If you did not skip the tutorial, you will choose where you are going to start the game. This will be one of the three starting islands if you decided to do the alliance storyline, or one of the chapter expansions otherwise.

If you skipped the tutorial, the game is going to drop you at the start of the most recent chapter expansion you own. If you own Blackwood (the most recent for anyone), you will be dropped outside of Lleyawin in Blackwood. Working backward from that, Greymoor will start you in Western Skyrim, Elsweyr will start you in Northern Elsweyr (Anequina), Summerset will start you just outside of Shimerene on Summerset Isle, and Morrowind will start you near Seyda Neen on Vvardenfell. If you only have the base game, then you will be dropped on Kenarthi’s Roost (Aldmeri Dominion), Stros M’kai (Daggerfall Covenant), or Bleakrock Isle (Ebonhart Pact), depending on your alliance.

You will be a Level 1 character, but you will have the Soul Magic skill line unlocked. This skill line normally unlocks when you complete “Soul Shriven in Coldharbour” if you did the tutorial but is a freebie for those who skip it. You will have a weapon appropriate to your class, so a Sorcerer will have a staff of some sort while other classes would have a melee weapon, but that weapon’s skill line will not unlock until you kill something. Killing something will likely give you an immediate level-up since you only need 70 XP for the first level gain. You do not have any armor, so plan on having a hodge-podge of armor pieces until you can craft your own set.

Wherever you decided to go, your first job is going to be to find a Wayshrine. These are the fast-travel points in ESO and there will be at least one near your initial destination. For now, don’t interact with anyone, especially if they have a marker of some sort over their head. Your quest log can only hold 25 entries and we don’t want to clutter it up right off the bat with stuff you aren’t going to follow up on soon; there will be enough of that in due course. The reason for finding a Wayshrine is to set a respawn point. We do not expect that anything bad is going to happen because everything is close to your level since the “One Tamriel” update, but let’s not tempt the RNG gods.

Since the Wayshrine is handy, let’s deal with fast travel. You will mostly fast-travel by interacting with a Wayshrine. When you do this, you can fast-travel to any known Wayshrine at no cost but you cannot fast-travel to Wayshrines you have not yet discovered. All characters automatically “know” the location of one Wayshrine in each of the major provinces, so you are not confined to the zone in which the game dropped you. Wayshrines in secondary provinces will need to be discovered, however.

You can fast-travel to any known Wayshrine from just about anywhere in the game for a small bit of gold. I say “just about anywhere” because I have not found a place where you could not fast travel from the map if you are not in combat, but that doesn’t mean that such places don’t exist. If you have added friends in the game, you can fast-travel to the Wayshrine closest to their location whether you have discovered that Wayshrine or not (you will discover it as soon as you arrive).

Fast travelling from the map instead of from a Wayshrine operates on a cooldown timer. The first time you do it, you will pay a bit of leveled gold (50 to 150 golds). You can do it again immediately but note that the cost skyrockets. It starts dropping at the rate of a gold piece every few seconds before eventually returning to whatever the original cost was within a few minutes. Since you’re just starting out and gold is going to be in short supply, so let’s not waste it on unnecessary jumping around.

There are about ten or twelve inn rooms scattered throughout the game which will count as a home, and you can fast-travel to any home you own at no cost. If you are trying to save a few golds, travel to your inn room and head for the Wayshrine where you can fast-travel normally. Traveling to a home starts the cooldown timer but saves you the small bit of gold that you would normally pay to travel without a Wayshrine.

The first inn room a character accepts is a freebie and the rest will cost about 3000 gold each. Most will be relatively close to a Wayshrine, though. The inn room in Rimmen (Northern Elsweyr) is probably the most conveniently located since it drops in an exterior area (no additional loading screen to get outside) with the Wayshrine just down the stairs, the crafting area on the other side of the Wayshrine, the bank up the stairs to your right as you come down from your inn room, and a full range of merchants near the bank.

Now that you know how to get around, let’s deal with getting you set up and equipped.

While working on explaining the ESO crafting system, I needed to make a chart for some bits of it. I’m posing it here so that I can find it again if I need it. The information is as current as I can produce, but do not take it as the final word beyond this week. Feel free to use it if you find it useful.

Crafting Materials by Level Chart

The first column is your level when the appropriate material starts appearing in the world for harvest from resource nodes. The skill level unlock is the skill level at which you may spend a skill point to unlock the next higher material type. The rest is fairly self-explanatory.

If you have the Blackwood expansion installed, you will be dumped into the tutorial after you finish creating your character. If you have already completed the tutorial, you will have the option of skipping it and just starting the game. If you choose this option, you will be started in the most recent expansion. If you have no expansions, you should start in either Stros M’kai (Daggerfall Covenant), Khenarthi’s Roost (Aldmeri Dominion), or Bleakrock Isle (Ebonheart Pact). I’m going to assume you have Blackwood and will be starting with the new tutorial.

So, young adventurer, you’re on the Isle of Balfiera and you’re in a prison cell. Where have we come across this before? Oh, yeah, just about every Elder Scrolls game begins this way. Not to worry, move up to the door and the pretty elf lady (Norianwe, but I like “pretty elf lady”) will let you out. You will get a quest marker to talk to her, but ignore that for now. Your first job is going to be to run around that starting room and loot every container (and chuckle at the Dark Souls easter egg in one of the cells directly across from you). You have 60 inventory slots, plus the dozen or so for the gear you have equipped. At the moment, that’s just the three slots for your clothes, but we are going to change that shortly.

