Back to Skyrim

What is winter for? Many things, and one of them is playing Skyrim. Last year in January, I installed Skyrim Special Edition for the first time but quickly gave it up after repeatedly failing to configuring my favourite mods – besides I was busy playing Metro 2033 anyway. Come year 2019. At last, I managed to get the game running with the mods without crashing every second minute. Now, everything I needed was a proper winter weather outside to play with full immersion. Too bad it didn’t happen. Did I mention that I hate the climate change? Oh well.

Not that I’ll let it stop me. If I can’t play with a winter strom blasting outside my windows, I’ll do it with sunshine and birds singing. Spring or not, on this Labour Day of 2019 I’m starting a new playthrough. The main goal is to finally finish the main questline after the two failed attempts in the past. The secondary goal is to explore as much as possible, check out interesting mods, and just enjoy myself.

Meet Giovanni Renzi, my Imperial Dragonborn. To be honest, I didn’t think much about his background and the reason why he decided to cross the border and enter Skyrim. Maybe he was a farmer whose farm got destroyed by the war with the Aldmeri Dominion? A rank-and-file veteran of that war? A commoner without land or trade looking for a better life? Whatever his past was, I imagine him to be a generally decent if pragmatical person, as well as a loyal citizen of the Empire. This means that he will hate the Thalmor, won’t join Ulric, and will absolutely refuse to serve the Daedra or work for the Dark Brotherhood. Of course, there’s always the possibility that at one moment he will snap, say “I’ve seen enough” and join the dark side, just like my Courier Six did in New Vegas. We will see.

Mods, Blood Mods

Every Skyrim fan knows that playing the vanilla version is a very dull experience, so it’s obvious that I’ll have my favourite mods installed.

  • Frostfall – who cares about dragons and daedra when you can die in a sudden snowstorm, just because you forgot to chop some wood and your fingers are too numb to do it now. For me, I think this is an essential mod when playing Skyrim, and I was glad to find out that it’s grown bigger and more complex since my previous playthroughs.
  • Interesting NPCs – Wait, you’re saying I can meet NPCs who actually have something to say and don’t look like extras in a cheap theatre play? Again, I can’t imagine playing without this mod. It’s an impressive project with dozens of well-written, convincing characters, several companions and potential spouses, new locations and professional voice acting. Moreover, the people behind it didn’t have to bother abot ESPB ratings, so it finally introduces some risky themes, like various aspects of human (and inhuman) sexuality, making Skyrim a bit more of a Low Fantasy game and less a Sunday morning cartoon.
  • Cooking in Skyrim – finding new recipes for food and collecting rare ingredients has been my favourite in-game past time since Fallout 3. There are a few different mods for wannabe master chefs out there, but I’m picking up this one for starters, just because it adds some challenge: you can unlock recipes only when reaching a certain character level.
  • Darker Nights – playing Fallout 3 with pitch-black nights was surprisingly fun, so I want to do it again. And those chiaroscuro screenshots look great, too.
  • Friendlier Taverns – a small mod which improves the general look of inns, adds baking ovens and baths, and generally makes them feel really cozy.
  • Immersive Armors – another favourite modification I found during my previous attempts to beat Skyrim. Just as the name says, it adds an impressive selection of new armours to the game and manages to do it in a lore-friendly way.
  • SkyUI and Unofficial Patch – of course. I’m not a masochist.

Rules, Damn Rules

It’s a role-playing game, remember? Setting self-imposed challenges and keeping to them has always worked well for me as a way of suspending the disbelief and making the in-game world more believable. So, here’s a couple of them:

Religious – maybe he’s a Dragonborn, but he still follows the Path of the Gods. As a devout worshipper of the Imperial pantheon, Renzi will make regular offerings at the shrines (the type of offering depending on the deity), venerate the dead (which means absolute disdain for necromancers, and also taking care of human remains), hate the Daedra and their worshippers, and secretly worship Talos, which involves hating the Thalmor not-so-secretly.

Limited Saves – this means saving only when entering a new location or resting for a night. Now fights get more exciting, just because you don’t want to waste that hour of crawling through a Draugr necropolis for nothing, and you can train your self-restraint and patience (rage-quitting).

