My last post had been sitting in my “Drafts” folder for well over a year, mostly forgotten in the press of other matters. I went ahead and posted it without finishing because it was sufficiently complete to make the point. Not so for the six or eight other items in that folder, which were completely irrelevant by this point. I still have a massive write-up on Mass Effect and the Hero’s Journey in the folder, but am on the fence about finishing it. It seemed like a good idea four or five months ago, but seems a bit too scholarly upon rereading today. I will continue to let it sit for now. Maybe I’ll finish it, maybe not. Time will tell.
But its existence does bring to mind the hazards of writing in the digital age. Where hard-copy writers might stick physical drafts into a filing cabinet somewhere (I’m reminded of a scene from “Finding Forrester”), digital essays just end up as bits on your hard drive somewhere and are much easier to overlook. On the other hand, letting those bits gather virtual dust does tend to weed out the significant from the insignificant as evidenced by the stuff that didn’t survive the “Delete” button.
C’est la vie à l’ère numérique.
NOTE: This has been gathering dust in my “Drafts” folder for more than a year and I never got around to finishing it. It’s good enough to get the point across, though.
Talk about a title that’s almost guaranteed to start a war…
This little rant was prompted by a couple of vlogs at YouTube. The discussion was initiated by Samyoulonline about 6 months ago and followed up about three months later by Jingles1215. In his video, Samyoulonline made several points:
- You can’t fail
- I pretty much have to give him this one. Aside from dying and its attendant loading of a saved game, this is pretty much the case. Stepping up to Bethesda’s defense, this is something that has been building since Daggerfall, where it was exceptionally easy to fail. In TES2, 12 days meant 12 days. If you took more than that, you failed. On the other hand, the consequence for failure in Daggerfall was merely the loss of a couple of points of reputation with whichever faction assigned the quest. But still…failure was definitely an option in earlier games.
- On the other hand, it’s pretty much the same across games. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in the “Halo” games. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in the Bioshock series. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in Baldur’s Gate. You can’t fail (aside from dying) in Deus Ex. This is not something where Bethesda stands apart from the rest of the industry, so I don’t see the point, other than to be bitchy.
- In trying to look at this from Bethesda’s perspective, this seems to be “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. If they heed the complaints of their customers, especially about the quest system, gameplay and the like, they’re dumbing down. If they don’t, they’re deaf to the fans. Can’t win either way. Tell me, do you still beat your significant other?
- There are no consequences for faction membership.
- True and not true. In Daggerfall, you could join all factions. The only thing limiting your membership were (a) your skills and (b) your patience. Many quests impacted your reputation with factions (most notably the shadier ones). Vanilla, unpatched Morrowind (which Samyoulonline seems to revere) also allowed you to join opposing factions. This proved to be glitchy, especially with the Great Houses stronghold quests, so was patched to exclude membership in some factions if you had joined others.
- Morrowind (of which Samyoul is so fond) only had a few factional conflicts:
- If you joined one of the Great Houses, you were excluded from joining another (patched version – it was possible to join more than one in the unpatched version)
- If you joined the the Thieves Guild, the Camona Tong hated you. But you couldn’t join the Camona Tong, so I don’t see the big deal.
- If you joined the Morag Tong, the Dark Brotherhood hated you. But you couldn’t join the Dark Brotherhood, so I don’t see the big deal.
- If you joined an Imperial faction, House Redoran disliked you, but you could do neat things for them (quests) and they didn’t seem to mind anymore.
- If you joined the Mages Guild, House Telvani disliked you, but you could do neat things for them (quests) and they didn’t seem to mind anymore.
- Seems to me that consequences for faction membership were, at worst, a bit superficial, so I don’t see the big deal. Well, aside from an opportunity to be bitchy.
- If you play on PC, you get a Construction Set/Creation Kit and the ability to mod your game. This strikes me as something along the lines of “if you don’t like it, feel free to change it”, which kind of moots the whole point, so “kwitcherbitchin”
- If you play on a console, you’re stuck with whatever Bethesda chooses to give you. But this is not something that is unique to the Elder Scrolls series; it’s the same for every console game out there. And console gamers accepted that limitation when they chose their platform. Since the whole point of the vid was that the series had been dumbed down to accommodate console gamers, this strikes me as being just a touch inconsistent.
- You have little impact on the world
- So what? That’s been true in every TES game since its inception. Your reputation might have an impact on how NPCs respond to you, but the world didn’t change, no matter who/what benefitted from your completion of the main quest in TES2, TES3, TES4 or TES5. This isn’t anything new, so “kwitcherbitchin”.
- Yes, there are some inconsistencies within the dialogues of the quest system. It does strike me as a bit weird that, after completing the Dark Brotherhood quest line in Skyrim, the Legion has you recite an oath to a dead emperor. But I have a hard time believing that this was something placed in the game to accommodate the wants of console gamers. Rather, it strikes me as a quality assurance issue that fell through the cracks during development. It happens. The only way to fix it would be to have the voice cast come back in, record new dialogue and push it out in a patch. Since it breaks nothing other than immersion, Bethesda seems to have taken a sensible approach. To mangle the Bard, this is such stuff as YouTube videos are made on.
- The quest and journal system holds the player’s hand too much (which seems related to #1)
- Pretty much true. This seems to be a holdover from Oblivion and I’m not sure that I’m particularly fond of it, either. In TES2 and TES3, you actually had to read your journal and figure out where you were supposed to go based on in the information in there. This is not so much the case in TES4 and TES5. Whether this is good or bad is kind of a matter of opinion and opinion is definitely divided, so Samyoul loses on this one due to subjectivity, even though I tend to agree with him.
- Reduced NPC conversations
- True, but neither Daggerfall nor Morrowind were shining examples of this, either. In both TES2 and TES3, NPC conversations were integral to completion of your quests. However, outside of quest-related stuff, they were pretty boiler-plate and hardly worth the time to read. This is not depth. It is merely the illusion of depth and most players were quite happy to dispense with it in favor of focusing on quest completion. Is it any wonder the Bethesda pared it down to its essentials? “Kwitcherbitchin”
- Oversimplified puzzles
- This is nothing new. Daggerfall and Morrowind had some decently designed puzzles. They also required an FAQ to provide the answers to those puzzles for those who didn’t want to (or were incapable of) engaging their gray matter. If players want to be led around by the nose, it is not Bethesda’s fault for catering to it. You write/design with your audience in mind. This should not be a complaint against Bethesda unless you’re going to the logical conclusion that the developer knows what its players want better than the players know what the players want. “We’re born in the Vault, we die in the Vault. All hail the Overseer.”
