whether certain ability combinations are "balanced" or not. Skyrim is a single player game, so any such talk is really a complete waste of time. What matters is your personal experience of the game. Are you having fun? If you like Bayonetta Automatic Mode where you basically press buttons to advance to a win, that is perfectly fine. If you like Dark Souls style constant-death mode, that is fine too. Neither is better than the other. What matters is that in exchange for your precious Real Time, you are having the experience you want.

Therefore, the only real consideration is whether something is Overpowered or not, relative to your game experience. When something is Overpowered, it tends to change the sense of difficulty/challenge you want in your game. When it skews your sense of a need/want for character development, that is a sign that something could be overpowered. When you think about how you want to develop your character, and what mods to add, this should be your consideration.
The vanilla difficulty settings provide damage multipliers are a a very clumsy way to deal with an overpowered game. There are subtler, more organic ways which we will discuss as part of this guide.

Like the previous Elder Scrolls games Morrowind and Oblivion, Skyrim can be a very easy game if you are ready and willing to exploit the vast number of options available to you. Which leads us to...

Skyrim has a ton of choices, enough to accommodate many hybrid play styles. Whether you want to be a straight fighter, straight mage, or something in between, you can, with varying degrees of difficulty and depending on what handicaps you are willing to take (sometimes subconsciously). If you are willing to drink a lot of potions, that is possible. If you refuse to use them because they feel like a cheat, that is possible too. Plus, you can raise or lower the difficulty to compensate for your expertise or chosen handicaps.
Therefore, guides that say you "must" or even "should" do certain things are suspect. They surely recommend something that is an advantage, but stick to the character you want to play -- stick to the game experience that you want to have and that will give you the most satisfaction in exchange for your Real Time.

Some of what I suggest will also be based on my personal choices and play styles, so think carefully before implementing them.

Difficulty Slider
You can play the game on Legendary difficulty right from the tutorial (escape from Helgen) if you know what you are doing and are willing to be cheesy. The problem is, you start having to use cheap tactics too often because you can barely to any damage to anyone (on Legendary). Even a backstab with your best dagger might not do significant damage. And likely you will be relying on a Flame Atronach not just as a tank/distraction but as a primary damage dealer. If you want to spend upwards of a half hour to an hour using guerilla tactics to kill a dungeon boss with toothpicks, go ahead and play on Legendary. Moreover, some encounters might even be outright impossible, such as Trolls that can regenerate as fast or faster than you can hurt them.
In the early game, a bandit of approximately equal level in a straight-up fight has a 50/50 chance against you. While this may feel reasonable, in the mid-game you will still have an unreasonably hard time hunting game animals like goats because the difficulty slider doesn't discriminate against what should or should not be harder.

Instead of turning up the difficulty from the start, use it to adjust to how much you have optimized your character. There are so many options out there that it is easy to become too powerful, if you take the time to find / develop / exploit those options. Once you do, you can turn up the difficulty. The difficulty slider in effect rebalances your game while letting you have all the powers and toys you can accumulate, if you like to play that way.

I feel this is the "correct" way to use the difficulty slider. Often people complain the game is too easy. But it is meant to be that way most of the time. The world is large enough that you don't need to be bothered every two minutes by making every encounter with a wolf or a mudcrab into a life-threatening struggle. Maybe in the early game, but that gets tiresome quickly. By level 20+, you should be focussing on stronger enemies and moving smoothly through the game, with the occasional tough boss encounter. Weaker enemies will still appear so you don't lose your sense of your character having improved. Stronger enemies appear occasionally and your focus shifts to them. Meaningless random encounters become low-threat diversions.
This philosophy to encounters is similar to the one adopted by Dungeons & Dragons in the 3rd and 4th editions, where encounters have roles and are scaled so that the story keeps the hands-on excitement but also keeps up the pace.
What many people don't realize is that Skyrim intentionally starts you as a hero. Despite the humble prologue, you are NOT meant to be just another commoner in the same way low-level bandits are. All encounters between you and your mission objective are meant to be surmountable without significant effort because the emphasis is on story. This is why Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion introduced the concept of Fast Travel, which a lot of people hate because they want "realism". What they forget is the savings in Real Time when you just want to advance the story.
If you insist on playing on Legendary difficulty right from the start, however, there is nothing wrong if you like that frustrating experience (or the experience of succeeding by being creatively crafty or knowledgeable about the game).