If you do not have the ESO Plus subscription, I’d recommend destroying any food or alchemy ingredients you pick up but keep lockpicks and gear for now. Ashes and gnawed bones are your call. They can be sold for about a gold piece each and you currently have no gold, but they stack, so you’re sacrificing two slots in the hope of turning a quick buck when you get out into the real world. If you should happen to pick up a recipe, just open your inventory and use it to learn it and free up the slot.

If you have an ESO Plus subscription, then don’t worry about it. Food and crafting ingredients will go into your crafting bag rather than your regular inventory, so you’re mostly going to be worried about the quantity of gear items you pick up. You are definitely going to want to keep anything that’s green quality, but we’ll be sacrificing a lot of the other stuff as we go.

The white quality stuff isn’t worth anything, and it will only give you a tiny bit of crafting XP when you deconstruct it later, so it’s pretty much up to you as to whether to hang onto it or not, but a few XP are better than no XP. As a starting player with no crafting skill, it’s unlikely you’ll even get style materials from deconstructing, so I’m spilling a lot of digital ink over something that’s really inconsequential.

In that first room you will find one of each type of weapon, so there will be a bow, an Inferno Staff, a Restoration Staff, two Daggers (for dual wield), a Battle Axe, and a Sword and Shield. Take all of them and equip whichever suits your fancy at the moment. The pretty elf lady will approve of your choice. Now that I think about it, she’s pretty supportive of whatever you do, but we’ll try to keep you from doing anything truly boneheaded. You will use all of these weapons in the next room and they weapons will give you some decent crafting XP when deconstructed, so do not toss them.

Once you have looted everything that can be looted, talk to the pretty elf lady and follow her to the next room. This is where you are going to learn the basics of combat: how to light attack, how to heavy attack, how to block, how to escape a status effect, and how to interrupt a special attack. Before doing that, do the same thing as the last room and loot everything that can be looted. Keep lockpicks and definitely keep any green-quality gear that might drop, but do whatever works best for your inventory with the rest. After you are done, make sure you have a weapon equipped and talk to the pretty elf lady. She will animate your sparring partner and get you started on your combat training.

After you have killed your sparring partner, loot the corpse (you should get a set of pants that will give you a small XP bonus) and you will unlock the skill line for your currently equipped weapon (bow, two-handed, sword and shield, dual wield, destruction staff, or restoration staff). You will now have a choice of doing it all again or moving on. My advice is to switch weapons and do it again until you have unlocked all the weapon skills. You will probably hit Level 2 while you are doing this. DO NOT assign your attribute or skill point until you have unlocked all weapon types. The loot from your sparring partner will have the Training trait (you will want to research this) and give some crafting XP when deconstructed, so make sure you hang onto these, too.

At this point, I would recommend switching to the weapon type that you’re planning to use with your build. If you are planning a Magicka build, it is probably best to stick with the staves since that’s what staves use (the rest of the weapon skills use Stamina), but this is another of those “you do you” things. I have a magicka-based Nightblade that dual wields Daggers pretty effectively, and I’ve got a Sorcerer who likes greatswords. Whatever you decide to do, when you claim your first level-up, you will want to unlock one of your class skills. This will add a button to your hotbar in the 1 position (you can move it to 2, 3, 4, or 5 if you like). From here on out, whenever you use that skill, you will increase the effectiveness of that skill (from I to II to III to IV – once you fill the bar at IV, you will need to decide whether and how to morph the skill, but that’s a lesson for a different day). Skill XP (sometimes skill points) are awarded when you turn in quests, but they will only go to skills which are slotted on your hotbar or to armor skills for whatever you have equipped. Just keep in mind that if a skill does not have an ability slotted on your hotbar or does not have an associated piece of gear equipped, it will not increase.

When you are ready, follow the pretty elf lady through the door and let’s get moving. Same MO as before: do not leave containers unlooted. Keep lockpicks and green-quality gear and do whatever works for your inventory with the rest. Eventually you will reach a staircase with a pretty obvious trap on your left and a golem with its back to you pounding on a door. You will be prompted to enter stealth mode, so do that and you will see the trap start to glow. This is kind of your in-game cue that traps are easier to spot when you sneak. You can disarm the trap by moving close to it an interacting with it. Dispose of the golem (remember your combat lessons from a couple of minutes ago), loot whatever can be looted in this little hallway, and then interact with the door to learn how to pick locks. You should have several lockpicks by this point and there are more to come, so don’t worry about breaking them. Once you have picked the lock, go through the door to the armory.

Same as before, loot every container you can find. You will also find complete sets of light, medium, and heavy armor here. Take full sets of each. On a side note, this is the only place on the island where you will be able to get a couple of the light armor pieces, so if you do not loot it now, you will not be able to come back later. The medium and heavy armors have other stands in other parts of the island, but this room is pretty much the sole source for some of the light armor stuff. You can ignore the weapons on the racks. They aren’t worth anything and won’t give up materials or experience for deconstructing them, so just give them a pass since you already have one of each type.