Hospitality Laws – when entering someone’s property, try to be respectable. If you’re picking their crops or just using their home as a shelter from the storm, be sure to leave a gift on the table. Another measure to make the Skyrim experience more immersive.

Real Time Activities – whether crafting, cooking, or putting up a tent, make sure to hit that Wait button.

And last but not least, I’ll focus on working on the two most important stats:

Deadline? No such thing this time, it’s never worked to me. There’s truth in the old saying that God laughs when you make plans. Still, I want to finish the game in a reasonable time so I can get back to New Vegas. Wish me luck.

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Weekly: It’s Good To Be a Survivor

Damn, it feels like being alive again. For the past few months, I found little joy in playing video games, constantly skipping from one title to another and finding no satisfaction whatsoever.

 

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Maybe I’m just too old for this kind of hobby?

 

To my surprise, this changed after I finally got Fallout 4 downloaded to my disk.  To say that I enjoy it would be saying nothing, as I’m simply hypnotised by everything happening on the screen. So, maybe it’s the right time for little introspection. Let’s sit down and think about the reasons why I like Fallout 4 so much.

Survival of the Stealthiest

While the so-called Hardcore mode in Fallout New Vegas was a disappointment, adding only minor challenges to the gameplay, the Survival difficulty mode in F4 is something completely different. First of all, hunger, thirst and radiation are serious issues now and if you forget about them, the game punishes you by severe stats penalties. Even more importantly, even rank-and-file characters are deadly now — fitting for the highest difficulty setting — but so is the player character. If he’s careless enough, a bunch of angry Raiders can shoot him down in a few seconds, but since your basic damage is considerably higher than on lower difficulties, you can turn the tables by quietly climbing up a building or a hill and taking them out with well-placed sniper shots. Generally, sneaking is one of the most valuable skills now and I’m all happy about it.

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The most important element of the Survival mode is the strategic value of beds. Since manual saving and most autosaves are disabled, you can keep your progress only by sleeping for at least one hour. That’s why it’s very important to search your surroundings for a resting place when entering a hostile territory. After all, you don’t want to lose hours of progress due to an unlucky incident with a frag mine or a genocidal ghoul. Obviously, it’s very frustrating when it happens, but it makes exploration of the wastes even more exciting.

Meet the Vault Tinkerer

Remember picking through tonnes of useless trash in Fallout 3 and New Vegas in search of Stimpaks and ammunition? Now it’s over. With the new crafting system, even tin cans and broken clocks can be real treasures. After finding a proper workshop, you can customise your weapons, armour and even the Pipboy to make them lighter, sturdier, deadlier, or simply more fancy. Add enough modifications and your weapon’s or armour’s name becomes ridiculously long, but they thought about it too and you can give it another name.

 

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Maybe I’ll just call her Vera.

 

While most ingredients are common enough, some are quite rare and you’ll learn to value each piece of circuitry or nuclear material you find in the dirt. Things get even more complicated when you find out that you need the same resources to expand your settlements, but I left my settlers to their own devices so far, so let’s just leave it at that.

The Power of the Armour

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There’s been a huge change in the way the game treats Power Armour in comparison with the previous instalments. Now it’s not just a piece of (very heavy and expensive) clothing you wear but rather it behaves like an in-game vehicle. The Sole Survivor enters it using that funny hatch on its back and, just like a real car, it needs fuel, the Fusion Cores, which aren’t exactly cheap but still surprisingly easy to find. Beside standard modifications increasing damage resistance, it has some new options unavailable for other types of armour, like an enhanced HUD targetting enemies or special filters in the helmet which clean your food and drink from radiation. Another minor but nice thing is that your PC sounds really badass in conversations when speaking through his power helmet. In short, for the first time in the history of the Fallout series, they really made the Power Armour something special.

Well, that’s it. I’m sure I’ll have more to write about when I spend another dozen or two of hours of playing under my belt. Meanwhile, let’s get a cup of noodles from that crazy Japanese robot and then set sail for the ruins of Boston.

 

 

 

Monthly: Moscow to Boston

The first months of 2018 were pretty monotonous. Radiation. Mutated dogs. Gas masks. Mutated mosquitoes. Digging through a pile of junk in search of spare parts. More mutants. In other words, I’ve been tasting two different types of post-apocalyptic fiction.