Alternatively, instead of using the clumsy damage multipliers of the difficulty slider, you can adjust your starting character. At level 1, you have 100 Health, 100 Magicka, 100 Stamina. You can use the console command player.setav Health 50 for example, to reduce the starting values closer to what a low-level bandit has. This raises the difficulty, but still allows you to use tactics to compensate, and it also keeps the effect of damage reasonable as you can still sneak attack and expect them to die, and you don't have to dual cast Fire bolt twice just to kill a deer.

Yet another way to increase difficulty is to increase the level contribution of skill improvements. The Community Uncapper allows you to easily do this by changing the INI file settings.
When you improve a skill, it adds a certain amount of progress to attaining the next character level, which in turn causes the game world to increase in level and it unlocks more dangerous enemies. If you increase the amount skills contribute to levelling, you would get a higher level than normal with less skill -- theoretically less competent, but facing tougher opponents. (To slow down the rate at which you level, you can use Community Uncapper INI settings to reduce the rate at which you train skills.)
A less organic way of doing this is to just jump your character level. At level 1, use the command player.setlevel 10 and new game areas will be generated or reset at level 10, although you otherwise have the stats of a level 1 character.
The main drawback here is that some things are level-dependent instead of skill dependent, such as the level of your summonned creatures. You may end up relying on this loophole too much.

Character Creation
Characters are made by choosing sex (which really has no bearing on the game, possibly deliberately so) and race. In previous games there was also a step of choosing profession where you picked starting skill bonuses, but in all likelihood the developers saw that players were doing so much modding and custom builds that this was essentially cosmetic anyway.
The only real choice here is Race. As mentioned before, any talk of balance is really rubbish -- Ignore all of that. Some people might say Bretons and their 25% Magic Resistance are overpowered, but that sort of talk is a waste of time in a single-player game. What matters is the experience you want to have playing the race. Each race is supposed to have distinguishing traits that make playing them a different experience.
Racial bonuses to skills are largely irrelevant as the bonuses are small and ultimately you will end up mostly levelling those skills that suit how you play the game anyway. Also, since skills all cap at 100 for all races, any sort of bonus doesn't truly distinguish your race. Only your appearance and your powers do.

As for powers, many powers also only weakly distinguish your character. A Breton's 25% Magic Resistance will top at 85% like everyone else's, and getting to 85% Magic Resistance in Skyrim is fairly easy anyway. What is more of a distinguishing factor are weaknesses, but those have been removed in Skyrim. If you like to change the Timescale to 1 (or some other value significantly less than 20), then daily powers are also basically worthless since the duration between re-use then becomes very long.

Your race and appearance has basically no significant in-game effect compared to choosing some other race or the other gender. This in effect releases you from too many complications involved in the choice. But you will be staring at this character a lot, so you may decide to choose solely on that.

Once you have selected the cosmetics of your character, Standing Stones are the next layer of character customization. When your character gets out of Helgen, you may want to short-cut getting to the standing stones by using the console command TMM 1 to enable all map markers. When you are done, use TMM 0 to hide all map markers (including the ones discovered previously), so doing this early in the game is better.

Playing the Game

You can stand around chopping wood as much as you like, then haul the load to be sold to the nearest timber mill. This means unlimited money, albeit very slowly. There are two ways to handle this:
  • Short-cut it: Use console yourself in a lot of money with the command player.additem F 100000 (in this case it gives you 100000 gold).
  • Don't do it: Why spend your precious Real Time chopping wood? Do a little for crafting supplies or to get a little bit of spare cash, as it was probably intended.
Carry Weight
The only real reason to want more encumbrance is if you are a hoarder. As mentioned before, any sort of money shortage is really illusory. As for adventuring, you can just throw things away except for a few potions and you will still do fine, unless you have taken on deliberate handicaps or turned up the difficulty a lot.
If you want to hoard things, instead of messing around with carry weights, just get a portable storage mod such as GQ Storage. You won't even need a buyable home.

Crafting Skills
You actually don't need the crafting skills since the potions, weapons, and armour you can get or buy keep pace with your level. For these skills to be of any real benefit, you need to get the perks that will let you greatly exceed what you can already buy and loot. IF you want to do this, then focussing on crafting skills to raise them is necessary.

