Kiryn's place for rants about stuff. (version 6.0)

Archive for November, 2011

Rules for my Second Playthrough

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

This is mainly to give me further challenge and try to break my bad habits in this game, but also to feel more immersive and try to put myself in my character’s shoes.

1. No dragons. Complete no quests in the main story past what you need to do in order to get out of the tutorial. This way, no random dragons will spawn in the world, and you can go about your business peacefully. I’ve already completed the main quest chain, and I find the dragons more annoying than anything else at this point. This rule also equals no shouts — even though you’ll occasionally find a word in a dungeon, without absorbing dragon souls, you have no way of using them.

2. No stealing or otherwise breaking the law. Not even untraceable gold and coinpurses. I will bend this rule slightly if an NPC gives me a quest that specifically requires me to steal something or break into someone’s house, and then I will ONLY steal the thing I am told to steal, nothing else. Lockpicks can be carried and used, as long as they are only used to open doors or chests in dungeons. (I am forced to make this minor exception because Skyrim has no “open lock” spell as Oblivion did.) This basically means no Thieves’ Guild and no Dark Brotherhood (mainly because I’ve already finished Dark Brotherhood and have no interest in furthering the Thieves’ Guild quests).

3. No non-magical weapons. I must do everything with spells. The only weapons I am allowed to equip are staves. This will force you to use tactics and take advantage of all of the different utility spells the various magic skills have to offer.

4. No light or heavy armor. I make an exception ONLY for when I happen to find a piece of heavy or light armor that has a non-combat enchantment on it that I will equip only while using that non-combat skill, such as a steel plate helmet of Alchemy.

5. Drastically limited looting. I am only allowed to pick up the following objects: potions, alchemy ingredients, food, wine, jewelry, gemstones/soulstones, ingots of gold or silver, money, cloth armor, staves, rare books (especially the 50+ gold ones that grant skill points), spell tomes, and any enchanted light or heavy armor pieces that have interesting enchantments that you want to disenchant for use later (such as the aforementioned steel plate helmet of alchemy), and obviously quest items. (*note: You are allowed to carry ONE set of heavy armor + weapon for the express purpose of giving it to prisoners on the road when you free them, if you plan to do so. You can replace this set if you give it away for this reason, or trade in pieces for better ones you find.)

Your main source of income should be unwanted potions and enchanted jewelry. It doesn’t really make sense to be carrying around dozens of sets of armor in your backpack, and this tries to reflect that. If you’ve already got enough food for the next week, try to avoid stuffing every potato and loaf of bread in your backpack. That stuff is heavy, and there’s no reason to hoard food when you’re going to have plenty of time to find more before you run out. Avoid carrying entire wheels of cheese, because you can’t split them into smaller slices in any way (new cooking recipe, anyone?) and it just doesn’t feel right to be devouring two pounds of cheese for lunch.

6. No companion characters. You’re going this alone, except for your various Conjurations. Companion NPCs are too easy to hurt with destruction spells, especially the spells you get at the higher levels that are all about AoE. You are allowed to purchase and ride a horse if you wish, since most of your combat is going to be inside of dungeons where the horse cannot follow. Dogs, however, are not allowed. If you happen to unlock any housecarls from quests, they can go ahead and live in your house while you’re gone, but they’re certainly not following you on your adventures.

7. You must sleep every night. This game tries to ignore sleep, but your character must be exhausted from staying awake for weeks at a time. When it starts to get later than 8 pm and all of the shops close down, try to find a room at an inn if you don’t own a house in that city. If you’re away from home, try to clear out a bandit camp or something with tents you can sleep in for the night. Sleep until at least 6 am the next day if you get to bed early, and sleep in later if you stay up past 10 pm. Try to think about how tired your character would be after a day of solid adventuring. Do try to get an early start before starting on any particularly long journeys, so that you’ll have plenty of time to explore that cave and get back before dark.

8. Eat meals on a regular basis. Carry around food and beverages, not to devour during battle when you need health restored, but so that you have plenty to eat when you’re away from town. At each mealtime, try to select a realistic variety of foods that might make up a real meal, like meat, vegetables, starch, wine, and dessert. You can eat vegetables raw if you have to, but always prioritize the cooked ones, and never eat raw meat or fish. Try to put yourself in your character’s shoes, and see how you would feel about having nothing but a bushel of raw potatoes for breakfast.

9. Stick to the roads. No cutting through the wilderness directly towards the arrow on the compass, which usually results in wallwalking and carefully falling down steep cliffs in order to reach your destination because the road to that place is far from obvious on the map. Liberal use of the Clairvoyance spell will lead you to the proper roads to your destination.

10. No fast travel. You must walk on the roads manually between any of your destinations, dealing with any enemies you encounter along the way, and picking up any alchemy reagents you find. In addition to reducing the chance that you’ll accidentally stay up past your bedtime, this encourages you to focus on quests that are near your current location, and not hop all over the place through the countryside.

11. You must increase your Magicka every time you level up. Stamina is of no use to you except in running away, since you don’t use weapons and you won’t be looting enough to be overburdened. Having low health will encourage you to be more tactical and avoid getting hit instead of taking the blows. And of course, having as much mana as possible will help you cast as many things as possible.

12. When you level up, you must put your Perk point for that level into whatever skill caused you to level up. If you leveled up from casting a destruction spell, put it into Destruction. If you leveled up from enchanting some rings, put it into Enchanting. If you leveled up from selling something, you put it into Speech. Et cetera. There are two exceptions to this. The first being if you leveled up due to finding a book that taught you a skill point in something you’re not allowed to use, such as heavy armor or archery. The second being if you have no further perks available in that skill, since you have taken them all already and do not yet have a high enough level in that skill to learn the next. In both of these situations, you can choose a perk in any skill of your choice.