Now for a quick lesson on armors. Each type of armor has seven pieces in its set: head, chest, belt, feet, legs, arms, and shoulders. You need to put on three pieces of the same type (light, medium, and heavy) to unlock that armor skill. You will not gain skills for armor which you are not wearing, so most players will go with 5+1+1 (five pieces of whichever your main armor skill is, plus one piece each of the other two). At this point I’d recommend suiting up with each set to unlock the skill lines, and then either settling on one or going 3+2+2 (you decide which gets the three pieces) until you get off the island.

Try to be consistent about how you spread your armor types so you won’t have to hunt around to figure out what you’re wearing. In a 5+1+1 configuration, I like to keep the off-armor on the head and shoulders since they are right next to each other, but you do you. Wearing light or heavy armors bring some penalties as well as bonuses. For light armor, you’ll suffer small penalties to some of your melee actions (bashing, for example), while heavy armor penalizes stuff like dodging. Medium armor has no penalty passive, but its benefits are slightly nerfed to compensate.

Once you have looted the armory, head out. Loot as you go and don’t worry about encounters as there is nothing else you will need to fight until you get outside. Don’t worry about the Gargoyle you see through the window; you won’t be running into that one, but you will need to fight one later.

You are going to have one more level-up before you get to the final boss-fight, but when it happens will depend on how aggressive you are in the outside area. Again, put the skill point into one of the two class skills that didn’t get the first point. It will appear on your hotbar and you’re ready to go.

For now, you can follow the pretty elf lady’s instructions and just head for the gallery or you can run around and get some more experience fighting. There are sabrecats and golems wandering in the area and you might see other players running around. This is not a PvP area, so you can ignore them unless you want to accept the odd duel request (most players in the area don’t bother, but you get the occasional one). I don’t recommend it, but you do you.

The outside area also provides an opportunity to loot more containers, plus gather some ingredients. There is a respawning mudcrab in the pond, for example. The mudcrab is not hostile, so you will need to force the fight. This can get you a drop for some crafting and alchemy ingredients (Mudcrab Chitin) as well as a bit of experience. There are also butterflies flitting around. Mostly they drop fishing bait, but you will occasionally get a Butterfly Wing alchemy ingredient. As with the mainstream Elder Scrolls titles, eating the ingredient will reveal the first effect and the first ingredient you eat will unlock the alchemy crafting skill line. To eat an ingredient, simply “use” it from your inventory. If you have the ESO Plus crafting bag, you will need to retrieve it from your crafting bag to get it into your inventory. The pretty elf lady will direct you to a door which will get you into the Keywright’s Gallery. Surprise! It is not going to be that simple. That’s right, you’ll need to go back across the area to retrieve a Skyshard to open the door and that will require fighting a Gargoyle.

With a bit of luck, you will be Level 4 by this point and will have opened your last class skill line, otherwise work with what you have. The Gargoyle is a tougher fight than the golems and sabrecats, but the pretty elf lady will heal you to keep you from getting get too beat up. Just remember your blocks and interrupts, spam your slotted skills, and it will go down in short order. There are more containers to loot, but your main mission is to grab the Skyshard. Well, “absorb the skyshard” if you want to get technical about it.

This is here partially as a McGuffin, but also to introduce you to the mechanic of finding and absorbing Skyshards. You get 1/3 of a skill point each time you absorb one, so a new skill point for every three you absorb (you get nothing for this one, though).

There are nowhere near enough skill points available through the leveling system to develop the skills you will want, so you will spend a chunk of your game looking for skyshards in each of the zones. There are 339 available in the base game (so an additional 113 skill points to be had) and 132 more available through chapters and DLC for a total of 157 additional skill points. Most zones have at least three, except for White Fall Mountain in Cyrodiil and the Isle of Arteum (part of the Summerset chapter), which only have one each, but most zones have between 12 and 18.

OK, with the Gargoyle out of the way, the containers looted, and the Skyshard absorbed, it’s time to head back across to where you came from to open that door and move onward. Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to fight a minor daedra. This is going to be a lot tougher than the Gargoyle fight since it has ranged attacks, but the same ideas apply: remember your blocks and interrupts, spam your skills, keep moving, and try not to get yourself killed. The daedra is the last fight of this zone, so you’re good to go from here on out.

Once you’ve collected whatever you want to collect in this room, head through the door to get to the final section. Hopefully the first thing you’re going to notice is the bookcases. Yeah, you’re definitely going to want to ignore the pretty elf lady and go open up each one. They are almost certainly going to be lore books, but there will usually be one bookcase that has a skill book in it. It seems kind of random, but my motto is “never turn down a free skill increase” and it doesn’t much matter what the skill is. If it’s one of yours, great. If not, it will open a new skill line for you.

After you have opened the bookcases (and looted the urns, of course), it’s time to head into the final room and decide where you go from here.

Your choices will be dictated by what is installed. If it’s just the base game, you’ll head off to your alliance’s start point. This will be Stros M’kai for the Daggerfall Covenant, Kenarthi’s Roost for the Aldmeri Dominion, or Bleakrock Isle for the Ebonheart Pact. If you have expansions, then you have some other options, but I’m going to suggest a somewhat different course regardless of what you have installed: just pick something. There is stuff you will want to do before you get into anything else. Next up: getting started in Tamriel.

