Photogenic Friday: Spelunking Solstheim [Skyrim]

Yup. I’m still playing Skyrim. Let me tell you, I played the hell out of this game. Completed every single quest in the main story, every side faction, every mission I could get my hands on. Only during the last week, though, have I picked up the final DLC, Dragonborn, and started playing it again. I’m such a high level, though, the difficulty isn’t even registering on the scale. Level 67 will do that, though.  With that, here is a shot I picked up while dungeon diving under Morrowind’s neighbor to the north:

Nice, right? It seems the DLC so far is about some dude who has the same Dragonborn powers the main character has. Hopefully the reason I haven’t been able to absorb dragon’s souls has something to do with him, and isn’t just a bug. For being such a pretty, pretty game Skyrim does have bugs galore.

It was also recently announced that TESO will follow the new latest trend of having a subscription again. Welp, there goes my interest. We’ll see how it is after the first three months… Maybe I’ll pick it up in a Steam sale or something. Having subs is all well and good, it just doesn’t fit into my personal playstyle when the only thing you get out of it is simply game access. I see where they’re coming from, though, with the feel of Skyrim being an open land that having any walls, especially behind a pay shop, doesn’t follow the exploration theme of the game.

I wish them luck. I love TES universe, I love the lore, and The Elder Scrolls Online looks like a lot of fun, but now it’s just not for me. I’m sure they’ll have plans to change that eventually.

// Ocho

P.S. – It’s said that the universe works in waves. Lightwaves and sound waves are 2 basic examples. Another is the rise and fall of the stock market, the rise and fall of the housing market, or the rise and fall of deer populations. We had a round of subscription-based games, then we had a round of FTP-based games, and now we’re heading back into a round of subscription releases. Funny how that is.


Top 5 Favorite Video Game Music Compositions, A BattleBards Inspiration

Show of hands, how many of you actually listen to the music in the games you play? Hmmm… wow, that’s more than I was expecting. If you’re not, though, you should really start as video game music is already it’s own artform with known and highly sought after composers like Jeremy Soule, main composer of the Elder Scrolls and Guild Wars series. No longer are we in the age of simple MIDI compositions, but full orchestrations take center stage. This is a good thing. A very good thing.

There is even a new podcast, recently started, called Battle Bards that showcases the music of our favorite MMOs in a roundtable discussion. The podcast is hosted by the quartet of Steph from MMO Gamer Chick, Syl from MMO Gypsy, Dodge from A Casual Stroll to Mordor, and Justin from Massively and Bio Break (and since I’m link-dropping, Tesh from TishToshTesh did the artwork).  I listened to the pilot episode, and it is fantastic and I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re a music aficionado like myself.

So, in honor of the Battle Bards newly minted podcast, here are my top five favorite video game musical compositions of all time. In order of simply how awesome they are.

#5 – Guild Wars – Lakeside County – Jeremy Soule

When I first started playing Guild Wars, it was as a quick break from the game I (and everyone and their mother) was addicted to, World of Warcraft. Because of my addiction, I never gave Guild Wars a fair shake and have always been disappointed that I never really played through the storyline. From what I can see of Guild Wars 2, the story from Guild Wars 1 seems superior, so it’s even more of a shame. Anyway, after the introduction and the stroll into town, the first zone you visit is Lakeside County in Ascalon. I could listen to this music over and over again, and frequently did. The beauty of the landscape, the autumn foilage slowly falling off the trees, the picturesque sky and valleys, and then this hauntingly beautiful flowing melody that didn’t quite fill you with hope of a new adventure, but set the tone of “everything is not what it seems”. Perfect foreshadowing for the trials to come.

#4 – Lord of the Rings Online – Shire Hills 03844 – Chance Thomas(?)

