Skyrim is a beautifully vast and sweeping game. Also vast: the possibility of its modding potential. The nomadic fans of Morrowind are crossing those rolling plains of creation, as part of their quest to settle within the safety and shelter of this newer game's engine. Their journey started just over a year ago, and now - while still far from the home stretch - they've made great progress. They've even released a trailer showing just how far they've come.
Skywind is currently on version 0.91, and, according to its makers, still very much in alpha. "You can move around the world, interact with a few things, but the full content of questing, gameplay and many other various elements are not part of the game yet," they write. "These Alpha releases are more for getting people interested, inspired and up-to-date with development so they can help with the project."
Nevertheless, it's a fantastically ambitious project that appears to be progressing nicely. You can download Skywind from the Morroblivion website, stopping only briefly to appreciate how great the word "Morroblivion" is. To play it, you'll need both Skyrim and Morrowind (along with the Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions) installed on your computer.
Internet. Internet never changes. Which is why, once again, we're having to cross the irradiated wasteland of rumour and speculation. There's a chance - remote though it may be - that Bethesda are readying the broadcast signal and preparing to announce Fallout 4 to whichever isolated pockets of humanity care to listen. Of course, there's also a chance that this is nothing, and that Fallout fans will be left to starve on a diet of broken, empty dreams. It's how they would want to go.
The first clue was the emergence of the website TheSurvivor2299.com. It's a countdown site, ticking down to the 11th December, and featuring the logo of the series' Vault-Tec company. The site also plays a Morse code signal, which translates to '11-12-13'. A WHOIS lookup of that site shows that, apparently, it was registered by Bethesda's parent company Zenimax.
So far, so good, but a number of factors cast doubt on the site. You can find a great rundown of evidence for and against the site's legitimacy on the Fallout Subreddit, but, to summarise, it was both registered by a different company than Zenimax usually use, and is using a different, self-branded DNS. Eyebrows were also raised at the date, which is in the dd/mm/yy format so beloved by myself and my countrymen.
Of course, the counter-argument is that Bethesda have done this to foster such uncertainty - with believers citing when Blizzard did a similar thing with one of their viral teaser sites. It's also worth nothing that the 11th December is the date of the VGAs, an award ceremony which is known for its game announcements. And for being embarrassing to watch. People have also pointed out that of course they were going to use dd/mm/yy, because 11-12-13 looks cool.
We're not done yet. There's another twist: a Fallout 4 trademark has been registered by Bethesda Softworks. Even that's far from definitive. A recent EU trademark for Half-Life 3, supposedly from Valve, was later removed when it turned out to be a hoax.
Given all this, we turned to Bethesda in the hope that they could act as the Geiger Counter against these deadly rumours. Their response? "No comment". Make of that what you will.
No matter what upcoming plans Dishonored developer Arkane Studios has hidden in a velvet-lined box somewhere, it looks like CryEngine will be a part of it. A recent hiring push by the Austin-based Arkane and Battlecry Studios for artists and programmers to work with the Crytek game engine has surfaced, pointing to a project separate from the Unreal Engine 3-based Dishonored.
Dishonored publisher Bethesda's VP of marketing Pete Hines had already described the first-person stealth action game as a "franchise" back in July, but it's unclear if the CryEngine project is tied to that game or not. Arkane has offices in both Lyon, France as well as Austin and we know from the push for more designers that at the very least the Austin branch has a CryEngine game in mind.
While much depends on the what game artists and designers have in mind, the choice of game engine can influence the look, feel and scope of the final experience, not to mention its development process. Notable current and upcoming games that use CryEngine technology include Star Citizen, MechWarrior Online, and of course, Crysis 3.
Hat tip, IGN.
Oct 27, 2013
Isn't starting a new character in an RPG the best? Sure, it's great being a high-level badass with an arsenal of weapons and spells and enough loot to choke a dragon. But there's something about starting over from scratch, when every rusty dagger is a priceless treasure and every minor monster is a genuine threat. Let's all start a new character in Skyrim, and let's all use the Skyrim Unbound mod. It makes starting over an adventure in itself.
Skyrim Unbound is designed to give you a fresh start to the game. You've played through the original Helgen opener enough, right? You've been the Dragonborn plenty of times. You've slain so many dragons you need to build an extra room on your house just to store their bones. This time, let's skip all that. You can save the world later. For now, let's just get busy living in it.