If you find that crafting skills seem to improve too slowly, there are various approaches:
  • Occasional training. For example, every time you are in or near a town, you could fast travel to the blacksmith for supplies -- instead of completing stopping your adventuring just to do this repeatedly in order to advance your Crafting skills and thereby fill your Real Time with mindless repetition.
    • If you have Complete Crafting Overhaul, you can make Hearthfire DLC home construction items such as locks and hinges even without having purchased any plots of land. This is a nice way of steadily accumulating what you need for your eventual home, and at the same time steadily improve your Smithing skill.
  • Change the levelling rate so that you gain a multiple of the skill XP you would normally get. There are various ways to do this, but the Community Uncapper provides a very easy way by editing INI files (which are just text files).
  • Increase the opportunities for crafting skill XP. GQ Crafting XP lets you earn Smithing XP from the Smelter and Tanning Rack, and Alchemy XP from the Cooking Pot. If you are using Complete Crafting Overhaul, this function can also be enabled from that mod.
  • Use a console command to increase the skill. E.g., player.SetAV smithing 100
    • SetAV sets a skill to the specified level, without providing any contribution toward your character's level. To get a level contribution, use player.IncPCS smithing (or whatever skill you want to raise). IncPCS increases a skill by 1 level each time it is used.
    • If you have the Community Uncapper, then the next level is 101, which can be a sizable levelling contribution and therefore inflate your character level.
    • If you do not have the Community Uncapper, you will lose all the potential levelling contribution from advancing the crafting skill affected. You can, of course, use the levelling reset option in Skyrim, but that defeats the purpose of getting a high score in the crafting skill to begin with.
One of the problems with Alchemy is that it is useless in the early game, considering the potions and poisons you can get. And you get so many of those that Alchemy is pretty much irrelevant.

Taken to the extreme, theoretically you could spend the start of the game just getting smithing supplies to raise your Smithing skill to 100, then craft the best gear you can make before stepping out into any danger. If you wait long enough in Riverwood (spending your time chopping wood for money, probably), you can get Ebony Ingots from the Riverwood Trader and Daedra Hearts from the Sleeping Giant Inn, meaning you can eventually walk out of there at level 17+ in a full set of tempered/sharpeend but unenchanted Daedric gear. It is a bit easier to do this in Whiterun, as you have access to more traders there. For those less patient, orichalcum ore starts to appear at level 14 so you can start out in orcish gear if you prefer.

Probably the best approach to Smithing is to first realize that it isn't all that important. You will generally be able to find gear appropriate for your level. Even if you do not, remember that free money is there for the making, so you can shop for the gear you want. Even if you can't get exactly the gear that is the best for your level, the difference won't make much of a difference at all after all the other options you have, including potions and healing magic and sneak attacks for enormous damage.

Contrary to what people think, the game levels your character far too quickly. Your progress to levels 10-15 is extremely fast. Things don't slow down till around level 30, so that can be considered a soft level cap. You can progress further to level 81 and beyond, but really, once you are around level 35, you will have obtained such resources that only a significant encounter (say, 1-2 dragons and no usable cover) will be of any real threat. Past level 35, your experience will largely be the same if not easier, except for specially crafted enemies or situations involving several strong enemies -- therefore levels past 35 or so become rather meaningless. For this reason, level 35 can be considered the true level cap -- and you get to it far too quickly.
By quickly I mean that you have raced through the sense of progression in the world. Suddenly the world becomes basically static with nothing new to see. (Although some people like that because they feel an evolving world that uses kids gloves on you through your lower levels is unrealistic.)

There are various ways to slow down levelling. One is to change the rate at which skills level or at which they contribute toward character level.
  • The Community Uncapper and SkyTweak can do this.
  • Using these tools, you can also disable certain skills from contributing to your character level, such as Lockpicking, Pickpocketing, and Speech.
  • You can increase the rate of certain skills like Block, Light Armor, and Heavy Armor because if you play well, you won't get hit that often, and as a result you will have a harder time levelling these skills.
If you find yourself at too high a level, you can reset your character to level 1 or to a lower level, and then let the game world refresh itself to the new level. This way, you do not have to start a new game and thereby lose all your quest/story progress. See this post on tools to completely reset your character in Skyrim.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Google+ Comments gone

Hi Everyone,

Unfortunately using Google+ commenting caused me to also lose notifications on comments, so I didn't know when readers had questions or comments on various posts, and I couldn't respond in a timely fashion.

I have now reverted back to "normal" comments, but this has had the side effect of also removing all comments that had been posted while under the blog was using Google+ commenting.

Skyrim Mod - GQ Zero

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod:
GQ Zero
Requires SKSE
version: 2014-July-22

These files are for resetting your character to "zero" -- level 1, and no experience gained toward any skill levels or toward the next character level.
You may want to do this for various reasons, such as to replay your character differently without completely restarting your game and losing all game / plot progress.
Note that the game does not normally support character levels going backward, so there may be unintended consequences and quest-breaking, but this is in general unlikely. Nevertheless, before you reset your character, make a backup save game in case you need to roll back.
You will need to know how to run batch files with the Skyrim console.

