Sunday, November 27, 2011

On Skyrim, Part II

According to the handy-dandy save counter, I'm up to 46+ hours on the game now, so I thought I'd throw out a few more observations -- as well as stuff I missed in the last run-down (hate it when I get rushed during a post).

Being who I am, and playing the game the way I do, I'm primarily interested in companion NPCs -- their capabilities, functions, and the AI in general.

And it seems that AI is alive in well in this new iteration of the engine.


Uhh... anyway, so this is Lydia in her default outfit:

In an interesting departure from previous games, Lydia reverts to her default outfit whenever not in your party. Any equipment you give her stays in her inventory; but she's forced to equip the iron armor and shield, and no helm -- though she'll continue carrying the best weapon she has regardless of where it came from.

I had complained before about her generally piss-poor behavior, but I'm happy(er) to note that the behavior is improving as I log hours. Lyds has begun to actually use her shield, and with good armor and an armload of healing potions, her staying power in a scrap is greatly improved. She's particularly good at using a bow for harassing fire to keep a dragon's attention off of me while I kill it...

Bullshit, I say!

...Maeva, what the hell are you going on about?

Don't "what" me, Master! You know perfectly well what my problem is.

You haven't found a bishie to brutally rape lately?

No -- and you're still an asshole, by the way -- you want to know what my problem is?

I'm assuming you're not going to let me get back to my post until I ask, so sure.

Look at me!

Looking. Let me know when to start wolf-calling and offering singles...

I'm six-six, red haired, and am quite capable with a Big Fucking Sword! I am a Viking wet dream!

Don't forget the raging alcoholism and ability to devour an entire side of beef in one sitting.

Point. Get to one. Please.

Why am I not in Skyrim?!

Probably because it's kind of hard to add NPCs to the game when the fucking toolset hasn't been released yet, genius.

A likely excuse.

She's telling the truth, you know. No construction set, no TESVEdit -- you can use the old version of TESSnip to read the Skyrim.esm partially... but as far as I know I've got no means of adding NPCs at all; to say nothing of writing scripts or editing faces. Plus there's the little detail of your hair and eyes not being ported over, no custom bodies, your textures won't work...

...I suddenly haz a sad...

Look, I've been clearing out bandit caves and shipwrecks and shit; I've got a decent sized stash of mead built up. It's yours if you let me get back to my fucking post.

...Nordic honey-booze, you say? Gimme!

Ooh, that's good. Give me the rest of the case and I'll go sexually harass Natasha and leave you guys alone.

Fine, it's yours. I don't drink, anyway.

Hee. You know, she still hasn't forgiven me for the elf-rape I was making allusions to in that post you deleted. Tonight's going to be fun after all...


There, there. Would tits help?

Not while I'm trying to type, thank you...

So, as I was saying before I was interrupted.

Lyds' AI does appear to be getting its act together for the most part; though she (and all other NPCs) seem to have huge pathfinding problems. Trying to walk over, or through solid objects when sandboxing; and in the wilderness, she flat refuses to follow me through nearly all rough terrain -- even between rocks that the gaps are wide enough to walk through easily.

While I obviously can't fire up the suck and check it out, it feels almost like many areas aren't navmeshed.

To her credit, Lydia will plot another path to get to wherever I am -- oftentimes a very circuitous route -- so the problem obviously isn't that she's losing her follow package... it's pure pathfinding; that she can't figure out how to get to where I am the way I got there. It's annoying though, since it's not unusual for it to take close to five minutes for her to get to me; and more than once she's caught up to me after picking up an enemy or two along the way.

I'm thinking viable companions in Skyrim are going to require distance based teleporting code. Blessedly, there doesn't seem to be any delay in follower NPCs following through cell-change doors; so it won't need that block of teleporting code, at least. Maybe... ten thousand units' distance, trigger the teleport? It's rough; determining proper teleport distance without breaking combat behavior...

On the up side, at least some of the new armor is great. I dolled Lyds up in ebony:

I swear, I've seen armor that looked almost exactly like that -- right down to the color -- in an anime somewhere. A cyborg bad-guy, I think... but it's been so many years I can't place it. I want to say in the AD Police/Bubblegum Crisis universe, but I'm not sure; I think it may also have been one of the Patlabor films. Not that I mind them reusing the look, it's great and all... it just annoys me when I can't place something. Damned steel sieve of a memory.

The new glass armor isn't bad looking either; though I wish they'd fire whoever keeps insisting it be green.

Is smoky quartz glass armor too much to ask? Nice, neutral, slightly translucent gray.

Thankfully, I maxed out my smithing skill last time I was playing, and could finally make use of the dragon scales I'd been collecting:

The armor rating isn't that much better than glass, but it looks less elf-y...

Elf rape! Woo!

...God damn it, I'm going to have to taze her by the end of that case, I just know it...

That helmet/mask, by the by, is not part of the dragon scale set:

On the whole, I still really like the crafting system. Daedric equipment is frustrating, as each piece requires a daedra heart to craft -- and we don't get Oblivion gates to go find the owners of said hearts. The only place I've found them regularly is for sale at alchemists, and they're not cheap. I foolishly used the first two daedra hearts I came across as alchemical components; should have saved them for creating top-end weapons -- I ended up using the last one for a daedric bow, and it is indeed quite the murder machine.

