Why I love the Elder Scrolls games (part two of two)

And we’re back for part two! First part of the essay is here, where I talk about my history with the games, the open-world gameplay, and the alienness of the setting.

Today we’re going to start with discussing TES as…

A game that started with derivative beginnings, and became something unique

It’s almost a meme to look back at the first TES game, Arena, and say it’s “not really an Elder Scrolls game.” The series didn’t know what it was about at the time. And so it’s no surprise that it looks more like D&D than anything else at that level. You have attributes, skill points, dice rolls, percentage chances, and your typical fantasy monsters. Heck, at that point it was mostly Julian LeFay’s idea for a D&D setting.

Basically what I’m saying is: if there is a stereotypical D&D concept, you can probably look back at Arena and Daggerfall and find it there.

Everything changed with Morrowind. From what I understand, they pretty much had the whole game planned out, and then they threw away the design document. (Did you know it was originally supposed to take place on Summerset, and be about the high elves?) Some of the weirdest and wackiest lore of the series was born in this time period. Say what you will about Michael Kirkbride and his deuterocanonical writings post-employment at Bethesda — I think we have him to thank/blame for many of the things that make this series unique.

A good example is found in the elves of the Elder Scrolls world. At first glance, they look like your typical D&D elves — high elves, wood elves, dark elves. The similarities mostly end with the names, though. Many creative somebodies, over the history of this game series’ development, asked some interesting worldbuilding questions and expanded these races beyond the stereotypes.

What if instead of pacifist treehugger wood elves, you have wood elves who eat only meat — even fermenting alcohol out of it! — and will cannibalize the bodies of their defeated foes?

What if instead of subterranean dark elves who are uniformly evil, your dark elves had complex relationships with terrible gods, which led them on pilgrimage to a blasted volcanic wasteland? And then along the way they broke some oaths and now they have equally terrible living gods who are vying for control with the original terrible gods? All of which has made them protective of what little they have, loyal only to themselves, and distrustful of outsiders?

What if your high elves are as passionate about social rank and bloodlines as they are about magic and knowledge? What if they’re so isolationist that they created Artaeum, an island that can Brigadoon out of the world when deemed necessary? What if their high-handed ways bred the necromancer who’s responsible for many of the most terrible things in the TES world (Mannimarco)?

Another example is the daedra — those aforementioned “terrible gods” the Dunmer used to worship. You can sort of summarize them as “demons,” but more specifically they are immortal beings made of bluish goo, able to change and be destroyed and be recreated infinitely. Some of them can and do create worlds, but they are defined by not having taken part in the creation of the Mundus, the mortal world. Their princes are as cosmically indifferent as Lovecraftian elder gods, and have domains like goetic demons. At least one group of them (the dremora) have complex social structures that mere mortals cannot understand. Judeo-Christian creatures of malice they are not.

A world where history has a POV

It’s always interesting to talk about canon in this game. To quote The Elder Memes:

This philosophy is deeply embedded in the series. One could argue there is no “canon”; every bit of history or lore is told from a point of view. “Canon” is only as reliable as the person relating it.

A good example of this (to go back to my favorite murder elves again) is the question of what happened at the Battle of Red Mountain in the First Era, between the Dwemer (dwarves/deep elves), and the Chimer (the precursors of the Dunmer/dark elves). A lot of weird shit happened in roughly the same window of time, including the entire Dwemer race disappearing in a puff of logic, but for our purposes, most interesting was the suspicious death of Indoril Nerevar, the warleader of the Chimer.

According to the Tribunal — Nerevar’s supposed pals who “just happened” to become living gods after his death — he died from his battle wounds. According to another faction, he was murdered by the Tribunal. If you dissect the 36 Lessons of Vivec, you find that Vivec confesses to killing Nerevar there — but you can tell Vivec is lying because his mouth is moving. And that’s not even not even get into the accounts from Dagoth Ur or any outlanders–

Elder Scrolls lore raises more questions than it provides answers. Just like actual history.


From the Battle of Red Mountain UESP Page: In a 2005 interview, Douglas Goodall stated that during the development of Morrowind there was no “official” account of what happened at the Battle of Red Mountain. “When I was at Bethesda, there was officially no answer. No one knew what really happened. They may have made up their minds now, but you’d have to ask a current employee.”