Copy the file 1.txt into the Skyrim executable directory. This is the same directory in which the Data folder is located. Do not put it inside the Data folder like you would a regular mod.
Copy the files gqZero.esp, gqZero.bsl, gqZero.bsa into the Data folder and make sure gqZero.esp is enabled.

Go to an interior cell, preferably one where you are alone. Remove all gear. Use the console command dispelallspells to clear any temporary enchantments.

In this step, we set the character's level to 1, reset skills to 15 and clear all perks.
Run the batch file using console command bat 1.
Since all skills are now 100, change them all to Legendary skills. This will clear all perks from their perk tree, reset the skill to 15, and set accumulated skill XP to 0 for each skill.

Get the activator item for further resetting your character.
Use the console command help "[Set" 4
Find the BaseID of the item [Set stats back to zero] and use console command player.additem <id> 1 to add it to inventory.
Click on it in inventory, then close your inventory. The script will run and the item will unequip itself.
Now check your character's stats. No skills should be legendary. Health, Magicka, and Stamina should be 100. Carry Weight should be 300. The number of free perks should be 0.

You are now ready to add racial adjustments. Use the player.setav command to set skills to correct racial starting values.
If you want to change your race and appearance, you can use the console command showracemenu.
A good batch file generator for editing your character can be found at

Monday, July 14, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Wyrmstooth

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Wyrmstooth (version 1.11)

Score: +5/-5
Summary: More "Skyrim" experience, though perhaps too much like Skyrim.
++ Big landmass nicely laid out. Some visually interesting locations.
+ Good voiceovers.
+- There are a few novel things to do in the mod, but for the most part it is one dungeon crawl after another. The main quest is basically a few Fedex fetch quests followed by one very long dungeon crawl instead of being broken up into interesting things to do. Since the mod already took in excess of 1600 hours to make, it's hard to actually blame the author for not working on scripting cutscenes and interesting activities. However, the bottom line will be that you had better like dungeon crawling.
-- Implausible main quest line. Feels like someone devised the story after stringing together locations to go through. Main quest also feels too much like Skyrim in not just the areas you linearly go through, but the design and feel of those places.
- Unfinished content such as a use for Wyrmstone ingots. The author says this was because they would have exceeded the maximum Steam file size, but I'm sure a mod (add-on) could have been released.
-+ Feels too much like regular Skyrim. If you are downloading a mod for a different experience, you won't get it here. If you are downloading a mod for more "Skyrim", this sort-of will do it. Overall, Skyrim has enough for you to do that downloading more of the "same" might feel like a waste of time unless you really have had enough of vanilla Skyrim and want to have your character in a different place, in which case you could try this mod as a new character.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Skyrim Mod - GQ Portable Crafting

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod:
GQ Portable Crafting
requires Dawnguard DLC, Hearthfires DLC, Dragonborn DLC
download version: 2014-Nov-27

Equip an item to bring up a menu that accesses various types of crafting stations:

[Raw] Materials - Smelter, Tanning Rack
[Forge] - Skyforge, Dawnguard Forge
[Temp]er Armor - Armor Workbench
[Sharp]en Weapon - Grindstone
[Cook]ing, Baking, and Grain Mill
[Staff] Enchanter

  • [S]ell VendorItemFood, VendorItemFoodRaw, and VendorItemOreIngot items at Base Price. This parallels selling harvested crops to farmers.
  • [W]ipe Enchantments and Improvements on other items. This also removes a Stolen flag and completely recharges weapons.

.ESP, .BSA, and .BSL files go into the Data directory. The scripts folder is for reference only and is not necessary.

To get the Portable Crafting item, first find the ID using console command
help "[Portable" 4
The add the item to inventory with
player.additem <id> 1
There are two types: A "normal" one, and one called "[Portable Crafting with XP]", which gives Smithing XP for the Smelter and Tanning Rack; and Alchemy XP for the Grain Mill, for Cooking, and for Baking.

Installing over previous versions:
Remove all items from storage and save your game.
Uninstall the mod (delete the mod files), start Skyrim, and save your game again.
Install the new version.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Druidic Essentials

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Druidic Essentials (version 1.5)

Score: +3/-2
Summary: Nature-themed gear and magic items, plus player home.
+- Interesting spells such as Tame Animal to get a permanent animal companion. Sadly, most spells either don't appear to work properly (e.g., Roc Dive, Geyser Fission), and some are overpowered (e.g., Alchemic Trap, which paralyzed a dragon on the ground for maybe 20 seconds).
+- Same with the starter gear you are given: Interesting, but when they work, they are sometimes overpowered -- such as high regeneration rates when standing still, and a fear aura with no clear level cap. You just walk into your free player house and pick them up.
+ Small but functional player home. Nothing much to look at, but there are mannequins, storage, and crafting stations, all fairly close because it's a small dwelling.

