Saturday, June 26, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review: Red Headed Gang Quest and Girl Companion Mod

Mod Review - Red Headed Gang Quest and Girl Companion Mod
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Overall: Interesting story with interesting plot twists, very worthwhile to play through. Needs a lot of clean-up and some quest sequences are too easily broken, but overall the mod is playable. Very basic but functional companion.

Why You Would Download This: You want a couple of well-told stories with some tough fights here and there. You want an uncomplicated companion mod.

Warnings: Buggy in places and can break in a couple of places if you don't let scripts run as they should.

If you are just looking for an uncomplicated companion mod, this is it. You get Cecilia, a Breton girl (not just a woman but literally a girl, resized down from an adult Breton female). She sneaks when you sneaks, follows you around, lets you modify her inventory, even goes hostile on you for live-fire "training". You get access to your companion's house in Skingrad if you have passed the first stage of the quest, complete with bed and chest for storage. It's very basic, but also very uncomplicated, so it is unlikely to break any other mod no matter where you put it in your mod load order. Your companion is also lacking any kind of companion-ish dialogue, however, and as companions go may be sort of boring.

The mod initially came with the story of the Red Headed Gang, but later a second optional story was added, to discover and explore Undergroundia.

Both stories are essentially simple, but scripted with some interesting events and flavoured with some humour -- together, these make the experience an overall more engaging and enjoyable one, and certainly more than mere hack and slash (of which there is definitely a goodly amount, but not such a gratuitous surplus as to be tiresome). For the story alone, this mod is worth a download and occasional reload because the author didn't account for every contingency (probably played it as a fighter without using too much ranged magic or stealth).

If you like to be involved in the lives of NPCs around you, doing at least the Red Headed Gang quest lets you bond more with your companion, though she has, sadly, very little to say.

The mod, however, does require a heck of a lot of clean-up in almost every aspect. The dialogue, for instance, is rather poorly translated into English, although you will definitely get the gist of what is being said.
Custom items are haphazardly given stats -- some are set to 0 value, some are given overpowered enchantments, some are given unusually high stats like 10000 Health on armor and 1.50 speed on melee weapons. Some NPCs don't react properly (e.g., the first Undergroundian you meet never changes from sitting in her chair and asking you how your visit went, even after you wreak havoc all over Undergroundia and the other civilians run about "fleeing" like chickens with their heads cut off).

Overall, when you play the quests, you will want to keep various savegames handy because there are various parts of the mod which could be buggy or break.

Example: If you do not speak to Marlson early on, he might be Disabled later (hidden from the game) and you cannot get the quest to visit Undergroundia. You can work around this by either talking to him (again) after the initial dialogue with him when you rescue him from the Red Headed Gang. Or, if you know your way around Form IDs and the console, you can use the "Enable" command to make him reappear so you can have that dialogue.

Example: At certain points, an NPC must speak with you, and you are prevented from moving or moving past a certain point by an invisible barrier. If you provoke that NPC into fighting before they talk to you, it can cause you to be stuck because certain scripts never get the chance to run.
For example, shortly after you grab the magic crystal in the Red Headed Gang quest, when you turn to leave you may see an assassin has appeared in the room from which you came. He stands in plain sight and can be attacked at range, but he needs to speak with you. If you kill him first, you cannot leave the sewers because you are blocked by a barrier that is supposed to freeze you and let him approach to talk.
The final confrontation with Dogo is also scripted this way. He is sort-of-hidden behind some robjects, but you can see him and snipe at him even before he rushes in for the final scripted scene and necessary dialogue.

SPOILER: In the Undergroundia quest, there will be a time when you have no gear but your companion still has hers. Typically, the Oblivion engine causes creatures to prioritize attacking your companion, but not in this case. Depending on your skills and resources, you can either fight your way out of it, or depend on your companion to save you -- and interesting turnaround as, by then, you'd have saved her a couple of times at plot points (as opposed to in random encounters). The Arena trick works here -- Block (which can cause your opponent to do the same while they wait for you to drop your block) and occasionally heal with spells. Meanwhile, your companion, who is not engaged by any hostiles, can get in some free hits against your foe.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion mod - Trap Souls

GQ Trap Souls
Alternate Download Location (requires login).