13. No blacksmithing except for jewelry and magic staves (which are craftable using a certain mod). This mostly goes without saying, since you’re not equipping any armor or weapons, so you have no need to craft them or improve them. You’re also not picking up any of the materials that would be used to craft them.

14. No stashing of loot in your house, except for placing rare books and spell tomes on the bookshelves. If you’re getting overburdened for whatever reason, sell off your extra potions or something.

Mods used to assist with this:
1. Novice level destruction perk makes novice spells free rather than half cost. These spells do so little damage, they’re basically just used to give you a “basic attack” when you’re out of mana, or so that you can spend your mana on more tactical things like summons, frenzy, armor, or healing. I basically only take that mod and the staff crafting one from this pack.


2. Various other destruction tweaks to allow it to scale better with level, such as adding a third rank to increased elemental damage perks and causing the expert/master perks to increase spell damage further. Improvements to the cloak and rune spells to make them more worth using.


3. Cooking recipe additions, allowing you to cook things that already exist in-game such as baked potatoes and grilled leeks, as well as several new recipes. This should cut down on the number of raw vegetables you’re carrying around.



4. Optionally, remove the compass at the top of the screen to reduce your temptation to walk towards the arrow, and force you to find where the enemies are on your own by looking around and seeing where that arrow came from.


My new character is a thin wisp of a high elf (because high elves are best with magic y’know) with green eyes and a suitably elven name that I cannot remember except that it starts with an M. She is a bit high and mighty and disdainful of getting blood on her hands and clothes. She tries to kill her enemies from a distance with destruction spells and summoned creatures, and certainly isn’t going to go running off of the path to hunt and skin a deer or something. She has no interest in stripping her defeated enemies down to their underwear so that she can drag a giant bag full of quasi-valuable leather armor to the nearest shop. She’s not even sure she knows how to hold a sword.

She is currently level 10 and has joined the College of Winterhold, though she has no interest in following them on their little field trip. She plans to join the Stormcloaks when she returns to whatever cold-themed name that city had, halfway because my last character joined up with the Imperials and halfway because she’s trying to overcome racial stereotypes, or something. I’m still working on this RP stuff.

Skyrim Musings, Part 3

Monday, November 28th, 2011

I’ve finished with most of the main quest chains in the game — I only have the thieves’ guild and the bard stuff left, and pages upon pages of sidequests that I’ve mostly been ignoring in favor of getting the spoiler-rich main chains done. So if you haven’t finished these quest chains, I’m warning you of spoilers now.

Here’s something to listen to in the meantime.

I’m disappointed with how structured the main quest was, and how abruptly it ended.

I went through all this trouble to learn the Dragonrend shout, so that I could use it on Alduin, so then I’m like “cool, I’ve got a shout I can use to force dragons to the ground!” Then I encountered another random dragon, and immediately went to use my Dragonrend shout. It made the dragon glow blue, but otherwise did nothing at all to it. I said “well, that’s kinda lame” and continued about my business.

I got all the way to Sovngarde (a.k.a. Valhalla), finally got to Alduin so I could fight him again, and tried using the Dragonrend shout. It made him glow blue, and otherwise did nothing. My three ghostly companions then yelled out “Use Dragonrend!” and I was like “I just did, it didn’t do anything!” but I sighed and did anyway, and this time it pulled him to the ground. So, what, you teach me this shout that would actually be really useful in gameplay for fighting the random dragons that show up all over the place, but I’m only allowed to use it against Alduin during a certain part of this fight? Why can’t you give me an IN-GAME reason for why the shout has no effect? Because it isn’t explained at all. It simply doesn’t work in any situation ever unless NPCs specifically tell me to use it.

After I kill him, the guy in Sovngarde congratulates me, gives me a new shout I can use to summon a dude to help me fight (a reflavored conjuration spell) and I’m sent back to the mountaintop, which is interesting, because that isn’t where I started (it wouldn’t have made more sense to send me back through the portal I used to get there?). Once there, the dragons yell incoherently and fly away one at a time. The old dragon who was helping me said some things about how he was going to convince the other dragons to stop killing people now that their leader is dead, then flew away. The dragon I caught earlier who gave me a ride flew down and said I could call on him when needed, then flew away. Quest done, nobody else has anything to say about it.

I go to the Jarl, to tell him that the great evil has been slain and we can all rejoice that the end of the world has been averted. These NPCs all seemed very serious when we were negotiating the truce, and I had to constantly remind them that the fate of the entire WORLD was at stake. “Neither of us want to put aside our petty differences, the only reason we’re even entertaining the idea is because Ragnarok is at hand and the hero of legend is asking us personally. We’re only calling a truce temporarily until this end-of-the-world business is settled.” Now that it is, there isn’t so much as a dialogue option to mention my victory to him offhand.

The only acknowledgement I get that the citizens even KNOW about it is because the guards mention it as one of their random phrases as I walk past, in between asking me to enchant their butter-knife sword and warning me not to steal anything lest they cut off my hand.

Maybe this is just something that Elder Scrolls games just do at the end of their main story quest. I don’t know, I’ve never finished the main story in an Elder Scrolls game before. I just find the lack of any closure to be very unsatisfying. I’m not expecting a PARADE, but I’d at least like a “thank you” from someone who isn’t a dragon.

The mages’ college questchain also ended on a very unsatisfactory note. I honestly have no idea why they made me archmage after all of that.

The mysterious hooded guys, who barely said a word to anyone other than me before that moment, said that I will be archmage. The other people at the college decided that was a wonderful idea, despite the fact that I completed their quests using only the apprentice-level spells that were required for a couple of the puzzles, and used almost no magic otherwise. I spent most of my time shooting mana beasts with my bow. My magic skills are rather sad, since I almost completely stopped using all of my destruction spells about 20 levels ago.