Skyrim Mod Review: Wrath of Nature

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Wrath of Nature 1 - The Path of the Druid (version 3.2)

Score: +1/-2
Summary: Collect four powers to shapeshift into something else. Shapeshift gimmick. Spectacular feel, but ultimately of limited utility. Review of part two immediately follows this review.
+ Some interesting powers.
- Boring go-there-kill-that quests. That is basically what you do in this mod: Kill something and get a power. You do it four times to get four powers.
- Very few actually useful powers. The only one with any real potential is Aspect of Frost, because it lets you run around quickly, which you can use in lieu of a horse you have to mount/dismount/keep track of. You do not have spell or inventory access in shapeshifted form, so they are generally not as useful in combat against (all but weak enemies) as a versatile fighter - spellcaster character. If you insist on using them, there is a stat multiplier available by MCM menu for this mod.

Very likely you will get this mod and either throw it away after trying out the four shapes, or keep it for the times when you want a specific power from one of the Aspects. That is probably the best way to approach this mod instead of insisting that it take over your entire Skyrim experience.

There is basically no connection to the sequel, Champion of Kynareth, except that you must finish this mod first to enable the quest.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Wrath of Nature 2 - Champion of Kynareth (version 1.3)

Score: +2/-4
Summary: Collect more shapeshifting powers.
+ Some interesting powers, including a fish shape that lets you fight underwater, and a bug shape that lets you fly.
+-  Good voiceovers but lousy dialogue, which has a wide variety of tone suggesting no consistent voice; and the occasional inane line, like "You seem a little insane. I'm not sure I like you at all." WTH?
- Token, boring story.
- Enemies are much stronger than you are and your shapes aren't very useful against them -- What is the point of having the shapes? Again reinforces the idea that the shapes are either gimmicks or you will exploit them for a particular trait (such as flying).
- Depending on the ending you choose, you may have the complication of being coerced into law-abiding course of action or suffer unspecified consequences. Want to tell me that beforehand? How do I resign?

Like the prequel to this mod, The Path of the Druid, it is very likely you will get this mod and either throw it away after trying out the four shapes, or keep it for the times when you want a specific power from one of the Aspects. That is probably the best way to approach this mod instead of insisting that it take over your entire Skyrim experience.
If you are not particularly interested in the powers and are just curious about the story, don't bother -- there's not much more than a cliche here.

The ability of the bug shape to fly can be game breaking / quest breaking so be careful with it. Because a lot of enemies are melee only, it can be handy for travelling while basically flying over whatever encounters you don't want to deal with.

Skyrim Mod Review - Halls of Dovahndor

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Halls of Dovahndor (version 1.5)

Score: +3/-2
Summary: All the eye candy in the same place.
+ Spectacular player house, epic in scope.
+ Good atmosphere, beautiful layout in the main hall (but somewhat claustrophobic in some places).
+ Eye candy everywhere.
- Focus is on eye candy rather than function. There's a lot of walking to get to anything, if you are looking for just crafting stations.
- Main hall is very large, with the result that there is so much stuff there is liable to be stuttering. It could have been separated into two chambers.

You really need to be a certain type of player to actually want to keep this mod around after having a good look at it. It's more of a tourist attraction than a player home, simply because of all the running around to get anywhere. I think a very simple change to enhance functionality would be a quick way to get from the entrance to a private place for the player with all the crafting stations plus storage for crafting supplies.
On the other hand, you basically get this home after the game is done, so who cares about crafting?

SKYRIM: Dovahndor Map by okiir on deviantART

Monday, July 7, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Moon and Star

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Moon and Star (version 1.11)

Score: +4/-2
Summary: Morrowind nostalgia.
+ Good story.
+ Good puzzles, plus very good puzzle + boss fight at the end.
+ Good voiceovers.
+ Small village nicely fleshed out with interesting NPCs that have connections with each other.
- False option to kill the key NPC. Although this appears to be an alternate resolution, it actually is not. It is also frustrating when you can win, but are scripted to lose. If it's not really an option, don't present it.
- Overshadowed by NPC. For example, in the key areas you have to go to, almost all the killing has been done for you. And in the final fight, you pretty much get to just hit the enemy in the back unopposed because an NPC is providing the distraction. While it does make sense story-wise, it nevertheless feels unfulfilling.

