Seventeen days in Tamriel

Nearly two years ago now, I quit playing Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). Due to some balance changes, Matt wasn’t interested in playing any more, and the game was decidedly less fun without him. I canceled my membership not long after, leaving behind a game that still had a lot of content for me, and an awesome community in the UESP guild. It felt awful, almost like a breakup, at the time.

Of course, I haven’t been idle. I picked up WoW again in September 2016, and I’ve been enjoying that. Legion was a pretty great expansion, and I’ve had fun with my heroic raiding guild. But things have slowed down, my guild has cleared all the content it can clear, and the next expansion’s not until August.

Recently Matt mentioned he was getting back into ESO, at least for the single-player content. Neither of us had ever had problems with that. Even at his most disillusioned, he admitted it was a beautiful game with some really great quests and NPCs, full of the lore of the Elder Scrolls that we so love. It was just… group content that was unbalanced.

It didn’t take long of watching him play it to be like, “I miss this game so much!” and plop down my hard earned $29.99 to get the Summerset pre-order/early access (complete with the Morrowind chapter, too!) I also ponied up the $40 for three months of ESO Plus membership, too, because I heart those limitless crafting bags.

It’s been seventeen days since that fateful dive back in, and that’s an auspicious number in Tamriel (seventeen daedric princes!), so here’s a log of my adventures along the way….

ESO Summerset Box Art. Credit: Zenimax Online Studios, via uesp.net

Days 1-2

Similar to when I returned to WoW, I knew there was going to be a good amount of I-Have-No-Idea-What-I’m-Doing-Dog. While it hasn’t exactly been the 7+ years I was away from WoW, it was still twenty months. A lot can change in that time!

I quit right after the Dark Brotherhood DLC came out, shortly before One Tamriel became a reality, so in the meantime they’ve added a new class (the Warden), a new crafting skill (jewelry crafting), player housing, and two big world expansions, Morrowind and Summerset (the latter of which just came out for early access). Oh, and they added battlegrounds, because the world PvP of Cyrodiil was, well, not everyone’s cuppa. They’ve also raised the champion point (CP) cap to 750. And of course, with One Tamriel, all the zones scale to your level, and you can do the content in any order.

The first thing I’ll say is this: they made it super easy to jump right back in. With 2 level 50s and some 480 CP on my account, I knew it was going to be hard to pick up where I left off, so I decided to make a new character. And why not a Warden, since that’s new? Thus: Anyael Dulaerion, an Altmer magicka warden.

So I load up the game, and hey, I’m in an introductory/tutorial sequence. (Actually, they give me the option to skip it, since I’ve already played through the vanilla intro once, but I decide to do it anyway). Blessedly, I don’t have to rescue Lyris from Coldharbour yet again; it seems each full expansion has added its own tutorial. So instead I follow a spirit named Oriandra through a “mind prison”, fight some creatures called yaghra, destroyed something called an abyssal pearl, and lo and behold, I find myself near Shimmerene in Summerset, talking to our old pal Razum-dar, from the Aldmeri Dominion quests in the vanilla game.

Raz! Credit: Zenimax Online Studios, via uesp.net
I’d say, “Raz, don’t you recognize your old friend?” but you’ve never met my strange new banana elf before.

And I can just continue on from here, because Summerset levels to me. Hooray!

The level-up dialogue has changed HUGELY since I’ve been gone. Each time I level, I’m presented with “rewards” I need to claim — which include experience scrolls, furniture for rooms, etc as well as the standard attribute and skill points. The Skills dialogue has changed, too; they’ve added a Skill Advisor that recommends what skills and morphs to take based on a role you pick. But Matt reminds me of the importance of leveling each class line by having skills on your bar, and so I try a little of everything.

I very quickly learn that as a Warden, my first skill in the Animal Companions line, Dive, is literally throwing a cliff racer at my foes, and I wonder why no one told me this before. I would have been back earlier!!

Since I pinged the GM of the UESP guild before I even signed on for the first time, I have a guild invite waiting for me, and I… pick up where I left off, really. I recognize a full 80% of the names on the roster. Immediately I’m joking with them as if I’d never been gone.

One of the first quests I do involves a murder at the Russafeld vineyard of a racist Altmer who the local population kinda hates. And no spoilers, but this quest is intense. I have gone from WoW quests — which tend to be “lol bring Dadgar 1000 pieces of poop” (and all text) — to a fully-voiced murder investigation, which touches on fantasy racism, romantic obsession, and old wounds, both personal and cultural. And this is just a side quest, folks. Meanwhile Raz is still waiting back at Shimmerene for me to do the main quest.

The worldbuilding, of course, is exquisite. The Altmer aren’t my particular area of interest in the ES world, but now that we’re visiting with them, I’m enjoying seeing their different cultural mores and linguistic peculiarities. (Noted is the usage of “cerum, ceruval” to address you — some honorific?)

So far, so good.

Day 10

My new character, my warden, is now level 18. I continue to throw cliff racers at things while tooling around Summerset and Artaeum (the Brigadoon of the ES world). In addition to the Russafeld vineyard murder investigation I mentioned loving, I also really liked the Insatiable quest, and of course the lore nerd in me is thrilled by the importance of the Crystal Tower in the main plot. Oh, oh, and I like that you get to learn more about Vanus Galerion and Mannimarco’s friendship when they were both Psijics, before the latter got all necromancer-y.

(I ship it).

Yaghra release metal riffs when they die. Fascinating.

If anyone didn’t know that sloads have been part of the lore since at least TESIII, possibly earlier, you’d think they’d decided to transplant the Hutts to Tamriel to be the villains of this expansion.

(To be fair, the original Star Wars movies pre-date all the ES games, so the argument could be made either way. But how many ways can you do giant sentient slugs?)

I’ve start dipping my toes into the housing system; I now own two free inn rooms — one in Vivec City and one in Alinor — and have no idea what to put in them. So far I’ve bought some storage boxes from the Crown Store, put them in there, and filled them with my ginormous collection of 100+ monster helms and Wrothgar dailies sets, so that I don’t accidentally deconstruct them. I still have no idea what the meta is any more, but since the gear cap hasn’t changed, there’s still the possibility this is all good stuff. Also the Julianos crafted set still seems to be good, so I’m running around in that.

