Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - Dwemer Skyship

Mod Review - Dwemer Skyship
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Overall: Simple mod, interesting to try. Very interesting "parachute" item.

Why You Would Download This: The parachute.

Although this is an old mod, it's still a very good one. It essentially works, and is very innovative.

This mod has a very basic/token quest to acquire control of a "Dwemer Skyship" -- basically a static ship that floats and has a big balloon like a zepplin. The original mod did not give the ability to actually pilot the ship, but you could have it basically teleport to you (but high up in the sky), and a separate spell lets you teleport inside.

There would be little more than the novelty of a skyship home -- and you can see a number of interior and exterior screenshots of the Dwemer Skyship at The Fantasy Art of Computer Games -- except the skyship also comes with a parachute that really works like a parachute. You equip this light item in the cuirass equipment slot, and it opens automatically when falling.
If you like long drops, like leaping off Frostcrag Spire or Dive Rock, then you have to get this parachute!

We have a little demo clip here. In the clip, the parachute twists in third person view because we also use Colourwheel's Sexy Imperial Legion, which gives a sexy/alluring static animation to all female characters when they are idle -- If you use the same mod, be prepared for this to happen. This does not happen in first person view.

Notice that while the parachute is slowing down the fall, the character can still maneuver left/right, thus moving like a slow glider instead of simply falling straight down.

A newer add-on, Dwemer Skyship v2, apparently fixes the "fire support" of the Dwemer Skyship and allows actual piloting of the ship. If you are keen on using this a lot, this is worth checking out.

Oblivion Mod Review - Verona House Bloodlines

Mod Review - Verona House Bloodlines v12.0
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Overall: Good back-story, okay quest, essentially works fine (but see warning in our review below). Verona Bay is FPS intensive. 2008 house mod that could use some internal updates to things that COBL does much better. Some uber items.

Why You Would Download This: The story/quest. Some uber items.

First, the good stuff in this mod: There's a detailed back story, and over the course of the quest, more of it is revealed to you and you can slowly piece it together. It isn't an epic story, but it is seen through to the very end, with a tidy happy-ending wrap-up after you defeat the boss.

The mod comes with the quaint village of Verona Bay, which would be better if it weren't so FPS intensive as an exterior location. Nevertheless, the layouts, both exterior and building interiors, are nice. The Fantasy Art of Computer Games has several screenshots of Verona Bay.

The quest pits you against a vampire cult. They are small potatoes compared to the Mythic Dawn, and not very challenging overall even if you go solo and decline all the helpful companions. The early quests are quite interesting for the variety of tasks you need to accomplish, and this part is definitely worthwhile playing through.
Later on, the quests become more or less your standard go-there-kill-everything in deep dungeons and starts to drag. The final boss is disappointingly easy, and after a build-up in the back-story bits about him being very charismatic in a Dark Jedi evil-emperor way, it is also disappointing that you don't get to talk to him before he attacks you.

The bad part of the mod is in the scripting. Overall, the mod does work flawlessly, IF you follow EXACTLY what you are told to do as a next step. If not, there is no contingency scripting and you will be stuck until you "follow the numbers" exactly.


Example: At some point you will encounter Berra Gaunt. You find out she was an importer/exporter for an Imperial City company, Hackblett and Gaunt. You are not asked to investigate her Imperial City company offices, but if you take that initiative, you can find out that her partner, Hackblett, is having an affair with a woman while supposedly bethrothed to a foreign duchess.
There's nothing you can do about that right now, which is fine.

Later however, you are tasked to get some dirt on Hackblett in order to extract information from him. You already know about his affair, and maybe have stole the appropriate letters from the duchess, and have enough to at least further your investigation. However, the mod will not recognize any of this. You will actually need to go back into the office and again witness Hackblett and his mistress sleeping together before the mod will give you a quest update.

This sort of follow-exactly-along can cause you to get stuck in the mod if you are skipping ahead in what seems to be a reasonable way.

Again, I must stress that the mod does work flawlessly otherwise. It is version 12 and a lot of bugs have been stamped out. Scripting to cover contingencies can be very time-consuming, which is why Bethesda uses a lot of "requires a key" type doors and makes people un-killable ("essential") in Oblivion in order to prevent you from interacting with places and people and things before critical quests are completed. This is a simple type of contingency scripting, but one which comes across as generally artificial.

In the case of Hackblett, one way to do it might be to lock the Imperial City office and have a note saying that Hackblett is overseas. Then unlock the door and add Hackblett and his mistress later on, with the excuse that he's recently back.
But this is all additional scripting that a modder might not want to have to do and test, especially for an already large mod.