This is a simple mod for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to create filled Soul Gems. It requires the Oblivion Script Extender.

This mod adds five Conjuration spells that let the player capture a soul from an already dead target. A soul gem is created automatically.
If the target creature is an NPC (soul level 5), a Black Soul Gem can be created, but there is an increase in Infamy (to offset the plentiful-ness of NPC souls).
The base Magicka cost is equal to half the vanilla Soul Gem Capacity of the corresponding Soul Gem when Conjuration skill is 50.

Novice - Petty Soul - xx00ad28
Novice - Lesser Soul - xx00ad26
Apprentice - Common Soul - xx00ad24
Journeyman - Greater Soul - xx00ad21
Expert - Grand Soul - xx00ad20

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion mod - Conduit Magic Unlimited

DOWNLOAD Conduit Magic Unlimited
Alternate Download Location (requires login).

This mod for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is based on Conduit Magic v0.5 by Kamikaze1.

The original Conduit Magic essentially allowed the creation of enchantments that could be put on or taken off, and without using an Altar of Enchantment. The resulting enchantment drew on the player's Magicka pool, and players could get skill gains as if casting a spell. Spells were used as the basis of what effects were put on the weapon, and were checked for whether they were normally allowed on the item or not.

This variation on the mod changes the code to remove the checks, so that, in theory, any effect could be placed on any weapon -- for example, on Self enchantments to be triggered on Strike with a weapon.

WARNING: Since this obviously deviates from what is allowed in The Elder Scrolls Construction Set, there is no telling what it could do to your savegame. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Example Video: Restore Health on Self on Strike
Notice in the sample video that on each strike, the player's health increases (lower left corner horizontal red bar), although there is no visual effect.

Example Video: Invisibility on Self on Strike
You can Conduit Magic an On Self invisibility spell to a weapon, so that on each hit, you become invisible.
Notice that in the sample video, although the duration of the spell is 10 seconds, the actual enchantment cast on the player on striking a target is greater than that because the character has active Weakness to Magic effects as an Altmer Apprentice.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion mod - Create Tools

GQ Create Tools
Alternate Download Location (requires login).

This is a simple mod for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that provides two Alteration spells that create tools out of thin air. The chance of successfully creating a Lockpick is equal to the player's base Security skill. The chance of successfully creating a Repair Hammer is equal to the player's base Armorer skill.

xx000805 Create Lockpick
xx000804 Create Repair Hammer

Monday, June 14, 2010

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Mod - GQ Upgrade Arrows Generic v1.0

GQ Upgrade Arrows Generic
Alternate Download Location (requires login).

This is a simple mod for Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to manage arrows. It requires the Oblivion Script Extender.

This mod puts a script on a key (FormID xx004593, where xx is the hexadecimal load order number). When the player tries to equip it, it will try one of two things:
(a) Convert Arrows
Arrows are upgraded to 0.05 weight, silvered, and 50% faster. This requires a combination of Alteration and Armorer skills. The required skill is (alteration + armorer) >= (arrow damage x 2.5), and at most 3/4 of that value can be from your Alteration skill).

(b) Upgrade Arrows
If the arrow is already a Converted Arrow, Equipping the key will cause the arrows to be upgraded. 3 Arrows are converted into one of the next higher damage class. The required skill is twice that of Converting Arrows.

The mod supports arrows that have a damage rating of 1 to 30.
Successfully performing either action improves Alteration and Armorer skills slightly for every 3 arrows Converted or Upgraded.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oblivion mod review - Haunted House Quest v1.5

Mod Review - Haunted House Quest (version 1.5)
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Overall: Some good points in an otherwise boring mod with a bad title and lack of overall direction/vision. It's not a horror mod or really even a haunted house.

Why You Would Download This: You either want a quick adventure that can be completed in a few hours and doesn't involve an overly tedious amount of fighting; or you like a lot of fighting (though repetitive) and carting around loot. This mod lets you have either.

Warnings: Not compatible with Unique Landscapes but the entrance that is unlocked is still accessible. For unclear reasons, this mod changes Skeleton Guardians (Form ID 1e5f2) to have a level of (PC + 6) and 170 Health per level -- even though we encountered no Skeleton Guardians in the mod.