Starting the game is pretty much a matter of launching and creating an ESO account. Once those are taken care of, you will be dumped into character creation.

You can have up to nine characters associated with your account if you don’t do anything else. You can increase this number by buying additional character slots at the Crown Store (1500 Crowns each – $15), but you won’t have access to this until after you have created a character and gotten into the main game, so let’s just stick with the one for now.

To be fair and forthcoming, I’ve burned through four or five characters before settling on my current main, so lots of trial and error happening. The whole point of this is to help you avoid my errors.

Character creation is a matter of choosing your character’s race, alliance, and class, plus setting their appearance. The character’s class can never be changed, or at least not through means I have been able to discover.

Unless you bought the Imperial Edition of the game way back in the day, you will not be able to have an Imperial character until you buy that expansion in the Crown Store (1000 Crowns or 2100 Crowns for the Imperial Edition upgrade). Also, and unless you buy the “Any Race, Any Alliance” expansion in the Crown Store (2000 Crowns) or if you are playing an Imperial, you are going to be stuck with the standard races for the three alliances. This does not affect anything except what you do in Cyrodiil and which of the three alliance storylines you will be following.

The character’s name can be changed by buying a name-change token (2500 Crowns – $25 with 500 Crowns left over). Character race can be changed by buying a race-change token (3000 Crowns – $25). Character alliance can be changed by buying an alliance-change token (2500 Crowns – $25 with 500 Crowns left over), but this will reset your current Alliance progress to zero. Appearance (not including clothing) can be changed by buying an appearance-change token (1000 Crowns – $15 with 500 Crowns left over). The point here is that unless you feel like spending real-world money or starting over with a new character, think long and hard about your choices. You get 500 Crowns for buying the base game, but that’s not enough to buy any of these tokens.

Making your character

If you choose to be Altmer, Bosmer, or Khajiiti, you will be following the Aldmeri Dominion questline. If you choose Breton, Orc, or Redguard, you will be following the Daggerfall Covenant questline. If you choose Argonian, Dunmer, or Nord, you will be following the Ebonheart Pact line. If you are Imperial, you can take your pick.

Race gives you some passive skills. These passives make some races a bit better suited to some play styles than to others, but unless you are min/maxing, any race is workable in any class.

There are four classes for the base game: Templar, Sorcerer, Nightblade, and Dragonknight. The Warden class requires having the Morrowind chapter installed, and the Necromance class requires having the Elsweyr chapter. If you have a subscription, then all six classes will be available to you.

You class will determine your three class skills. Class and other abilities are activated from your hotbar and you will gain new abilities as you develop those skills and assign skill points to them. Initially, however, you start with no skills. Put those two together and there are seven skills trees that you have automatically. Any other skills must be unlocked by what you do in-game.

Characters are mostly going to be magicka-centered (spellcasters) and stamina-centered (fighters), with a lot of blending depending on whether the player wants damage or healing. It is not necessary to pump attribute points into Health unless your purpose is to tank for a group where you need to be able to soak up more damage. This is not to say that you would be wrong to put points into Health at some point, but you will really want to be spec’ing in with the types of skills you will be using and those are mostly going to be relying on a good pool of Stamina or Magicka. All three attributes can be buffed through enchanted items and consumables, which is why you will probably want to focus on one attribute and deal with the rest through equipment and food.

To be perfectly honest about it, the game does not do an exceptionally good job with stealth-centered character builds. The Nightblade has two skill trees that lend themselves to a stealthy playstyle (Assassination and Shadow), but stealth comes across as an afterthought as far as the majority of the game is concerned and it is mostly governed by the Ledgermain world skill rather than any class skills.

You will find many very good online videos and tutorials on the pluses and minuses of each of the races and classes in the game. I think they are very well made and offer very good advice, so go watch, listen, and learn. I would argue, however, that these “best race for this class” sorts of things are mostly aimed at players who want to seriously do the MMO thing. If you are going to be playing solo and mostly sticking to the PvE stuff, all races can be decent with any class and all classes are workable for a solo player. I am partial to Bretons as being the better all-around race due to some of racial bonuses and passives, but that’s just personal preference (and a lot of time spent playing Bretons in the main Elder Scrolls games). It’s really only when you get into the group stuff and others are depending on your character being able to support the rest of the group that the differences show up. I think those build guides are excellent for this sort of thing and you really should seek out some. But just like with whether you should pay for the subscription or not, you will want to gather your information, and then you do you.

Your build concept is going to dictate your weapon choice, but if you follow my advice on playing the tutorial, you will have some options built-in and can proceed from there. I am going to strongly advise not skipping the tutorial solely so you can open those options. So, stay tuned for the next installment.

If you’re buying from Steam, the base game is usually pretty cheap ($20 or less, most of the time). There is usually a bundle deal of some sort going on where you can pick up the base game, the most recent chapter, plus the previous chapters for the price of a new-release game (about $60). Buying just the most recent chapter will normally set you back about $40. Unless you buy them as part of a bundle, the individual previous chapters are usually only available for purchase in the in-game Crown Store. You get access to them as part of an ESO Plus subscription, though.