The only reason I was sent on half of those missions was because other people were too busy doing more important things, or thought it was kinda a longshot that the thing they were looking for would be there, so basically said “knock yourself out” and sent me on my way. The only reason I was the one to go retrieve the staff at the end was because the Archmage was dead, the lady who’s second in command was seriously injured, and my professor was busy keeping the situation under control so that it didn’t get worse. Or something.

It wasn’t even a situation of “the archmage secretly wrote in his journal that he wanted me to be the next archmage before he died” thing that the Companions did. The guy didn’t even really like me. I don’t remember him saying more than a few sentences to me before he died. It was less of a “the archmage wanted you to have this” and more of a “the archmage told me I’d know what to do with this when the time comes, and I’m deciding that I need to give it to you.”

And then when the situation is resolved and the Object of Unimaginable Power was removed from the college and everything was back to the way it was before (minus the archmage), they decide to make ME the new archmage? WHY? They just say “What was that the strange hooded man just said? That you would be archmage? Sounds good to me!” What about the girl who was actually in second in command of the college? Or my very wise professor who I hadn’t taken more than one class from? Hell, even the orc librarian would make a better archmage. I’m barely even able to meet the entrance requirement of summoning a flame atronach. I’m hardly fit for leadership.

On second thought, I’m just going to assume that everyone at the college has just been mind-controlled by the psijics into agreeing with them.

And what the hell is up with that quest the Blades give me to kill Parthenax? I’m leaving the peace talks, and all of a sudden that Blades girl catches up to me on the way out and tells me that they know he’s a dragon, and that they refuse to help me any more unless I kill him, because they’re sworn to kill all dragons and they can’t in good conscience help someone who’s a dragon sympathizer. She makes a very convincing argument that even though he’s helping us now, he betrayed his master once before, and it’s not exactly unlikely that he’ll betray us too in the future (dragons do live forever, after all).

So I’m sad, but I head up to the mountaintop, and I go talk to Parthenax. I tell him that the Blades want him dead, that they don’t trust him, and he’s very understanding, says they’re wise not to trust him, he doesn’t trust any other dragons either, and it’s only through constant vigilance and meditation that he’s able to overcome the natural draconic urge to enslave humanity.

That doesn’t do anything to update the quest, which still tells me to kill him, so I’m sad as I sneak behind him and ready my bow. I hit him for half his health in the first blow, he doesn’t attack me or anything, so I think maybe he’s accepted his fate and is just letting me execute him for the good of the world.

I hit him with a second arrow, and he continues standing there, perched on the edge of the wall like before. His health goes down to zero and his health bar disappears. I keep shooting him, but he can’t die. Okay, now I know he’s bugged.

Now, I get that I’m not supposed to be able to kill him because he’s a story NPC, and he had some very important things to say during the ending sequence later, because I gave up on trying to kill him and just went on with what I was doing. However, if that was the case, why give me a quest to kill an NPC if I’m not actually able to complete it until later?

Maybe I can go kill him now that the main story is over, but I really don’t know why I would want to. I only needed their help to find out how to kill Alduin. I’ve got the information I needed now. I can kill dragons just fine by myself, thank you very much, with or without that stupid broken Dragonrend shout. Their refusal to help me doesn’t really bother me very much, as I’ve mostly forgotten where their new base is anyway.

The game gets way too easy towards the end. I spent so much time crafting in town that I had crazy high bonuses. Once I focused on being a thief archetype (having no interest in wearing heavy armor or getting up close to the enemy, and finding the magic system in this game to be so limited and anticreative that it’s pointless) and put almost all of my perk points into sneak and archery bonuses, I rarely actually fight anything any more.

I sneak through dungeons, pick off all of the enemies from the doorway with one shot from my bow, then move through collecting the arrows and other loot before saving and moving on to the next room. Very rarely do I encounter enemies that survive the first shot, and most often it’s actually because I tried to fire an arrow through a narrow opening that had larger collision than it appeared to, the arrow got stuck in the empty space NEXT to the doorframe, and the enemy hears the noise and comes to investigate.

Like this:

I pick up valuable weapons and armor and gemstones and ore and animal hides, and I stash them in my house “until I need them”. My smithing and enchanting are maxed out at 100, I’ve got the best weapons and armor I can make, I have no need to craft more things.

I don’t need the money from selling these things. I haven’t had anything I’ve particularly wanted to buy since I stocked my house. I have no reason to buy more houses, because the first one holds all of my stuff just fine. Since containers hold an unlimited amount of stuff, I can stuff everything I own into the smallest possible house and it works fine.

I find myself with twelve thousand gold on a regular basis, so I splurge and spend it on five skillups from the local trainer just because I can. Trainers no longer have skill limits as they did in Oblivion — any trainer for a particular skill can seemingly train you up to the max of 100, rather than requiring you to search the country for the one person living in an abandoned shack who can train you the rest of the way.

But I’m starting to question why I’m picking up anything at all, since I don’t need money and my gear can’t really get any better. I still pick up gold and potions, though I’m not even sure why I even do that any more. I have far more potions than I have any use for, with how few fights I’m actually in. I gave up on carrying food 10 levels ago when I realized I had 50 pounds worth of health potions (due to my obsessive need to pick up all alchemy ingredients) sitting in my bags that I could use instead of devouring that pile of 100 potatoes.

I should have just ignored enchanting completely. Most of the time I was leveling up, the stuff I could make through enchanting was pathetically weak compared to the loot I was finding in the dungeons. By the time I leveled up my enchanting enough to actually make stuff that was better, I had no need of it any more because my archery/smithing perks already caused me to do so much damage that increasing my bow damage by a percentage on top of that was just overkill.