Oh, and I bought myself a Tythis Andromo (the banking assistant), so I suppose I can stick him in my empty rooms.

Falanu Dren, my former main (a Dunmer magicka templar, often a healer, Mephala worshipper, Vivec fangirl, poisoner, and House Hlaalu retainer), finished off the Orsinium quest (which she was in the middle of when I quit), and moved on to Vvardenfell.

Of course, I’m adoring Morrowind — it’s a fine mixture of TESIII nostalgia and delightful new lore. Like:

Nostalgia: the Vivec City cantons are still impossible to navigate.

Nostalgia: cliff racers, flying so high!

New: Cliff striders, cousins to cliff racers! And bards singing songs about them, too.

Nostalgia: silt striders, those giant sand fleas of Vvardenfell transportation.

New: nix-oxes, the compact sedan version of the silt strider.

Completely new: Shroom beetles, a type of shalk that grow mushrooms on their backs. Vvardvarks, which look like they were inspired by this comic.

Nostalgia: the Morag Tong! (And old old friend Naryu Virian, from the Ebonheart Pact main quest, and Fungal Grotto).

New: sexily-voiced Morag Tong assassins outside of Balmora! (Hi, Ashur).

New AND nostalgia: In the archcanon’s office in Vivec City you find a document explaining why Ebonheart is in a different location in ESO (on the Morrowind mainland) than it was in TESIII. Vivec wanted it moved, apparently! I mean, I guess “because a living god says so” is a good reason.

Nostalgia: the Camonna Tong, and their being involved with skooma trafficking.

New: Pamphlets warning you away from the Camonna Tong.

Nostalgia: Magister Therana of House Telvanni!

New: a quest that will teach you how Therana ended up a) alive ~800 years from now, and b) quite so… addled. (Oh, and help an Argonian rise through the ranks of House Telvanni in the process. Of course, I was reminded of my own Nerevarine).

Oh, and the first quest you do for Vivec as part of the main storyline? Has you go to one of the most famous crypts of TESIII to ask questions of an ancestor spirit. Questions which a lore-enthusiast will instantly realize are about the Heart of Lorkhan and Dagoth Ur, even though the answers that are given point to a more immediate threat.

But really, this is all just to say: I missed getting the vvardvark loyalty pet by a day. Boo. But I did win a UESP guild trivia contest, so that was a nice consolation prize.

Vvardvark! Half guar, half aardvark, all madness. Credit: Zenimax Online Studios, via uesp.net
Who wouldn’t want their very own magical experiment gone wrong?

Day 17

My knowledge of the game and the meta is accelerating fast! I will probably do one of the trials (small 12-person raids, basically) tonight with the UESP guild. (And how great is it that I can jump into endgame content so quickly after a two-year hiatus?)

My warden is now up to 28. I’ve done a lot of the side quests on Summerset, and I think it’s mostly the main quest that remains to me. Been doing some of the world boss dailies, too, since there’s always someone killing one of them. This character is going to be my jeweler, I think, so I got certified for that so I can do daily writs.

Falanu is still working through Morrowind — if I want to buy the Amaya Lake Lodge (which I do), I need to finish the main quest here. (Not that that will be a hardship!) In the meantime I’ve made the Saint Delyn Penthouse as comfortable I can with my allotted fifteen furnishings.

(I did go through and acquire every single free inn room I could. I figure I can make them comfortable in different ways, according to my characters, i.e. Imperial furnishings in the Rosy Lion for my Imperial who’s DC-side. This is somewhat stymied by the fact that the non-DLC inn rooms are basically broom closets).

The UESP guild hosted a “dungeon help night” on Sunday, and I took Falanu along. I didn’t need help with any specific dungeons; I just wanted to see some of the ones I’d missed while I’d been gone. So I logged onto TeamSpeak (0ld sk00l!), grouped up my our old pals @baratron, @Sedrethi, and @Mauin, and did normal Fang Lair and Falkreath Hold, two of the DLC dungeons. I healed, because I wanted to get some practice with it again.

In the process, I learned how the Undaunted pledge system had changed. There are now three quest givers, not two! You can do each chapter of multi-chapter dungeons as normal or vet! You get one key for completing the pledge on normal and two for doing it on veteran hard-mode; it’s not worth doing it vet if you can’t do it hardmode, because you’ll still only get one key. (Much as it used to be with Imperial City Prison and White Gold Tower). The keys are all the same, and you use them in whichever chest has the monster set you want. (There’s a helpful sign telling you which).

I also learned about how my abilities had changed. I learned how powerful and expensive Ritual of Rebirth — the “Templar clap heal” — had become, edging out Breath of Life for certain uses. I learned how useless Restoring Aura is these days, since now it only restores stamina, and doesn’t stack with other stamina buffs.

As usual, my groupmates mostly let me run through the dungeon at my own pace, showing me things I might otherwise miss (like what one boss in Falkreath Hold does if you cleanse his corpse), and trying not to kill things so quickly we couldn’t see mechanics. It was hard to pay attention to the story and also banter with them like we always do, even with subtitles. So all I gathered is that Fang Lair used to be a Dwemer city and now it’s full of necromancers, and that Falkreath Hold is a Nord citIy (yes, Falkreath from TESV) overrun with Reachmen and minotaurs.

After we finished, I stayed up probably later than I should have just talking with my group mates. I’ve missed these dorks so much! This was how I was convinced to come to trials; I told them, “I sure have a bunch of CP, but I don’t necessarily know how to use them yet!” and they said, “We’ll teach you!”

Br’ihnassi, my Khajiit stamina nightblade, is also playable again. I’ve been doing Thieves Guild tip board quests to raise her Legerdemain, progressing through the Dark Brotherhood storyline (which she was in the midst of when I quit), and occasionally working through Cadwell’s Gold, which she never completed (and which has left her desperately short of skill points).