When I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy back in 7th grade, it was my first real foray into medieval-style fantasy fiction and the writings of JRR Tolkien was one of the best places to start. The culture presented of the Hobbits was instantly likable as one of curiosity and adventure. Whether that adventure was a full fellowship or just an adventure down the river to visit a neighbor, Hobbits, to me, always represented movement, motion, and progress. Even shoes held them back, they were always on the move. Why do you think they needed so many meals? For being such small creatures, their metabolism was through the roof and adventure was the way to burn off all those calories. They were the beginning of something much larger than themselves (as everything was much larger than they were), and this song with its upbeat guitars, light drum, and clapping gives the feeling of that forward movement. The song revolves around a single theme, but is intertwined periodically with other melodic phrases and joined by many other lines, like all the different sights to see and friends to meet while traveling down the road.

#3 – Skyrim – Main Theme – Jeremy Soule

I won’t lie. I played the EFF out of Skyrim. I didn’t stop playing because I grew tired of the game, I stopped playing because at level 65 I RAN OUT OF STUFF TO DO! I had completed every faction’s quests, the main storyline was done, and aside from grinding every skill up to 100 I was already maxed out in my favorites. Some guard would want to tell me about an old injury or something, but really there was nothing left to do. However, the theme song makes it sound like there’s always something to do. It’s got that grand, majestic feel with the chanting and horns that makes you feel like shouting from the tops of the mountains.

It starts out like a thunderstorm, bass drums and chants, and then slowly gathers steam until you’re in the thick of it. The horns pick up the main theme, and then take it over. The vocals pick up like thrums of lightning, then crescendo like gathering bursts of wind. A slight break, with a falsetto line leads into a joining of the chorus with the horns into the heart of the piece. After a couple more crescendos, the song lightens and ends on a clear and crisp note just like the storm having finally passed. With Skyrim being a land of harsh climate, both politically and physically, creating the music around a coming storm just ties it all together nicely.

#2 – Ultima IX – Stones – David “Iolo” Watson

I know I’ve been posting a lot about Ultima lately, but what can I say, it’s a big part of my own gaming history. And if there’s one song that would represent that history, it’s Stones. Encountered in the game sometimes at random, it was always a song that made me stop in my tracks. Say what you will about Ultima IX (and it’s all justified), but this is hands down my favorite version of Stones yet. Starting with that slow lute and then being picked up by the flute, it presents a haunting melody that feels very melancholy. And then, suddenly, there’s a burst of hope. The song lightens and the skies part. However, just as quick as they part, the melancholy comes back in the final strains of the piece.  It’s like saying “yes, there are times when you will be down but remember there is always a ray of hope to lift your spirits”. Even if, in the end, you’re still sad, that ray of hope has a way of melting it away if only for a small time.

#1 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu – Christopher Tin

Trivia Time! What was the first piece of music made for a video game to ever be nominated for and win a Grammy? You’re looking at it. I can’t say enough good things about Baba Yetu that I’m not even sure where to start. The Civilization series of games is all about building an empire to stand the test of time from humble beginnings and this song shows that by just not letting up on the hope and majesty, constantly building on itself over and over again until your goosebumps find goosebumps of their own. And just when you think it can’t build any more, it smooths out and ends on the main theme that puts that extra faith in humanity’s future. Plus, the fact that the song is the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili just adds that extra spark of faith that wraps the entire thing together into just an amazing piece. Christopher Tin ended up winning a Grammy for this song, and although I don’t agree with those that pick the winners of the Grammys usually, I couldn’t help but applaud their choice here. Simply amazing.

And now, thanks to making this list, I’ll now have these songs stuck in my head for the rest of the week.

// Ocho

PS – There could be a lot worse songs to have stuck there…

PPS – Think I missed any, please post them in the comments!

Badly Timed Screenshots with Beaumont [TSW]

A screenshot of The Secret World’s villainous Beaumont. Taken at a *ahem* very poor moment.

At that moment, Beaumont was plunging his sword into… you know what, nevermind. That just makes it worse.

I’m not sure how to follow this up.

Not all the screenshots I take make the characters look their part, like Beaumont as TSW’s first big villain, but I take an extreme amount of screenshots for any one gamer. In fact, when Massively was still doing a daily “One Shots”, I was a big contributor and still have two tags in my name at their site.

Oh! I know how to follow that up. Here’s another bad one. An odd shot from Skyrim…

If you were ever curious as to how to take down a Dwemer Centurion this is certainly one way to do it.