- Reduced value of items
- So-fuckin’-what? In Daggerfall, a quick trip to the Rusty Ogre Lodge (with saves and reloads to force respawning) could net you millions of septims in a few minutes. Ready access to cash could be a game-breaker. But I think the devs recognized this and tied access to better quality stuff to your character’s level. Yeah, leveled loot. What a radical concept.
- Morrowind and Oblivion tried to address this problem by limiting the amount of gold each merchant had for purchasing the player’s stuff. But players spent incalculable amounts of time trying to figure ways around this limitation. PC players could fire up the Construction Set and mod it in about 2 minutes. XBox players were kind of stuck (see point #2). Skyrim simply continued this trend, but it presented a problem in the minds of some (many?) players.
- Contrary to Samyoulonine’s view, items have absolutely no value outside of whatever the developers say that they do. Why does the Cuirass of the Savior’s Hide have a value of 150,000 septims in Morrowind? Because the devs said that it did. Since no merchant had that much money (short of modding it), you either took 30,000 by selling it to a museum or 5,000+ by selling it to a merchant. Of course you could keep it, but if you’re role-playing a class that wouldn’t/couldn’t use it, what’s the point?
- It apparently sticks in Samoulonline’s craw that a lot of players have no use for some of the loot they acquire and want to sell it off. But they’d also like to get something approximating the base value of the item. Another one of those “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” issues. Would you rather get 10% of what the game tells you is the base value of an item or would you rather get 50% of what the game tells you is the value of an item? Remember that the item has no value outside of whatever the devs say it has, and I’m back to “so what?”
- In one of my recent play-throughs of Skyrim, I gave up the Skull of Corruption. My character wouldn’t have used it if it had been presented on a silver platter (it’s a role-playing thing), so my only options would have been to either never acquire it in the first place or sell it. I opted for the former (I let Erendur destroy it), figuring that the potential benefit of a a follower was greater than the gold-piece value of an item that I would never use. So I’m back to “so-fuckin’what?”. It’s my game and my character. Why does the Skull of Corruption have to be worth hundreds of thousands of septims, aside from the fact that it was worth that in TES2, I mean?
OK, the Steam Summer Sale has been over for a few weeks. I bought a few games that turned out to have little appeal once I sat down behind the keyboard with them, but that’s kind of how it goes sometimes. It’s not that they were bad games, just that they weren’t really my cup of tea. Maybe I’ll get around to reviewing some of them at a later point, but “if you can’t say anything nice…” does have a certain applicability here. One game that I picked up on a lark was EA’s “The Sims 3”. Well, the $6 price tag definitely added to that, but it was almost completely an impulse purchase.
Not having played “The Sims” or “The Sims 2”, the only life-sim experience that I have to compare it to are a couple of offerings from Deep Silver called “Singles” and “Singles 2: Triple Trouble”. There is a guide for Singles 2 on my game guides site (“Singles” was only kind of “meh” for me), but it isn’t linked from anywhere other than Deep Silver’s forums due to its AO rating and my lack of interest in implementing the necessary code for making my other guides work with parental controls. If anyone is interested in looking, it’s not hard to find if you think about the URL directory structure of my main site. But that’s kind of an aside to the point that I have very little experience with life-sim games, so my look at “The Sims 3” is from a fairly inexperienced perspective. With that in mind, here is the quick-n-dirty short version:
Story: n/a (there really is no story – you make up your own as you go)
Technical: 5 (there are lots of unpatched “gotchas” in there – on a 5-year-old game)
Overall: 8.5 (Very Good for the price I paid)
First out of the chute is the issue of game clients. I purchased the game and a couple of expansion packs from Steam at the time of the Summer Sale. They installed and ran with no problems aside from the game not recognizing my 1920×1080 screen resolution and not knowing what to do with quality settings due to my card being newer than the game. Once launched, it took all of about a minute to fix that problem. A week or so later, Origin had a 70% off sale on The Sims 3 and its related goodies. Whether this was in competition with Steam or in preparation for the launch of The Sims 4 around Labor Day is irrelevant. The base game was good enough and their sale prices were low enough that I picked up most of the other expansion packs and ran into my first major headache: game version incompatibilities.
This had not been a problem with games released prior to Origin’s launch. DLC for other EA games like Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect/Mass Effect 2, Neverwinter Nights and the like installed just fine regardless of which client was used for the base game, so I have some of those games running through Steam and some running through Origin and have had almost zero problems with this kind of setup. Not so with The Sims 3. Content purchased through Steam will only install on top of the Steam-installed game and content purchased through Origin will only install on top of the Origin-based game. Major aggravation!
There were a couple of things that made this less of a headache. First, I already had an Origin account and didn’t have a problem with using the Origin client. But some gamers absolutely detest Origin. If you fall into this category, then this is an issue that will be important to you and I’d recommend passing up this game until such a time as you can pick it up cheaply on Steam. The normal retail pricing of the game and its expansions is frankly way too high to be buying it at this point in its development cycle (buying everything at normal pricing will set you back about $400). Second, EA recognized my Steam product keys when I registered the game and expansions at The Sims 3 website, so my Steam purchases were available through Origin, too. In order to use the new expansions, I had to migrate the game to Origin, ran into several headaches in the process and ended up writing a Steam Guide on how to do it with a minimum of pain and suffering.
On the initial installation, I ran into problems installing bonus content from the Sims 3 Store. This eventually required that I completely uninstall the game (which is a tedious process under Origin), download everything again (an 8-10 hour process which required a bit of babysitting), reinstalled it and got the problem mostly fixed. Not “fixed” or “completely fixed” because there are still five or six things that will not install, but it’s not worth the pain to get them into the game.
Once reinstalled, I ran into several unpatched glitches. If this were a newly released game, I’d be a bit more forgiving of them, but we’re talking about a game that was released close to five years ago. That some of these issues remain unpatched is completely unacceptable, hence the abysmal “Technical” rating.
For example, the “Generations” expansion pack added a “Grounded” punishment for teen Sims who get into serious trouble (in my teen’s case, it was being busted by the police for being out after curfew). This confines them to the home lot. If they want/need to leave the home lot, they go into a sneaking animation. Since going to school involves leaving the home lot, my teen had to sneak off to school and got stuck in that sneaking animation, even after being let off the hook on the grounding. As another example, my Sims’ mailbox would not empty (the “Get Mail” option would not go away in spite of my getting mail about 30 times in a row) and the only way I could clear the problem was to move to a new house. Some of the character pathing is horrendous. For example, the shortest route to a community lot might be to get out of the car and walk onto the lot, but my Sim gets out of the car, runs to the corner of the lot and then runs halfway around the lot to the other corner to find an “acceptable” entrance. Under normal circumstances this might not be such an issue, but since Sims age up and eventually die, time is a finite resource and a lot of it is wasted on inefficient pathing. So on the whole, I’m not horribly thrilled at EA’s lack of effort on fixing these issues. None of them is really game-breaking, but they’re all horribly annoying and seriously detract from the experience of the game.