I haven’t gotten any of my other characters playable yet, so mostly I’ve just been logging in for riding lessons.

I joined a casual trading guild (their usual trader is in Shornhelm), and have been selling some stuff with my designated trader character. The house I want is either 7000 crowns or 1.3M gold, so I’ve got to get saving, if only for furniture.

Amaya Lake Lodge, the Hlaalu-est of dwellings. Credit: Zenimax Online Studios, via uesp.net
You will be mine. Someday.

Having come right from WoW, I both miss and don’t miss having a centralized auction house. While it’s sometimes less convenient, I love the feeling of wandering up to a random trader in the middle of the wilderness and finding a great deal on something or other. I check them wherever I go!

Oh, right, and that’s when I installed Awesome Guild Store and Master Merchant, along with a slew of other addons. I guess that means I’m here for the duration…

Day 17 aftermath

I survived my first trial post-return! We did normal Cloudrest and Asylum Sanctorium; with my husband and I rounding out the roster, we had a full team of twelve. The actual fights were mostly easy, but I had NO IDEA what I was doing. I hadn’t really practiced my rotation at all beforehand (which was basically just a cookie-cutter Alcast Beamplar build), and I was literally making new gear and enchants right up until the scheduled start time.

I needn’t have worried, because things were not well organized. While many of us were ready to go right at 9:15pm, many were not, and so we didn’t enter Cloudrest until maybe 9:45pm? Luckily, each of these trials can be finished in 15-20 minutes; there’s no trash, and it’s much much easier than a normal WoW raid.

Even though we were doing the bosses in their normal configuration, along the way I learned about the whole +1, +2, +3 system, where you can make stuff more challenging by fighting the final boss at the same time as one, two, or three other bosses. It’s not quite mythic keystones, but it’s something for upping the challenge, at least. I’m not sure if that gets you better gear, but it probably gets you achievs/titles/dye colors.

I was glad to see that dungeon and trial loot is now tradeable to others in your party; that makes farming a lot more bearable than it was before. (You also have transmutation, which allows you to change the traits on an item — each trial boss awarded a number of transmutation crystals, the currency for this). Thanks to the new trading policy, I got the famous Asylum Sanctorium resto staff, beloved of meta everywhere, from groupmate @Kiryen_Thunderbow. I also ended up with a piece each of Olorime and Siroria, respectively the in-demand healer and magicka dps sets.

The only fight that was a real mess, mechanics-wise, was Saint Olms in AS; without Raid Notifier (the ESO equivalent of Deadly Boss Mods, I guess), I had no sign that the boss was about to do his “jump in the air and kill you all with lightning” maneuver. I think I died six times, but I lost count. I’ve been informed the number of deaths to beat is 81 πŸ˜‰

I also managed to go the entire night without realizing that my role was set to “healer” in the group dialogue, causing some confusion. Derp. I had completely forgotten that dialogue was a thing!

Like with the two dungeons I did earlier, I was so focused on other things that I didn’t follow the story super well. For Cloudrest, it was something about the sload attacking and corrupting these ginormous gryphons? Are those the Welkynar? I have no idea. AS seemed a lot more my thing; I think the plot was like “the souls of these Dunmer saints have been put into these giant automatons; you have to destroy the automatons to free their souls.” (Imprisoned by who? Sotha Sil?)

And lemme tell you, for all that I didn’t entirely grasp what was going on, it was still uncanny and vaguely obscene to have these automatons with the names of cherished saints staring you down.

Saint Llothis. Credit: Zenimax Online Studios, via uesp.net
This greeted me. I wonder how Falanu, endlessly devout, felt about this…

Oh, and a funny quote from last night that was pure UESP:

(Sedrethi is expressing his character’s hatred of the Tribunal)
“Don’t worry,” says Kiryen, “in 800 years or so some random Redguard is going to destroy them.”
“I heard it was an Argonian,” I replied.

Verdict

This game is still so, so good, and I am so, so glad to be back. There are so many quality of life things that make this a way better game for me than WoW, even if group content is still iffy. (I’m not sure on that verdict; I haven’t played enough to really judge). Still not sure what I’m going to do when the next WoW expansion comes out in August, but right now I can’t imagine letting my subscription lapse again. Even if I’m just collecting crowns and logging in to get daily rewards πŸ˜‰

Also, if anyone has a vvardvark they pet they don’t want, my game handle is @captainecchi πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

(All images in this are sourced from uesp.net, of course. I give the same disclaimer they do for images: all content belongs to ZOS; I am only borrowing it here for non-commercial purposes).

One day in Skyrim Requiem

requiem book cover transparency

On a whim I decided to play around with Requiem, a Skyrim “roleplaying overhaul” mod. It’s one of those big mods which is pretty much guaranteed to be incompatible with anything else, so I thought it would be easiest to install on top of my clean Skyrim install on my new computer.

A word about my mod philosophy, and how it led me to Requiem: the three factors I value the most in game mods are immersion, roleplaying, and surprise. To this end, in earlier Skyrim games I’ve used a lot of immersion mods (Frostfall, IMCN, etc). Roleplaying-wise, I generally have a story and guiding direction for every character I play.

Surprise is the hardest one to get, because installing mods that actually work tends to involve knowing what you are getting into. Ever since reading this famous article, I’ve been dying to capture the feeling embodied by this quote:

Where would the adventure and discovery be in simply picking something off a menu? I didn’t want to install, say, β€œReally Pretty Flying Boat House Mod” only to walk over, see it, go β€œOooh,” and be done. I wanted to turn corners and actually be surprised by what I found.

So, Requiem bills itself as a roleplaying mod. I am down with that. It claims to reward tactical gameplay, which I feel syncs well with immersion. I’ve heard its difficulty compared to “if Dark Souls and Dwarf Fortress had a baby.” I knew it de-leveled the world, so you got the danger of Morrowind, where if you wandered where you weren’t supposed, you’d likely get killed by cliff racers — but you also could get quite badass gear randomly. Also, it’s one big mod, so I can install it relatively blindly, not knowing quite what I’m getting.