There are tons of places to start your game. Or you can let the mod pick one for you.
When you start a new game, you'll see the Skyrim title card, and then a notification to visit the mod configuration menu. There, you can select the options you want to start your game with. You can pick a specific starting point, the place in the world your new character will appear, or just specify the type of area you’d like to start in (city, town, wilderness, inn, even a jail cell). Don't care where you start, or want to be surprised? Leave it on random, and the game will decide.
There are several types of characters to choose from: you can be a hunter/explorer, a warrior, a mage, a merchant/traveler, a thief/assassin, and even a beggar. The type of character you pick will determine the type of gear and clothing you begin with. A hunter will have a bow, a mage will have a staff and a couple spells, a warrior will have a starter set of armor and a nice big melee weapon, a merchant will have a fat purse of gold. A beggar, naturally, will have just some ragged clothing and a few coins. None of this modifies your actual stats, just your starting gear, and you'll still get to customize your character's race, gender, and appearance before you begin playing.
I picked a thief/assassin. And that is definitely the vibe I am getting.
As far as dragons themselves go, you’ve got a number of options. You can turn them off completely, allowing yourself to pretend they have not yet awoken. You can activate just the scripted dragon encounters (which take place at word walls and burial grounds) so you'll still have a few dragons to slay. Or, you can turn on the random encounters as well, so they'll appear in the game as they usually do.
You can turn dragon soul absorption off, allowing you to fight and kill dragons without absorbing their souls, as if you were a run-of-the-mill adventurer instead of the fabled Dragonborn. Best of all, you can always adjust your dragon options later, meaning you won’t be married to any particular dragon-related setup. If you do want to become the Dragonborn at some point in your game, just enable the dragons, absorb a dragon soul, and then visit those old guys on the top of the mountain. That’ll kick off the main Skyrim quest. And, until then, no one will accuse you of being the Dragonborn.
If you don't want to choose a character class or starting spot, the mod is happy to do it for you. Just launch the game with everything set on random, and see what happens. Once I spawned as a warrior at a campsite. A couple hunters were staring at me as if I just stepped out of the gloom to warm my hands at their fire. Another time, I appeared as a thief inside a fort filled with bandits, as if I'd just snuck in to loot the place. Another character of mine appeared at a tavern, as if he were just another weary traveler looking for a drink before going on his way. It's fun, and it lends itself to role-playing and building a little story for your new character. Who are they? What are they doing here? And, where are they going next?
Normally I'd pick the lock, but this time I'm just a lowly merchant. I know: I'll sleep my way out!
One time I got a merchant character who started in a jail cell. Perhaps he'd been doing some shady dealings. Maybe he was more of a con man, a thief in merchant's clothing. Boom. I've already got a story for him. Another time, I appeared as as an assassin in the town of Rorikstead. I could only assume I was there to murder one of the residents. Boom. Story. Another time, I spawned near a Forsworn settlement near Morthal, and they immediately attacked. Now my character is committed to wiping out the Forsworn. Whoops, no, he's dead. But if he hadn't died, he'd totally have a story!
No need to create a back-story for this fellow. The Forsworn saw to that.
Skyrim Unbound is a great way to kick off a new adventure. (I only wish I'd had it back when I wrote The Elder Strolls.) Leave the Dragonborn stuff aside for the moment, roll up a new character, and see where they land. It won't be long before you've created a new story and are living a new life.
Who is that mysterious Argonian at the bar? Somebody? Nobody? I guess it could be anybody.
Installation: Two choices here. You can subscribe to it through the Steam Workshop. When you start a new game, you'll be presented with a series of prompts on the type of character you want, where you'd like to be placed in the world, and so on.
To get the most out of this mod, however, you’ll also want to subscribe to SkyUI, which means also installing and launching the game with the Skyrim Script Extender (long-ish video on how to install and launch the game with SKSE here). This will allow you to configure the mod through the menu screen and change your dragon-related options later in the game. This is how I used the mod for this column, and I definitely recommend using it alongside SkyUI and SKSE.
Oct 25, 2013
Everybody knows that if you try to get a cat to do what you want—sit up, fetch a stick, search for explosives—it will do nothing more than stare at you with contempt. That’s why console pitches to PC gamers tend to fall flat: we’re generally not as interested in hearing how a bunch of suits want us to play our games. Nvidia took a much different approach with the Shield, on the other hand, that seems to account for what PC gamers have in common with cats: give us great hardware and the freedom to do whatever we feel like doing, and we’ll show ourselves a great time.