One thing that's continually giving me a WoW-vibe from the game is how you gather components for crafting. You can buy metal from smiths, of course, but you can also gather it yourself:

There are ore veins all over the game world, in various types of metal; and you can enter some actual mines and mine there. Ore veins are pretty hard to see from a distance though. Essentially, they work by having a pick-axe in your inventory, and hitting "use" on the vein. The camera skips out to third person, and your character is shown chipping away at the vein. The animation goes on ten or twenty seconds, and you get a random number of ore chunks (usually two to three) before the vein is depleted and changes to another texture that shows only the rock remaining. Unlike plants, I've not seen the ore veins respawn yet, so it looks like there is a limited number of ore hunks to recover from the world without buying it from merchants. Mining ore also nets you random gemstones sometimes, for selling or jewelry making.

I've read tell that you can have your companion mine, as well. Skyrim's default followers have a new dialogue option: "I want you to do something for me" or some such. Once used, they interact with the next world object you "use" -- if they have a pick-axe they'll mine, a wood cutter's axe will let them chop wood, presumably they can convert animal hides in their inventory into leather if told to use a tanning rack. I haven't tried it myself yet, so it may just be rumor; but if we can use such functions without a script extender this time around, it promises to make companion systems far more versatile.

One of the interesting things about merchants this time around is how often their inventory respawns. It seems to do it daily, now. I've gotten stuck in a smithing loop in Whiterun more than once now -- spending the day "grinding" my smithing skill with components bought from the blacksmith shop there by the gate; go to bed in my place to start adventuring again the next morning; hit the shop again to see what they got in, find a big enough stash of ingots and leather to get me started on the day's work all over again...

It's good for my skill level, but bad for getting much accomplished quest-wise.

Another new feature this time around will probably seem familiar to Morrowind players:

While it's not the same as TESIII, they did give us a transport service this time. You can hire a carriage at any town stables to carry you to any of the major cities (for a fee, of course). This is an interesting way of getting the fast travel markers without having to walk everywhere once; and for players who don't believe in using fast travel, it lets you get to questing spots faster without breaking "immersion" or whatever. Though I -- as usual -- run a reduced from default timescale in the game, I've noticed that the carriage still takes several hours worth of transit time once the screen fades back from black. Going from Riften to Solitude took like six hours, I think.

Sadly, we don't get to see your follower climb into the wagon to ride with you; but they're still there when you appear at your destination. It's a small thing, but I'd like to see that changed someday. No idea what scripting would be involved, though, so it may not even be practical.

I've killed several dragons now, and I'm pretty disappointed in them. They're billed as the big scary monsters of the game, but the last one I fought would've had trouble killing me if I weren't fighting back. I took his breath weapon full-on two or three times in the fight, and it barely caused my health bar to move. It was so bad I didn't even have to fight -- Lydia (unmodified, remember) could have killed him while I held his attention. Her arrows ended up eating more than half his health bar. Steel arrows and a Dwarven bow -- not even anything special.

As I also predicted, Shouts are pretty crappy. Flame and Frost breath won't even kill bandits; the super dash shout is stupid and pointless; I have no idea what the "throw your voice" shout is supposed to be good for other than getting NPCs to look somewhere else when you're sneaking... about the only useful one is unrelenting force, which at words one and two shove your enemy away and stun them. Word three blows them fifty feet back -- which sucks because by the time you've reached them to melee attack the stun has worn off. Like I said in the last part of the review: gimmicky. Shouts are a tarnish on an otherwise solid combat system.

The quests also, are a black mark on the game. I don't mean their content, I mean how poorly they're coded. I forgot to bitch about it the last time, but I actually ended up dying during the tutorial, the first time. Not to spoiler too much, but you start the game in line to be executed. A dragon attacks, scattering the Imperial bastards and saving your life. While your hands are still tied (can't use anything, search corpses, or fight) you have to follow an Imperial soldier to someplace safe. All well and good, except the blowhard led me into a clearing the first time, and just stood there. The quest marker didn't change, the log didn't advance... he's just standing there. After a couple minutes, a dragon comes along and turns me into a Nos-kebab.

Second try, it was even worse. At one point in the flee to safety, the dragon is supposed to destroy the wall of a tower; thereby allowing you to jump into the next building over. The dragon attacks... flamey flamey... the wall collapse animation never triggers. My quest marker updates, telling me to jump... through a solid wall. Had to TCL past that one. When we reached the clearing, soldierboy hung again and didn't tell me where I was supposed to keep going; but I had a fair idea and went on anyway, avoiding scorched death. Once inside, it seemed to run okay; but their ability to precisely set up and trigger scripted, animated events is apparently still just this side of complete shit.

Lastly, I figured I'd close with screenshots of some of the nature-y goodness I raved about before.

Loathe though I am to upgrade my PC, I have to say again this game would be fucking amazing in ultra high.

I also noted with more than a slight grin that one of the things the guards say to you in this game is "watch the skies". I know they're talking about dragons, but still... between that line, and the reintroduced Dwemer ruins...

Welp, that about exhausts my list-o-talking points this time around; so I'll shut up now.

Edit, next morning:

Despite my attempt, it looks like I did forget something again after all.

You may notice in the helm-less screenshot, that Lyds' irises are visible and do not look like shit. This is because I installed a new eye textures mod. I've actually installed a few:

Colored Map Markers -- changes the color of your quest target marker to green, and cities to blue; making them stand out on the map. A small detail, but a very nice one.

A Wench Outfit retexture -- retexes one of the barmaid outfits to be predominantly red, rather than filthy used-to-be white. Another small detail, but looks much better. I recommend the "Less colorful" version, that's a bit more subdued and seems to fit the society of the game a bit better.

High Quality Eyes -- Must-have mod. This one redoes the eye textures so that they don't suck. With this installed, you can actually discern eye color without a magnifying glass.

No More Blocky Faces -- this mod reworks the faces slightly, making them smoother and less crappy looking. Another small detail; but to me it helps greatly with keeping the faces from subconsciously feeling "wrong" when looked at.