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The Metro series has been on my list since I watched a full Let’s Play YT video of the second game a few years ago. After all, a game made by a Russian and Ukrainian team always picks my interest and I really loved S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. Now, not only I managed to buy both parts of the series for a very reasonable price on Steam but also bought the original novel written by Dmitry Glukhovsky. What a refreshing and interesting experience to read a chapter, close the book, launch the game and play the same part of the story (with slight alterations). Obviously, the game is far from perfection even in its revamped Redux version and there’s a lot of wasted potential due to the absolutely linear character of the plot, but I’ve enjoyed it so far.

Sadly, I had to interrupt my adventure in the depths of Moscow’s underground system. I blame you, Bethesda.

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For someone who’s been playing the series since the release of Fallout 1 in 1997, I was late to join the party. The steep price was one reason, the sad experience with freshly released Bethesda games being technical disasters was another. Most importantly, most reviews I was reading were far from favourable.  “It’s not a real Fallout game”, they said, “it’s too much an FPS and not much an RPG”. And, of course, the greatest accusation: “This is not New Vegas, so it sucks!”.

When Fallout 4 became available for a free weekend in early February, I was prepared to play it for a few hours, write down my impressions as a First Hour exercise, get bored, disappointed, and go back to Nevada. Well, I was wrong. After spending most of my weekend in the post-apocalyptic Boston, I finally paid for the game. The Fallout magic still works.

All right, the reviewers were right about one thing. It really isn’t New Vegas. I can understand that dedicated fans were disappointed by many changes, especially the ridiculous dialogue system (“yes/no/need more info/tell a stupid joke”), but the game is still more than decent. Especially when you go for the Survival mode which, unlike the previous installation, is seriously challenging and makes you doped on adrenaline every time you encounter a band of raiders or supermutants. Yeah, I’ll have to write more about it.

Just in case you played Fallout 4 before I did, I’d really appreciate hints about the DLC’s and interesting mods, since I’m still playing the vanilla version. Thanks!

New Vegas: Meet the Courier

A truism: Fallout is a Computer Role-Playing Game. My favourite part of playing cRPGs is the possibility to invent a personality of my player character which goes beyond the stats, the so-called alignment or karma. Now, let’s try to answer the question…

Who exactly is the Courier?

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Unlike most other protagonists in the Fallout series (with the notable exception of Fallout: Tactics), the Courier is not a newcomer entering the Postapocalyptia from a sheltered location like a vault or a remote tribal village. Of course, typically for a Bethesda game, he is mostly a blank-slate character, but this time we at least know his profession.

Since travelling alone through the war-torn Mojave Desert implies a certain approach towards life, I decided to give the Courier an amoral, survivalist or even Social Darwinist mindset. Maybe the word ‘amoral’ isn’t correct here and I should call it ‘an alternative morality’ instead, summed up by the motto The Strong Survive. The Courier should be equally able to perform acts of necessary cruelty or to take a more benevolent approach to other people, all the time avoiding the extremes: being a bloodthirsty psychopath on the one hand and a selfless altruist on the other.

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After all, when you survive your own execution and wake up in a grave, you’re not prone to be sentimental and trusting anymore.

Still, the Courier shouldn’t be entirely selfish and close-minded, but rather think about the bigger picture. After all, if the Mojave Desert becomes a well-governed and stable place, his chances of surviving and making a profit will increase. This should bring him close to the philosophy of the Caesar’s Legion, possibly even to join its ranks and help the tyrant overcome his foes — unless another faction convinces our antihero otherwise.

Making Life Harder

Just like when I was playing Skyrim and F3, I’ll set myself a few restrictions for the immersion’s sake:

Three Meals a Day – maybe it’s not necessary to eat so often even when playing in the Survival mode, but having regular meals creates a somewhat realistic rhythm of the day;

No Heavy Weapons – the Courier is allowed to lift a big gun dropped by the enemy and to use it within a very limited range only;

No Save-scumming – with the exception of companion’s death;

Autosaves Only – and suddenly those boring abandoned shacks in the middle of the desert become very important (I’ll make manual saves occasionally just in case of game-killing bugs).

Of course, I might add more restrictions later.