And oh, what hardware! Closed, the Shield looks like a largish Xbox 360 controller, with a handsomely textured plastic chassis and contrasting magnetically-attached silver plate on top (called a “tag”) that can be swapped for glossy or carbon fiber tags (available separately at $20 each). The top flips upward on a firm hinge to expose the 5-inch, 1280x720 glossy LCD touchscreen display and controller surface. The layout of the controller combines the best of the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers with dual analog thumbsticks, a D-pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, left and right analog triggers and bumpers on the shoulders, as well as five buttons in the center for system controls.
At 1.3 pounds the Shield isn’t lightweight, but the ergonomics are nearly perfect—including a smoothly contoured undercarriage that allows your ring fingers to rest beneath the device—so I was able to play well over an hour before any fatigue set in (and over ten hours on a single battery charge, although that included a half-hour sandwich break and finger yoga). Only the slightly recessed thumbsticks felt a bit awkward at first, but the slight arch in my thumbs necessary to work them actually made depressing them easier.
On the Engineering deck you’ll find the brawniest Android hardware you can fit in a jacket pocket, centered around Nvidia’s own 1.9GHz Tegra 4 processor (with a 5-core CPU and a 72-core GPU) and 2GB RAM. The Shield also includes 802.11n dual band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, an internal gyroscope and accelerometer as well as 16GB of internal flash-based storage and a MicroSD slot where I’m currently storing 32GB of movies, music, emulators, and disc images I ripped from vintage games (more on that in a moment).
But the real stroke of genius is the Shield’s unmolested Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) operating system, by far the most popular mobile operating system in the world. All you have to do is pop open the Shield, hop onto your wireless network, and help yourself to any of the hundreds of thousands of Android games available through the Google Play store. The Shield wisely highlights Android games with controls and visual enhancements customized for the device and its Tegra 4 proc, as not all Android games support game controllers or control remapping, and not all the ones that do aren’t guaranteed to work well with the Shield. And you’ll want to be very wary of games designed specifically for touchscreens: while some are a pleasure, such as the enigmatic puzzle game The Room, there’s simply no way to comfortably play others, such as the Android port of the classic adventure game The Last Express which bizarrely only supports portrait orientation.
The games tailored for the Shield, on the other hand, play beautifully, with super-crisp detail and unflappable smoothness—especially first- and third-person action games such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, zombie abatement shooter Dead Trigger, and Max Payne.
The Shield’s most unique feature—no, make that its most downright bitchin' feature—is PC streaming. You can launch any supported game from your PC—via the Shield interface or Steam’s Big Picture mode—and play, oh, let’s say Dishonored, in the bathtub. Which I did. Or Tomb Raider on the couch. I did that, too. I won’t tell you where I played BioShock Infinite, but the main idea is that your PC does the heavy lifting and squirts the results to your Shield with—under ideal conditions—negligible latency. But Nvidia was right to label this a “beta” feature, because getting it to work is something of an adventure in itself. Non-Steam games need to be manually added to your Steam library in order to work, and the hardware requirements are extremely steep: You need at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 (laptop GPUs aren’t supported yet), and your results will depend on the speed and sophistication of your router and the strength of your wireless signal. I used a $180 Asus RT-N66U provided by Nvidia, and even then, in the labyrinth of dead spots that is my home, it took a great deal of experimentation to figure out where to put it—and how far away I could move away from it—so that I could stream without excessive lag or hiccups.
That’s frustrating, but in a sense, it’s also inspiring. Because PC gamers have always been tinkerers, and we’re used to adapting hardware to our needs; at the very least, we’d rather have the option than not. Nvidia cut no corners on the hardware, so I was able to watch my MKV rip of “The Brothers Bloom” Blu-ray without recoding (using VLC). I played my FLAC files of Tomáš Dvořák’s tasty soundtrack to Machinarium through the superb speakers (which are better than most laptop speakers, though light on the bass). And by pairing the Shield with a Bluetooth keyboard for experimenting with command-line instructions, I was able to play the gruesome DOS classic I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream (with the $3.50 DosBox Turbo utility) from a ripped ISO of my dusty CD-ROM. I plugged in the Shield to my PC, and as it charged over the USB connection, I transferred a rip of The Neverhood through Windows Explorer and ran it on the Shield using the free “Windows, Linux, Unix Emulator” on the Google Play store—and played it on my living room TV via the HDMI-out. I used a PlayStation emulator to play Fear Effect on a warm night on my fire escape. I even surveilled my backyard with the AR.Drone 2.0 from Parrot, with a live color video feed from the hovercraft streamed to my Shield.
