At first glance, Oblivionauts seems somewhat convoluted. It's neither a total conversion like Enderal nor a straightforward supplement of extra gear. The mod adopts more non-linearity than Skyrim in its dungeons but instead of starting with a blank slate, you pick a pre-built class for your character. After reading more of creator Far Realms' outline, I think it's one of the most ambitious projects I've seen from a mod team.
Here's how it works: instead of having you wander an expansive landscape and stumble upon new areas and quests, Oblivionauts slots you into a "hub" base serving both as your home and as a launching point for smaller, insulated mini-campaigns. After choosing your equipment and class, you're whisked away to a custom map selected from a list and progress through its challenges until reaching the end, where you're brought back home to choose another journey.
The exciting bonus to all this is that Far Realms intends to continually expand the mod's available maps through contributions from the entire Skyrim modding community. It's a wink and a nod to Neverwinter Nights' module system, and the group says any combination of custom parameters are possible—more races, a replacement of the class system, and other setups.
Experiencing these quests outside of the setting of Skyrim or as the Dovahkin means Oblivionauts could very well produce a ton of wacky stories without trespassing upon the vanilla game. Far Realms explains that your character—a crimson-faced Dremora—never actually sets foot on Skyrim, and starting a new game with Oblivionauts activated sends you directly to your base.
Far Realms is targeting an early summer release for the mod, but it's looking for extra modeling and code-crunching help to speed up the process. Have a look at Oblivionauts on Mod DB for more info.
Let’s get this out of the way: you’re going to find the dragon riding in Dragonborn disappointing. You can’t steer the beast or land wherever you want, and while you can direct your dragon to attack enemies, you probably know by now that dragons aren’t that good at killing things, and you might as well dismount and do it yourself. So, that sucks, but luckily there are other rewards that make Dragonborn worth your time and money.
"While Apocrypha looks impressive – as if HR Giger took a flamethrower to a bookshop – it isn’t much fun to be in." This Skyrim expansion takes place on the frostbitten island of Solstheim in Morrowind, where a series of mysterious shrines and brainwashed acolytes hint at the reawakening of the original Dragonborn, Miraak, who is unhappy to find an off-brand imposter running around slurping up dragon souls. Before a fairly typical boss fight with Miraak you’ll have to repeatedly visit a plane of Oblivion called Apocrypha, and while it looks impressive – as if HR Giger took a flamethrower to a bookshop – it isn’t much fun to be in, featuring repetitive fights with the same two demons and lengthy searches for switches that open gates.
But it’s not as if main quests have ever been the best part of The Elder Scrolls. It’s all about the side quests, and Solstheim is home to an abundance of NPCs who mill around hoping someone will come along and solve their problems for them. Invest in a mining operation that unearths far more than precious stones, solve puzzles to unlock the tomb of an ancient dragon priest, foil an assassination to acquire a new subterranean home, and complete loads of other quests and missions – some trivial, some extensive.
It’s all about the side quests, and Solstheim is home to an abundance - some trivial, some extensive." There are also new followers to recruit, such as a clanky, sputtering Dwarven robot. Finally. At least one quest is reserved for higher level characters: there’s a treasure map leading to enchanted armour and a gaggle of ghost pirates, but it’s restricted to players over level 36.
Fans of Morrowind will be pleased to see some familiar creatures, like the Netch, who hover benignly unless provoked, and the Riekling, fierce little goblins who ride boars into battle (also available as followers, provided you help a particular tribe with their pesky Nord problem).
While Solstheim isn’t massive, there are plenty of ruins and caves to explore, as well as some charming overworld locations, like a town where the homes are built inside giant mushrooms. I reckon there’s about 25 hours of content, with new spells and shouts, new weapons and armour to find and craft, and some fantastic new abilities (I can now summon a ghostly drum that feeds me stamina, and my attacks and shouts no longer hurt my followers).
Dragonborn also seems highly stable: I haven’t experienced a single crash or glitch. Apart from the so-so main questline and the repetitive labyrinths of Apocrypha, the hours I’ve spent questing in Solstheim have been well worth it.