Graphically, the game is great. I’ve run into a few minor clipping issues on pieces of clothing or hair and a few water-reflection oddities, but on the whole, it’s superbly done. I get excellent performance out of my GTX 760 with everything cranked up to max settings. The minimum specs aren’t much higher than whatever is needed for the underlying operating system and go as low as GT 5900 for nVidia, so the game should run fairly well on just about any rig made in the last ten or twelve years. I should caution, though, that low-end systems are going to run at low-end settings.
I’m not as thrilled about the gameplay, though, mainly because the user interface leaves a lot to be desired. For example, edge-scrolling is almost a must if you’re going to be able to see any reasonable level of detail, but EA insisted on sticking notifications in a place that either demands immediate action or risk scrolling away from your Sim’s location. Your Sim has a multi-function cell phone that is accessed from the inventory screen. But you’ll be spending most of your time on the other screens, at least until the phone starts ringing. Your phone always seems to ring right in the middle of something that you’re trying to do (like fixing a broken faucet, keeping your Sim from starving, or Woo-hoo’ing with your significant other), requiring more clicking around to deal with that issue so you can continue dealing with the more important matters at hand. Oh, and your phone has a tendency to randomly break, kind of like any other usable object in the game, but it’s the one item that you cannot fix, regardless of your Handiness skill level.
Objects that you pick up immediately switch you to your inventory, even if you already know what it is that you picked up and didn’t need to see it again. Multi-level buildings/lots present their own set of challenges since your mouse’s scroll wheel controls the zoom level, forcing you to do even more clicking around to bring stuff into view. And there is no scrolling out to map view or in from map view. I’m not sure why the devs didn’t include that feature, but its absence forces a bit more unnecessary clicking around. All in all, the user interface could have been much better and it can really break your game immersion at times. It’s not completely horrid, but it’s annoying enough to warrant its own “honorable” mention and did count heavily in the grade for gameplay.
The game includes lots of little side-quests, mostly of the “go there and do that” variety that most RPG-ers are familiar with. Depending on which expansions you have installed, a few of them are glitched to the point of unplayability (they can be cancelled, but cannot be completed). Some are still not patched by EA, but the vast majority work as intended.
About the only other major gameplay detractors are the loading screens and the time it takes to save your game. You won’t have mess with loading screens unless you have expansions like “University Life”, “World Adventures”, “Island Paradise” or “Into the Future” installed as your Sim can’t travel to a different neighborhood (although you have the option of moving to another city). In those cases, the loading times involved with travel are horribly long. And this was apparently seen as a problem because the developers gave you eye candy and “find the object” loading screens to keep you occupied while it happens (you can opt out of that in settings, but it will make those load times even more annoying).
Saving your game takes about a minute or more (real time). My understanding is that the game saves the entire game world rather than just object states and locations like other games and this is what causes the long save times. That was a design decision, knowing that expansions were going to be marketed, rather than an unanticipated consequence, so points off for that. Also, there is no autosave feature. This may be either a blessing or a curse, depending on your game’s stability. I’ve had a few CTD’s which have cost me several hours of play. The game is somewhat modable and there is a mod out there that will pop up a reminder every so often, but the decision to go with this kind of a save system can definitely work to your disadvantage and the devs did not plan accordingly.
The game’s sound is outstanding. There is enough variety in the background music that it doesn’t become completely mind-numbing and there is enough of a selection of genres that almost every player will find something that will appeal to them. Depending on which expansions you have installed, the musical offerings will vary. The ambient sounds are realistic to each situation, so major kudos to the sound design team for tying it together so seamlessly. One addition from “University Life” (the ability of Sims to get up on soapboxes and shout through megaphones) is completely annoying at times and should likely have been confined to the campus, but that’s a gameplay issue rather than a sound issue. I can hear those megaphones just fine; I often wish that I couldn’t.
Each Sim has a voice, but they’re drawn from a very limited pool of voice talent, so that part gets a little repetitive. Also, I’m not a huge fan of the contralto range and there is one female voice that I find a bit grating at times, but it’s not something that seriously detracts from my gaming experience; it’s just rather distinctive so it stands out from the crowd. Overall, though, the voicing is superb and I have no idea how the voice actors manage to pull it off so well in a completely nonsense “language”.
Considering that there is no story to follow other than the one that you’re making up as you go along, the game probably has more replayability than almost anything else out there. You’re only limited by a few factors: the number of towns that you can start in (which depends on which and how many expansions you add on – only two through the base game and one’s a download) and the limits of your own imagination. Beyond that, the game’s design and mechanics let you weave your own tale that stops only when you do. The game is engaging enough that it will match up with almost any playing style from the casual gamer who wants to goof around for a little while (keep those loading times in mind) to the obsessive gamer who won’t budge from the keyboard for hours at a time to anything in between. All in all, gamers who are interested in this kind of game will have found yet another bottomless hole into which to pour their time (and money – we’re talking EA here).
If we were looking at normal retail pricing, I would not recommend this game except to true Sim-fanatics. The bang-for-the-buck just isn’t there when you consider that MSRP was about $40 a pop for the expansion packs and stuff packs. But the game is now five years old and it can be had on-sale at $10 a pop or less, so I’ll move it to the “highly recommended” list. Keep in mind that the whole shooting match will cost about $400 at non-sale prices today, but only a bit more than $125 if you can wait for sales.
I should point out that “The Sims Medieval” is not an expansion pack for “The Sims 3”, even though it was released after “The Sims 3”. Rather it is a stand-alone game that uses the same engine and gaming mechanics.
The Sims 4 is due out in about six weeks at a MSRP of $70. EA will likely follow their previous strategy of expansion packs and stuff packs every few months, so Simmers who gotta have it all will likely sink close to a thousand into it by the time it’s all said and done. On a price-per-hour of entertainment basis, MSRP just doesn’t hold up in my mind.
Final judgment: 8.5. It’s a great game at sale prices and well worth the addition to your game library. If I had paid AAA prices, I’d be much less forgiving and only give it a resounding “meh”.