That’s not to say these feats were easy—not all of them were. But they’re possible, and don’t require “rooting” or workarounds as a result of file system lockouts. You have the same freedom to improvise and experiment that you expect from your PC or laptop—and don’t ever get from console manufacturers. Instead, you get the benefits of an operating system with an open architecture in a handheld that’s several orders of magnitude more sophisticated in hardware and design than any handheld that came before it.
If you have the desire and patience to exploit the Shield’s whopping potential, it’s a must-have—if you tried to take this thing from me I’d tear your arm off and make you eat it. If you don’t, it’s a tougher sell without reliable PC streaming and iffy compatibility with many Android games. Either way, the Shield is a magnificent funmaker that’s worth every penny, and if Nvidia can bullet-proof the streaming and continues to promote compatibility and support among developers, it has an even more glorious future ahead of it.
Those silver metal briefcases you see secret agents using in movies are cool. Walking away from explosions as if you’ve seen a million of them is cool. Destroying your enemies and slipping away scot-free is cool. You can find all of that combined cool in Briefcase Bombs, a mod for Fallout: New Vegas, which lets you build timed charges into briefcases, plop them at the feet of your enemies, set the timer, and then stroll casually away. Boom.
First things first. If I’m going to be carrying around slick silver briefcases like some kind of secret agent, I need some secret agent duds. When I load my game I find myself looking like this:
I can't carry a briefcase around in this get-up. I'll look insane.
This look is fine for bashing in members of Caesar's Legion, but I'm going to be carrying out calculated assassinations in population centers. Too suspicious.
That's more like it.
Playing as a woman, naturally, I had to use this mod just to be able to put on a suit. Also, I killed a gangster and took his fedora, but when I put it on my womanly-woman head, it turned into a pillbox hat with a veil. BOOOO. I’m an agency assassin, not a debutante. Stupid magic hat.
Now, I visit my contact, Mr. Holdout, outside a casino in Vegas. The mod lets him sell me schematics for the briefcase bomb, both versions: regular ‘splodey version, and nuke version. Yup. Nuke in a briefcase. Want. I buy both, and start gathering the ingredients. First up: briefcases! The mod makes them not just storage containers but items you can pick up and take with you. As chance would have it, I was recently at the Atomic Wrangler Casino, and noticed a bunch of briefcases in the cashier’s booth.
I'll be back.
I pick the lock, creep in, and take ‘em all (along with the money). Next, I’ll need dynamite, and I know where to find that: Powder Gangers have got plenty. I apparently was very helpful to the Powder Gangers at some point in my life, because they're all very nice and think nothing of me visiting their camps, poking through their things, and killing them to search their bodies. Weirdly, killing them in cold blood gives me karma, but stealing dynamite from their camps loses me karma.
Now I’ll need some egg timers, and that’s where being a slick secret agent is put on hold for a while as I scour every kitchen and scrap pile I can find. Since the Powder Gangers are being so nice about everything, I head to their stronghold, the NCR Correctional Facility, and nose around in all their drawers and boxes. Eventually, I find one near some guy named Hannigan, and later (much later) locate a few more in random spots in the world.
I head to Novac to use the workbench there and raid the shelves for the rest of the scrap needed. Now, to dispatch my enemies. Which enemies? The ones I’ve just made. See, every secret agent knows the first rule is to leave no traces. And I’ve been leaving traces all over the wastelands. Mr. Holdout, for instance. He knows I bought the schematics. When people start dying of exploding briefcases, he'll know who's doing it. He's got to be dealt with.
Hey? Can you watch my stuff for a minute?
I approach Mr. Holdout, put a briefcase down beside him, and set the timer for 25 seconds. Then I stroll casually away.
No one suspects me or comes running. It's just an unfortunate explosion with no one to blame, especially not the woman walking calmly away in the other direction. Now, to take care of that cashier at the casino. He's missing seven briefcases. He's bound to wonder why. He might start asking questions about that woman who came up to his cage and stared at his seven briefcases thirty seconds before they vanished.
Looks like he... CASHED OUT.