Actually, I should have probably ignored all of the tradeskills. I could have continued to chug potions for health restoration, but I could have spent my money from looting tombs on just buying more health potions. The smithing bonuses are just insane once you get to a higher level, as well.

Cooking is absolutely pointless, and I was just wasting alchemy reagents (salt and garlic) on turning a piece of meat that weighs 2 pounds and restores 1 health into a cooked piece of meat that weighs 2 pounds and restores 5 health. Maybe 10 if I’m lucky. They make it so easy to steal things from towns because it ultimately doesn’t matter, because all this stuff is worthless junk even if it has “value”. Even stealing gold from people, which has no downside because gold can’t be tracked (unlike mass-produced mead bottles and pieces of fruit), has no purpose because there isn’t really anything of interest to spend the gold *on*.

So for now, I’m not going to bother to keep playing, at least this save. I still need to finish the quest chain for the Thieves’ Guild, but I don’t really like them and have no incentive to want them to succeed. I’ve barely done anything with the bard’s college, but since it doesn’t appear that I can actually play any of the instruments I find in this game, I’m sure most of it is just going to be “diplomacy while someone near you plays an instrument” or something like that. Maybe some more “go search ancient tomb X for this forgotten verse” because I’m obviously an adventurer, not a bard, and isn’t that cute, look, she wants to be a bard. How dare I try to have any profession in this world that is unrelated to plundering ancient tombs for their mummified loot.

I will probably come back to this game and play it a second time later on, when the mod creation kit has been released and people are making mods to fix the stupid things about this game. Hack my UI to make it not stupid. Get a mod to add a bunch of spells and create new spells like I could in Oblivion, and make an exclusively mage character who only wears robes and staves and throws crazy lightning bolts everywhere and exclusively spends her level-up points on mana. Make an exclusively melee character with heavy armor and a two-hander who is ethically bound to not ever steal anything or sneak around like a sneaky sneaky thief.

I can make “challenge” rules for myself, like “no companion characters” or “no stealing” or “no magic”. “No fast travel to hop all around the world willy nilly” and the corresponding rule “no staying awake for weeks at a time” where you MUST sleep through the night, which would mean mostly doing local quests around a certain location and always staying at the inn or camping out in a cleared-out bandit hideout. Or “no picking up items if I’m not planning to actually use them myself” to limit my money input to what I get from quest rewards or the gear I’ve found upgrades for.

As much as this game allows you to mix and match multiple archetypes, it really does work best if you focus on one “class”. Sure, you CAN make a heavy-armored thief who kills things with destruction magic, but the game (and the interface) really punishes you for it. If you want to be a paladin who uses heavy armor and a sword/shield but swaps back and forth to restoration magic to heal themself, you’ve gotta deal with the fact that you can’t have weapons and spells equipped at the same time, forcing you to open the favorites menu constantly during a fight in order to swap back and forth. (And before you suggest it, I haven’t had any luck with binding favorites combinations to number keys. It’s fine with two-handed weapons like bows, but as soon as you start trying to save certain combinations of spells, it really doesn’t like you.)

Even though I can continue from where I am now and complete all of the quests as my overpowered self to see all of the storyline, I’d much rather start over completely, completely ignoring the quest chains I finished the previous time in favor of becoming an unattached bard who completes odd sidequests for the towns she passes through. Probably not even doing the initial quest that causes the dragons to start flying around, so I won’t need to worry about them randomly attacking me.

I don’t really have much of a use for the shouts. The ones that actually worked were of quite limited usefulness. The only ones I’d really use with any regularity were the aura whisper to see where the enemies were in the room up ahead so I could sneak up on them more easily (because apparently “detect life” is not a spell that exists in Skyrim, or if it does, I’ve never found it) and the ice form to CC that bear and run away before it bites my head off.

And I’ll stop reading books. I’ve got them all on my kindle now, so I can read them at my own leisure and stop worrying about finding them all in-game.

Skyrim Musings, Part 2

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

I found out why you need to sleep! Apparently, sleeping in a bed gives you a rested buff that increases the rate at which you level up your skills. Sleeping in the bed in your house doubles that effect. I’m fast-traveling around the world enough that the stronger buff is almost always missing, but if I find an unused bed in a dungeon, I’m not opposed to taking a 1-hour nap before continuing into the next room. No, of course the necromancers in the next room won’t come in and find me during that hour that I’m sleeping in their beds. Don’t be ridiculous.

My horse died. After a day or two of wandering the countryside, having it help me fight dragons and bears and all kinds of crazy things without ever seeing a health bar, it suddenly dropped dead to a simple pack of wolves on the northern edge of the map. I have no idea why THAT killed it. It didn’t have any trouble with the last five wolf packs we fought. It was kinda annoying me anyway, so I looted its hide, shrugged, and kept walking.

I encountered another horse as I was traveling through the woods to some place I hadn’t been before. It had no owner, and was being attacked by a small group of bandits. I killed them, and the horse calmed down. I “stole” it (I don’t see how that makes sense when it’s already wandering free through the countryside and I have no idea who its owner is, if they’re even still alive), and rode it a short distance to where I was going, as I was almost there.

This horse was a fighter! Every time an enemy attacked it, it ran forward and started fighting! Not at all like my last horse, which would generally run away and look sad when it got attacked, and only occasionally fight back. Unfortunately, this did not end up being a favorable trait, and this horse quickly died to the onslaught of fireballs from the mages that aggroed on me at this new place. I looted its hide, shrugged, and went into the dungeon.