In addition to the complex and nuanced stories this breeds, this philosophy basically eliminates retconning. And I hate retconning. If you’ve played through WoW lately, you know the Warcraft lore has been created and destroyed and recreated a million times over now. Leveling to max level, you had best be patient with the fact that you are jumping between different continuities. Personally, it keeps me from investing in the lore.

This happens much, much less frequently in TES. When some bit of lore needs to change for gameplay reasons, it can usually be passed off as “this was just one guy’s point of view; anyway, here’s a different one.” Occasionally it was “we didn’t know as much at the time; now we know better” (re: whether or not the Tribunal Temple allowed settlement in Vvardenfell in the 2nd Era) or “hey this guy became a god so he did what he wanted” (re: Cyrodiil being jungle) or, at the extreme, “dragon break!” (a timey-wimey event that very rarely happens in TES, usually involving dragons and/or those titular Elder Scrolls).

But they have never razed an entire body of lore and started afresh, and I appreciate that.

Meta-narrative possibilities

TES games are, fundamentally, stories about stories. I’m the sort of gal for whom every book is secretly about the struggles of writing, so of course I adore this.

I’ll start with a simple example: the Spinners, in the lore of the Bosmer (aforementioned metal AF wood elves), are storytellers whose stories literally have the power to change the world. The quests involving them in ESO are some of the best writing in the vanilla game.

In more recent content, the Summerset expansion provides us with more stories about stories, in the form of the Illumination Academy questline.

The Elder Scrolls that give the series its name are a handy bit of metanarrative, too — they are scrolls of prophecy, only readable by special priests who lose their sight with every scroll they read. The most tragic thing about these priests is that they know, with the foresight that the scrolls give them, when they read their last scroll; they know their vision is about to close forever.

But there’s a deeper sense of “meta-narrative” I want to get at — a sort of fourth-wall breaking, where the work comments on the work. And TES has this, too.

To go back to Summerset, it introduced a book called Sotha Sil and the Scribe. I dare you to read that and come up with an interpretation that isn’t metanarrative in some way. One interpretation I’m fond of sees the Scribe as Bethesda/ZOS, and the map of Nirn as representing the players of the game — showing how the developers hope to do well by the players.

Most intriguing is fact that Second Era Sotha Sil KNOWS the awful fate that awaits him at the end of the Third Era (spoiler warning at that link). He is cursed with the foresight of a god. Here, with a god’s benevolence he seems to be forgiving the Scribe what will come.

But let’s go back to that phrase I used, “the foresight of a god.” To become a god in the Elder Scrolls world is to know that you are a character in a video game, and to transcend that state.

Let me write that again:

To become a god in the Elder Scrolls world is to know that you are a character in a video game, and to transcend that state.

I mean, how often do you get to say something like that about your favorite video game series?

This? This is the whole concept of CHIM, and it’s some of the gnarliest, chewiest metanarrative lore that Michael Kirkbride came up with. Not all of it is accepted as “canon” — Kirkbride’s sorta created his own canon, with hookers and blackjack — but the core concept of CHIM is, and the question of who has achieved it and who has not is in debate. But unquestionably the characters in the series that have achieved CHIM have done some incredible things, outside the (meta)physics of the universe.

The consequent of this is that, you, the player, are a god. Whatever form that takes in-game — the Nerevarine, the Champion of Cyrodiil, the Last Dragonborn — you can break the laws of the universe and fix things that mere mortals can’t fix. Given this, heck, even the console commands are diegetic.

Looked at in this light, the main quest of ESO is especially interesting — you are the Vestige, shriven of your soul by the daedric prince Molag Bal. Throughout the quest, you can do all kinds of things that the NPCs can’t do, because you don’t have a soul — using wayshrines, resurrecting, and achieving certain quest objectives.

Your character is literally a soulless puppet piloted by a god.

Excuse me if I choose that over WoW, any day.

LGBTQ representation


Credit: johnnypebs on /r/elderscrollsonline

Okay, this is kind of an odd segue, but it didn’t fit anywhere else, and I didn’t want to end on YOU ARE A GOD.