I decided to replay the entire Mass Effect series rather than continue with my return to the Mojave Wasteland. I decided on a completely Renegade playthrough, but more or less abandoned that after completing Mass Effect. Being a complete and total asshole really isn’t in my nature, although I made a heroic stab at it for the sake of the story. But I racked up entirely too many Paragon points in Mass Effect and more or less turned Paragon for Mass Effect 2, although I did not pass up the opportunity to give the Illusive Man a piece of my mind at almost every opportunity. In the end I blew up the Collector Base and then moved in to Mass Effect 3.
As much as it galls me to admit that the Illusive Man was correct, I took the Control option for the ending of Mass Effect 3. But I did it because it was the only option that fit with all of the decisions I had taken up to that point and then started a New Game Plus with the same character (male Shepard with an Infiltrator Class).
In following up on that choice, a thought dawned that perhaps my dissatisfaction with the ending of ME3 might be more related to the failure of the Hero’s Journey than to any major inconsistencies in the ME3 story itself. I’m still trying to digest that idea and will have more to say on it later, but I haven’t changed my opinion on the ending. I’m just trying to get a better handle on why I’ve been dissatisfied. The quest for clarity will bear some interesting fruit, I hope.
After all of that running around, downloading, testing and installing mods. it turns out that New Vegas still feels a bit old. Maybe not “old” per se, but “tired” in that even with the perks and mods, it still has that “been there, done that” kind of feel to it. I strongly suspect that close to 1000 hours of playing time goes a long way toward explaining that. After playing up 11 or 12 levels (haven’t really touched the main quest or the DLCs), I decided to fire up Mass Effect. This was largely because of the conversation between Gopher and StarduskLP over on YouTube.
Somewhere in their 90-minute conversation, both Gopher and Stardusk reminded the audience that Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were awesome games. Neither seemed particularly fond of Mass Effect 3, although for different reasons. Stardusk’s reasons were more or les in line with mine, while Gopher’s seemed a bit more forgiving, but still disappointed with the final release. In any event, it seemed worthwhile to go fire up Mass Effect, especially since I didn’t need to worry over-much about DLCs (there were only two). That turned out to be a misplaced assumption, but still…
My immediate problem was that after downloading and installing Mass Effect, it absolutely refused to launch. I tried two solutions, one of which worked, but I’m not sure which one because of other issues:
Solution #1: run the game as an administrator (even if your user account already has administrator privileges). Maneuver to the Mass Effect binaries folder in your Steam installation(Steam\steamapps\common\Mass Effect\Binaries) and right-click the MassEffect.exe. From the context menu either select “Run as administrator” or “Send to –> Desktop (create shortcut)” and run that shortcut as an administrator. You can do much the same with the MassEffectLauncher.exe in the Mass Effect folder, but the “Play” button was a dead end. The launcher would let me into the configuration utility to set graphics options, though.
Solution #2: in the same binaries folder, copy the PhysXCore.dll file to “C:\Program Files (x86)\NVIDIA Corporation\PhysX\Engine\v2.7.2\” (I needed to create the v2.7.2 folder, which required elevated privileges).
One of those worked, but again, I’m not sure which one since I was messing with DLC-related issues at the same time. My last saved game was made with both “Bring Down the Sky” and “Pinnacle Station” installed, but neither of those DLCs came with the newly downloaded game. For “Pinnacle Station,” I fired up my Origin client, downloaded it and ran the installer. The installer gets install path information from the registry, so you absolutely must make sure that the game is running properly before trying to install the DLC.
“Bring Down the Sky” was a freebie DLC for PC-version purchasers, but does not come with the Steam version of the game. Steam users will need to download it separately. The link provided by BioWare in their support forums is for all languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian and German) and it did not ask me for a product key, so I assume that this will be true for other users, too: http://lvlt.bioware.cdn.ea.com/bioware/u/f/eagames/bioware/masseffect/dlc/MassEffect_BDtS_EFIGS.exe
With that taken care of, I was able to get back into the game. I’m pretty much decided that it’s about time for a Renegade playthrough, but we’ll see how that goes.
My memory being what it is, this is mostly a “what the hell was I doing and why was I doing it?” kind of post so that I won’t have to reinvent the wheel the next time I need to do this.
Hjorn, my last character in Skyrim, has done all of the major stuff, is sitting at about Level 67, and feels the need to retire from active adventuring. Contemplating the lint in his navel is not his style, but decimating the ranks of the Thalmor and Dawnguard (he cured his vampirism, but the memo apparently has not made it down to the rank-and-file) is getting pretty old. So I’m firing up New Vegas again for a while. Somewhere in the intervening time, my game got borked pretty good and wouldn’t even launch.
While I could fire up FNVEdit and figure out which missing master was actually missing and run through the whole troubleshooting process, I decided to just do a completely fresh download and reinstall. But since I likely won’t remember precisely what I did, the order in which I did it or why I did it, I’m writing it down for future reference.
What follows is a step-by-step. By the end of it all, New Vegas was running like a champ, looked pretty damned good, and had a mess of new things that I hadn’t done before. Except for the first few things (I marked them with bold exclamation marks), which are pretty much required for a stable game, this isn’t even a “recommended” mod list. Most of it is just stuff that I hadn’t used before, but which looked interesting enough to give it a go.
1. !!!! Cleared out everything in the [\Fallout New Vegas] and in the [\My Games\FalloutNV] folders. Saved a backup copy of Fallout.ini and FalloutPrefs.ini for reference (just changed the file extension to .bkup or somesuch). Downloaded and installed the game and DLCs through Steam. Launched to the main menu to make sure everything was running OK, let it detect my hardware, and generate fresh .ini files. I think my graphics card is newer than my last saved game.
2. !!!! Downloaded and installed the latest beta release of NVSE (http://nvse.silverlock.org) and the 4GB patch (link is farther down the page at NVSE). Launched game to insure both were working. I’m normally a bit leery of alphas and betas of these kinds of things, but NVSE is pretty mature by this point in time.
3. !!!! Grabbed the latest version of FNVEdit (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/34703/?) and cleaned the DLCs.
4. !!!! Ran BOSS, only to find out that Gun Runner’s Arsenal also needed to be cleaned, too. Like I said, “memory being what it is…”
5. Downloaded DarNified UI NV (http://ui.darnified.net/wip/DUIFONV/v1/DUINVv04.7z) and added file with NMM. Edited both Fallout.ini and FalloutPrefs.ini t0 include changes to the [Fonts] section (forum instructions were not real clear on which .ini). Launched the game to make sure it was working properly.
6. Downloaded and installed Mod Configuration Menu (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/42507/?) with NMM.
7. Downloaded and installed the Weapon Mod Menu (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/44515/?) with NMM.
8. Downloaded and installed NMC’s Texture Packs (Large) (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/43135/?) with NMM. Probably overkill since my monitor is only 1440×900 and differences between Large and Medium are likely unnoticeable, but my card can handle it, so why worry?