Expect to pay: $20/£14 Release: Out now Developer: Bethesda Game Studios Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Multiplayer: No Link: www.bit.ly/pcg-drag
Using our Skyrim modding guide, you can get the home of the Nords looking pretty stunning. This video from SkyrimTuner, however, pushes the envelope just about to the limit. Using the RealVision ENB V1.3 Climates of Tamriel mod, paired with Ultra settings and some .ini tweaks, you can see the sweeping forests and soaring peaks as they should be truly appreciated—and only really can be on the PC.
As a word of warning, it unfortunately also features one of the most egregious instances of the Chainmail Bikini Principle I have ever seen. Start it at around the 3 minute mark if you're afraid your eyes might roll so hard that they sever your optic nerve.
According to the video description, this is running on an overclocked i5 with a GTX 680. Certainly in the high enthusiast range, but not quite in astronomical territory.
I love my Skyrim wife, Mjoll the Lioness. She carries my spare gear with no complaint, she never runs out of arrows, and she doesn't mind accompanying me when I murder a bunch of farmers because I can't find a common axe. However, I've just informed her I don't want her following me any longer. I've been playing the Dragonborn expansion pack for Skyrim, and I want to try out (and write a column about) the new followers it offers.
Mjoll seems a bit crestfallen, but tells me she'll be in Riften should I need her again. As she walks away, however, a thought occurs to me. If we were currently in Skyrim, she could just walk to Riften, but we're not: we're on the island of Solstheim, a completely different continent where the new Dragonborn content takes place. How, exactly, is Mjoll going to get back to Riften? My original column idea is instantly forgotten as Braul the Easily Distracted Orc decides to investigate this incredibly important mystery.
The only way I can travel between Skyrim and Solstheim is by paying a ship captain to ferry me between the cities of Raven Rock (in Solstheim) and Windhelm. Is Mjoll capable of doing that? If she's not, how will she get off the continent? Also, what happens in general when you brush off a follower? Do they really remain persistent in the world for their entire journey back to their home city, or does the game just pluck them up and drop them off once they've walked out of sight? I decide I'll find out by simply not letting Mjoll walk out of sight. I'll follow her stealthily (or as stealthily as a giant orc clad in Daedric armor can) and see how she gets to Riften first-hand.
A spoiler-free map of Solstheim.
Technically, we're not even on the island of Solstheim at the moment. We're on another island off the coast of the island of Solstheim. I swam over to to this little island a minute ago because I wanted to see if anything lived on it. (Nothing does. Anymore.) Now, as I watch, Mjoll strides into the water, headed for Solstheim. I follow, swimming at a careful distance.
I don't want to be a backseat swimmer, but you don't have to swim along the BOTTOM of the ocean.
First observation: she is an incredibly slow swimmer. Second observation: she is doing her incredibly slow swimming along the very bottom of the channel, which is making her even slower. Like all gifted detectives, I start drowning almost immediately. After coming up for air and healing myself, I dive back down and realize I've completely lost her. A minute after deciding I won't let her out of my sight, I've let her out of my sight. Did the game already wink her out of existence already and plop her back in Riften, or is she still paddling around somewhere?
I swim across the channel and stand around on the main island for a bit to see if Mjoll will actually emerge from the water at some point. A few minutes later, to my surprise, I spot her to the east of me, still swimming. She eventually climbs onto land and begins walking in the direction of Raven Rock, far to the southeast. I take up a position about twenty yards behind her, and grimly prepare to spend the next couple days staring at her back.
Solstheim's forensics team is going to wonder about the giant boot print on the corpse's back.
As the sun slowly wheels across the sky, Mjoll slowly stalks across Solstheim, passing through a town, over a bridge, through a mountain pass, across a couple corpses, and along the steps of an ancient temple strewn with dragon skeletons, not showing much interest in any of it. It's dusk and we've crossed half the island before any danger presents itself.
Honey! You can see the moon setting behind the volcano! Honey! Honey! You're MISSING it!