TES — especially ESO — is amply populated with LGBTQ characters, going about their lives and doing normal stuff. There’s no indication that sexual or gender identity is a source of stigma in the world. They’re not there to be tragic, or to teach moral lessons. They are just there, where they belong.

Overall, it’s a beautiful example of “writers finally figured out that their fantasy world could have anything, so decided WHY NOT HAVE QUEER FOLKS??” And I love it.

Lady N has a whole big list of LGBTQ characters throughout the games, but there are lots in ESO that she missed. Just off the top of my head: Majoll, a Nord sailor pining for playboy Jakarn. Overseer Shiralas and her wife in Vivec City. The aforementioned merchants in Belkarth. And the whole House of Reveries questline in Summerset (in ways that are spoilery, so I won’t say more).

Anyway…


Thanks for coming to my TES talk!

If you got something out of this post, I’d love to hear from you! This took me a long time to write, and I did it to connect with all y’all in my TES fam. Comments are what basically makes it worth it <3 <3 <3

Why I love the Elder Scrolls games (part one of two)

“Lise, haven’t you made this post before?”

I don’t think I have, though you may be forgiven for thinking so! My love of The Elder Scrolls games is well-documented, and I’ve certainly posted a bunch about them, here and elsewhere. And I’ve gushed at length in person about the aspects of this game series that make it unique.

But have I ever tried to lay out, in plain text, why I really, truly love these games? I don’t think I have. I’m going to try to do that here.

(I have been writing this post for a long time. I think I have always been writing this post).


Alex Trebek was once an adventurer like you. Then… well, you know the rest.

A history of me and the Elder Scrolls

Way back in the summer of 2002, between my junior and senior years of college, I was living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Andover, MA, with my then-boyfriend-now-husband Matt. It was a weird time for me, now that I think of it — my first real time living with an S.O. In between doing temp work, I spent a lot of time playing old Gameboy games in emulation, posting on various yaoi discussion boards, and making my first cosplays. Truly, I was living the fangirl dream.

I was also watching Matt play a then-new game, Morrowind (or, as it is more properly styled: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I was unaware of Elder Scrolls I and II, at the time). I remember being immediately fascinated by the alchemy system — I had never seen a game with anything like that. You find ingredients in the world, and then you combine them? And magic happens? And you can combine things even if you don’t know what they do, just to see what happens?

It felt like a complete redefinition of what a game was about, and I was down for it.

Soon I had my own copy of Morrowind installed on my PC, which went back to school with me. And, when things got particularly tough throughout that year — I was writing my thesis in cognitive science at the same time! — I would often retreat to my room, saying, “I’m going to play Morrowind until my eyes bleed.”

My first, and still most well-remembered Nerevarine was an Argonian, the lizard-people race. Matt assured me that their skill in alchemy would make up for the fact that, as a beast race, I couldn’t wear foot armor. For some reason I decided this Argonian wanted to join House Telvanni. Despite them seeing me as farm equipment, and despite not being very good at much besides alchemy, I persisted, and eventually got my sad little stronghold in the Molag Amur.

What was that game about for me? Well, I died to cliff racers, a lot. I explored Dwemer ruins, spiraling down into their extreme darkness, listening for the click-click-click of dwarven spider feet. I stole gems from daedric shrines and had the shit scared out of me by vengeful dremora. I visited reclusive Telvanni wizards and was surprised by their pet daedroths. I found books about fishy sticks. I poked lava with a spear. I sold many glass boots and Dwemer coins to Creeper. I went into battle wielding a lockpick more times than I can count. I created a pair of magic pants with 100pts of lockpicking (the Pants of Opening!) and used them to open every single chest in Divayth Fyr’s labyrinth.


Did I mention cliff racers?

Games before this were fun, but Morrowind had the unique ability to make me feel Ways about Things.

When TESIV: Oblivion came out in… 2006(?) I was deep in WoW obsession, so I didn’t play it nearly as much as I did Morrowind. I still have never quite made up for that: Oblivion remains my least played, and least loved game. That said, I’ve still put hundreds of hours into it; I just haven’t finished anything — not the main quest, nor any of the guilds, nor any of the expansions. (I have it on my list of goals to remedy that!)