Yup. That’s my character… killing the Dwemer Centurion. By doing that. In a slow motion kill cam.

… I still feel bad for the Centurion.

// Ocho

Skyrim Difficult Choices Redux

Alright. You know what? I know what I said before, that I decided to join the Stormcloak faction in their civil war. I still stick by my passioned reasoning, too.

However! Last night I was playing Skyrim and, well, I saw a small little exchange between two characters and it completely changed my mind. In the exchange, a jarl, a leader of one of Skyrim’s provinces, who was a devout Stormcloak, was approached by one of his servants. His servant had expressed an interest to join the Stormcloaks in the war effort and he was… well… unmercilessly shot down. The jarl turned to him and flat out laughed in his face, saying he just straight up wasn’t worthy enough and high enough on the social ladder to join them.

This is why I must now crush the Stormcloaks. I could rationalize their arrogance before as just the zealotry needed to push for their collective freedom, and all the other infractions didn’t really affect me. It bothered me that they were racist, and were hypocritical to only want freedom for the indigenous people and not everyone and these sacrifices were made to preserve their religious ways. The bias of class, however, hit a nerve. I wonder if there’s a movement in place to occupy Whiterun. I still don’t completely agree with all the Imperial’s motives, but now I have reason to pick a side.

I must say, though, that for just being a game, I never expected to have to have such a deep decisions. Most games don’t normally put decisions like this in a freaking side-quest! It’s not even necessary to the main plotline and can be skipped entirely! Really, kudos to Bethesda.

It seems even Skyrim has problems with the 1%.

\\ Ocho

Race and Religion in Skyrim is a Gray Area. Choose Wisely.

One of the main storylines that goes on in Skyrim is a big civil war. On one side, you have the Imperials, the main army of Tamriel trying to restore order to the nation that has stepped out of line with the emperor’s decree. On the other side, you have the Nord rebels, the Stormcloaks, who are against Imperial control. However, which side to join is not the easiest choice, and without a second full playthrough, you will never get to see both sides. So, I decided to make a list of qualities of both sides to see which one is better to join.

The Stormcloaks are the uprising rebels. At the beginning of the game, you find yourself face to face with the executioner’s axe. Why? Doesn’t matter. Every Elder Scrolls game starts this way. You’re imprisoned or finished your sentence or something. Just a good literary point to have a “new beginning on life”. Alongside of you to be executed is the head of the Stormcloak rebellion, Ulfric, who is proud of his Nord heritage. Before the execution can take place, a dragon attacks and you and Ulfric escape. So, automatically you’re thinking of joining the Stormcloaks as there is already a bond there. So, I visited the Stormcloak’s main city of Windhelm to join up with them… and found the city in trouble. With Ulfric in charge, the other races in the town who weren’t Nord were segregated. If you weren’t Nord, you were nothing. Argonians only live outside the city and are used for slave-like labor on the docks. Dark Elves are relegated to a single area of the city. Racism runs rampant under the Stormcloak rule. So, these people who fight for their freedom from the Empire are also taking away the rights of others. It also doesn’t help that when you first meet Ulfric, he’s kinda a jerk.

This didn’t sit well with me, so I visited the Imperial capital of Solitude. Their side of the story isn’t so clean either. From their side, they are trying to end the rebellion to restore order to Skyrim. However, it also comes at the cost of taking away the right of free religion. During the big war that happened before Skyrim’s beginning, the elves dictated that one of the game’s deities, Talos, a mortal whose accomplishments made him a god in the eyes of the people, was blasphemous to the worship of other gods and his worship was to be abolished. The elves are essentially the main power in Tamriel as they forced the signing of a treaty to end the war. The banning of worship of Talos was part of the treaty. So, the Imperials are also fighting to stop the practice of the Nord people’s primary religious figure.

So, the choice is definitely not one that is supposed to be easy. Side with the racist rebels trying to protect their religious freedom and create a free Skyrim? Or with the race accepting, but anti-religious Imperials who are just looking to establish order? Either way, the choice feel dirty.  Establish freedom at the cost of racism, or create order at the cost of religious tolerance? Personally, I don’t consider myself racist. I think I’m a very accepting individual, accepting others of races and religions not my own. However, freedom is a very important human right. Everyone, doesn’t matter their race or orientation, deserves the same basic rights.