There is enough content in the base game by itself to keep someone occupied for several hundred hours, but the chapter bundle really does seem to provide the biggest bang for the buck if you are a new player. If you are an existing player, the $40 for the current chapter is cheaper than a subscription, but buying the most recent bundle or chapter will leave out a lot of other content that is only available through the Crown Store or to ESO Plus subscribers. This makes the real question whether it’s better/cheaper to go with just the base game and a subscription or something in-between.

An ESO Plus subscription will set you back anywhere from about $15 per month (if paid monthly) to  $11.66 per month (about $140 per year). The content is not “necessary,” but it does provide a few perks.

Probably the biggest perk is that you get access to all that other content without having to buy it and you retain access as long as your subscription is active. If you cancel your subscription, you will lose access to the other content, but you will keep whatever gear and items you picked up while playing it.

In addition to the major chapter expansions (Morrowind, Summerset, Elsweyr, Greymoor, and Blackwood) that would be included in a bundle, there are several minor expansions, such as The Imperial City, Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, Clockwork City, and several others that someone would need to purchase from the Crown Store if they wanted to keep access after cancelling a subscription. Once purchased from the Crown Store, they remain associated with your account regardless of whether or not someone has am active subscription. They all have an interesting story to tell, but a few of them provide a useful bit of something. Clockwork City, for example, has a publicly accessible Transmute station.

Subscribers get 1,650 Crowns per month, but the full amount is paid up front for a multi-month subscription. I’d also point out that it took the better part of a week before the crowns for my subscription showed up, so you might have to deal with customer support to get them and the support folks are SLOW.

There are a few under-the-hood perks that go with a subscription. Subscribers get a 10% bonus to experience and gold gained while they are out adventuring, so they are going to level up faster than non-subscribers. Subscribers get double the bank space of non-subscribers (you can stash more stuff for later), the ability to change the appearance of their outfits at an Outfit Station, can hold twice the number of Transmute Crystals (500 for non-subscribers and 1000 for subscribers), can place more furniture and stuff in their home(s) (yes, you can have more than one home), and that kind of thing.

As far as I am concerned, though, the biggest boon to subscribers is the craft bag. This is basically a bottomless storage container where your crafting ingredients go. So ores, wood, food, alchemy ingredients, enchantment runes, and the like to no eat up your limited inventory or bank space. Yes, inventory management is a thing in ESO. If you later decide to cancel your subscription, you do not lose whatever is stored in that extra bank space or in the craft bag. You will still be able to access it as you normally would, but you will not be able to add more to it. If your bank space is below the non-subscriber number of slots, it will work like it normally does and you just lose the extra slots.

Note that if your friends and guildmates have access to content that you do not have access to, you will not be able to join them in that content. That’s kind of a bummer if you’re playing it for the MMO aspects.

For the amount of content, the base game is a pretty good deal. The same can be said for the chapter expansions. You are still looking at a lot of play time for a fairly minimal investment. The subscription is the iffy part. You can live without it and the worst that will happen is that you will have to play the inventory management game more aggressively than a subscriber would. At the end of the day, however, it’s your money and your game, so you do you. I’m just here to explain some of your options.

“Steam had a sale” is a common excuse for a lot of the stuff that is sitting in my library. It also explains some eye-popping July credit card statements, but that is a different problem. Most of the time those games get played for a bit and then gather digital dust. But there are a few that have been gathering dust since the day I purchased them. Elder Scrolls Online is one such title.

I have no idea how it ended up in my library because I don’t do MMOs. I went back to my purchase history to find out when I bought it (June 2014), so I can only guess that it was either on sale or perhaps came bundled with something else that I wanted, but more likely the former since it was about two months after the game’s release, and I can’t think of anything that would have had ESO bundled with it that I didn’t already own. Curse you, Steam.

Mostly out of curiosity, I broke down and installed it last week and must admit that I’m VERY impressed at the quality of the game. My objections to MMOs mostly stem from some very bad experiences with griefers back in the day. One of the reasons why I play video games is to escape from the assholes I have to deal with in real life. Boss on your ass? Let’s grab a tank and blow up shit. Pecked to death by ducks? Say hello to my little friend! Bumper-to-bumper on the way home? GTA driving lessons are the cure. Significant other riding your ass about something? You’re on your own. I do not want to deal with a bunch of kiddies who think that a gamertag is complete anonymity and a license to do whatever they want.

ESO is significantly different from what I have come to expect from MMOs in that almost the entire game game can be solo’d. With the exception of some Veteran level dungeons (Borderlands players can think of it as akin to Ultimate Vault Hunter mode) and 12-player trials (which obviously require a dozen players), you can solo your way through the entire game. It’s probably easier to think of the game as a single-player game with some MMO elements than it is to think of it as an MMO. “Pleasantly surprised” is a pretty apt descriptor and I’m regretting letting it gather dust for seven or so years.

All of that being said, the game does fall short on several fronts, not the least of which is clearly explaining exactly what it is that the player is supposed to be doing at any given time. Yes, it suffers from the same “follow the quest marker” problem that Oblivion and Skyrim made popular. But the game has some of the best written and designed quests that I have come across in a few decades of coming across. I haven’t run into a single fetch quest in close to 200 hours of play. The missions are all solid (and sometimes humorous) endeavors that do a very good job of telling a story within a story.

The crafting system is both a blessing and a curse and something that I will deal with in due course. In the meantime, I intend to explore.