So I jumped in head-first. Didn’t even read the Player’s Handbook, as I wanted to be surprised. (That might have been a mistake).

Executive summary, after playing for 3-4 hours (and barely surviving Helgen): impressive, but not sure if it’s for me?

The setup is extensive — you need a mod manager, SKSE (Skyrim script extender), SkyUI, and the unofficial patches. After you do all that, you have to run Requiem’s own SkyProc patcher, the Reqtificator, to generate a compatibility patch with other mods (even though I had none installed other than the ones it recommended, I did this anyway). It probably took me about an hour to get it set up, but I was a) shooting the shit with my ESO guildies on TeamSpeak all the while, b) dealing with Windows UAC issues because Skyrim was installed in my C:\Program Files directory.

That was the easy part.

I started up a new game, went through the usual cart ride to Helgen. At first, not much is different. Strangely, my first reaction, after a year away from Skyrim, was “my god, hair is uglier than I remember.” I might have to look into some mods to fix that.

Requiem didn’t run its startup scripts until you get to the tower and Hadvar unties you (or, one assumes, Ralof, if you go the other way). It immediately gives you three perk points to spend. “Huh, that’s interesting,” I thought.

Little did I know I wouldn’t be getting out of there without them.

This character was based on the protagonist of my novel-in-progress, a spy, diplomat, and poisoner (herself loosely based off Milady de Winter from The Three Musketeers). I made her an Imperial with blue eyes and blond hair and cheekbones that could cut diamonds. I named her Hibernia Leonis, because of course I did.

Skillwise, I wanted her to specialize in Alchemy, Illusion, Lockpicking, and Speechcraft. I put two of my three points to Alchemy and Illusion; as my third skill, I ended up picking One-Handed, as I figured I’d probably need some sort of weapon to get out of there. (And I figured Speechcraft was already buffed due to being an Imperial).

Illusion was the most interesting of these; with one point in it, I got to choose two spells. I chose Charming Touch and Frightening Orb, figuring I could use these to repel or calm enemies.

I picked up everything useful in the first room, followed Hadvar around the corner…

And promptly got one-shot by a Stormcloak.

So. Um. Clearly I had not chosen optimal skills. Let’s try again.

(repeat x 20)

I did finally leave Helgen and reach Riverwood. In order to actually get out, though, I had to assign those first three skill points to Heavy Armor/Block/One-Handed.

Here’s what I learned about Requiem along the way:
– Health doesn’t regenerate on its own. Stamina and magicka do, but very slowly (especially while doing anything else). I had about one spell in me before my magicka was completely drained. I’m okay with this; Morowind was this way.

– My spells often didn’t work. I don’t mean they failed in the way spells could fail in Morrowind — I cast the spell fine, it hit the enemy, but the enemies didn’t stop attacking me, or run away in fear. From what I am reading now, this is typical of the Illusion spells I choose, as my starting Illusion skill of 5 or whatever is pitted against a calculated “mental resistance” score for the target. That’s cool, buuuuut… it made Illusion useless as a way to get out of Helgen.

– Alchemy is also useless for getting out of Helgen, as the first perk just makes you able to use Alchemy tables, of which there are none.

– One-Handed weapon seems minimally useful without a shield to block with. And that’s useless without the Block skill.

– Walk speed is slow, and encumbrance makes it slower. And my max encumbrance seems really low. It took a long time to walk to Riverwood. I had time to contemplate why Hadvar walks so strangely, and why I’d never noticed before.

– Food regens stamina and magicka (and sometimes health), but only out of combat. Which honestly I have no problem with; I always thought the “scarf down as many apples as you can while fighting a dragon” was kind of ridiculous.

– Raw meat drops your stamina and magicka unless you’re a race with poison resistance, i.e. Bosmer or Argonian.

– Merchants are likely to rip you off. Hey, it’s wartime. This wouldn’t have been so bad with my racial power (modified from vanilla to help with haggling instead), except I couldn’t remember how to use shouts/powers, thanks to it being so long since I last played.

– Pretty sure this is a bug (or just due to my choice of font) but a lot of the tooltips are missing the glyphs for their keybindings, so you’ll see “Press __ to Ready a Weapon.”

Apparently you can turn these tooltips off in the .ini files, which was part of the recommended setup I missed.

– You pretty much can’t do anything if you don’t have a skill in it. I tried to lockpick those cells in the torturer’s room, and Requiem gave me a “seriously, don’t even try” message. It doesn’t help that I’d completely forgotten how the lockpicking mechanic in vanilla Skyrim worked (it’s very different than ESO’s). I tried it anyway on one of my many go-throughs, and found the novice locks even harder than master locks in the vanilla game.

– I experimented with taking a different selection of character-appropriate skills, like Evasion (what Light Armor has become), Sneak, Marksmanship, etc. And… they were equally rubbish for helping me escape. Pretty much Heavy Armor/Block/One-Handed was the only combo that worked, and even that took a reasonable amount of effort/care.

I ended my session in Riverwood, and I suspect I may have to spend some time here, doing the Skyrim equivalent of killing level 1 goblins. Even Bleak Falls Barrow, the game documentation tells me, is no starter dungeon.

Overall? I’m not sure how to feel about Requiem. This is a very exciting world to explore, and I appreciate the element of danger and the importance of tactics. It might even be more “realistic” that a fighter character can bull their way through Stormcloaks.

But that was not the sort of character I wanted to play, and there doesn’t seem to be a way through Helgen as the diplomat/spy I intended.

I’ll probably give it a little longer, as the whole point of a de-leveled world is that it gets much easier as you go along. I’m not playing the character I originally intended, but it’s possible that character was too hard-mode for a new player — like trying to ascend a tourist in Nethack on your first playthrough.

Have you played around with this mod at all? Any impressions?

ESO Thieves Guild DLC — week one

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The Thieves Guild expansion for the Elder Scrolls Online came out last Monday for PC. As an ESO Plus subscriber, I immediately had access to it.