I bought a third horse in another town because I thought it was pretty (patches of black and white like a pony), and so far, this one’s been pretty good to me. I discovered that I could sprint while on a horse (there’s no visible stamina bar, but the horse does have limited stamina), so if I’m traveling to a new place and mostly stick to the roads rather than wall-walking up the cliffs, it’s a pretty nice way to get somewhere quickly if I close my eyes and try to ignore all of the alchemy ingredients I’m not picking up.

I played through the intro again on my work computer during lunch out of boredom (the internet was down), and learned a couple of very interesting markers of bad design.

The first time I played through, I noticed that the quest popup on my screen said to follow this guy OR that guy through the tutorial dungeon. I only saw one guy. I stood around waiting for another guy to show up, but the guy I could see kept repeatedly pestering me about entering the door, and I was too busy trying to figure out HOW to open the door. I stood in front of it trying to figure out what button it wanted me to press to open the door, since the prompt didn’t have any button info.

I eventually (after the guy standing near the door repeated his identical “come on, get in here” line three or four times) decided to just run towards the door, which caused me to enter the dungeon. Strange, because EVERY OTHER DOOR IN THE GAME requires you to press E to open it. Even the ones inside the tutorial dungeon that it tells you to open just a minute later. I understand that it’s locked off access to the E key because my hands are still tied, but it doesn’t actually tell me that I’m supposed to charge headfirst into the door in order to get in, and the NPC isn’t programmed to accommodate the fact that I might not catch on immediately.

But this time, I was paying more attention, and discovered that I had, in the confusion of the TOWN BEING ATTACKED BY A DRAGON, entirely missed a confrontation between the two guys outside of the keep, after which you see the other guy run off to the side towards a different door.

The second thing is that someone online commented “when the tutorial NPC tells you to split up, some people actually do” and I was one of those people. I just assumed that it was going to hide the fact that the NPC was despawning shortly after running away from me, and didn’t want me to see that seam on their game design. (I hadn’t been playing long enough to remember that Elder Scrolls games don’t do that — NPCs will actually run across the world in real time if you follow them.)

So this time, I followed the NPC, to see what he would say when I directly disobeyed his suggestion to split up. Apparently, he completely forgot that he told me to do that, because he says “I’m happy that you decided to come with me” or something similar, and proceeds to teach me a couple more things that I didn’t find out about until loading screen text told me about them several days later.

Like the statue things you can interact with to get a buff that lasts until you decide to switch to a different one. I found one statue when wandering through the wilderness (going basically “I wonder what this icon on my map is for”) and it gave me a buff that would let me unlock a low-difficulty lock once per day. Uh, thanks? I think? Locks aren’t that hard to pick, and doing it for free means I’m not getting skill points… I found another that would basically let me cast a raise dead spell for free once a day, or something… hardly more useful.

I assumed all of them were similarly useless, or I’d stumble onto one that was actually useful for me later on while traveling.. But following this NPC, he led me straight to a grouping of three statues, and waited for me until I went up and used one of them. They all increase the speed at which you learn one of the three categories of skills: warrior, thief, and mage. Damn, why didn’t I know about these earlier? Oh, right, I would have if I had ignored the NPC’s instructions THAT ONE TIME and followed him instead of checking my map to see where the town was and cutting through the wilderness myself.

Learn From My Fail:

When I first started playing, I focused largely on Destruction magic as my damage source, using a one-handed sword when the enemy got too close or when I ran out of mana. I thought to myself, “Why use Archery? I’ve already got destruction spells to deal damage from range.”

But the higher level I got, the more I found myself running out of mana before the thing I was fighting would die. I can stunlock something with one of my destruction perks, but I would run out of mana doing so and found myself depending more and more on Lydia’s two-handed sword to do most of the damage to a boss while I kept it locked down. Destruction is supposed to be the damage tree, not the “keep something stunlocked so other people can damage it” tree. At this point, my dual-cast firebolts deal a tiny fraction of damage to the enemy.

Eventually I realized that I could use my bow to continue shooting the dragon from a distance rather than running up to it with my sword. I then started using my bow a lot more. Let me detail how you’re shooting yourself in the foot by focusing on destruction magic. (All of these bow/archery comments also apply to one-handed and two-handed weapons, FYI.)

1. You cannot get sneak attack bonuses with spells. None at all. Even though ice spikes travel through the air just as fast as arrows, and simply casting the spell does not cause the enemy to detect my presence, somehow getting hit in the back of the head with a surprise ice spike deals normal damage, but being hit in the back of the head with an arrow deals 2x damage. (Or 3x, once you have the perk! Even more for melee weapons, to offset the difficulty of sneaking up behind an enemy and hitting them with a sword without them seeing you.) Don’t ask me to explain it.

2. Smithing increases the damage of improved bows and melee weapons considerably. I had a bow that dealt about 25 damage. With my powered-up smithing skill, it now does about 40 base damage. And that’s just the beginning. Smithing, however, has no effect on spell damage whatsoever, and I’ve got a suspicion that the potential power of magic-based armor enchantments is inversely proportional to how much defense that armor grants. (You’re far better off being a mage wearing a robe than a mage wearing heavy armor, which is a good example of gameplay rewarding you for sticking to certain fantasy tropes.)

3a. Alchemy allows you to make potions that temporarily increase your damage with Destruction spells, as well as temporarily increase your mana pool, increase your mana regen, and restore mana. This skill is a win for Destruction so far.

3b. However, it’s more of a win for Archery: You can also make potions that temporarily increase your damage with bows, as well as doing all of that increase/restore for Stamina (used for melee power attacks as well as zooming in with the bow and slowing time in the middle of a hectic battle). Alchemy also makes potions that will temporarily buff your Smithing, allowing you to improve your weapons even more. Since there is no corresponding skill for creating new spells (nor even any way to create spells at all, which is the biggest loss of all for magic — this was the only reason magic stayed competitive in the late game in Oblivion) this is an obvious loss for magic.