  • This light-to-no-combat setup would therefore make a good starter quest and location for new characters, but the easy amount of loot might be excessive. For later-game characters, it becomes too easy and it becomes more of a very short puzzle-solving quest.

Skyrim Mod Review - Isilmeriel LOTR Weapons Collection

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Isilmeriel's LOTR Weapon Collection (version 4)
(Retexture Pack available)

Score: +2/-3
Summary: Ultra visual quality weapons from The Lord of the Rings movies.

If you are downloading this mod, you obviously have no right to talk about lore friendliness or how the models do not blend well with the rest of the game. Also, if you are downloading it, then clearly you intend to use the weapons in-game. They are not distributed in levelled lists so except for NPCs placed by this mod, they will not appear unless you craft them at the special forge along the 7000 Steps to High Hrothgar.

++ There is no denying the quality of the models and textures in this mod or the retexture pack.
- Too easy to get the items compared to their stats. I forged a Morgul Blade (dagger) early in the game as I pursued the main quest. It had a base damage better than any one-handed sword I found. I also never had reason to switch it to another dagger even at level 34 and in Blackreach.
The problem isn't that I never had occasion to change daggers -- if you are download a small, dedicated weapons pack like this, chances are you are hoping that the items will be relevant pretty much throughout your entire Skyrim playthrough. What I feel could have been done better was to change the requirements for forging them. Either require certain perks or a certain Smithing skill level, to maintain the levelling with the rest of the game.
- Sauron's Mace overpowered. Laughably easy to grab it from Blackreach and you can use it to golf giants. I suppose this is "balanced" by having to run after them so you can whack them again. On the other hand, you may be level 30+ by the time you are in Blackreach, and encounters have long since been challenging anyway.
- Clean it with TESEdit or the Creation Kit for dirty edits, such as some sort of edit on the vanilla Daedric Bow.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Deadly Dragons and Deadly Dragons Armory

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Deadly Dragons (version 4.4.0) and
Deadly Dragons Armory (version 6.3.5)

+ Deadly Dragons
IF you use this carefully, it can be a great tool to shape your Skyrim experience.

As shipped, Skyrim dragons are scaled so that pretty much whatever your character build, build, whether mage, archer, or knight, you have a chance to take down a dragon. This is why dragons don't just swoop by breathing at you (which is what a smart dragon would do), but will occasionally hover and breathe at you (so you can shoot them with a bow or spell), or touch down and chase you (so you can attack them in melee combat, though they might get stuck).
Before you criticize how or why the developers shipped dragons, THINK. Think about whether you would have a fun time in Skyrim trying to chase a dragon who can just bail out at any time, flying very far away in a heartbeat, only to come back after it had healed itself.

What Deadly Dragons does is let you adjust your dragon experience to match how much protection you have gotten. It is not that hard to get 25% to 50% or more of magic resistance shortly after you start the game. With enough magic resistance, you can let a dragon breathe at you and not even be concerned with your Health. With Deadly Dragons, you have a damage slider that lets you compensate for it so that, if you like, dragons can be challenging again.

Here is where you need to be careful. If you use the "Expert" setting, you may find that your fight with dragon consists of ducking behind cover and shooting dragons whenever it is safe. You may like that and find it "realistic", but others may find it boring to always use the same, cheap, tactic. What you need to do is manually adjust the settings.
In the early game, I find that turning down the melee damage and magic damage to +0% (or just a more moderate number than +75%) is the safest. Dragon health and defences only serve to extend a fight and drain your resources because they dragon has more staying power to deliver damage. If you turn up damage too much, you will spend too much time running away and healing, and melee combat may become nearly impossible because the dragon kills you too quickly. This adds up to too much time wasted fighting the dragon and not enough time making progress on quests and story.

Something else to be careful of is the Assault mode. If you turn it on, periodically dragons will appear in "exteriors". However, this can also be interior areas that use exterior cells that are separated from the rest of the Skyrim world. For example, the Karthspire cave that leads to Sky Haven Temple. It uses an exterior cell type to have a sky, and Deadly Dragons thinks it is an open exterior. But the layout of that map is too tight for a dragon, so what happens is you get a dragon flying in and out of cave walls or the floor.