9. Downloaded and installed the Type 3 body and armor replacer (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/34825/?). The Beware of Girl mod (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/34702/?) also uses Type 3 and, I think, is a little nicer, but only install the armors from the first mod if using the second mod. Also Type 3 armor and clothing fixes for the various DLCs:
- Dead Money (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/40595/?)
- Honest Hearts (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/41884/?)
- Old World Blues (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/42952/?)
10. Downloaded and installed Cipscis’ Save Manager (CASM) and turned off all of the autosave functions in the gameplay options. CASM for New Vegas comes in two flavors: MCM and non-MCM. Went with MCM version (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/45652/?). The MCM implementation is by Gribbelshnibit8, but is otherwise Cipscis’ original.
11. Downloaded and installed Yukichigai’s Unofficial Patch (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/51664/?). Used Mission Mojave on previous play-throughs with little problem. Tried this one instead just for a different approach to the unofficial patch issue.
12. Tried downloading and installing New Vegas Anti-Crash (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/53635/?). It’s an exception-handler in .dll form that goes into the NVSE plugins folder, but the anti-virus had screaming hissy fits when I tried to launch the game and quarantined it. Rather than fight about it, I’ll live without.
13. Downloaded and installed New Vegas Enhanced Content (NVEC) (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/44204/?). Installer is a self-extracting executable, so should not be downloaded with NMM in spite of the button on the mod’s files page.
14. aMidianBorn’s Book of Flesh and Book of Steel (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/39873/?)
15. Someguy series (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/48925/?). Required for a few other mods from the same author:
- New Vegas Bounties I (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/37310/?)
- New Vegas Bounties II (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/41184/?)
- The Inheritance (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/49012/?)
16. Tales from the Burning Sands (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/37172/?)
17. New Vegas Interiors Project (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/43534/?)
18. Pip-Boy Readius (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/36646/?). Thought about the Pip-Boy 2500 that Gopher is using in his current “Let’s Play,” but decided to give this one a whirl instead. Makes the Pimpboy 3000 fix for female characters a bit useless, but that fix is also part of YUP, so a second reason not to include it.
20. Roleplayers Alternative Start (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/45739/?) with Tutorial Killer (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/47746/?) Arthmoor’s “Live Another Life” for Skyrim kind of spoiled me.
21. Novac Public Library (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/49695/?)
23. Underwater Home (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/36121/?) and Extended Sorters for Underwater Home (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/47346/?). Jagarsfeld mod for Skyrim kind of spoiled me in this regard.
24. !!!! Ran BOSS to sort mods. Some needed to be manually placed as they are still not on the masterlist.txt from the BOSS team.
25. !!!! Generated a merged patch with FNVEdit and made it the last item in my load order with NMM. Only item of interest was that vanilla followers are apparently level-capped at 40. Either hadn’t noticed that before or forgot it (memory being what it is).
Ran through the Goodsprings part of the game. The Tutorial Killer mod couldn’t kill the pop-up for the Lockpicking tutorial at the schoolhouse, but everything else seems to be working well. One of the mods adds a grindstone near the workbench and reloading bench by Chet’s store, but it doesn’t recognize the pre-order Broad Machete as being a blade. Go figure. One of the other mods makes junk cars and trucks in to containers of minor junk items. Victor didn’t spawn in Goodsprings. I’m guessing that’s the Alternate Start mod and he’ll turn up in Novac when I get there.
I’m debating on adding an ENB into the mix, but am much more interested in something that will remove the hazy look of the Mojave. I live in a desert and that kind of haze is only present in the far distance (almost all of the time) or during the windy season. For the rest of the year it’s clear as a bell. Decided to run with Project Reality (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/42180/?) since I had already used Nevada Skies in several prior games. That seems to have taken care of the haze issue, but I added Dynavision 3 (http://www.nexusmods.com/newvegas/mods/51577/?) as I recall it having some rather granular color filters.
The game is solid as a rock after several continuous hours of play, so I’m pretty sure that I’m ready to go lay waste to the wasteland (which strikes me as being somewhat like polluting a sewer, but there you go).
Old news for anyone who hangs around the Elder Scrolls forums, but it appears that those pesky CTDs (crash to desktop) and ILSs (Infinite Loading Screens) are a thing of the past for PC users. Console gamers are stuck with the 1.9 patch in all of its glory.
The short version is that a gamer named Sheson figured out that the cause of most of these problems can be traced back to the way that Skyrim allocates memory for the game to use. The initial allocation of 256MB was supposed to overflow to a second allocation of 256MB. It did that most of the time, but as soon as the first block was completely filled, crash-bang-boom. Sheson’s solution was to allocate additional memory to both stacks, but primarily to the first. *Poof!* Problems go away.
Players have tested this fix in a variety of ways, most notably by spawning hordes of memory-intensive NPCs, cranking up their uGridstoLoad and anything else that almost always guarantees a short gaming session. Almost everyone is reporting vastly improved stability, although cranking up uGrids still has its own set of persistent problems, mainly in the form of scripts that trigger when a cell is loaded. Higher uGrids means earlier loading so stuff that is supposed to happen when you get there, starts happening much earlier, but that’s a different issue.
This fix has been incorporated into the latest build of SKSE (SKyrim Script Extender). The alpha build of v.1.7 has been out for a couple of weeks (I installed it on Jan 29) and can be downloaded from skse.silverlock.org. This is still an alpha build, so there might be other issues lurking in the shadows, but the benefits of the memory patch far exceed the perils of added scripting capabilities.
To turn on the memory patch capabilities, users will need to create an skse.ini file as follows:
- install SKSE according to the installation instructions
- create SKSE.ini in Skyrim\Data\SKSE (New –> Text Document and rename it to SKSE.ini)
- add the following lines to the .ini and save it
- Run your game
The first line is supposed to clear out any orphaned scripts that might exist in your saved game, so is recommended rather than required. I don’t remove anything except texture mods in the middle of a game and have not suffered from those problems, but it’s not harming anything to have it.
The [Memory] section is required and the values are the minimum recommended. The 768MB is 512MB for the initial heap plus the 256 for the secondary heap. I have not played around with higher values, even though I have plenty of RAM to spare, so can only attest to the fact that those values have worked well for me. Your mileage may vary if you want to use other values.
Gopher put out a new Skyrim Mod Sanctuary showing the problem, the patch and the effects. It’s well worth watching.