In the end, I see the abolishment of en entire religion to be the bigger offender. Racism will always exist at some level, and though it is terrible, racial tolerance will eventually prevail in the long run. Religious freedom, especially one that doesn’t harm anyone else, might not survive the war if the Imperials win. So, in this case, fighting the war for religious freedom seems more justified. Despite Ulfric being a prick, his fight seems right. Most important, you don’t have to like the leader to agree with their cause.

Aside from the philosophical discussion, I have a gaming goal. Essentially I want to get as far as I can in Skyrim before Guild Wars 2 launches. I’m afraid I simply won’t be able to make this goal as Skyrim is… well… Skyrim. I’ve hit level 42, so not too much can stand in my way at this point… but I STILL haven’t even really touched the main storyline. There’s just so much to do!! I haven’t even visited every major city yet! So, my gaming plan may be to even give the Guild Wars 2 launch a little bit of a pass until I complete Skyrim. I know that by the time I’m completely done with Skyrim, I’ll be so tired of the game that I won’t want to touch another Elder Scrolls game until they release the next one (Hopefully… I know there is an Elder Scrolls MMO on the horizon, but I’m really hoping they don’t stop making the single player titles because of it).

So, anyway, thank you for reading and here are a few more screenshots for your enjoyment.

Game well, my friends.

\\ Ocho

P.S. – I added a few more mods to the game, including ENB Cinematic Lighting, which completely overhauls the lighting in the game. Hence why all the screenshots above look a little more shadowed, bright, and colorful. Without it… the game just looks muted and dull. Plus, light spells, torches, and lanterns are useful again.

Skyrim Screenshots

As I mentioned in my last post, the game I’m hooked on currently is Skyrim. Oh, and it’s DLC Dawnguard, too. I picked that up, too. Vampires are now everywhere and I can’t tell if they were there to begin with or if it’s part of the Dawnguard content. I like it that way, where the DLC is slipped into the world so seemlessly you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

If the choice comes down to Vampire or Werewolf, like some kind of Twilight novel, my choice is easily Werewolf. They just seem less evil. Vampires have the cooler abilities, it’s true, but I prefer the higher level of honor that werewolves seem to have. Who knows… maybe it’s the Harry Potter series that I’m getting that from.

So far, I’m level 34, which translates to “so much gold in my pocket it’s ridiculous” and “powerful enough where I feel I’ve passed the difficulty hump and have moved onto borderline invincible”. Throw on a couple pieces of resist armor, and dragon breath doesn’t even harm you. So far I’m rolling with a few primary abilities: One Hand Weapons (Maces), Light Armor, Restoration Magic, Block, Speech, and Sneak. Pretty much the same set I rolled with in Oblivion and Morrowind. I like it. It’s a fun playstyle. Throw in a dash of Destruction Magic, Archery, and Lockpicking on the side, and you’re set for whatever is thrown at you.

Anyway, enjoy the screenshots!


Nice, right? Very pretty game. My goal is to “finish” Skyrim (as we all know, you can never really finish an Elder Scrolls game) before Guild Wars 2 is released as I want to be there when it opens, or at least a couple of days later as the initial player rush dies down. You know what other game I’ve been craving to try out, too? Rusty Hearts. I know! Crazy, right? However, I played it for about a week a while ago, and found the game A LOT of fun. Not really into anime, personally, but the short dungeons crawls and story were fun. Now that I find purchasing “Zen” a lot less sketchy, since that’s the currency you have to use with Star Trek Online, I might give the new RH expansion Reborn another shot.

What are YOU playing? (Yes you.)