4a. Enchanting allows you to add effects to armor that reduce the cost of spells of certain schools, as well as increase your mana pool and increase your mana regen speed. You can, by stacking enough enchantments and perks, make your spells completely free, because the percentages are additive, not multiplicative. There are no enchantments to increase the damage of your spells.

4b. There are, however, armor enchants that increase your damage with bows, in addition to enchantments on said bows to drastically increase their damage directly. Almost everything you were using spells to do, you can just enchant a bow to do the same thing. Increase its damage directly with destruction-based enchants like added frost damage. Cause it to drain mana/stamina from your enemies when you hit them. Make them run away in fear. Make your killing blows steal the target’s soul (this is my current enchantment of choice on my bow, because casting soul steal is such a pain).

5. Finally, Enchanting compounds the effects of both Alchemy and Smithing, because you can enchant various gear slots to improve your Alchemy and Smithing ability. You can wear your Alchemy-buffing armor to allow you to make even better Smithing-buffing potions (and Archery-buffing potions), and then use those potions while wearing your Smithing-buffing armor to improve your weapons even more!

So yeah, don’t put any perks into Destruction past what you need to unlock the ability to stunlock enemies. That’s all I use my mana for any more.

Healing spells are almost completely pointless because I’ve got 200 pounds of cheese wheels and health potions in my bag that I’m happy to use up to make room for more loot (which is usually just more cheese wheels and health potions) and why spend a couple of precious seconds (during which another fireball is flying towards me) casting a healing spell when I can just pause the game, chow down on an entire farmer’s market, and unpause at full health? The only time I even cast healing spells is to top myself off after a battle when I know I’m going to tick back up to full eventually, and my mana regens faster than my health does.

I suppose I could use wards to reduce incoming damage instead, but it’s silly how fast it eats your mana for the fact that you can’t attack while using it and it effectively blinds me by covering my whole screen with that ward graphic. I don’t know what’s wrong with my wards (maybe there’s a perk I don’t have?), because the enemy mages always seem to be able to keep up a ward while attacking just fine. They’re probably doing some kind of dual-hand spellcasting where they keep their shield up with their left hand while throwing ice spikes with their right. You miss out on dual-casting fireballs that way, and I don’t see how they’re able to aim, but then again, they are computers.

Skyrim musings

Monday, November 14th, 2011

I’m really rather attached to my companion character. I had an elf following me around for a little while, and I’m not entirely sure why he was willing to risk his life for me (all I did was tell him about a jealous guy who wanted to trick the elf’s girlfriend into breaking up with him) and when I was assigned my own personal bodyguard, I jumped at the chance to let the elf return home to his girlfriend.

Lydia is the only character in this game whose name I remember. She is fiercely loyal, tanks bears for me while I pelt them with fireballs from behind, carries quite a large amount of loot for me so I can earn twice as much money from an outing, and does not care in the slightest when I steal things (she even mimics my stance when I’m sneaking). However, she is not particularly good at not stepping on traps, and she does have an annoying habit of getting in my way in narrow doorways and staircases and refusing to move no matter how much I try to shove her. She does look pretty badass in the Dwarven armor I found in that last dungeon though.

They seem to have fixed one of my biggest complaints about Oblivion: the complete lack of pants for female characters. They have done this by removing the pants slot entirely, and just combining it with the chest slot to just be “armor”. This has the downside of giving you one less possible enchantment slot, but the upside that your pants will always match your shirt.

I’m not completely sure though, perhaps the “clothes” are automatically skirts for female characters, I haven’t actually tried wearing them yet. I generally run around in a combination of mage robe and enchanted light armor. Leather boots and bracers, hide helmet, cloth robe. But even the mage robes don’t cover my legs all the way down to my feet, it’s more like a long tunic with pants. Someday I’ll have a high enough enchanting skill to make myself some respectable mage-oriented light armor as well.

I am highly impressed, however, with the improvements to the Argonians in the character creator. In Oblivion, it was obvious that the Argonians were just shoehorned in to a bunch of character sliders that were designed for human faces. Most of the sliders either did nothing at all, ALMOST nothing at all, or made parts of your anatomy bulge out in awkward ways.

One example of this I remember specifically was that there was a “lip color” slider that would make a patch of skin at the tip of the snout (about halfway between the upper lip and the nostrils) change color in a “lips” shape, like some tipsy woman had walked over and kissed my lizard on the snout. I will reassure you now that this is no longer the case, and there are a great deal of argonian-specific makeup locations, painting the eye ridges and the scales on the top of the head or the throat or the lip-scales a variety of colors, and quite a few more interesting horn styles (with customizable-color feathers on many of them!) than I remember seeing in Oblivion for female Argonians.

Though there still isn’t much point to most of this customization if you almost never see your character’s face. I just figured that if they’re going to call me Dragonborn, I should at least look the part. Looking like a dragon is pretty helpful, even if the Argonian racial abilities are pretty useless — I’ve only rarely encountered water deep enough that I even needed to breathe, let alone worry about drowning, and I found a water breathing necklace pretty early in the game. (I gave it to Lydia, but I have no idea if companion characters are even able to drown…)

I was misclicking on dialogue options CONSTANTLY until I realized that it was selecting dialogue based on which answer was HIGHLIGHTED, not which one the little arrow was pointing at (the one I had scrolled to), and not the one that my mouse cursor was on. These three options are not the same as much as you would think.

Also, the fact that it uses varying shades of gray for the dialogue options (fading them out when you’ve already selected those, or when they’re on the edge of the scrolled portion of the list) means that you have no way of knowing at a glance which item is highlighted. You’ve got two dialogue options. One of them is gray, one of them is white. Without moving the cursor around to see how the brightness changes, how do you tell if that white is slightly darker than it could be, or that gray slightly lighter?