- Deadly Dragons Armory
Deadly Dragons Armory adds a quantity of item components for the construction of the armour sets by the mod. It also gives a small chance of obtaining one of these armor items, or a powerful weapon, or a moderately powerful wearable accessory.
The amulets and rings are not too bad -- Useful, but not necessarily so good that you will want nothing else.
The armour options are, in my opinion, rather overpowered. The weapons are also generally overpowered if you are lucky enough to find them before level 30+.
  • They easily overshadow whatever you can buy or make or find elsewhere, especially as you can upgrade the unenchanted versions of the craftable armour to enchanted ones with 3 powers.
    • Normally, adding multiple enchantments to an item requires 100 Enchanting skill and quite a few perks.
  • There is no level requirement, so at a fairly low level you could just look for dragons and slowly assemble your high-powered armour set. Depending on your level and gear, a single piece of head armour could give more of an armour rating than your current suit combined.
    • This makes future drops in the game useless unless you get components or more item drops from this mod. It has just taken over your game.
    • This can make the Enchanting and Smithing skills basically useless.
I recommend not using the armour until the late game. Instead, just use the mod to get Dragon SoulGems, which are the equivalent of Grand Gems (you cannot use Soul Trap on a dragon).
What is "late game"? Obviously that depends on your game. However, if you can't answer this question, then one of two things are likely to happen: You will throw this mod away, or you will throw all other armor/weapon mods away, because the stats here are so dominating that it is pretty much pointless to use anything else.

Skyrim Mod Review - Dovahkriid - The Dragon Lords

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Dovahkriid - The Dragon Lords

Summary: Dragons with lots of health.

Did anyone bother playtesting this? First impressions of the mod show it to be an utter waste of time.

I installed this mod and tried it with a level 28 character who had been following the main quest almost exclusively. Not loaded with tons of magical gear or very high resistances (about 35% magic resistance). Went to Ilinalta's Deep to check out one of the dragons -- Finkroniid. Ostensibly level 70, according to the getlevel console command. 10,000 health as advertised.
My character beat Finkroniid down to about 3500 health, and he flies off. Before I can even figure out in which direction he went, much less get there, Finkroniid is back with his health bar at around 7300.
At first, I thought this was a scripted gimmick, so I just patiently fight him back down to 3500 health. Finkroniid flies off AGAIN. Comes back again with health restored (probably around 7300 again).

So how many times am I supposed to fight this dragon? Am I supposed to get something to fly after him so I can keep him from healing himself?
No other dragon has exhibited this sort of behaviour, so I can only conclude that it is somehow a part of this mod.

A lot of people complain about the Elder Scrolls games. About dragons, they complain that they are too easy. Yes, they are. But you have to also think of the greater design philosophy behind it.
Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim -- One of the design themes in these games is the breadth of options available in character development. There is much more than is necessary to succeed. If you tap into everything, the game will be largely a cakewalk. What many people forget is that you don't have to exploit everything. The game lets you play pretty much what you want and how you want -- and still succeed. Instead of forcing on you certain tactics.

As it relates to dragons, this means that mage, archer, and knight builds all have a chance to take down dragons without necessarily having to cross-train. This is why enemies fight to the death. This is why dragons even land occasionally at all. It means that you can (eventually) get somewhere for your effort.
The encounter with Finkroniid is the opposite -- after laboriously tearing through 6500 health, you are "rewarded" by seeing the dragon fly off, only to come back healed. Now you have to do it all over again, and again, and again with no indication that this pattern will eventually end. There is a term for this -- WASTE OF TIME.

Even without the fly-away-to-fight-another-day Finkroniid issue, this mod is still a waste of time for another reason: More staying power and health isn't necessarily more fun.
The dragons as shipped in the vanilla Skyrim game are somewhat underpowered since they could get sidetracked into fighting a giant and subsequently get pasted without your intervention. But against the Dragonborn -- your character -- they are scaled so that you are not constantly delayed by a half hour or more of real time just to kill one dragon, out of possibly hundreds you will have to face over the course of following the main quest, as random dragon attacks are one of the themes in Skyrim.
Certainly it is fine to have the odd boss encounter where you do want the experience of a drawn out fight, but to encounter that constantly is pretty tedious. At some point, you will end up so bogged down in fighting that you will be barely advancing any plotlines. Therefore, Dovahkriid introduces two main things that, in my opinion, are bad for the game:
  • Tedious dragons: Excessive health = excessive time spent taking them down. Excessive damage = cheap tactics against them. If you find you have to resort to cheap tactics constantly, then you are no longer really playing the game, but instead repeating a certain move.
  • Too high level plus guaranteed appearance: If you pursue the main quest, you might not even be level 20 by the time you trigger these dragons to appear. Encountering one of these dragons somewhere you need to go could be a gamestopper.
    • Saying that you "should" adventure more, get more levels first, get such-and-such an item, etcetera, are all wrong answers because they defeat the theme of the Elder Scrolls games being one of choices, of having the freedom to pursue, or not, main quests and side quests.
    • On the other hand, if you use cheesy tactics, you may still succeed in killing them, in which case the powerful craftable items from their bodyparts may ruin your game by being overpowered too early.
If you insist on trying this mod, I recommend installing it in the late game or having some strategy to bypass them (e.g., invisibility potions, fast travel). Otherwise, just use Deadly Dragons and increase dragon stats to whatever challenge level you like. Deadly Dragons has both stat sliders and unlevelling (dragon level not necessarily tied to player level).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Skyrim Mod - GQ Crafting XP