\\ Ocho

P.S. – If you’re wondering about the specs of the system needed for screenshots like this, I just custom built a new system a month or two back. I’m currently rolling with an Intel Core i7 3770 Ivy Bridge, 8 GB DDR3, Nvidia GTX 460, and Windows 7 Home Premium. I highly suggest building your own system. Not only does it cost less, but you get more power from it. Tips and tricks doing so may be the topic of a future post…

P.P.S. – How freaking awesome was that MSL Curiosity landing?! Humanity never fails to impress me, and in this day where a small nobody gamer’s website is visited by almost 200 different countries, the housing market in one part of the world is enough to affect the global economy, and we celebrate the physical achievements  of our most celebrated athletes together, it can definitely be said that this was not just an achievement for just the United States, but an achievement for humankind. So humanity… you ROCK!!!

The Modification of Skyrim: Top 10 Skyrim Mods

I recently did a full upgrade of my system for two reasons: Guild Wars 2 (during one of the betas, my system performed very poorly), and Skyrim.  Just like Ravanel, I recently picked up Skyrim from Steam’s Summer Sale and have found it very hard to put it down. Bethesda has once more outdone themselves in creating a masterpiece. Just like Oblivion or Morrowind before it, they have created a world filled with cities, villages, monsters, and quests and just said: Go nuts. There is a main story, and out of the 79 hours I’ve so far put into Skyrim, I’ve put about… maybe 3 or 4 of them into the main storyline. The Elder Scrolls is most famous for creating more than just a story, they create a world to explore, and exploring is one of my favorite gaming pastimes.

With such a huge world to populate, they look to their players to help. Game modifications aren’t new to the gaming scene, but where they are you’ll find huge communities set up around it. Bug squashing, fixes, new areas, graphics, the limits of game modders is hard to stop, and the community will always surprise with how ingenious they are in using the tools given to them. Just look at some of Star Trek Online‘s player created missions for genius created with a very limited toolset, for example. But since I’m currently stuck on Skyrim, here is a list of my top ten favorite mods I’m currently rolling with.

Modifications shown: More Rain, Lush Trees, Horse Armors.

Let me first state that I am not into cheating or breaking lore. The lore is so comprehensive in the Elder Scrolls that the books in Skyrim encompass more pages than are in most novels. So many that a fan out there has created a file for your digital reader, which I highly suggest as reading that much while you play can feel like a waste of a play session. And cheating… is well… cheating. I find it awesome that they allow you to do so, but it really only takes away from your play experience. One mod I will mention is borderline cheating, but it saves time more than anything, so I’m giving it a pass.

Here is the Top 10. All links are to their Steam locations, as, well… I use Steam to play it.

10 – Pure Waters

Pure Waters gives an overhaul of the water found throughout SkyrimThe vanilla water is a little… off. This mod turns the water to more natural colors to match the pure glacier water of Skyrim, more realistic transparency, better reflectivity, and an improved underwater scene. And since water is, well, everywhere in Skyrim, this is a great mod to have.

9 – Lanterns of Skyrim – All-In-One

This mod doesn’t do anything more but add lanterns to the land of Skyrim. Villages will put out lanterns in front of homes, and the roads will have lanterns placed periodically to help guide the way. It just adds a bit of light, and makes the land feel a little more full.

8 – HD Plants + Herbs

The vanilla plants are a little… bland. This mod makes the flowers look a little more like real flowers. It adds some depth and color to a lot of the plants you see throughout the land.

7 – Unlimited Bookshelves

Although, as I mentioned, despite the books being the best source of lore and awesome, they are largely a timesink. However, your home won’t look complete without a few full bookshelves filled with the rarest of tomes. This mod lines up the books so that they aren’t haphazardly placed on your bookshelf and look similar to how you would place them yourself.

6 – Horse Armors

Horse. Armors. It adds just that. The horses in Skyrim are very pretty, but this adds a little more realism to the Dovahkiin’s warhorse. If you are armed to the teeth, your horse should be, too. Now, this doesn’t suddenly make your horse invincible or anything different, it just adds a skin, so no worries about cheating.

Edit: I lied. Your horse is actually invincible. But… as far as cheating goes, this isn’t so bad… usually the stupid horse would charge into a fight with anything and just end up dead. With this mod, at least you’ll be actually riding the horse more often than using them as a source of horse meat.