So here are some impressions, a week in! There will be minor spoilers throughout, though I don’t think I’m far enough in to reveal any big spoilers.

So far? I really like the new Thieves Guild questline. It helps that the first quest is super-fun and that the first questgiver (Quen, an Altmer novice thief) is likeable. Most importantly, it introduces the gameplay elements that characterize this DLC.

They really disadvantaged the “kill everything that stands in your way” playstyle, and I appreciate it. There’s lots of sneaking, as well as guards with lanterns who can sniff you out of stealth (which has been used elsewhere in the game, but sparingly). To this they’ve added hiding spots where you can stay safe for a few minutes. I also like the use of choke points — and water full of slaughterfish to keep you from swimming across said choke points. There are also distraction mechanics, puzzles, and even a few — ugh — jumping puzzles.

And yes, even parts where you can just kill stuff, too.

The basic plot behind the new content is that a fanatic group, the Iron Wheel, is cracking down on the Thieves Guild after a failed heist pissed off certain Taneth nobles. You meet Quen, the aforementioned novice thief, in your local Outlaw’s Den, where she’s looking for a partner for a heist. From there, she brings you into the Thieves Guild and you learn about their struggles to bounce back from recent misfortunes.

I already mentioned my love for Quen. I like how her naive idealism is paired with her stone-cold badassery. She’s definitely not cut from the same cloth as many Altmer; I didn’t enough know she was one until she started talking about her family.

I like everyone else in the Thieves Guild so far, too! I like Walks-Softly, the Argonian who shows up to save you from a failed heist (“oh, look, a crypt. Nothing bad ever happened in a crypt”). I like Zeira, the Redguard guildmaster, unsure of her new role. I like Nord banker/bookie Kari (“I. Never. Miscount”), and her twin sister and disguise artist Hola (“have you ever seen us in the same place at the same?” “Uh, she’s sitting right over there”). I like grumpy Velsa.

In addition to the main quest, Kari offers quests from a tip board, usually of the type “go to this zone and pickpocket certain types of stuff” (that’s another new thing: oodles of new items to steal, and items are categorized into classes — Personal Effects, Cosmetics, Dry Goods, etc). I was a little worried they would turn out to be as tedious and annoying as the repeating “go to a city and steal X” quests you have to do in the Skyrim Thieves Guild, but blessedly, they are not. There’s a mechanic whereby you can turn the quest in after the first step for a small reward, or go on to further steps for a greater reward, which is kind of neat.

If you’re more into the shivving things and getting out with the treasure, Spencer Rye’s “acquisition” missions will send you to delves and world bosses around Hew’s Bane to collect various items. (Warning: the world bosses are in the style of the Orsinium DLC, i.e. you’ll need a group to defeat them).

One thing worth noting: much of this content will be really challenging for non-thief characters. Br’ihnassi, my thief, has invested a fair number of points in Legerdemain, and is a nightblade, to boot, with all the extra sneaky-sneaky abilities that confers. She still gets caught a fair bit. In Abah’s Landing, it seems like every pickpocketing mark is a Hard mark, and even with two points in the Light Fingers skill, that’s still only a 60% chance of success at best.

Thankfully, the DLC adds a lot of stuff to mitigate the dangers of getting caught stealing. There’s the Clemency skill in the new Thieves Guild skill line, which allows you to weasel out of being cornered by a guard once per day. Even before you unlock that, there’s a skill to make Bounty and Heat decay faster. Plus, doing quests from Kari’s tip board will get you one-use items that erase Bounty and Heat.

I haven’t said anything about the new zone of Hew’s Bane, have I? For one thing, it’s small — maybe half or a third the size of Wrothgar. Like the Orsinium DLC, the content scales to your level — which is why I’m doing it with my V8 nightblade instead of my main. Most of the zone is taken up by the sprawling coastal city of Abah’s Landing, home of the titular Thieves Guild. In general, the architecture and landscape of Hew’s Bane hearkens back to zones like Alik’r and Craglorn — which makes sense, it being in Hammerfell and all.

When I first arrived in Abah’s Landing, I found myself in a picturesque seaport, bigger and more atmospheric than others I’ve seen in the game. This initial impression really formed my opinion of the city as a beautiful and complex place. With more exploration, I discovered lots of winding passages with cubbies to hide in, perfect for thievery. Abah’s Landing also takes advantage of all three dimensions, with a lot of stuff happening above street level, where the buildings are connected by boards and platforms. A large chunk of the city, the Warehouse District, is off limits, and you can only get in by secret passages, jumping puzzles, or by just plain sneaking.

I also favor the BRIGHT BLUE DOME of the building that shelters the Thieves’ Guild, which is easily spotted when you are desperately trying to get there with your ill-gotten gains.

Another thing this DLC adds — more relevant to non-thieves among you –is thieves’ troves. These are caches found throughout the world, full of stolen goods, lockpicks, set items, etc. Anyone can open them, although the contents may require laundering at your local Outlaw’s Den in order to use. It was in fact one of these troves that led me to the Mournhold Outlaw’s Den where I met Quen.

That pretty much covers the new stuff… but lots of changes were made to existing content and gameplay, some big, and some small.

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Some… really small.

Ones of particular notice to me:

Cross-faction grouping for dungeons and trials. No more playing everyone’s least favorite mini-game, Abusing the LFG Tool. It was kind of uncanny to be able to just… invite guildies from AD and DC to do pledges with us.

The UESP guild took advantage of this on the first weekend it was available to run two of the Craglorn trials, Hel Ra Citadel and Aetherian Archive. We actually managed to get through fast enough to get the timed trial achievement on both — admittedly, not that big a deal when all the enemies are V12 and you’ve got twelve V16s. (Sadly, the gear that drops is all still V12, too).

Templar changes. The big one is that Breath of Life now hits two targets instead of three. This caused quite the kerfuffle when it was announced, with many templar players believing they’d been nerfed out of healer competition. But I’ve run several dungeons since the DLC came out, and I haven’t noticed it making a big difference. If three out of four members of your party need a big, fast heal at once, something’s very wrong — possibly so wrong that hitting a second BoL a second later won’t help.