This would be so much easier if they used a completely different color for the selected option, but then I suppose colorblind people would complain. (They probably love this game, since most of it is shades of gray anyway — Northrend syndrome isn’t really avoidable in this setting) But then, maybe, they could just use some kind of arrow or something to point to the selected item? Oh wait, there already is an arrow, but it is just pointing to the center item in the list to show where the scrolling is anchored, not to the item you’re actually selecting.

One specific example I remember was when I was accosted by a thief (who told me to hand over all of my valuables AFTER HELPING ME KILL A DRAGON) and I scrolled down to tell him to go away because he’s a waste of my time, but the interface decided that I ACTUALLY cowered in front of him and gave him my money. He laughed at me for being such a weakling, I said out loud “what just happened?” killed him with a fireball and took back my gold.

Now I take my conversations a little bit more slowly, making sure that the thing I actually want to say is highlighted before clicking on it. I am deathly afraid that I will accidentally tell Lydia I don’t need her services any more instead of trading with her (the options are right next to each other) and she’ll leave me in this crypt alone, taking all of my valuable stuff with her.

I play Elder Scrolls games as a kind of “loot and sell everything I possibly can” game, though I think I really need to tone it down a bit because I have far more gold than I actually have a use for, and I’m only going to find more valuable stuff from this point on.

I always find myself in this situation: I skip over all of the obviously worthless things like plates and spoons (and brooms), I loot and steal ALL of the food, alchemy supplies, other crafting stuff, soul gems, because the fact that I stole that wolf hide matters not at all after I’ve tanned it into leather and turned it into a pair of boots. I also steal anything of considerable value, like necklaces or magical items. Anything else that has a reasonable value for its weight I loot and carry back to town for selling. I strip those bandits of their leather armor and leave them naked in the snow.

When I find myself with a full inventory in the middle of a dungeon (and my companion character also refuses to take any more loot), I don’t really want to walk all the way back out to sell my stuff. I stop right where I am, open up my inventory, and start comparing items. I REALLY wish items had a “price per pound” field to make this process easier. It’s hard doing all this math in my head for dozens of items so that I can go back to picking up more items. Maybe someone will make a mod for that.

Chests don’t have items sorted in the same way as your own inventory or trading with people, which is really annoying when I’m trying to stuff all of my loot into my house for more quick adventuring without having to worry about going out to sell all of it. At first I thought it was sorted alphabetically, as there were “misc” items near the top of the list and I had to scroll down a bit to get to the armor, but then I noticed that there were some items that started with low letters stashed somewhere near the bottom, and now I have no idea what’s going on any more.

R is used for taking all out of a chest, but is also the key for putting items INTO a chest. There is no confirmation box to ask if you’re sure if you want to take EVERYTHING out of a chest. While I know that such a confirmation box should not be implemented globally (how annoying would it be if every bandit you looted asked if you were sure before you looted those five arrows and leather boots) I think they could easily have some kind of a threshold where it would ask if you’re sure before accidentally looting 500 pounds of assorted weapons and armor from that box in your house because you misclicked when you were trying to unload your junk.

R will take all items and then close the chest, but taking all items individually with E does not close the chest? I think that once you’ve taken all of the items, pressing E again should close the chest. Every time I accidentally search an empty monster out of habit because my finger pressed the key before my brain registered my eyes seeing the “Empty” marker, it’s like it’s punishing me for it by making me press Tab to close it instead of R.

Similarly, when you’re taking items OUT of a chest (or from your companion character) if you are taking an item that has multiples (like that weightless stack of 250 Ancient Nord Arrows I keep adding to in Lydia’s inventory) if you press E again, it will act as “okay” and confirm that you want to take all of them. When you’re putting items INTO a chest with the R button, you can’t press R again to confirm that you want to put in all of them. You have to press Enter, or move the mouse over to click Okay.

I avoided buying a horse in Oblivion. I bought it once, and then mostly ignored it the rest of the time. My main reason for this was that my standard mode of travel was “Ooh! Flowers! *pick pick pick* Ooh! Mushrooms! *pick* Ooh, a farm filled with tomatoes! *gets distracted by stealing every last tomato from the field*” and then discover I have dozens upon dozens of alchemy ingredients upon reaching my destination. I cannot loot items from a horse. After purchasing a horse, that turns into “Ooh! Flowers! *gets off horse* *pick pick pick* *gets on horse* Ooh! Mushrooms! *gets off horse* *pick* *gets on horse” et cetera.

As you can imagine, this adds far more to my travel time than I would gain by being on a horse, especially since the horses don’t seem to actually walk that much faster than I do. Also, the controls for moving on a horse are rather awkward compared to when you’re moving on foot — horses can’t strafe, for example. Now, if I could have a pack horse that would hold my stuff for me, then it would be worth having.

I’d say it would be worth the speed increase during fast travel, where I don’t have to stop and pick flowers anyway, but I don’t actually CARE that much about how much time is passing in the world. The game gives me no reason to care. If it happens to be nighttime when I need to visit a shop, I’ll just stand outside of it and wait the 9 hours it takes for it to open again. There are beds, but I’m never given a reason why I should “sleep” instead of “wait” when one has the added inconvenience of needing to actually find (or pay for) a bed that isn’t owned by someone else. At least Oblivion forced you to sleep in a bed in order to level up; I have yet to find any such gameplay justification for beds in Skyrim.

The only reason I purchased a horse in Skyrim was because Best Friend kept telling me to, because apparently the hype about horses in Skyrim is epic… screenshots of horses facing off against dragons and such, so I had to try it. My horse, however, mostly wanders off to hide in a safe place nearby, though it has fought off a couple packs of wolves quite heroically.