If firing my loyal wife, making her walk home from a foreign country, and spying on her all day doesn't make me sound like a terrible husband, this probably will: I decide not to help her fight off the various threats that begin to appear. As anyone who has spent time in Skyrim knows, simply walking near an NPC will cause them to stop in their tracks and talk to you. If the NPC is walking somewhere, they will sometimes even walk off in a different direction than they were headed before they stopped to chat. I'm trying to avoid even casual interaction with Mjoll, because I don't want to muck up whatever travel plans she has. See, I'm doing this for science, and not because I'm a horrible uncaring jerk.
I didn't enchant her armor with fire resistance, but I MEANT to. It's the thought that counts.
So, when she's attacked by some ash hoppers (giant crickets found in Solstheim), I watch her kill them. When a Burnt Spriggan sets her on fire, I watch as she hacks it into charred lumber. Further down the road, an angry wood elf conjures up a ghost wolf and some sort of elemental guardian, and I watch as she has considerable trouble dispatching the latter. An hour later, she comes across an Ice Wizard and a Fire Wizard, who are going toe-to-toe in an attempt to answer the eternal question: which is mightier, ice or fire? Mjoll answers the question for them, and Mjoll's answer is Mjoll.
Dude, don't throw ice spikes through my wife. It just makes her angrier.
It's the middle of the night when Mjoll finally reaches Raven Rock. She strolls to the docks and climbs aboard the ship I use when I need to travel between Skyrim and Solstheim. She doesn't speak to the captain, she simply walks across the deck, appears to reach out and touch a barrel... and then fades from sight.
Okay! I guess that's how NPCs handle cross-continental travel: magic barrel-poking. Question answered. Though... now I'm kind of curious if I can catch up to her in Skyrim. I pay the captain to take me to Windhelm, but when I arrive I don't see Mjoll anywhere. Maybe now the game has transported her to Riften? If not, where would she have gone? South, I guess. I jump into the icy river to see if she's paddling sluggishly around near the bottom, but I can't see much, so I run up the bank on the opposite side. There's a female NPC walking around near the bridge that's south of Riften, but it's not my wife.
I run around a bit more, and eventually spot a figure walking across another bridge, off in the distance, headed west. It's her! For some reason, she's taken off her ebony armor and cult mask and is instead clothed in her original duds. Weird. On the other hand, cool! I found her! Now to continue following her for days like a bizarre creep. I also can't help but notice she's not walking in the direction of Riften. She seems to be heading west and soon crosses a river to head north, aiming for Dawnstar. Why would she be going there?
Why aren't you wearing your mask? I tore that mask off a dead cultist's face just for you!
I'm puzzling over this when a dragon rudely lands right in front of me and starts turning me into a popsicle. Come on, stupid dragon, I'm trying to keep a low profile while I stalk my wife. A couple hacks from my enchanted battleaxe and it's dead. Mjoll calmly strolls right through the middle of the disintegrating dragon, and then of course there's the usual pompous noisy business as I devour the dragon's soul, so I think a low profile might be out the window at this point. At least she didn't stop to talk to me.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MISS. MOVE ALONG.
As I clump after her through the night, periodically watching her get into pitched battles with marauders and murderers, it occurs to me that perhaps I should not be standing around, twiddling my gauntleted thumbs, while she has to repeatedly fight for her life. Maybe I can help, without being too obvious about it, by going out on point and handling anything threatening before it reaches her. Also, if she has to continuously stop to fight every man and monster that comes roaring out of the underbrush, this trip is going to take forever.
I skirt around her and sprint ahead along the route she's taking, looking for danger to de-dangerize. A snowy sabre cat leaps out at me, giving me a good chance to try out the new Bend Will shout I learned in the Dragonborn content, which lets you tame dragons but can also pacify other hostile creatures. When Mjoll finally catches up, all she sees is a random guy dressed exactly like her husband with a peaceful giant tiger monster sitting next to him. Once she's walked by, I kill the cat (the shout's effects don't last terribly long), and sprint ahead again, looking for more threats.