Next, I head back to the NCR Correctional Facility where I found that egg timer. Egg timers just don’t disappear, and that Hannigan guy has probably been wandering around asking if anyone’s seen his egg timer in a loud voice. Time to silence that voice.
Hey, Egg Timer Boy. Looks like your TIME...
... is EGG. I mean, UP. Your time is UP.
That’s all of my enemies taken care of! Of course, I still want to build a briefcase nuke and blow something up with it, but I haven’t come across any mini-nukes, which is the main ingredient. I finally find one, at Nellis Air Force Base, where a Boomer tending to a cornfield has a nuke launcher on her back. I try to pick-pocket a mini-nuke off her, but she catches me. I’m super popular here at the base, for doing good deeds I exactly can't remember, so it’s not a big deal, but I still need that mini-nuke. How to get it?
I decide to use my last briefcase bomb to bomb the Boomer to death so I can take her nuke and make a new briefcase bomb. If that sounds convoluted and pointless -- bombing someone just so you can build another bomb -- you just don’t understand the secret agent game. I shadow her until she stops to water the crops, then place a briefcase at her feet.
Looks like this year's HARVEST...
... is going to b-AGGGGGH STOOD TOO CLOSE TO THAT ONE. WAY TOO CLOSE.
After healing my wounded limbs, I build my briefcase nuke. Where to use it? Where have I left evidence that needs to be erased? Oh, wait, I know.
No witnesses. No evidence. Mission accomplished. And listen, don’t tell anyone about this, okay? I still have a briefcase or two lying around. I’d hate to have to use them.
Installation: You'll need the official Gun Runners Arsenal DLC to use this mod. It's a couple bucks on Steam.
Download the mod, extract both the .esp and .bsa files and drop them into your New Vegas data folder. Make sure you checkbox the .esp file when you load the game.
Oct 5, 2013
Remember when buying a game didn’t feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn’t simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?
With a quick mod – Frostfall in this case – you’re forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That’s just one example, and over the next couple of pages you’ll find plenty more. These aren’t mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy’s hit-points, they’re full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they’ll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.
Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat
All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet – who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you’ve got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.
Fallout: New Vegas
Link: Nexus Mods
Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It’s also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There’s a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.
Despite what modern ‘old-school’ shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience – fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We’re talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It’s compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don’t get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection – including the BFG’s big brother.
Full Combat Rebalance 2
Game: The Witcher 2
This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt’s adventure might have played out in the books. He’s more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he’s in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that’s claimed.
Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you’re standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.
Total War: Shogun 2
Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There’s even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It’s as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.
Game of Thrones
Game: Crusader Kings II
Real history doesn’t have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn’t simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters’ traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It’s best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you’re absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.
Game: Grand Theft Auto IV
Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko “You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don’t need to goon for assholes” after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren’t written with that in mind, obviously, but there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn’t expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.
The Long War
Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
You’re looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don’t cheat as much.
Game: Far Cry 3
Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.
Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it’s not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there’s enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.
Game: Torchlight II
Link: Synergies Mod
This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class – the Necromancer – more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way – including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It’s the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it’s still in development, and has a few rough edges.
Game: Civilization V
Link: Steam Workshop
While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It’s a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don’t expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it’s also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.
Ultimate Difficulty Mod
Link: TTLG Forums
This makes Dishonored’s enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored’s second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy’s face and be politely ignored. He’s now much more likely to be spotted – especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider’s gifts rather than the Overseers’ continued lack of a local Specsavers.
Game: Deus Ex
New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to ‘Realistic’ mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to ‘Unrealistic’, which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he’s meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.
Sep 16, 2013
There’s little chance Daud and Corvo would ever have been friends. One’s an assassin who killed an empress, the other’s a bodyguard who failed to protect one. Two inherently opposing forces, with blood and Outsider marks on their hands. Put them in a room without bladed weapons though, and they’d find they had a lot in common. Corvo is fighting to redeem himself in the eyes of the city. Daud accepts his damnation, and is just shooting for a little personal redemption. Both men get their chance.
As with the first part of the DLC, The Knife of Dunwall, playing as Daud feels immediately familiar but just slightly different. He has most of Corvo’s powers, plus a few extras such as summoning assassins to take out targets for him, and the ability to call in favours from his underworld contacts. More importantly, he gets a moral flexibility that Corvo lacked. Playing the former Lord Protector, ghosting felt like the ‘right’ approach. Playing Daud, that’s still possible, but helping to feed hungry corpse-rats or deciding “Nah” to a fiddly looking puzzle simply feels more appropriate.