Also, I have yet to see my horse actually take damage. I am convinced that it has no health bar, for it’s seemed to survive just fine against a dragon and taken no damage from those bears that attacked us. I’ve heard stories of horses dying, but until proven otherwise, I’m convinced that they can only die from falling and other insta-kill things like that one time a dragon ate me even though I was at nearly full health.

Dragons are WAY easier to kill than bears and other wildlife. Dragons have a set script. They fly up, they come back, they breathe at you, they fly up some more, eventually they run out of mana and come down to bite you. Bears, giant icy sabercats, those ice spiders that are sometimes inexplicably more powerful than bears even though most of them are as weak as rats… they have one strategy. It’s called “run at you really fast and bite you until you die.” One time, I was fighting three enormous spiders, Lydia and I were faring pretty well, until suddenly a bear insta-gibs me from behind. Where did it even come from?

One time, I killed a dragon (it’s actually getting a bit trivial now that I’ve learned how to stun things with fireballs) and approached the wall for my prize dragon words. As I approached, there was a swirl and a LICH appeared. A NAMED Lich. A Lich whose fireballs took off half my health and seemed to have an impenetrable mana shield. I don’t know where Lydia went in the confusion, I could barely see anything through the constant barrage of fireballs.

I beat the Lich back to the edge of a cliff and managed to run away as fast as I could to think up a strategy. I was running dangerously low on stolen loaves of bread and apples to heal myself with, though I had not yet used very many of my gallons of healing potions. When I returned to the peak to try again, the Lich was nowhere to be seen. I found Lydia… dead near the cliff edge. I peeked over the cliff and retreated in a hurry as I saw the Lich below me. I ran to the wall to learn my words, but I found them less than useful in my current circumstances.

I approached the cliff more carefully and looked down at the Lich. It tried to throw a fireball at me, but it would just crash against the rocks without harming me. Perfect! So I sat there, pelting it with fireballs and waiting for my mana to regen so I could pelt it with more fireballs, whittling down its health. Eventually its staff of fireballs ran out of charges and it started casting ice spikes at me, which would actually hit me instead of smashing on the rocks. Fortunately, they moved much more slowly and were much smaller, allowing me to quite easily sidestep them as they flew past me.

Eventually the Lich went down, and I wall-walked down the cliff to collect my loot: A completely used up Staff of Fireballs and a named mask that greatly reminded me of the tier 7 warlock helm. I returned to the mountaintop, and Lydia wouldn’t get up. I looted all of the most valuable stuff from her body and returned to town to stuff it in my house and see if Lydia would respawn there. She did not. She was dead. I was sad.

Then Khoa found a post that explained how to use the in-game test console to revive her. So I returned to the mountaintop, found Lydia’s body, opened the console, clicked on her body, and typed “resurrect” and lo, Lydia was alive once more.

It is FAR too easy to steal and pickpocket things. Unless someone is standing in a corner with their back to the wall, I can steal everything in their house while they’re awake and partially looking in my direction. Oh! I’m standing very slightly behind an end table, you can’t see me reach over and steal your gold that is sitting on top of the end table! Oh! I’m crouching behind where you’re standing at your counter, you’re not going to bother turning around to keep an eye on me (like Oblivion would) you can’t see me reach over IN FRONT OF YOU and steal all of the valuable items you have on display on the counter. And you’re definitely not going to follow me upstairs to make sure I don’t steal any of your personal items, or even be suspicious of why I’m going up there!

I do like that even though I wasn’t “caught”, people still seem to know that it was me. I got attacked by some super-powerful thugs, and after many quick-reloads I eventually killed them and looted a note that said they were hired by the local alchemist who I’d robbed blind just yesterday. I talked to her again and there was no way for me to ask her about it, and she was as friendly as always, so I’m pretty sure it’s just a random occurrence that happens when you steal a lot of stuff from a particular person.

I am told that this game does not have custom spells. This makes me sad. I assumed this game still had them, I just hadn’t unlocked them yet (I’ve barely even joined the mage school). I was looking forward to being able to make my crazy custom spell combinations like I had in Oblivion:

Touch range, 1-second duration, increase my own Charisma (Diplomacy? Speech? Persuasion? Whatever the thing was that buffed my social-ness) by as much as possible for the amount of mana I had available, as well as Charming the target. This would be used on shopkeepers whenever buying or selling anything, as it would instantly let me access the best prices for everything. The game is paused while I’m talking to NPCs, and I obviously wasn’t using my mana for anything else while I’m in the middle of town, so this allowed me to gain a crazy amount of charisma by spending absolutely every last point of mana while minimizing the range and duration to further reduce the cost. Also, since the first part of it was a “buff my own stats” spell, it counted as a Restoration spell, and could use my relatively high Restoration skill instead of my rather low Illusion skill.

Touch range, fire damage with a 1-second weakness to fire debuff attached to it. Weakness to fire is an incredibly cheap effect (especially with that duration) compared to direct damage, so I could make a spell do twice as much damage by tacking on a weakness to that element. Similarly as above, reducing the range can maximize the damage to mana, I’d obviously have different spells for hitting mobs at range.

Ah, good times. Oh well, I’ll just have to wait for the mod community to add this functionality back into the game.

I have also heard that they removed certain lesser-used spells from the game. Like Open Lock. This also makes me sad. I rarely used the Open Lock spell myself, but I was comforted by the knowledge that it was there. That in some other alternate universe, I was playing a character who avoided being a sneaky thief, instead using her knowledge of the arcane to magically open the locks on the treasure boxes she encountered within dungeons. In Skyrim, you apparently have to know how to pick locks manually like a common criminal, even if you’re never stealing anything.