The morning comes, and Mjoll continues her uninterrupted stroll, perhaps curious about at all the fresh corpses now littering the road ahead of her. She walks past several dead sabre cats, a couple dead wolves, two dead frost trolls, a beheaded skooma dealer, and a living giant frost spider oddly indifferent to her presence, almost as if someone had shrieked magical will-bending dragon curses in its face.
There's an even more unusual sight as she reaches the top of a hill: someone dressed like her husband, lying on the ground, completely paralyzed. Seems he maybe got a little bored waiting for her, and maybe decided to pass the time by eating some of his alchemical ingredients to determine their effects, and one ingredient from Solstheim, Netch Jelly, maybe has paralyzation properties, and so he maybe keeled over onto his back like a big dumb statue. Maybe. As she passes his stiff body, he clambers to his feet, looks at her, and then races off into the trees. Whoever he is.
NRRTHING TO SEE HRRR, MRRRS. MRRVE ALRRNG.
A little further ahead, I spot a wolf and a horse fighting to the death. Naturally, I side with the horse, and I'm surprised to discover that the horse turns out to be my actual, owned horse, who I haven't seen in months. I have no idea what he's doing out here, but it seems like the whole Braul family is back together for this dysfunctional roadtrip. Speaking of dysfunctional, every time I dismount to kill something, my horse starts walking away, so I have to spend twice as much time chasing him down. Eventually, I just let him leave to wherever he's going. I don't have time for horse-following, I'm busy wife-following.
I am not your husband chasing after not-your-husband's horse. IGNORE ME
Night is falling again as we approach Solitude, where I've remembered I own a home, which I assume is where Mjoll is actually headed instead of Riften or Dawnstar. It also appears she's going to be doing some swimming again, since she's approaching it from across the bay. She walks into the water and disappears, and I follow, though I almost immediately lose sight of her. Then, from behind me, I hear her angrily shouting "This ends now!" I swim back and pop out of the water, only to find her standing near the shore, aiming a bow at me. Jeez! What the heck did I do, besides creepily follow you around for days and almost let you die several times?
My wife trying to kill me? Saddens me. Doesn't surprise me. Saddens me.
Turns out, she's actually attacking (and verbally threatening) some slaughterfish that swam too close for her liking. I begin bellowing at swinging my axe as well, before realizing the fish are a good twenty feet away and I'm just chopping air. Mjoll quickly kills all three fish at range, walks past me wordlessly, and starts paddling across the bay. I haven't felt that stupid since, well, yesterday, when I paralyzed myself in front of her.
Emerging on the far bank, I realize I'm not even sure how to walk into Solitude, since I generally opt to poke it on my map and materialize inside it. Mjoll knows, though. She climbs through a pass and finds a door built into the rock that I didn't know was there. A circular staircase leads to a tunnel, the tunnel leads to the streets of Solitude, and the streets lead to the back door of our home (I also had no idea we had a back door.)
Mjoll the Lioness and Braul the Easily Distracted Orc. Home at last.
I walk up to Mjoll in our dining room. "How nice to see you again," she says sweetly, as if it's been days since she's seen me. As if she didn't just see me swinging my axe impotently at fish that were nowhere near me. As if she didn't see me repeatedly chasing my stupid horse all over Skyrim. As if she didn't see me chow down on handful of jelly and keel over like a stroke victim. That's tact.
I know I originally set out to write about the new followers in Dragonborn, but with a wife like Mjoll, why would I ever need another?
Since Morrowind, the default way to play any Elder Scrolls game has been in first-person, with your weapons and/or sizzling magic hands visible in front of you. In an interview with Digital Spy, Game Director Matt Firor revealed that this will not be the case in The Elder Scrolls Online. While zooming into first-person will be possible, as in most MMOs, your hands and gear won't be visible, and the game isn't designed to be played from that perspective.