For those who do not have the game, put it on your wishlist. There is enough content in the base game alone to keep you occupied for a few hundred hours. If you like it, then springing the bucks for an ESO Plus subscription might be worthwhile. You’ll get access to all the expansions, except the most recent (Blackwood), but a bundle sale can cover that, too. In the meantime, I’m off to explore and perhaps I’ll see you somewhere in Tamriel.

I don’t want to get into the politics of the Covid-19 response (the consequences are depressing, no matter which side you think is correct), but being essentially home-bound for a few weeks has left me with ample time to go back through my Steam library and fiddle around with stuff that has been gathering digital dust for a while. By happenstance, I installed Beamdog’s Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition, mostly for a chance to laugh at the polygonal graphics (dang, but Aribeth has some pointy things that shouldn’t be pointy; and I remember someone creating “jiggly mesh” to make those pointy bits jiggle – go figure). I sold off my original Diamond Edition game at a garage sale many years back, so I snagged Beamdog’s remaster when it went on sale sometime back as a replacement (let’s not get into the pending stress catastrophes that my bookcases have become over the years – they are sagging in place where I didn’t know it was possible for them to sag). After installing and rolling up a basic Elven Ranger, I remembered that I had written a “Beginner’s Guide” for the game. It was still there, but at some point during the intervening 15 years, Chrome decided that Flash objects were a no-no, so every single one of my menu links were broken because the object that held the link wouldn’t load; Firefox wasn’t any better. Edge at least loaded them if I allowed Flash on a per-session basis, but I don’t do Edge and I’ve long since removed Opera and the other browsers, so I couldn’t say how they handle things.  Well day-um! Where I thought I would be wasting time laughing at an almost-20-year-old game, it looks like I needed to go fix a crap ton of broken stuff so I could refresh my memory and THEN I could waste time with the game. To cap things off, I got rid of the copy of Dreamweaver that I used to write the guide (and create all of those non-functional Flash objects). Not that I would have expected something designed for 32-bit Windows XP to work very well on 64-bit Windows 10, and I’m not going to shell out $250 per year for the current version. “Software as a service” is a whole other rant, but I wouldn’t use it often enough to justify the cost in any case. So back to Notepad++ I go, the whole while wondering whether I remember enough about HTML to fix the parts that needed fixing (I did, and Lord, it is tedious). I’m pretty much done with the Prelude and Chapter 1 and have mostly got the page edits into something resembling a routine. Give me a couple more days and the whole thing should be up and running again. Maybe then I can go back to grousing about lockdowns and laughing at Aribeth’s jiggly bits.

(Note: this is my take on DarkLadyLexy’s LotD modlist and as such it mostly represents my opinions rather than anything objectively true or false. Take it as constructive critique and as part of thinking through the process rather than outright criticism.

Let’s be clear from the outset that this modlist is YUUUGE! I count somewhat over 500 mods, many of them having multiple pieces and patches so the variety of pieces is probably in the 600-700 range. The amount of time and effort that Lexy and her team put into assembling and testing that collection (and keeping it up to date) is absolutely mind boggling.  Boggling my mind is a “Novice” difficulty feat, even after I’ve had coffee, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer magnitude of what she and her team have put together.

Anyone trying to follow her instructions will spend quite a while downloading stuff. It took me the better part of a week just to get everything downloaded, but this was not a 24/7 activity. Lexy claims about 100GB worth, including Skyrim’s 18 or so GB and that seems a fair estimate, though 110GB to 115GB is what I ended up with in the mods folder before getting to the merges. The most massive time sink will be tweaking the pieces, but let’s not mention the times when a multi-gig mod got locked into a 250kbps pipe. Once all of that is done, and only once it’s done, can you run start to put stuff into some semblance of a working order. This raises my first and major critique: the player isn’t going to know whether anything works as intended until they get to the end of the process as there is absolutely no provision made for testing the various pieces before the whole thing is completely assembled. “Trust the Guide” is one of Lexy’s major rules and most critical pieces are clearly marked with “Idiot check” tags as a reminder, but I come out of the “trust but verify” era and one of the first things every aspiring carpenter learns is that you should always dry fit before applying the glue. There is a bit of testing that can be done very early in the process if you follow Lexy’s process and don’t mind enduring the initial cart ride to Helgen (“Alternate Start: Live Another Life” doesn’t go in until you’re about a third of the way through so you can’t bypass the cart ride), but I’m reasonably sure that just about everyone can load Skyrim with the unofficial patch, SkyUI and some essential plugins without blowing up their game. If the game decides to choke and die due to mods, the more common cause is likely to be some piece of mod #160 fatally conflicting with some piece of mod #32 and you don’t get to check Lexy’s fit until you’ve applied the glue, stained and finished the piece, and are ready to put it on display. Really frustrating.

On the bright side, Lexy and her team have tested out this load order and cleared out those kinds of conflicts and you’ll find that this is the reason for the huge amount of time you spend tweaking individual mods. So when you install something like Pandorable’s NPCs, you’ll go through its contents and individually delete conflicting meshes and textures, or you just won’t install particular assets/folders when a mod goes in. Still, a workflow with checkpoints where progress can be tested and checked and potential problems identified would have been great.