Haunted House Quest starts out as a haunted house, and seems very promising in that direction with a good backstory and rather good scripting for spooky environments in the house itself. For some reason, the author then decided to reveal that it was all a hoax -- which is an extremely bad plot device. If you downloaded this based on the title, you would probably be very sorely disappointed at this point. Don't bother with this mod as a horror mod.

Shortly after this revelation there is a linear, boring (and thankfully short) part where you allow yourself to be recruited into a shady if not outright evil organization. The "why?" of this isn't really explained but your character decides to go along anyway with no dialog option otherwise. Ultimately you end up breaking out from jail and at this point the mod becomes more or less hack and slash (there can be a LOT of enemies to go through until you actually reach the boss).
Fortunately, you have an "out":

There is a neat scripted series of events where you can put on a disguise and basically walk through the thick of the enemies more or less until you reach the end boss, although there are a couple of minor (non-combat) obstacles in the way. When you defeat the boss, there's no tedious slaughter to get out as all his minions are scripted to die.

As a dungeon crawl, this mod is fairly good, with nice architecture and enemies that carry healing potions -- so there's a chance you can loot them and heal yourself or resupply. For a hack and slash mod, the main drawback here is that the enemies are very same-y and it can get very boring very quickly. Enemies were mostly level (PC+10).

At the end, the reward includes various suits of re-textured armour of a modest level. Fortunately it comes as a .BSA and .ESP, so it is easy to install and uninstall.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - The Oubliette

Mod Review - The Oubliette
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Overall: Mix of straight fighting and horror environments. Good use of startling spooky noises. Sometimes impossible depending on resources. Hundreds of screenshots here. Review below can include TIPS and SPOILERS.

Why You Would Download This: You feel the Oblivion worlds are merely "horrible" as opposed to horror, and want to experience an actual horror/suspense environment. You like a challenging mod that puts you on an extended expedition with no real chance to re-supply with ingredients or potions.

The Oubliette (What is an "oubliette"?) has many scenes done in a very good "horror" style, although in an open-ended and flexible game like Oblivion, even if you don't use Night Eye or Detect Life, it can be pretty difficult to scare the player because of the resources or abilities at hand.

Some areas are extensive, while others are very short and seem almost under-developed. Not every location involves horror or the threat of death. Sometimes, the horror is just atmospheric cliches, such as spooky noises that sound close by but have no tangible source. Other times, it is in the visuals, although you may be surprised how quickly bloody zombies strapped to the ceiling becomes passe.
Of the ambiance touches, the most disappointing would have to be the voiceovers. Some of them are quite clear, but others are done in a deep and/or croaking voice, are barely intelligible. In dialogue with an NPC you have subtitles to back it up, but as disembodied voices while you are delving, it really detracts from whatever horror or feeling it hopes to evoke because you don't even know what it says. Sometimes, it's little better than the atmospheric noise.

There are some really neat touches, such as little written notes here and there from former guards; and skeletons that reanimate only when your back is turned. If you're into horror, it's definitely worth a look, though if you need a mod to have a strong story holding it together, The Oubliette could have done much better.

The main reason is that the rooms do not appear to have an overall theme, nor are they aligned with the Oubliette story (which you really only find out at the very end). This I personally found very disappointing. One of the common aspects of a horror flick is the gradual discovery by the characters/victims of what has happened before, what is going on now and why, and how to stop it. This is what helps a horror flick have an actual story instead of being disjoint scenes and meaningless slaughter.
Worse still in the Oubliette, toward the very end the horror is gone and replaced by gratuitous combat (and some find-the-switch action that has no meaning or symbolism with the story of the Oubliette). The enemies are very tough, and in fact the fighter-and-mage duo that the mod keeps throwing at you can be trickier to deal with than the final boss fights (click here and here to see their stats).

We had Martigen's Monster Mod installed, and very possibly that addition took over a lot of the spawn points, with the result that some areas were overly difficult and probably took more resources than a reasonably prepared character could spare.
The mod is author-rated at level 11-12. We did it with a level 8 character using storage cheats, so they had virtually unlimited alchemy and repair hammers at their disposal. Nevertheless the mod was sufficiently challenging without having to resort to cheesy tactics.
Having said that, however, it should be noted that the difficulty of the encounters sometimes jump to startlingly difficult or impossible, such as the first time you encounter pumpkinheads.

