Thursday, July 30, 2009

End of Tribunal, Mournhold Expanded

Well, it turns out I couldn't stay away from Mournhold, because I wanted to try out Mournhold Expanded, a very large multi-mod, similar to Balmora Expansion in that it adds new shops, items, and locations, but it seems to add a lot more of these things than Balmora Expansion does. It does not extensively modify the existing Mournhold as BE does to Balmora, but contains its additions in several new cells accessed through doors added to the main Temple area.

But first, a bit about the Tribunal main quest

Unfortunately, any time I talked with the NPCs (there are hundreds of new NPCs added), they always wanted to complain about the horrible ash storms plaguing the city, which interfered with any special greetings they were supposed to have, which would have given me new mod-related topics to discuss with them. So, I figured I'd better follow through with the rest of the main quest just so I could get things back to normal, a necessity about which I complained in a previous post. My advice is, if you don't want to be more or less forced to finish things off in a hurry, don't turn on the weather control machine. After you do, there's not much you can do except plow through to the end.

That said, I have some nice things to say about the main quest, which I'll hide in a spoiler block. This is mostly about some unique and interesting architecture, but there are some spoilers in the form of information Almalexia gives you as you set off for the last quest. I'm not going to get into what you find at the end of this quest, or what happens:

Spoiler: Click to display/hide

Spoiler contains briefing info about final quest in Tribunal, and descriptions of architecture.

As good-looking as the corridors are, they're completely devoid of furniture (aside from the built-in benches), as well as containers. It's kind of a shame this nice architecture isn't utilised to its full potential, and is used only in one quest, much like the Imperial Library in Oblivion -- beautiful, but only visitable once, and only for a faction quest. I'll have to search and see if there are mods made using this Clockwork City tileset.

Back to Mournhold Expanded

So, with all obstructions out of the way, I went to go explore Mournhold Expanded. I spent several hours looking around the places, doing a couple of simple quests, buying some unique items and clothes, and picking up a new companion or two. The mod adds a water resort, a theme park with rides, fireworks, and entertainment, a horseback riding area, a shopping mall with restaurant, a huge waterfront area that I've barely begun to explore, and plenty of other stuff listed in the readme that I haven't had time to explore yet. One of the stores is a furniture store with custom furniture and decorations that you can buy and install in your own home(s). Several others contain collections of clothing from various artists, including Korana's Silk Wraps mod, which seems to be difficult to obtain on its own lately.

The NPCs are mostly good looking, but there's a strange mix of Better Bodies NPCs and the original vanilla models for some NPCs. This was apparently a necessity in order to include some of the new custom animation and poses, such as sitting and drinking, or playing in a band. It's just very strange to see these low-rez, blocky, mannequin-looking figures amongst the ones I've been used to. (Note image with dancers in foreground and musicians in background.)

Spooky Halloween-style ride at Almalexia Gardens

There's a lot to see here, and I'm just going to talk about one of the first places I saw and enjoyed. The amusement park is called Almalexia Gardens, and it includes many ride attractions in the same vein as the Pirates of the Carribbean ride. I believe the name was inspired by Busch Gardens theme park, since that park also has themed areas that recreate different countries, and that's what Almalexia Gardens does as well. There are different sections to correspond with the different provinces of Tamriel, such as Hammerfell, High Rock, Summurset Isle, etc. I haven't yet explored them all in detail, but they seem to have small regions meant to represent the climate and landscape of each area, with representative NPCs of those regions, exhibiting some of their culture, and something interesting and unique in each one. In the middle of the park is "A Year In Tamriel", which has a different attraction for various holidays of the year.

The first one I visited was the Halloween-style holiday, called "Tales and Tallows", which was full of carved Jack-o-lanterns, a mummy, spiderwebs, and other Halloweeny stuff, and (my favourite) a haunted mine cart ride. It has the theme park ride entrance look, with railings and gates made of dwemer architecture, and a queue of other people waiting to go on the ride, all of whom are more than happy to allow you to go on ahead before them. To the sides of the ride are a replica graveyard complete with ghosts, and a track with some other people in mine carts. Strong green lights predominate here, underscoring the fun-scary theme park atmosphere.

Pulling the level puts you immediately on the mine cart and rolling slowly along the track. I recommend being in 1st person view for this ride, not 3rd person, because if you're in 3rd person you can see yourself standing over the cart as it rolls along, ruining the illusion that you're sitting in it. Once the ride begins, you can't move, use magic, or change between 1st and 3rd person, until you reach the end and are released from the ride.