A second but related issue lies in some of the choices that went into the modlist. A major chunk of what she has included are absolutely fantastic mods. I have used them, tweaked them, blessed them, and cursed them for years before I ever found her modlist and was absolutely fine with their inclusion. For some of the Oldrim mods, the only reason they weren’t in my current modlist was because I was new to SE and was not sure how to get them to play nicely with SE mods. In a few cases I couldn’t even get them to load and had to settle for inferior mods that WOULD work with SE, so I have to admit that I learned much from not only her choice of mods, but also the adjustments and tweaks that need to be done. Some of the follower mods struck me as being a bit problematic since I typically only run with one through an entire game (Don Quixote only had one sidekick, after all), but it is not exceptionally difficult to avoid picking up a follower during a game (M’rissi might be unavoidable if you hate the Thalmor), so I installed them anyway and just made a mental note to pick one and stick with him/her. Lexy’s modlist is good for multiple playthroughs rather than a single set of adventures, so the fact that you don’t pick up a particular follower in a given playthrough is not a major problem.

A second chunk are mods that I knew by reputation but never got around to using because I habitually run a moderately light load order and there are several mods that I hadn’t heard of before and am really interested in checking out. This is the major reason I tackled the project in the first place.

It’s the third chunk that bothers me. These are mods that I know, either by reputation or by use, and I know I do not want them in my load order; the whole survival section (Frostfall, Campfire, iNeed, etc.), for example, falls into this category. I used them back with Oldrim and found that they turned my game into an unpleasant grind. Some are mods that add in things in which I am not at all interested, such as Fossil Mining. Some, like some of the male body replacers, are not really my cup of tea. Others, like some of the female body replacers, I don’t mind but I certainly wouldn’t install them with the options Lexy chose. And then there is the phenomenal amount of graphical eye-candy where I probably wouldn’t notice if it was there or not, so why place the added load on my hardware?

And therein lies the third problem: little to no modularity. On something this large, I’m not sure that modularity would be especially practical, although it would certainly be useful. While I don’t think utility could be denied, the lack of practicality mostly stems from the compatibility and consistency patches. These are something that Lexy and her crew sat down and made, although there are several that were produced by the authors of many of the mods. Because their purpose is to make multiple mods play nicely together, you’d have to make a patch for every possible permutation. Once that’s done, you’d have to keep it current and working as the various mods receive updates and tweaks. Putting those together is a huge undertaking, so taking the position of “if you don’t like <whatever>, then go make your own patch” just makes everyone’s lives simpler. I kind of look at it in the same light as paying taxes: I understand the necessity, but that does not mean I have to like it.

So with preliminary thoughts out of the way, let’s move on to getting the pieces and putting them into something that makes sense. See you in the next one.

Side note before anyone starts griping: I’m already using the full modlist for LotD v4.1.6. It’s awesome. The only other reason I’d spend this amount of time writing about it is if it were a piece of crap, but I could dispose of that in a few paragraphs rather than a whole series.

Having found my Skyrim SE game to have gone a bit stale in spite of diligently rebuilding my modlist between playthroughs, I stumbled across Legacy of the Dragonborn several months back and decided to take it out for a spin. I was extremely impressed by the mod’s production value and the meticulous approach the author (icecreamassassin) and the development team took with the concept and implementation. I used it about two-thirds of the way through a strictly main-quest-and-DLC playthrough and thought it was a fantastic mod which mainly suffered from the problem of being built to deal with a crap ton of mods that I had not included in my current modlist. So I scrapped that character, rebuilt my modlist to include most of those missing mods, and tacked on Inigo since it was one of the major follower mods that I had never used before.

Inigo and Angnin Darkmane cut quite the swath across Skyrim and Solstheim (but not Elsweyr, Falskaar and Wyrmstooth) when the LotD team dropped a new version on Monday. There is no upgrade path from v4.1.3 to v5 of LotD, so Angnin went off to digital Sovngarde (who knows where followers go when a Dovahkiin gets retired) and I decided to start over after giving the new version a quick playtest on an essentially vanilla setup. It went well enough that I decided to bring out the big guns and do a massive modlist rebuild.

I had run across DarkLadyLexy’s LotD modlist quite a while back, but I wasn’t particularly interested in investing the hours (and days) of time it would take to make all of the pieces play nicely together. The new version of LotD was a good enough excuse to take a break from playing to take a stab at it. What follows is my experience with setting up a new modlist. While I deviate from her modlist in some places because I think it pushes the game in directions that I don’t particularly want to go, I’m mostly sticking with hers for a couple of reasons. The primary one is that she’s using a lot of mods that I’ve never tried before and this is as good an excuse as any to give them a shot. For example, I’ve been a pretty diligent user of Obsidian Weathers or Climates of Tamriel in conjunction with Enhanced Lights and FX and she’s using Cathedral Weathers with Enhanced Lighting for ENB, so this made for a perfect excuse to try out different weather and lighting systems. ELE has been out for years and I just never got around to trying it out (even on original Skyrim) while Cathedral Weathers and Seasons is only a few months old, so why not?