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod:
GQ Crafting XP
Download version: 2014-June-3

Cooking Pots contribute Alchemy XP. Smelters and Tanning Racks contribute Smithing XP.

These crafting furniture types can have a skill assigned to them, but the vanilla Skyrim game did not assign a skill, so no XP was awarded.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Skyrim Mod Review - Brhuce Hammar

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Brhuce Hammar - Legacy

Score: +6
Summary: Non-lore-friendly fun.

From the mod description:
WARNING AND DISCLAIMER(?): This mod contains harsh language and jokes! Brhuce is not a nice dunmer, and will take every opportunity to belittle you, everything around you, and everything else. If you are the kind of person who is easily offended, or a wuss, do not download this mod, or if you do, do not complain to us if your feelings are hurt afterwards. You have been warned!
Seriously, don't be put off by this. Although Brhuce Hammar is insulting, it's closer to a "friendly jibes and insults" sort of style. The dialogue tries to be funny, and generally not at the Dragonborn's expense but in their observations. As opposed to mods that are deliberately and vulgarly offensive, such as an early version of New Vegas Enhanced Content, where there is a good chance you'll be called a "stupid fuck". No joke.

It is also worth noting that Brhuce Hammar is quite a powerful character (although because of game engine AI limitations, not a very efficiently powerful one), so you might want to dive into the mod, play it though, then uninstall it (or just leave Brhuce behind somewhere and continue on). The two console commands to help you are:
  • player.coc BlackreachZCell07 to take you to Brhuce Hammar's starting location
  • set 1__tw_fightNumber to 1 so that after each fight, you will receive a new quest from Brhuce (unless you are already on one of his quests).
You normally need to get to Blackreach to recruit Brhuce, and since that is just over mid-way in the main quest, it probably won't matter how powerful he is by that point.
+ Pretty decent voiceovers, although they don't always match the subtitles.
+ Interesting things to do such as fighting off alien invasions and "piloting" giant robots. You don't actually get to pilot a giant robot, though. It's more like a watered down arcade game where you choose to activate certain powers, but everything else is automatic.
+ Interesting places to see, such as the inside of a space station and odd landscapes.
+ Interesting follower who sometimes says insightful things.
+ Somewhat challenging combat and puzzles involved in the quests. Typically non-level-dependent. And if you can't get through a fight, there's always Brhuce to help you.
+ Interesting rewards, including a very useful epic conjuration.

Skyrim Mod Review - Aethernautics

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Mod Review:
Aethernautics - A Space Travel Mod

Score: +2/-2
Summary: Quick dungeon crawl.

Aethernautics tries very hard to be lore-friendly-ish, including confounding dwemer-ish like texts. For those who are averse to sci-fi in their Elder Scrolls, then this provides a comforting transition. Even without, however, there isn't really any space travel involved. In the end, this mod is just a dungeon crawl.
+ Interesting things to see. Most of it is just another dwemer ruin, but there are some nice vistas and visually interesting locations.
+ Interesting story. In Elder Scrolls style, you are put through a basically linear dungeon crawl, and compelled to go deeper by the story that unfolds through snippets of texts you find here and there.
- Laughably easy combat. The new centurions are dangerous, but due to dungeon layout and pathfinding issues, they frequently get stuck, meaning you can take your time taking them down quite safely from a distance. In return you get some awfully powerful "crossbows" and a ton of loot.
- Sounds better in ad copy. Where's the space travel? Also, your orbital bombardment is basically rubbish. You might get a couple of hits on a very large creature (e.g., a dragon), though, if it stands still long enough.
EDIT (2014-July-3): Turns out there is space travel involved. All those non-functional levers and buttons on the bridge were apparently not meant as a hint that there isn't any more you can do with the ship once you've launched it and fixed the guns. EDIT (2014-Sept-24): The two locations appear to be basically eye-candy, however. One has a merchant to buy more gear specific to this mod. I didn't feel like wasting more time checking to see if there were more to it.