"The main difference here is that in an online RPG, enemies can spawn in a 360 degree radius around you, especially in PvP," Frior told Digital Spy. "So third-person view mode, if you use it, will give you a far greater ability to see enemies behind you. In many situations, this will be the difference between living and not surviving a combat sequence."
I'm still a little baffled by traditional MMO design decisions like this, which make it seem more like an MMO with the Elder Scrolls license rather than an Elder Scrolls MMO with the emphasis on the franchise's history. If you'd like to investigate the game for yourself, you can still sign up for the beta on the official site.
Skyrim after being modded all the way to crazy town.
What will the Games of Tomorrow look like? Will they be virtual reality dreams designed in collaboration with J.J. Abrams? Maybe. As RPS points out, adventurous ideas were plentiful at this year's D.I.C.E. Summit. Skyrim director Todd Howard, however, told the site that good ol' fashioned graphical improvements shouldn't be undervalued.
"Everybody always wants more power," said Howard, sadly not followed by a guttural "uuueehhh?" and irresponsible use of power tools. Instead, he said that while more powerful PCs have a variety of benefits, he thinks "people discount graphics."
"They’ll say, 'Well, the gameplay's what really matters,' and it does. But I do feel that graphics and your ability to present something that feels new, real, and believable puts people in that environment where they can really enjoy what they’re playing."
So what new, real, and believable world will Bethesda present next? "There are certain types of fantasy that appeal to me," said Howard, "but there are also period pieces, and if something was good in the modern day, I’d want to do that as well. Writing anything off at any point in time is silly."
Well, it's been narrowed down to "anything." Read all of Howard's comments at RPS.
The Witcher 3! Dragonborn! A Half-Life movie? This and other topics get tackled this week by Evan, Tyler, and T.J., who returns from Iceland to tell us about the games he saw at Paradox Interactive's annual event. We also touch on the merits of Linux gaming and SSDs.
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On the scaled wings of yesterday's Dragonborn DLC release for Skyrim, the free HD Texture Pack from Bethesda has been updated with meatier visuals for all three DLC packs, including Hearthfire and Dawnguard.
Bethesda also reminds intrepid Thu'umers of the minimum specs needed to handle the boost: 4GB RAM, a DirectX 9.0c compatible Nvidia or ATI card with at least 1GB RAM, Windows Visa/7, and at least 4.7GB for the update. You can pile on a bevy of graphics mods to turn Skyrim into a truly spectacular experience, but to get started, Bethesda's offering is a comparably hardware-friendly way to make it shine.
63 days after its original console release, Skyrim's Dragonborn DLC has finally appeared on Steam. With luck, you've been able to avoid too many spoilers from your thumbstick-using friends.
For those of you just joining us, the $20/£14 add-on reintroduces Solstheim (the island setting for the Morrowind expansion, Bloodmoon), and adds rideable dragons, a new Daedric realm, and a new main antagonist to contend with.
Bethesda hasn't explained the delay, which was almost twice as long as the one between the 360 and PC releases of Dawnguard, the previous story DLC. Personally, I'm just happy to finally have more Skyrim to chew on. And, as always, we've had plenty of mods to keep us company in the meantime.
What's the first thing you plan to do on Solstheim?
Most Skyrim mods furnish Bethesda's sprawling steppes with prettier pixels, more gear, or more punishment. The tenacious team at SureAI, however, has an even more ambitious project in the works: Enderal: The Shards of Order, a total conversion package and the sequel to the Oblivion mod Nehrim: At Fate's Edge, our 2010 Mod of the Year.
Promised to be a continuation of Nehrim's massive scale and intricate storytelling, Enderal looks just as meticulously planned as any studio-born RPG. SureAI wants "more player decisions and deeper characters" for a theme of "fantasy for adults where it's dirty and immersive, and there are no fairies." Like Nehrim, Enderal's skill system splits from Skyrim's by awarding points per level gained to trade for increasingly powerful abilities.
Enderal: The Shards of Order's fairy-less fantasy doesn't have a release date yet, but SureAI's screenshots already show a world full of color and character. Have a look at some samples below, and be sure to stop by the mod's official website.