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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, March 24, 2014

A VIKING WE WILL GO

"...you do know I kill dragons and eat their souls, right, merchant?"

My brother Joel bought a box set with all of the Elder Scrolls games from Arena to Skyrim in it, with all expansions and downloadable content included. I hadn't played Skyrim yet because I couldn't afford it, and I really like the whole Elder Scrolls series.
For those who haven't played the games, they are a fantasy game for computer (and console, now) that mimics many aspects of role playing games.  Each one is a self contained game, but are all set in the same world following through historically over centuries of time.  Like the Might and Magic games, they are not a series, but instead separate games in the same world.
They're wonderful.  The first game Arena was the first to introduce the concept of building your own spells from basic elements instead of picking from a pre-made list.  Each game has exponentially increased the depth, immersion, size, and complexity of the game world while keeping the game play fun and easy.
Skyrim is quite simply, and without question, the best computer game I have ever played.  It is a masterpiece of depth and play, an absolute phenomenon.  All of the ES games have been great but this one tops them all.  It is HUGE in terms of depth and content, with thousands of storylines, unique NPCs, quest lines, and concepts.
Here's an example.  In part of a quest line to become "thane" (sort of a knight-like honorary title for a region in the game), I went to a set of old ruins where crazed tribals lived.  There I found a part of the ruins that overhangs a pool.  Jumping off for fun, I emerged to find a ghost of a bard who had done the same thing, but didn't make the jump.  He told me his story, sang a bit of a song, and I gained a few points of speechcraft so I can interact with other NPCs better.
The game is packed with that kind of thing, so much you get a definite feel for the world being a very old, ancient place with millennia of history.  The jaw droppingly beautiful graphics help this a lot.  I've rarely played a game that makes me just stop and look around regularly at the scenery, to take it all in.  That happens often in Skyrim, it is just absolutely amazing looking.  I see places I not only wish I could visit, but are done so well I almost feel like I am visiting.
Its just a masterpiece.
And part of the wonder comes from "mods" which allow you to adjust the game slightly or add content to it.  Like "addons" for games like World of Warcraft, you can download these and enhance your game play.  Some can be so transforming it almost makes a different game, some are goofy, and some are just repulsive and disgusting.
But there are some wonderful pieces done by people out there, and given the popularity of Skyrim, I thought I'd give you the list of mods I use and recommend.  Note, there are no links here.  I have given the proper name to these mods, but you have to sign on to either Nexus or Steam community to get them.  Its a free registration, but you gotta sign up.
Since you have to play Skyrim through Steam (grumble) you automatically sign on there.  I can explain how if people need the info.
MUST HAVE: You should have these if you're going to play Skyrim at all.
  • All DLC (downloadable content) - Dragonborn, Dawnguard, and Hearthfire  They add tons to the game and are fun to play.
  • SkyUI - enhances your user interface without rebuilding and distorting it.  Also critical for many of the addons mentioned below to function
  • Spike - a mod handler that makes sure nothing gets out of order or conflicts.  Critical for use of many of the addons mentioned below.
  • Whistle - lets you call up your horse, wherever you are (unless underground, for example).  Some horses are skittish and run away and you have to hunt them down.  Some areas you can ride but can't get your horse into (like cities) and this will get the horse to you no matter where it is.
  • Falskaar - A huge addon the size of an official DLC expansion, written by some kid.  Its a little rough on the writing at times, but fully voiced and huge, with lots of fascinating stuff and an interesting storyline.
  • Wyrmstooth - another player made DLC expansion, again fully voiced and very well done.  These guys have created the equal of Bethesda, the ones who invented Elder Scrolls.
  • Helgen Reborn - again, player made DLC expansion. Fully voiced, with lots of quests.  Smaller than the other two but the best of the three here.  Rebuilds the starting town and adds lots of content.
FUN AND WORTHY: not critical but enhance the game greatly and lots of fun to have
  • Toggle Night-Eye - if you play a Khajiit this lets you turn your "see in the dark" power on and off at will rather than using it for short pulses as the game design works.  Very handy.
  • Wearable Lanterns - Clips a lantern on your belt to give you some light.  You can even get a bug lantern that lets you catch a glowing insect and use it instead of a flame.
  • Paarthunax Fix - Makes it so your blades buddies toe the line and don't throw a tantrum if you refuse to kill Paarthunax (bit of a spoiler but by now...)
  • Left Hand Rings - Adds another ring class in the game, so you can wear 2 magic rings instead of one.
  • Lightweight Potions - Cuts the weight of potions down significantly.  Realistic or not, this is very important and useful.
  • Ragged Flagon Secret Entrance - Adds a quick entry to the Ragged Flagon so you can jump directly in rather than zoning several times.
  • Spend Dragon Souls for Perks - Those dragon souls piling up?  Spend them on perks.  It takes quite a few to buy a perk, but well worth it.
  • Faster Vanilla Horses - Makes the horses run slightly quicker.  The Skyrim horses are supposed to be tough but slower, but they are too slow and not nearly tough enough.
  • Passive Racial Abilities - Turns all racial abilities into always-on passive like they always should have been since the first ES game.