I don’t recommend dumping any alpha onto an existing game (I’m a bit less leery of betas), which is what I did. But I have had zero problems since installing (60+ hours of gameplay). I had one CTD a few minutes after installing, but absolutely no crashes, freezes or any other oddities in the two weeks since. I usually like to point out that anecdotal evidence barely rises to the level of “persuasive”, much less “conclusive”, but this seems pretty solid from the sheer volume of anecdotal evidence on the same effect.
“Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag” was released about 10 days ago for PC (it unlocked somewhere in the wee hours on the 20th in my time zone). This was about a month after its release for consoles, so the game has been out for well over a month. I’m doubtful that any review of mine would be particularly newsworthy, but I’m going to do it anyway.
From a story standpoint, Ubisoft must have been doing some major head-scratching after the conclusion of AC3 as they had killed off Desmond Miles, the meta-protagonist of the other AC games. Without giving away too much (like spoilers are really an issue at this late date), they found a work-around to the problem that also opened the door to doing games set in other time periods while still keeping Desmond in the picture, but in the background.
It will be interesting to see what Ubisoft does with this in the future, but their solution struck me as an ingenious approach to the problem, so mega-kudos to the writing team for figuring out how to get out of the corner they appeared to have painted themselves into. In-game hints abound with tantalizing ideas for a Wild West setting (think “Red Dead Redemption” with Assassins), but those are just in-game ideas that may or may not bear fruit in the future. Should it pan out, you heard it here first. Otherwise it’s just semi-coherent blather.
In many ways, Ubi seems to be trying to break out of the mold that they created for themselves with AC and AC2 (and its progeny). Yes, the game is set in an interesting historical period. Yes, there is still the Assassins vs. Templars thing going. Yes, you still get to mess around with wrist blades, smoke bombs, and other cool gear. Yes, you still do a lot of running around, jumping onto and off of stuff, climbing, and the rest. So to that extent, the game is still very much an Assassin’s Creed title. But on the other hand, that whole Assassins vs. Templars thing seems to be taking a back seat to being a pirate. And this really strikes me as being a third-person pirate-shooter in the AC universe.
The game is much more open-world than earlier games. I am not including AC3 in that assertion since I have yet to play much more than the first few missions (Connor isn’t even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye according to my last save). I’ll probably go back to that at some point now that I’ve played around with Black Flag, but there are still a few annoyances with Black Flag.
First, I really like exploration. This is probably one of the reasons why I have spent so much time with Bethesda games. They really turn you loose to go see what there is to see and do what there is to do and you aren’t tied to anything in particular. AC4 has a lot of those elements, but even being into Mission 7 of the main quest, there are still parts of the world that are closed off (as in “area unavailable” or “not available in the current memory”). It seems to me that many of those areas could have been open from the get-go with the mission triggers being absent until they were needed. I mean, really, what’s so hard about simple conditions check to see whether the actors and other mission accoutrements need to be placed and activated or not? Of course because I haven’t progressed far enough in the game to be able to see those areas, I can’t be sure that there aren’t some built-in problems with them, but considering that I was able to get to Kingston, Jamaica a long time before it was needed, it just strikes me as odd that some areas are off-limits so late in an open sandbox game.
Another annoyance, and a borderline game-killer, are the “raid the warehouse” missions. I stumbled onto those well outside of the main mission, only a short time after getting the Jackdaw. After sneaking and stabbing my way through, I cleared out the warehouse only to find myself stuck afterward; just standing there, unable to move or do anything with the picture slightly fuzzed out. There are a couple of work-arounds, but it’s a problem that crops up with each of these missions. This strikes me as shoddy coding and something that should have been caught in QA before the game was ever released for PC.
The third major annoyance are the optional requirements for 100% memory sync. Until you do something that meets or partially meets those requirements, you don’t really know about them. For example, you’re supposed to air-assassinate an ocelot in the first hunting mission in order to get 100% sync. But the mission only told you to get two ocelot pelts. When you get the first one, you get a message telling you that you still have one more to go and that’s the first time I recall seeing the air-assassination requirement. Since 100% memory sync is among the official achievements, this comes across as “let’s see how frustrating we can make the game” rather than good design.
A last annoyance, and I’m not sure whether this was intended or just bad luck on my part, is the weather. The game world has dynamic weather. Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s cloudy, sometimes it’s raining and sometimes you’re in the middle of a hurricane or something. The major storm conditions only appear while you’re at sea, though. The problem is that the storms appear to pop up out of nowhere. You might start naval combat in absolutely lovely weather conditions, but end up having to not only dodge enemy fire, but also have to dodge waterspouts and damaging waves within a couple of minutes. This is particularly the case when attacking forts. I’m honestly not sure whether this is something that is scripted into these missions or whether I just have the most horrible luck, but it’s one of the more frustrating things to happen on the open sea.
Like other games in the series, Black Flag requires a lot of grinding. For example, I can’t count the number of times that I got myself sunk or killed while trying to capture a Man o’ War. I didn’t need the Man o’ War for anything to progress the story or to upgrade anything. Instead, I needed it to open trade routes in the “Kenway’s Fleet” minigame (which is almost a game in itself). After finally getting a couple, I still find that I need better ones as some trade routes require having larger cargo capacity. Until I get one, I couldn’t say whether I’m missing out on something in-game.
That minigame, though, was a very interesting addition. Thanks to the companion app (available at no extra cost for iPad and Android tablets), gamers can take aspects of the game with them, and probably should. The minigame plays out in real time. Ships captured in the regular game become available for use in the minigame, which can be played during a lunch or coffee break. Some of the treasure maps (fortunately not ones leading to ship upgrades) are only available through this minigame.
Leaving annoyances aside, what did Ubisoft get right? The short answer is almost everything.
Graphics are excellent. I’ve had a few issues with how it renders distant actors, but I’ll chalk that up to my running beta rather than released drivers. Sound, too, is excellent. Being somewhat a product of the folk movement, the addition of shanties was a very pleasant surprise.
From a story standpoint, I did not find myself getting into Kenway’s character as much as I did Ezio’s. At my stage of the game he has no firm allegiance to either side of the Assassin-Templar conflict. He’s just in it for the loot; very mercenary. This likely changes toward the end of the game as I know a bit about what happens in AC3, so it stands to reason that it needs to happen at some point. Again, the over-arching story seems to be taking a back seat to the “Arrrr, matey!” pirate stuff.
Leaving aside the annoyance of finding parts of an open-sandbox world being closed off, the game delivered quite nicely on the promise of seamless transitions. Almost all of the game takes place outdoors. With a few exceptions, loading screens are completely absent from the game. Kenway moves from ship to shore and back again fluidly and with no noticeable lag. There are a few areas where rain continues to fall in areas where you might expect it not to, but you’d only notice because it doesn’t fall in most areas with overhead shelter.