5 – Whistle

A horse whistle! I don’t know how I would play without this. The horses in the game, if you can’t tell by now, leave a lot to be desired. They are slow, they run away, they die easily, etc. This mod solves the “runaway horse” problem. Every once in a while, you’ll get into a nice big fight. After you emerge victorious, you look around, and your horse is nowhere to be seen. With this mod, it’s simple. Just equip the whistle power, activate it, and your horse will appear behind you and trot right on up.

4 – Open Face Guard Helms

The stock guards in Skyrim are creepy. They’re everywhere, and they cover their faces so much that they appear to be serial killers. This mod makes the guards a little more human. It opens up their helms so you can see their mouth and eyes. Since sometimes it feels like they can’t shut up (An arrow, you say? To the knee?! That’s so rare!), at least seeing their mouths move makes them a little more human.

3 – Faster Vanilla Horses

Going with the theme of horse improvements comes another good one, making them faster. The vanilla horses in the game don’t seem to move that fast. In fact they move at about the same run speed as the character! This mod pumps up their speed by about 30%. Not significant, far from being a cheat, but enough to make horses feel a lot more useful and well worth the price.

2 – Item Sorting with Weightless Items

Here is the mod I’m suggesting that is borderline cheating. What it does is renames items to help sort them and then takes books, miscellaneous, and crafting items and removes their weight. That means those 20 iron ingots you have to make some armor with don’t weight 20 lbs, they weigh nothing. All those potions you lug around waiting for the right time to use them? Them, too. They weigh nothing. It’s cheating because suddenly you have the space to carry a few more potions or pieces of armor, you can carry more loot back home to sell. However, in the grand scheme of Skyrim, this isn’t so bad. Your weight limit is still topped out, so you can’t carry everything. The shops still only have a limit of the gold they have to offer, so you’re capped by gold. The real draw is that all of those crafting areas throughout the game that you find in camps? You can use them! You don’t have to have a central dropping off point to unload all crafting mats to come back later and craft. It makes crafting fun instead of tedious, and that’s why it isn’t a cheat. Also, the item sorting is super handy. All healing potions are together, all your arrows are together, and it’s easy to see the strength of them without constantly hovering over them.

1 – Dovahkiin Relaxes Too

For my favorite Skyrim mod, Dovahkiin Relaxes Too takes the gold. Your character in Skyrim is always so serious. He doesn’t move around much, he doesn’t shuffle his weight, he just stands there. He’s a god amongst people, but he can’t just relax sometimes? This mod fixes that! The Dragonborn becomes like everyone else, sitting down in a bar and having a drink, helping to hoe the land, sweep the floor of the inn, feed the chickens, read a book, warm your hands by the fire, lie down on beds, taunt the enemy by bashing your shield! After destroying and pillaging the ecosystem, Dovahkiin deserves a break.

It’s not all dragon killing, you know… sometimes, it’s just fun to help out around the inn.

That’s far from all the ones I use. Here is a quick and dirty list of all the other mods I use that I still highly suggest:

Lore-Based Loading Screens, Unread Books Glow, Complete Skyforge, More Rain, House Markers, Alternate Sun Glare, Gender and Race Height, Enhanced Distant Terrain, Lush Trees (but not Lush Grass which taxes your system like crazy), Realistic Ragdolls and Force, Detailed Mine Map Markers, Lightning During Thunderstorms, Better Quest Objectives, Blessing of Talos Description Fix, Realistic Map and Roads, and Remove 3D Map Camera Restriction.

Take a note, all you game makers out there: if you make mods possible for your game, people will enjoy it more. What MMO out there has the most prolific modding community? The declining, but still king, World of Warcraft. Another long time mod winner is Lord of the Rings Online. Neverwinter Nights would never have been as popular as it has been without a huge mod scene. Player created content and mods is the present and future of gaming. Letting the community modify, create, and share only strengthens your game.

Exploration is one of the biggest draws to gaming, but if you want it to be really successful let your players explore their creativity.

\\ Ocho

P.S. – Ravanel, if you’re reading this, the only mod I found that could remove helmets is Invisible Crafted Helmets. It doesn’t work perfect, though. You have to craft the helmet yourself, but it will give you some helmetless functionality. Hope this helps!