The mine cart takes you past about a dozen spooky set pieces, including pirate ships with skeleton crews, a haunted house with ghosts floating around, and others along the same theme, all bathed in green light. At the end of it, you can either go on it again in reverse, or go through the door at the end, which will transport you directly back to the Year In Tamriel lobby.

I'll be trying the other ones later.

More screenshots:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hidden spoiler code for my posts

I had been looking into implementing something like this for a while now, but today it came to my attention that at least one person has decided to temporarily stop this blog because I've been talking about bits of the main quests that are further along than s/he is in the game. I hope this new feature will help out with that sort of thing. Now, when I talk about a possible spoiler, I'll hide it in a block of text, like this:

Spoiler: Click to display/hide

This is a demonstration, and contains no spoilers.

Smaller spoilers can be hidden like this, which you can read by highlighting them -- Here, I talk about the secrets of [this spoiler has been redacted by the Illuminati].

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I myself don't need a weathervane to tell which way the wind blows

The Helseth questline is ridiculous. The man continues to make transparent attempts to kill me, and there's nothing I can do but pretend I don't notice. "Assassins are coming to kill the queen," he says, "and since I can't trust my guards, I want you to be the only one there to defend her." Fine, I say. Just so I can get the stupid piece of the legendary weapon that one of his guards has in his possession. So the assassins come, big surprise, they really came after me. This king is an idiot who thinks that three Dark Brotherhood assassins will be enough to take care of me after I fought through their entire lair and killed their leader. My only handicap in this fight was that I couldn't use my wide-spread attack spells, because Barenziah was in the next room, and she would die too.

Helseth drops his guard a little in his surprise at my return safe and sound from the assassin attack, again, as if he forgot that I came straight from the DB lair at the beginning of this ridiculous plot. So then he tells me that I need to prove my worth by dueling his champion, who no one has ever beaten. You've got to be kidding me. What's next? He'll pull out a shotgun and tell me he just wants to test the quality of my robes?

Happily, as far as I can tell, there won't need to be a "next", after I beat his champion and obtained the blade fragment I needed. Helseth of course seemed more dismayed and shaken at my success than anything, but he pressed on in preparation for his grand speech about his plans for me, at which point I said "goodbye" and left before he had a chance to add any crap to my journal that I didn't intend on completing.

This is not to say that I have any more love for Almalexia than I do for Helseth. After I got all the blade pieces and left them with the smith to reforge the weapon, I checked back with Almalexia to see if she was as tired of the ash storms as I was. In fact, she stated in no uncertain terms that she planned to continue the ash storms until she was fully satisfied that the poor people of Mournhold had suffered enough and feared her divine power again.

Yay. Of course, it wasn't her divine power that started the ash storms, it was me pushing a few levers on a dwarven weather control device. Just in case, I made a trip back down into the ruins to see if I could just turn it off again, but no luck. The levers were "held in place by a mysterious force". Mysterious? I think not.

At this point I installed Yellowdude's Amulet of Weather, and brought back the clear skies for my own personal comfort, main quest be damned.

I think I need to get away from all these nasty politics and paranoia for a while. I'm going to take a trip to the land of the ice and snow, and...werewolves?

Addendum: Although the aforementioned weather-control amulet worked as advertised, it seems to interfere with the scripting on my purchasable alchemy lab, which is unacceptable. When I attempted to access my alchemy materials after installing this weather mod, nothing happened. I uninstalled the weather mod, and my alchemy lab returned to normal. So caveat emptor.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The perils of railroading

I reached a point in Tribunal's main questline in which Almalexia has sent me off to find two things (well, one is a collection of things):

Spoiler: Click to display/hide

This spoiler involves the Temple side of the main quest in Tribunal.

As an aside, this museum is pitiful. It contains one artifact! A two-story building full of display tables and pedestals and guards, and only one item to display. It's not even in the middle of the museum, where you might expect a museum's prize possession to be, but on a table off against one of the side walls by the stairs. No plaque or information card either, nor any glass case or even a velvet rope barrier. Honestly, it looks like some warrior just accidentally left his hammer on a bench in an empty room. Ridiculous. No museum, no matter how optimistic, would open to the public with two floors of nothing (plus one). A "collection" like this would make more sense on display in a temple or throne room, not in a dedicated building.

So I'm required to donate at least two items to this "museum", I suppose so that it can properly be called a "collection", and in so doing I must thin out my own private museum, which is much worthier of the title.

Spoiler: Click to display/hide

This spoiler involves the Imperial side of the main quest in Tribunal.