Supposedly they also fixed the bug whereby using Toppling Charge would lock you out of your abilities. I’m not holding my breath. (It’s also not a core part of my build).

Champion point changes. They changed how several Champion point trees worked. Notably for me, the Magic damage increase was taken out of Thaumaturge in the Ritual tree, and put under Elemental Expert in the Apprentice tree. Thaumaturge now only affects DoTs (which I use relatively few of).

I don’t know if it’s due to this change — I ended up moving a bunch of points from Thaumaturge into Elemental Expert as a result — or due to Templar changes in general, my gear improving (I’m now rocking two gold Torug’s Pact swords on my DPS bar), or FTC just being crazy, but I am pulling some serious DPS as a result. I used to struggle just to hit 10k; now I’m regularly hitting 20-22k. This while healing, mind.

New pets. You get the echalette pet for having the Orsinium DLC installed, and a jackal pet after completing the first Thieves Guild quest. The echalette is cute in the way only a baby spider-bison could be, but OMG THE SOUNDS IT MAKES ARE AWFUL. Especially when you have ten of them chilling in the bank.

There is still no chub loon pet, though, which is clearly an oversight on ZOS’ part.

64-bit client. There’s a 64-bit client available as of this last update. It’s not hooked up to the launcher, so you have to go digging for it, but it exists. It’s still very beta, and seems to have memory leaks like whoa.

And then there are the places where they just forgot the textures.

This has led to some really uncanny bugs, like shirtless vendors. Lest you think this is awesome, consider that underneath their clothing, most NPCs are featured like Barbie dolls.

This was pretty hilarious, though.

Either way, the 64-bit client is mostly a curiosity at this point.

Change to DirectX11. As of this patch, you can only play the game with video cards that support DirectX11. I’m not sure why it requires this, and Matt and I are unaffected, but it means there are some guildies we won’t be seeing until they get a new graphics card.

I’m not sure if this change is to blame, but I’ve seen a decent amount of glitchiness since TG came out — crashing to desktop, low FPS in certain places, etc. (Although a big FPS drop Matt was seeing turned out to be the result of the uespLog addon, which Reorx/Daveh quickly fixed).

Stealth changes to veteran Imperial City Prison. Vet ICP is notoriously hard, mostly due to its second boss, Ibomez the Flesh Sculptor. Previous to this week, I’d only been there on normal mode, but I know about the mechanic whereby you throw bombs at the zombies and atronachs to keep them from enraging. (My guild refers to the bombs as watermelons, because they’re green and why the hell not). I also knew that most groups had better luck ignoring that and just DPSing him down.

Well, I finally went to vet ICP this week. Our group make-up was suboptimal (three DKs!), and I expected to be stopped cold at the Flesh Sculptor.

I was surprised to get him on the second try.

Later, checking the official forums I learned they’ve apparently lowered Ibomez’s health, made him invulnerable when he’s standing by the pool waving his arms, and capped the number of waves of zombies. This basically means you can’t just ignore the mechanic and DPS him, but it also means it’s possible to get past him with less than excellent DPS.

I’m okay with that change — anything to make the game less about gear and more about skill.

(I’m less okay with the necrotic hoarvors and their poison spit, or how much pain Lord Warden Dusk inflicted on us before we finally gave up, but I blame that entirely on our sub-optimal party/DPS).

Those are the major points from me.

All in all: Thieves Guild good! Get it if Elder Scrolls and fantasy larceny is your thang.

“Sorry, the Dunmer were having a Moment.” (ESO log, holiday break edition)

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Rampaging guar! Falanu Dren, my Dunmer Templar, is riding the very happy-looking guar on the right.

I… did very little productive this vacation.

I am okay with this! This is what vacation is for.

I did, however, get back into ESO, and play a lot of that with my wonderful guild(s). With Falanu, my main, I hit V12, finished Cadwell’s Silver (wicked overleveled, I know), and started Cadwell’s Gold. Currently Matt and I are blowing through Auridon, doing only the stuff we need to fill out the Almanac, not even reading the quests because I’ve done this zone twice before.

(But Razum-dar is still worth the price of admission!)

Surprisingly, Matt With the Hat (a.k.a. Matt who is not my husband) started playing last week! We suggested he make a Daggerfall Covenant character to pair with our as-of-yet unplayed DC characters, my Imperial Dragonknight, Corvus Duronius, and Matt’s Breton Templar, Ogier Montrose. He obliged, and so the Redguard Nightblade Nasir al-Qiteb has joined us. We tooled around Stros M’Kai and Betnikh together and did the public dungeon in Glenumbra (Bad Man’s Hallows); last night we did the trio of lowbie dungeons (Spindleclutch, Fungal Grotto, and Banished Cells).

Mostly I have been running a lot of dungeons, both normal and veteran, pledges and otherwise, with the UESP guild — in particular, a core of @Faunter, @Lurlock, @Sedrethi, @Deandra, @baratron, and @Wicked_Shifty. There was one day where I ran seven!

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how easily Matt and I have taken to some of the tougher veteran content. One of our first was vet Crypt of Hearts. We wiped a few times on the last boss, but the trip was more than worth it for the story — you know, your typical “guy meets girl, girl sets up adventuring school, guy meets Mephala, Mephala gives guy the Ebony Blade, guy goes batshit insane and kills his wife and everyone at the school, guy splits wife’s soul into three parts and tortures the souls of the three guys he thought she was sleeping with in increasingly inventive ways.”

(“Somebody get this couple some marital counseling, before Nerien’eth kills us all,” I may have said).

(Also after we had killed Nerien’eth and found his shrine to Mephala, Falanu, Brelyna, and Sedrethi all started doing the /kowtow emote in front of it. “Sorry, the Dunmer were having a Moment,” we told Shifty, the only non-Dunmer among us).

More impressive was vet City of Ash — where we realized, before the first boss, that since we hadn’t used LFG, Matt and I weren’t battle-leveled to V16. Somehow we mucked our way through, although there were a number of deaths along the way, especially to the final boss. That we made it through at all is more a credit to Deandra and Sedrethi’s DPS than Matt’s tanking or my healing.