When TESV: Skyrim came out in 2011, I was HYPED. I had been playing Oblivion and Morrowind in anticipation, and I rebuilt my PC just to handle it on its Ultra graphics settings. This is the first and only ES game I had in Steam, so I can say definitively that I have put ~400 hours into this game. I did actually finish the main quest and most of the guild storylines, if only because they’re so dang short.

Except the Dark Brotherhood. Because fuck you, Cicero, that’s why.

I’ve also spent more time modding this game than any other; if you counted my time staring at TESVEdit/Nexus Mods/the skyrimmods subreddit, I’m sure I’d top 1000 hours. It was the first game where I felt the potential to mold it into a game that was even more suitable to my weird and unique tastes πŸ™‚

And of course, when The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) launched in spring 2014, I was ready! I already had a name and history for my first (and still my main) character before I even started — Falanu Dren, Dunmer templar, Hlaalu house-mer, veteran of the last Akaviri invasion, Vivec fangirl, Mephala worshipper, Morag Tong hanger-on.

Oh, and alchemist. Because this game has always been the alchemy simulator of my heart.


And here she is, visiting Ald’ruhn

I made a guild on not-quite-day-one, which remains populated with my real-life friends. I joined the UESP guild and had all kinds of wild adventures with them. I wrote fanfic about my character. I did veteran Dragonstar Arena and proudly sported the “Boethiah’s Scythe” title.

I played from release until 2016, and then quit for two years, mostly just because Matt quit playing. I’m back now, though, and regretting my long absence πŸ™ Just one day of getting into those deep, emotionally-wrenching quests from the Summerset chapter and I was like WHY DID I EVER LEAVE YOU??

So that’s me! As you can see, I’ve been involved with this game series for a long time. And amazingly there’s still SO MUCH MORE to do and see.

But why does it have such a hold on me? Let me count the ways…

Open-world/”sandbox” gameplay

These days nearly every RPG touts their open-world gameplay, but this was not always a Thing. Keep in mind that at the time TESIII came out, I was mostly playing sim and 4X games like Dungeon Keeper II, Alpha Centauri, CivII, and Black & White. In those days, I associated “video game” and “RPG” with the classic Japanese RPG, along the lines of Dragon Quest series. These usually provided a fairly linear “your princess is in another castle!” storyline, going from one place to another and fighting random wandering monsters. For RPGs at the time, I preferred my pen-and-paper RPGs, like Dungeons & Dragons, where the only limits were the imaginations of the players and the GMs.

So TESIII? Was a big step forward to me! It wasn’t as infinite as a tabletop game, but it was wider and more expansive than any other RPG I had played to date. I started out following the main quest, but was surprised that the first quest NPC basically tells you, “yeah, kid, you’re still wet behind the ears; go out and get some more experience before we send you on a real mission.”


He also refused to put on a shirt.

Which I took to heart! I left no bandit hideout, daedric shrine, Dwemer ruin, or ancestral tomb unexplored. Did I mention I got lost? Because seriously, I got lost, a lot. Vvardenfell was small in terms of landmass, but I never felt its walls, since into that space were packed so many quests and random activities. (It also probably helped that it’s an island).

(And if you got bored with all the content in the game? Well, starting with TESIII, the developer tools have been open to anyone with a copy of that game, in the form of the Creation Kit. There’s a huge, thriving mod community for this series, even for the older titles like Morrowind).

There are many criticisms you could level against the gameplay of the TES series, and in particular against the simplification of the game systems over the years. But I will say this: Bethesda, and now ZOS, have stayed incredibly on-brand with this aspect of the gameplay. Even in vanilla Skyrim, your freedom is immense — to chase butterflies, mill grain, cook apple-cabbage stew, and do just about anything BESIDES be the Last Dragonborn. And ESO arguably hit its stride with One Tamriel — when it transitioned from a traditional MMO “theme park” model to an open world that levels with you.

I’ve certainly heard the joke that “sandbox game = no real content”, but I’ve never found this to be the case with the ES games. On the contrary, it’s always felt like there was more than I could possibly do. Some people may find that stressful, but I’ve always found that sense — of a world stretching beyond the bounds of the story — to be tremendously freeing.