His continued mission is to track down Delilah: a Brigmore Witch who lives down a dangerous river – a Brig over troubled water, if you will. It’s broken down into three missions, one re-using the prison from Dishonored, one set in Dunwall’s garment district during a gang war, and a final one in Delilah’s dilapidated mansion full of shrieking, rose-wrapped witches, living statues and other horrors. All are excellent. The first DLC started strong and then lost steam with a bland second mission, a boring, combat-heavy retread of the Flooded District, and absolutely no payoff. Each part of this finale however has a distinct theme and vibe we haven’t seen before, catering to both combat and stealth approaches, and Daud confirms himself as a more interesting character than Corvo ever was.
As with the main game, much of what’s good about it comes down to the details – the ability to buy Daud a uniform to go undercover in the prison for instance, or an elderly godfather’s reaction to you killing his nurse in front of him. The levels are packed with secrets, documents and general things to discover, and while most of the favours Daud can call on are a little boring, the ability to continue a save or get a ton of points up front means he gets to cut loose from the start.
The one disappointment comes in a cameo by Corvo, in a scene that frustratingly relies on Daud’s chaos level rather than – cough – a certain rather important decision made during Dishonored’s campaign to decide how the story ends. That aside, this DLC sends the game out in style. It’s more of the same, where ‘the same’ refers to quality rather than rehashed content – an honourable end, by even the Outsider’s ambiguous standards.
Expect to pay: £8 / $10
Release: Out now
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
You fool! You didn't actually buy the excellent first-person sneak 'n stabber Dishonored, did you? As always, the fiscally sensible (read: boring) thing to do was wait for this: the Game of the Year edition, which has, with all the tedious inevitability of an Outsider encounter, just been announced. Of course, if you were really fiscally sensible (read: really boring), you wouldn't be buying games at all. And who wants to be that guy?
As you might expect, Dishonored: Game Of The Year For A Lot Of Publications In 2012, But Not PC Gamer, Because We Gave It To Mass Effect 3, Not That That's Really Important Right Now edition will bundle together the main game, the fun-but-throwaway Dunwall City Trials, and the two Daud-centric DLC packs, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches. You'll also get the slightly problematic pre-order pack "Void Walker's Arsenal", which collects up all the in-game bonuses that were offered to early buyers, balance be damned.
But let's set aside facts and information, because you're probably wondering: "Phil, what does the front of the box that, due to digital distribution's dominance in the wake of retail's systematic failure at serving the PC market, I will never own *deep breath* look like?"
I'm glad you asked, incredibly convoluted question-asking person!
A topographical map of that one lead dude's mask, I guess?
Dishonored: Goaty Edition is due out October 11th, priced £29.99/€39.99
Sep 1, 2013
Necromancy has a bad rap in Skyrim, which is a little weird. With the mountains of corpses the Dragonborn leaves in his wake, you’d think bringing a few of them back from the dead wouldn’t be such a big deal. Undeath, created by modder Antioch08, tasks you with snuffing out a teeming cabal of necromancers... but it also gives you the option of continuing their evil work, learning their dark secrets, and performing a ritual to transform yourself into a powerful Lich capable of commanding an army of the undead. Which path did I choose? Here's a hint. That image above? That's me.
(A couple notes up front: your character needs to be level thirty or above to play this mod, and it uses assets from the official Dawnguard and Dragonborn DLC, so you’ll need both of those. You're also going to need your enchanting skill maxed out, and you should have almost 300 Magicka to really enjoy the fruits of this mod.)
Slaughtering a bunch of innocents? But... that's MY trademark move.
The mod begins with a request to investigate a missing (dead) convoy of Vigilants of Stendarr (those goodie-goodies who stroll around in robes looking for evil-doers). After searching bodies at the scene of the ambush, I discover one of the attackers was kind enough to carry his orders with him, nicely written down on paper, just as you'd expect from a super-secret cabal determined to hide their existence from the world at large. This clue leads me to a secluded tower, where one particular necromancer has left a few journals detailing his plans to unlock a dark ritual that will allow him to become a powerful Lich. He’s also sent some followers on several missions across Skyrim to collect important objects he’ll need to complete the ritual.
Since they already dug him up... couldn't hurt to open the coffin for a little peek. Right?