The thing is, this needn't have been a problem at all, if they had just written Almalexia's dialogue to say "Go talk to this person" instead of saying "look to someone who guided you in the past", since it's quite possible that no such thing ever occurred.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Starting over, Tribunal MQ, dwemer ruins

New character

Well, I went ahead and started over, with the knowledge of everything I'd learned the first time in mind. I figure this is a good spot to stop numbering my posts, and just go with titles. (In the picture, my new character is wearing the purple fairy outfit from Clothiers of Vvardenfell.)

This time, I went straight to Balmora, joined the Mages' Guild, bought a common soul gem and a soul trap spell, and teleported to Caldera to sell a trapped Ancestor Ghost soul to Creeper for 4000 drakes. I then proceeded to outfit myself properly, purchased the spells I needed to make some custom effects, and headed to Tel Branora to pick up more empty common soul gems to fill and pay for the custom spells and enchanted items I needed. Fine rings are more than enough to make some nice utility enchanted items, like night eye, healing, bound dagger, hoptoad, slow fall, etc. Much easier to use them rather than deal with the tiny mana pool at the low levels.

Then, I took the transport to Ald'ruhn, and spent about an hour searching for Pemenie so I could do her escort quest and get the Boots of Blinding Speed, to make the agonising run speed into something tolerable. For them to be useful, of course, I needed to make another utility ring to give me enough magic resistence to counteract the blindness side effect of wearing them. As a Breton, I'm 50% immune to negative magic effects anyway, so another 50% was all I needed, and only for 1 second, plenty of time to activate it and then put the boots on.

I also joined House Telvanni again, since I'm playing a mage again, and because I really liked it the first time. Other factions I joined besides the Mages' Guild include the Imperial Cult, the Tribunal Temple, and the Legion, just so I can go and do that Widow Vabdas quest that the quest bug caused the game to skip over the first time through.

Knowing exactly how the magic system works this time around, I made the best spells I was capable of casting, so I'm good in a fight, but I'm a real glass cannon, because one hit will often kill me. Levitation and invisibility are my friends.

Tribunal continued

The fact that I've started another character doesn't mean I'm done playing my first one, though. I'm quite curious about all the locations in Tribunal, and I've been continuing along in that. However, something has just happened that has turned me off from it. Wasn't I just complaining about ash storms? And guess what happens in Tribunal, as you advance the main quest? Ash storms. With the added insult that you, the player, are the one who is required to bring them about, in order to advance in the main quest. Why is it that Bethesda always seems to include events in the main questline that uglify the game world, reduce its already-meagre inhabitants, or otherwise create nuisances for the player? Do they want players to get to an irritating point, and then plow through the rest of the main quest in the hopes of getting things back to normal? Because that's what I do, and I wish I didn't have to.

More extensive dwarven ruins

A good thing about Tribunal is that it includes a very large dwemer ruin with unique architecture, set pieces, and items, along with some pretty strong physical evidence for which of the many conflicting stories may be true, regarding what happened to the dwarves.

Aesthetically, I much prefer the more elegant, ornate, rather Victorian wrought-brasswork of the Oblivion dwemer architecture, such as what we see in the Orrery, as opposed to the heavy duty Industrial Revolution look with the mottled rust/copper plate of Morrowind. If I decide to make a dwarven mod, I would attempt to bring some of that elegant look to Morrowind.

Interestingly, these ruins have a blue and green lighting style, as opposed to the orange and red of the Vvardenfell ruins. I haven't actually seen any lava yet, only water. Also, these have tilework instead of being all heavy metal walls and floors. Perhaps this is because the metal is only necessary in the lava-working depths? In any case, if these ruins are about the same age as the ones on Vvardenfell (and I have no reason to doubt they are), then I interpret this as a good indication of the varying styles of Dwemer architecture that we should see in a fully-realised dwarven city.

This place seemed more artisan than industrial, with workshops, eating areas, and less spartan quarters than the ones in the lavaworks. I'm guessing the lava-oriented ruins are primarily concerned with generating power (geothermal steam power, obviously), and facilities like this are primarily concerned with routing it and using it.

Tribunal is also home to the biggest daedric shrine I've seen yet, and one of the most creatively designed, as well.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Day 25: End of the main quest

I actually wrote this post a while ago, after finishing the main quest, but delayed posting it because I didn't have any screenshots set up to accompany it. I'm posting it anyway.