Keeping my earlier comments about grinding for resources in mind, the naval combat end of the game is very well done. Ship-to-ship combat is very fluid and relatively simple to control. Ship-to-shore combat is somewhat more complicated, but still fluid. Some of the finer points, such as how to use Heavy Shot instead of Round Shot is not well-explained within the game and naval tactics is something that you have to learn by trial and error. This is another of those aggravating instances where the developers did not do a good job of documenting controls or much else. It took a bit of searching around on the Internet to find what I needed to know. Thanks and kudos to IGN and Wikia for picking up the developers’ slack in these areas.
Moving to land-based operations, the combat system works well. It retains much from earlier AC titles and adds a few new toys, like blow darts, to the mix. Countering and disarming strike me as a bit problematic in comparison to other titles, but combat proceeds fairly well. While I really enjoy the blow darts, they are a bit overpowered. I’m not urging a complete overhaul of their use, but keep in mind that they’re very effective and one can come to rely on them a bit too much. I think I’ve killed more people with blow darts than with anything else.
The stealth system got a major revamping from AC and the AC2 series. You really need to learn to use terrain and natural cover to your advantage to complete many missions. Used effectively, it’s now possible to complete the majority of missions without ever alerting your enemies to your presence. The fact that you can sneak and blow-dart your way through entire missions is very fun, although it shows that the enemy AI needs some major help. This is a complaint common to most stealth games, so I’m not doing a lot of finger-wagging on it.
All in all, Black Flag is extremely enjoyable and a fine addition to the series and give it an 8.5 out of 10.
The long gap between postings is due to two issues. First, there hasn’t been much happening on the game scene where I felt that I had anything unique or insightful to add. Sure, there have been a few DLCs for Bioshock: Infinite, Dishonored and the like, but they honestly haven’t been anything to rave (or rant) about. I’d really like to have something a bit more interesting to say than, “Meh”. I’ll confess to being very interested in the “Burial At Sea” DLC for Bioshock, but aside from a couple of trailers (which have been dissected and commented ad nauseam by this point) there hasn’t been much to comment on. The second reason is much more mundane: I’ve been playing.
However, the mods forum at Bethesda generates a fairly large number of “what mods should I use?” posts. Lacking anything better to do at the moment and being too damned lazy to post the same answer every time it’s asked, here’s my current mod list. Some are “must have” mods, a few are “nice to have, depending on your character build” and a few others are “meh”. I have Falskaar in my load order, but my current Level 68 character is probably a bit over-powered for it, so it will likely wait until the next character.
SKSE is required. Too many really good mods require it, so it’s just part of a standard Skyrim installation as far as I am concerned. The same can be said for SkyUI and the Unofficial Patches. I absolutely will not play without them.
- 83Willow’s 101 BugsHD – a nice touch with swarms of butterflies, torchbugs, moths and the like, all usable as alchemical ingredients. Effects are a bit stronger than vanilla ingredients, which some might feel makes it somewhat overpowered for an alchemy-based build. If that’s you, don’t use it. Otherwise, it’s a nice addition if for nothing else than the pretties.
- A Quality World Map – a “must have” mod, especially for those who do not fast-travel; just too useful to not include
- Arrows and Bolts Tweaks – can be a bit over-powered, depending on your choices at installation. Probably best to leave ammo availability at or below vanilla levels.
- Achieve That! – a “must have” for me because it’s just fun. You get minor perks or rewards for completing certain tasks (like eating 200 ingredients). None are particularly unbalancing or over-the-top and some are very difficult to achieve within a single playthrough.
- Acquisitive Soul Gems – a “must have” for anyone playing a Conjuration-based or Enchanting-based character. It fixes a minor problem when the game uses an incorrectly-sized soul gem (like using a Greater soul gem on a Mudrab).
- Alternate Start – Live Another Life – not recommended for people who are playing Skyrim for the first time; a “must have” for those of us who have made the trip to the headsman’s block so many times that we’d almost prefer root-canal work to sitting through it again.
- aMidianBorn Book of Silence – retextured weapons, armors, unique items, etc. About a gigabyte of retex goodness if you get the whole package. A “must have” as far as I’m concerned, but it’s going to boil down to personal taste in the end. NMM doesn’t seem to play well with large downloads, so you should probably select “download manually” and import it rather than let NMM handle the download.
- ApachiiSkyHair – “nice to have”, I think. Since my characters spend a lot of time wearing a helmet, it’s more for NPCs than anything else.
- Balanced Magic – a rebalancing of the spell system and almost exclusively for mage characters. Do not use this with mods like SkyRe, for example, as you will undoubtedly run into conflicts.
- Bandoliers and Pouches – “nice to have” – it adds craftable pouches and whatnot that increase your carry weight. Considering that you can accomplish the same thing with other mods without adding new items to the game, it’s nice, but not necessary.
- Bellyache’s HD Dragon Replacer Pack – some nice retextures of dragons; either this mod or Deadly Dragons or Dragon Combat Overhaul is producing dead dragons that follow me everywhere (they drop out of the sky when I transition to exterior cells). I haven’t identified the culprit, but those are the only ones that are doing anything to dragons, so are the most likely suspects.
- Better Archery Eagle Eye Perk – probably “must have” for archer builds, but “nice to have” for everyone else. It’s one of the very early Skyrim mods (pre-Construction Kit), so may or may not play nicely. I’ve never had issues with it, but don’t say you weren’t warned.
- Better Sorting – Headbomb’s original mod with updates by Savage Hammer – most players could probably live without it, but I’ve been playing with it for so long that’s it’s kind of permanently embedded; it was a partial fix to Bethesda’s vanilla abomination of an inventory system and is likely irrelevant by now
- Categorized Favorites Menu – another partial fix to Bethesda’s vanilla abomination of an inventory system. It has mostly been superseded by SkyUI’s favorites system, but I still like it (even if SkyUI gripes and complains about it)
- CFM Config – Skyrim Redone – for my tastes, a better favorites overlay than CFM. Again, it has mostly been superseded by SkyUI’s newer functions, but I’m used to its quirkiness by now, so will stick with it even though it’s no longer being supported or updated. CCFM (Customized Categorized Favorites Menu) is similar, but I have not played with it. I’ll give it a go on my next character build, but it looks promising.