  • Improved Skill Books - Books that boost skills are very clearly marked and easy to spot.  If you've read one, it just looks ordinary.
  • Unread Books Glow -  Books you have not read are easy to distinguish, in case you want to read em all.
  • Horse Armors - A bit overpowered, but still reasonable. Makes horses have visible barding, but also makes them unkillable.  Horses in Skyrim are ridiculously aggressive and easily killed, costing you 1000 gold each time.  Just obnoxious to the point you stop even using them, without this mod.
  • Dungeon Quest Awareness - Just gives you a tip what quest or area a given "dungeon" is linked to, such as "markarth quest."
  • Smelting XP - Gives a small amount of xps for smelting metals.
  • Tanning XP - Gives a small amount of xps for tanning leather.
  • Lockpick Measurement Vision - Puts a visible 'heads up display' around locks while picking to make it easier to spot where you've tried.
  • Detailed Mine Markers - gives info on what ore a mine primarily provides
  • Stones of Berenziah Quest Markers - Gives you markers were each of the 25 (!) stones are found, once you've gotten the quest to gather them.
  • Lighter Leather - Makes leather armor no heavier than the materials used to craft them.
  • Complete Skyforge - Adds the rest of the stuff to skyforge such as a smelter so its a one-stop smithing area.  Also puts a player-only chest in the area for storing materials.
  • Follower Trap Safety - Your companions, pets, etc do not set off traps in dungons.  A bit unrealistic but since you can't command or force them to avoid the traps...
  • Dragon Priest Quest Markers - like the Stones mod above, creates a "get all the masks" quest and puts markers on the map when you get one.
  • Upgrade Leveled Items - Lets you upgrade many of the game's special treasures offered to you, like you can other more ordinary treasures.
  • Tiered Leather Armor - Adds higher level leather armor in the game so you can face high level content wearing leather.
  • True Bound Armors - Adds bound armor into the game you can summon, which upgrades with your mana and conjuration ability.  Bound armor was in ALL the previous games, but dropped for Skyrim, for some reason.  Wish there was a summonable bound shield mod, but not one out there I've seen.
  • Bound Tools - Allows you to summon an axe to chop wood or a pick to mine ore.
  • Quiet Bound Weapons - However, bound stuff is noisy, and this cuts down the volume.
  • Bound Weapon Tweaks - Small changes to the bound weapon system to make them function better.
  • Bound Weapon Scaling - allows you to use bound weapons the full game rather than seeing them fall heavily out of power after a certain point.
  • No Guard Warnings for Stealthy Shouts - some "shouts" in the game annoy the guards, sometimes to the point of arresting you, and ought not, since they are supposed to be unknown by others.  This fixes that effect.
  • Order My Items - Allows you to order goods from vendors based on their type, for a markup and a delay.
FUN STUFF: Mods that aren't even important but I find enjoyable and recommend.
  • More Dragon Loot - Dragons are supposed to have amazing treasure, and these have almost nothing.  Increases the loot but not to an absurd game-breaking level.
  • Psijic Teleport Spells - Adds a few spells to the game to teleport around with.  Can be a bit easy to skip content with, but fun to use.
  • The Eyes of Beauty - Just makes women's eyes prettier.
  • Better Females by Bella (less makeup) - Again, prettier women in the game.  There are mods to make the guys hunkier too but I didn't care about that.
  • Apachii Hair - Adds many more hairstyles into the game.  All three of these are extraneous, and I get they wanted the women to seem like scruffy peasants living in a Norse world, but I like pretty.
  • 3dNPC - Adds hundreds of fully voiced color-only NPCs into the game.  A lot of them are pretty funny and all are interesting, like the little thief girl in Riften and the morose cleaning woman in the castle.
  • Alternate Start - Tired of the 10 minute cart ride with the credits?  After making a couple characters it gets real old, and this lets you try one of about a dozen alternative starts.  Some can be pretty awful (one starts you in the bowels of a high level dungeon at level 1!!) but they are interesting and different, at least.
  • HD Plants and Herbs - Just makes the plants look better.
  • Pure Waters - Increases water beauty and layers of transparency.
  • Adopt Beast Kids - With hearthfire you can adopt kids and get married, and I wanted to adopt a khajiit, so I got this one.
  • Better Embers - Upgrades the appearance of fires and embers.
  • Hermit's Tree House - Adds a free little tree house type dwelling near Riverwood.
  • Moss Rocks - Adds moss to rocks, looks nice by rivers.
  • Craftable Clothes and Robes - Lets you use your leather to make robes and clothes.
  • Aldmeri Domain - Adds in a very tough and interesting compound full of uppity elves.
  • Bestial Companions and Followers - Want a talking bear follower?  This adds several, and slaps voices on them from others (like the wolf is a male argonian voice, for example).
  • When Vampires Attack - Makes the villagers sensibly flee for cover when vampires attack a town instead of joining in and getting butchered.
  • Run For Your Lives - the same as above, but for dragon attacks.  What are you gonna do with that rolling pin, anyway?
  • Qaxe Winterhold Rebuild - Lets you get Winterhold fixed up.  Its not what it once was, but its been like 70 years since the place collapsed and there's still burnt timbers of unbuilt homes?  Ridiculous.
  • Civil War Cleanup - Just a little one shot.  It fixes up the areas damaged by the Civil War once its over, so they don't sit in perpetual unrepaired damage.
Ive found these make the game interesting and deeper, and those three must have DLC equivalent mods add a huge amount of content to the game.  If you haven't played Skyrim, give it a shot, its pretty cheap now and its amazing.

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