A second reason for taking this approach was simple curiosity. I have never run what might be thought of as a heavily modded game. I have around 40 or 50 of what I think of as my “core mods,” things like the unofficial patch(es), Live Another Life, ELFX,, CoT, Lilyu’s Lockpicking mod (because you WILL be picking locks), some sort of weapon/armor retexture like Immersive Weapons/Armors (I tend to flipflop between that and things like aMidianborn’s stuff), sometimes with one of the follower overhauls like AFT or Convenient Horses, and that kind of thing, with the rest being something central to the character that I’m playing or a couple of the big quest mods like Elsweyr or Falskaar. The whole point was to be able to spend most of my time playing and as little time as possible getting the pieces to play nicely. All told, I’ve probably never had a load order bigger than about 150 or 175 mods. Lexy’s modlist looks to be well over 500 separate mods. A sizable chunk are mesh and texture stuff without an .esp to count against the cap, but the rest is still well over the 254-mod limit. The idea of doing some serious editing, bashing, smashing, and merging just to make something really complicated work was too tempting to pass up at this point.

If anyone wants to follow along, Lexy’s Legacy of the Dragonborn modding guide can be found at https://wiki.nexusmods.com/index.php/User:Darkladylexy/Lexys_LOTD_SE. It’s a massive read which will probably never be on the New York Times bestseller list, but it’s a very well done roadmap. I have a few minor gripes about organization (telling you to do stuff for MO2 before MO2 is even installed, for example), but it’s clear enough that even I can follow.

My Skyrim SE was already installed, although I had put off letting the game update back in November. I use what I guess is the standard approach to this in that I set the game to only update when launched, but never use Steam’s launcher EXCEPT (1) on a completely vanilla installation and (2) when I feel like messing with updating SKSE64 and the various mods and plugins that depend on it. Bethesda’s recent updates have only been to incorporate new Creation Club features rather than to patch any of the unpatched bugs in the game. Since I do not use CC content, I’ve never needed to update on short notice. Because I use SKSE64 (skse.silverlock.org), I launch through that and the Steam launcher never triggers unless I do it on purpose. It might not be what Bethesda had in mind, but they probably didn’t envision dragons that looked like Thomas the Tank Engine, either (I think the Randy Savage dragons are funnier).

All of that out of the way, the standard group of tools is what I’m starting from (DLCs were already cleaned and SKSE64 already installed):

Mod Organizer 2: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/6194/

Ideally, MO2 should be installed on the same drive where Skyrim (or any of the other games it can handle) is installed, but I have my games and my mod tools on separate physical drives for reasons of space and performance. The additional load time at the start is a small price to pay for being able to have the game on a fast SSD. I use a portable rather than a dedicated installation as I’ll probably get back around to some of the Fallout games later and won’t have to mess with a duplicate installation.

The two editors (zEdit and SSEEdit) are sitting in the game’s directory, but the rest of the tools are on the other drive with MO2.

SSE Edit: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/164

zEdit: https://github.com/z-edit/zedit/releases/tag/0.6.5

Wrye Bash: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/6837

Mator Smash: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/90987

Load Order Optimization Tool (LOOT): https://github.com/loot/loot/releases/tag/0.15.1

BethINI: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/4875

Cathedral Assets Optimizer (CAO): https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrimspecialedition/mods/23316

CAO is a new tool for me since I haven’t needed it in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do.

Lexy recommendd the most up-to-date version of the C++ Redistributable (https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/help/2977003/the-latest-supported-visual-c-downloads). I’ve never had anything cough up hairballs because of having the wrong version of this, but figure that it can’t hurt and it seems likely that something somewhere down the line might actually require it, so why not.

I also reinstalled a couple of LOD tools:

Sheson’s xLODGEN: https://mega.nz/#!QVZlzShQ!fkUTPUIp2O5cg1s4BlfwFMwI1uG6M3Hg9tCJNbw_hUE

(Do not forget to send your firstborn to Sheson after installation)

DynDOLOD: https://www.nexusmods.com/skyrim/mods/59721

I decided to play around with ENB for this setup. ENB is a new thing for me in spite of it having been around for freakin’ ever, but this is an optional thing and can be dispensed with if you prefer another graphic solution.

ENB Series by Boris Vorontsov: http://enbdev.com/mod_tesskyrimse_v0396.htm (I had v0.395 hanging around from an earlier install of Fallout 4, so didn’t bother with the newest version, but should note that Vorontsov removes old links with each new update and the download link at the bottom of his page will disappear in the future).

Since I had used most of the tools in the past and still had a few installed, getting all of them set up didn’t take very long. If the reader does not have them or is not used to using them, this initial setup will take a couple or three hours. Lexy’s instructions are very precise (as in click this, type that, and so forth), so “trust the guide” is probably the best rule to follow if you’re new to modding.

Coming up: the modlist (this is going to hurt)

For reasons best known to the folks at EA, they are no longer dishing out the Store content patches to anyone who is not running the current Origin version of the game. This would be mostly Steam and Mac players, but probably applies to those who are still using physical media installs, too. As best as I can tell from other players who have posted on the topic, the content patch stuff from a previous install can simply be copied into the \Documents\Electronic Arts\The Sims 3\ContentPatch folder to get around the issue. The link below is a .zip file containing the everything in the ContentPatch folder from an install of the game on my system before this became an issue. At the time the Store dished these out, I was playing a Steam installation on PC (Win10) and was patched to v1.67. I added them to my current Sims 3 installation (Win10, also) and have not experienced issues with them.


Just unzip the contents, place them in the ContentPatch folder, and all should be well (or at least not completely broken). And thus players step up where developers won’t.