And deadly pie, of course.

Random other stuff wot I did:

Vaults of Madness, the group dungeon in Coldharbour. This one deserves a nod just for being visually stunning. When we got to the last boss, the Mad Architect, my groupmates took their time burning him down just so we could see the abilities he uses. (The glass-breaking, shards-flying-across-the-room effect was amazing — so cool I didn’t get under the bubble in time and died to it!)

Imperial City Prison (normal-mode — not touching vet until V16). When Matt K saw we were in there, he said, “I see you got yourself imprisoned for stealing. You need to try harder not to get caught.” We told him we were staging a breakout.

– I joined a trading guild that a lot of UESP folks were affiliated with, Hlaalu Trading Company. Because Hlaalu, of course, but also just because I needed a trading guild. Of course now I’ve committed to selling 3k worth of stuff a week or risk getting kicked, but as it turns out that’s not hard to do. If nothing else I can sell a little of my backlog of Perfect Roe…

UESP hosted a GUAR RAMPAGE!!! Where we all dyed our armor purple and gold, met in Cyrodiil, tried not to accidentally kill folks not in our faction, and took screenshots and ran around the lake on our guar mounts. Others went on to explore some of the PvE content in Cyrodiil, though I didn’t join them.

I enjoy talking lore, trading character histories, and some light RP with Sedrethi, who’s as invested in his character Ravyn as I am in Falanu. Unfortunately, they don’t always see eye-to-eye; for one, Ravyn’s primarily a follower of Boethiah, and tries not-very-hard to hide his disdain for the Tribunal, while Falanu is Vivec fangirl, worships Mephala as his Anticipation, and would never speak ill of the Tribunal. Falanu’s also affiliated with House Hlaalu, and Ravyn is a Telvanni. As a result there’s a lot of “Imperial bootlicker” and “crazy wizard” sniping back and forth, and my telling him to shut his whore mouth when he suggests the Tribunal isn’t actually divine πŸ˜‰

Also when I logged on with my Khajiit into a group we were both in, he unleashed his Dunmer xenophobia, calling Bri all kinds of Dunmeris insults (s’wit, fetcher, n’wah, etc). (I, alas, lack in my Khajiiti insults. In retrospect I should have called him “muskarse shaveskin”).

(The other night, in the midst of the sniping on TS, Matt interjected some comment about preferring House Redoran instead. “Is Brelyna a Redoran?” I said, shocked. “Our marriage is a sham!” [Our characters are married too, mostly for the XP bonus it gives in-game]. “Well, she is a warrior…” Sedrethi oh-so-helpfully pointed out.)

– As always, being in a guild with people who know the lore insanely well is delightful. There’s griping in gchat about the guild called “Nine Divines Trading” (“Talos hasn’t even been born yet!”). When Deandra first met Falanu she said, “At least you’re not Falanu Hlaalu.” T’other night in TS we were discussing the trippier lore books, like the Remanada and the 36 Lessons of Vivec. (Oh, Michael Kirkbride. You’re so special).

Screenshot_20160104_214600I’m sure that’s not all, but your patience is more limited than my ability to ramble about the Elder Scrolls πŸ˜‰ In closing, have this picture of a guy I met at the enchanting station in Rawl’kha:

Meditations on ESO – Cyrodiil, Imperial City, and pledges

Image courtesy UESP.net

Image courtesy UESP.net

I had a great time last night with the UESP guild in ESO. They ran a “Kill Your Friends” event, which was designed to get everyone the achievement for killing 100 players in the Imperial Arena.

First of all, I’d never even been to Cyrodiil (the game’s PvP area), let alone the Imperial City (which was added as DLC back in August). I did not realize how FREAKING HUGE Cyrodiil is. I mean, I guess it makes sense for it to be sized relative to the rest of Tamriel? — it’s an entire province, after all — but I’m also comparing it to battlegrounds in other MMOs I’ve played, which are generally not that large.

(And can I say how creepy it is to see that giant Dark Anchor hanging over the city? Almost as creepy as that echo of White Gold Tower that is forever out of reach in Coldharbour…)

Because I didn’t quite understand how the Transitus shrines work, I rode from the North Morrowind Gate to the entrance to the Imperial Sewers, and met the rest of the Ebonheart Pact folks there. (Our group was about 7 EP folks at its height, five AD, and 1 or 2 DC). Our guide, Sedrethi, took us to a bunch of sites within the Imperial Sewers and the EP base, like the two dueling scholars, Lady Cinnabar and Phrastus of Elinhir. (Who I regrettably did not recognize. So much lore!)

(Much was made of the fact that the Imperial City in ESO is rotated 30 degrees from what it was in TES IV, driving lore nerds crazy).

We eventually made our way to the Arena, and then had to defeat the Arena bosses. But then… it got more difficult.

There were three major obstacles to folks getting this achievement — one, other players (it is a PvP zone, after all); two, the fact that the arena bosses do keep respawning; and three: apparently it only counts for the achievement if you score the killing blow.

This happened… so few times for me. I think I ended up with 5 kills, maybe. And that was only because EP was the largest faction, so I had a lot of people backing me up.

But it was fun, and it was my first experience PvPing in the game. I came out of it with the Alliance War skill lines unlocked, a bunch of Tel Var stones (the currency for Imperial City), and several of the beginner Alliance War achievements, so I can’t complain.

Later on that night, Matt and I were brave enough to ask in guild chat if anyone wanted to do pledges with us. (Pledges are the daily dungeons of this game). Brave, because neither of us had done much in the way of group dungeons before; I think the last one we did was Fungal Grotto with Holly back when she was playing regularly. (For reference, that’s the first dungeon EP-side). We made sure people knew we were inexperienced; I hope we didn’t fuck things up too badly.