A world that extends beyond the screen

When I was at Viable Paradise — the writing workshop I attended in 2013 — Jim MacDonald gave an enigmatic talk, which involved all of us looking at a dollhouse. “The reader can’t see in the windows,” he said (and I’m sure I am vastly paraphrasing here). “But, you, the writer, need to know what’s on the table in that kitchen. You need to know how many people live there. You need to know what’s in the basement.”

This is what I’m talking about when I say that the Elder Scrolls world extends beyond the screen. At its core, this is a world filled with history — lore — which may or may not ultimately be relevant to what you do in the game. Tamriel will grind on, regardless of if you understand why you need to save the world from Alduin. If you heed the signs around you, though, they will lend depth to your experience.

Mostly this is in the form of diegetic texts. I’ve spoken to people for whom Skyrim was their first TES game, surprised by the number of lore books in the game. Indeed, a quick look at the Imperial Library or UESP’s Library section will reveal hundreds, if not thousands of such tomes — fiction and non-fiction, history, metaphysics, plays, morality tales, bawdy songs. (And we’re not even getting into letters or diaries…)

In streaming, I quickly gave up on reading every bit of text I came across, as I’d spend more time narrating than I would playing the game. And while none of the lore books are full-length books, true — they’re more like the Cliff Notes’ version of a book — they flesh out the background of the world.

And that world? Is…

A truly alien world

One of the things that drew me into Morrowind — and why it remains my favorite game in the series — is the alienness of the setting. Most fantasy games at the time were pretty western European and whitebread. Suddenly I was thrown into this world of giant mushrooms, looming volcanos, ash storms, flea-based transportation, and land jellyfish.

Of living deities sustained by the discarded heart of a dead god.

Of a culture that clearly took inspiration from many real world civilizations, but rested solidly on none of them.

I’d be lying if I said the the subsequent games haven’t been somewhat disappointing in that regard. Oblivion gave us Cyrodiil, home of the Imperials, who can often be glossed over as “fantasy Romans.” Skyrim gave us the home of the Nords, our “fantasy Vikings” of the setting. If the speculation is correct, and TESVI gives us High Rock, home of “fantasy French people,” I’m going to be somewhat disappointed.

(I mean, don’t get me wrong; I sure do like fantasy France. But considering our other cultural options are things like “lizard people who live in a poisonous swamp and have a symbiotic relationship with sentient, godlike trees” or “the most metal cannibalistic hippy elves you’ve ever seen”… “fantasy French people” seems a little boring).

But even in the more recent games, it’s been interesting to explore the nooks and crannies — the places where these cultures deviated from expectations. Under the bland “fantasy Romans” cover of Oblivion lies the story of how the races of men were originally subjugated by the Ayleids — elves who were cruel and beautiful and awful, who left behind gorgeous citadels — and how they won their freedom, with some divine help. How the Divines are worshipped publicly, but the Imperial City is “the city of a thousand cults”, and many people are (not-so) secret daedra worshippers.


Like Falanu Hlaalu, my namesake.

As for Skyrim, it may seem snowy-bland on the surface, but then it has the Dwemer ruins I so missed in Oblivion. And beneath that, there’s Blackreach, a nearly-lightless world of fallen architecture and phosphorescent mushrooms and terrifying creatures that stretches for miiiiles.

One thing I’ve really valued about ESO is how it’s expanded the palette for the ES games, as it covers most of the landmass of Tamriel. You don’t get to see much of Elsweyr or Black Marsh, true, but if you play through the Aldmeri Dominion quests, you see a LOT of Valenwood, and learn way more about the Bosmer — the aforementioned metal AF wood elves — than we ever have before. I also really valued getting to see parts of the Morrowind mainland that I hadn’t before — Stonefalls, for example — and seeing Hammerfell and the Alik’r desert.

And that? Is where I shall leave you for today! Next time we’ll tackle both TES’ derivative origins and the way it has grown beyond them; we’ll also discuss some METANARRATIVE WEIIIIIIIRDNESS (and why I love it).

In the meantime, if you want to let me know your own history with the TES games, I’d love to hear it in the comments!

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 1.26.41 PM
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!