- Cerwiden – SMART Healer – an interesting sidekick from the author of the Vilja companion mod in Oblivion – fully voiced with an interesting backstory and her own little quest line – definitely worth a look
- Civil War Overhaul – extremely well done and a “must have” for anyone who wants to really delve more deeply into the Stormcloak rebellion. If the Civil War is something to endure/overcome on your way to other objectives, this is definitely not for you because you absolutely can lose
- Complete Crafting Overhaul – Headbomb’s original mod. Like “Better Sorting” it’s kind of embedded in my load order. It requires two other mods (Smithing Perks Overhaul and Weapons and Armor Fixes) to work properly. It should not be used with another rebalancing mod, such as SkyRe. It sticks pretty close to vanilla and I’m using it mostly because I’m used to it, not because I think it’s particularly superior to anything other than vanilla Skyrim.
- Convenient Horses – a “must have” mod if you’re planning on using horses at all. It’s a bit over-powered due to the ungodly amounts of stuff that you can have your horse carry, but it’s so wonderfully convenient, you won’t want to play without it
- Deadly Dragons – another “must have”. Vanilla dragons are complete wusses (I’ve watched them get killed by Sabre Cats and Cave Bears). This makes them a force to be reckoned with. Set the difficulty high enough (it’s configurable) and even the Dragonborn will cower in fear of them. You’ll also want to install something like “Run For Your Lives” unless you want to see your favorite NPCs become snacks.
- Dragon Combat Overhaul – a “must have” mod that does what it says: overhauls dragon combat. Dragons, even with Deadly Dragons, are fairly predictable. Knock their health down to 35% or less and they land, making them easy pickings. DCO makes them much less predictable. They’ll use spells, shouts, strafing runs, knock-downs, wing buffets or whatever as their ultimate goal is to inflict as much pain as possible upon you before they settle in for lunch.
- Enhanced Lights and FX – a “must have” for some and “meh” for others. I like it better than other lighting mods as it really does darken interiors to the point where torches, light spells and Night-Eye are absolutely indispensible. If you’re not that crazy about stumbling around in the dark, pass it by.
- Enhanced Skyrim Factions – The Companions Guild – a “must have” for anyone wanting to complete the Companions Guild quest line. It makes the faction much more interesting by restoring some cut content, installing skill and level requirements for advancement and the like. The vanilla quest line could be completed in one or two sessions; ESF stretches this out and makes it much more challenging and satisfying.
- Follower Trap Safety – a cheat, but pretty much a “must have”. It basically gives your followers the “Light Step” perk so that they don’t blindly step on those pressure plates that you deftly avoided. Face it, Skyrim didn’t include a “don’t step there” command for your followers, so they tend to get smacked around due to AS (Artificial Stupidity).
- Frostfall – either a “must have” mod or an unnecessary complication, depending upon my mood at the time. Gopher’s YouTube vids (“Beginners Guide to Modding Skyrim” and “Skyrim Mod Sanctuary”) do a much better job of explaining Frostfall than I ever could. This is not a mod for someone who is interested in speedy play. You really must think through what you’re wanting to do and the consequences of doing it or you’ll likely freeze to death.
- Immersive Armors – like the Book of Silence stuff, it’s nice-looking armors. They aren’t over- or under-powered. SkyRe users will also need the compatibility patch(es) from the Files page. It plays well with the other mods, so it’s going to come town to personal aesthetic tastes, I think. It’s “must have” for me.
- Immersive Weapons – like the Book of Silence stuff and JaySUS Swords, it’s nice-looking weapons. There are compatibility patches for SkyRe users. It’s “must have” for me.
- Immersive HUD – iHUD – it’s “must have” for me, although I use it in conjunction with Less Intrusive HUD (I like its compass better). It makes HUD elements disappear from the screen when they aren’t needed.
- JaySUS Swords – this is one of the earlier mods to add unique weapons and was pre-CK if memory serves. Aside from design, there won’t be many differences between this and other mods, such as aMidianBorn or Immersive Weapons. I keep it mainly as tradition and because there are a couple of really good-looking Steel weapons that I like to use. Couple these with Smithing Perks Overhaul and you’ve got some weapons that will work well, even into the mid-game.
- Lanterns of Skyrim – Around Towns and Lanterns of Skyrim – Bridges – a couple of small mods that add lantern posts in areas outside of towns where town guards patrol and to some bridges. Very handy with lighting mods that seriously darken nights.
- Lockpick Graduation by Lilyu – I count it as “must have”, although it’s a slight cheat. The mod changes the look of locks in the lockpicking minigame so that it’s a bit easier to pick up where your lockpick broke. It doesn’t change the mechanics of lockpicking at all; just adding some tick-marks to the locks that you’re picking. If you’re looking for a real cheat, try KenMod – Lockpick Pro. You can pretty much do the whole game with less than 1o lockpicks.
- Move it Dammit! For NPC Companions and Followers – a “must have” – it makes your followers back up when you bump into them. I can’t count the times I got stuck in the bedroom at Breezehome because Lydia or some other follower was standing in the doorway and I couldn’t get through.
- Night-Eye Overhaul – a “must have” as far as I’m concerned. It adds an Illusion-based Night-Eye spell (either timed or toggled – your choice) and makes some other tweaks/changes to the way that Night-Eye behaves. It has issues with some ENB lighting mods, but that’s due to the ENB, not this mod. I should probably go look for something else because it has a few other issues with other lighting mods, but I’m pretty used to its quirks by now.
- Project Reality – Climates of Tamriel – a really good lighting mod with little performance hit. It plays well with other lighting mods, although I don’t know how well it plays with ENBs. I’ve generally avoided ENBs for performance reasons.
- Pure Waters – a retexture of how water looks and behaves – a “must have” for me, although it’s strictly eye-candy.
- SkyrimHD 2K Textures – one of the better general retexture mods out there. I use it in conjunction with the official HD texture packs from Bethesda. Even the Lite version textures are pretty awesome and had a much smaller performance hit with my GTX 550Ti than the official ones.
- Static Mesh Improvement Mod (SMIM) – redoes a lot of the meshes in the game and is “must have” as far as I’m concerned.
- Timing is Everything – almost “must have”, but more than “nice to have” – it lets you change the starting point for a lot of quests. For example, the default for Dawnguard is something like Level 10. If you don’t want it to start (with its attendant vampire attacks and favorite vendors and NPCs ending up dead), you can change it to whatever level you want. Works well with all of the official DLCs, too.
- When Vampires Attack – “must have” – makes NPCs run for cover during a vampire attack rather than trying to take on that Master Vampire with the trusty old Iron Dagger that so many carry.
There are a few other minor mods that I haven’t listed because they’re very much personal preference kinds of things: Warmer Magic Lights, Spell Crafting, Ultra Realistic World Lighting, and things like that. I’m on the verge of starting up another character, so will likely go perusing the Nexus and change out some (or a lot) of these. But at least now I can just post a link to this on the forums rather than hunt down links.