There were some bugs with the mod, so in case these happen to you, you know to reload: (Watch out for SPOILERS)
  • Chaos Arena - Some people have reported finding no way out. After you defeat all the adversaries, you are supposed to be teleported out. Try moving around a bit toward the middle of the arena or using Detect Life to make sure you haven't missed any that may just be playing dead.
  • In the room "Terror", you will enter a large hall and encounter the final boss. If you happened to move too far to one side of the room, when the boss appears you might be frozen/stuck.
  • In Vaermina's Halls, being hit too many times by the fire turrets can cause your character to freeze up as if controls were disabled for a cutscene.
  • The Bleeding Stone doesn't seem to do anything. Don't count on it even though the description pop-up says it can heal you.

Here are a few tips you may not have considered:
  • In Restless Dreams, you will be set upon by an endless number of skeletons. When they die, they drop their weapons, which are very random but also apparently not quality-limited. My level 8 character walked out of that level with two Daedric Maces (normally not available on monsters until character level 20).
  • The Pumpkinheads and final bosses are not immune to poison.

How could The Oubliette be better? Here's what we would recommend, based on the story (though it is revealed only after you clear everything and are ready to leave) -- Careful: SPOILERS!

  • That there are still-alive goblins in solitary confinement or elsewhere is remarkably implausible. If they are absolutely necessary, they could be change into ghostly versions.
  • SPOILER -- The main boss is set to Essential (unkillable) until you remove the darkness that empowers him. This is a flimsy clue, however, as your own light sources and even the small candles in the area of the final battle shed more light than the actual light sources you need to turn on -- the glassy welkynds that give off a soft yellow light when struck by an arrow. What would really have made this more clear and useful is to have those lights (which you have to turn on earlier in The Oubliette to advance between certain rooms) give off MUCH more illumination. Even after you turn on all the lights in the final area, there really isn't much of a difference in overall lighting. (That said, I must admit that what happens once you actually do turn on the correct lights is quite excellent in visuals and accompanying sound effects.)
  • More theme to the rooms. Quantity doesn't equal quality, and instead of a slog through a dungeon, having more quality is better. The final boss mentions something about "...not even the masters of this prison could escape me..." This is the perfect excuse for theming the rooms after specific officers of the oubliette, in charge of specific zones in the dungeon or with their favourite type of torture. In horror-movie style, we need not force a confrontation/boss battle -- instead, we can allow the player to simply manage to escape an area and progress to the next. Releasing a boss and thereby freeing them from the Oubliette could have an ultimate consequence in the final fight, however -- for instance, by automatically turning on one of the welkynd lights against the end boss. Or even having the spirit re-appear to fight/distract the boss.
  • Less fighting: Every good horror movie knows that when you actually show a monster, you remove some of the terror that comes from the unknown.
  • There are ambient sounds throughout The Oubliette. This could be capitalized on by making maybe 1 in 100 noises actually be from a spawned (nuisance) monster. This makes the noises actually more scary because, for a change, they could actually mean something.
  • More eerie environments. Stock static placements quickly blend into the background. Things like bulging walls (that actually do nothing harmful -- not everything needs to be a trap, just something that the player can't do anything about) or maybe flitting shadows. Be careful NOT to Havok too many things, or tie them to having loud noises. Oblivion doesn't handle Havoked objects very well, causing them to make very loud clattering noises (ever see lamps on chains dancing endlessly and making a really annoying racket?) and occasionally rocket around. None of that is "horror", just horribly irritating.
  • Do something with the notes. There are at least two letters for sweethearts at home. These could ultimately be delivered, if the player brings them out of the Oubliette.
  • A better post-finale. Something that could be done is for the player to return to the Tiber Septim Hotel library/attic as usual. At this point, there is likely a sense of relief and "everything back to normal". When they approach the exit to the attic (heading down to the Tiber Septim second floor) however, script a cutscene with a blurry shader or some such. At this point, an appropriate finish might be to have a rush of ghosts exit the painting and flee up through the ceiling -- tormented souls finally free to leave the Oubliette. And/or have the ghosts of the guard's loved ones come for the letters the character retrieved. Finally having word of their husbands, they are free to move on into the afterlife. Faint the character, then reappear them on a bed in one of the luxury suites of the Tiber Septim.