I won't spoil anything about the content of the main quest. But I finished it, and I was disappointed with two things -- one, the ash storms still occur. Sure, the skies are blue over Red Mountain now, and it was calm when I emerged, but sometimes I still get ash storms, there and in other places like Maar Gan and Ald'Ruhn, and I thought finishing the main quest was supposed to end those. The other thing that disappoints me is the change in the way NPCs address me. I believe it was supposed to be an ego-stroke, but it irritates me to have every person I talk to recognise me, thank me, and often grovel to me. That's not the character I'm playing. I want to be a relatively anonymous adventurer. I'd almost recommend just not finishing the main quest for that reason. Especially since I don't think they'll stop. Perhaps I can find a mod to get rid of that problem.

The end game was interesting and a challenge, at least, thanks to the aforementioned Greater Dwemer Ruins mod, which greatly expanded the final three citadels. From what I've seen, it would have been trivial otherwise. Even with this mod, I find it difficult to believe that the three gods of the Tribunal were unable to break through these defenses for 300 years, when someone without godlike powers is able to.

I'm not absolutely sure I got through the last one the way Darknut intended, especially after I found out that I definitely went through the second-to-last one in an unintended way in one spot. But I searched for a very long time looking for another way to do it, and I couldn't find any, so if it was the "wrong" way, so be it. I prefer non-linear solutions to things anyway.

One thing I found unnecessary about DN's GDR is that it replaces the voice of Dagoth Ur, probably because it adds voice acting to all of his lines. I would remove that entirely. That aside, this replaced voice for Dagoth Ur stripped him of his uniqueness. After I finished the main quest, I viewed a couple of speedruns of the game (one completed in 14:26, another in 7:30 -- those are minutes, not hours), and heard his original voice. It was very unique! In this mod, it becomes a generic, stereotypical villain voice.

Nevertheless, the mod adds a great deal of fabulous architecture and puzzles to the game, so I still highly recommend it.

Voice acting vs. text

As I mentioned voice acting, I should explain my stance on it. I don't need or want more voice acting. In fact, I detest what mandatory voice acting of every single line of dialogue has done to video games -- creating bloated file sizes, and much less actual dialogue. Add to that less variety between characters -- compare Morrowind, which had voice acting only for generic greetings and exclamations, and employed different sets of voice actors for every kind of elf, with Oblivion, which had the same set of voice actors for all elves. Morrowind has pages and pages of dialogue that may be unique to any given NPC, compared to the dozen lines or so they might have in Oblivion. Because they have to pay actors to speak it all, and then find space on the discs for those sound files. Text, on the other hand, is cheap and low-maintenance.

And I like to read! I love the in-game books, many of which are very well-written! I've formatted and printed out some of them from the copies on, and read them for pleasure. I'm pretty sure the 2920 series was in Oblivion, too, but I never got around to reading it, because there were so many volumes. But I'm reading it now, and it's worth the read, although it is a very brutal story, both viscerally and emotionally.

Post MQ

So now, I'm going back to the side quests. There are still many areas on the map left unexplored, and there are some towns whose quests I still haven't even picked up yet. And then there are countless mods I've looked at which add entire new islands to the game, as well as pirate-themed mods that work well with the Ultimate Galleon or Fishing Academy. And of course, I have the Tribunal expansion, which still has plenty to do, and the Bloodmoon expansion which I still haven't even begun, beyond going to Solstheim and taking a look around.

Fun with enemies

One thing I've started having fun with is converting enemies into temporary companions. I occasionally run across an enemy in a ruin or somewhere, and I may just like the look of him or her. In-game, there's a spell I haven't used much, called Command Humanoid, which will cause any NPC (if the spell is successful) to become your ally, and fight for you, just like a summoned creature, or just follow you around if there's nothing to fight. Though I haven't used that one, I have used Calm Humanoid often, to talk to enemies and see if they have any unique dialogue or training to offer.

Anyway, Command Humanoid is a temporary effect, of course, but I've been using a mod with a similar function, called NPC Functionality. This is a broad, general-purpose NPC interaction mod that I've mentioned before, that adds options to exhange pleasantries, ask the time, ask them to move out of the way, ask them to cast a beneficial spell on you, or, if they like you enough, to follow you as a companion. It can be a little tricky, because sometimes even if they're 100% disposition they still won't agree to follow you, but it works well enough after I cast spells fortifying my personality and speechcraft and charming them. So I calm the enemy, then charm them and ask them to come with me, and suddenly I have a travelling companion! Unlike Command Humanoid, this effect lasts as long as I don't ask them to stop following me. Also, as mentioned before, I can then also take advantage of the Universal Companion Share mod to exchange items with them, outfitting them with better items to improve their survivability.