Our first battle was trying to form a cross-alliance group, as our other intended group members were DC and AD. Currently you can only do this through the LFG tool, however! Our method was to pick an unpopular dungeon (i.e. not the pledge dungeon), hope the group finder stuck us together, go there, kill a few mobs, and then go to the dungeon we actually wanted. It worked… moderately well? In that eventually we all ended up in the same group and where we wanted to be. But we all agreed this couldn’t possibly be working as intended.

(I hear they’re going to fix this Real Soon Now ™).

We did this first with the normal pledge (which was Tempest Island in Malabal Tor) and the vet pledge (Wayrest Sewers in Stormhaven) — which meant first going to normal Blessed Crucible, and vet Fungal Grotto. The latter turned out to be funny; we didn’t kill any mobs before trying to leave, and the group finder tool kept trying to port us back to FG when we were riding to the wayshrine, or while we were in the middle of zoning into Wayrest Sewers. Once we killed some mobs it seemed to work fine, though.

We finished both dungeons fairly easily, and got our silver and gold pledge keys. (I didn’t get much from it except the motif for Mercenary shields). I was definitely struggling with “no, seriously, you have to ONLY HEAL” and had a couple of deaths on my watch. Thankfully the penalty for it in this game isn’t too bad. Also, the fact that we had two well-equipped V16s probably helped — yes, the dungeons are scaled, but scaling only does so much.

One of the complaints I’ve had about ESO in the past is that the content doesn’t seem very challenging. This changed somewhat last night. While we could pretty much blow through normal Tempest Island, vet Wayrest Sewers was trickier, and actually required some coordination. That made me happy πŸ™‚ (There was a lot of “don’t stand in the bad,” and my skills at that are… somewhat improved by my move to playing in third-person view?)

Overall, this is probably the most fun I’ve had in ESO in months. I’m weird — most of what I like in MMOs is the opposite of what everyone else does. I think leveling is just about the most tedious thing ever, even if I enjoy aspects of the individual quests, but I love PvP and dungeons and anything that requires group coordination. This is why I only have a V8 and a V1 character even though I’ve been playing since release. I’m just gratified to see there’s content to scratch that itch, after months and years of avoiding it due to inexperience.

If this sounds like fun to you, please do come join us! The game is B2P these days, and we have our own tiny guild of two, along with the UESP guild, which is one of the friendliest guilds I’ve ever been part of. (And it’s connected to the best ES wiki!)

Play TESO with me! (redux)

Last year, before The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO, or ESO) went live, I was cajoling you all to play with me. I had a lot of fun grouping with friends in the beta, but when the actual prospect of paying came up, most people I knew were not sufficiently interested.

But! As it turns out, in March it will go to the Tamriel Unlimited plan, which means it will be free to play with purchase of the base game. Very similarly to the freemium model SWTOR uses, you can still subscribe to get an ESO Plus membership that will give you bonuses like a monthly allotment of points to spend in the Crown Store for important things like guar mounts πŸ˜‰

I have Thoughts about the F2P model and how it pisses me off that people expect everything to be free (and often happily accept shitty freemium models). OTOH, I also really want people to play with me! Right now Matt and I are the only ones regularly on in our guild πŸ™

I admit, I go through periods where I’m not interested in playing, but I’ve been digging in again lately and having a lot of fun. After a year, I still don’t have a veteran character; my highest level is my Dunmer templar in Ebonheart Pact, Falanu Dren, at 42. With her and Matt’s Dunmer dragon knight, we just finished Eastmarch, with its many very silly quests. To give you some examples:

  1. Meeting a bunch of naked Nords bathing in a hot springs who ask you to retrieve bath salts for them. Bath salts which, it transpires, turn you into zombies.
  2. Throwing cat pee at hunters to prevent vampires from attacking them
  3. Thane Jeggi, whose condition for coming to the war council is making sure there is mead there.
  4. The sheer number of quests that involve entering homes through the window rather than the door.
  5. Glorious cultural exchange! Actually, this one starts in… Deshaan? Shadowfen? with a group of Nords who want to better understand Dunmer culture. As part of this, you dress them up in ridiculous clothes. Naturally.

Eastmarch, being in the province of Skyrim, also hearkens back to the game of the same name. The geography is vaguely similar — I remember the sulfur pools south of Windhelm, the White River, Skuldafn… And actually, the final quest of the zone, like the final quest in Skyrim, involves fighting your way through the ruin of Skuldafn and visiting Sovngarde.

We took a break with our EP characters to play our Aldmeri Dominion ones — Br’ihnassi, my Khajiit nightblade, and Matt’s Altmer dragon knight. They are both level 23 and in the middle of hell, I mean, Grahtwood. (Grahtwood is mostly hellish because it’s so hard to navigate; there are mountains and giant trees blocking your path at every turn).

I had a moment of lore squee the other night when I realized a quest involved the town of Gil-var-delle. The name sounded familiar to me, and the quest mentioned the town had been attacked by Molag Bal. “Is this the town mentioned in 2920: The Last Year of the First Era?” I wondered. I went and looked — it is! Gilverdale or Gil-var-delle is the town that a random Khajiit king made a deal with Molag Bal to destroy, because he didn’t like a bard that came from there. Since TESO is all about Molag Bal, it makes sense for it to be mentioned here.

It’s stuff like this that keeps me playing πŸ™‚

I was trying to express to Matt how the depth of the lore, and its self-awareness, creates this amazing tapestry that I, as a writer, wish I could build into my own creations. It also provides the background radiation that makes creepypasta like this scary. (And seriously, I still long to one day write a horror story like that).

Anyway! I also have to recommend the UESP guild, which is where I get most of my socialization on these days. Good people, not your usual internet assholes. My one regret is that most of their high-level toons are Daggerfall Covenant, which I don’t even have a character in. Although there was an AD group last night doing Craglorn stuff…

(I have since made a DC character, an Imperial dragon knight, Corvus Duronius. But I haven’t started playing him yet. He has an eyepatch, which made Matt giggle and say, “Arrrr, welcome to Starbuccaneers, may I take your order?”)

So that’s that. I have no clever conclusion! Play ESO with me, and know the beautiful lore that is the Elder Scrolls!