After tracking down one of these groups, who are digging up a dead priest with the intent on cutting out his heart, the mod gives me a choice. I can rebury the priest and go on with my mission to extinguish this evil plot, which seems like the sensible thing to do. OR. I can, y'know, finish digging up the priest and cut out his heart and stick it in my pocket, thus completing the necromancers mission, only without the necromancers, because I just killed them.
I take the heart. Why not? The hard work is already done, and the guy is already dead, and I've been meaning to dabble in necromancy anyway.
A human skull in the pot, throw in a couple mushrooms... baby, you've got a stew goin'!
After tracking down and killing another group of acolytes, I find that they were brewing a weird potion up top of a hill. They’ve done most of the work already, and the recipe is nearby as well. Again, I'm given the option to dump their cauldron on the ground, putting an end to this evil business! But, I hate to see a meal go to waste, and most of the ingredients are close by... what the heck! Soup's on!
The commute is a bitch, but the necromancers must pay very little rent out here.
Eventually, I've killed all the necromancer dweebs and completed their tasks for them, because they're all to busy being killed by me to do it themselves. Now that I've got all their leader's precious belongings, it only stands to reckon that I hunt him down and kill him too, thus ending his evil plot. And beginning mine.
Did I come at a bad time?
I find the leader deep underground in a massive network of ruins and tunnels, and mow my way through his remaining assistants and skeletons before hacking him to death. If I were interested in putting an end to his plans, I guess the mod would be over right then and there. However, I’m not looking to just kill a bunch of hooded weirdoes for the fun of it. Imma be a Lich!
Becoming a Lich is not exactly easy, however. The head necromancer is dead, but I need to figure out exactly what he was doing before I can continue his work. I read his notes and scour the massive dungeon, eventually locating some hidden items and placing them in the right spots. Then, after finding a massive Black Book, I'm whisked away to the weird library dimension of Apocrypha.
This is not a toilet.
I won’t go into details, but the library dimension kind of sucks (it kind of sucked in the Dragonborn DLC as well). You have to run around with a torch (the darkness physically hurts you) getting attacked by the same monster over and over and looking for switches to open gates so you can collect a bunch of items to place in the right spots. This takes roughly forever, but eventually, I've completed the quest and I'm whisked back to the real world.
Starting to think necromancy might be a little evil or something.
Once I’m back in Tamriel, there's more work to be done before I can Lich-out all over everyone. I require a few more items and a secluded spot to perform the forbidden ritual. As it happens, a shadowy merchant called The Broker has been watching me hack my way to the top of the necromancy ladder, and sends me a note, via courier, inviting me to check out her ghoulish shop, where I can purchase most of what I need, including the deed to a nice underground lair where I can transform with some privacy.
More work follows, of the gathering kind, then the crafting kind, then the enchanting kind, and finally, after closely following the intricate instructions, I glug an evil potion of my own making and drop stone dead on the floor. Whoops! Missed a step.
A side-effect of becoming undead is becoming dead.
I reread everything, try again, and this time it pays off. I'm a Lich!
Houston, we have Lich-Off.
Returning to the surface in human form, I step into Solitude, ready to unleash my powerful evil upon the city. I transform into a Lich, hovering above the ground, bathed in eldritch magic. All will tremble at my hideous shade! All will die at my bony hand! All will be raised as my willing zombie servants! And then a courier walks up and tells me he's got a delivery for me.
Dude. DUDE. C'mon. Tryin' to be an evil skeleton ghost monster and you're FUCKING RUINING IT.
Well. Not quite the dramatic display of unspeakable evil I spent the last four or five hours unlocking. Still, after the courier wanders off, completely nonplussed at delivering a telegram to a TERRIFYING HOVERING LICH, I'm free to (somewhat sheepishly) cast spells, terrorize the locals, blast them with magic, and raise those who have fallen to fight for me.
Except for the damn Apocrypha level, this mod is pretty great (and quite challenging). There's also apparently a ton of extra content I didn't even get to. It's also the most reading-intensive mod I've played, and knowing what to do and how to do it is dependent on the careful reading of journals and books. Pick up all the new books and journals you find! Read them! Take them with you! It's the only way you'll become a Lich like me.
Installation: Download the mod here. I used the Nexus Mod Manager to install it, and you should too, because while there's a manual download, I don't see any manual installation instructions anywhere. This mod also doesn't really hold your hand except in the early quests, so if you get stuck, read the FAQ contained on this page.