In 2008 the various sorters for alchemy and scrolls may have been innovative and interesting, but COBL came along with superior sorters that weren't reliant on having a container for specific items. For example, it will handle ingredients from any mod, instead of just official Oblivion and Shivering Isles ingredients.

Because of this, the house you get at the end of the quest is essentially just a house with place to store stuff. While it is an extensive house with a lot of storage, for the ingredient and potion sorters, you may want to pick up COBL and either Basement for COBL or Portable Sorters.

Of note is Harold the Steward, who can give you reminders about your duties to various Guilds, such as whether as Listener of the Dark Brotherhood you are due for a check-in with the statue in Bravil.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Oblivion Mod Review - Mystery of Mausoleum

Mod Review - Mystery of Mausoleum
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Overall: All-new graphics makes for a fresh visual experience -- The Fantasy Art of Computer Games has a gallery of extensive screenshots of this mod. Horrible quest design wastes a lot of time. Can't use HDR.

Why You Would Download This: You want cool armor and weapons.

Mystery of Mausoleum introduces strongly Chinese-fantasy themed arms, armor, and architecture into vanilla Oblivion. All of it is contained in a few indoor and outdoor locations, and is unlikely to conflict with anything else.

If you are bent on using the HDR video option in Oblivion, you will probably not want to use this mod, or will have to experiment to see which pieces of armor you can use without getting a "black screen error" -- where the world suddenly stops rendering and all you get is a black screen plus your menu interfaces.
You can switch to the Bloom option and things will be fine (at least that was the workaround that worked for us), but Bloom can give a different look (especially for some types of walls and funiture), and you may not like it if you are used to HDR.

The English walkthrough discloses all the issues with the quests and the sidequests, and frankly, they are so ridiculous that one wonders why the mod was released with these issues -- like having to keep checking Rumours until a sidequest turns up.
Some of the so-called sidequests are not sidequests at all, but practically necessary to proceed with the main quest. For example, near the final area is a lake where being even close to the lake (while still being on shore) will inflict 100 Health points of poison damage per second. Having 100% Resist Poison will not help, either, for unclear reasons. An obscure sidequest is necessary to get the antidote for this. Or, you could cheat and use the console command TGM (Toggle God Mode).

Combined with adolescent entries for "Rumours", such as so-and-so modder being sexy and other time-wasting rubbish, the entire mod is irritating and an utter waste of time if not for the excellent suits of armor that can be obtained. Such entries, plus the sometimes over-the-top fan service (such as the melon-chested Elemental Servants in super-skimpy armor) simply reinforce the negative stereotype of Asian gamers being a lot of porn-obsessed geeks.

On the subject of the Elemental Servants, they cause Savegame Bloating more or less as soon as you load a game with this mod, even if you haven't played any part of the mod. You can remove this bloat with Wyre Bash.

If you just want the cool gear, you might as well save yourself frustration and console them in. For extensive screenshots of the gear, architecture, and monsters introduced by this mod, we recommend The Fantasy Art of Computer Games. Here are just two of the hundreds of screenshots available:

Ethereal Hierarch 02

ChiLian Armor 09

If you insist on doing the token quest in Mystery of Mausoleum, here are some uses of the console and other tips that can help you move along in it:

  • Speak with Chun Xiao and Sister Feng for the side quests. As mentioned in the official walkthrough, these are randomly available through the "Rumours", which refresh once a day. To force rumors to refresh in a character, you can select them while the console is open, and then use the "resurrect" command.
  • After you kill the Jade Banshee for the ingredient it drops, you can use "resurrect" on it to force it to immediately respawn so you can kill it five times for the item you need.
  • For the quest to take the beggar villager around the IC, there are no quest markers indicating where you need to go, so you could possibly wander around forever and not find the five places you need to take her. You can skip this quest by using the console to advance the quest to stage 38: "setstage aaaMomMainQuest01 38", but you will miss out on the armour she gives you. Use Wrye Bash to find the FormID and console in the armour if you like. It is the ChiLian Armor.
  • There are three cells in the maze in the Temple of King You where there is armor or weapons to be found in little chests, but there is no guarantee you can enter those cells. The maze, however, is laid out in a 6x6 grid, with the upper left corner being cell aaamazex1y1 (you can get there with command "coc aaamazex1y1". You enter at aaamazex4y6. The exit is the north door in aaamazex3y1.
  • The Cerberus Armor in the poisonous lake obscures a large part of the screen in first person and when using a bow. If you use a bow frequently, you may wish to take this into account when choosing which armor you want to use.
  • When you are fighting the final boss, try to have your back to the moat. The boss likes to move backwards and cast spells, which means he often ends up in the water if he's between you and the moat. He has high speed and a big body model, so he can get out easily, but you can't. There are two teleporters underwater, but they didn't work for us, so if you enter the water, you might be stuck.